Spot Check 

EX-IDOLS 1/20, METRO Prefab punk rock with the required lyrics obsessing on being a social misfit--the old "no one would accept me but my punk friends" spiel--the music of the Ex-Idols is designed expressly for the niche-friendly alternative rock market. On Social Kill (Relativity) they churn out a predictable lexicon of punk guitar riffs, but the flamboyant vocals of Gary Finneran, which drift between David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, and Stiv Bators, take center stage. His stale romanticization of on-the-edge living--pill popping, suicide, suicide, and suicide--plainly seeks to cash in on an otherwise unconscionable blend of myopia and unbounded egotism. Needless to say Finneran sports a bleached blond coif. Simple Simon, Tarpit, and Subliminal Ex open. LA MUSGANA 1/20, OLD TOWN SCHOOL Spanish folk usually means flamenco music, but La Musgana, who are making their Chicago debut in support of their second domestically released album, Las Seis Tentaciones (Xenophile), not only eschew that music's trademark guitars, they stay entirely clear of the Gypsy style. Instead their music combs the Castilian countryside for lesser-known forms performed on a wide variety of strange traditional instruments like the gaita charra y tamboril, a three-holed flute combined with a two-headed drum played simultaneously by one musician. Upon a spare but throbbing bed of percussion--bendir, darbouka, karakebs, etc--a clarinet and an assortment of flutes play melodies that are fleshed out harmonically by hammered dulcimer and bagpipes. There's an undeniable Celtic and Basque folk influence, but without sacrificing authenticity La Musgana's incorporation of electric bass and clarinet gives the music a modern feel. Sones de Mexico open. DINK 1/21, DOUBLE DOOR Just another post-punk-industrial-metal-disco combo from Kent, Ohio, Dink craft a dense pastiche of stale samples and myriad post-Wax Trax units into a tediously predictable brew. The electro-drizzle-thud of their debut (coproduced by Dave Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy) has earned the attention of no less a connoisseur than Trent Reznor, which puts them in the specious company of such dullards as Marilyn Manson and Pop Will Eat Itself. Rustbucket open. OLD 97's 1/21, EMPTY BOTTLE Performing as part of a showcase for Bloodshot Records, Chicago's "insurgent country" label, this Dallas quartet delivers a spirited country-rock brew spiked with intentionally cliched country wordplay and an impressive instrumental twang 'n' bluster. On their debut album, Hitchhike to Rhome (Big Iron), they traipse through the full breadth of the music's varied landscape--from wild two-beat romps to high-octane bluegrass breakdowns to weepy ballads--filtering much of it through a sharp pop sensibility and a spunky energy. Singer-guitarist Rhett Miller's lyrics go for fairly obvious conceits--"If my heart was a car / You would have stripped it a long time ago" or "Well, the heroine does heroin"--but the band's well-aimed irreverence betrays a genuine love of this stuff. They reportedly smoke live, too. Also on the bill are Tempe's Earl C. Whitehead & the Grievous Angels, Chicago's Moonshine Willy and Robbie Fulks, and Saint Louis's Eleanor Roosevelt. All of the bands are slated to appear on Bloodshot's next compilation. VAMBO MARBLE EYE 1/25, LOUNGE AX Erratically leaping between disturbed pop, faux-metal fusion, and stripped-down punk rock, Vambo Marble Eye have one constant: their all-pervasive dork humor. The album art for their self-released Two Trick Pony features two members bookending a pony's anterior and posterior orifices, each fellow's hands signaling some imminently dropping trousers. On the album itself the trio decimate their scattershot potential appeal with juvenile theatricality and a rambling lack of cohesion. They can play well enough; they just need to figure out what they want to do and keep their yaps sealed. TODD SNIDER 1/25, SCHUBAS On his debut, Songs for the Daily Planet (MCA), Todd Snider sets his witty, sharply observant lyrics within an organic mixture of an exuberant country-rock. An astute chronicler of mainstream American ennui, his belly-shaking turns as musical comic belie a keen eye for detail. "My Generation (Part 2)" contains some obvious yuks: "Here's to hair gel / Hanging out at the health spa / Using condom sense and watching LA Law / Here's to drum machines and stone-washed jeans / Credit cards and fax machines ... / Here's to living off dad as long as you can and blendin' in with the crowd / My generation should be proud." But there's more penetrating analysis on "This Land Is Our Land," which examines the displacement of Native Americans: "The world needs landfills, diet pills, and paper mills / We need country clubs and oil spills." His music countrifies a Springsteen-Dylan prototype a la Steve Earle. Although he's yet to attain Earle's power or vision, Snider's ability to transfer the folkie's observational traits to a more contemporary setting makes for an auspicious debut. BAND DE SOLEIL 1/25, CORONET, 1/26, OTIS' Led by Michelle Malone, yet another bluesy Bonnie Raitt type with a wahwah pedal fixation, Band de Soleil are an Atlanta trio who try to pass off competence as a virtue. They play their instruments fine, but it's 1995, not 1975, and some things aren't timeless.

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

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