Smog | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The music of Smog, a "band" composed basically of singer-songwriter Bill Callahan, has always been introspective and dark; the flickerings of contentment and vulnerability on last year's superb Knock Knock (Drag City) were something of a breakthrough. On Smog's new Dongs of Sevotion (Drag City), though, that vulnerability is gone; it seems Callahan's happiness, if he ever really felt it in the first place, was short-lived--or that he just doesn't trust it anymore. "Dress Sexy at My Funeral" is a jaunty tune that peaks with some fine falsetto cries--it's about the only remnant of Knock Knock's relative ebullience, with its ragged but upbeat feel and sentimental lyrics--but the narrator is a dead man, imploring his widow to eulogize him by telling the mourners "about the time we did the very graveyard / Where my body now rests." On "Bloodflow" this sort of bittersweet absurdity seesaws into the violent and grotesque: a chorus of chanting cheerleaders eggs the speaker on to murder, while Callahan forces the line "No time for a tete-a-tete" to rhyme with "Can I borrow your machete." Elsewhere the compassionate narrator from Knock Knock has been replaced by a sociopath; in "Cold Discovery" he sings, "I can hold a woman / Down on a hardwood floor," and in "Distance" he boasts, "All these women have passed through me / I have turned them all to waste." Callahan's characters are fucked-up people, but he can compel us to identify with them--instead of simply condemning them, we feel some of the self-loathing they do. The musical ambience that dominates Dongs is just as bleak, though within that sonic and emotional territory Callahan continues to grow: "Justice Aversion" pulses with sensual, soul-flecked low-tech electronics, and the cavernous, walloping drumbeat on "Permanent Smile" wouldn't sound out of place on a Phil Spector track. For this show Callahan will be supported by guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer John McEntire, who both appear on the album, as well as guitarist Rick Rizzo and keyboardist Mark Greenberg. Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner opens. Tuesday, 8:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK


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