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Spot Check 

GOLDEN SMOG 12/11, METRO Like its obvious role models the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, this country-rock supergroup--whose core is the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, Run Westy Run's Kraig Johnson, and Big Star's Jody Stephens--is on a crusade to reclaim the airwaves with a vision of timelessness. But on the band's second full-length, Weird Tales (Rykodisc), its Exile of the Rodeo shuck and twang--which isn't above pinching licks from the R.E.M. back catalog as well--is oddly dressed in 90s digital, and the dour songs (the best of which are Tweedy's) sometimes stretch to the snapping point. Live, though, this is reportedly the best bar band since Crazy Horse.

HELLACOPTERS 12/11, EMPTY BOTTLE From the sounds of their Supershitty to the Max (Man's Ruin), I'd guess these leather-clad Swedes will be decorating the motel rooms on their first U.S. tour with dead whiskey bottles and lovingly worn copies of Fun House and Ace of Spades. Guests on the record include members of perpetual garage machine the Nomads and one "Peder Criss" on harmonica. Kiss was nice enough to let these guys humiliate them on the European leg of their reunion tour, but tonight's headliners, the New Bomb Turks, won't lie down so easily.

E.A.R. 12/12, EMPTY BOTTLE Spacemen 3 veteran Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember knows what's in a name: Spectrum is what he calls his pop-oriented outings, and E.A.R., which is short for Experimental Audio Research, is nothing if not truth in advertising. But if past collaborations under that moniker with the likes of My Bloody Valentine guitarist Kevin Shields, AMM percussionist Eddie Prevost, and electronic artist Thomas Kšner have occasionally seemed as academic and obvious as the name would imply, they've also occasionally paid off in a big way. E.A.R.'s latest, Data Rape (Space Age), was created with eight customized Texas Instruments human-voice synthesizers--that's Speak & Spells to you 70s kids. They burble, scrape, list, and stumble upon the rare fascinating texture in spite of themselves. If nothing else, Kember's choice of instrument demonstrates that he possesses one essential survival skill for the true experimentalist--a sense of humor. I mean, what's Pianosaurus doing now?

JEB BISHOP DUOs 12/16, EMPTY BOTTLE Trombonist Jeb Bishop, one of those young Chicago improvisers with a dog-eared appointment book, has recently played with the Vandermark 5, In Zenith, his own trio, and Theater Oobleck; this is a release party for his new 98 Duets, on Superchunk front man Mac MacCaughan's Wobbly Rail improv label. In a dozen pairings with Chicago mainstays Josh Abrams (bass), Hamid Drake (percussion), and Ken Vandermark (reeds), Swedish saxist Mats Gustafsson, and one wild card--trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, an AACM vet now in residence at Cal Arts--Bishop's sound, in all its slippery, awkward, elephantine glory, usually dictates the moves. Yet he's not afraid to pause and listen to the air around him or check the pulse of his collaborators. The duets that grabbed me were the two with Smith--who on the eighth track leads by a slinky quietness, leaving the louder Bishop sounding deferential--and the one with Drake, where Bishop follows him into a long drawn-out conversation. Here Bishop will pair off with Abrams and keyboardist Jim Baker.

PULSARS 12/17, DOUBLE DOOR Dave Trumfio has never been one to hide the Cure records when company comes over: no matter how much indie machismo gets splattered on the walls at his Kingsize studios, he and his brother Harry have kept their roots in the fey futuristic pop of the recent past. They're no empty-headed revivalists, though--live they can make it sound as if this stuff never went away...oh, that's right, it didn't. They share the bill with Rick Rizzo and Gaza Strippers, among others. This is a benefit for the Quaker Goes Deaf record store, which lost its computer system and three quarters of its stock in a man-made flood at the Flat Iron Building in September.

STARDUST, FUTURISTIC DRAGON 12/17, EMPTY BOTTLE I'm not convinced that Chicago needs a David Bowie tribute band, not so long as Chris Connelly roams the earth, but Stardust--whose front man, Lair, has been known to perform homoerotic vampire poetry at Estelle's--is by all accounts the shameless labor of love a tribute band ought to be. Bowie's contemporaries T. Rex, too, have been toasted plenty in the last couple years, including a string of deserving reissues and an installment in Tzadik's "Great Jewish Music" series, on which folks ranging from Marc Ribot to the Melvins wreak havoc on 19 of Marc Bolan's heavy-breathing delights. Futuristic Dragon plays Bolan's fairyland horniness straight, so to speak. See Velvet Goldmine first and make a night of it.

SWITCHBACK 12/17, FITZGERALD'S Switchback, the singer-songwriter duo of Marty McCormack and Brian FitzGerald (whose brother runs FitzGerald's), began their midwestern road story playing traditional Irish music; it's hard to hear that in the variegated brew of styles they play now. They're clever raccoons who'll raid anybody's trash, from the Dumpsters of New Orleans to the litter that surrounds Jim Morrison's grave to the wreckage of Stevie Ray Vaughan's chopper. It's certainly a crowd-pleasing mix; just about anyone could find scraps of an Americana favorite in there somewhere. For this gig, the release party for their Dar's Place (Waygood), the opening act is 11th Avenue, the R & B band led by Billy Shelton, a veteran of the Ink Spots, the Spaniels, the Chi-Lites, Sam Cooke's band, and Earth Wind & Fire's horn section.

TEXAS RUBIES 12/17, HIDEOUT This sweetly biting vocal duo was a mildly popular local attraction in the early 90s, when the now slightly bloated "insurgent country" scene was mostly a hungry gleam in Jon Langford's eye. Langford recognized the Rubies' potential early on, as did kindred spirits at Bloodshot Records (they appear on the label's For a Life of Sin compilation), but Jane Baxter Miller and Kelly Kessler headed down separate happy trails in 1994. Given the increased receptivity of audiences to what they did and did well--and given that Kessler books the Hideout's Honky Tonk Living Room series--it was only a matter of time before this reunion took place. --Monica Kendrick

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

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