J. DAVIS TRIO 6/21, MARTYRS'; 6/22, ST. HEDWIG STREET FEST This local hip-hop outfit--a quartet, not a trio--makes its backing tracks the hard way, getting their grooves mostly from real bass and drums. Ron of Japan's trumpet skitters around them, but competes only slightly with rapper Nerd Stuart's lucid poetry, which would give these guys an edge even if they used samples. This is a release party for their second album, The New No. 2, on their own Yo-Yo Smuggler label; the guest list includes MC Lunchbox Law, singer-songwriter Stolie, and guitarist Jeff Parker.
LIGHT FM 6/21, THE NOTE Most members of this Chicago quartet have been culled from other well-regarded locals: guitarist Josiah Mazzaschi fronted mid-90s almost-rans Motorhome; drummer Mark Ruggiero also keeps time in Tom Daily & the Volunteers, the Men's Group, and the Fruit Bats; Cory Verblen, who plays almost everything else, is also with Daily's band. Their three-song demo contains the sort of solid, fuzzy, anthemic indie pop that would be radio friendly if only radio itself were a little more friendly.
DENALI 6/22, EMPTY BOTTLE Moderate success--production by Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous and a contract with Jade Tree--seems to be inspiring a backlash in Denali's hometown of Richmond, Virginia, poor ducks. You could chalk it up to tall-poppy syndrome, something small scenes tend to foster in abundance, except Denali hasn't grown very big yet. The sound here is promising, but Maura Davis has to figure out what to do with that voice: right now she's striving for Kate Bush's vision and Polly Jean Harvey's passion but falling short of both. The rest of the band, thankfully, stays arctic and remote, as if the misty forest of the early Cure had been cold as well as dark.
PHENOMS 6/22, CAL'S The first law of garage rock? It's the economy, stupid. Why expend the effort on extra chords or structural complexity when you can channel your full force into culverts and gulleys so primally preexistent that you can distinguish yourself with little more than an unusual guitar tone or vocal quirk? Chicago's Phenoms have yet to find that magic thang; on their self-titled full-length (available at www.thephenoms.com) the material is utterly pro forma right up until the end, where they finally rip it up with a Sonics cover. They headline a seven-band, five-dollar bill at this very small South Loop venue; the first act goes on at four in the afternoon.
AMERICAN PATCHWORK TOUR 6/25, SCHUBAS British electro-folk freak Momus organized this package tour to show off the talent on his American Patchwork label: the Super Madrigal Brothers make faux-Renaissance madness out of video-game sounds; the Gongs, a quartet of Oberliners, use homemade acoustic and electronic instruments and, yes, gongs, to generate intense atmospherics; and Phiiliip is a young writer who generates Bowie-esque songs like some sort of idiot savant. None of these artists has much in common with the others, unless you count the drive to entertain oneself first and others second. But there's bound to be something here that anyone with a sense of wonder might like.
LES YEUX NOIRS 6/27, HOTHOUSE This French septet has been doing its part to bring the joyous noise of eastern and central European folk music to the western half of the continent, but until now they've avoided the U.S. with consummate skill. Hints of modern rhythm turn up on their Balamouk (released in 2000 by EMI France and recently reissued by World Village) and then subside into the spicy soup of haunting traditional ballads, soulful originals, and out-and-out bar rousers. The stars here are violinist brothers Erik and Olivier Slabiak, but it's Marian Miu's cimbalom and Constantin Bitica's accordion that give the music its touching particularity.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.