I don't really believe that just signing to a major label can make a good band go bad, but Royal Trux's two-album stint with Virgin was almost enough to convince me. Although the beefy boogie rock of the David Briggs-produced Thank You holds up surprisingly well, the band's attempt to re-create that big sound live was a disaster. And while the Virgin swan song Sweet Sixteen still sounded like Trux, it was a Trux torn between a raucous experimental past and a desire to sell records, a Trux muddling through the dullest and most directionless album of its career. Late last year guitarist Neil Hagerty and vocalist Jennifer Herrema returned to Drag City, the label where they made their mark, and their first order of business was to release the sprawling two-CD compendium of pre-Virgin activity called Singles, Live, Unreleased, reminding the fans they'd lost along the way why they'd liked the band in the first place. Earlier this year the duo hammered the point home with Accelerator, a furious 35-minute romp marked by an urgency and a looseness missing from its music for four or five years. The songs draw as usual on Hagerty's deep reserve of raunchy, distended Keith Richards licks, but the band's white-hot raw energy and Hagerty's gleefully ragged duets with Herrema go miles beyond mere imitation. Whether it's the sick, subterranean blues of "Yellow Kid," the overdriven bubblegum of "Juicy, Juicy, Juice," or the unexpected soulfulness of "Stevie," Royal Trux consistently wriggles just far enough out of the familiar forms to slap them around a little. And the new 3-Song EP suggests that there's still more where that came from. For this show Hagerty and Herrema will be backed by Dave Pajo (Slint, Tortoise, Aerial M) on bass and Jon Theodore on drums. Smog, Chestnut Station, and Town and Country open. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Taylor Crothers.