The Ex are a striking model of form following function. Forming in Amsterdam 15 years ago under the sway of left-leaning English punk bands like the Pop Group, Crass, and the earliest Mekons, they learned their instruments as they went along, espousing anarchist virtues and squatters' rights and practicing a punishing, numbed-out postpunk throb. Over the ensuing years, as their abilities and interests have shifted toward, among other things, Kurdish folk tunes, songs of the Spanish Civil War, and free jazz, their musical reaching has never strained or settled on imitation. Rather, like phagocytes, they've consumed these musics and assimilated them into an ever-growing, distinctive identity. Their affiliation with cellist Tom Cora began in 1990, and it makes plenty of sense. Cora, a founding member of Skeleton Crew (with Fred Frith) and current member of Curlew among myriad other projects, has himself made a point of incorporating disparate elements into his heavily improvised playing--country blues licks, Asian folk melodies--and in tandem with the Ex over the course of a stunning pair of albums, most recently the remarkable And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders (Fist Puppet), his eclecticism has grown. Okinawan pop tunes, traditional Turkish songs, and iconoclastic originals come together in the precisely exploited hunks of noise, throbbing bass/drum rhythms, guitar/cello textures, impassioned vocals, and dynamically rich delivery. The Ex and Cora were set to play here a few years ago, but Canadian border hassles prevented it; as their live reputation preceeds them, let's hope the NIS doesn't stop them again. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 525-6620.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Unhoch.