SONNY LANDRETH 2/14 & 15, FITZGERALD'S Mississippi-born and Louisiana-bred guitarist Sonny Landreth isn't a songwriting genius or even a remarkable singer. On first listen, the barn burners on his ninth album, The Road We're On (Sugar Hill), would sound like standard-issue jukebox romps but for a pinch of Cajun seasoning. Yet Landreth's guitar playing, particularly his steel and slide work, has a piercing beauty that cuts through the blooze ooze, especially on slow-build beauties like "A World Away," where he spirals into a solo that's as cosmic as Pink Floyd yet as gritty as Stevie Ray Vaughan. And the barn burning's not all bad anyway--with more expressive vocals, the rolling chug of "Natural World" would do ZZ Top or AC/DC proud. VIVA L'AMERICAN DEATH RAY MUSIC 2/14, BEAT KITCHEN No matter how many name changes these Memphisians go through (three by my count--they were American Death Ray when they passed through here in 2001), their development remains steady. Their latest, Smash Radio Hits (Sympathy for the Record Industry), is by far the best straight-ahead rock 'n' roll album I've heard since--well, so far this year, at least. "Straight-ahead rock 'n' roll?" I hear you ask. "What about their obvious no-wave and new-wave and art-punk influences?" Well, what about them? This late in the game, great straight-ahead rock 'n' roll ought to sound like early Roxy Music fronted by Richard Hell, all of 'em so coked up they think they're playing R & B. CHICAGO KINGS 2/15, EMPTY BOTTLE You hear "drag" and you think "queens": for decades it's been the dubiously distaff side of gender-bent stagecraft that's dominated the home turf and spilled into the mainstream. And drag kings? Some say they were hamstrung by a lesbian-feminist orthodoxy that disdained all things masculine or suggestive of the butch-femme dynamic; others blamed a culture that gives men more space to strut whatever stuff they prefer. But since the mid-90s drag kings have been doing their damnedest to be seen and heard. Hereabouts, these Kings have been staging performances that are part burlesque, part karaoke, part audience participation, part fashion show, and just about all startling for almost two years. Tonight's "Love Boat Show," which includes a raffle and a kissing booth (proceeds benefit the Chicago Rape Crisis Center) is a worthy way to beat the club blahs and the VD blues. Note to neophytes: tipping the performers, burlesque-style, is appreciated. DAVE DAVIES 2/15, ABBEY PUB The Web has become the last refuge for a couple generations of older artists who don't get much play on commercial radio. Take the legendarily volatile number two son in the Kinks. Last year he releases Bug (Koch), a terrific concept album about alien mind control, and do any programming directors give the guy a shot? Nah, so now he's peddling his new disc, Bugged...Live, at www.davedavies.com, where you can also check out his New Age musings ("Tune in to the subtle energies around us all. The etheric, astral and spirit worlds") and learn all about his guitar collection. Back here in the real world, Davies puts on a rock 'n' roll show that's personable and fun and doesn't lean too hard on the obvious Kinks material. JORMA KAUKONEN 2/15, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Jorma Kaukonen is a tie-dyed-in-the-wool hippie. He accompanied Janis Joplin before she was a star, and he was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna--he'd be worth gawking at as a museum piece even if he couldn't play for dookie anymore. BMG just reissued his first solo album, Quah (1974), a set of graceful folk-blues enlivened by some quirky touches--"Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine" is as loopy as Michael Hurley with a head injury--and it doesn't sound all that antiquated. Some of the Delta blues pastiches and string flourishes are a bit over-the-top, but I bet if some 25-year-old indie-pop cutie released Quah tomorrow, he'd have 'em fainting in the aisles. TROUBLED HUBBLE 2/15, GUNTHER MURPHY'S Poor Troubled Hubble. Late 2001 was no time to release a disc called Broken Airplanes, and early 2003 is hardly an opportune moment for a band whose name snarkily tweaks NASA to be touring behind a new album. Then again, I Am the World Trade Center seems to be doing all right. The self-released Penturbia, due March 4, will be the suburban pop quartet's third full-length; while their jumpiness gets annoying over the long haul, the best stuff qualifies as effervescent. "You Stay and I'll Go Get Help" and "I Love My Canoe" seem to me the sort of tuneful gems that will be embraced by a fervent few today and recognized as unheralded classics tomorrow. Again, good instincts, bad timing. DAVID THOMAS & TWO PALE BOYS 2/16, SCHUBAS Amidst preparations for his three-day avant-garage festival, Disastodrome!, and the western leg of Pere Ubu's Mighty Road tour, David Thomas has found a way to squeeze in shows in Chicago, New York, and Cleveland with his second-longest-running project. The Two Pale Boys are trumpeter Andy Diagram, best known for the stretchy, twisty sounds he produces in the UK duo Spaceheads, and electronic artist Keith Moline, whose contributions are abrasive and shrewdly counterintuitive--a sort of digital analogue to Allen Ravenstine's old joyful noise with Ubu. The trio's last album, Surf's Up, came out in 2001. ENTRANCE 2/19, HIDEOUT This band is actually one guy, 21-year-old guitarist Guy Blakeslee, a former Baltimorean (and former bassist with Convocation Of...) who moved to Chicago last year--just in time to become a regular at Billy Corgan's weekly Hideout sessions. Blakeslee's debut as Entrance, "The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken by Storm!" (Tiger Style), lays on the apocalyptic talk pretty thick--the kid cites Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie Johnson as influences and sounds mighty desperate to glimpse some revelation or unleash some brimstone. Keeping time with his foot, he stomps as if to prevent a host of hell's minions from creeping through the floorboards, and his guitar work, as demonstrated on a lovely cover of Skip James's "I'm So Glad," is rich toned and fluent. His strained howl sounds more squeaky and frightened than prophetic, but if he maintains his current unrealistic intensity level for a few more years, maybe he'll break on through. Or blow out his vocal cords.