Even back in 1979 the Ex wasn't alone in setting bluntly anarchist lyrics to brittle postpunk rock. But while contemporaries like the Mekons and Mark Stewart of the Pop Group strove to engage with the mainstream music business, the Ex aligned itself with Amsterdam's squatter community, where its music and its politics were able to flourish without one overwhelming the other. Since then, both the band's opposition to oppression and its arrangements have gone global: recent songs address the struggles of refugees and dispossessed ethnic groups while incorporating Okinawan, Hungarian, and Kurdish sonorities. This adventurous collectivism has led the Ex to collaborate with improvisers Han Bennink and Tom Cora, Beefheartian vocalist Han Buhrs, Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, Belgian comedy team Kamagurka & Herr Seele, the dance groups Magpie and Danswerkplaats, and kora player Djibril Diabate. Of course, high scruples and fine friends don't add up to a hill of beans without the musical goods--just ask Sting--and fortunately the Ex is one of the most exhilarating live rock bands in the world. The giddy, near chaotic stage show is as exciting to watch as the jagged textures, bludgeoning rhythms, and impassioned singing are to hear. This is only the second time the band has played in Chicago and the only date of its first American tour in three and a half years that's not on the east coast. Skull Orchard, with the Mekons' Jon Langford, opens. Saturday, 10 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Brad Miller.