Cobra Verde | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Just before the climax of the Roxy Music-inspired "Crashing in a Plane," from the superb new Nightlife (Motel), Cobra Verde front man John Petkovic whispers, "Save the song, kill the singer." But since the mid-80s, when he led the arty Death of Samantha, Petkovic's striven to be the ultimate rock singer, an entertainer with a capital E--not some shticky Vegas cliche, but one who believes in what he's doing and tries to make the audience believe too. Nightlife is Cobra Verde's fourth album, but it's the first on which the band's well-crafted hard rock, indelible hooks, and Petkovic's charismatic singing--which at various times recalls David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Nick Cave have really coalesced. Not surprisingly, it's also the first assembled under his undisputed leadership: the Cleveland-based band started the recording several years ago, but after its short-lived stint as four-fifths of Guided by Voices (circa Mag Earwhig), guitarist Doug Gillard and drummer Dave Swanson left, and engineer and bassist Don Depew, though technically still a member, is not in the touring lineup. Nightlife's nods to the 70s are blatant--the gender-bending sleeve photos are by Mick Rock, who shot Bowie and Iggy back in the day, and the trashy blond on the cover is the daughter of Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson--but it's not a simple nostalgia exercise. Petkovic injects glam with a fresh, stylish aggression, and alongside the Stonesy slide-guitar swagger of "Back to Venus," the loud soul stomper "Don't Let Me Love You," and the melancholy shuffle of "Tourist" (about a visit to a whorehouse), he tosses in the quasi-Dixieland toodleoo of "What Makes a Man a Man," a dyspeptic Kurt Weill emulation on "Pontius Pilate," and the propulsive pop of "Every God for Himself." I don't know if he's "the last rock star," as one music rag has hyperbolically declared, but he's definitely one of a dying breed. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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