Spot Check 

J MASCIS & THE FOG 11/3, METRO A guitar hero for a generation that wouldn't admit to needing one, J Mascis was never particularly innovative or expressive. But he played loud with no holds barred, giving boys in garages across the country hope that what mattered most was passion. When his rather Zen-like nonapproach worked, as it often did on early Dinosaur Jr records, liftoff was achieved. But when it doesn't--and it mostly doesn't on his comeback attempt, More Light (Artemis)--his undisciplined squall sounds painfully dated. On the disc Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard contributes some vocals and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields adds extra squall; the touring incarnation of the Fog is a power trio with former Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and latter-day Dino Jr drummer George Berz. SUNSHINE 11/3, FIRESIDE BOWL This trio from the Czech Republic draws on two and a half decades of punk and postpunk to come up with its own fierce, intelligent sounds to riot by. Velvet Suicide (on the Boston label Big Wheel Recreation), their second album but only their first with American distribution, stretches and squishes bits of Wire, Joy Division, Killing Joke, Swans, and Spacemen 3 into something familiar yet fresh. AT THE DRIVE-IN 11/4, METRO This fierce quintet from El Paso racked up raves from the jaded SXSW hordes this year for their invigorating take on hardcore--they walk like the MC5 and talk like Fugazi. Front man Cedric Bixler has said of their hometown, "Maybe we can show people that something good could come out of such a desolate place," and their new album on Grand Royal, Relationship of Command, is certainly something to write home about, with guest vocals by none other than Iggy Pop. (Though the Ig's endorsement doesn't mean as much these days as it once did--I mean, these guys are no Medeski Martin & Wood.) BOSCO & JORGE 11/4, SCHUBAS The eponymously titled debut by the duo Bosco & Jorge--actually guitarists Bill Lowman and Brad Gallagher--is bound to be categorized, along with Town and Country, as back porch minimalism, even though it's not particularly minimal. The two are talented fingerpickers in the style of John Fahey but don't attempt to ape Fahey's apparently aimless structures, and they flesh out their nicely rounded compositions with excellent performances from an array of guests, particularly vocalists Maria Luz Carballo (airy and pretty) and Glenda Baker (deep and hair-raising), drummer John Herndon, and the restrained but complex flutist Niki Mitchell. VOLCANO THE BEAR 11/7, HOTHOUSE The (until recently very) underground British quartet Volcano the Bear makes weird, weirdly appealing noise in the grand tradition of Gong, the Residents, and Nurse With Wound, incorporating folky strumming, eerie electrodamage, evil reed interludes, and occasionally disturbing vocalization that aims for the spaciousness of Gregorian chant. They've presented the evolution of this heady mix on a stream of cassettes and CD-Rs, so their latest album, The One Burned Ma--a collection of recordings made on an overworked four-track between March 1996 and February 2000 and released by the tiny New York indie Misra--represents a sizable career move. Reportedly these guys have a Faustian sense of showmanship, too. THE FIRE SHOW 11/9, EMPTY BOTTLE Seth Cohen and Michael Lenzi, the guitarist and drummer, respectively, for the defunct indie-pop band Number One Cup, have convened a new project in which the members have names like M. Resplendent and Olias Nil; the press release I got with their eponymously titled debut (on Perishable) states that the music is "decidedly not pop," instead "exploring slowly evolving musical themes and increasingly static structures." Despite their obvious commitment to the oblique vision of the Perishable crew, and despite my respect for the fervor of the recent convert, I must point out that the sort of twitchy elegiac math swamp they're wading through in the quieter moments of The Fire Show is currently popular (see Radiohead) and therefore pop. And on "Explosion: Cerebellum" they sound like Don Caballero having their way with Cheap Trick. UTE LEMPER 11/9-11, SYMPHONY CENTER Slinky and sexy and stunningly accomplished, singer Ute Lemper is the perfect poster child for the restored power of the art song. Earlier this year she applied her sharp interpretive instincts to dark, smoky pop from the likes of Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, and Tom Waits, emphasizing their sophistication in ways their own familiar voices could never do. But Lemper's still best known for her interpretations of Brecht and Weill, and rightly so--she comes closer than any modern singer I've heard to achieving the brittle strangeness and hauntingness of Lotte Lenya. Here Lemper will perform Brecht and Weill's Seven Deadly Sins, and though she's more mannered and showbizzy than Lenya ever was, her wry worldliness and cool, intelligent anger make the song cycle seem especially relevant to the postreligious, late-capitalist air-conditioned nightmare we're living in.

--Monica Kendrick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Travis M. Keller.

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