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ANNUAL SEA SHANTIES FESTIVAL 11/15-16, SAINT PATRICK PERFORMING ARTS CENTER; 11/17, ABBEY PUB Tired of songs with meaningless lyrics, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing? Well, few genres celebrate narrative detail as lustily as the sea shanty. Gathering performers from the United States (which has a proud maritime history) and Poland (which, well...doesn't), this three-day festival honors the memory of "the last shantyman," Stan Hugill, a sailor and painter who passed on ten years ago. The event features the Polish shanty band Stare Dzwony (20 years and still going), Great Lakes balladeer Lee Murdock, the award-winning Polish trio Qftry, Mlynn (the only Polish shanty band in Chicago), and Tom Lewis, whom the French press has called "the Springsteen of sea shanties." There will also be afternoon workshops at the Saint Patrick Performing Arts Center; see www.shanties-chicago.com for more information. BOXCAR SATAN 11/16, VIADUCT Don Van Vliet will not be participating in the much touted Magic Band reunions at All Tomorrow's Parties in the UK and LA next year, but if the former Beefheart sidemen want to hire a soundalike, they should put a call in to Sanford Allen, front man for this San Antonio trio. Even when Van Vliet was scary, he was never as downright Texas-rattlesnake mean as Allen gets on his own band's Crooked Mile March (Dogfingers Recordings). The down-and-dirty groove of "See the Donkey Lady" sounds like a Birthday Party B side, and these guys have got one big rockabilly-striptease streak too. Still, they emerge from the same hard-core blues ooze as the Magic Band did--too bad their atmospheric version of "John the Revelator" doesn't quite pass the Blind Willie Johnson goose bump test. Loraxx headline; Brick Layer Cake open. SPITS 11/16, BEAT KITCHEN On their eponymous debut (recently released on Reno's Slovenly label), the Spits make the Ramones sound like martini-sipping sophisticates. This Seattle band likes to expectorate cheesy synth lines over its stiff-legged chug, reveling in the new-wave trashiness like a dog eating out of the litter box. Openers the Epoxies share the Spits' hometown and stoopid spirit, but their moves are a tad more polished. BLOOD BROTHERS 11/17, METRO This Seattle band has been heavily buzzed by a crowd starving for rock sensationalism, but its second album, March on Electric Children (Three One G), doesn't cover much turf that Mike Patton hasn't already beaten weed-free. The Blood Brothers' strain of danceable hardcore, distinguished by the double lead vocals of Jordan Billie and Johnny Whitney, is otherwise a familiar blend of hyperactive punk, garbled metal, and twitchy funk. But lines like "The cloud of humming octopi spin the mucus crown of eternal life!" offer a welcome relief from the first-person-fucked POV that monopolizes "youth music." And for those who've never heard this stuff before, here's a more surefire way to appall the 'rents than Slipknot--unless your folks are Zappa fans. NIAMH PARSONS 11/17, OLD TOWN SCHOOL On her new album, Heart's Desire (Green Linnet), Irish singer Niamh Parsons carefully plucks material from the songbooks of her wide circle of acquaintances, then tosses in a handful of traditionals for good measure. Though past albums have shown that she has no aversion to pop gloss, here she posits herself so dutiful a child of the ancients that only carbon dating could confirm the recent vintage of her music. Parsons is no ethereal neo-Celtic triller--she invests the fey filigrees of Irish balladry with the strength of real human lungs. She'll be accompanied here by guitarist Graham Dunne; former Planxty songwriter Paul Brady opens. ATREYU 11/19, FIRESIDE BOWL Whenever people talk about the "fine line between punk and metal," I always imagine something spiky and perilous, like that thing in parking lots that fucks up your tires if you try to drive off without paying. In the past, this southern California band has cautiously straddled that barrier, but this past summer's Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses (Victory) crosses fearlessly into metal territory. Don't let the dreadful title scare you too much: though the lyrics retain an aftertaste of emo angst and sap, only the perpetually morose will notice--there's too much deep, propulsive drumming and low-end metal churning to enjoy instead. BRYAN FERRY 11/19, CHICAGO THEATre Bryan Ferry really ought to keep away from Bob Dylan's songbook--the theatrical sweep of his vocal style is about as ill suited for "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" (covered on his new Virgin album, Frantic) as it was for "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (on 1973's These Foolish Things). Besides, Ferry doesn't need Dylan--for Frantic he's written some ace tunes, with a hand from Dave Stewart on four and from his old pal Brian Eno on one. Ferry remains unfailingly elegant, and he's still working his idiosyncratic brand of erotic pop, a blend of neomedieval romance and Weimar decadence. Here, his sensual melange is spiked by the contributions of pianist Colin Good and blues-inflected guitarists Mick Green and Chris Spedding. Three decades Ferry's been at this, and he's still never been tapped to do a James Bond movie theme. Shocking. SAINT ETIENNE 11/21, DOUBLE DOOR How good can an album be if I'm distracted from the music by the liner notes? Mark Perry's essay on Saint Etienne's new Finisterre (Mantra) is gorgeously silly: "All the kids still exist. They've come from all corners of the old city, with a history that reaches back past the medieval castles and the Tudor beer houses. This city that sits like an exclamation mark in the sky. The kids have come to reclaim their past." But the open spirit of Perry's urban-fantasy romanticism is appealing in a way the band's own stylized electronic hoarfrost isn't--except in brief spurts, when it's livened up by someone with real charisma, like the British rapper Wildflower (on "Soft Like Me").

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