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Spot Check

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COMMUNITY 8/3, THE NOTE This New Orleans outfit, formerly known as the Supaflies, recently realized that Radiohead is bigger than Less Than Jake and took a flying leap off the ska-punk bandwagon. Now they're passing around a demo of pleasant artsy noodling--but the vocalists still sound like they're trying to be heard over a kegger. MELOCHROME 8/3, HIDEOUT With the exception of Enuff Z'nuff, no local band is more aptly named: Melochrome's second full-length, Stay a Little Longer (Loose Thread), is very, very mellow and polished to the soft gleam of vintage kitchen appliances. So domestic, so late-night, so lulling are this quintet's delicate lo-fi ballads that it's almost hard to imagine listening to them in public, in front of God and everybody--but that's the idea of this CD-release party. At least the Hideout has a sort of homey feel; hearing this band at a bigger venue would be like falling asleep on the bus, understandable but somehow not quite decent. SUMMER ON SOUTHPORT 8/3-5, SCHUBAS My number one beef with modern roots rock is the way it tends to pass off flat mediocrity as some sort of working-class stance--as though the mere capacity to aspire to anything more marks one as out of touch with the heartland. C'mon folks, surely not all the salt of the earth are dull as dirt; in fact, don't many people left behind by the new economy become, out of necessity, champion daydreamers? Aren't the elaborate fantasies of riches and grandeur you find in metal and hip-hop every bit as true to the blue-collar experience as yet another song about drinking beer? Most of the artists booked for Schubas' annual summer block party--including the Bottle Rockets, Chris Mills, and even Swag, a group of alt-country types on a British pop holiday--ably rock the house without rocking the boat. But there are a few who aren't afraid to be great: snake charmer Neko Case, who headlines on Sunday, isn't afraid to talk on the radio about posing with a pony; Meat Puppets main man Curt Kirkwood, who opens for her, presented his twisted take on roots music on hardcore bills back in the day; and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, aka weird Will Oldham, who headlines Saturday, has been surprising his fans, sometimes unpleasantly, for years. For a more detailed schedule, see the Schubas listing under Rock, Pop, Etc. BURNING AIRLINES 8/4, EMPTY BOTTLE J. Robbins, former front man for emo icons Jawbox and now the leader of this D.C. trio, told an interviewer for Pulse that his "secret dream" was to have the sort of band where "we could just make anything into a song. Like, 'Okay, what do we have in the room?' [picks up two beer bottles, starts to clank them together] 'Okay, let's make that a song.'" But either he was talking out of the side of his mouth or his bandmates in Burning Airlines don't share this little fantasy, because Burning Airlines' second album, Identikit (De Soto), is a painstakingly structured postpunk album of the same sort that Robbins has produced for younger outfits like the Dismemberment Plan or Jets to Brazil. That said, it's one more definite step away from Jawbox--bassist Bill Barbot has been replaced by Mike Hardin; the songs are slightly sparer, if no less rhythmically complicated; and the tone is on the whole a bit tougher. BOXSTEP 8/6, EMPTY BOTTLE These are the kind of records that're "important" if you ask me: not your press-hogging megasellers or definers of a generation (as if that were possible or desirable), but works whose greatness is self-contained, and that herald great things to come from one particular artist. Not many people notice 'em, at least not at first, but those who do clutch them tightly to their hearts. Simon Joyner makes records like this, as do Alastair Galbraith and Kendra Smith and Ida and this band, Boxstep: an eight-piece orchestra from Pittsburgh, fronted by a man whose day job is teaching literature. Their new The Faces All Look On, recorded in Chicago at Acme and Electrical Audio and released by the local Overcoat label, sounds timeless, in particular on "Ryan's Glacier": it opens with lines about how the Appalachian Mountains are the oldest, then sustains the conceit with a romantic, string-tinged sweep and sway that raises the same goose bumps those long-suffering hills raise on any halfway sensitive mortal who gazes upon them. Try this if you've ever thought you might like to hear the Dirty Three with lyrics or a less pretentious Godspeed You Black Emperor! SAFFIRE 8/7, FITZGERALD'S The blues has always been a reasonably safe place to be middle-aged (or older) and raunchy, even for women--just try arguing that Koko Taylor ought to be singing about cats and grandkids. But Saffire, the all-acoustic trio of "uppity blues women," actually challenge the blues circuit to become the feminist haven it's never been with their literate and catchy spelling-out of the obvious--album titles like Hot Flash (1991) and Broad Casting (1992) let you know exactly what you're in for. Their seventh album, Ain't Gonna Hush! (Alligator), contains at least one moment that's exemplary of their odd mix of women's-studies wit and barrelhouse wisdom: "It takes a mighty good man / To be better than no man at all," they advise on "It Takes a Mighty Good Man"--and then on "Coffee Flavored Kisses" they make sure to let the boys in the house know that a fresh cup o' joe delivered to the bedroom in the morning would be a step in the right direction. KNUT 8/8, FIRESIDE BOWL They're named for a Russian whip, but Knut fly the Swiss flag in a burgeoning international prog-hardcore scene that also includes American bands like Cave-In and Isis. They've played with, and held their own against, the likes of Voivod, Neurosis, and Napalm Death, and their latest, Bastardiser (Hydra Head), is ten tons of concentrated eeeevil, its assault encompassing virtually every worthwhile trend in aggressive crunge of the last ten years (note that rap metal is blissfully absent): stoner sludge, industrial racket, and black-metal grandeur tossed together with mathy precision.

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