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ZENI GEVA 5/10, EMPTY BOTTLE Last year's punishing, Steve Albini-recorded Freedom Bondage (Alternative Tentacles) reveals that though Japan's Zeni Geva have only slowly altered their staggering sound--the album sports some ominous organ and the epic "Ground Zero" features bona fide singing--few can match their sheer power. Leader Kazuyuki K. Null's shuddering howl and sinister guitar exude torpor with remarkable precision, and that coupled with the simpatico guitar of Mitsuru Tabata and drumming of Eito Noro leads to some hard-hitting minimalism--all transcending repetition through faultless execution. WINDY & CARL 5/11, EMPTY BOTTLE On its new album, Drawing of Sound (Blue Flea), this duo from Dearborn Heights lovingly sketches gentle soundscapes that mix dreamy, sometimes druggy melodicism with swirling, trance-out textures. Using heavily treated guitar sounds and drifting keyboard patterns, the band occasionally incorporates icy Nico-esque vocals, which add textural richness and also a slightly straightforward tunefulness to play against the more obtuse melodies. Don't buy beer, just bring some incense. Japan's wispy psychedelic popsters Sugar Plant open. Windy & Carl also give an in-store performance earlier in the day at the Quaker Goes Deaf. JO CAROL PIERCE 5/12, CUBBY BEAR The wildly imaginative Austin institution known as Jo Carol Pierce returns to Chicago to deliver an encore performance of her colorful musical theater piece Bad Girls Upset by the Truth. The recorded version of the work takes her witty song explanations and dry narratives--all rendered in an irresistible twang--and combines them with beautifully constructed songs that hew to country rock but borrow liberally from all sorts of Texas musical traditions. The piece paints a vivid portrait of a lively, sex-loving, religiously skewed suicidal woman raised in Lubbock by crazy parents. Pierce has that rare ability to intertwine folk wisdom, raunchy humor, sentimentality, and raw emotion while making you forget that you're hearing a theater piece. She's been performing the work consistently for the last few months, so she and her crack band should have their execution down pat. HERB ALPERT 5/12, PARK WEST The big news is that trumpet-tooting schlockmeister Herb Alpert has just released a record for a label other than A&M, the company he cofounded, for the first time in 25 years. The recent Second Wind is available on Almo, Herb's new imprint. The music? Oh, it's just more of the forgettable soft-core quasi-jazz-funk hybrid you hear on daytime talk shows when they break away for commercials. FLEMING & JOHN 5/14, SCHUBAS Ben Folds, an Elton John for the alternative-rock generation, has described Nashville's Fleming & John as "the Carpenters of the 90s with Led Zeppelin's rhythm section." The less than pinpoint accuracy of this ridiculous statement need not concern us, but Delusions of Grandeur (Universal), the group's schizophrenic debut, makes it clear that Fleming & John are troubled by identity problems. Singer Fleming McWilliams flips between stylistic models like Edie Brickell, Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, and Rickie Lee Jones--there're lots more--with maddening glee, while husband and guitarist John Mark Painter matches her whim for whim, leaping between power pop, generic alternative paradigms, lush but vapid balladry, and slinky, middle-of-the-road mellow-music fodder. It's frightfully bad, but those folks who insist that a program like Friends is intelligent could very well defend Fleming & John on the specious grounds of eclecticism. GIRLS AGAINST BOYS, THERAPY? 5/16, METRO Over the years Girls Against Boys have stacked up a hefty pile of press accolades as well as developing a fairly rabid fan base, but most talk centers on how sexy the band members are. Indeed, as evinced by the recent House of GVSB, the band's final effort for the indie Touch & Go--they now head for the riches more promised than delivered by Geffen--the foursome's warmed-over funk-inclined postpunk machinations are hardly anything to get excited about. The twin-bass play of Eli Janney and Johnny Temple may attract attention, but it sure doesn't sound like much. Meanwhile the vocals of Scott McCloud and Janney slog through the unspectacular material with a raspy, bored mandatory sense of angst. May I suggest careers in the cinema? Speaking of bands leaving Touch & Go for major-label green, Therapy? once spit out a furious barrage of tightly controlled metallic grinding for T&G. But since they switched to A&M, they've increasingly churned out either awful hard rock or sappy pop. Their latest missive, the miserable Infernal Love, alternates between dopey chest beating and power-pop ballads that'll remind you of, um, Survivor. They're not very sexy either. TOM RUSSELL 5/16, ABBEY PUB On Tom Russell's fine new album The Rose of San Joaquin (Hightone), his colorful narratives wander all through his native California, offering sympathetic portraits of hoboes, whores, cowboys, drunks, and other outcasts--only fitting for this genuine troubadour. With a measured drawl and a firm grasp on many country idioms, Russell draws the listener in like a master storyteller, particularly with the old-timey drama of "The Sky Above, the Mud Below." --Peter Margasak

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

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