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BUMPUS 12/20, METRO How funny is it that one of Chicago's best funk outfits looks so much like an emo band? The loss of charismatic singer Rachael Yamagata to RCA could have robbed Bumpus of more than just stage presence, but to compensate they've piled on instrumental muscle, enlisting a new keyboardist and a new trombonist, and added a flotilla of powerful female backup singers; on their recent demo, a collection of live songs, they sound as raucous as ever. Though occasionally called a "party band" by the sort of people who say that like it's a bad thing, they're skilled songwriters with a sharp sense of pacing--they haven't made a great record yet, but I wouldn't rule it out. FEDERATION X 12/20, EMPTY BOTTLE There's some mighty buzz about Federation X's prowess as a live act, and on their second album, American Folk Horror (Estrus), these Bellingham boys do indeed flatten most other Golden Age of Boogie Rock revivalists under their wheels. Fat riffs and lupine call-and-response vocals are all in place, but the band's pride and joy is its heavy, hip-swaggering rhythm--which it manages to pull off without a bass player. LIFE AT SEA 12/20, BEAT KITCHEN The pop hash some bands regurgitate is so thoroughly digested that playing spot-the-influence is just no fun. Does this Chicago trio sound like Synchronicity-era Police because of its light and mysterious rhythmic sway, or is it the way Erik Shepard's high vocal flights bump against the beat? Either way, the music on their EP, Anchor Down (World Won't Listen), is as appealing as it is familiar. Through some alchemy they manage, however briefly, to fake freshness--and that, I guess, is the secret of pop. But precious few pop artisans share their distinctly contemporary willingness to break it down midsong, confident that the thread will be there when they're through fucking around. TOPAZ 12/20, SCHUBAS They don't still call this stuff "acid jazz," do they? That term always seemed better suited to Coltrane's way-out improvisatory trips, which are neither mellow nor danceable--a better name for most of this sleek, chilly froth would be Ritalin jazz. This New York outfit is plenty smooth, but on its second album, The Zone (Velour Music), bandleader and saxman Topaz isn't afraid to do a little actual blowing once the groove is established, and the beats have a nice organic feel. Though "Walkabout" shares a bass line with Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold," I'll give Topaz the benefit of the doubt and assume that both he and the Nuge lifted it from some other primal source. But I'd still prefer more of a challenge and less of a booty kiss. ASHTRAY BOY 12/22, EMPTY BOTTLE This bicontinental pop band, which established a cultsy foothold during its mid-90s tenure in Chicago, hasn't played here in over a year--not surprising since core members Randall Lee and Carla Bruce Lee now reside in Australia. They return bearing tidings of a forthcoming record, The Euro (on the German label Jellyfant, which has put out past Ashtray Boy discs and will release a new one from Chicagoans Grimble Grumble next year). A bit of a concept album, The Euro is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the controversial currency, with songs, appropriately, in various languages. For this show Mr. and Mrs. Lee will be joined by longtime local associate Geoff Greenberg on drums. PEGBOY 12/23, METRO In the five years since the release of their last album, Cha Cha Da More, these local anchors of the 90s pop-punk scene (some of whom were also anchors of the 80s indie-rock scene as members of Naked Raygun) have dwelled in limbo--they never went through an actual breakup, but they haven't made the effort of an active band. Still, they've kept their hands in, showing up on a few flyers a year and even cranking out the occasional new song--I'm told there's a good chance you'll hear a couple at this show, the tenth annual Winternationals. The Tossers and Evil Beaver open.

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

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