A couple years ago it looked like Come was history: after a tour in support of its second album, the Boston band's longtime rhythm section quit. But by forging ahead with several different bassists and drummers on its third record, Near Life Experience, guitarists Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw (both of whom sing and write) not only saved their band but invigorated it. Come's new Gently, Down the Stream (Matador) presents a new full-time rhythm section (drummer Daniel Coughlin and bassist Winston Bramen) and a continued vitality, even if it doesn't take quite as many chances as the last record, which used a much wider range of instrumentation and revealed a melodic side of the songwriting. But Come still does gorgeous melancholy better than most comers. Zedek's wounded yet defiant vocals detail harrowing struggles for survival and fulfillment; the explosive "Saints Around My Neck" paints religion as a strangling albatross, while "New Coat" manages to make unrequited love hurt all over again. While Zedek rails against what's keeping her down, opening act Sue Garner acknowledges that all of her dreams just aren't going to come true. Far from sounding like a mope, on her bittersweet solo debut, To Run More Smoothly (Thrill Jockey), Garner reveals a cautious optimism born of learning to live with one's choices: one of the most touching songs, "Box and You," is about the trade-offs we make for our work and our loved ones. While several of the tunes traffic in the knotty noisiness that's marked Garner's work with Run On, most are radiantly melodic. Equally comfortable with straight country (a terrific version of Merle Haggard's classic "Silver Wings"), quirky pop, and rhythmic experimentation, Garner might well be the finest female singer in rock today. On record she's joined by Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley, former dB Chris Stamey, downtown jazzer Philip Johnston, and several Run On band mates, but for this gig she'll be supported only by Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs. Thursday, February 26, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Come photo by Joanna Coolidge/ Sue Garner photo by Chris Toliver.