Railroad Jerk | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Railroad Jerk's ascent from East Village slop merchants to distinctive genre splicers is one of indie rock's few successful examples of musical evolution. The band's eponymous 1990 debut found them mired in sonic confusion, though a few tunes suggested that some interesting if unformed ideas lurked beneath the mess. After their follow-up, Raise the Plow, revealed an interest in swampy blues, they released a pile of singles, established a firm lineup, and did some heavily acoustic woodshedding. Judging from their latest, One Track Mind, the last few years were well spent: they now casually lift riffs and appropriate imagery with a natural swagger. On "What Did You Expect?" vocalist-guitarist Marcellus Hall, whose self-confidence borders on cockiness, admits, "I don't shun success anymore," putting himself at odds with indie rock's dominant pose. They may blather on about their love of Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, and they've even competently covered Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die," but like Matador labelmates the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, they mostly just borrow the genre's brash exuberance and frenzied desperation. With terrific lead vocals, effectively ragged harmonies, off-kilter hooks, and swell guitar interplay, Railroad Jerk convey an unusual pop sense. The gigs I've caught have ranged in quality from piss-poor to spotty; one hopes their live show will match the qualitative leaps of their records. Friday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.

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

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