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V-ROYS 3/12, THE HIDEOUT; 3/13, FITZGERALD'S The traditionals on this Knoxville roots-rock quartet's sophomore album, All About Town (E-Squared), give off a convincing back-porch smell: the mandolin's breezy and the fiddle's hairy, and even the Bill Monroe cover sounds fine, thanks in large part to guests Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, sons of Monroe's old sideman Del McCoury. Where bands like this usually lose it is when they try to rock out--it takes some real expertise to breathe excitement back into this conservative form. The V-Roys, fortunately, made the record under the expert guidance of Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, collectively known as the Twangtrust, who in addition to producing it contributed nice touches on guitar, tambourine, harmonium, and even Minimoog (on the particularly effective "Strange")--they even get billing on the album cover. Presumably some of their good instincts have rubbed off on the V-Roys' live act as well. KING MISSILE III 3/13, EMPTY BOTTLE A professional smart-ass since 1986, writer John S. Hall fronted various incarnations of King Missile until 1994, when he decided to go solo, releasing a book of his drolly despairing observations in poem form. On King Missile III's "debut," Failure (Shimmy-Disc), he puts more trust in his words than on previous albums, and it pays off: "Failure" only slightly belabors its brilliant take on affirmationspeak; "Gay/Not Gay" is a neat parsing of the elaborate codes of homophobic men; "Monks" is just likably demented. Of course there are self-indulgent bits, like "The Little Sandwich That Got a Guilt Complex Because He Was the Sole Survivor of a Horrible Bus Crash" (which gives away its only joke in the title), the predictably nihilistic "The Adventures of Planky," and "Despair," which sounds like Ween covering the Handsome Family. Hall comes off best when his distinctively flat pronouncements are accompanied by little more than exotic percussion and creepy synth noodles, but for the most part he and his producers (including Kramer) fail to recognize this. For this tour, the band includes Sasha Forte and Bradford Reed. ROCKIN' BILLY & THE WILD COYOTES 3/13, BIG HORSE; 3/17, metro Memphis-born Bill Harndon's punk roots--he was in the mid-80s Chicago outfit Sponge--are showing, and his long-standing rockabilly revival band is better for it. Rockabilly is primo good-time music when it isn't treated like a pristine artifact, and on their second album, Viva le Rock n' Roll, the mangy Coyotes aren't afraid to mark it with heady whiffs of surf and zydeco and even build to the occasional hardcore frenzy. SOLAR TRIBE 3/13, METRO I know the world was yearning for an upbeat cross between Pink Floyd, Dead Can Dance, Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, and assorted Peter Gabriel sidemen, and here it is at last. This large Chicago band's self-released EP, Enlightened Paramecium (people really ought to take psychedelics if they're going to try to come up with psychedelic titles), is surprisingly likable for all its we-are-the-world pretensions. Maybe it's because they're not afraid to lift the Bo Diddley beat when it's needed, or maybe it's because they're not ashamed to sound utterly mid-80s, with a big hollow drum sound, crunchy guitar, and ultratrite ballads. They know they're a pop band at heart--would that more grand bands were so humble. This is a record-release party. ENNUI 3/14, CLUB 950 This local band is a loose communal effort; I'm told that live performances can range from full-blown lush gothic psychedelia to a guy with a guitar and a beat box, from glossy balladry to post-Depeche Mode dance pop. Its first CD, Ritual and Dogma (Seraph), however, is a pretty-enough, slightly wispy bit of romantic lite goth to smoke cloves by, dominated by front man Andreux's convincing Ian McCulloch imitation. LIT 3/15, the VIC "When we met the folks at RCA," says guitarist Jeremy Popoff in the press release for this Orange County quartet's major-label debut, A Place in the Sun, "we knew we had finally found the people who believed in our music the way we do." Save it for the flaming bag you leave on their doorstep when they drop you, guys: what the "folks" believe in is the cold hard cash that one in a million blandly tuneful Buzz Bin boy bands can generate. If anyone wants to argue that there's a shortage of this stuff out there, send him to my house with a pickup truck and I'll throw my personal collection down from the attic window. Silverchair headlines.

--Monica Kendrick

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

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Willie Colón, Canalon de Timbiqui Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
July 23

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