It's been a few years now since legendary guitarist John Fahey returned to performing, inciting an understandable fuss. Now that the smoke has cleared it's easier to see--and sad to say--that the new Fahey isn't anywhere near as compelling as the old one. He's pretty much ditched his trademark deft fingerpicking in favor of a more open-ended approach, but out there on the newly liberated horizon he tends to wander aimlessly. In his highly anticipated performance at the Empty Bottle in November 1996, he'd pluck a series of reverb-drenched notes that dissolved into the ether, then abruptly embark on another path that petered out the same way. Of the three albums issued shortly after his reappearance, Womblife is the only one that's consistently good, and some of the credit has to go to producer Jim O'Rourke, who masterfully focused and framed what Fahey laid down on tape. But last year's Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts, and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites (Table of the Elements) is a ray of hope. It may not rank with some of his recently reissued classics on Takoma, like Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes and America, but it certainly contains his finest comeback performance yet. The predominance of medleys suggests that Fahey is still interested in shooting from the hip, but at least now his stream of consciousness flows lucidly from one idea to another--from "House of the Rising Sun" into Artie Shaw's "Nightmare," for instance--instead of running dry. On original material and standards alike, Fahey states his themes, embroiders and disrupts them, and then loops back around, and although the heavy reverb he's still fascinated with can grate from time to time, mostly it does add a nice murky atmosphere. All in all a Fahey show still seems a good gamble--especially if it's one of these two, at the most intimate local venue he's visited since his reemergence. Saturday and Sunday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bettina Herzner.