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Spot Check

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BILLY NAYER SHOW 1/7, EMPTY BOTTLE This is indeed just as much a show as a band: since 1989, songwriter and performer Cory McAbee has been building a cult following on the coasts with films, music, and sometimes a combination of the two. When fronting the Billy Nayer Show band--longtime partner Bobby Lurie on drums, Michael Silverman on bass, James Beaudreau on guitar, himself on autoharp and ukulele--he's been compared to Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, Frank Zappa, and Penn Jillette; his "adult fables" on last year's album, The Villain That Love Built, include "Mr. Satan Butterwolf," in which the title character sees the faces of "Bunny Bob, Clark and Karl, Bunny Biff, and Baby Bunny Sue" in his stool, and "Christ," in which the savior totals his truck but strides from the fire unharmed. This show is in support of a brand-new fourth album, Return to Brigadoon (all the BNS's records are on BSG Records). McAbee moved to Chicago in November; this is the group's only midwest date. BRIGHT EYES 1/7, schubas; 1/8, FIRESIDE BOWL I wouldn't exactly say I was won over by the strangled desperation of this Omaha indie-rock outfit's recent EP, Every Day and Every Night (Saddle Creek)--in fact front man Conor Oberst, whose voice is made to tremble to the point where it sounds like he's singing into a fan, misses most of my buttons pretty thoroughly. But for these five songs, at least, there's something sustainably attractive about the Wagnerian drama he brings to bedroom balladeering, and the arrangements, which make economical use of vibes, organ, violin, pedal steel, and tape loops as well as guitars, drums, and bass, are pretty in a subtle, autumnal way. DOUG SAHM TRIBUTE 1/8, LOUNGE AX When blues-rock stalwart Doug Sahm--of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados--died last year at the age of 58, he left behind a Texas-size discography that features forays into R & B, Tex-Mex, honky-tonk, and Cajun pop. During his long and productive career he also contributed 12-string guitar to the Grateful Dead's Wake of the Flood, did arrangements for Yusef Lateef and Rick Danko, sang backup for Willie Nelson, and even played on Uncle Tupelo's final album; his songs have been covered by Steve Earle, Otis Clay, Mott the Hoople, the Lemonheads, and Ringo Starr. At this tribute, he'll be feted by a host of grateful local country-rock types who've at some point trod in his footsteps, including Wilco bassist John Stirrat and guitarist Jay Bennett, Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, Robbie Fulks, Chris Mills, Nora O'Connor, and Mount Pilot. GIANT SAND 1/11, LOUNGE AX Tonight's entry in Lounge Ax's two-week Viking funeral is a rare appearance by the Tucson-based trio Giant Sand, which since 1985 or so has been the dusty, rusty, raw, and romantic main vehicle for the songs of Howe Gelb. The set will most likely feature tunes from Giant Sand's first new studio album since 1994, the double LP Chore of Enchantment. Recorded with John Parish in the desert, Jim Dickinson in Memphis, and Kevin Salem in New York, it was originally slated to come out through V2 (as did Gelb's solo album Hisser last year, apparently to underwhelming response), but it's currently for sale only at shows and on the band's Web site (www.giantsand.com); Thrill Jockey will pick it up in March. Drummer John Convertino and bassist Joey Burns, who've been with Gelb more or less since the early 90s, will open with a set by their own band, Calexico; Man or Astro-Man? is also on the bill. SUMACK 1/11, HOUSE OF BLUES "Isn't it sort of redundant, in the year 2000, to say that your influences are from all over the map?" asks Mark McAdam, the front man for this LA pop quartet, in the press release for its V2 debut, Now Hear This. He and his bandmates have hence tried to coin a term for their music--"junkrock"--but a better one, courtesy of a semirecent issue of Your Flesh, is "record collection rock," and what's really fascinating about it is that, with an almost infinite sea of recorded music to draw on, so many bands end up sounding like Beck without the virtuosic cleverness or the gouging hooks.

As usual, this is nothing resembling an attempt to nail down The Ten Best Records of 1999 or any other year; this is a very nearly random handful of releases I found myself enjoying a lot last year, in no order whatsoever: Angus MacLise, The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Siltbreeze); U.S. Maple, Talker (Drag City); XTC, Apple Venus Volume One (TVT); Ballydowse, The Land, the Bread, and the People (Grrr); Pita, Get Out (Mego); Charlemagne Palestine, Schlingen-Blangen (New World); Ghost, Snuffbox Immanence (Drag City); One Night @ the 1001: Moroccan Music Recorded by Brion Gysin (Sub Rosa); Looper, Up a Tree (Sub Pop); Gaza Strippers, Laced Candy (Man's Ruin); Haunted House, Up in Flames (Erstwhile); Sainkho Namtchylak, Naked Spirit (Amiata), Sufi Soul: Echos du Paradis (Network).

--Monica Kendrick

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