DOUGLAS EWART & INVENTIONS 12/2 & 3, VELVET LOUNGE It's been said that Douglas Ewart's oeuvre could easily be mistaken for the work of a small civilization. The Jamaican-born musician and instrument inventor moved to the U.S. in 1963 and for several years honed his skills as a tailor--background that benefits his work with masks and costumes today. But by the late 60s he'd switched to music, studying saxophone, clarinet, theory, and composition at the school run by the AACM, of which he'd later become president. Nowadays Ewart travels often, lecturing, teaching, exhibiting his creations--beautiful, resonant sculptures that take their cues from traditional instruments, including didgeridoos, rainsticks, and berimbaus--and working on installments of his ongoing project Music From the Bamboo Forest. Here he'll perform on some of his own reeds and percussion instruments, supported by Wallace LaRoy McMillan and Mwata Bowden on more reeds and percussion, Tatsu Aoki on bass and taiko, Dushun Mosley on drums, and Darius Savage on bass. HEY MERCEDES 12/2, FIRESIDE This new Milwaukee-based band features three former members of Champaign heroes Braid--drummer Damon Atkinson, bassist Todd Bell, and singer-guitarist Bob Nanna--and a sometime roadie for the Promise Ring, guitarist Mark Dawursk. They released a four-song EP on Polyvinyl a couple months ago and are now label shopping--a process that shouldn't take too long, since their tightly crafted, chiming and grinding sensitive-boy rock fills that cozy little niche between mugging emo and faceless alt-rock. Not unpleasant, but not revelatory. They open this early show for Rocket From the Crypt, who in the past year have wiggled out of their deal with Interscope and replaced longtime drummer Adam "Atom" Willard with Mario Rubalcaba (Clikatat Ikatowi, Black Heart Procession). KIM 12/2, The HIDEOUT "Even in the 21st century Asian women are exoticized and stereotyped as submissive, quiet servant-types," reads a press release issued by this local all-Asian, all-female band, and their stance against this is more than just hype: judging by their lengthy collective resumé, you're as likely to find band members teaching seminars on "stereotype busting" or playing for the National Association of Asian American Professionals as you are to encounter them in a rock club. But their missionary zeal puts an extra burden on their friendly, exuberant hard pop that the music isn't really designed to bear. On their self-released, self-titled debut EP, their mix of pre-Prince Bangles and mellow math rock sets no cultural agenda whatsoever; if ethnicity or gender makes any difference in their sound, I don't hear it. There's no doubt that they play this stuff every bit as well as any band of white guys, but somehow you wish they did it better. It's about as unexotic as it gets--of course, that was the point, wasn't it? MEAT PUPPETS 12/2, DOUBLE DOOR; 12/5, Schubas Most of the world got to know the Meat Puppets in the 90s, as close personal friends of Kurt Cobain, but their story is longer than Nirvana's and rivals it for pathos. About two years ago, the Reader published a long piece about the Kirkwood brothers: bassist Cris, who'd lost his wife to drug use, had disappeared into the danger zone himself, and bandleader Curt was watching the buzzards circle, both metaphorically and literally. But if the tone of the new Meat Puppets, an Austin-based quartet featuring Doug Sahm's son Shandon on drums, isn't exactly hopeful--the title of their new album is Golden Lies, and it's full of goblins, zombies, and other weird, creepy shit--neither is it resigned. Curt's twangy psychedelia is hitched to relatively tight song structures that will undoubtedly trigger a thousand belated observations about the band's influence on today's alt-country hordes, and if the band--rounded out by guitarist Kyle Ellison and bassist Andrew Duplantis--has as much fun onstage as it appears to be having in recent publicity photos, these should be good shows. The Tuesday gig, sponsored by Marlboro, is free. GRANT HART 12/3, Metro The entry for Husker Du in the Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock sums up the problem with Grant Hart's solo career in two words: "See Sugar." After the seminal Minneapolis trio split in 1988, Hart's former cohort Bob Mould hit the ground running, achieving greater commercial success than Husker Du ever did but gradually flattening out artistically, like a tire with a slow leak. Hart's own post-Husker band, Nova Mob, put out a couple noisy but tuneful albums in the early 90s and then disappeared. He's reemerged recently thanks in part to Patti Smith, who invited him to contribute to her latest, Gung Ho, and open for her on a short tour. In his brief, barely announced solo acoustic slot at the Riviera, he seemed nervous, intimidated, and charmingly optimistic, winning over the crowd with lost-puppy-dog earnestness and a lovely rendition of "Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill." Likewise, his new solo album, Good News for Modern Man (Pachyderm), presents him more as a searcher than as a jaded professional. With a hint of starry-eyed philosophical Christianity (which may explain his kinship with Smith), he flits between singer-songwritery ballads, neoblues, Beach Boys-esque indie pop, and "experimental" keyboard noodling, wandering all over the map rather than trying to sound authoritative in any one style. It's not an approach that makes stars, but it does make Hart an artist to watch.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joseph Cultice.