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Spot Check

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SEASON TO RISK 12/22, METRO Default leaders of the current Kansas City, Missouri, punk rock explosion, Season to Risk teeter predictably between grinding-metal and ugly posthardcore machinations. Their most recent offering, In a Perfect World (Red Decibel/Columbia), delivers the requisite noise, chaos, and rage but lacks songs, originality, and verve. Just because you meet the qualifications doesn't necessarily mean you can do the job. Babes in Toyland headline and Mount Shasta open. MOTORHOME 12/23, LOUNGE AX This trio's recent Sex Vehicle (Dirt) has received plenty of accolades as one of the year's best debuts from a local band, and despite glaring debts to several stylistic templates--namely My Bloody Valentine and (cringe) Smashing Pumpkins--the acclaim has largely been earned. Motorhome buries plenty of languid hooks beneath Josiah Mazzaschi's pedal-hopping guitar, and his harmonies with bassist Kristen Thiele nicely complement the thick layers of fuzzed-out, swirling wah-wah guitar. Live the band performs with a whole lot more confidence, power, and verve than what you glean from the record. They also play the Empty Bottle on December 30 (see Holiday below). ALLIGATOR GUN 12/23, METRO Milwaukee's Alligator Gun purvey a hopped-up brand of popcore, that highly adrenalized mix of lightweight melodicism and stuttering punk rock that was all the rage for a few weeks earlier in the year. Their debut, Onehundredpercentfreak (Relativity), produced by Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton of genre trailblazing All, delivers plenty of unremarkable music that rocks hard but doesn't do much else. Since Gilman Street is all the way out there in Berkeley, where hair color changes more often than the seasons, local punk kids can't be too choosy. Blue Meanies headline. BELLATRIX 12/29, EMPTY BOTTLE Like most rock music from Iceland, Stranger Tales (Bad Taste), the domestic debut of Bellatrix, ripples with eccentricity. Though some of the extreme swoops and off-kilter melismas of vocalist and violinist Eliza Geirsdottir recall many of Bjork's quirks during her Sugarcubes days, the rest of the music stands easily on its own. Coursing with an unusual tunefulness, inventive instrumental passages, and herky-jerk rhythms, the record delivers pop music as only inhabitants of a country well off the beaten path seem capable of these days. Beyond its strangeness, however, the music is more than substantive enough to warrant attention. Pulsars, a Critic's Choice this week, and Ashtray Boy open. KATE CAMPBELL 12/29 & 30, FITZGERALD'S On her debut, Songs From the Levee (Compass), Mississippi's new folkie Kate Campbell pairs a literary quality redolent of Iris DeMent with a slick contemporary sheen suggestive of Nanci Griffith. But past the music's surface her sharp storytelling skills, keening voice, and melodic abilities leave those reference points behind. Campbell's music exudes the rhapsodic beauty of the Delta blues without taking on the genre; her empathetic portraits and vignettes ooze a sadness balanced by lilting melodies. She opens for Jimmie Dale Gilmore. D.O.P.E 12/30, DOUBLE DOOR As heard on their 1995 debut, Resination (Anti Gravity), these local potheads churn out an ineffective melange of Soundgarden caterwauling and sub-Black Sab riffery with traces of funk grooves. Nothing more, maybe a bit less. HOLIDAY 12/30, EMPTY BOTTLE On its eponymous debut, issued by the local March Records, this gentle Connecticut foursome crafts fragile, somewhat precious pop songs that would have been impossible to make if the band hadn't listened to a lot of Beach Boys records. Luckily Holiday's effete performance is countered by solid songwriting. They perform as part of the label's third anniversary celebration along with Motorhome, Godzuki, Kleenex Girl Wonder, and Hot Freaks (a name for Loud Lucy to hide beneath while they butcher Guided by Voices songs). COCTAILS 12/31, LOUNGE AX Since moving here from Kansas City five years ago, the Coctails have, for better or worse, become a Chicago institution. Early citizens of Cocktail Nation, they eventually eschewed Martinis and Esquivel emulations for an unsettling flirtation with braying free jazz before winding down with restrained indie pop. No band I've seen has packaged and merchandised itself with more creativity and skill. For the Coctails, presentation was inextricably linked to everything they tried. But their penchant for gimmicks created a monster, which might be why, with this gig, they're tossing in the towel. If any band could offer a summation of its entire career in one performance with nonpareil panache, it's the Coctails. Currently, Archer Prewitt continues playing in Sea and Cake; Barry Phipps plays his extensive record collection biweekly at Smart Bar; Mark Greenberg devotes time to his new band Log Letters, who open this gig; and John Upchurch looks forward to fatherhood. MEAT PUPPETS 12/31, HARD ROCK CAFE The new Meat Puppets album, No Joke! (London), finds them reinvestigating the creative stasis that's marked their last few albums; the formula brought them unexpected success last year with Too High to Die. Produced once again by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers, the new record delivers the same catatonic blend of post-ZZ Top choogling, obfuscated two-beat romps, and swirling hippie-dippy nonsense. You could do a lot worse than the album's more-of-the-same, but it's doubtful that you could discover a worse thing to do on New Year's Eve than attend this free gig at one of Chicago's most godforsaken, generic, hellhole tourist traps. I hear the T-shirts are cool, though.

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