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GOOPS 3/15, Fireside Bowl Demonstrating the ever-shrinking divide between alternative rock and bar-band genericism, New York's Goops churn out tuneful punk rock with cookie-cutter distinctiveness. Their recently released second album, Lucky (Kinetic/Reprise), is chockablock with time-worn hooks and familiar riffing (they've also got a tall, bleached-blond, tattooed front woman to engage the near-mute, libido-driven lunkheads who frequent this sort of thing). But in the never-ending search for stupid good times I'd say a decent karaoke bar would have the edge over this quartet, though the degree of inspiration behind both would be a draw. Oblivion Ensemble 3/15, Empty Bottle Calling their music "psychedeligoth," as heard on the recent Nightmare: Sinistrotorse (Complacency), New York's Oblivion Ensemble actually mete out full-blown prog-rock of unfathomable magnitude. Blending the atmospheric tricks of Pink Floyd, the note gluttony of Frank Zappa, New Age textures, and goth's darkness, this 72-minute "electro-acoustic opera" should test the endurance of all but the most die-hard Focus and Magma fans. Illusion of Safety headline. Maria McKee 3/15, Double Door On her forthcoming Life Is Sweet (Geffen), the former Lone Justice singer dives headfirst into a maelstrom of turbulent emotion. Leaving aside the roots rock of her last album, Maria McKee switches to bombastic alternarock and purposely loses control of her terrific strong voice, veering toward wince-inducing operatic extremes. The gloppy production--layers of guitar distortion and syrupy strings--serves only to smother any melodic interest. But since McKee's goal is to be "a sort of postpunk Edith Piaf," to harbor any substantive expectations is to be deluded. Rust 3/16, Vic Much of the press garnered by Rust makes a big fuss about how Rust doesn't sound like such San Diego neighbors as Rocket From the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, or Tanner. Instead they sound like a bland amalgam of any number of current hard-rock trends, which means they don't really sound like anyone at all. Their new Bar Chord Ritual (Atlantic) revels in the hit-making sheen of Dave Jerden's production (Jane's Addiction, Alice in Chains), but there's an almost preternatural truth to the album's title. In America rock is a meaning-steeped ritual, but to countless white boys like these substance has been completely subverted by form and pose. Stations like Q101 act as partners in crime, holding up a trick mirror to make blandness seem special, and listeners actually believe there's something worthwhile in the formulas they swallow. The headliner of this sold-out show, Collective Soul, proves that such bilking often works. Rust are waiting in a long line. Big Geraniums 3/16, Abbey Pub Performing as part of this club's Saint Patrick's Day festival, Big Geraniums have little connection to traditional Irish folk sounds besides geography, and even that's shaky--though they're now based in Ireland, they formed in England. On its recent Girls on Sheep (PRA) the band proffers giddy modern pop that sounds like well-preserved debris from mid-80s new wave. Drink enough green beer and you'll never know the difference. Edsel 3/20, Lounge Ax On their third album, Techniques of Speed Hypnosis (Relativity), Edsel--recently transplanted here from our nation's capital--continue to ooze multiple D.C. postpunk trademarks. Despite being recorded in Liverpool with Anjali Dutt--best known for his superb work with My Bloody Valentine--the record merely dresses up Fugazi's austere angularity with unconvincing pop craft and novel splashes of ornamental textures. Though there are some interesting ideas at work--specifically the tension between structural chance taking and straight-up hooks--Edsel lack the skills and smarts to pull them off. Dragmules 3/20, Metro On this New York band's utterly forgettable debut, 2A (Atlantic), inspirationally named after its favorite bar, the music raises the question, just what are A & R people thinking these days? Pee Shy 3/21, Empty Bottle An accordion-and-clarinet-fronted pop band from Tampa, Pee Shy deliver quirky melodies, clever and cutesy lyrics, and quavery vocal harmonies that suggest a low-rent Roches. Their forthcoming, sometimes cloying debut, Who Let All the Monkeys Out (Blue Gorilla/Mercury), produced by Luna's Dean Wareham, offers a pleasant antidote to alternative rock's torrent of hollow emoting.

--Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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