WILL OLDHAM 7/16, LOUNGE AX I've never understood the personality cult surrounding this New-York-by-way-of-Chicago-by-way-of-Louisville singer-songwriter. On over a dozen records (most of them credited to Palace or variations thereof) he's created plenty of eerie 3 AM moments whose sparse, bluesy neo-Appalachianisms translate just fine to the angst of the urban urbane. But just because he's got an extended family of musicians, producers, and visual artists doesn't make him a hillbilly, and just because he's poetically inarticulate when fresh-faced fanzine kids grill him on the Meaning of Everything doesn't make him a prophet. (He may never shake that child-preacher role in Matewan.) I See a Darkness, on his own Palace Records label, is one of Oldham's finest releases yet, with brittle but aching meditations on the underbelly of friendship, but his latest moniker--Bonnie "Prince" Billy--has got to go. This is his first Chicago performance since February 1997. 81/2 SOUVENIRS 7/16, LIQUID Fresh from a tour with Brian Setzer, armed with a forthcoming album (Twisted Desire, on RCA), this Austin-based melange of swing sophisticates is ready to take on the world--the world that's been waiting for a stiff, pose-ridden, cocktail-jazz cover of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man," that is. I can't wait for the ultra-honky, retro-ironic bebop revival to wipe this shit off the map--again. ROBYN HITCHCOCK 7/17 & 7/18, METRO; 7/18, QUAKER GOES DEAF The title of this psych-pop package tour--which also includes the Flaming Lips (see Critic's Choice), Sebadoh, and the most self-consciously "experimental" of Sonic Boom's electronic projects, E.A.R.--is the First International Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue. (I wonder how many of these artists are beneficiaries of this much-needed charity?) For decades now Hitchcock's been allowing rumors of his artistic infirmity to flourish and then proving them wrong; his 90s pattern of one great album/one shitty one isn't a foolproof indicator, but 1996's Moss Elixir was unquestionably one of the great ones, so you know what that means for his forthcoming Jewels for Sophia. Yup: a few great tunes like "Mexican God" set in a festering squelch of things like "The Cheese Alarm" and "Viva! Sea-Tac." Few other artists traverse such a dramatic gap between their great moments and their sucky ones. When Hitchcock's good, he combines an eerie, playfully sexy poetic sensibility with wryly passionate English folk-rock elegance, as if the molecules of Roald Dahl and Roy Harper got mixed up in some SF transporter. But when he's bad, doing his cutesy-poo surrealist shtick, he's as swat-worthy as a Bart Simpson-headed fly. I've seen him transcend weak material live, but I'd much rather hear the good stuff. LOVE DOGS 7/17, FAMOUS DAVE'S This large R & B/jump blues band from Boston goes to ridiculous lengths to distance itself from the swing craze while still riding its crest. (Is that another curse of post-ness, the crippling inability to strike an unselfconscious note?) But I can understand how any musician would love to have audiences who actually dance. There's some real energy and life in the virtual grooves of Heavy Petting (Tone-Cool), and the band members have all been playing relatively nonglitzy blues and jazz for a while. Unfortunately, lead vocalist E. Duato Scheer makes that guy from the Commitments sound like James Brown, which doesn't help when you're trying to put across lines like "It ain't hot weather / That makes me stick to you." ELLIOTT 7/20, FIRESIDE BOWL The 11 tracks on this Louisville quartet's U.S. Songs (Revelation) are nothing you haven't heard before on that midwest/south emo-indie axis: you know when the tempo changes will hit, when the trilling guitars will reach their rivers-of-Wharton-Tiers peak, when the boyish singer's voice will crumble into a husky whimper. It's good, solid genre stuff, but something in the way these guys stick to this peer-approved sound gives me the nagging feeling that a half generation ago they'd have been studying Bon Jovi records. Also on the bill are east-coast emo band Six Going on Seven, so if you're planning to dump your lover, this might make a perfect last date. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Feridoun Sanjar.