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LIR 1/27, SCHUBAS Modern rock would seem to be the only way to tag this Irish quintet, but don't ask me what that is. Like the band itself it seems to cover anything from INXS to Big Head Todd and the Monsters. On their American debut, Magico Magico! (W.A.R.), they frame the preening vocals of David McGuinness with myriad musical settings, from straight guitar rock to unctuous balladeering to quasi-psychedelic bombast to wan white-boy funk and all the ineffectual shades in between. Their failed attempts at profundity--e.g., "Some Folk Are Truly Evil"--don't help matters. Wilding open. MERCY RULE 1/27, EMPTY BOTTLE The lithe, muscular machinations of this Lincoln, Nebraska, trio straddle the boundaries between ordinary rock melodicism and sheer punk rock energy. Suggesting D.C.'s Tsunami without the chronic lethargy or New York's Antietam sans the brio of a guitarist like Tara Key, Mercy Rule lend their unexpected pop tunefulness a significant ferocity. Unfortunately vocalist-bassist Heidi Ore's singing sinks an otherwise admirable combination. All of her passion and earnestness can't overcome her technical shortcomings, especially when she gets ambitious. On the band's well-produced second album, Providence (Relativity), her vocals pose a big problem. However, on their ragged debut her voice is appealingly obfuscated. Live energy could accomplish the same trick. They open for the seemingly eternal God Bullies. KAHIL EL'ZABAR, FRED ANDERSON, JODIE CHRISTIAN, JAMES WILLIS 1/27, HOTHOUSE This fascinating commingling of Chicago jazz vets embarks for some HotHouse-sponsored German dates following this lone local appearance. As leader of both the Ritual Trio and Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Kahil El'Zabar produces intoxicating blends of free jazz and meditative African spirituality; Fred Anderson is the superb yet sadly unheralded brawny post-Sonny Rollins tenorman. Pianist Jodie Christian can span the bridge between straight hard bop and the avant-garde, and bassist James Willis, who's often filled in for Malachi Favors in the Ritual Trio, is capable of the same range. It's a rarely heard combination. MEAN REDS, MARIANA TRENCH 1/27, METRO Ten years ago these two success-starved local outfits would've been striving to be the next Def Leppard or Van Halen; now they're in the long line for the throne of Pearl Jam or Live. Both bands have recently released debut CDs, cleanly produced and competently performed, but the market-chasing sounds captured on them could hardly be less distinctive. A night of Star Search hopefuls. SOLITUDE AETERNUS 1/28, VIC While steering clear of the satanized Kiss makeup sported by Mercyful Fate's singer King Diamond, Solitude Aeternus have their own goth-metal quirks. Combining a lumbering Sabbath-esque riff assault with the overripe crooning of Robert Lowe, the music of this Texas quintet belongs to a metal subgenre called "doom"--I didn't make that up--a cauldron of sludgy heaviness and post-new-age philosophy. Yet a fetching chorus like "Haunting the solace / Of the sleeping world / The darkness falls like lead" sounds more like the work of retired Dungeons & Dragons zealots armed with a pack of tarot cards than of crystal-crazed metal innovators. Aftermath open. VANDERMARK QUARTET 1/28, HOTHOUSE The keystone of the revivified free-jazz/improv/avant-garde scene in Chicago celebrates the release of its second CD, the aptly titled Solid Action (Platypus), which comes closer to the quartet's firebrand live energy than its debut. With multiinstrumentalist Dan Scanlan firmly integrated into the group's attack, the music sounds more vibrant and realized than ever. CYCLONE TEMPLE 1/31, BEDROCKS Led by guitarist Greg Fulton Cyclone Temple, which has roots in late-80s scene stalwarts Znowhite, proffers a hard-hitting mainstream metal that suggests Metallica at its most accessible. Vocalist Sonny DeLuca dabbles a bit heavily in melodrama, but apart from the metal-reggae fusion of the title track, My Friend Lonely (Monsterdisc), their first widely available release, proves the quartet to be a solid if unspectacular middle-of-the-road outfit. POOLE 2/1, METRO An unabashedly chirpy guitar-pop foursome from Burke, Virginia, Poole produce a jacked-up jangle that seethes and strums around melodies so darn sunny that shades take on function and transcend fashion. The juxtaposition of a tough but clean edge and wag-along tunefulness is nothing new, but it's hard to get over the novelty of Brian Wilson enthusiasts trying their hand at cock rock. A line on their forthcoming debut album, Alaska Days (spinART)--"I wish my hair was long and clean and your favorite drink was Ovaltine"--summarizes Poole's odd suburban bedroom pop-star fantasies better than I ever could. SPELL 2/2, DOUBLE DOOR Denver's Spell are one of hundreds of music industry darts tossed wildly at the lucrative "alternative" bull's-eye. The band's biggest selling point must be the fact that drummer Garrett Shavlik spent years in Sub Pop near-misses the Fluid, 'cause it sure ain't the music. On its inauspicious debut, Mississippi (Island), the trio hops around like pallid Dinosaur Jr fans.

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

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