Kim Shattuck plays guitar like Johnny Ramone and yowls like there's coarse twine wrapped round her larynx. But over the course of four albums by her band the Muffs, her songwriting contributions have sounded increasingly more inspired by AM radio than by her LA punk roots (she played bass in the all-female garage-punk combo the Pandoras). Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, released in June, is the Muffs' first indie album--finished with Warner Brothers, they're now on the San Francisco label Honest Don's. It's also their least threatening-sounding album to date; a few of the songs don't even use distortion. Shattuck's at her best when she's sneering at dim-witted punks, hollering on pitch, and tearing through riffs that sound a lot simpler than they really are: why stick to three chords when you can play eighteen? (And she never passes up a chance to sneak in a Beatles allusion: "Clown," for instance, cops backing vocals from "You Won't See Me.") Her lyrical stance is pretty narrow--love hurts, you suck, piss off--but her voice is usually secondary to her snarling guitar in the mix, and anyway the words get pulled into more interesting shapes by her Ramonesian whoa-a-oh-isms. The new, softer material shouldn't be too detrimental to the live act: onstage the Muffs clearly relish their should've-been-hits from older releases ("Big Mouth," "Lucky Guy," "I'm a Dick"), and though drummer Roy McDonald and longtime bassist Ronnie Barnett often fade into the background, Shattuck's got enough charisma to go around. Saturday, 9:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. DOUGLAS WOLK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Henry Diltz.