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Spot Check

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BURNING AIRLINES 4/30, FIRESIDE BOWL; 5/1, EMPTY BOTTLE This D.C. power trio is a shameless holdout, playing earnest, angular, dynamic punk rock with an emphasis on the rock. Emphasis also on holdout, as opposed to throwback--guitarist J. Robbins and drummer Pete Moffett cut their teeth (and probably some other body parts) in the hardcore juggernaut Government Issue; Moffett went on to form Wool with future Foo Fighter Franz Stahl, and Robbins to front Jawbox with future Burning Airlines bassist Bill Barbot. The form these guys love isn't dead--it just needs a punch in the arm once in a while, and Burning Airlines' debut album, Mission: Control! (on DeSoto, the indie label Jawbox started), provides that right off the bat, with the fairly head-banging opening chords of "Carnival." More proof that loud, catchy, and drunk on sound doesn't have to mean stupid. HELIOS CREED 4/30, EMPTY BOTTLE Helios Creed is best known as one of the twin engines that propelled the San Francisco psychedelic sci-fi punk band Chrome to the top of that fortunate abomination of a subgenre. In the early 80s, following a split with Chrome cofounder Damon Edge, Creed bowed out of a battle over the band name and established a respectable cult following of his own with a string of solo albums. But after Edge died in 1995, he culled a new version of the group from former members and new fans and cranked out a few surprisingly vibrant records. Any remaining doubts were erased by this ensemble's dramatic set at Empty Bottle last year--and also by the black-hole-dense crowd that showed up to experience it. This time around it's a Creed show, not a Chrome show, though, and now that he can fulfill his primal noisemaking instincts in their original context, Creed's continuing solo efforts--like last year's Dark Matter II--have become less Chrome-like than ever, and more like a private, swirling, electronic sound track for an astronaut to look out his starship window by. TANGLETOWN 4/30, DOUBLE DOOR This rootsy Minneapolis pop quintet's debut, Ordinary Freaks (Zinc), attains the modest goals laid out by front man Seth Zimmerman in the PR: "We wanted to make a record that people would listen to and understand right away." I listened, I understood--now tell me, why do I ever need to listen to it again? Maybe if Zimmerman had gleaned a little more than just his husky nasal tone from his uncle Bob--yes, that Bob Zimmerman--he would see there are advantages to making records that people are still trying to completely understand 30 years later. TRISTEN 4/30, BORDERS ON MICHIGAN This teenage singer's accompanist-manager-agent-dad sent me a list of tunes she covers by the likes of Jewel, Natalie Imbruglia, Sheryl Crow, Lisa Loeb, Sarah McLachlan, and Natalie Merchant--as if I might want to book her for a Tupperware party or something--as well as a demo CD of utterly generic girl pop meant to showcase her pretty voice. I wish her the best--that is, I hope that when she goes away to college and gets some time to herself, she'll rebel and become the next Lydia Lunch. MANNEQUIN LUNG, phthalocyanine, low res 5/1, NERVOUS CENTER These three acts from the California-based Plug Research label will be making their Chicago debut as part of "/bin," a new electronic-music series organized by local musician Mike Javor. Mannequin Lung is almost danceable, with cold, cerebral grooves that hark back to early Kraftwerk--though I never heard anything in Kraftwerk that sounded like a tuba sample. Phthalocyanine is more jittery, more likely to shuffle in a dose of funky urban overload than find a good beat and ride it into the sun. Low Res is inclined to forsake the beat entirely to find whatever unclaimed territory they can in electronic space. RETSIN 5/3, EMPTY BOTTLE "To the dozen or so people who were paying attention--thanks," snarled one of Retsin's front women to a packed crowd at Lounge Ax last year. I can't remember if it was the one who was in Rodan or the one who was in Ruby Falls, and I don't much care. Some folks were in fact listening, but considering that Retsin was sandwiched between the arrestingly great all-female Taiwanese punk band Ladybug and Jad Fair with Yo La Tengo, frankly I couldn't blame those members of the audience who used the sullen, passionless, and underrehearsed set as an opportunity to chat, drink, or piss. Judging from the lacy, moody-broody guitar pop on their most recent album, Sweet Luck of Amaryllis (Carrot Top), these unengaging hothouse flowers do slightly better--not surprisingly--in the hothouse. MORGAN HERITAGE 5/6, HOUSE OF BLUES This Jamaican sibling act--five of reggae star Denroy Morgan's twenty-seven children--must have absorbed plenty of American culture growing up in Brooklyn and Springfield, Massachusetts. Their third album, Don't Haffi Dread (VP), doesn't seem to have too much time for it, though: rather, there are all the usual roots-reggae pleas for peace, justice, racial harmony, and universal Jah love, plus a bit of righteous Rasta rage directed at the music industry. But they distinguish themselves by their vocal work: particularly their old-fashioned harmonies and sister Una's haunting, punctuating wails.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Pat Graham.

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