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SCREAMIN' CHEETAH WHEELIES 7/22, WORLD Rate them against their competition on this year's H.O.R.D.E. tour and these Nashville yobbos begin to sound relatively OK. Mining the same decimated southern-fried-rock territory as the Black Crowes, Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies' hard-rocking twin-guitar boogie-down excess earns points if only for its honesty. While other acts on this neohippie package tour--e.g. the insufferable Blues Traveler--parade their musical rehashing under the guise of social consciousness, this quintet harbors no such illusions, delivering its mindless, partying tracks without any contrived "messages." PROFESSOR & MARYANN 7/22, ELBO ROOM The New York duo of singer Danielle Brancaccio and singer/guitarist Ken Rockwood perform an urbane, calculated brand of "witty" adult pop--"The pain I can no longer bare [sic] / Baby your [sic] on my hair." He sings like a gritty Michael Franks, while she calls to mind a raspy Cyndi Lauper with a Rickie Lee Jones infatuation. If this sounds good to you, you have my sympathies. GRAYS 7/22, METRO The Grays' multilayered pop owes huge debts to XTC's overripe vocal eccentricities, Paul McCartney's elastic bass lines, and Big Star's irresistible melodies. Sound good? Think again. The Grays, who include former Jellyfish guitarist Jason Falkner, manage to mismix the above ingredients. The result? Too much of a "good" thing with a saccharine aftertaste. They open for the befuddlingly popular, triumphantly average Toad the Wet Sprocket. THEE HYPNOTICS 7/22, METRO Leaving behind the well-rehearsed Stooge-oid rattle they established themselves with in the 80s, this English four-piece has survived broken legs and a heroin overdose to reinvent itself with producer Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. On their recent The Very Crystal Speed Machine (American), they've resurfaced with a sound that recalls their producer's own retro combo, spewing a delightfully stupid blend of massive 70s faux-blues guitar, raunchy proto-Stones balladeering, and moderately funky southern boogie. They couldn't be much less original, but their precise approximations capture a lost era of dumb rock swagger surprisingly well. Vanilla Trainwreck opens. MEKONS 7/22 & 7/23, LOUNGE AX On their latest album, Retreat From Memphis (Quarterstick), the Mekons don't really pull any new tricks. Sure, there are a few oddities like the churning numb-funk throb of "Our Bad Dream," but mainly they're towing the line from I Love Mekons; the creative burst that produced Mekons Rock 'n' Roll and Curse of the Mekons is absent. None of this is to suggest that the Mekons are no longer a terrific band--these last two records have been crammed with some excellent stuff, their biting humor persists, and their over-the-top live shows haven't sobered up any. Opening Friday is the stripped-down and jacked-up Meters-style funk of Five Style. On Saturday the openers are M.O.T.O. and Ottawa's Spiny Anteaters, a quartet that, based on its forthcoming debut album All Is Well (Kranky), buries fragile pop melodies and shy vocalizing under a compost heap of guitar noise, tape hiss, blurry rhythms, and murky bass. The few press clips the band's garnered babble about My Bloody Valentine, but this combo has no preoccupation with that band's high volume, instead couching its tunes in a rickety lo-fi haze. CRYSTAL WATERS 7/23, VORTEX The woman responsible for last year's dance-floor hit "Gypsy Woman" makes an appearance in support of her new album, Storyteller (Mercury). Over an alternately percolating and pounding bed of hard club beats, Waters crafts catchy melodies with deep roots in 60s soul. Unlike most dance-club divas, she has a hand in writing all of her material, and while her singing range is limited, her thick, steamy voice exploits the middle terrain quite masterfully. JALE 7/26, LOUNGE AX This Nova Scotian foursome plants nicely raspy, tightly registered, moderately complex vocal harmonies in a thick bed of jacked-up jangle, careening crunch guitars, and crisp, sturdy rhythms. On its new Brad Wood-produced Dream Cake (Sub Pop), Jale proves that the appeal of combining pleasant melodies with a hard guitar attack isn't always their polar opposition; in this case they come together on a harmony-rich middle ground.

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