BIS 9/17, METRO At least part of the reason these Scottish kids get such glowing press is that no critic wants to be the evil Gargamel who harshes on the Smurfs' sugar buzz. After career boosts from Beastie Boy Mike D (who signed them to Grand Royal in 1997) and some high-profile opening gigs, with their new Social Dancing (produced by Andy Gill, of all people), they seem poised to take to the airwaves--and that's the point at which their guitar-spiked synth-pop ditties (and the spunky yapping of Amanda "Manda Rin" Mackinnon, who looks and sounds like a Japanese cartoon character) will become truly oppressive. In the meantime--well, the surgeon general hasn't started putting warnings on candy bars yet, but if you end up with false teeth by 50 don't come cryin' to me. RANDOM TOUCH 9/17, NEO-FUTURARIUM Christopher Brown and James Day, based in Crystal Lake, have been improvising together as Random Touch since 1979, but both began studying music in the early 60s and have played everything from rock to traditional classical music. The CD-R they sent me, Angel Fetus, doesn't sound much like anything coming from the current Chicago crop: retro-futuristic electronic sounds merge with distorted voice snippets and seemingly random percussion rolls and clicks for a pleasantly confusing interface between the outer-space music of the imagination from back when science fiction was utopian and the inner-space music of small performance venues. EVIL BEAVER 9/18, CASA DE JOHANN It's always nice to hear two nice girls--bassist Evie Evil and drummer Laura Ann Beaver, aka Laura Masura of the Prescriptions--indulge in the self-indulgence of gratuitous dynamic shifts, excessive changes, and busy drumming: remember, the ladies like to wank off too. The four cuts on their enjoyable demo ("The Pearl," "Enter Beaver," "Girlfag," and "Wasted Milo") also include some spirited grrrl-style growling and wailing. They share the bill with the Prescriptions, Loraxx, Three Dollar Bill, and the Traitors at the Second Annual Queercore Round-up and BBQ, a benefit for gay youth service agencies. See the Calendar story in Section One for more about the event and co-organizer Kathie Bergquist. SLINK MOSS 9/18, LOUNGE AX; 9/24, Frankie's Blue Room Moss's latest release, Legend (Rattlesnake/Waterdog), is a collection of singles, demos, one-offs, and odd ends recorded mostly with his old band the Flying Aces (a Chicago outfit that released two excellent records before Moss split for New York in 1997). A few were written for indie films, a few feature Ted Ansani and the late Jim Ellison of Material Issue, and a few were recorded with members of Moss's New York combo on cello and violin. Don't let the black hat fool you--Moss has a deep respect for country and rockabilly, but over the years his broad take on Americana has encompassed everything from stripped-down Springsteen to sweet garage pop, and this collection in particular leans heavily toward the latter. ROSE POLENZANI 9/18, SCHUBAS When I got sweet-talked into helping judge a local Lilith Fair talent search two years ago, Polenzani was unanimously declared the champion: accompanied only by her own guitar and a quiet banjoist, playing a simple, elegant song, she stood out like Venus de Milo amid the breast-beating, hair-ripping hordes. She got our attention the old-fashioned way: she earned it. Her latest release, Anybody (on Indigo Girl Amy Ray's Daemon label), is a collection of demos and outtakes, with harmony from the Indigo Girls on one track and fiddle by Andrew Bird on another, but it stands as easily the best record of its type I've heard this year: Polenzani's erotic, discontented, pagan sound world is already almost as well fleshed out as Leonard Cohen's. TEMPEST 9/18, DURTY NELLIE'S; 9/19, CELTIC FEST Now here's a fusion that makes sense: Celtic folk and hair metal (front man Lief Sorbye, a Norwegian by birth, plays the double-necked mandolin). Judging from its tenth-anniversary collection on Magna Carta, this road band is less Lord of the Dance than Leahy but more trad than Jethro Tull. What more could an ale-filled weekend Celt who dances approximate jigs in big motorcycle boots want? TONY TRISCHKA BAND 9/19, SCHUBAS; 9/20, David Adler Cultural Center Trischka is a 28-year veteran performer who started out as a straight-up bluegrass banjo player, and on early records his mastery is stunning. But since 1973's Bluegrass Light, his focus has been fusion, and his current band features a bassist, an electric guitarist, a sax player, and a drummer. Their latest CD, Bend (Rounder), suffers from a little problem that has plagued fusions of various sorts: the new hybrid is born sterile. You can still be dazzled by the skill and technique of the players, but you may also be overwhelmed by the undifferentiated waves of formless light jazz. ENEMYMINE 9/20, EMPTY BOTTLE This new band--on record, Godheadsilo's Mike Kunka on eight-string bass, Low's Zak Sally on regular bass, and Dan Sasaki on drums--is surprising in its mere existence: I wouldn't have expected the ultrafierce bass and drums duo Godheadsilo and the so-slow-you-can't-see-'em-move trio Low to be close enough genetically to be able to produce offspring. Enemymine (K) starts off deceptively soft, but Junior takes after the Godheadsilo side: mostly this is intense lurk-and-pounce stuff, hanging around the edge where emo turns into adreno. These guys get their idea of heavy from the density of metal, where a power surge is more than what made Pro Tools crash. Ryan Baldoz has replaced Sally for this tour. BOTANICA 9/23, LOUNGE AX Though this group, led by multi-instrumentalist Paul Wallfisch (Firewater, Congo Norvell), is technically a trio, its debut, Malediction (Checkered Past), is a work by committee, with Kid Congo Powers and Daniel Ash bringing in energies from a time when the line between goth and rock wasn't as firmly drawn as it is now. There are also contributions from Daniel Glass of the Royal Crown Revue, Blondie's Frank Infante, and, significantly, sidemen of Leonard Cohen and Stan Ridgeway--though if I had to pick the artist Wallfisch reminds me of most I'd have to call it as Rowland S. Howard. Also on the bill is the Abby Travis Foundation (led by Botanica bassist Abby Travis), whose self-titled 1997 debut is a good example of how this sort of theatricality can go flat as a cartoon if you're workin' it too hard.INDIGO SWING 9/23, LIQUID This San Francisco sextet's third CD, Red Light! (Time Bomb), shamelessly merges postwar pop styles like one of those Disneyfied theme rides that blur complex parallel histories into a collection of retro clothes and sound bites. Thanks to them Louis Jordan and Gene Vincent are bumping into each other as they spin in their respective graves. For obsessive-compulsive pleat ironers only. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dave Jacobs.