JOHN CALE 4/20, NEVIN'S LIVE Until recently John Cale--no doubt the most interesting living alumnus of the Velvet Underground--was never one to live in the past, but personal history has proven fertile ground for him in the last few years. He's written music for a ballet based on the life of his late collaborator Nico. He's coauthored a funny and movingly self-lacerating autobiography, What's Welsh for Zen?, in which we learn, among other things, that Aaron Copland put the moves on Cale when he was a student fresh off the boat and that both Cale and Tony Conrad were employees of La Monte Young's bustling dope business. And in the near future, Table of the Elements will release three CDs of his ravishingly experimental 60s work, both solo and with Conrad, Terry Jennings, Sterling Morrison, and Angus MacLise--material that not even the most hard-core of Velvets chroniclers were sure existed. He reportedly intends this show as a quiet opportunity to try out new material from a record in progress, which seems a bit at odds with the show's other role, as the first big-name gig at Evanston's first rock club--but then his agent says this forthcoming record is a bit of a "return to his roots," so who knows. OVER THE RHINE 4/20, PARK WEST The brooding, almost disreputably lovely art-folk of this Cincinnati duo is a guilty pleasure--I've sometimes wondered whether they shouldn't leave in some flaws on purpose, like in Muslim prayer rugs, so as not to offend the divine. Their eighth album, Films for Radio (Back Porch/Virgin), raises these reservations faster than previous recordings: though Karin Bergquist's voice is as plangent as ever, the, um, ambitious production at times made me think I was listening to Dead Can Dance's lost Americana album. SLIM CESSNA'S AUTO CLUB 4/20, HIDEOUT Even Jello Biafra's label has room for Jesus these days--though I have my doubts about the firmness of the Auto Club's collective faith. Front man Slim Cessna is the son of a Baptist preacher (everybody knows preachers' kids are the wildest of all), a guy named Dwight Pentacost plays bass, banjo, and "Jesus & Mary doubleneck guitar," and when you think twice about lyrics like "He's the man behind my sins / I seem to fall because of him / Goddamn I hate him," from "Last Song About Satan," they start to seem rather wicked. The band is based in Denver, although Cessna now lives in Rhode Island and Pentacost calls Chicago home. This show is in support of their latest release, Always Say Please and Thank You (Alternative Tentacles), an irresistible collection of fractured black-suit-and-string-tie gospel accented at times by Quintron-esque organ. MEKONS 4/21, DOUBLE DOOR When I decided not to play the list-making game with the other critics in last year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll, the only reason I felt the least bit remorseful was that it would mean one less vote for the Mekons' Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick). One of the many irksome qualities of such lists is the artificial limits they place on the shelf life of a record, especially a subtle, literary sleeper like that one (though certain bits of it, like the overlapping vocals of "Cast No Shadows," hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks right off). The recent Collectors' Choice reissues of The Curse of the Mekons and The Mekons Rock n' Roll, out too late to boost the vote count, nonetheless beautifully illustrate both what a return to form Journey really is and how much of an international treasure these guys really are. ROCKET FROM THE CRYPT 4/21, METRO There's something about Rocket From the Crypt these days that makes me think of a family of possums that used to live under the porch of a friend's Lakeview coach house. He swears that as they got used to him and he got used to them, the mama possum would greet him every night like an insolent house cat. On Group Sounds (Vagrant), Rocket's first proper studio album since getting out of bed with Interscope, the long-running San Diego sextet sounds likewise aggressively contented, regaining the old energy but retaining a tightness and sophistication developed with age and experience. Rocket's curse and blessing is their deceptively simple but definitely distinctive sound, which seamlessly incorporates horny mariachi riffs, exuberant hand percussion, and inspired weirdness (like the piano, timpani, and Shadow Morton-style voice-over on the dramatic "Ghost Shark") into front man John Reis's unabashedly catchy melodies. And live they're one of the only garage bands around that can still do justice to matching outfits. The (International) Noise Conspiracy (see Critic's Choice) opens. SILOS 4/21, SCHUBAS For a band that's been around for 16 years, the Silos' discography is on the small side, but their work is sharply honed when it does get out. The band--currently mastermind Walter Salas-Humara, drummer Konrad Meissner, and bassist Marc Benning--has just released its eighth album, which is also its second for Chicago's Checkered Past. Laser Beam Next Door is a collection of songs that the trio refined on the road, and they're tight enough to bounce a quarter off. They may live in New York, but the Silos' worldview is nothing like that old New Yorker map--with their rootsy heartland flourishes and Salas-Humara's sunny swerves into Spanish, they're out to see as much of America as they can. FRANK BLACK & THE CATHOLICS 4/24, METRO I was never a convert to the Pixies cult, so I don't have a huge sagging load of expectations to bring to any Frank Black album. A couple of his sidemen--Eric Drew Feldman and Moris Tepper, latter-day Beefheart sidemen who've also played with Pere Ubu and Tom Waits respectively--are bigger stars in my universe. But Black's latest, Dog in the Sand (What Are Records?), shows once again that he's a smart and versatile songwriter, singing his mysterious lyrics in voices that'll persuade you he's laying bare his innermost feelings. Judging by "I've Seen Your Picture," he's been listening to the Stones and Alice Cooper in his time off, and on "St. Francis Dam Disaster," an abstract epic featuring Tepper on banjo, he sounds like spiritual kin to Giant Sand's Howe Gelb. ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO 4/25, HIDEOUT; 4/26, SCHUBAS; 4/27, EMPTY BOTTLE; 4/28, FITZGERALD'S Four gigs in a row seems a little excessive, but my hunch is you'll see at least a few of the same faces at all of them: that's the kind of devotion inspired by Alejandro Escovedo, who was merging country soul with rock 'n' roll heart back when such efforts were still called "cowpunk." This Chicago residency is part of the Austinite's tour celebrating the April 24 release of A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot), his first new studio album in four years. Recorded in North Carolina with Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, it features guest appearances from both those guys, as well as Superchunk's Mac MacCaughan and Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams. It's a gorgeous thing--an alternately brittle and barn-burning meditation on love, death, and graceful ways to dance away from intimacy. The shows are all intended to frame his 18-year oeuvre differently: at the Hideout he'll play acoustic; at Schubas he'll introduce his current working band, with pedal steel player Eric Heywood, drummer Hector Munoz, cellist Brian Standefer, and a bassist known as Cornbread; at the Empty Bottle he'll play a rock set (he's been known to cover the Stooges, the Gun Club, and Ian Hunter); and at FitzGerald's the band's being billed as "Alejandro Escovedo & Friends," which in this town hints at all sorts of raucous possibilities. Passes that ensure admission to all four gigs are available at Laurie's Planet of Sound, the Wicker Park Reckless Records, and Val's Halla in Oak Park for $40. On the afternoon of the FitzGerald's show, Escovedo will also perform at a reading by novelist Larry Brown at Barbara's Bookstore in Old Town. And on May 18 and 19 Escovedo will return to Chicago to perform at the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum as part of By the Hand of the Father, a theatrical multimedia work about the generation of Mexican-American men who grew up in the early 1900s.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.