BELIEVER MAGAZINE PARTY FEATURING THE MOUNTAIN GOATS 6/4, EMPTY BOTTLE Believer is the latest publication to emerge from the big McSweeney's tent, a monthly books magazine heavy on the sort of tidy, vaguely 19th-century visuals that make McSweeney's itself so instantly recognizable (and so easy to parody). If you let the smug in-crowd feel of the whole production turn you off, though, you'll miss some fairly meaty content with admirable political and artistic ambitions. This party celebrates the release of the Believer's inevitable and unnecessary music issue (a copy of which is included with admission); the Mountain Goats and Archer Prewitt, both unmistakably literary acts, top the bill. Alas, I get the feeling that this impeccably, self-consciously intelligent affair will be devoid of any genuine hurly-burly, intellectual or otherwise--these folks probably have their own countermovement written right into the script, with the necessary Rimbaudlet shouting "Merde!" in the corner at the perfect moment. Just once, can't they book somebody like Nine Pound Hammer instead? LUCINDA WILLIAMS & MILLER WILLIAMS 6/4, RUBLOFF AUDITORIUM, ART INSTITUTE Although Miller Williams has been writing and publishing poetry for close to 50 years (he started in sixth grade), most Americans still haven't heard of him--hardly surprising, since he's neither poet laureate nor dead. Probably the strangest windfall of his career has been an invitation to read a poem written for the occasion at Bill Clinton's second inauguration; in retrospect that piece's anxious ruminations on American memory and ritual seem more pertinent to the present administration than the previous one. But let's not kid ourselves: the real reason he's been tapped for this Poetry Center of Chicago fund-raiser is that his daughter is Lucinda Williams--even a cult musician is a better draw than a famous poet. The two will perform together, Miller reading and Lucinda singing; tickets are $35, or $170 if you want to go to the reception afterward at Wesley Kimler's painting studio. MARY LOU LORD 6/5, SCHUBAS This is Mary Lou Lord's second Schubas date in five months in support of her latest album, Baby Blue (Rubric). Maybe she's making up for lost time: for a few years there she was touring only sporadically, raising a child and recovering from the obligatory major-label disaster. Lord's a gifted interpreter who really ought to write more of her own stuff: the two tunes she cowrote on the new CD both make you want to drop that dish you're washing and really listen. Bevis Frond main man Nick Saloman did most of the songsmithing and other heavy lifting on the album; Lord's breathy, moody voice floats over his arrangements like a mist. Too many of the backing tracks are uninspired folk rock, though--Saloman needs to pick a direction, and either play up the Nick Drake wispiness or cut loose and get freaky. TRANS AM, BOBBY CONN 6/5, EMPTY BOTTLE; 6/6, BOTTOM LOUNGE There won't be one kind word spoken about the current occupant of the White House at this show--Trans Am's Liberation and Bobby Conn & the Glass Gypsies' Homeland (both on Thrill Jockey) are angry indictments of American imperialism, though very different in tone. Trans Am's film projects will likely do a lot of the talking live: aside from the wickedly edited Bush speech on "Uninvited Guest," there's little actual content on the album. The D.C. band's brittle post-Kraftwerk electronica, occasionally weighted with martial power chords, creates tension abstractly; it's more likely to encourage paranoia than activist bonding. Conn, on the other hand, has plenty to say--and his wit, focused by rage, is a force to be reckoned with. Weird War opens the second show. FRIENDS OF THE GAMELAN 6/6, hyde park-U. OF C. ARTS FEST Looking for an outdoor festival that can offer something classier than rickety rides, a beer tent, and Porta Pottis? The Hyde Park-University of Chicago Arts Fest is this weekend (see the Fairs & Festivals listings or artsfest.uchicago.edu for more). Today the local nonprofit Friends of the Gamelan presents two free concerts of Javanese percussion music at Rockefeller Chapel, for which members of the group will play their full bronze gamelan, named Sri Sedana. At 11 AM they'll perform two compositions by I.M. Harjito of Wesleyan University during an ecumenical worship service, joined by the chapel's choir and pipe organ; at 2 PM the gamelan will move onto the east lawn to accompany local carillonneur James Fackenthal in the world premiere of another Harjito piece, believed to be the first ever scored for bell tower and gamelan. MARTY WILLSON-PIPER 6/7, SCHUBAS Once hailed as Australia's answer to R.E.M., the Church could've passed into history as nothing more than a rock-encyclopedia entry. But bandleader Marty Willson-Piper is unwilling to let that happen: the reconstituted Church recently recorded a new album, Forget Yourself (released in the States in February by SpinArt), and celebrated it with a successful tour. He's barely had time to catch his breath, but now the man with the singing Rickenbacker is on a small tour of his own (for this appearance he'll be backed by members of the Bon Mots), drawing from both the Church's catalog and his latest solo album, 2000's dreamy Hanging Out in Heaven (Heyday). MICROPHONES 6/8, buddy Not a band per se, just one guy and a slew of semiregular collaborators. Phil Elvrum--songwriter, guitarist, drummer, recording engineer, and soulful eccentric--has a fondness for impromptu acoustic shows at beach campfires and recently spent nearly six months alone in a remote cabin in Norway to write a set of songs "from the perspective of being dead or invisible, or gone." Then he toured Japan with that material, and the informatively titled album that resulted, Live in Japan, February 19th, 21st, and 22nd, 2003 (K Records), sounds like one person alone against the world--except for the track where Kyle Field and Calvin Johnson add forlorn backing vocals and the one where some band called the Mools plays backup. The music is nakedly earnest, its fey fragility punctured from time to time by a jarring instrumental breakdown. NINE POUND HAMMER 6/9, DOUBLE DOOR Cowboy-movie samples, kitschy macho trucker cover art, and maybe the best-sounding fusion of Skynyrd and Motorhead ever--yup, it's Nine Pound Hammer, back from a seven-year "hiatus" (during which guitarist Blaine Cartwright built a redneck-metal empire fronting Nashville Pussy with his wife, Ruyter Suys, a blazing guitarist herself). Nine Pound Hammer remains an all-good-ol'-boy affair, and on the new Kentucky Breakdown (Acetate) they pick up exactly where they left off, with rip-roaring tunes like "Rub Yer Daddy's Lucky Belly," "Drunk, Tired & Mean," and "Don't Remember Lovin' You Last Night," not to mention the touching Dale Earnhardt tribute "Go-3-Go." This show is part of Little Steven's Underground Garage Battle of the Bands, a three-day anti-American Idol hosted by Sopranos star, E Street Band guitarist, and radio show host Steve Van Zandt. Also on the bill are the Cynics and nine battle semifinalists; see listings for the complete lineup. WOODBOX GANG 6/9, SCHUBAS On the Woodbox Gang's third studio album, Born With a Tail (released this past fall on Rolling Machine), the downstate sextet augments the usual country-goth formula with jug-band ingenuity (homemade percussion, musical saw) and perverse snarkiness--the best moment might be when the narrator of "Never Kissed a Girl," who's killed his unfaithful beloved, winds up happier with his prison boyfriend than he was with her.