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Spot Check

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SONGS: OHIA 4/12, SCHUBAS Jason Molina, who's left Ohio for Chicago since naming his band, is its only consistent member. His modus operandi of collaborating with a different set of musicians for each record (and sometimes each show) gives each release its own distinct flavor: what the project might lack in stability it gains in the wonder of hearing the old vision interpreted by new people. The latest Songs: Ohia release, Didn't It Rain (Secretly Canadian), enlists Jennie Bedford and Jim Krewson of the old-timey bluegrass outfit Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops, among others, but it's by no means a bluegrass record. It's dour modern Americana; four of the seven of Molina's lovely dirges have "blue" or "blues" in the title, and almost that many seem to mention the moon. The most dramatically effective of these, "Steve Albini's Blues," is about staring at a city that's disappearing in the car window. WLUW BENEFIT WITH JON LANGFORD, RED STAR BELGRADE, RIPTONES & GARY STIER 4/12, HIDEOUT If you read Peter Margasak's column last week about the specter of suspended funding for Loyola's radio station, there's probably a chance you'd like to help out in some small way. But this benefit show's worth the ticket even if that's not your aim: the bill includes a set by Jon Langford (who must give away half his performance income to good causes), the fierce rockabilly of the Riptones, and friendly middle-of-the-road country rock by Gary Stier. It also features the local husband-and-wife duo Red Star Belgrade, who've taken to performing with a drum machine (a la the Handsome Family) and are at work on a new album, with help on guitar from Rick Rizzo and Firehose veteran Ed Fromohio; it'll be released in Europe on Black Rose but there's no American deal yet. SADIES 4/13, SCHUBAS The Bloodshot label's Web site boasts that these Canadian boys are "the only band we've ever had to bail out of jail," which to me just says the rest of their "insurgent country" roster better get on the Cain-raising stick. On their most recent album, last year's Tremendous Efforts, the Sadies seem to have picked up some grit for their trouble: it's a restless but logical blend of rockabilly, bluegrass, spaghetti-western music, garage rock, and blues, capped off by a note-perfect cover of the Gun Club's sleepy, creepy "Mother of Earth." If I have one beef with the disc, it's that there isn't one decent photo of lanky front men Dallas and Travis Good to be found anywhere in the booklet. The ubiquitous Jon Langford opens. HELLACOPTERS 4/15, DOUBLE DOOR There's something beatific about Sweden's Hellacopters--their belief in hard rock is so true they've taken the necessary time and energy to learn to really play the stuff. Anyone who truly understands AC/DC knows that it's more than just distortion and volume. It requires a keen sense of how the rhythm and the riff meet and, maybe just as important, the ability to project total commitment: the merest trace of a late-night-television smirk, the slightest inclination toward fashionable haircuts, or the smallest hint that your priorities might change someday, and it's all over. Very few American bands boast this kind of purity anymore, but the Scandinavians seem to thrive on it. Unfortunately, while they've got the sound down, they've yet to write anything that sounds like a future classic song. Their latest U.S. release, High Visibility, was recorded for Universal in Europe a couple years ago; here it's finally out on Gearhead, the label arm of the indie-culture enterprise that has tirelessly supported them and their peers for years. HAYDEN 4/16, SCHUBAS Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden, like many promising artists, dropped the soap in the major-label shower, and has taken several years to regain his footing. His fortunes were hitched to those of Outpost, the Geffen imprint that went down the tubes two years ago, taking the likes of Hayden and Whiskeytown with it (the subsequent success of Ryan Adams just confirms that polished mediocrity floats). Hayden's beautiful third album, Skyscraper National Park, has just been released in the U.S. on Badman, and it's as starkly evocative as its title. The production is key; you've heard these chords and dynamics and depressed tones many times before, but the nuances make all the difference: electric guitars wah in and out at key moments on the otherwise brittle acoustic opener "Street Car," a discordant lead makes the loud part of the soft-loud "Dynamite Walls" genuinely tense, pedal steel adds twang under a lullaby croon on "Steps Into Miles," and so on. Here Hayden will perform solo. MECCA NORMAL, CLYDE FEDERAL 4/17, HIDEOUT The local quartet Clyde Federal, who unwittingly or not are named for an S & L that got bailed out by taxpayers on George H.W. Bush's watch, have recorded an engaging demo, full of gentlemanly bite and gracious bile sung in a most rational manner over light but roiling bass lines. Mecca Normal headline; their tenth album is due on Kill Rock Stars in August, so they should be previewing some new material. BRENDAN BENSON 4/18, EMPTY BOTTLE Louisiana-born, Detroit-bred Brendan Benson took five years to recover from his major-label boning (by Virgin) and come up with a second album, Lapalco (on the Brooklyn-based Star Time International). The sales pitch is that his sunny-bittersweet pop is a "cookie full of arsenic," but to my ear his flawlessly crafted musings on slacking, social awkwardness, hope, and uncertainty are less angry than Matthew Sweet's and less eccentric than Robyn Hitchcock's at Hitchcock's most mainstream-friendly. Still, fellow Motor City songsmith Jack White is talking him up relentlessly; at this show Benson will have just come off a two-week tour with the White Stripes.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tara White.

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