EMBER SWIFT 5/7, SCHUBAS This Toronto-based singer-songwriter follows the Ani DiFranco model, with her own label (Few'll Ignite Sound) and networking Web site. On her eighth album, Disarming, Swift (on acoustic guitar) and longtime collaborator Lyndell Montgomery (electric bass, violin) effectively contain the music's fierce politics in an easy-to-swallow capsule of deft, frisky, superwhite jazz pop. There's not a single eruption of doubt or uncontrolled energy--it'd be nice to get some sense that Swift's journey to her feminist outlook was more than a casual stroll. The woman sure can sing, though. She headlines this early show. THE CLOSE 5/7, SCHUBAS The lean tunes on It's a Secret to Everybody (Moodswing), the second disc from this Atlanta guitar-pop quartet, sound so painstakingly assembled, and guitarist Brooks Meeks's voice so wrenchingly sincere, that at first listen you wish you could find whatever ineffable thing the band is straining for and just hand it over. But then you realize they're coming pretty close on their own merits, sending up a well-placed red flare from time to time, and eventually you understand they don't want help--they're happy to struggle. They open this late show for San Tropez (the Chamber Strings sans bandleader Kevin Junior) and the Waxwings. VEE DEE 5/7, SUBTERRANEAN This local rock trio is celebrating the release of its full-length debut, Furthur (Criminal IQ). The name's apparently a nod to the Merry Pranksters' bus, but these boys don't seem nostalgic exclusively for the 60s--there's as much Ramones and Dickies in their hard-driving, deep-throated boil as there is Seeds or Shadows of Knight. Wailing, utterly enfuzzed guitar and crunchy chord changes set them apart, insofar as anything does. CAPTAIN YONDER 5/8, SUBTERRANEAN The backstory on this band is that front man Ryan Pfeiffer was mentored by one "Captain" Jack Yonder--at various times a hobo, a crewman on a minesweeper, and a poetry professor--who met Pfeiffer at the Felony Flats trailer park in the Ozarks, befriended him, and ultimately bequeathed the lad the rights to hundreds of his dour, eccentric country-gothic tunes. As you might expect from folks given to spinning such yarns, Captain Yonder's two albums (Whence, Whither Hence, the Sordid? and Mad Country Love Songs) are drunk on wordplay; Pfeiffer has a deep, husky voice well suited to a melodious dirge, and the second record is given extra heft by Esme Schwall's droning, swooping cello. But as easy as it would be to compare this stuff to the Handsome Family, I don't think Pfeiffer's songwriting chops will be keeping the Sparkses up at night. SHEARWATER 5/8, SCHUBAS This Austin band shares this bill--and two of its members--with Okkervil River. But the Americana on Shearwater's third album, Winged Life (Misra), is its own creature entirely--self-consciously fragile, so wistful it threatens to evaporate, and light as birds' bones (main man Jonathan Meiburg is a grad student in ornithology, which also explains the band's name). Shearwater takes a shot at playing fast and loose on this record, but it's not convincing--the band still seems most at home with stark eulogies like "St. Mary's Walk," where it sounds a bit like a front-porch version of This Mortal Coil. UNREAL SCARLET'S WELL 5/12, SUBTERRANEAN Once upon a time leader of the Monochrome Set, a whimsical and moody new wave band formed of Adam & the Ants escapees, singer-guitarist Bid (a Brit of Indian descent who's long been a denizen of the Land of the One-Named) is now the core of Scarlet's Well, a project seeking to become a band. Under this name he's released four albums of fey romantic pop on the Spanish label Siesta, the newest being The Dream Spider of the Laughing Horse. The music seems imported from a realm where Ray Davies, David Tibet, Morrissey, and Julian Cope all read the same Christina Rossetti poems and stay up by candlelight devouring unexpurgated versions of Greek myths and Victorian fairy tales. For this "tour" Bid has enlisted a local band at each stop to learn a show's worth of Monochrome Set and Scarlet's Well songs (hence the "Unreal" tacked onto the name). Tonight it's pop rockers the Deans. PATRICK WOLF 5/12, EMPTY BOTTLE This English songwriter's debut, Lycanthropy (Tomlab), recorded when he was just 19, has a premise I haven't seen often enough lately: an abused kid, having decided that humanity is overrated, forms an allegiance with nature and declares himself part animal. (No points for guessing which animal.) Wolf sustains this metaphor masterfully throughout his hypnotically eccentric record, building scary but wistful pop tunes atop a patchwork of ukulele, harpsichord, accordion, viola, theremin, and laptop. Disappointingly toothless beats sometimes threaten to render the music merely average, but Wolf's eerily precocious songwriting and his crooning, growling, yearning voice more than make up for it. TERRI HENDRIX 5/13, FITZGERALD'S Terri Hendrix has always struck me as a crowd-pleaser with no greater ambition than to play solid, bluesy folk pop--which, to be fair, is harder than it sounds, especially for someone whose natural voice isn't cut out for gritty wailing. When Hendrix says she's "up with the night wolves" it just sounds girlish and cute. On the other hand, the title track of her sixth album, The Ring (Wilory), is a celebration of parental and marital love that's plaintive, joyous, and actually moving (in spite of being hokey as hell). At this show she'll be previewing material from her forthcoming disc, The Art of Removing Wallpaper. HORIZONTAL ACTION BLACKOUT 5/13-15, EMPTY BOTTLE Headlining the three nights of this year's Chicago Blackout, which coincides with the 13th issue of the local trash-rock and porn zine, are the Deadly Snakes, belligerent Memphis slobs the Reatards (who last played Chicago six years ago), and lesser-known 1970s New York punks the Testors (or rather, original front man Sonny Vincent with a backup band featuring members of Rocket From the Crypt). Other highlights include Headache City, a new local outfit with Dave Head (ex-Motards) on bass, and the Knaughty Knights, a "supergroup" whose members have played with the Oblivians and the Lost Sounds. The current Horizontal Action will be available free at the show; see listings for a complete schedule.