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Spot Check

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DARK STAR ORCHESTRA 6/27 & 28, SKYLINE STAGE Though there's an actual version of the Dead on the road again, I doubt that the fan base for Chicago's Dark Star Orchestra will dwindle--after all, not even the Dead can play in more than one place at a time. Besides, this tribute band performs a historical function that not even the dinosaurs themselves do: each night they re-create in meticulous detail a classic set of Dead past (gleaned from the bootleg tapes Deadheads famously collect and trade), complete with solos, surprises, and even glitches. It's a labor of love on a heroic scale, rescued from mere eccentricity by thousands of people who crave the experience. Now DSO (which has been at this since 1997) has begun releasing records--live, of course. Thunder and Lightning, the first, was recorded at an Oregon fairground last summer by longtime Dead archivist Betty Cantor-Jackson, with the original band's blessing. It's available at shows and through the band's Web site (www.darkstarorchestra.net). POI DOG PONDERING 6/27, METRO I've never been a huge fan of this DIY institution, but I've never been enough of a grump to really dislike 'em either. Listening to In Seed Comes Fruit (Premonition), their first album of new material in four years, I realize I'm growing more sympathetic to the cause. For most of the 90s the chart machines tried and failed to turn such trends as world music, electronica, jam bands, blue-eyed soul, revival funk, and the kitchen sink into platinum. If the mainstreaming mishmash had ever been done right, here's what it might have sounded like. The gospel-tinged chorus of "You Move Me" makes up in harmony what it lacks in buildup; the skittery flutes and percussion filigree around the solid beat of "Hangover" cushion the effusive female vocals in pillowy clouds of sway, and it's all hooky as hell. It's taken Frank Orrall and his huge collective an awful long time and a lot of trial and error to sound this good, but every side project, gig, and failed experiment has played a part in honing their sound. WOGGLES 6/29, SUBTERRANEAN These Georgia garageniks have been plying their trade since 1989, for many years when it most assuredly was not cool, and thereby have earned themselves a warm affection I won't yet grant to the Johnny-cum-prematurelies now making the scene. Always more impressive live than on record, they've nonetheless kept up a stream of production the old-fashioned way: on seven-inches, compilation tracks, and tribute-album appearances (including one for the Trashmen, and most recently a Link Wray homage, Guitar Ace, that also features Southern Culture on the Skids and the Fleshtones). It's surprising that this tour is happening at all: longtime guitarist George Montague "Monty" Holton III died suddenly in May at the age of 31 from complications brought about by his medication (he was a diabetic). But while it's in dubious taste for the Who to keep touring without stopping to mourn John Entwistle, it's valiant for the Woggles to soldier on--'cause there's no way these guys are doing it for the money. SAINT VITUS 7/1, DOUBLE DOOR In the 80s when lines between indie noise and metal were more clearly drawn, Saint Vitus squatted like a bloated toad in the speed-freak sanctuary of SST Records, swearing to all the world that Sabbath sludge was the true rock 'n' roll. Without Saint Vitus and bands that followed such as Earth and Sleep, there would be no stoner rock and nothing in contemporary guitar-based rock to balance out all that indie treble. Sometime front man Scott "Wino" Weinrich, who left in 1992, led Spirit Caravan for a while and has now gone happily over to full-fledged doom metal, forming Place of Skulls with guitarist Victor Griffin (formerly of Pentagram). He returns to complete the classic lineup that will take the stage for this one-off show. Guitarist Dave Chandler told Blabbermouth.net that Chicago was chosen for being "one of the best cities we ever played in." BEAUTIFUL MISTAKE 7/2, METRO This California-based emo band has every cliche of the posthardcore world nailed down so well on their first full-length, Light a Match, for I Deserve to Burn (Militia Group), I can't imagine what they'll do for an encore. In fact, this record is such a perfect primer for the brood-and-surge sound it's downright stirring in spots--in a Pavlovian sort of way. ONE LINE DRAWING 7/2, FIRESIDE BOWL Jonah Matranga, late of New End Original and Far, has kept a low profile recently, playing the occasional show in someone's house and selling his self-released EPs as One Line Drawing over the Internet. On the 11 delicate songs of Visitor (Jade Tree), his first full-length under that name, his practiced vulnerability ("Her hips are like seashells / And I can hear the ocean when I listen") requires a certain level of listener complicity in order to work. BLACK CROSS 7/3, FIRESIDE BOWL This Louisville hardcore outfit, formerly known as the Black Widows, has a bit of a rep as a political band. I'm not sure if that's because of the by now inherently political nature of the style or because of their stage patter, but reading the lyric sheet to their new Art Offensive (Equal Vision) doesn't reveal much protest in the explicit style of Reagan-era punk. Still, it's all there in the music: the stiff-legged, jackbooted paranoid chug-chug at the end of "Black Market Cigarettes," the drunk-and-frightened-comrade sing-along in "Gift to the Sea." This is my favorite punk record of the year so far. GOSSIP 7/3, EMPTY BOTTLE; 7/5, FIRESIDE BOWL There's plenty of class of '92 DIY noise woven into this trio's red-clay gospel blues on the new Movement (Kill Rock Stars). The din breaks for stark a cappella wails over hand claps on "Gone," and distortion lurks under "Yesterday's News" like a deadly undertow beneath a peaceful-looking sea. What primarily sets Gossip apart from a lot of bands working this angle is front woman Beth Ditto, who can really fucking sing, wrapping Sleater-Kinney shriek around hair-raising blue notes.

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