TOM HEINL 4/1 & 2, SCHUBAS On With or Without Me (Leisure King), this Oregonian takes his thrift-store-Tom T. Hall routine to the next honorably hokey level: you get the whole album twice, once with lead vocals and once in karaoke mode. Most of it's pure B comedy--titles include "Pinto Squire" ("Partial to cruising in the passing lane / Burning oil like Saddam Hussein"), "Christmas Tree on Fire," "IHOP," and "Peein' in an Empty"--but the opener, "Mama," could really make you cry if you were drunk enough. The Decemberists headline, Clearlake plays second; both shows are sold-out. LESSER BIRDS OF PARADISE 4/2, EMPTY BOTTLE The show is a release party for these locals' second full-length, String of Bees (Contraphonic). Recorded with Barry Phipps (ex-Coctails), it's so gorgeous it's almost toxic, with layers of trilling acoustic guitar and strings shimmering around Mark Janka's breathy, drony singing. The 11 very slow tracks slide into each other like the sort of laconically passing days after which you reemerge and friends ask, "Hey, what's up?" and you honestly cannot think of a goddamn thing that is up. SLINK MOSS EXPLOSION 4/2, HIDEOUT Formerly local filmmaker/cartoonist/singer-songwriter-drummer Slink Moss came home to record his third album, Slink Moss Explosion (Rattlesnake), with Chicago confederates Mr. X and Mr. Bones, and now he's back for the release show. The Explosion generally stays the rockabilly course, but Moss is a champion dabbler, and the spirits of Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Marc Bolan, among many others, pop up along the roadside. ESCAPE FROM EARTH 4/3, METRO This Chicago quartet has recently been filling Metro and House of Blues with crowds apparently starving for big windy rock that delivers the angry-puppy angst of Nickelback in a lite-metal package with schmancy production values. (Bob Ezrin--who produced, um, The Wall--helms most of their new EP, Three Seconds East.) Lyrics like "It's all smoke / My life's a joke / No rhyme or reason / No one knows / How deep it goes" will never be my idea of greatness, but there does have to be a mainstream, and I've sure seen worse stuff go through the roof. WEIRDOS 4/3, SUBTERRANEAN Though often thought of (when they're thought of at all) as long-gone legends, LA's Weirdos have actually only spent 4 of the last 26 years ('81 to '85) officially broken up. The rest of the time they've lain dormant in between not-really-reunion tours and spotty recording sessions, with once and future members of countless notable bands (including the Gun Club, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wall of Voodoo, the Vandals, Sugar Ray, and the Circle Jerks) passing through their rhythm section. The Weirdos were early (first single in '77) and archetypal punks--maybe the only aesthetically pure Pistols/Ramones-style band to emerge from the LA scene, come to think of it--and their new anthology, We Got the Neutron Bomb: Weird World Volume Two, showcases the form as it was in the beginning: simple, aggressive, hooky, bratty, and pissed. LOVE OF EVERYTHING 4/4, FIRESIDE BOWL Many listeners won't make it past the first few minutes of the Love of Everything's Total Eclipse of the Heart (Brilliante)--they'll hear the twiggy, plunky guitar and Bobby Burg's outsider-art vocals and wonder why the hell this record even exists. But by "Little Bit of Good" or "Mary My Wife," the tortured pace, dogged strumming, and painfully indirect phrasing all start to seem allusive--even suggestive--and really quite lovely. Have we been waiting for a male Raincoats all along? DEXTER ROMWEBER 4/4, EMPTY BOTTLE It's depressing that the lead item in Dexter Romweber's current bio is an enthusiastic endorsement from Jack White, who was still listening for the ice cream truck when Romweber started ripping up the southern indie-rock scene with the seminal two-piece Flat Duo Jets. The Jets debuted on a tiny label in 1984 and spent their early prime as underdocumented underground legends; they didn't record regularly until the 90s and broke up in '98. On the infectious new Blues That Defy My Soul (Yep Roc), Romweber's third solo album since then, he sounds slightly restrained but utterly at home in every twist, turn, and tributary of rockabilly. VELCRO LEWIS & HIS 100 PROOF BAND 4/6, BOTTOM LOUNGE I'm not sick of cute young things in tight black pants yet (check my pulse if I ever seem to be), but I can also make some time for cranked-up rawk with lots of f-words and death threats coming from paunchy, scraggly, middle-aged-looking guys. This Chicago act is as close as you'll ever likely get to seeing five boozers from the too brightly lit corner tavern suddenly hop off the bar stools and cut loose with guitars a-blazing. The new Velcro Lewis and His 100 Proof Band Ruin Everything (Blinded Tiger) is so unpretentious it's almost pretentious, but the band's got the goods: the wicked Zep/Skynyrd slide on "They Call Me the Tracker" raises so many hairs I can almost forgive an earlier reference to playing not just naked Twister but "nudie Risk." 16 HORSEPOWER 4/7, ABBEY PUB The music press rarely takes on religion directly or indirectly, treating it as too emotionally loaded a subject at worst, embarrassing and irrelevant at best (or vice versa). But there's no way to live in the United States without bumping up against it all the time; our history and current events alike are steeped in it. Nor, of course, would our music exist as we know it without religion: blues and country, the parents of rock 'n' roll, are impossible to imagine without God and the devil locked in eternal arm wrestle. Singer-songwriter-fiddler David Eugene Edwards conveys a constant fearful helplessness in the face of that struggle, and the sound of his band 16 Horsepower is haunted by the tent preachers and rattlesnake jugglers that lurk behind every American story he tells. Edwards has guided these spiritual heirs of Jeffrey Lee Pierce through five remarkable albums, from A&M to their current home at Jetset; their latest release, last year's Olden, is a collection of early demos and one ferocious 1994 live show. They're the only Americana act I know of to cite the otherworldly Hungarian band Muszikas as an influence, and sure enough, you can hear the moan of moody eastern European mountaineers in 16 Horsepower's dark amen corner.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/R. Powell.