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BERN NIX TRIO, 10/30, HOTHOUSE Bald-pated guitarist Bern Nix served as a crucial yet overlooked component of Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band for over a decade, and now he's out on his own. Although Nix's playing adheres to Coleman's "harmolodic" theory--a musical system that replaces standard harmonic notions with layers of melody--his sound is surprisingly clean and supple (think Jim Hall's biting clarity), especially in comparison to the brash, funk-based throb of the better-known Coleman guitar disciple James "Blood" Ulmer. On his fine, recently released debut, Alarms and Excursions, Nix balances artful restraint, a trait missing from most avant-garde jazz, with a skewed, adventure-seeking drive. The foot he keeps inside the tradition harks straight to the classic jazz guitar trio. He's supported by Chicago's flexible Harrison Bankhead on bass and the impressive New York drummer Whit Dickey. The latter is a master at crafting dense, skating sheets of cymbal-made sound. DEAD CAN DANCE, 11/2, the VIC Trying to get with music of the Renaissance but can't find the latch? Don't feel bad, England's Dead Can Dance have been searching for a decade. Something in vocalist Lisa Gerrard's beautiful spooky voice gets the duo close, but the creeping gothic synth textures and annoying drum machines, to say nothing of Brendan Perry's icy Jim Morrison-esque croon, assure failure. DOLLY VARDEN, 10/29, PHYLLIS' MUSICAL INN This new four-piece led by former Stump the Host front line Steve Dawson and Diane Christiansen bears an inescapable resemblance to its ancestor, but the songwriting pair have infused their music with new muscle, shaving away most of the country edge and replacing it with a meaty, classic pop-rock tang. The vocals remain a strong suit, especially the gorgeous, gentle sway of Christiansen's always improving voice. The group's four-song demo is packed with promise; strong hooks are delivered with a familiar rootsy bluster, though a lingering timidity leads to the occasional heartland-rock syndrome--the one you hear on the sound track to beer commercials. They open for Mint Aundry. SUGARSMACK, 10/30, METRO Hope Nicholls was the rabble-rousing vocalist in the forgettable Fetchin' Bones during college radio's heyday. Now, nearly a decade later, she's a purple-coiffed shrieker with an irritating Janis Joplin fixation in a forgettable metal/industrial/dance-rock band. Sugarsmack appears with Girls Against Boys and Brainiac. ASHTRAY BOY, 11/1, LOUNGE AX Australian wonder boy Randall Lee (formerly of the Cannanes and Nice) sets his distinctive urbane croon to punchy Go-Betweens-like pop; opening for Chris Knox. BARNYARD SLUT, 10/30, BEAT KITCHEN This ragged Oklahoma combo's proclaimed "country" flavor is little more than strategically placed swaths of lap-steelish guitar and anemic mandolin plucking. Considering the erratic potpourri of guitar rock styles on their debut, Space Age Motel, Barnyard Slut might just as well be tagged "psychedelic," "eclectic," or "lethargic." Some bands don't slip through cracks, they plummet. Opening for Vulgar Boatmen and Big Fish Ensemble. MY DAD IS DEAD, 11/4, LOUNGE AX Seemingly out of action for the last few years, this veteran Cleveland one-man (usually) band (ladies and germs, meet Mr. Mark Edwards) is touring to support a swell new CD called Out of Sight, Out of Mind. MDID revised the book on brooding, self-conscious bummer rock ("I'm not the man I used to be / That man never was"), and judging from the dark and gloomy pummeling drone on the new release, little has changed. Let's party. WISHBONE ASH, 11/3, BEAUMONT Munch some nachos, have a cold one, pick someone up, watch the Hawks on big-screen TV, and listen to England's aged Wishbone Ash, less-than-warmed-over 60s stragglers for whom this reunion seems less a chance to cash in than an attempt to pay an overdue phone bill.

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