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Spot Check

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HARVEY SID FISHER 11/23, HIDEOUT Remember the "cocktail nation" craze of the mid-90s, when martinis, lounge singers, and cheesy Vegas comedians were all the rage? I thought it was pretty noxious coming from twentysomethings, but the shtick does have its charms coming from the real thing--from a parallel universe--like Harvey Sid Fisher. The 50s-vintage battle-of-the-sexes banter in his lovers' quarrel series and the hey-baby-what's-your-sign smarminess of the "astrology songs," bad as they sound on paper, are absolutely irresistible in performance. When I saw him at the Hideout last winter, he armed himself with a bevy of singing and dancing babes and the musical backing of the astoundingly versatile Cheer-Accident, and went for nearly three hours. The drunker the crowd got, the better the repeat performances of audience favorite "Scorpio" sounded. Fisher is a skewed martian version of an old-school entertainer, and entertaining he invariably is. At this appearance Cheer-Accident, fortunately, will reprise their role. THE VERVE PIPE 11/23, DOUBLE DOOR On my advance copy I see that the Verve Pipe's new Underneath (RCA) was another September 11 baby. But this plucky Michigan band didn't let a little bad timing stop 'em, oh no. Brian Vander Ark sang the national anthem on a Kansas City radio station (which had to beat Celine Dion's god-awful "God Bless America," but maybe not by much) the very next day, and just a couple weeks later the band turned up at a Red Cross benefit at Schubas. This tour, apparently, is all for them. Their bloostery rock straddles the edge between alt-rock smarm and jam-band togetherness; it seems aimed at the slightly hipper younger brothers of devout Dave Matthews fans. "Miles Away" is pretty when they lay off the "climactic" bits, and "Happiness Is" chugs along nicely when they let it, but they just can't leave even their natural tunefulness alone--the results are infectious enough but definitely overfussed. About the quasigrunge "Medicate Myself," the less said the better--that's an April 5, 1994, baby. JEFF & VIDA 11/24, HIDEOUT; 11/29, FITZGERALD'S; 11/30, WISE FOOLS PUB This old-timey New Orleans duo has probably broken a lot of hearts in the Big Easy, but no one's ever thought Chicago was anything but the big difficult. So they've been staking out their turf at cozy local venues, where their bittersweet bite has a natural home. Last year's debut, One Horse Town, is painfully intimate stuff--ballads of dead lovers, dying marriages, and small towns and the idealistic kids who leave them only to get their hearts stomped on in the big city, all played in faithful neotraditional style and made piercing by Vida Wakeman's vocals. She and her husband, Jeff Burke, wrote all these songs, which means they've not only studied this stuff, they now exhale it. STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3 11/24, SCHUBAS This is the second time this year that Wynn's passed through town touring behind his double CD Here Come the Miracles (Blue Rose). I wouldn't have thought he would be able to sustain intensity and interest over such a long release--prolific and prone to lapses as he is--but damn, would I have been wrong. Wynn walks the line between crispy garage thrash and crunchy Neil Young sagas with few false steps, and based on what I caught of his set at the Empty Bottle in June, on a bill with Richard Lloyd, I'd see him again in a second. There might be even more reason to do so this time he's in town. As a young LA squirt Wynn fronted the Dream Syndicate, which at its peak also featured the stellar talents of Kendra Smith and Karl Precoda and produced several minor masterpieces that vanished into the ether well before "indie" was much of a niche market, and has only climbed in public estimation since. I still think the band's ill-fated A&M debut, The Medicine Show (1984), is sadly underrated, but their high-water mark was 1983's The Days of Wine and Roses, which was reissued in July. It's not just one of the records that made the 80s worth living through--it sounds ambitious, painful, and hair-raisingly beautiful even now. On this tour, Wynn (with his crack band) promises a full Wine and Roses redux along with the best of the new stuff. Rick Rizzo plays an opening set, and as he's played sessions with Wynn before, there's the potential for a highly satisfying jam. LEMONPEELER 11/24, abbey pub; 11/27, SCHUBAS A press card tells me that "Lemonpeeler was formed on a wintry Boston night in 1999 when singer-songwriters Michael Hayes and Jim Eddy formed a musical alliance over a bottle of Jameson's Irish Whiskey." And as is so often the case with such unions, the trouble started when they sobered up. It's almost painful to listen to the giddy earnestness of their debut, cleverly titled The First Time (Sissybar). Do they really think this crisp and clear, very mildly country-inflected pop is something new? Though it has some lovely moments, like the chiming guitars of the title track, this is certainly not the first time anyone's heard this record. The band has the skills to distinguish themselves in their very glutted market, if they work at it--but why bother? The best music is made by those compelled to bring a specific something that no one else is doing out of their heads and into the air. To hear the music in their own heads, Lemonpeeler need only pick up one of the gajillion similar CDs already in existence. VORTIS 11/24, NEVIN'S LIVE They don't make much music like this anymore--aggressively verbal and verbally aggressive punk and postpunk rock that smart people--no-spring-chicken smart people at that--aren't the least bit ashamed to be part of. Vortis's debut EP, Violent Structures, introduces their aesthetic, which is spun off from the pre-World War I avant-garde movement that "models life and art on the physical VORTEX--the whirlpool, tornado, and their man-made analogies like the turbine, the cyclotron." The band's neovorticism embraces aggression, chaos, and the "violent clarity" of adolescence. This may well be the secret longing of countless academics and rock critics, but how many dare to attempt it? Singer and lyricist Michael Weinstein (thanks to whom I've had "Unabomber, Unabomber, fight fight fight / Unabomber, Unabomber, dy-no-mite!" stuck in my head for days) is a 59-year-old philosophy professor, photographer, and photography critic (and husband of renowned sociologist and metalhead Deena Weinstein); drummer Jim DeRogatis is a noted rock critic (at the Sun-Times and elsewhere); and bassist Johnny Los and guitarist G-Haad (yeesh) have bookish leanings as well. The grinding, lurching, skipping, and hopping tension of this EP is a groovy thing indeed, and I have high hopes for next year's promised full-length, Take the System Down. But I still have doubts about this adolescence worship, unless the spirit they seem to be talking about is completely removable from actual teenagers.

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