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Spot Check 

JOOST VISSER 5/17, EMPTY BOTTLE This Dutch oddball once fronted De Artsen, the swell band that later became Bettie Serveert, but based on his superbly bent solo debut, Partners in Hair (Ajax), Joost Visser would probably be stifled by a regular band. Aided on some songs by members of Holland's like-minded Furtips, Visser explores his idiosyncratic notion of pop, happily incorporating anything he stumbles upon. Between off-center acoustic ditties and the occasional shambling rocker, he cohesively splices in "field recordings" of marching bands and nonsensical lo-fi splatter, suggesting that sullied pop music has antiseptic perfection beat hands down. Simon Joyner, Gitbox, and Two Dollar Guitar also perform. DERAILERS 5/17, FITZGERALD'S; 5/18, SCHUBAS On their terrific Dave Alvin-produced debut, Jackpot (Watermelon), Austin's Derailers sport some genuine Texas twang, but more than anything they walk the streets of Bakersfield. Tony O. Villanueva sings with the soulful power and boozy swagger of Buck Owens, while the vibrant, jaunty guitar playing of Brian Hofeldt mirrors the old verve of Buckaroos axman Don Rich. The Derailers can also whip through rockabilly and western swing-tinged material, and with their greased-up DA's and vintage C and W suits they offer a delightfully charged evocation of one of country music's golden eras.

ZEN COWBOYS 5/18, cubby Bear If My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult traded in their trite Faster Pussycat stylings for a Venice Beach rendering of the old west they'd come close to simulating the dopey country-dance hybrid of these Hollywood lunkheads. On their recent Electric Mistress (Moonshine) Zen Cowboys swaddle their silly fake British accents in a thick swirl of stiff club beats, stale guitar, and nothing approaching real songs. They open for the revivified Modern English. Yes, that one. TOMMY KEENE 5/18, METRO In the face of 15 years of marketplace indifference, pure pop maestro Tommy Keene keeps plugging away. Ten Years After (Matador), his first new full-length album since 1989, bristles with powerful hooks, indelible melodies, efficient riffery, and fine pinched singing. Keene's aesthetic was crucial to the mid-80s college-pop explosion, but it avoided both R.E.M.'s Byrdsian jangle and Alex Chilton's slavish plagiarists. Though he spices his sound with a country lick here and a hard-rock riff there, Keene acknowledges only one god: melody. Cath Carroll opens. SYD STRAW 5/18, DOUBLE DOOR On War and Peace (Capricorn), her first album in six years, Syd Straw has jettisoned the sprawling all-star cast on her debut in favor of the stripped-down genius of the midwest's ultimate bar band, the Skeletons. As a result Straw's alternately breathy and demonstrative vocals are more focused, a good thing considering she's taking a candid, occasionally bitter look at a disintegrating relationship. Though the tempos, attack, and color don't vary much, Straw nevertheless produces a fine bit of roots-informed pop. LOCAL H 5/21, METRO While these Zion rockers have escaped the smothering Nirvana shadow that sullied their unremarkable debut, their harder rocking second effort, As Good as Dead (Island), isn't much better. I can't argue with the sentiments expressed in the anti-frat-boy-jock anthem "High-Fiving MF," but lines like "Your glory days are over and so's your stone-washed jeans" don't do much to establish Local H as an intelligent alternative to a night of Jell-O shots. XEROBOT 5/22, FIRESIDE BOWL On their recent debut album, Control Panel (Coat-Tail), Xerobot rip through 22 songs in 24 minutes. Part of the midwest's burgeoning neo-no-wave scene, the band delivers a barrage of herky-jerky stop-start rhythms, low-rent synth gurgling, and flying, brittle shards of clunky bass and scratchy guitar--all beneath the crazed rantings of Greg Peters. While the combo's atonal sonic palette recalls the heyday of bands like Mars and DNA, Xerobot define themselves with a spastic nervousness and a calculated geek element. KIM SALMON & THE SURREALISTS 5/22, EMPTY Bottle Through his excellent work with the Scientists--a fearsome combo that twisted Cramps-like psychobilly into slasher-flick monomania via relentless repetition and half-hysterical, half-zombielike vocals--and by leading his own more stratified band, Australia's Kim Salmon has developed a small but rabid American following. But as his recent Sin Factory (Deep Six) makes plain, he deserves far more credit than he's received. With the Surrealists he pushes the moaned desperation of the blues past the breaking point, his emotional explosions transcending comic-book extremes through pure chaos and primordial howls. Imagine the earlier work of Nick Cave freed of the suffocating biblical allusions or Jon Spencer without the retro show-biz antics and you'd have a lighter shade of Salmon's distinctive brand of musical darkness. His guitar playing's nothing to sneeze at either. This gig marks his first Chicago appearance. Opening are New York's Chrome Cranks, who nicely encapsulate Salmon's Scientists work mixed with Lower East Side skulduggery, and Atlanta's Rock-a-Teens, an unkempt band formed by ex-members of the Jody Grind, DQE, and the Opal Foxx Quartet.

--Peter Margasak

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Norma Jean Roy.

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