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BLUE OCTOBER 7/2, SCHUBAS This Texas alt-rock quintet has a big sound but only medium-size musical ambitions. On last year's History for Sale (rereleased by Universal, who dropped and then re-signed them) they take some careful risks, but their tinkly ballads and crunchy, eclectic rockers aren't going to turn any heads--despite a melodramatic front man with a fondness for hair-raising staccato declamation. ELENI MANDELL 7/2, GUNTHER MURPHY'S California chanteuse Eleni Mandell reinvents herself a little with every album--admirable, even though the law of averages all but guarantees that not every incarnation will be an improvement. Her early discs took an oddball bohemian approach to the torch song, staking out territory then inhabited by very few female singers, but her swings toward country on subsequent releases were slightly less convincing. Mandell's fifth disc, Afternoon (Zedtone), is clever cocktail pop, alternately jazzy and twangy, but she's filed down many of the ragged edges that made her compelling to start with. She's wry and dry instead of hot and bothered, and her gruff, husky voice has become smooth, even flat: on a few tunes she sounds less laid-back than lazy, sagging below the pitches like a pump organ that's not drawing enough air. But "Can't You See I'm Soulful" is a put-on if I've ever heard one, so it's possible she's doing all this on purpose--and that she can change her mind again next time out. BOHOLA 7/3, MARTYRS' Headlining this benefit for the Internet-based lefty organization MoveOn.org is local Irish supergroup Bohola, which recently released its fourth album (and second on Shanachie); its roster includes fiddler Sean Cleland (who founded the Drovers), singer Kat Eggleston, accordionist Jimmy Keane (five-time All-Ireland champion), and bouzouki player Pat Broaders. (Did you notice how the famous hospitality of the Irish was in short supply during Bush's visit to the "land of a thousand welcomes" last week?) Three more Chicago acts round out the lineup: singer-songwriter Andrew Calhoun, who's earned a ringing endorsement from late folk genius Dave Carter; accordionist John Williams, who's guested with the Chieftains and Nickel Creek; and guitarist Dennis Cahill, who ordinarily plays as half of a folk duo with Seattle-based fiddler Martin Hayes. JOHN COWAN BAND WITH VASSAR CLEMENTS 7/3, ABBEY PUB In the 70s and 80s, New Grass Revival made it safe for traditional bluegrass to link arms with jam-band funk, jazz fusion, and new-wave Americana, and though it wasn't a supergroup at the time, it sure looks like one in the rearview mirror. During its nearly 20 years as an ongoing concern the band served as a proving ground for Pat Flynn, Bela Fleck, and Sam Bush--and for singer and bassist John Cowan, who's carving out a solo career for himself on the Sugar Hill label. For this tour Cowan and his regular group have teamed up with master fiddler Vassar Clements, who played in Bill Monroe's band in the 50s and crossed over in the 70s as a member of Jerry Garcia's Old & in the Way. On a six-song live CD being used to promote the tour, his throaty, swaggering fiddle lends a reckless urgency to Cowan's music, which otherwise tends to sound a bit too polished and orderly. He sounds oddly at home on a dizzying up-tempo version of Cream's "White Room." SMALL CHANGE, TABAKIN 7/3, SUBTERRANEAN The local hip-hop group Small Change has been performing since 2002, but the new self-released EP The Rock Sauce Sessions is its first recording. The cuts are tight and confident, with a no-frills "live" sound (just guitar, bass, drums, and two MCs) and a coiled-up tension in their rangy, boinging beats. Billmates Tabakin also use a live band, powered by a chesty baritone sax; MC "Uncle" Noah Tabakin lets his freak flag fly over nasty funk grooves. Farm Crew headlines. SUNN O))) 7/3, EMPTY BOTTLE You might say that Khanate is guitarist Stephen O'Malley's more commercial band, if you can wrap your brain around the notion of tectonically slow doom metal as "commercial." Sunn O))) by comparison is raw and naked, stripped of genre trappings, song structure, even drums--O'Malley and guitarist Greg Anderson, with a cast of rotating coconspirators, create crushing floes of dense, primal subharmonic drone, like La Monte Young or Tony Conrad compositions without the overt mathematical frameworks. Perhaps most important, the band has a deep sense of performance as mind-altering ritual--though maybe that's just something they tell people who ask too many questions about their Druid getups. Wolf Eyes and DJ Kevin Drumm open. EVERYONES 7/6, HOUSE OF BLUES Here's the news: for "legal reasons" the Anyones have changed their name to the Everyones. Got it? (Unfortunately their current album, released last year on Shock, is called The Anyones.) This Australian quintet has distinguished itself back home with its lush, jangly power pop, but up here everybody from the Washington Social Club to the Constantines is already doing it (sometimes much better). Jet headlines; Sloan plays second. CANDIRIA 7/7, HOUSE OF BLUES In September 2002 all five members of Candiria were badly injured when their tour van was struck by a tractor-trailer in upstate New York. In the liner notes to their new What Doesn't Kill You... (Type A), two of them thank a higher power for sparing their lives, and two name-check surgeons or physical therapists; the album cover proudly displays their mangled vehicle. Candiria play hardcore-tinged metal colored with intuitive but unpredictable eruptions of jazzy prog and evil funk--and they're one of the few acts trying to combine hip-hop and metal that doesn't sink to Limp Bizkit-style chest beating. What Doesn't Kill You... repays repeated listenings more generously than any of their records to date: the austere lyricism in the choruses of "Down" and "Remove Yourself" is a pleasant respite from the rhythmic grunting and shouting you get in most nu metal, and on "9MM Solution" they sound much lighter on their feet than their brethren in the backward-baseball-cap set. Kittie headlines; 12 Tribes and 36 Crazy Fists open.

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

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