BRUCE COCKBURN 3/3, the VIC I was introduced to the oeuvre of Canadian world traveler and (often) political singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn in the mid-80s by a lefty 30ish record-store owner who was on a mission to prove that Born in the U.S.A. was fluff compared to Stealing Fire. True enough, the grueling "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (in which the cerebral, precise troubadour chews through his own rationality in a flash of murderous rage that's all the more convincing for its awkwardness) has stuck in my head just as hard as, say, "My Hometown," though I've heard it far less often. There's nothing with that kind of force on Cockburn's 25th album, Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (Ryko), but it's a graceful, accomplished, unflashy but occasionally sexy record, relying heavily on his limpid fingerpicking and three versatile percussionists, with harmony contributions from Lucinda Williams and the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins. He's way more interesting than Springsteen at this point, but still a little dorky--if the Boss would never write phrases like "we're the insect life of paradise" or "languid mandala of the ceiling fan," neither would he namedrop Superchunk and the Friends of Dean Martinez. CATS & JAMMERS 3/4, DOUBLE DOOR On its forthcoming After School Special, this unapologetically cutesy-poo Chicago trio, fronted by Beluga Records honcho Scott Anthony, makes reference to WKRP in Cincinnati, The Dating Game, and possibly the 1987 Andrew McCarthy vehicle Mannequin. But kitsch and flat production can't diminish the comforting catchiness of the tunes--a cover of the Kinks' "I Need You" fits right in. I gotta give 'em hell for one thing, though: in the liner notes the Jammers thank "all the fair lasses of virtue pure," and then write lines like "I want to tie you down I want to / saddle on for a ride / I want to sample your flavors and / I want to go deep inside." Watching too much TV will give you a pretty severe virgin-whore complex, I guess. TURING MACHINE 3/4, FIRESIDE bowl This New York-based trio is guitarist Justin Chearno and bassist Scott DeSimon from the early-90s math-rock band Pitchblende and Gerard Fuchs (formerly of Vineland) on drums. They claim a roster of influences from Gang of Four to This Heat to Magma, but on their Jade Tree debut, A New Machine For Living, they've got their own thing going. A lot of arty instrumental rock these days devolves into long stretches of noodling where you can almost hear the musicians' eyes crossing, but these seven tunes--one of which is called "(Got My) Rock Pants On"--are tight, focused, and occasionally menacing, more akin to Trans Am than A Minor Forest. They're all longer than they seem, which is a nice change. WARREN ZEVON 3/4, PARK WEST Over the course of his three-decade career, Warren Zevon has alternated turns as the noble prince of the cutout bin with random moments of zeitgeist click--a hit cover of his "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Linda Ronstadt, that unlikely classic about werewolves, a well-received cover of Prince's "Raspberry Beret" with members of R.E.M., and so forth. The title of his new album, Life'll Kill Ya (Artemis), pretty much lets you know what to expect: gallows-humor meditations on mortality and futility, including "Porcelain Monkey," a clear-eyed number about Elvis that demonstrates how little of his story is left when the myth is removed, and one referred to as "Back in the High Life Again" on the cover but titled "My Shit's Fucked Up" in the booklet. Probably his best in years. The show is sold-out. BROTHERS CREEGGAN 3/5, SCHUBAS Barenaked Ladies bassist Jim Creeggan and his brother, ex-Barenaked Ladies keyboardist Andy, play more instruments than you can shake a stick at, but not much is shakin' on their new Trunks--middlebrow acoustic folk-jazz-pop fusion so laid-back it's boneless. TWO DOLLAR GUITAR 3/5, EMPTY BOTTLE The core of this Hoboken band is guitarist Tim Foljahn and drummer Steve Shelley, a couple of Michigan boys who've been collaborating on and off since before Shelley joined Sonic Youth in 1985. Foljahn, with his deep but clear voice and mournful strumming, leads the crew--which now seems to permanently include former Cell bassist Dave Motamed--past brooding, through moping, and into a sort of Zen sadness--fuck shoegazing, he's looking into the abyss yawning between his feet. Two Dollar Guitar's fourth album, Weak Beats and Lame-Ass Rhymes, on Shelley's label Smells Like, features understated cameos by a host of guests, including Nels Cline and Carla Bozulich of Scarnella, Beck and John Doe guitarist Smokey Hormel, Memphis producer Doug Easley, For Carnation guitarist Michael McMahon, and Spanish songbird Christina Rosenvinge. In the midst of it all, Foljahn still intones his infectious dirges, like he's being filmed in black and white though the rest of the movie is color. GHOSTFACE KILLAH, CAPPADONNA 3/9, JOE'S I think one of the reasons hip-hop inspires such knee-jerk revulsion among those who hate it is that it demands close listening. It doesn't politely request it; it plants its feet where you live and perpetually draws attention to itself--not by dumb brute volume, but by twitchy switches and beats that get under your feet and other forms of constant startlement. Loud human voices are more disruptive than loud music--the patterns are unpredictable and you can't help but eavesdrop. I'm not a hip-hop head per se, but I've been sucked in by Ghostface Killah's new Supreme Clientele (Epic)--a smart, sardonic action thriller complete with tragedy and romance and a classic score drawing on the Dramatics (who actually guest here), Isaac Hayes, and August Darnell. Cappadonna's 1998 debut, The Pillage (Columbia), by contrast, is a grimmer, wordier, Dostoyevsky-in-the-ghetto novel. I'm also intrigued by the setting for this show--former Metro employee Zach Paradis, who curates the ambitious "Hip-Hop 2000" series, is bringing these two Wu-Tang henchmen to the 700-or-so-capacity Joe's, which should be a bit more intimate than House of Blues and a lot less cavernous than the Aragon. GUNGA DIN 3/9, EMPTY BOTTLE This "supergroup" is fronted by ex-God Is My Co-Pilot drummer Siobhan Duffy and anchored by Jim Sclavunos, who's backed Lydia Lunch, Sonic Youth, and the Cramps and currently plays with Nick Cave's Bad Seeds; organist Maria Zastrow has sung with EinstŸrzende Neubauten, and guitarist Bill Bronson has played bass with Swans. Given that collective resume, you'd hope that the Gunga Din's new Glitterati (Jetset) would feel a little more visceral than, say, Concrete Blonde.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Lavine.