KEVIN COYNE 8/26, SCHUBAS Have you ever tried to recommend a book--a dense, thick, and maybe slightly arcane book, the kind that yields great rewards in exchange for great effort--to a friend and found yourself struggling to summarize its beauty and life-changing power without getting mired in plot description? Then you can no doubt empathize with the members of Kevin Coyne's cult, who will surely be pained by this limiting sound bite: Shortly after Jim Morrison's death, this brilliant English eccentric was petitioned to replace him, but he turned down the job. The choice was puzzling to begin with: far from Morrison's macho death worship, Coyne's MO is closer to the gentle trippy satire of vintage British art rock, and his voice approaches the blues from the same direction as Joe Cocker or Van Morrison. Coyne instead went on to a career of near obscurity, despite the ferocious endorsement of Johnny Rotten and collaborations with Andy Summers, Joan Osborne, Jeff Buckley, and Carla Bley. He now records and tours sporadically, devoting as much time to painting and writing as to music. Like most of his work, his latest album, Room Full of Fools (Ruf)--which features blazing guitar by his son Robert--gives ordinary tales of sad neurosis and brittle hope the epic blue-eyed soul treatment, accented by weird chants and stutters of agony. Chris Connelly opens. JUNO 8/26, EMPTY BOTTLE Like a whole passel of slow-build wall-of-guitar bands before them--from Seam to Sunny Day Real Estate--this Pacific northwest quintet works really hard at being serious. A Future Lived in Past Tense (De Soto), its second album, mixes post-post-Slint hush with near-symphonic crescendos of those melodramatic emo chords played on three axes, which, judging by reverent zine headlines like "JUNO, the band that just might save your life, one day," truly touches some folks. Not me--but maybe Nick Hornby is right when he says, in the forthcoming edition of Da Capo's Best Music Writing anthology, that rock criticism is the only form of arts writing where it can be beneficial not to know your history. Rock thrives on raw energy, rock writing relies on the ability to receive that energy, and history creates a sort of interference with the signal--and this is one signal I'm not getting. DONNA DE LORY 8/27, Borderline Music; 8/28 & 29, UNITED CENTER Donna De Lory has a pretty slick resume: she danced and sang backup with Madonna on the Blond Ambition tour and in Truth or Dare and has sung with Bette Midler, Shawn Colvin, Jewel, and Enrique Iglesias, and her music has been used on Dawson's Creek. Her latest CD, Bliss, released in February on Secret Road Records, has sold more than 9,000 copies--hey, wait, she's an indie rocker! But not by choice, it would seem: her first attempt at launching a solo career, back in 1993, yielded but one dance hit, "Just a Dream," and sales figures on her debut LP apparently weren't what MCA had in mind. Now rehired by Madonna for her current tour, De Lory's also been granted an opening slot to showcase the breathy New Age-ish pop of the new album, arranged and recorded with partner Cameron Stone, a cellist of considerable skill and taste if not exciting impulse. If Kate Bush had nary an idea in her pretty little head, or Enya were described by all her friends as "fun," one of them might produce something kinda like this Ethereal Girl. Both Madonna shows are sold-out; the Borderline in-store is free. MELISSA ETHERIDGE 8/28-30, CHICAGO THEATRE Celebrity breakups are generally as much of a bitch for the folks who have to hear about them as for the folks who go through them--it's hard to give a shit about the professionally beautiful when their six-month romances go kaplooey. But occasionally somebody actually gets some good art out of it, and Melissa Etheridge's new Skin (Island), released a year after her split with her girlfriend of 12 years (ouch), is probably going to touch a lot of lonely hearts out there. As always, she's Springsteen-esque in her ability to be sweeping and romantic and blunt and low-key all at once. She's also one of very few artists these days who makes music that's palatable to radio's pathologically narrow ear while still holding on to substance like it's going out of style (which it perpetually is). For this tour, she's performing solo. SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM 8/28, EMPTY BOTTLE This San Francisco quintet is a continuation of the collaboration of guitarist and vocalist Nils Frykdahl and bassist and instrument inventor Dan Rathbun, who played together in the avant-cabaret-rock outfit Idiot Flesh; new blood includes, most prominently, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, who's lent her talents to John Zorn, Tom Waits, and Mr. Bungle, among others. The band claims to have played its first show to one lone banana slug--who hopefully wasn't harmed too badly by their peripatetic, brutally precise surrealist art rock--but according to the Bay Area press they were drawing upwards of 200 people to shows before they even had a record out. Their debut, Grand Opening and Closing (Chaosophy), ranges from vicious beat-skronk to gorgeous airy wandering, but I'm thinking the live show is the thing. This mind-bending bill also includes Cheer-Accident and D.C.'s All-Scars. NOAHJOHN 8/30, THE HIDEOUT Two of the three reviews this Madison band enclosed with their CD suggest that if the Velvet Underground had a hoedown, this is what it would sound like. But they did that, on "Hey Mr. Rain," and none of Noahjohn's songs sounds anything like that. Normally I'd write off the comparisons to the fact that Noahjohn's lineup includes a violist, a choice that elicits the VU comparisons the way trumpet in any sort of rock context brings out the Miles Davis "experts," but the other day my SO and I happened to be driving around with the third VU album, and he wondered aloud whatever had become of that sly, fey, expressive singing voice Lou Reed used to such great effect on tunes like "Some Kinda Love." Well, what became of it is that lots of young singers picked it up, including Noahjohn front man Carl Johns--occasionally the resemblance is uncanny. But the band's debut, I Had a Burning (Speakeasy), has plenty of charms that have nothing to do with the Velvets--from the ambiguity of the title (the album cover pictures Christ's fiery heart, but the song by the same name laments a succubus with a "tongue of fire" who "made me blue" and "left it black") to the delightfully wrong ways steel guitar and dissonant harmonies rub each other on a cover of Loudon Wainwright's "Dead Skunk."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patricia de Gorostarzu.