AFGHAN WHIGS 3/5, METRO Setting the standard for generic alt-rock since 1992. Despite crisper production and incongruous interjections of somebody's idea of R & B, Greg Dulli's tuneless heavy breathing on the band's new 1965 (Columbia) isn't even worth hating--but I can certainly muster some mild resentment. JO SERRAPERE 3/5, HEARTLAND CAFE; 3/7, uncommon ground On her debut, My Blue Heaven (on Chicago trad-music label One Man Clapping), Detroit singer-songwriter Jo Serrapere's forays into blues are more convincing and engaging than her obligatory folkie whispers or her swipes at swing. But her plush, girlish voice gets a perfect trace of huskiness on the sexy bits, and her dramatic restraint on the angry ones is infinitely more chilling than Alanis-style histrionics. The album features tasteful snatches of dobro, mandolin, cello, and trumpet in addition to Serrapere's acoustic guitar; here slide guitarist John Devine will accompany her. ENON 3/6, EMPTY BOTTLE; 3/7, fireside bowl Enon is what guitarist John Schmersal, formerly of Brainiac, has been up to lately. Having relocated to Brooklyn, he's regrouped as a one-man band with a debut single, "The List of Short Demands"/"Fly South," on Chicago's All City label. It sounds damn promising: two haunted and haunting slices of droning, clanging avant emo, bedroom rock for people whose bedrooms look out on junkyards and battlefields, shoegazer pop for people who just stepped in something. THE HAVOX 3/6, BEAT KITCHEN In the hilarious bio these guys have written for themselves ("People remark on how we are able to reproduce that genuine 'garage' sound. I feel it has a lot to due with the fact that we play our instruments like 7th graders") they slightly overhype their incompetence--they don't exactly make headliner Sylvain Sylvain's old band the New York Dolls sound like King Crimson. In fact, bass player Lou, "who wishes to remain anonymous," can really play, really fast, laying a feverish foundation for the trio's chaotic fool's gold Nuggets. JAZZ PASSENGERS WITH DEBORAH HARRY 3/6, FERMILAB I have to admit I'm getting used to the reunion concept, to the point of considering it an expected stage in a band's life cycle--hell, everybody wants a second try with an old flame sometimes. Deborah Harry and Blondie have even managed to come up with an album of decent new material, but though No Exit (Beyond Music) is studded with cameos by James Chance, Theo from Lunachicks, and Coolio, it doesn't immediately sparkle with pop gems like Parallel Lines or Eat to the Beat. Perhaps realizing this, the band hid a few recent live versions of some old beauties at the end, including a nearly note-perfect rendition of "Dreaming" and an inexplicably Deep Purple-ized "Call Me." These in particular prove that Harry's still in fine voice (if a little huskier than in Blondie's heyday), and that age hasn't done much to diminish her charisma. Here she'll sing with some longtime New York friends in the Jazz Passengers, whose founder, Roy Nathanson, has always considered it his mission to combine various flavors of high-energy jazz with theater of the absurd, vaudevillian comedy, and other performance traditions from the obscenely rich artistic swamp of downtown Manhattan. This lineup features percussionist EJ Rodriguez, who also appears with Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos at the Note this weekend (see Critic's Choice). HANK WILLIAMS III 3/6, LOUNGE AX Anybody with a tetch of hoodoo in the family can tell you that "the gift" often skips a generation--and that's the gist of the buzz on 25-year-old Hank Williams III, who reportedly thinks of himself more as the grandson of Hank Sr. than as the son of Bocephus. His first country gig was a grueling stint in Branson playing Hank Sr. onstage, and his first release was a "trio" album with both dad and granddad--assembled, like Natalie Cole's duo with her dead pop or that "new" Beatles single, via the miracle of modern technology. But he's starting to make his own mark now, emerging from Nashville with a repertoire that includes originals like "Fuck Nashville"; his solo debut is due on Curb Records in June. Former Chicagoans Gringo open this show. BOYS OF THE LOUGH 3/7, OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC This Celtic quartet's latest album, Midwinter Night's Dream (Blix Street), is a collection of tunes--mostly from fiddler Aly Bain's native Shetland islands--that observe various winter traditions, both Christian and pagan. The lyrics tell some wild tales, of fiddlers kidnapped by fairies, lotsa lairds a-leaping, and shocking animal-rights abuses ("The tradition [of wren hunting on Saint Stephen's Day] has happily mutated to one of drinking and musical entertainment," the droll liner notes reassure us). But you won't find much unruliness in the music. Bain has a smooth, airy tone and re-creates these tunes with a professional elegance that, while it nicely showcases their simple purity, is a little too polite for my tastes. ACE & THE RAGERS 3/9, metro These Cleveland rockabilly revivalists display all too clearly their very traditional motivation for getting into the music business with titles like "Scantilly Clad," "Too Many Chicks," "Slumber Party," and "Girl Crazy," and this invitation: "GIRLS! Send pictures to Ace and the Ragers Bikini Contest!" And really, revivalists who study their moves as reverently as these college boys (their debut, ...Light This Sucker Up, was recorded "during spring break of 1998") are a lot like people who talk about sex all the time: after obsessing over the technical details, they can't quite come up with the stuff that counts. RICHARD PINHAS & MAURICE DANTEC 3/11, MARTYRS' French guitarist Richard Pinhas--sometimes called "the French Fripp"--was a major motivational force on the French avant-rock scene in the 1970s with his band Heldon, still a mighty name to those who study the fringes of the past to get a better grip on the mainstream of the present. Heldon's been credited as the "first electronic punk band," and while I think the votes for that title are pretty far from being counted, I hear the group's influence in the work of more aggressive European electronic artists like Pan Sonic (at least in last year's terrifying collaboration with Alan Vega) and Alec Empire. These days Pinhas is given to wreaking his heavily treated guitar havoc alone or with the occasional collaborator; in this rare U.S. appearance he's working with techno-novelist Maurice Dantec, who on their new album, Le plan (Sub Rosa), reads the philosophizing of Pinhas's old pal Gilles Deleuze through a voice-altering computer program. What I've heard of Le plan sounds relatively restrained and careful, with a definite emphasis on the text--whose literal significance will be lost on non-Francophones. But if language as music is your idea of a soothing mind massage (it's often mine), there are worse ways to spend an evening than getting a taste of a vital countercultural history too few Americans know anything about. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Richard Pinhas uncredited photo.