KARL HENDRICKS TRIO, 12/31, LOUNGE AX The moderate appeal of this Pittsburgh combo's early records seemed to revolve around the conceit of decidedly nerdy guys playing tuneful but clunky ditties about girls, drinking, and puking. Their blatant nonhipness somehow made a straight cover of "She Was Hot" kind of acceptable, although it was a big snooze on a purely musical level. Maturity has brought a new seriousness, though, and on the group's new Misery and Women, puerile playfulness has been replaced by hackneyed lovey-dovey moaning. The opening tune's title even acknowledges as much: "Get Out Your Hankies for This One." Considering that their bratty/dorky attitude was the only thing getting their bland music over, you might need a fistful of No-Doz to make it through this set. Be forewarned, they play first on a bill with Washington D.C.'s Eggs and Chicago party favorites the Coctails. URBAN TWANG, 1/1, BEAT KITCHEN There are times when ears turn to tin, and such was my malaise when I gave a perfunctory listen to this local band's cassette Southbound. Vague points of reference come dashing through my head: disgusting images like "a more rootsy 10,000 Maniacs" and empty capsule wrap-ups like "If you like the Grateful Dead then check out Urban Twang." I'm sorry I can't make more out of this than calling it compressed, hippie-touched AOR-aspiring mush, but if you only want a dose of homey professionalism then please disregard the above, pull your Patagonia jacket over that bulky alpaca sweater, and head on down to catch Urban Twang opening for Jim Dewan and the Cathy Richardson Band. MAGIC SLIM & THE TEARDROPS,12/26 & 12/27,CHECKERBOARD LOUNGE, 12/28, 12/31, 1/1, 1/4, B.L.U.E.S. ETCETERA The weeks around the holidays tend to feature low activity musicwise, most touring acts possessing enough smarts to drink eggnog at home rather than in various 7-Eleven parking lots. Thus we receive a perfect opportunity to check out often ignored Chicago staples. The ceaseless ubiquity of the blues in this city sometimes threatens to reduce the whole scene to one big indecipherable blob, but over the years Magic Slim & the Teardrops have stood out by refusing to temper their music with potentially remunerative rock excesses (a la Buddy Guy). Slim (aka Morris Holt) and John Primer churn out a brawny, broad-shouldered mesh of guitar shuffles from which both effortlessly reel off solos packed with stripped-down rhythmic excitement and seemingly inexhaustible melodic exposition. Add to that Slim's huge, commanding vocals and you've got one of the last genuine articles of real Chicago blues, and it just happens to be fun as hell. BROWN BETTY, 1/6, CUBBY BEAR Recently transplanted from Bloomington, this spunky-punky trio drills relentlessly at ragged pop songs, spraying uncut exuberance all over the place. While the charms of their demo tape (from 1992) are nascent at best, word is they've gotten their act together live. Their songs convey an innate classic hard-pop and rock sensibility, but singer Bill Cameron pours out his overwrought emotions like a verbal slob, recalling the nerve-snapping whine preened by Jeff Lescher on early Green records. Plus there's a crucial baseball faux pas on "Goes Around": "It's hard to be struck out before you even step up to the mound." Duh!