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PROMISE RING 1/30, METRO It took me a few listens to recognize this zircon in the rough, but now I'm sold on the ragged power-pop charms of this Milwaukee quartet's Nothing Feels Good (Jade Tree). Derivative but sincere, grandiose but disarming--if Philip K. Dick was right, Paul Westerberg is making records like this in a parallel universe.

CASH MONEY 1/31, EMPTY BOTTLE This free "customer appreciation" show kicks off with a couple of shit kickers, guitarist and singer John Humphrey and drummer Scott Giampino. Their second full-length as Cash Money, Halos of Smoke and Fire (Touch and Go), is an intense, timeless rockaboogie blast, peppered with off-kilter balladry and even a sort of Charlie Daniels Band update featuring Dirty Three fiddler Warren Ellis. With the Delta 72 headlining, it's a fine bill--but if they really, really appreciated us, the drinks would be free, too.

CHIKA 1/31, ABBEY PUB Local songsmith Chika Sekiguchi, who leads the band named after her, demonstrates a clear, crisp voice and a promising poetic sensibility on their Little Ship Head (Blue Marble). It's unfortunate that her talent is cloaked in letter-perfect alternative radio rock, but sometimes bands like this get more interesting as they mature.

JOHNNY SMOKE 1/31, schubas Lo-fi and lively, this Ohio trio displays diabolic inspiration on its debut, Latitude 39¡ (Gas Daddy Go!). Banjo and dulcimer fly crashing and twanging out of an acoustic indie-rock howl, in tunes full of hangovers, bad luck, and well-timed nods to Guided by Voices and early R.E.M. Music for sitting on the front-porch couch all night drinking beer and watching bugs fry in the zapper. Chris Mills headlines.

LOREN MAZZACANE CONNORS & ALAN LICHT, JIM O'ROURKE & DARIN GRAY 2/2, EMPTY BOTTLE Guitarist Loren MazzaCane Connors plays a biting, abstract blues that gives the sense of passion struggling out from under restraint; on their three albums together, he and regular collaborator Alan Licht trade wails and drones, utter fuzz and crystal-clear chimes, in evocative music that's always full but never busy. In a separate set, Jim O'Rourke, flush from the release of his bittersweet, playful new Bad Timing (Drag City) and his Indiana Jones-like escape from Gastr del Sol, will duet with Brise-Glace bassist Darin Gray. At the end of the night, when all four play together, the threat of lily gilding looms, but I think the risk is worth it. Connors, Licht, and O'Rourke also play Saturday at 4 at the Reckless Records on Broadway.

LOVERBOY 2/3, HOUSE OF BLUES Even in their so-called prime these clowns sucked unforgivably, and now when they sing "The Kid Is Hot Tonite" they're gonna sound like child molesters.

SISTERS OF MERCY 2/3, RIVIERA The late-90s Sisters of Mercy are really just long 'n' lanky Andrew Eldritch vamping behind his mirrored shades, seemingly unaware that the rest of the band has left. But you can't really make fun of a goth star for aging--by its very nature goth should age, like a fine wine or a mossy tombstone. If Eldritch can muster a half-decent rendition of "Temple of Love" or "Black Planet," that's enough for me--he probably still looks better in leather than Loverboy ever did.

WILLIAM TOPLEY 2/5, FITZGERALD'S Despite the exaggeratedly sensitive photos on the sleeve of his new Black River (Mercury), comparisons of this British singer to Joe Cocker aren't that far off. But the lite R & B arrangements are all too often more "Up Where We Belong" than Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

--Monica Kendrick

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

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