AFRICAN/CARIBBEAN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF LIFE 7/2-5, WASHINGTON PARK Less hyped than any other Chicago festival of its size, this four-day stand--held near the DuSable Museum of African American History--promises food, crafts, clothing, and some 60 acts performing music and dance from across the African diaspora. Friday's bill features Messianic Sons ("positive hip-hop"), the R.S.B. Band from the Dominican Republic, the African dance company Dansika, and local reggae stars Aswah Greggori and the Enforcers. Saturday's got the veteran reggae band Third World and the Fambondy Dance Company from Senegal, as well as blues, gospel, and dance groups from the Caribbean and Chicago. Sunday's highlights include "calypso king" Mighty Sparrow, child star Maestro Harrell (from UPN's Guys Like Us), and Melaku and African Elements' Ethiopian reggae. Monday's lineup is mostly reggae, headlined by 80s dancehall star Half Pint, whose first album in ten years, Legal We Legal (Artists Only!), won him best male artist at the Tamika awards this spring. See festival listings for full lineups and times. MOJO NIXON 7/2, LOUNGE AX By now anybody buying a Mojo Nixon record--the new The Real Sock Ray Blue! (Shanachie) is his 12th--knows damn well what he's in for: rockabilly-spittled balladry on obvious and/or dated targets. This time around Nixon takes aim at Princess Di ("Drunk Divorced Floozie"), O.J. Simpson ("Orenthal James"), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ("Rock n Roll Hall of Lame"). But though he's creeping further and further into hostile old-man Luddite-ism--cybersex ("newfangled chicken chokin'") and electronic music ("MIDI is shitty") both raise his ire here--he still cheerfully embodies a sort of id-driven redneck populism, and he does have an undeniable way with the language: "She was screamin' in my face / That she needed more space / So I gave her NASA's number / Now my whole life's a bummer," from "U.P.S. My Heart to You." ANCIENT GREEKS 7/3, FIRESIDE BOWL; 7/9, roby's This Chicago quartet plays smart, willfully thin pop, with the usual odd time signatures and herky-jerky clean tones we've come to expect from local rock musicians who spend a lot of time listening to jazz--high-voiced vocalist Chris Warland and guitarist Nathaniel Braddock have played in various free-jazz outfits, and both contributed horns to Joan of Arc's Live in Chicago, 1999. The four-song demo they sent me sounds good--well crafted, well performed--but falls just short of really compelling. Maybe next time. Joan of Arc headlines. BLACK SABBATH, APARTMENT 26 7/3, ALPINE VALLEY MUSIC THEATRE; 7/5, NEW WORLD MUSIC THEATRE Of course the big deal about Ozzfest '99 is the vaunted "Last Supper"--the supposed final go-round of the original lineup of Black Sabbath. Even taken with the grain of salt that must always flavor such announcements, that's bittersweet news. Last year's Reunion album was better than it had any right to be: Ozzy may have been reading off the TelePrompTer, but Geezer Butler's rapturously dense bass slabs at last got the prominence they deserved, and guitarist Tony Iommi proved that persistence really does pay off. But the big tip-off that it is in fact time for Sabbath to bow out is that they're selling the rest of the Ozzfest lineup as "the best of their progeny and disciples." Besides Rob Zombie and Slayer, the roster includes some unsigned bands that someone in the organization thinks are worthy--like anyone will be paying attention--including England's Apartment 26, whose post-Nine Inch Nails growl already sounds more dated than Sabbath's primitive rumble. NO NECK BLUES BAND 7/3, 6 ODUM These truly underground improvisers, with deep ties to the horse-frightening end of the NYC scene (percussionist David Nuss also plays with Tom Surgal and Lin Culbertson in White Out), rarely venture off the east coast, and even there they have a marked preference for unconventional venues like parks and rooftops. But when they made a virtually unannounced appearance at the Velvet Lounge last summer (that I'm still kicking myself for missing), one of the show's organizers told me, the audience consisted of "some guys from WNUR, Jim O'Rourke, and about five of my friends." That's a pity since by all accounts audience presence can add a lot (naked dancing, for example) to their intensely focused, carefully spun, and yet gloriously unpredictable web of shrieks, rattles, and cosmic drones. Their goal is not so much to be enigmatic (though they are) as to subsume "personality" to sheer sound--and for all their hard work at that they've been tagged as a sort of thinking man's Crash Worship. Not fair--they put out a much more generous, risky vibe, and they also put out records that are actually listenable. This bill also includes Sun Burned Hand of the Man; the trio of Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jim Baker, and Weasel Walter; and a computer-edited tape piece by Kevin Drumm and Michael Colligan, which Drumm says is "similar to Niblock, with a lot of tiny sounds flying left and right." Drumm will also DJ between sets. MOLLYS 7/6, ABBEY PUB Eight years ago, I hitchhiked in the rain from Belfast to Dublin--and upon arrival was ready to pitch my traveling companion's pennywhistle into the Liffey. Not your stereotypical Irish experience, and neither are the Mollys, from Tucson, Arizona. On their 1998 Moon Over the Interstate, rather than cling embarrassingly to the cliches of the tourist-brochure auld sod, they forge a lively Irish-Tex-Mex fusion, and their intelligent political engagement shows a wry awareness of their surroundings as they are. Their moving songs of southwestern life are cast with a distinctly Irish flavor--though they're not afraid to rip out a pure polka either. Oh, and the pennywhistle is applied very tastefully.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Melanie Brown.