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Spot Check

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DAGONS 5/21, HIDEOUT With the best of the two-piece bands--from Flat Duo Jets to Mr. Airplane Man--you never feel like something's missing. I'd add to that short list this California couple (front woman and guitarist Karie Jacobson and drummer Drew Kowalski), whose bangy garage blues is touched by a graceful, moody goth sensibility. On the Dagons' third album, Teeth for Pearls (Dead Sea Captain), there are hints that the band may be capable of compelling artiness too--"Urdoguzes" is a delirious piece of space drone, and the final track, "I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard," is a recording of Jacobson's grandmother and father singing and picking on acoustic guitar. FEATURES 5/21, SCHUBAS This quartet from the tiny town of Sparta, Tennessee, has been warmly embraced by the UK music press, and I'm not surprised: the Features' promisingly diverse EP The Beginning (Universal) sounds more English than southern. Not that these boys are aping cockney accents, of course, but their show-offy neo-new wave seems very much straight out of art school and onto the dole: it's intelligently aggressive and slightly hopped-up, with an emphasis on jerky rhythms, borderline snarky melodies, and pained vocal gymnastics. I suppose there was no future in Sparta's dreaming either. Jump (formerly Jump, Little Children) headlines. MYSTERY GIRLS 5/21, EMPTY BOTTLE This Green Bay quintet takes a classic reconstructionist approach to the white-blues rave-up--though an actual 60s garage band would've killed for the sound Detroit producer Jim Diamond cooked up for these guys (yes, guys) on their new second album, Something in the Water (In the Red). The Girls turn in a touch of trippiness on "Autumn Turns to Fall," a shot of British Invasion boogie on "My Bed/Her Home," and a bit of Small Faces swagger on "You're So Blue." The rock bands of tomorrow won't learn one new thing from this record--but does anyone really care about that anymore? RADIATORS 5/21 & 22, ABBEY PUB Like any good jam band, New Orleans's Radiators--living links to the R & B pantheon crowned by the Meters and Professor Longhair--tour their asses off and have a loyal core of followers who trade tapes and call themselves by a silly nickname ("Fish Heads"). One northern congregation even formed Minnesota's first approximation of a Mardi Gras krewe in the band's honor. Since 1978 the Radiators have been playing an amalgamation of styles that's all over the map but doesn't ever leave the Crescent City--funk, blues, zydeco, rock--and though their recorded catalog is relatively slim, they have a gigantic repertoire. The forthcoming live double CD Earth vs. the Radiators: The First 25 (which documents the band's three-night 25th anniversary celebration at Tipitina's in January) captures but a tiny slice of it. DEAD ELECTRIC 5/22, BOTTOM LOUNGE I'm sure every band at least considers putting its best song first when it comes time to sequence a record, but "Stockholm Syndrome," the lead cut on this local quintet's self-released Kicks, is so far out of the ballpark relative to the skilled but undistinguished Detroit-style rawk on the rest of the EP that I'm tempted to accuse them of holding out on us. On the other hand, if I listen charitably I can pick up plenty of intelligent malice in the title track too--this is definitely a band I'd give a chance to prove me wrong onstage. CALVIN JOHNSON 5/22, OPEN END GALLERY It's been an eventful eight months for K Records chief Calvin Johnson. In October his current trio, Dub Narcotic Sound System, crashed its van, KO'ing a tour, destroying a bunch of gear, and putting him and bassist Chris Sutton in the hospital; in January it released Degenerate Introduction, its first full-length in six years. Now he's venturing out on his lonesome for a rare solo tour. Judging from his only album to date under his own name, 2002's What Was Me, all of Johnson's many projects through the years (Beat Happening, Halo Benders, Dub Narcotic) owe their distinctive sound not just to his instantly recognizable deadpan baritone but to the contents of his brain--he's the indie-rock equivalent of that rogue on the daytime talk show who's fathered babies all over the neighborhood. Johnson seems so desperate to be soulful that the desperation itself becomes a source of soul, but he's good-humored about his limitations: his angst is funny as well as poignant. The Come Ons open this all-ages show. KICKS 5/22, METRO This four-year-old Little Rock quartet is pushing its new Hello Hong Kong (TVT) in the opening slot on Sloan's tour (see Critic's Choice). Though it's too wimpy to be good rock and too strident to be good pop, this middling stuff never hits a single wrong note--in fact, its inoffensiveness really gets on my nerves. SHANNON WRIGHT 5/22, EMPTY BOTTLE I can see how somebody might find Shannon Wright's fifth album, Over the Sun (Quarterstick), oppressively bleak, but to me it's thrilling. Throughout these weird, straining, aching songs, Wright's artful torturing of piano and guitar fuels her cries to heaven with a turbulent, untamed energy. She also works aggressive, inventive, full-throttle electric blues and metal into an indie-rock aesthetic better than any female soloist since Polly Jean Harvey--their voices are sometimes uncannily similar as well. KNIFE IN THE WATER 5/23, EMPTY BOTTLE This Texas quintet recently signed to Aspyr Media, which in the fall reissued their first two albums, Plays One Sound and Others and Red River, as well as putting out their third, Cut the Cord. On the early discs, their sad, unsettled gothic country is ballooned out like a storm cloud by a puff of Texas psychedelia. It isn't exactly unique (cf Grandpa's Ghost), but it's beautiful: male and female vocals intertwine like spirits engaged in call-and-response, and every so often a real profundity ("when body gets the soul that it deserves") crystallizes out of the murky, free-associative lyrics. Their nocturnal Americana is more subdued on Cut the Cord, though--I hope this isn't a permanent development. HOMETAPES SHOWCASE 5/24, EMPTY BOTTLE The small southern Hometapes label, which puts a friendly face on the avant-garde, has booked its first "package tour," i.e., two of its artists are traveling together: Paul Duncan and Shedding. Duncan, a wry, genial songwriterly sort, blends perversity, lushness, whimsy, and longing on his 2003 debut, To an Ambient Hollywood (recorded in Savannah, Georgia, before he moved to Brooklyn). In his backing tracks Duncan uses clusters of instruments that sound as though they're playing different songs at the same time, creating the impression that each of his pieces actually consists of an infinite number of simultaneous voices and he's isolated his favorite five or six to make things listenable. "Shedding" is the nom de tune of Connor Bell of Louisville, Kentucky, whose abstract and understated electronic music has a rare warmth (embodied perfectly by the adorable cartoon sheep on the cover of his 12-inch Now I'm Shedding). Greg Davis (see the Meter) and Zelienople open.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Mullen.

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