THE EX 6/12, EMPTY BOTTLE The days when anyone could safely assume that real rock 'n' roll was American or British are long gone: in the last couple decades, wave after wave of noise from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and continental Europe has left us with our ears ringing, thinking, "Damn, I wish I'd thought of that." Amsterdam's hardest-working anarchist collective, the Ex, have touched on these shores often enough to be legendary but rarely enough that we'll never get tired of seeing them. Since the band's formation in 1979, personnel have come and gone, but as a musical entity the Ex has grown both tighter and wilder, honing its skills in collaboration with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, the Dog Faced Hermans, Han Bennink, and the late Tom Cora, among others. Most amazingly, the band has managed to maintain a political perspective in what's become an increasingly apolitical scene--without losing the unbridled passion and joy it played with ten and twenty years ago. And with Chicago's US Maple opening--well, I'm not fool enough to try to call the show of the year as early as June, but here's a strong contender.
JESUS And MARY CHAIN 6/12, METRO For a few shining moments brothers Jim and William Reid really had their fingers on the pulse of...something. Back in 1985 the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy, with its walls of feedback and pop-perfect melodies, inspired music writers to create bits of cloak-and-dagger fiction about a secret meeting between the singles-era Beach Boys and the early creepy Velvet Underground in the back room of some goth club to invent summer cruising music for people who don't like the sun. The band's first new album since 1994, Munki (Sub Pop), walks that fine line between comeback and cash in, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt: though even the eerie throb of "Perfume," which features wispy guest vocals from Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval; the dark, tuneful pulse of "Cracking Up" and "Never Understood"; and the feedback blast on "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll" don't hit with the epochal force of "Just Like Honey" and "Taste of Cindy," as throwaways go they still put most of my weekly slush pile in its place.
MARK MULCAHY 6/12, LOUNGE AX; 6/13, BEAT KITCHEN Miracle Legion--remember them?--always had more soul than success. There was a moment when their brand of heartfelt jangle rock was the rising tide, but it was a brief moment, and R.E.M.'s wake capsized a lot of smaller boats. Miracle Legion's day in the sun came in 1991--when they were signed to the barely extant major Morgan Creek Records--just in time to be eclipsed by grunge. The album recorded under that deal, Drenched, flopped, then the label went under; Mulcahy even wound up losing the rights to the old Miracle Legion material, which Morgan Creek had bought off the indie Rough Trade when it folded. But here's Mulcahy's solo debut, Fathering, on his own Mezzotint label, and it's something fairly special, crooked and cracked open, leaking self-deprecation and tentative hope. While simple but elegant songs like "Tempted" and "In the Afternoon" tread turf that's familiar to fans of introspective Alex Chilton or either late Buckley, Mulcahy seems to me a lot more sincere and interesting than, say, Mark Eitzel.
RICK RIZZO 6/12, DOUBLE DOOR Eleventh Dream Day, an even better band than Miracle Legion, also got the major-label treatment without lubrication; their gigs are terribly rare these days, especially considering that they're a local band. Solo turns by EDD's underrated guitar shredder Rick Rizzo are more rare, but you can get a whiff of the smoke he can generate on his own from a track on the band's recent Eighth (Thrill Jockey), "Motion Sickness," and from his contributions to the sound track for the independent film Dutch Harbor, where he trades lines with the likes of David Grubbs, Charles Kim, Doug McCombs, Jim O'Rourke, and Ken Vandermark. Those who still have goose bumps from last year's EDD show with guest guitarist Tara Key of Antietam will be happy to know that part of this performance will showcase the first fruits of a long-distance collaboration between her and Rizzo: he'll be playing to a CD-R of her tracks as well as his own. And hey, for the next best thing to an Eleventh Dream Day gig, stick around for headliners Freakwater, featuring Janet Bean, and then go see McCombs in Tortoise the next day at the Metro.
GRUPO MONO BLANCO 6/13, OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC Mexico's Grupo Mono Blanco is named after a playful white monkey that, according to an old Mexican legend, appears and causes all sorts of mischief among the dancers at the peak of a fandango--not to be confused with the noisy white apes that show up at parties here and drink all the beer. The multigenerational band, led by Gilberto Gutierrez, performs the traditional music of rural Veracruz with a combination of guitars, tambourines, and harps; and the percussion comes from the quijada--a donkey's jawbone with loose, rattly teeth--and rhythmic dancing, called zapatedo, on a wooden stage. The overall effect for a gringo like me is to cause homesickness for a place I've never even been.
LOVE AS LAUGHTER 6/13, EMPTY BOTTLE; 6/14, FIRESIDE BOWL "I just want to rock out," bandleader Sam Jayne, formerly of Lync, hisses in just about every interview included in Love as Laughter's press kit, and I can picture him then leaning forward, grabbing the hapless zine writer by the collar, and snarling, "And I'm not being ironic!" Well, fine--irony's on the way out, and sweat's what usually comes around to replace it. And LAL's second album, #1 USA (K), does indeed rock out, no quote marks necessary, with a straight-up Stonesy bluster. Now if only the quartet could somehow banish the smirking specters of Royal Trux and Urge Overkill, they could make a lot of kids happy on their slow slide to self-parody--anyone know what exorcist Keith Richards uses?
MOXY FRUVOUS 6/13, DOUBLE DOOR The urge to belong to something is one of those essential markers of humanity--it partly explains everything from religion to agonizing family reunions to the cult following that Canada's Moxy Fruvous has amassed, the Fruheads, who follow this amalgamation of bad stand-up and stiff sing-along rock pretty much anywhere they're told--including to February's Fruhead Convention, at which the winner of a contest received a Fruvous tattoo right on the bum. At good points on MF's new Live Noise (The Bottom Line), they sound like a third-rate Crosby, Stills, & Nash; in the worst spots they're Toad the Wet Sprocket on laughing gas, delivering up an ill-advised stadium-Cajun cover of Tom Waits's "Jockey Full of Bourbon," a version of "Psycho Killer" that demonstrates they can't even get as funky as a bunch of New York art students, and a monologue about whether or not they're a "good date band." I would argue that they are--for those who find Poi Dog Pondering too intellectually challenging and Scientology too expensive.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Rick Rizzo photo by Gregory Nickson.