DIALS 1/30, BEAT KITCHEN On the six tracks of its self-released debut, Sick Times, this Chicago quartet combines garage and new-wave elements into a sound that refuses to be pinned down as merely referential or retro; Emily Dennison ties it all together with snaky organ lines. Guitarist Patti Gran also plays with New Black, and bassist Rebecca Crawford was in the Puta-Pons. CLUMSY LOVERS 1/31, WISE FOOLS PUB A grump might argue that these British Columbians are missing the point of bluegrass by playing it with a drummer--the relentlessly rhythmic music just doesn't call for one. But they've never claimed to be authentic. They're a highly adept and rollickingly friendly bunch of bluegrass/Celtic/rock fusioneers, and on After the Flood (due out in a few weeks on Nettwerk) they barrel through originals and trad material alike in a barely restrained frenzy. Yet their solid pop sense keeps them tasteful even when they're showing off surplus chops. WAYNE "THE TRAIN" HANCOCK 1/31, ABBEY PUB For all the laid-back tightness of Texan Wayne Hancock's studio records--which are sometimes outfitted with horns and strings--it's onstage, fronting his core trio, that he really puts his country-jazz swing style across. The recent Swing Time (Bloodshot) was recorded over a few nights at Austin's Continental Club: you can hear the crowd lean into his hot-club guitar picking, and his singing sounds genuinely joyous even when the lyrics get bleak, bleak, bleak. SUPER FURRY ANIMALS 2/3, METRO The Super Furry Animals might be one of those British phenomena that just doesn't quite translate across the pond (singing in Welsh, as they do now and then, can't help). Like Ray Davies, Andy Partridge, and Julian Cope before him, front man Gruff Rhys exudes a certain humble hermeticism: aware that he's not for everyone, he seems more or less happily self-contained. On last year's Phantom Power (Beggars Banquet/XL), which was released as both a CD and a DVD with different mixes and animated footage, the band's sound is an overgrown formal garden: lurking amid the brainy but sensual pop pleasure is rage, expressed with counterintuitive delicacy, at an increasingly violent and ignorant world. CANNED HAMM 2/5, CHICAGO AVENUE SOCIAL CLUB Imagine a three-way between Har Mar Superstar, Tenacious D, and They Might Be Giants, all taking inspired jabs at David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, and Commodores-era Lionel Richie over wobbly labor-of-love backing tracks. That's Vancouver's Canned Hamm, a sort of disco-vaudeville acid trip led by two lounged-out, affectionate, Ron Jeremy-lookin' guys calling themselves Big Hamm and Lil' Hamm. Surprisingly, their debut album, Karazma! (Pro-Am), works just fine even without the strip-teasing, crowd-engaging live show; it's the kind of thing you don't listen to all that often but enjoy the hell out of when you do. GRAFTON 2/5, DOUBLE DOOR This Columbus act, which started out in 1996 as a two-piece but added a full-time bass player in '99, hopped off the rock-duo bandwagon just when everyone else started climbing on. Their new Blind Horse Campaign (Dead Canary) has a huge, heavy sound that any five-piece might envy: it's part AC/DC, part Soundgarden when they were fresh, part stiff-legged, headbanging Zep worship, and part evidence for the theory that lots of punk bands started out secretly wishing they could play metal. MARITIME 2/5, SCHUBAS The show is part of the "Justify Your Existence" series, but these emo vets--vocalist-guitarist Davey von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier of the Promise Ring and aftermath project Vermont, plus bassist Eric Axelson, formerly of the Dismemberment Plan--would seem to have placed out of that league a while back. On the limited-edition EP Adios (produced by J. Robbins and issued by the Epitaph imprint Foreign Leisure), a guest trumpet and saxophone add some important color to the band's polished but brittle arty folk-pop; ideally they'll get more playing time on the full-length, due this spring.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patty Michaels.