BUMPUS 1/17, METRO A collection of kids who went to college in the 90s and carefully studied the sounds of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone isn't going to remotely approach the desperate energy and triumphant radicalism of the real deal--what was once revolutionary is now just fun. With that understanding, though, Bumpus revisits hallowed ground with a flexibility and playfulness that shows its influences are well cooked and healthily digested--unlike the half-baked regurgitations of a long line of wannabes, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on down to the Afrodisiacs.
HERC. 1/17, LOUNGE AX; 1/22, empty bottle Probably the last thing Chicago needs is another joke band, but I'll make an exception for this inspired drums-and-accordion duo, who mid-show turn into their own "evil twins" and do death-metal songs about how much they suck. In the course of their 30-minute set they skewer every known pretension, from the fake populism of stadium rock to hip-hop thug-life poses to heavy-metal satanism to underground hipster smugness to frat-boy TV-and-beer worship. Too bad they're opening for another joke band, "Adam & the Ants," on Saturday--I'd much rather see them on a bill with some self-important fluff like Smashing Pumpkins.
PRUNELLA SCALES 1/17, JACK HAMMER'S This band, which includes former Skid Row bassist Rachel Bolan, proves that hair metal is hair metal is hair metal--though now, of course, the hair is dyed or dreadlocked and new body parts are pierced for good measure. These guys get points for their surreal forced rhymes ("I can kiss a monkey's lips / Smash a peg until it fits") but lose them for misspelling Lynyrd Skynyrd in the acknowledgments to their new Dressing Up the Idiot (Mutiny).
MITCH WALKING ELK 1/17, OLD TOWN SCHOOL I saw Native American singer-songwriter-activist Walking Elk perform at the same venue last year in the company of a friend who claimed to hate folk music. Folk music is exactly what Walking Elk plays--the storytelling, the acoustic guitar, the political commentary, the whole bit--and yet my biased friend was rapt. I started to suspect then that a low tolerance for "folk music" might have more to do with the folk than the music: with a long resume as a teacher of cultural heritage and an unusually rich voice, Walking Elk has a lot more depth, range, and humility than your average long-winded troubadour. He opens for Lakota flutist and dancer Kevin Locke.
MAVIS STAPLES 1/19, SYMPHONY CENTER At last, a Martin Luther King tribute that wouldn't have bored the reverend to tears. As soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples reprises last year's Spirituals & Gospel album (actually a tribute to her heroine Mahalia Jackson), nonbelievers or quasi believers might squirm, but in the work of both Jackson and Staples the impulse to the divine and the drive to freedom are pretty much one and the same. Staples's passion might just convert a few folks by accident--or did you think that her sometime collaborator, the Artist Formerly Known to Have a Dirty Mind, was kidding about that God stuff? At the very least, the seven-times-Grammied a cappella group Take 6 promises a choir that can nail "We Shall Overcome," a sweet relief to activists of all faiths.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Mavis Staples.