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Spot Check

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EKOOSTIK HOOKAH 12/28, MARTYRS' I'm not surprised to learn that this long-lived Columbus band was invited to play at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame--they sound a little like nearly every band Rolling Stone thought was important circa 1972, fronted by Ian Anderson on a handful of herbal pep pills. Not my cup of tea, but to be fair, they embody all that's good about hippie jam culture, including independence (they've sold about 75,000 copies of their six self-released records), generosity (charity concerts out the wazoo), and industriousness (they host a biannual festival that attracted 12,500 fans this spring). And if you believe in paying by the note, you'll get your money's worth from their latest, the double live CD Sharp in the Flats. IMAGINARY POSSE 12/29, SCHUBAS This sweet-sounding indie-rock quintet from Champaign has released a debut EP, 32 Chester, on its own Petrahof label. The sparingly used harmonies of vocalists Joseph Donhowe (who also plays guitar) and Debra Domal lift the tunes a notch or two above average, but bands like this, in their militant humility, have an ability to color anything with a slight patina of fear of success--even an Oasis cover ("Maybe"). BLAMADAY 12/30, ROBY'S This local band has been functioning as a songwriting workshop for its three core members, guitarists Lisa Boudreaux and Karen Gollrad and percussionist Nathan Sturm. But with the addition of bassist Christine Garcia (from the adequate Adequate Brothers and the usually wonderful Grimble Grumble) it's developed a distinct personality most easily described by comparison to other distinct personalities: forgotten misfit faves like the Happy Flowers, broken folkies like Peter Stampfel, and au courant guitar jags like U.S. Maple. JOYGIRL 12/30, DOUBLE DOOR I found it hard to believe that even these fresh-faced products of the Chicago burbs had no idea that "joygirl" was slang for a woman of ill repute--until I played their self-released CD, All American Power Trio. As no-frills as its title implies, it's proof positive that the power-pop genre runs on youthful naivete: when these girls sing "If I can't have you / No one else will," it's heartbreakingly unconvincing. Not that they don't have the rock: there are some moments here that answer the question no one was asking about what you'd get if you stripped Sleater-Kinney of all their charming idiosyncrasies. MATTHEW SWEET 12/31, NAVY PIER Corn-fed Nebraska boy Matthew Sweet has always been a popster's popster--romantic enough to believe music is almost the most important thing in the world, cynical enough to realize that hardly anyone else thinks so. While he's never had another hit on the scale of his 1991 single "Girlfriend," he's accumulated a devoted but diverse following: his contributions to the sound tracks of flicks like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Austin Powers, The Craft, and The Baby-Sitters Club keep roping in the kiddies, and more critical sorts have looked fondly on him for his symbiotic relationship with underappreciated New York guitar heroes Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine. On Sweet's latest, In Reverse (Volcano), most of the guitar heroism is his own, and the songs are his strongest in some time--particularly the infectiously constructed single "What Matters" and the audacious epic suite "Thunderstorm." Is this gig going to be worth the $135 ticket? Of course not, but if you've got that kind of cash I guess Navy Pier will be as nice a place as any to watch the sky for the Four Horsemen. VON FREEMAN & ED PETERSEN 1/1, GREEN MILL Known as a power player, genuine Chicago sax legend Von Freeman also loves to display his versatility--on Italian-born pianist Francesco Crosara's new Colors (Southport), he changes everything he touches, mostly for the better, with his swaggering tenor tenderness. This blowing session, billed as a "battle of the saxes" between Freeman and former Green Mill stalwart Ed Petersen (who now lives in New Orleans), has become something of a Christmas tradition in recent years, but if you've missed previous meetings, you can get up to speed with the album they released this March, Von & Ed (Delmark). ARCHER PREWITT & FRIENDS 1/5, SCHUBAS Former Coctail and current Sea and Cake guitarist Archer Prewitt has made a quantum leap with his second solo album, White Sky (Carrot Top): where his 1997 debut, In the Sun, often seemed wispy or insubstantial, the new record is tuneful and affecting. Part of the credit goes to Susan Voelz's flavorful violin and Edith Frost's winsome backing vocals, but I also think Prewitt is emerging as a songwriter of real presence. The "friends" referred to here are the core members of the band on the record: Mark Greenberg on bass, Steve Goulding on drums, Dave Max Crawford on trumpet, organ, and electric piano, and possibly Paul Mertens on reeds.

--Monica Kendrick

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