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BRAVE COMBO 12/21, FITZGERALD'S This show, by the popular roots band Brave Combo, is a Christmas party; expect holiday hijinks ad nauseam. Their latest release--a live album, Kick-Ass Polkas, recorded in Cleveland on Hal-loween--includes 12 tracks of inspired, wildly energetic polkas drawn from the Polish, Mexican, Slovenian, Czech, and German repertoires. They know damn well Chicago's a big polka town, so although it's not the only trick in their bag, I expect it'll be a prominent one here. ROCK STAR CLUB 12/22, MARTYRS' Though you'd never assume from their name that they were big on humility, on closer inspection these Indiana boys appear to be rock 'n' roll workhorses who know how to put on a show, in the grand tradition of Cheap Trick. The silvery-shimmering guitar sounds and not-always-predictable songs reinvent hair metal's sound as joyous and innocent (which in retrospect it does rather seem) and ground it in a solid modern rock sensibility. Their two self-released albums, America Needs Rock Star Club and The Entertainer, are recommended for fans who are old and/or wise enough to know that an ironic smirk is a fashion accessory, not a re-quired item. U.S. MAPLE 12/22, EMPTY BOTTLE Drummer Pat Samson gave all this band's fans a good scare when he quit this summer. Some bands can afford to change drummers more often than underwear, but not these guys: their focused, tightly structured, and fundamentally weird sense of shape and rhythm requires a certain level of empathy and dedication. The versatile Adam Vida, who's played with Edith Frost, Central Falls, and the Chicago Improvisors Group, among others, is Samson's replacement; this will be Chicago's first chance to see how he fits in. MACABRE 12/26, METRO Longtime local "murder-metal" heroes Macabre, authors of such sick speedy ditties as "What the Heck Richard Speck Eight Nurses You Wrecked" and "Edmond Kemper Had a Horrible Temper," haven't played in Chicago all year, so they're making this show extra special--by unveiling Dahmer, their 26-song "musical" about the gay Milwaukee serial cannibal. This version of their annual "Holiday of Horror" show also includes death-metal band Jungle Rot, "melodic black metal" band Veneficum, and Yakuza, a local act that started out two years ago sounding like a hard-edged math-touched unit and now are starting to pull ahead of the pack with a maniacally proficient free-range metal style. THAX DOUGLAS'S BOXING DAY SPEcTACULAR 12/26, SCHUBA'S Boxing Day is a British holiday whose origins are generally lost on Americans: the idea was that the nobles would box up presents and distribute them among the peasants on the day after their own celebrations, and the cynical have no choice but to conclude that what the peasants have always gotten is the period equivalent of ugly ties and duplicate appliances. But Thax Douglas--the bearded poet who clambers onstage between bands at rock shows and reads his works in a rushed monotone--is probably of a mind to sympathize with the peasants, so I assume he intends this show not as a repackaging of stuff nobody wants but as a tribute to the fortitude of the little guy. The lineup includes the Owls' Mike and Tim Kinsella, U.S. Maple's Mark Shippy, Michael Cummins of the band Berber, artist and writer Tony Fitzpatrick, and some films.

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