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Spot Check

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BLACK HALOS 3/23, EMPTY BOTTLE Like Frank Meyer of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, Black Halos front man Billy Hopeless has been known to drop trou onstage; unlike Meyer, he's foxy enough to get away with it. (Who said rock 'n' roll was fair?) In addition to their prurient appeal, these pouty boys from Vancouver do the proto-punk thing (Dead Boys, New York Dolls) at least as well as D Generation--and probably a lot louder. The standout track on their second album, The Violent Years (Sub Pop), is a ripping cover of Joy Division's "Warsaw," but their own songwriting's not bad either, with solid hooks anchoring the usual whirlwind of guitars. CHRIS CONNELLY 3/23, HIDEOUT Edinburgh native, longtime Chicago boy, and former Revolting Cocks-man Chris Connelly has been playing subgenre hopscotch for years, releasing odd, lovely, charmingly dark solo records in a glam-pop mode distilled from David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Scott Walker, and the odd Buckley (Tim and Jeff, not William). His fifth solo album, Blonde Exodus (Invisible), is dedicated to his late collaborator William Tucker, making it the second record (after Phenobarb Bambalam) that Connelly has released on the heels of a loved one's suicide. You have to admire him for continuing at all, never mind with such gusto. MICHAEL STRENING JR. 3/23, OLD TOWN SCHOOL After releasing his debut album, Sunrise, on his own Thornwood Music label, Wilmette native Michael Strening took time off from the piano because of nerve irritation in one of his wrists and left town to work as a tour guide in Italy. Back in Chicago and fully recovered, he's finished a second album, Stars, and he sounds mighty relieved. Strening says he's inspired by the places where nature meets the city, but his orderly, trilling music--part classical, part New Age, and touched by minimalism--is neither as wild as nature nor as unpredictable as the city. Keep listening, though: he has a rare gift of being consistently pleasant without sounding vapid. KEN WALDMAN 3/24, ADLER CULTURAL CENTER Fiddler and spoken-word artist Ken Waldman lives in Anchorage, about as far away from the Appalachian Mountains as you can get without leaving the U.S., yet he's mastered the scratchy wooden tone and creek-jumping rhythm of mountain music. "Old-Time Fiddle Lesson," a poem on his debut CD, A Week in Eek, explains how it's done: "To learn, lock yourself / and your fiddle in a room / all winter and practice / until you play with a twisty / heartfelt rhythmic punch / that approaches trance..." Of course, the real secret is committing to the specific and the local. On "Poetry Reading, Brevig Mission" he recalls, "When that ten minute round dance ended / the parents clapped hard for the first time / all night, and I figured if I could win / half of Brevig Mission, population 230, / I could do anything." Waldman will share the bill with Jordan Wankoff of the Old Town School, and any man who can listen to beginning fiddlers hour after hour must have his own kind of rugged mettle. RUINS, PAK 3/25, EMPTY BOTTLE I've never read anything that does justice to the music of the Ruins, that savage duo of Tatsuya Yoshida (drums) and Hisashi Sasaki (bass). To call it extreme prog is to trivialize it; to call it wild is to slight their precision; to call it King Crimson playing speed metal is to minimize their range. Describing PAK isn't much easier. Ron Anderson was a founding member of unjustly forgotten NYC grinders Rat at Rat R (who were often ranked alongside Swans, Sonic Youth, and Live Skull) and later the short-lived but meteoric Molecules; this new quartet includes longtime collaborator Race Age and young bucks Will Redmond and Jesse Krakow. They're neither as fast nor as dense as the Ruins, but they're nearly as agile--the four cuts I've heard from a forthcoming album show a light touch and a playful disjointedness, and their tonality suggests the Plastic People of the Universe tossed into a martini shaker. To close the show, Anderson and the Ruins will reprise their ongoing RonRuins collaboration; also on the bill are local damage masters Cheer-Accident and the Flying Luttenbachers. KING BROTHERS 3/27, BEAT KITCHEN This Japanese trio have built up a modest name for themselves after releasing an album on Bulb and touring the U.S. last year, but unfortunately they never came through Chicago. Their forthcoming album on In the Red contains some of the most frenetic, over-the-top, and thoroughly damaged blues-punk I've ever heard--it's the sound of Hasil Adkins getting sucked into a jet engine. NEW YEAR 3/27, EMPTY BOTTLE Matt and Bubba Kadane, the powers behind the La-Z-Boy throne that was Bedhead, spring into action with this new band. Newness Ends (Touch and Go) begins with a characteristically shy and reverent approach to guitar chime but builds slowly over the course of its ten tracks, and by track nine, "Carne Levare," the pair's Velvet Underground influence has begun to pulse somewhere near the level of "What Goes On" live. Chris Brokaw of Come and Mike Donofrio of Saturnine round out this indie supergroup; Eternals open.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jeremy Harris.

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