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BEELZEBUB'S BALL 10/30 & 31, CONGRESS THEATER This is WXRT's idea of a devilish party? The sword swallower and fire walker can't change the fact that Friday's lineup--Son Volt, Grant Lee Buffalo, and Patty Griffin, all talented but thoroughly mild-mannered country rockers--isn't threatening in the least. And the only thing scary about Saturday night is the zombie from the crypt that is Brian Setzer's career. Guys, if you made a deal with the devil for this, you got screwed; if you have any souls left to trade you should hold out for Gwar next year.

CHRIS THOMAS KING 10/30, BUDDY GUY'S LEGENDS Twentysomething Chris Thomas King is fairly young as bluesmen go, and especially young as highly respected bluesmen go, but he came by his chops the old-fashioned way: he inherited them. His father is Tabby Thomas, a Louisiana blues legend and the owner of Tabby's Blues Box in Baton Rouge; still, you'll find no answer to the nature/nurture argument here, as King no doubt got his versatile sensibility from the wide range of greats who played there. On his sixth album, Red Mud (BlackTop), he pays heartfelt tribute to his deep-south roots, covering his father's "Bus Station Blues" and squeezing yet more life out of a pair of Robert Johnson chestnuts, using his voice and guitar to dig deep into a source that isn't even close to being tapped out--despite what a lot of lesser interpreters might lead you to believe.

ROBERT JOHNSON & THE BROWNS 10/30, EMPTY BOTTLE Churning, surging, hissing, grating--that's the boiling scrape of Robert Johnson & the Browns, a local two-man project that claims to be "two one-man bands who perform together": Robert Johnson of Slowworm on guitar, percussion, and bass, and Todd Rittman of U.S. Maple on bass, drums, and guitar. Their debut on Skin Graft, allegedly recorded without overdubs or samples, is an eerie sonic brew devoid of the campiness of fellow jacks-of-all-trades the Lonesome Organist or Quintron. The bill also includes the trippy and violent Utopia Carcrash, who play like a glorious train wreck and dress like T. Rex, and larger-than-life Japanese heavy-psych masters High Rise (see Critic's Choice). This is where I plan to dodge bullets on Devil's Night.

MIKE WATT & THE BLACK GANG 10/30, METRO Indie rock's grizzled Uncle Mike has gotten a little too much mileage out of last year's "punk opera" Contemplating the Engine Room (Columbia), a sort of Woody Guthrie-esque autobiography in music (like Guthrie's autobiographical writings, it has both the keen insight and the garrulous rambling), and he knows it, so this is the "Puttin' the Opera to Bed" tour. It's also Chicago's first chance to catch it with incendiary guitarist Nels Cline, who left a wake of whimpering eardrums when he played here with the Geraldine Fibbers last year--that's him on the Engine Room album, but other commitments have kept him off the previous Watt tours.

MURDER CITY DEVILS 11/1, METRO They're not from Detroit, but doubtless they wish they were. This Seattle quintet, who've just released their second full-length, Empty Bottles Broken Hearts, might breathe a little life back into Sub Pop yet. Their throaty, menacing trash punk and sub-Iggy swagger are nothing new, but the secret to this music is to play it like there's no other music in the world, maintain healthy contempt for audience members who don't move, and most of all, write songs that stick: "Johnny Thunders" is a roar to heaven almost forceful enough to raise the dead (those heroin stiffs don't wake up easy). The likable but overhyped Modest Mouse headlines.

QUEERS 11/4, METRO The Ramones' sound was so perfect that it seemed to have existed for aeons before them--and it'll last for aeons after them, too. The Queers have been devoted to it since "queer" was still an unreclaimed insult ("punk," which once meant something similar, was by then already too generic), even covering Rocket to Russia chord for chord in 1994. Their new Punk Rock Confidential (Hopeless), full of catchy riff-punk tunes with titles like "Tamara Is a Punk" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got an Ugly Daughter," proves once again that you can't copyright zeitgeist.

WEBB BROTHERS 11/5, LOUNGE AX The tendency of showbiz scions to coast on their names alone is well documented, but these local pretty boys--Christiaan and Justin Webb, sons of songwriter Jimmy Webb, the man who gave us "Wichita Lineman" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"--overcompensate instead. Their debut, Beyond the Biosphere, is a testament to not quite knowing when to quit, burdened with horns and strings and theremins, each song blustering through multiple parts and lyrics declaimed with a combination of vintage prog projection and modern-rock angst. Well, Webb pere wrote "MacArthur Park," too. The Chamber Strings open.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Webb Brothers uncredited photo.

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