AMISH ARMADA 5/30, FIRESIDE BOWL Tired of hokey faux satanism? Neo-Nordics no longer yank your crank? Even Sumerian-themed gore getting tiresome? The fresh face of sacrilege this month is this Wisconsin band, whose cranky, bangy, Misfits-meet-Mr. Bungle playing is almost as practiced as their bearded, hat-wearing rural hell-raiser shtick. They are inordinately proud of having fooled a village newspaper in Wisconsin into launching a protect-our-children-from-Satan crusade, a fish-in-a-barrel feat that pretty much exemplifies their sophomoric style. Still, it's hard to resist a stage full of auxiliary dancers dressed as Amish zombies. SWIRLIES 5/30, EMPTY BOTTLE Philly's Swirlies, charter members of the American shoegazer movement of the early 90s, might seem to have taken a careening left turn with their first proper recording in seven years, Cats of the Wild: Volume 2 (Bubblecore). But they've been working their way toward the proverbial something completely different for some time, via remixes and four-tracking and a revolving-door lineup. Playful, noisy, willfully incoherent, and more fun than a barrel of manic-depressive monkeys, the new record is full of spastic Stereolab moments and culminates in the 20-minute title track, which reminds me of the day in first grade when I looked up from a mandatory head-on-desk nap to see the class geek absorbed in a finger-painting trance, contentedly tracing patterns in saliva on his desktop. It grossed me out at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, I confess to a slight flush of envy. VERBENA 5/30, SCHUBAS When I saw this Alabama band live in Austin a few years ago, they had a certain postgrunge erotic charge, with guitarist Scott Bondy and bassist Anne Marie Griffin generating a poisonous Kurt-and-Courtney vibe. Griffin having since left the band, they're now a power trio of boys, and on their new record, La Musica Negra (Capitol)--their first in four years--they do what southern boys seem to be best at: bluesy, doomy hard rock. When it's slow the music is as close in spirit to Molly Hatchet as to Nirvana; in its fastest, fiercest moments it sounds like titless Nashville Pussy. NINA HAGEN 5/31, DOUBLE DOOR The daughter of an actress and a writer and the granddaughter of Holocaust victims, this East Berlin native moved to London in the 70s and made a name for herself in the punk scene with her extreme appearance, her wonderful, frightening voice, and a sensibility that combined Weimar cabaret, performance art, and cutting-edge fashion. Widely mistaken for a novelty act in the U.S., she plays here infrequently. Lately she's been pursuing mystic enlightenment in India (her last two albums, Om Namah Shivay and Return of the Mother, were heavily devotional), hosting two Web TV shows, and putting out a photograph-packed German-language book, That's Why the Lady Is a Punk. Evil Beaver opens. JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER 5/31, SCHUBAS No pop ingenue, the 30-ish Sykes had been through art school, a marriage, and a couple of bands before finding her musical soul mate in Whiskeytown veteran Phil Wandscher and putting together the Sweet Hereafter. (Rounding out the lineup are Kevin Warner on drums, sometime Neko Case accomplice Bill Herzog on bass, and Anne Marie Ruljancich of the Walkabouts on strings). Their debut, Reckless Burning (Burn Burn Burn), has charmed a lot of people with its tense and trembling country noir; Sykes has a Sandy Denny-like ability to swing unpredictably between brittle vulnerability and calm, centered power, and her songwriting is mesmerizing in its stone-solid refusal to move at any but its own glacial, deliberate pace. The sound is as uncompromising and challenging as that of any "experimental" band. OL' YELLER 6/4, SCHUBAS Veteran Minneapolis guitarist and songwriter Rich Mattson fronts this band, pared down to a trio on their third self-released album, Penance (SMA). Mattson's textbook-perfect songs all come encased in jangling, broody guitars and bursts of harmonica without much blues bend; it's a proficient application of a straightforward Americana-indie style that hasn't changed in 30 years. In "Catacombs," Mattson manages to make even the excavation of an ancient Parisian cemetery sound kind of friendly and familiar and midwestern--and no matter how many times I listen to this thing, I can't decide for sure if that's a virtue. FAUX JEAN 6/5, DOUBLE DOOR This Minneapolis band has a way with shimmering ballads, like "Unintouch" and "The Ballad of Kim & Thurston" on their new Dead Lover (Susstones). But their real forte is a trashy but soulful synthesis of garage and glam--shiny pop and back-alley strut, 80s girls in skinny ties and 70s boys in eyeliner and platforms. In trying to cram every great hook ever into each tune, it's as if they're trying to illustrate the concept of "pop hit" to someone who's never heard one.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Guy Nelson.