DANIELLE HOWLE & THE TANTRUMS 5/31, EMPTY BOTTLE Danielle Howle, a South Carolinian with a swaggering twang, isn't just another self-absorbed singer-songwriter strumming an acoustic guitar: she's got a distinctive dusky alto and knows how to get power out of it without resorting to Alanis-style histrionics. But neither does she strike me as the shining songwriting talent her press and her long list of label affiliations (Simple Machines, Sub Pop, Kill Rock Stars) would seem to indicate. On her latest, Skorborealis (on Daemon, the label owned by the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray), her lyrics are poetically abstracted but not terribly evocative, and her accompaniment of choice is fairly ordinary folk rock performed by a band called the Tantrums. Their easy rock momentum does give her a little something to kick against, but a sense of adventure is apparently too much to ask. Kelly Hogan and Carolyn Mark (see below) also perform. CAROLYN MARK & HER ROOM-MATES 5/31, EMPTY BOTTLE; 6/1, FITZGERALD'S; 6/2, Hideout Canadian country belter Carolyn Mark is best known down here for her lighthearted collaboration with Neko Case in the Corn Sisters, but this tour behind her 2000 solo album, Party Girl (Mint), ought to win her some ears of her own. She's not your typical alt-country artist: her warm, smooth voice brings her closer to the sophisticated style of Patsy Cline than to anything that prides itself on its ragged ruralness, and even her rockin' numbers don't reflect any musical developments after 1965 (though back then you'd never hear a big-haired white girl engaging in this sort of potty-mouthed stage banter). She's at work on a new album for release later this year. Her Room-Mates are drummer Garth Johnson and bassist Tolan McNeil. PRESTON SCHOOL OF INDUSTRY 6/1, EMPTY BOTTLE Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg has to work hard these days to remind people that Steve Malkmus wasn't the (only) brains behind Pavement. All This Sounds Gas (Matador), the 2001 debut of his current band, Preston School of Industry, had more of Pavement's old charming accidentalness about it than Malkmus's solo debut, but sometimes it just sounded tentative. The new EP The Idea of Fires (on the Australian label Trifekta) makes bigger strides in a shorter space: Kannberg and company relax and reel off four killer songs wrapped in moods ranging from brooding to jaunty. Hopefully their live show's improved too--'cause when I saw them open for obvious influence Television last year, they were dull as dirt. Kannberg also plays solo earlier in the day at Reckless on Broadway. QUEER IS FOLK FESTIVAL II 6/1, OLD TOWN SCHOOL The second installment of local artist Scott Free's "Queer Is Folk" series (not to be confused with Showtime's Queer as Folk series), takes gay and lesbian folkies out of the coffeehouse and puts them on a stage with an excellent sound system. Legendary lesbian wit Phranc, who's been raising consciousness as a Tupperware lady as well as a folkie in recent years, headlines, making her first appearance in Chicago in about a decade. Also on the bill are French-Canadian singer-songwriter Lucie Blue Tremblay (who recorded for the pioneering "womyn's music" label Olivia in the 80s), local fingerstyle guitarist John Hasbrouck, and the Prince Myshkins (guitar- and accordion-toting satirists from California). Free will emcee. ...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD 6/2, METRO Once better known for destroying their gear than for their music (though you could say the same thing about Pete Townshend), Trail of Dead now have a major label behind them and their hair-raisingly dare-I-say mature new album, Source Tags & Codes. They've harnessed their passionate abstract-expressionist racket to form and hence function, and in the structure of the more, um, infectious songs I hear more Mission of Burma than Sonic Youth. But whether or not Interscope will ultimately know what to do with them, they're still loud, wild, and free, like more indie rock used to be before it got all embarrassed about itself. NO 6/2, FIRESIDE BOWL For a young band--they formed about two years ago--the local trio No have released an impressive debut. Destroy contains a dozen roiling, riffing songs that blur the line between punk and metal without any modern meathead machismo; these guys definitely fall somewhere in the Melvins-early Buttholes-Jesus Lizard camp, but they aren't clones. They open for great and underrated locals Loraxx, who have recently released a meaty new single, and Cutthroats 9, which is what Unsane front man Chris Spencer is up to these days. FORTY PIECE CHOIR 6/5, SCHUBAS Forty Piece Choir, who have just released their second album, Face Your Fear (Blue Room Studio), headline this one-year anniversary for Schubas and the Onion's "Justify Your Existence" series. The septet's songs don't sound like anyone else's: they might qualify as the gentlest possible psychedelia, a little bit folk and a little bit fusion. As you might guess, this isn't the massive-sounding outfit the name implies--its slightly adventurous, slightly Christian, and only slightly there presence is beyond twee, leaving an aftertaste of weak tea. THE PATTERN 6/5, FIRESIDE BOWL; 6/6, EMPTY BOTTLE Lookout Records president and former Peechees singer Chris Appelgren fronts this newish Oakland band, which has been accumulating buzz for its unpretentious update of good ol' rock 'n' roll. Appelgren, who dances like a girl onstage (and I mean that in the best way--Iggy Pop dances like a girl too), sends the snot flying with lines like "Baby you don't fit my part / Your hips don't move, your legs too far apart" (from "Untold," on the recent Immediately EP) while the guitarists weave boogie riffs into the punk rhythms. DAMNATIONS 6/6, ABBEY PUB This Austin band's long-awaited second album, Where It Lands (Joy-Ride), veers away from straight-up alt-country, taking a toke of that good southern boogie and occasionally riding up onto X/Knitters turf. Once called the Damnations TX, they appear to have outlived their competitors for the name; if they continue to exhibit this kind of gritty flexibility (even their ballads hold together), they'll outlive a lot more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marina Chavez.