Kills | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Kills' excellent new album, Keep on Your Mean Side (Rough Trade), shows once and for all that the White Stripes comparisons this male-female duo's been saddled with are superficial and unfair. While the Stripes draw from a broad range of American roots music, the Kills narrow their pickings to the blues tropes of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, filtered through the sensibilities of Royal Trux and Captain Beefheart (whose "Dropout Boogie" they made over as a twisted stomp on last year's debut EP for Dim Mak, Black Rooster), adding pop flourishes and noise bursts to assert their own identity. VV (aka Florida native Alison Mosshart, formerly of the forgettable punk combo Discount) and Hotel (Londoner Jamie Hince) make no claims to gutbucket authenticity--when they hijack the time-tested melody from "Baby Please Don't Go" for "Hitched," the move seems intuitive, as if they've plucked the tune from a communal music memory rather than learned it from some scratchy old record. The lethargy of the pair's tandem vocals is equal parts desperation and lust, though VV occasionally softens her rasp with subtle pop phrasing a la Polly Jean Harvey: on "Wait," pitch bends and elongated syllables break the blankness of her zombie incantation. On the album the band overdubs details, like the extra guitar slashing on "Superstition" or the buried harmonica melodies on "Wait," to create the illusion of full-band depth. I'm not sure how they'll pull it off live, but the advantage of using such archetypal building blocks is that listeners can pretty much fill in the missing pieces in their heads. Monday, April 28, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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