DR. DIDG 2/15, MARTYRS' Trancey fusion jams, pale funk grooves that last forever, whale-song sounds and hearts-of-space effects, a leader who's played with Mickey Hart and the String Cheese Incident...none of which is out of the ordinary on the jam-band circuit. What distinguishes these guys is the use of didgeridoo--that amazing, throaty king of all wind instruments. Graham Wiggins, aka Dr. Didg himself, also plays keyboards and sampler; he formed his first band--the acclaimed Outback, signed to Hannibal by Joe Boyd, who spotted them playing on the street--while getting his doctorate in physics at Oxford. Returning to his native Boston after 15 years, Wiggins formed this group, which played Chicago so often over the past two years I erroneously assumed it was local. He's hoping for a spring release for a newly completed album, but in the meantime is shipping around a self-released CD of live jams--my only complaint with which, honestly, is that there's just not enough didgeridoo. TIM O'BRIEN 2/16 MARTYRS' For fans of Irish music, Tim O'Brien's backup band alone would be well worth seeing--it includes Solas members John Doyle, John Williams, and Karan Casey, plus two well-known superinstrumentalists, banjoist Dirk Powell and fiddler Liz Carroll. But O'Brien probably won't be overshadowed. His previous album, The Crossing, was a song cycle devoted to emigration, a dominant theme in Irish life and song for some 150 years, and his sound is a straightforward, emotionally resonant blend of traditional Irish folk with American country. His latest album, Two Journeys, continues to build on the pan-Celtic theme: the title track is a Dirk Powell and Christine Balfa tune devoted to Christine's Cajun father, and "The Tide Flows Into Miltown" honors both an Irish piper and a North Carolina fiddler. Elsewhere on the album and in the notes, O'Brien muses on how the tune he calls "Demon Lover," which Americans mostly know as "The House Carpenter," lost its supernatural angle in the crossing (his version is even darker than the Handsome Family's), and remarks in reference to a version of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" that Liverpool is "one of the great foreign Irish cities." THREE DOLLAR BILL 2/16, FIRESIDE BOWL This tough quartet's self-released Insurrection was one of my favorite local releases of 2000--clever, sexy, and raw, these queercore veterans threw some sweaty big-shouldered force behind their hooky songs of lust and rage. Their new EP, American Dream, condenses their chunky postpunk rip into an irresistible four-song dose, and the call-and-response between dual songwriter-guitarist-vocalists Jane Danger and Chris Piss makes "Never Stop" an A-side if I ever heard one. As with their frequent bill-mates Loraxx, the rhythm section, sisters Jenny Evil and C.A. Matteson, is key to the sound and nearly perfect. THRICE 2/16, METRO According to front man Dustin Kensrue, this Orange County outfit considers itself "melodic hardcore," not punk. I'd call their generic crunch middle-class metal myself. They do kick ass, but very cleanly...for kids who drive mom's SUV way too fast but always bring it home on time. They're signed to Sub City, which donates 5 percent of retail sales on every record to a charity of the band's choice; in this case, proceeds from The Illusion of Safety will go to a youth organization in South Central LA. Against All Authority and Anti-Flag also perform. VAX WALLO 2/16, DOUBLE DOOR; 2/23, prodigal son This local band, comprising a self-described former juvenile delinquent, a former door-to-door proselytizer, a former graffiti artist, and a couple less notorious music geeks, seems better poised to make real-people rock than most. Their self-released three-song EP, My Best Fiend, shows a lot of promise--the songs, tinged with a stoner-goth smokiness, hang like scarecrow clothes on a framework that sounds like it's going to collapse at any minute but never does, and a scruffy anarchy pushes through the seams. BRICK LAYER CAKE 2/18 & 19, ABBEY PUB Shellac drummer Todd Trainer doesn't document his jarring and perverse singer-songwriter persona very often--the forthcoming Whatchamacallit (Touch and Go) will be his first album under the Brick Layer Cake moniker in more than seven years. Lord knows why he's so slow--can't be Shellac's tortoiselike recording schedule. But he's certainly in no hurry on any of his grinding, dour, weirdly sexy songs, which sound like early Nick Cave 45s played at 33; their torturous pace helps convey a genuine hunger and menace that's hard to come by these days. He opened for PJ Harvey at the Vic at the end of 2000, playing dirgey solo guitar out of a lunchbox-size Fender amp set on the floor, and still a good portion of Harvey's crowd seemed scared to death of him. At these shows he opens for the newly re-formed Breeders; at press time the first show was sold-out. CHRIS LEE 2/21, SCHUBAS New York singer-songwriter Chris Lee has spent his last two albums (both on Smells Like) working his way into the hipster heartbreak-soul niche carved out and then vacated by Jeff Buckley. While I wouldn't call him derivative, since a body sings like a body sings, the man sure knows his way around a version of Buckley pere's "Song to the Siren" when he can be persuaded to whip it out live. His flexible voice has that thin vulnerable quality that loosens elastic worldwide--give him a few years and some more exposure and I have no doubt he'll build up quite a hotel-room-key collection. I have to admit that once, shortly after a major breakup, I passed on seeing him because I knew some songs on the first album would simply slice me open. Previously he's toured as part of a three-piece band; here he'll play solo. Kelly Hogan (see Critic's Choice) headlines.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bob Weston.