Sex Mob | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader


Trumpeter Steven Bernstein has played on hundreds of recordings, with artists ranging from trip-hopper Tricky to crooner Mel Torme. And when he takes the stage with his own whacked-out postmodern vaudeville quartet, Sex Mob, his taste is no less eclectic. The Mob's gleefully sleazy repertoire includes drastically transformed songs by James Brown, Nirvana, the Rolling Stones, Leadbelly, and Prince; on their second disc, Solid Sender (Knitting Factory Works), the Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" becomes a hallucinogenic funeral march, and Ellington's "The Mooche"--already vampy in the original--heads into a section of town so trashy it makes the old Times Square look like the new Times Square. Sex Mob does more than insinuate and leer, though: audiences in lower Manhattan and critics nationwide also like the way the band can squeal and screech. Alto saxist Briggan Krauss twists his broad, malleable tone into deep, guttural cries and multiphonic shrieks, and Bernstein peels off some truly nasty gutbucket glissandos on his slide trumpet--an instrument that looks like a mutant miniature trombone and was presumed extinct not long after Louis Armstrong posed with one in some 1920s publicity shots with King Oliver. Add these controlled excesses to the timbral distortions issuing from bass (Tony Scherr) and drums (Kenny Wollesen), and this entirely acoustic band can create the impression of amplifier feedback--just one of its arsenal of teeth-rattling special effects. Sex Mob is good fun, if not clean fun: its members' instrumental prowess captures a loud, neon-lit, slightly desperate New York energy that's as fascinating as it is exhausting. Thursday, March 9, 7 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Neil Tesser

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

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