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LAST POETS Museum of contemporary art, 2/13 & 14 The MCA's Hip Hop Life series and the Guild Complex's Musicality of Poetry festival make natural copresenters, and the Last Poets are a particularly inspired presentation. In the late 1960s, the collective took the literary renaissance that accompanied the black power movement and broadcast it over African percussion in a style derived partly from jazz scatting and partly from the incantatory cadences of black preachers. Who knew that poetry about African-American life and liberation chanted rhythmically over beats might someday really catch on? The turntable side of hip-hop can be traced back to late-70s New York block parties and (arguably) the Sugar Hill Gang, but its history as an oral literary form goes right back to these guys. I first saw the Last Poets in 1994, just after their reunion, squeezed into a corner of the vendors' parking lot near the toilets in that glamourless Lollapalooza ghetto called the spoken-word tent. The MCA theater by nature will prevent such intimacy, but I'm happy to see them getting the reverence they deserve. On Friday founding poets Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, and drummer Don "Babtundell" Eaton are joined by local poet Reggie Gibson; Saturday's show features poet and teacher Quraysh Ali Lansana and a full band that includes In the Spirit storyteller, singer, and percussionist Glenda Baker.

HURL 2/14, empty bottle Having myself worked really hard listening to this rust-belt quartet's second LP, Not a Memory (My Pal God/Peas Kor), I realize that these serious young men work much harder on their moody post-Carnegie Mellon art grunge than they did on their most unappealing name. They play as part of the heavily promoted release party for the My Ohio Action Pal, Boy Gold God 300 sampler, which includes similarly mathematical rock by the other bands on the two-night bill: the first show's Friday at the Fireside with A Minor Forest, Lustre King, and C-Clamp; Hurl and 90 Day Men open for Dianogah.

HELAINE KARLIN 2/14, GREEN ONION Poor Helaine Karlin has her work cut out for her, living down the stigma of being a WNUA/Finlandia Jazz Talent Search finalist, but her debut CD, I'll Have What She's Having (Up All Night Records), is a decent start. As a songwriter, she's ambitious--maybe too ambitious, forcing herself to finesse clunky rhymes like "So much is on the line / As away races the time." But the voice is there, warm, rich, and the tiniest bit smoky; and if she wrapped it around a good standard once in a while, her own material might end up with a nice contact high.

CHERISH THE LADIES 2/15, ABBEY PUB Those who'd just as soon skip the Valentine's Day mush and dive right into the Saint Patrick's Day mash will indeed cherish this venerable all-female Irish orchestra, who come armed with accordion, fiddle, flute, whistle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bodhran, and piano. Last year's live album (on Big Mammy records) and the band's consistent popularity among Hiberniana cognoscenti suggest that superfluous Riverdancing will be kept to a minimum--and the date practically guarantees that no one will hurl on your shoes.

JAI 2/18, DOUBLE DOOR This undeniably well-dressed young English "mod for the hip-hop generation" has a sweet, high blue-eyed soul croon, but there's nothing exceptional about the tunes, arrangements, or by-the-book beats on his RCA debut, Heaven. The hypesters like to point out that he lost the rhythm section of his first band to his neighbor Polly Harvey; I can see why. Nevertheless, Billboard is right to predict he'll fill a market niche--for pale-faced pubescents and upscale adults who like their funk in tiny, sanitary doses. This isn't Jai's first Chicago appearance, but it's the first to which the general public is actually invited. Am I the only one who thinks press-only performances are degrading to everyone involved, like dog shows for people?

RIPLEY CAINE 2/19, GUNTHER MURPHY'S There's a surprisingly coherent vision behind the four songs on this band's demo tape, especially considering that the members met through newspaper ads. Their greatest strength so far is eponymous front woman Caine's full, husky voice, which blasts the band many leagues from that timid self-consciousness that often curses the woman-with-acoustic-guitar genre. But if their mission truly is to convince folks that "an acoustically rooted band doesn't have to play folk music," they might want to listen to a little more Violent Femmes and a little less folk music.

Charles Kim & fred lonberg-holm, edith frost 2/19, EMPTY BOTTLE Since escaping New York a couple years ago cello whiz Fred Lonberg-Holm has become Chicago's favorite collaborative slut--he's played with just about everyone but Wesley Willis. Charles Kim is the man whose pedal steel gives the Pinetop Seven their haunting sonorities. The two have been working on duets, which they'll debut here; mournful chanteuse Edith Frost, who opens with a solo set, will join them at the end. My radar shows an 80 percent chance of lightning and a 60 percent chance of additional special guests.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Edith Frost/Charles Kim/ Fred Lonberg-Holm photos by Karen A Peters (Frost) and Marty Perez (Kim, Lonberg-Holm).

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