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The ad for this 20-year-old group calls them "One of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands in the country." Speaking of their albums, that boast is absolutely ludicrous; speaking of their concerts, it's absolutely true. The name stands for New Rhythm and Blues Quintet (or Quartet--it goes back and forth), but R & B is hardly all they play. Their consistently inconsistent LPs include bopping jazz, cloying kiddie tunes, catchy sing-alongs, and clever covers together with more-or-less straightforward roadhouse romps. The effect is fun and funny but just too haphazard and "what the hey" indifferent to be anything more than that: the records could very well have inspired some carefree postmodern style-slummers like Camper Van Beethoven, but NRBQ's albums are nowhere near as suggestive or far-ranging as this younger band's early output. Onstage, however, their name really comes to mean something. Here, the feel of R & B swallows up everything they play, and, in turn, the band swallow up the audience in their wild, sloppy, stomp-yer-feet-and-have-another-beer, partyin'-good-time mood. In fact, it's such a generous good time that, in this setting, NRBQ make youngsters like Camper Van Beethoven sound like a bunch of snotty, spoiled kids. If you've never seen them, it's almost worth going just because indifferent 20-year veterans simply aren't supposed to have so much fresh energy--I guess it just goes to prove that passion and commitment don't always go hand in hand. Saturday, Biddy Mulligan's, 7644 N. Sheridan; 761-6532.

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

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