Hellacopters, Nebula | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Hellacopters, Nebula

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Unless you count guitarist Nicke Andersson taking a turn in the Fred "Sonic" Smith spot during MC5-DKT's 2004 tour, Sweden's HELLACOPTERS haven't played Chicago in four years. The album they come bearing this time is last year's Rock & Roll Is Dead (Universal/Liquor and Poker)--and yeah, an awful lot of the great stuff is. The great dead rock 'n' roll in this case isn't so much the MC5 or Johnny Thunders or even Bon Scott; the ghosts the Hellacopters seem to be channeling are Duane Allman and Ronnie Van Zant. When they try for sloppy, high-octane garage rock like they used to play in the old days, they don't sound too inspired anymore, but they have a wicked good time maneuvering around rootsy, bitter, and wry southern blues rock like "No Angel to Lay Me Away" and "Leave It Alone." Granted, the songwriting and vocals lie a lot flatter than Ronnie's did, but you're really here for the guitar playing anyway.

Liquor and Poker labelmates NEBULA have also taken a detour on the new Apollo, the follow-up to 2003's Atomic Ritual. But while the Hellacopters seem to be easing toward the front porch, this LA planetarium-rock trio sounds bent on cultivating a freedom that doesn't always suit them well. The new songs turn their huge, slightly evil sound into something spaced-out and droll in a Hawkwind-meets-early-BOC kind of way, throwing in the occasional bit of weird-ass dark matter that might make you think you're listening to Chrome. But they never hold a groove long enough to let you achieve a true stoner-rock or space-rock bliss-out--they sound like they're riffing to entertain themselves, or maybe playing a sound track for a mosh pit in zero gravity.

The Hellacopters headline and Nebula opens. Mon 3/6, 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $15.

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