Bobby Conn | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bobby Conn 

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Bobby Conn is a Kim Fowley for our time. Fowley is little more than a footnote in rock history--his career as a producer and manager certainly hasn't made him a household name--but in the late 60s he put out a series of solo records that provided a vivid premonition of the adventurous, sex-positive, drug-friendly, persona-swapping music of David Bowie, T. Rex, the New York Dolls, and all the other glam kings and glitter queens who would follow. Many of Fowley's beloved themes crop up in Conn's lyrics--especially a sort of morbid reverence for the depravity and decadence of the high life--and Conn also has Fowley's venomous irony and sassy swagger. But where Fowley was looking ahead at what was still an unrealized trend in pop, Conn is looking back at it, layering his view with tons of cultural and musical references. On his super new CD, The Golden Age (Thrill Jockey), Conn and Monica BouBou (aka violinist Julie Pomerleau) mix a dazzling variety of liqueurs into a voluble cocktail brimming with involved and colorful arrangements, powerfully odd lyrics, and the kind of multisectional structures he's said he admires in Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die." On the title track, Conn sings, "I'm not young but I'm still drifting / Through an adolescent fog that's never lifting," and in fact the whole record is imbued with a perverse nostalgia for everything good, bad, and ugly about white suburban life in the 70s and 80s--when the 34-year-old Conn was actually an adolescent. ("They always kiss my ass / When I live in the past," he admits on "The Best Years of Our Lives.") "You've Come a Long Way" starts with a lovely instrumental intro featuring BouBou's piano, Ernst Karel's trumpet, and Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello, then leaps into a hefty bit of Cheap Trick-esque cowbell rock punctuated by a brief jazzy interlude. Conn's citations freely combine the ridiculous and the sublime: Though his intelligent smart-ass music is sometimes reminiscent of Sparks, complete with Russell Mael's disarming falsetto moves (the refrain of "Angels"), he seems just as fond of lowbrow cheese metal (the wail that starts "Pumper"). The gorgeous arrangement of plectrum bass, acid guitar, and strings on the second half of "A Taste of Luxury" recalls Serge Gainsbourg's masterful Histoire de Melody Nelson, and there's also some riotous and righteous funk--"Winners" has the feel of vintage Prince, and "No Revolution" bounces like Parliament's "Flash Light." Friday, January 11, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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

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