King Kong | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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It's hard to imagine a route that'd take a musician from underground rock at its most serious and severe to goofy song suites about barnyard animals, but bassist and singer Ethan Buckler has traveled it. As the bassist for Louisville's Slint, Buckler contributed to the influential album Tweez in 1989; the following year he formed the far more lighthearted King Kong. (More lighthearted than Slint isn't saying much, granted--better to call King Kong's silly, danceable indie funk Slint's polar opposite.) The band recorded four albums before taking a late-90s hiatus, the best of which are 1993's Funny Farm (which brings to mind Dr. Seuss and Calvin Johnson collaborating on a musical version of Orwell's Animal Farm) and 1995's Me Hungry (which details an ill-fated affair between a yak and a caveman). Now, with the April release of The Big Bang (Drag City), Buckler and company take their shtick into space, with perhaps the weirdest interplanetary concept album this side of the Sun Ra catalog (and without a doubt the one with the biggest complement of outdated analog synthesizers). The story is simple: Buckler decides to leave earth, and in a monotone that makes Stephin Merritt sound like Maria Callas he declares, "My time with you is done...Humanity taking up so much space / Kissing each other's asses, you've got such bad taste" (from "Deep Blue Sky"). His destination? Where else but Planet Kong, half of an ancient world split apart by the big bang (earth, or "Planet King," is of course the other half). Once there, our hero spends much of his time trying to mate with a female Kongian--played by Amy Partin, a longtime member whose lovely vocals are a welcome reprieve from Buckler's sometimes annoying baritone. Saturday, August 3, 10 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 N. Grace; 773-478-4408.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Delphine LeDorze.

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