Rock bands rarely age gracefully, and punks are especially bad at it: the Buzzcocks are a greatest-hits act without any hits, X sounded downright arthritic on its 1993 "comeback" album, and Steve Jones wore leopard-print stretch pants on the Sex Pistols' reunion tour. But two decades after the Ex played their first gig for an audience of Amsterdam squatters, they're better than ever. With no loss of ferocity, the Dutch quintet has achieved an impressive sophistication: Bassist Luc and guitarists Andy and Terrie (no one uses full names) can still blast out a monolithic crunch over drummer Katrin's martial clatter, but they've added twisted folk melodies and barbed-wire scraping to their range of textures--now their full-on attack, when they use it, feels even more bludgeoning. And though most punk tunes wouldn't hold up for six bars without a backbeat, sometimes Katrin steps out from behind her kit to deliver a traditional Hungarian or Zimbabwean song in a clear, stirring voice that contrasts strikingly with lead vocalist G.W. Sok's hectoring bark. The Ex first played in Chicago relatively recently, in 1994, but they've developed strong ties here since. The best approximation of the band's bruising live sound, Starters Alternators (Touch and Go, 1998), was recorded in town with Steve Albini; its most recent release, an EP on the Dutch label Konkurrent (part of the "In the Fishtank" series), is a sweet-and-sour collaboration with Tortoise. The Ex will end their current American tour Sunday at Lounge Ax, playing songs from their recent albums and debuting new material. The next night Luc, Andy, and Terrie will reprise last year's fantastic collision with local improvisers, playing in a series of small groups with Kevin Drumm (see Peter Margasak's Critic's Choice), Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ken Vandermark, Josh Abrams, and Jeb Bishop. Sunday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. Monday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brad Miller.