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CONCRETE BLONDE 2/8, VIC This literate and soulful Los Angeles trio broke a lot of hearts when they broke up in 1994, and not many bands have straddled mainstream style and underground substance with as much class or skill since. Front woman Johnette Napolitano has stayed busy, if not famous, playing with Holly Vincent in Pretty & Twisted and collaborating, along with Concrete Blonde guitarist Jim Mankey, with the rock-en-espanol band Los Illegals. But their reunion, reportedly inspired by that of Roxy Music (whose drummer, Paul Thompson, played on their 1990 high-water mark, Bloodletting), isn't purely an attempt to cash in: when I say that the aptly named new Group Therapy (Manifesto) sounds like it could have been made in 1992, I mean it as a compliment. They open the album with "Roxy," a love letter to their inspiration that might suggest their hopes for their own legacy. "Oh Roxy / You're my Maggie May / More beautiful tonight / Than you ever were back in the day." LAWRENCE ARMS 2/9, FIRESIDE bowl This Chicago trio's new album, their first for the San Francisco label Fat Wreck Chords, is called Apathy and Exhaustion; the title would seem to be ironic, because they're playing their little hearts out and they sound anything but tired. On the other hand, consider what they're playing--the sort of crunchy, melodic pop punk that's far outlived its expiration date--and it just seems like fair warning for listeners over 22. CRAIG DAVID 2/12 & 2/13, HOUSE OF BLUES Road rule number 4,789: scruffy heartland rockers get tour sponsorship from beer companies; handsome British R & B stars get tour sponsorship from Armani Jeans. Craig David, frequently billed as the guy who ushered two-step garage into the mainstream, already has a resume puffed up with awards from various wings of MTV and endorsements by other celebrities...so it's surprising that he comes off with as much substance as he does. His Atlantic debut, Born to Do It, is a high-end thrill, not a cheap one: David plays it subtle and sophisticated, only cracking out of straightforwardness when it counts, like someone who knows he doesn't have to overdo it. At press time, these shows were sold-out. STEPHANIE REARICK 2/13, GIRLBAR This Madison singer-songwriter (who cofounded the Madison cult band Your Mom SRO) has sharper instrumental skills than most--and refreshingly she plays piano instead of friggin' acoustic guitar. On her solo CD The Long Picnic (Uvulittle) she's not afraid to shut up and play an instrumental; her readily readable influences include Bartok and Big Star (she covers their "Boating" and "Morpha Too," respectively). She can lay the ethereal stuff on a little thick--"The Man Who Stole Tomorrow" is almost too lovely--but her writing also displays a grim loopiness she'd do well to cultivate, and on "Not Another Minute" she sounds like the love child of Tori Amos and Robyn Hitchcock. FU MANCHU 2/14, DOUBLE DOOR Anyone else ever listen to the Loop on a weekend night and wonder what the hell happened to heavy metal? You can get meaner riffage, more brutal force, and plenty of gothic grandeur from the many branches of the cold cave river of current underground metal--but none of those streams really convey classic metal's promise of a wicked good time the way "Living After Midnight" or "You Shook Me All Night Long" and even "Ace of Spades" do. For that sort of thing these days you have to follow a twisted detour over to the indie-rock subgenre known as stoner rock--of which the decade-old Fu Manchu is something of a linchpin. Recently departed drummer Brant Bjork was previously in Kyuss (whom the All Music Guide aptly refers to as the Velvet Underground of stoner rock), and original lead guitarist and drummer Eddie Glass and Ruben Romano went on to form Sub Pop stars Nebula. But there's hope yet--these guys were on the syndicated call-in show Rockline this past Monday, and as evidenced by the cover of their eighth album, California Crossing (on Disney-owned Mammoth, which also put out the band's third LP and then re-signed them in time for their seventh), they like chicks in bikinis as much as David Lee Roth ever did.

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