LYDIA LUNCH 3/8, ABBEY PUB Detractors have dismissed Lydia Lunch as a one-trick pony for decades, but the singer-writer-artist-model-actress-comedienne is in fact a polymath who's due some props. She's outlasted a good many of her 80s collaborators, outlived a few, and continues to draw blood with her wisecracks as other peers (paging Hank Rollins) have themselves turned into punch lines--if her wasted spitting vamp persona has become something of a cliche, blame her imitators. On her new EP, a collaboration with members of Anubian Lights called Champagne, Cocaine, Nicotine Stains (on the German label Crippled Dick Hot Wax), she croons and insinuates and comes to a roiling boil over lusciously over-the-top cabaret; as always, she's funny ("Every little skirt that would float his way / Cause his head to bob and his tail to twitch / And he'd go in heat just like a little bitch / Booze led to broads led to little red itch") and sexy ("Potango Tango" sounds like a demand for a dance from the madam at Bjork's bordello). For this appearance, though, Lunch will be reading, without musical accompaniment, from her copious body of poems, plays, essays, monologues, and stories. Bride of No No also performs. BRUCE COCKBURN 3/8, THE VIC In 31 years of making records, Bruce Cockburn has become a cult hero among devout lefties of a certain generation; his lyrics tend to be earnest, direct, and mostly impossible to misunderstand. If you ask me, though, his greatest moments come when he lets a little moral ambiguity show through, in classics like "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (which captured the dilemma of the antiwar activist who finds himself wanting bloody revenge for the atrocities of war), or when he writes about sex. There are some fine songs in that vein on his new collection, Anything Anytime Anywhere: Singles 1979-2002 (Rounder), but the anthology reveals that he's consistently saddled himself with fussy arrangements that date badly--a mix of "accessible" Canadian folk-pop (which is even politer than the American kind) and latter-day Peter Gabriel. If you've ever been curious what his songs might sound like under all that, this solo acoustic show should be an excellent chance to find out. SIX PARTS SEVEN 3/8, SCHUBAS This band comes from Kent, Ohio, a town once renowned for students so activist that the national guard had to shoot a few. I was there once, much more recently, and mostly what I noticed was lots of black squirrels. Would that the Six Parts Seven, on their lengthy third album, Things Shaped in Passing (Suicide Squeeze), produced anything even that distinctive. Their pretty, soft-loud (but mostly soft) take on whatever we're calling the atmospheric instrumental indie soup these days ("post-post-rock" sounds too arch, "noodling" too judgmental) looks a lot like all the other gray squirrels out there. LAMBCHOP 3/9, ABBEY PUB This Nashville-based entity, which has been making intimate music with a cast of thousands for years, has just released its sixth album, Is a Woman, on Merge. Though the band had unprecedented success with its previous release, which was gloriously full-bodied and soul-tinged, don't expect Son of Nixon. Is a Woman is a quiet, pleasantly exhausted record, orchestrated like a tired walk home through a town in the wee hours after a long passionate night. Piano tinkles like cocktail glasses, and the horns, mixed low, waft by like newspaper on the wind. The arrangements have a busy serenity to them; at times it sounds like Bryter Layter made by a happier man. A couple words of appreciation advice: don't read the lyrics until you've listened to the record at least once (Kurt Wagner's words are intuitively right in context but lie like a dead moth on the page), and don't go to this show with friends who don't understand the concept of immersion. SAW DOCTORS 3/9, THE VIC The Saw Doctors, who're wildly popular in their native Ireland, have been trying to conquer America for more than a decade, and while I'm not surprised that they're not succeeding just now, I'm surprised they didn't at some point. Their sound (which they're currently attempting to bring back into fashion with heavier guitars) is appealingly infectious, moving nicely from wistful to fist-pumping, kind of the Waterboys for stadiums. In fact, on "Bound to the Peace," from their fifth album, Villains? (Shamtown), ex-Waterboy Anthony Thistlethwaite blows sax like Clarence Clemons around the very Gaelic-sounding choral licks. SEAN NA NA 3/9, FIRESIDE BOWL In his band Sean Na Na, Sean Tillman (formerly of Calvin Krime) is gloriously snide and exuberantly earnest all at once. He's an undistinguished singer, a rudimentary but rollicking composer, and a brilliant lyricist--a sort of Jonathan Richman for a generation that isn't awkward about sex. So when I try to list the reasons I think everyone should hear the new My Majesty (Frenchkiss) I'm quickly reduced to quoting his excellent lines. Like this one, where he silences the whole soppy angst-alternative whinefest in all its flavors: "Have you ever wished to die in a car crash when every person you just saw busted out that same fake smile on your ass? / Don't feel too special because everyone has." SHANE MacGOWAN & THE POPES 3/12, HOUSE OF BLUES Former Pogues front man Shane MacGowan, one of the best five or six songwriters of the past 20 years, is both a hero and a cautionary tale: His spitting, stumbling, raging, poetic brilliance has done more to breathe scrappy soul back into Irish music than anyone since Van Morrison and brought a proud sense of ethnicity back to increasingly white-bread rock 'n' roll. But his very public battle with drugs and alcohol, in addition to fortifying some unfortunate stereotypes, has nudged him into premature decline. By some accounts he's getting better; we've all heard that one before, but on his new live album with his band the Popes, Across the Broad Atlantic, recorded at Saint Patrick's Day celebrations in New York and Dublin (held on different dates), he does sound good, remembering and enunciating his own lyrics at least as well as he ever did (I've never been completely sure "Granuaille" is all in English, and my college friend who claimed to have figured out all the words to "Bottle of Smoke" without the lyric sheet is still a liar). And despite hints of weariness, he musters fiery energy on tunes that require it, like "Body of an American" and "Sick Bed of Cuchulainn." Alas, the Popes are no Pogues; with songs like these, all you're absolutely required to do is play them, and that's pretty much all this band does.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brydget Carrillo.