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THE CROSSING 5/19, CAFE EUTYCHUS The kind of music that makes the contemporary Christian charts usually just makes me wonder who the hell would give up a perfectly good life of sin to spend eternity listening to that shit. Still, the devil doesn't get all the good tunes: those looking to spread the good news more effectively might look for guidance to the 500-member Jesus People USA commune in Uptown, whose outreach programs include soup kitchens, elder care, youth programs, homeless shelters, and fiery Celtic music. For the kids there's the punk band Ballydowse, whose praises I've sung in this column before, and for those who like their power more subtle, there's the 15-year-old trad ensemble the Crossing, whose five members wield a battery of instruments that includes fiddle, bodhran, didgeridoo, pipes, whistles, bouzouki, guitar, harp, cello, and keyboards. On their 1996 disc, Dochas (Hope), on Grrr, the commune's own label, not all the songs have lyrics, and those that do address topics like violence and humanity's place in the universe with a minimum of preaching. The band seems to realize that no declamation of scripture will ever put the fear of God into anyone quite like Highland pipes in close quarters. Aden 5/20, University of Chicago; 5/21, Empty Bottle Jeff Gramm and Fred Kovey, the front man and bassist for this once-local band, now live in Arlington, Virginia, but guitarist Kevin Barker is still based in Chicago, as are the supplemental players on the forthcoming Hey 19 (Teenbeat): Aluminum Group drummer John Blaha, vibist Mark Greenberg, and engineer Dave Trumfio on keyboards. I've never liked Aden's music, a featureless balm for indie-pop insomniacs, but the new album shows signs of animation, if not actual life, and the meandering interlocking guitars actually make some melodic sense. But after 11 tracks of Gramm's prissy, bloodless muttering--it's not emotional enough to be "whining"--I still felt like I'd nodded off and woken up in a dorm full of bashful zombies. ANCIENT GREEKS 5/20, EMPTY BOTTLE The Greeks' latest demos show significant improvement over the last batch I heard, almost a year ago. No longer does this local quartet fade into the gray zone of post-rock asceticism: it builds up genuinely pleasurable thinking-man's pop grooves and then surrenders to them. A live show I caught in January didn't make me drop my drink, but I wasn't closing my eyes and thinking of other bands, either--and though that may sound like faint praise, it isn't. Five Style headlines. ASTRA KELLY 5/20, ELBO ROOM; 5/24 Subterranean This survivor of the post-Lilith Fair songbird population surge, who left Chicago for cleaner, more earnest Colorado, is back in town to celebrate the release of her new Acoustic Soul Live!! I know this combination of impassioned strumming and histrionic vocals has its fans, but I sorta look forward to the day when the acoustic guitar is considered a symbol of women's self-abuse under patriarchy, like the whalebone corset and the coat hanger. LE TIGRE 5/20, PRESTON BRADLEY CENTER After her solo spell as Julie Ruin, former Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna is in front of a band again: the witty, wicked Le Tigre, which features zine scribe Johanna Fateman and Chicago-based video artist Sadie Benning. They're a girl group for the 00s--what you might call a grrrl group--playing joyous, hooky feminist garage pop with sampled beats and turntables as well as guitar and Farfisa. This is an all-ages Homocore show; opening is Bride of No No, the enigmatic new math-rock project led by former Scissor Girls front woman Azita Youssefi (which should become slightly less enigmatic after its debut is released on Atavistic this summer). LISA KANE 5/21, UNCOMMON GROUND Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Lisa Kane got her start in the all-female Christian hair-metal band Zelpha Trippe--hard to believe, listening to the sweet, pagan-lesbian folk-blues on her solo debut, Old Strings & All, but perhaps it explains her willingness to crank up the volume. Her tunes have clean lines, and her singing is rich, conversational, and never forced. The album features a full band, including some spare, lanky slide guitar, but for this coffeehouse gig it'll be just Kane and her 12-string. KARLHEINZ ESSL 5/21, HOTHOUSE; 5/22, DEADTECH Austrian computer musician, composer, musicologist, and software developer Karlheinz Essl--author of essays on performance strategies, the poetics of serial music, and the social ramifications of composition theory--is these days largely interested in real-time composition and audience participation. The HotHouse performance is part of Gene Coleman's "Face the Music" series; Essl will perform alongside Polwechsel members Michael Moser and Burkhard Stangl (see Critic's Choice). For his appearance at the "electromechanical art" gallery Deadtech, he'll perform solo, presenting his witty, ever changing electronic music in conjunction with an "audience participation computer music installation" that's been open since May 9. A CD-R of his music the gallery sent me set an impressive range of moods, from spooky to bubbly to cerebral to pulsing to provocative; his work is bound to be even more visceral and absorbing in a tight space. JOSH ROUSE 5/23, PARK WEST The best investment I've made recently was one of those shrink-wrap slitters they sell at the Tower checkout counter for a dollar--a little yellow piece of plastic with a razor blade tucked inside that's made me a kinder, gentler rock critic. After years of picking away at cellophane and those stubbornly sticky sticker seals with my brittle little fingernails, like a palsied locksmith trying to crack Fort Knox, I had become convinced that people who sell CDs do not really want people to listen to them. Inevitably I'd be disappointed when I finally succeeded in getting the packaging off: when you're fumbling away at a chastity belt, you start to believe that the reward for your efforts had better be really, really good. But this wonderful yellow gizmo makes it a lot easier for me to enjoy, or at least tolerate, a piece of tasteful, mature, sensitive-guy wallpaper like Josh Rouse's new Home (Slow River/Rykodisc). EX-GIRL 5/25, EMPTY BOTTLE We Americans love to see our culture through the eyes of the Japanese: the way they jumble and mangle the familiar seems to purge it of its banality. If the all-female trio Ex-Girl, an art-punk band somewhere between the B-52's and the Fall, were American, they'd probably pick a shtick and stick to it, but being Japanese, they surf styles without fear or irony: one minute they're squealing like kindergartners about frogs, the next they're building crude but effective Casio synthscapes and chanting incantations, the next they're layering vocal harmonies like the Roches on helium. They're touring behind their third album, Big When Far, Small When Close (on their own label, Kiki Poo), and reportedly they bring the manic genius of their recordings alive in their stage shows, in part through elaborate costumery.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tammy Rae Carland.

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