| Chicago Reader

Spot Check 

SENSER 6/2, METRO On their recent Stacked Up (Ultimate/Atlas), predictably generic English kitchen-sink rockers Senser artlessly pillage so many styles--techno, hip-hop, industrial, and heavy metal, to name but a few--it's hard to believe these boring lunkheads are actually a single band. They open for loudmouthed techno pixie Moby (see Critic's Choice). MARTINA McBRIDE 6/2, WHISKEY RIVER Strong-voiced Martina McBride is pure Nashville, which makes her hit single "Independence Day" all the more subversive: a fed-up, abused wife torches the house ("Well she lit up the sky that Fourth of July") while her daughter looks on somewhat approvingly ("Now I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong / But maybe it's the only way"). Apart from a few nebulous chunks of Nashville feminism like "Goin' to Work," the rest of her latest album, The Way That I Am (RCA), is standard love-song fare, but McBride's stylings outshine the sheen. MARY JANES 6/2, LUNAR CABARET Known jokingly as the Vulgar Boatwomen, this duo is led by former Vulgar Boatmen vocalist Janas Hoyt. Accompanied only by her acoustic guitar and her new partner's brooding cello, Hoyt's folky pop songs revel in a somber, tasteful simplicity. SPATULA 6/3, LOUNGE AX A Chapel Hill guitar 'n' drums duo whose pop machinations are obfuscated by sonic trash. On Even the Thorny Acacia (Jesus Christ), guitarist-singer Chuck Johnson and drummer Matt Gocke sleepwalk through a somewhat whiny melodicism, but continually upset the cart with minor allusions to Sonic Youth, Gastr del Sol, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. In fact, replicating the way those three referents have disfigured melody with a powerful combination of noise, obtuse structuralism, and nonrock additives has become such a common occurrence in indieland that it's almost an insider move. They open for the Coctails. ELASTICA 6/3, METRO There's no simple formula to explain Elastica's wide-ranging thievery of new wave's past (Wire, Blondie, Buzzcocks, et al): their greatest strength may be the way they scramble their loot. Their eponymous American debut is plenty pleasurable in a disposable sort of way, allowing the listener to while away the minutes playing "name that lick," and their abundance of pop smarts adds to their short-lived appeal. If you close your eyes and use your imagination it's almost possible to think of Elastica as a good band. Don't bother though; you'll only feel guilty later, like after breaking down to eat some fries at McDonald's. DAVID BALL 6/4, STAR PLAZA On his brilliant 1994 single "Thinkin' Problem"--as in "Yes, I admit I've got a thinkin' problem"--David Ball swirled a jigger of obsession into a heartbreak cocktail and slammed it down with the throaty, twangy gusto of George Jones. The rest of his terrific debut album followed through on the lead song's promise. He might be labeled a country purist, but only in comparison to other recent Nashville successes. A honky-tonk cross between Jones and Dwight Yoakam minus the latter's hotshot tendencies, Ball handily proves Reader contributor Chris Dickinson's argument that Country USA ain't all bad. He opens for Pam Tillis. SPENT, BARDO POND 6/8, LOUNGE AX A sullen Jersey City foursome seemingly weaned on self-pity and sallow-sounding indie rock. Their recent debut album, Songs of Drinking and Rebellion (Merge), proves they've managed to transcend the influences (Wedding Present, Verlaines, etc) that smothered their early singles, but skin shedding has left them naked. Modest champions of mediocrity, they manage a nice hook now and then, but never really rock out. Frailty, thy name is Spent. Philadelphia's Bardo Pond aren't perfect either, but they're much closer to grasping what's at the end of their long reach, as evidenced by their debut album, Bufo Alvarius (Drunken Fish). By constructing massive walls of oblique sound they make it near impossible to decide whether to focus on their tunes or the heaps of sonic slop they're suspended in. Out of Bardo Pond's aural unkemptness--it's not the piercing-volume variety, but it's not exactly pitter-patter either--rather sophisticated, captivating fragments and passages emerge, so that by the end of one of their lengthy excursions, a once-wandering mess seems to have congealed into a slippery gob of beauty. Critic's Choice recipients 18th Dye headline. IAN ANDERSON 6/8, BISMARCK The Jethro Tull leader and flutist is touring in support of Divinities: Twelve Dances With God (Angel), his debut "orchestral" recording. While some Tull favorites are promised, the bulk of the evening will try to sell the new album's snoozy blend of New Age twaddle and hackneyed light-classical approximations. Fans will call it a serious work; to everyone else it'll just sound like what you hear when an operator puts you on hold.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Mark Seliger.

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