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INTERPOL 9/6, EMPTY BOTTLE This New York band, which released a single on Glasgow's Chemikal Underground label before getting signed closer to home, has been compared left and right to Joy Division. I don't hear it myself, except superficially: Joy Division was the last band to successfully render true despair into beautiful ugly rock; most subsequent attempts sound ham-handed or melodramatic. The pretty and stylish Interpol sidestep that trap--they're simply not that bleak. What they do well on their debut LP, Turn on the Bright Lights (Matador), is write elegant pop with a dark romantic grandeur, bypassing punk nihilism and hinting at the Dionysian outlook of the Doors and the Velvet Underground. This makes them far closer kin to Echo & the Bunnymen than Joy Division--and if you think that's a put-down, you're not getting it. JOHN SINCLAIR & HIS BLUES SCHOLARS 9/6, HEARTLAND CAFE White Panther Party founder John Sinclair named his band well: their new album, Fattening Frogs for Snakes: The Delta Sound (Okratone), produced by R-rated Detroit R & B icon Andre Williams, is blues history delivered as beat poetry. It'll wear quickly if you're not fond of that particular incantatory performance style--and even if you are, you might get tired of being lectured to. But the record has its rewards: Sinclair, still best known for having once managed the MC5, has been writing and performing poetry with musical backing for decades, and here he defies the general wisdom that either the music or the poetry should be an attention getter--not both. Here Williams's intense production competes with the words, and both are the better for it--the "Smokestack Lightning" riff that fuels Sinclair's shaggy-dog story about Howlin' Wolf not only illustrates the subject's greatness but gives the poet something to measure up to. LOST SOUNDS 9/7, BEAT KITCHEN Alicja Trout played in the Clears, who were new new wave before new wave was new again (you know, back in 1997), and Jay and Rich Reatard come from supersloppy garage rockers the Reatards; the Memphians' mix of vintage synthesizer loopiness and garage soul is surprising, but it's not surprising that they're the ones making it. Their tough-to-categorize second album, Black Wave (Empty Records), is a frenzied, singsongy double LP that impressively maintains a manic energy throughout. The Black Keys, a blues-punk duo from Akron, open. LOW SKIES 9/7, HIDEOUT This two-year-old band sent me a three-song demo for their forthcoming full-length, and I was impressed: there is a stormy, ominous burble and boil to their sound, which segues back and forth between rural atmospherics and urban ones. Comparisons have been made to Jeff Buckley, but Jeffrey Lee Pierce seems more apt. They share this bill with Abilene and Ribbon Effect (whose Jacob Ross recorded their first album at Experimental Sound Studio last year). MILEMARKER, SERVICE ANXIETY 9/7, FIRESIDE BOWL Milemarker just gets weirder and weirder: last year's Anaesthetic blended synth pop and hardcore; on the new Satanic Versus EP (Jade Tree) Al Burian frequently sings in a manipulated metal monster voice--which on "Idle Hands" is set amidst a funky falsetto chorus done Parliament style. The next track, "Lost the Thoughts," starts with keyboardist Roby Newton singing gloomy cabaret over acoustic piano and climaxes in a frenzy of cold guitar skronk. They don't seem sure if they want to impress a listener with artiness or bludgeon him with passion, and the middle ground is a weird muddle that's sometimes attractive but never entirely persuasive. Also on the bill is Service Anxiety, a far more straightforward postpunk outfit that's just released a powerful seven-inch on Dead CEO (a label run by one of the band's members), "The Persistent Inversion of Solution by Protective Powers." It's fiercely political ("we owe the thugs of capital nothing but their dismantling") and thus downright refreshing in the current climate; promising demos from a forthcoming full-length sound like Minor Threat by way of PiL. FRENCH TV 9/10, SCHUBAS French TV is an independent-minded prog/fusion outfit that's been operating since 1983 out of Louisville, Kentucky--not all that far away, yet they've rarely been heard in Chicago. Hard to say why: maybe because although it's somewhat fashionable for contemporary musicians to claim bands like Soft Machine and Van der Graaf Generator as distant influences, how much of a market is there really for the genuine article? On their seventh album, The Case Against Art (Pretentious Dinosaur Records), French TV make no concessions to trendy tastes--they play fusion in all its technical ecstasy, for the pure pleasure of the notes, never questioning whether a piece called "Viable Tissue Matter" should have an airy flute solo. This show is presented by local prog specialists Outre Music. FREAKWATER 9/11, HIDEOUT Here's a fine alternative to sitting at home watching the World Trade Center burn and collapse again and again (and trying in vain to suppress your rising gorge as our fearless leaders exploit horror and grief to get us to swallow the bullshit du jour). Sudden and terrible and ultimately senseless death (often on the job) is not exactly unheard-of in working-class lore, which is why there's so much of it in the old-timey music Freakwater's so fond of (not every coal-mining town gets a miracle like the Pennsylvania nine's), and Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin universalize the constant possibility of tragedy as beautifully as anyone. This may be the last Freakwater gig for a while: Irwin's solo debut, Cut Yourself a Switch, is due on Thrill Jockey next month, and Bean recently finished recording her own solo debut. DAVID GRUBBS 9/12, ABBEY PUB Though his evolution from teen punker (in Squirrelbait) to post-rock poster boy (in Gastr del Sol) looks radical in hindsight, David Grubbs is more of a plodder than a leaper. His latest solo album, Rickets & Scurvy (Drag City), methodically deepens the mood presented on 2000's The Spectrum Between, and while I can't quibble with his taste in collaborators (guitarist Noel Akchote as usual, drummer John McEntire, Matmos's Drew Daniel, and, on lyrics, novelist Rick Moody), it does sound as if he's mapped out his every move on graph paper. At this point certain sonic flags signify "avant-garde" as surely as a four-on-the-floor beat says "house" or a 1-4-5 chord progression says "blues," and while there's nothing wrong with using a familiar language if it says what you want it to say, not everything that gets said in it is automatically profound or important. Rickets & Scurvy isn't completely devoid of passion and energy and innovation, but it is, dare I say it, a bit malnourished. (For an argument to the contrary, see Post No Bills.)

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

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