XIU XIU 7/19, EMPTY BOTTLE This introspective San Jose quartet can't seem to shake a cloud of tragic overtones, from the name of the band--derived from ultrasad movie Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl--to the chronicle of anguished insomnia (by band member Lauren Andrews) that makes up the booklet for its debut full-length Knife Play (5 Rue Christine). This multi-instrumental combo (electronics, mandolin, guitar, gongs, harmonium...) sometimes sounds as if it could be a neo-new-wave pop band, or a postmodern improv group, or even a Roxy Music tribute, if only it had just a little less trembling lower lip. But the beautiful racket has an undertone of shimmering rage that gives it an emotional force and fragility this kind of art-pop often lacks. A new EP is due out soon on Absolutely Kosher. ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO 7/19 & 20, ABBEY PUB; 7/20, BORDERS ON MICHIGAN; 7/21, HIDEOUT Hardworking Texan Alejandro Escovedo can't get enough of Chicago--and his fans can't get enough of him. The two-night stand at the Abbey continues to celebrate his 2001 release A Man Under the Influence (Bloodshot), which is worth the sticker price just for the gorgeous "Wave," an homage to his Mexican immigrant father. On Sunday Escovedo will show a different side: the program celebrates the release of the new Bloodshot compilation The Bottle Let Me Down, produced to indoctrinate the progeny of local artists and fans into the insurgent-country lifestyle of sin with 26 tracks of sing-alongs, sound effects, and kid-friendly weirdness like Escovedo's lament on the painful march of time, "Sad and Dreamy (The Big 1-0)." The bill also includes contributors Jane Baxter Miller with Kent Kessler, Steph Turner, the ubiquitous Jon Langford, and Katie Belle with Lennie Dietsch. It's free for kids; cartoons screened by Aadam Jacobs and a menu of PB&J and goldfish crackers round out the afternoon. CORDERO 7/20, HIDEOUT Born from a bevy of bands, this Brooklyn quintet is fronted by Ani Cordero, who once drummed for a Man or Astro-man? clone band and recorded a never-released but rumored-to-be-lovely album with Calexico. She's joined here by drummer and artist Chris Verene, late of the Rock*a*Teens and DQE, and several members of Bee and Flower, the band led by Michael Gira collaborator Dana Schechter. Their forthcoming full-length debut is downright gorgeous Latin-tinged indie rock. Cordero, who is Puerto Rican, writes in English and Spanish and sings like an angel crying into her drink. The band can surround and buoy her vocals with exquisite grace, and then on the next tune cheer everyone up with a ferocious groove. RUSH 7/20, TWEETER CENTER Vapor Trails (Atlantic) is the original Canadian art-metal power trio's first studio album since 1997: drummer and lyricist Neil Peart lost his daughter (car accident) and his wife (cancer) within a year of each other and took some time off. If I had to wager, though, I'd bet the hiatus didn't hurt the band's career very much. It takes a certain patience and long attention span to be a Rush fan, and a long pause does build up a nice head of anticipation. And Vapor Trails is really, really good. Eschewing the heavy keyboard "experiments" of the 80s, the band sounds oddly fresh after having had their classic moves borrowed for many nefarious purposes for the last five years. Peart's lyrical obsessions with free will, mysticism, and individuality are as welcome as the quirks of an old friend, with a major arcana tarot card anchoring the liner notes for each song (with a nod to what the Tower means for their neighbors to the south nowadays) and the occasional Inspirational Quote: "It's not the heat / It's the inhumanity." AMAZOMBIES 7/21, GUNTHER MURPHY'S The Seattle trio's cool name bumps them to the top of the punk list; their new album Bitches & Stitches (X-Communicated) keeps them pretty solidly in the front of the pack, with vocals channeling Joan Jett and guitarist Kim Kelly adding sizzle to the classic full-bore rip-roar. But, alas, it takes some truly stellar songwriting to set a band apart in this glutted field, and the Amazombies just aren't there yet. Great fun, but not very memorable. TUATARA, MINUS FIVE, WAYWARD SHAMANS, CEDELL DAVIS 7/25, METRO Something Peter Buck wrote back in 1984 about little indie zines and the importance of participating actively in the "scene" even if one's not a musician is more or less the reason I'm here now, so I'm glad this stellar guitarist, long since a multimillion seller with R.E.M., hasn't forgotten his own passionate rhetoric. The Seattle-based label Fast Horse Recordings, a project of Buck's and his cohorts in the instrumental space-exotica outfit Tuatara, includes this mission statement on its Web site: "We believe that just because a person is a musician or artist, does not give license to any company, corporate or otherwise, to exploit or denigrate that artist's musical expression or their financial stability . . . . Why spend your hard-earned money on disposable crap? Buy art with integrity, with passion, with grit." Fast Horse artists include Brazilian singer Mylene Nunes, 74-year-old bluesman Cedell Davis (whose first album for the label features a good-sized chunk of the large and amorphous Tuatara on backing), and the Wayward Shamans, a younger, Cuban-inflected take on the Mickey Hart world percussion movement. Brave Combo's Joe Cripps and Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees are common elements, while Luna's Justin Harwood and one-named Seattle sax player Skerik also contribute to Tuatara along with Young Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey, leader of the Minus Five, who're also on the bill. Confused? Don't worry about it. Just expect to see the same guys onstage a lot.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew MacNaughtan.