LOS STRAITJACKETS CHRISTMAS PAGEANT 12/19, ABBEY PUB; 12/20, FITZGERALD'S Other than experimental music--stuff that's freed from traditional melodic and rhythmic concerns--it's hard to find a genre that emphasizes pure sound as much as instrumental surf rock. Straightforward and infectious as the Ventures' melodies were, how far could they have gone without that perfect, crisp, reverby tone? The time-honored combination isn't quite enough to put butts in the seats nowadays, though--hence the choreography and Mexican wrestling masks of Los Straitjackets, who just finished touring behind their new Supersonic Guitars in 3-D and are now dusting off the repertoire from last year's 'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets (which contains the only version of "Jingle Bell Rock" I've ever liked). The World Famous Pontani Sisters, a DIY burlesque trio, will lend a Rockettes kick and subversive wink to the proceedings, and openers the Legendary Shack Shakers will bring a decidedly unwholesome boisterousness. If you absolutely must attend some sort of holiday extravaganza this year, you could do a lot worse. MUD CITY MANGLERS 12/19, CAL'S This Pittsburgh trio, named for a prison football team from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons and clearly raised on the Ramones, the Misfits, and AC/DC, is largely a singles band. Its only full-length so far is 2000's Heart Full of Hate (Stolen Records/International Trash), though part of a follow-up is in the can. The 11 songs here (sample titles: "1234 Motherfucker," "Shit You Talk," "Fucked Up All the Time," and "One More Beer") do what they have to do and get out of the way fast, leaving in their wake a few bits of found dialogue and some self-evident but too often forgotten truths: oh right, the Sex Pistols were a great pop band; oh right, Ron Asheton was a guitar hero. SUFFRAJETT 12/19, BEAT KITCHEN; 12/31, double door After producing and playing on a chunk of Liz Phair's Whitechocolatespaceegg, guitarist Jason Chasko moved to New York and formed this band, which he's now brought back here with him. Its eponymously titled debut (on In Music We Trust) is perhaps a little overly infatuated with its own trashy flash, which pushes the shrill, punkish vocals of front woman Simi and the chaotic clang of the band well past garagey anarchy and into hair-metal hubris. But there's a primal, almost tribal hookiness to the colliding choruses and crashing, artfully degenerating riffs. Not terribly substantial, but inarguably tasty. The New Year's Eve gig is opening for Local H and Electric Six. EEF BARZELAY 12/20, SCHUBAS As easy as indie pop is to get tired of, there's always something about the good stuff that reminds the jaded listener that it's likable music made by likable people. At their best, New York's Clem Snide have been like that, creating artful, unobtrusive, occasionally petulant, and extremely human songs. Soft Spot (SpinArt), released this summer, is their third album overall and their first made completely after escaping the belly of the major whale that devoured Sire; a new EP is anchored by a cover of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." The full band wrapped up a North American tour two weeks ago; front man Barzelay and guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick will play naked versions of fan favorites here and in Milwaukee. HIMSA 12/20, FIRESIDE BOWL Another band weaned on hardcore that's making a fairly easy transition to metal, this Seattle quintet has just released its third album, Courting Tragedy and Disaster, on Prosthetic Records (also home to Lamb of God); its most notable trait is probably the paranormally fast twin guitar attack of Sammi Curr and Kirby Charles Johnson. Also on the bill are Freya, the Black Dahlia Murder, and Vancouverites Three Inches of Blood, whose full-length debut, Battlecry Under a Winter Sun, was named best metal album at the Canadian Independent Music Awards in February. PELE 12/22, SCHUBAS Add these emo instrumentalists to the roster of Western acts that have become weirdly popular in Japan. After a phenomenally successful tour over there last year, they included three live bonus tracks from the shows on a recent reissue of their 1999 album Elephant (Polyvinyl). And over there's where they'll close out their career next month after six years and five albums, during which run they mastered the art of nonmastery: they conveyed diffidence with confidence. This is their last Chicago show; their last U.S. show will be in their hometown, Milwaukee, on January 3. Headlining is the Album Leaf, the broody side project of Jimmy LaValle from Tristeza, which has a new EP on Tiger Style.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Wes Kidd.