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FROGS 12/18, EMPTY BOTTLE "There's a fine line between clever and stupid," spake one of the wise gentlemen of Spinal Tap, and no one illustrates this better than Jimmy and Dennis Flemion, who have been staggering drunkenly back and forth over that line for 18 years. Their Frogs are still a cult band despite Smashing Pumpkins' best efforts--big bald Bill's fans weren't much more receptive to the tepidly offensive 1997 collection Starjob than they were to 1989's outrageous It's Only Right and Natural, which presented the heterosexual brothers posing as incestuous gay lovers and featured song titles like "Hot Cock Annie," "Richard Dick Richards," and "Homos." No label to date has been willing to touch 1991's "Racially Yours," their equally sensitive and insightful take on relations with the African-American community, and by the time Matador issued My Daughter the Broad, in 1996, that aforementioned fine line had become a chain-link fence. But the early spring rerelease of their enervatingly sublime lush-pop 1988 debut (on Jim O'Rourke's Moikai imprint) should give a taste of what might have been.

KOOL & THE GANG 12/18, HOUSE OF BLUES When this funk machine revved up in the late 60s, pop songwriting--defined here as packing maximum groove into a minimalized package--was not a strong suit. In fact, the group started as a jazz act, the Jazziacs, and their first records as Kool & the Gang are largely instrumental, full of the sort of whoo-hoos and doing-the-dozens chatter meant to make you believe there really were hundreds of people partying right there in the studio. As the disco era progressed, they tightened up, issuing a long string of hits and peaking in 1980 with their first and only number-one crossover single, "Celebration"--still played after sports victories and at karaoke nights everywhere. Even the collapse of the disco market couldn't stop them; it took the departure of vocalist J.T. Taylor in 1989 to pull them off the pop charts completely. Taylor returned in 1995 and has toured with the Gang regularly since. Boycott the platform-shoe poseurs tonight and get a taste of the real thing.

ULELE 12/18, The VIC; 12/23, Goose island brewpub This year's preholiday live-music slump shouldn't be nearly as bad as last year's, thanks in part to hard-working local bands trying to earn their daily gingerbread. Ulele is at the forefront of Chicago's world-groove scene: the septet's second CD, Harmony (Ulele Arts), is a mulligan stew of sounds from Africa, Brazil, Hawaii, India, New Orleans, Cuba, and Memphis, all of which are fair game these days for the sacred urban North American ritual of the Friday night "cathartic experience," in which the young adults of the tribe get staggering drunk and dance to thank the gods for the end of another workweek.

EINSTŸRZENDE NEUBAUTEN 12/19, METRO After some 18 years in the oilcan business, this Berlin-based institution remains one of the very few original industrial bands to escape the descent into self-parody. In this case that's meant trading the early mayhem for a sardonic pop sensibility and branching out into theater, poetry, and film work. The full band comes together pretty sporadically these days (it hasn't released a new album since 1996, when both Ende Neu and Faustmusik, an import-only sound track for an avant-garde Berlin production of Faust, came out) and though we've recently glimpsed bandleader Blixa Bargeld in his day job as a Bad Seed--in September he looked less reptilian than ever--this show is an increasingly rare opportunity to watch his vision at work in nobody's shadow but his own.

SONIA DADA 12/19, HOUSE OF BLUES This Chicago septet was supposedly formed when songwriter-guitarist Dan Pritzker, en route to a Cubs game, found vocalists Shawn Christopher, Paris Delane, and Michael Scott singing gospel at the Chicago Avenue subway stop--a story that sounds like it was invented by the same people who choose locations for ER. If he was going to Wrigley Field, why was he getting off at Chicago? The band's third LP, My Secret Life (Capricorn), is a warm, fuzzy slab of multiculti soul rock that at its best wanly imitates Sly & the Family Stone and at its worst wanly imitates Foghat.

TOWN and COUNTRY 12/19, LOUNGE AX Almost nowhere else I can think of do musicians cross genres (if not genders) so generously and with so few hang-ups as in Chicago. The end result, if there is such a thing, is a band like Town and Country, a quartet whose players come from diverse backgrounds and keep their fingers in many pies while simultaneously refining a group vision. Their quietly rewarding debut CD (described in more detail in last week's Post No Bills) on the local label Boxmedia confirms that they're a real credit to their context. Also on the bill are experimental rock vets Cheer-Accident; the electroacoustic trio TV Pow, whose Brent Gutzeit runs Boxmedia; and Tortoise bassist Doug McCombs, whose solo project, Brokeback, has expanded to include jazz bassist Noel Kupersmith.

PIGFACE 12/21, HOUSE OF BLUES Martin Atkins's ongoing supergroup, essentially a cattle call to anyone who knew anybody on Wax Trax way back when, lumbers into town again, this time touting Below the Belt, an LP of mostly uninspired remixes from the recent A New High in Low--just in case you've forgotten who pioneered that method of padding the product. The star attraction in the lineup this time is Psychic TV front man Genesis P-Orridge: Atkins's Invisible label has just released Origin of the Species, a two-CD retrospective of Psychic TV's "Infinite Beat" period, 1987-'92, during which P-Orridge tried to push the notion of competent beat-box jockeying as revolutionary utopian statement to ever more absurd heights. The set has a few dramatic high points (a moving, previously unreleased live version of PTV's tribute to Joy Division's Ian Curtis, the moment when late Master Musician of Jajouka Hadj Abdesalam Attar's sampled ghaita wakes listeners from their blissed-out torpor), but the liner notes, in which P-Orridge begs everyone to appreciate his sincerity while he more or less takes credit for inventing everything from rave culture to ritual magic, are insufferable. I'd trade it in a minute for, say, a two-CD-length version of the band's 1984 single "Unclean."

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Pigface.

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