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AIR 6/30, THE VIC These French guys were doing well enough with their trippy, campy Moon Safari before their sound track for The Virgin Suicides made them de rigueur at every lava lamp-lit lounge and chain store point-of-purchase display in the country. The kick is that they deserve it: on their new 10,000 Hz Legend (Astralwerks), they move far, far beyond new bachelor-pad chic into their own expansive sound world. They're unabashedly fond of both Serge Gainsbourg and Kraftwerk, but they float artfully between those sensual and mechanical extremes. Of course, they also know just how good they are, and in a recent Magnet interview, they come off as rather insufferable: everything, from American food to other internationally popular French bands, is "'orrible." But isn't false modesty getting tedious, and what difference does personality make if you don't know them anyway? DRAPES 6/30, EMPTY BOTTLE This local trio released its long-delayed second CD, Shine On Sweetheart, on its own Quarter to One label last fall, but somehow I missed it until now: it delivers all the grimy, garagey roadhouse blues promised by the demos I heard last spring. Songwriter, keyboardist, and guitarist Kevin McDonough still sings more eloquently with his guitar than his voice--he's got an appealingly gritty nasal twang, but his playing is scratchy and wiry and menacing, like a big handsome alley cat--while Andrea Jablonski holds down the catchy grooves on lean mean bass and occasionally contributes some accordion. This is the debut performance of their latest drummer, Todd Osborne, and they're promising a lot of new material. JASON FALKNER 6/30, RECKLESS ON BROADWAY Air's touring bassist, Jason Falkner, a veteran of the Three o'Clock, Jellyfish, and the Grays, has just released an album on Spinart: Necessity: The 4-Track Years. As the title would imply, it's a lo-fi (but very well put together) collection of homemade tunes--jangly, sugary, and as anachronistic as Air is futuristic. DEUS EX MACHINA 7/1, SCHUBAS These Italians are visiting courtesy of Outre Music, a local organization devoted to presenting prog rock and the kind of "out" sounds that aren't indie-trendy and might otherwise not have much of a chance in Chicago. Formed in 1985 in Bologna, Deus ex Machina made their recorded debut with the rock opera Gladium caeli six years later; it was inspired by "a sense of the enduring struggle between man and nature" and its lyrics were in Latin, in an effort to "reconcile the melodious nature of Italian (which is difficult to transpose into rock), and the immediacy and fluency of English." Well, OK, Latin is more comprehensible than, say, Magma's Kobaian (or for that matter Michael Stipe's English back in the day), but it lacks a little something in the immediacy department. More recently Deus ex Machina have been recording in the language they actually speak--and making little attempt to fit it to rock rhythms. Their Equilibrismo da inofferenza comes closer to the recognized prog formula of operatic fusion, emphasizing cold and dazzling precision and lofty arrangements. They're playing only four dates in the U.S. including this one. ROBBIE FULKS 7/1, FITZGERALD'S Robbie Fulks has always been too big a talent for any ghetto, so upon being bought out of his Geffen contract by Universal, he started his own label, Boondoggle, with his wife, Donna. Free at last from the strictures of other people's marketing plans, he's made a new album, Couples in Trouble, which is due out in August. Musically, it zooms all over the map, from faux Appalachianisms to shrieking, vengeful rock, but there is a unifying theme in the stories, which are all about pairs of people--including two brothers divided by war, a creep and the teenage stepdaughter he now thinks he owns, a prostitute and a killer. The term "couple," obviously, is interpreted loosely, and a third party to the characters' trials is often an ineffectual God. Fulks's performance is part of the 20th annual FitzGerald's American Music Festival, an Independence Day weekend tradition that brings together dozens of diverse performers to present a rich conception of Americana. Fulks also plays the Chicago Country Music Festival in Grant Park this weekend; see the sidebar in this section. JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS 7/1, HOUSE OF BLUES In her early career Joan Jett might as well have been little sister Joan Ramone--and like the Ramones, she has made more or less the same record over and over since. In fact her 1999 album, Fetish, was literally mostly remakes and live versions of old favorites, and even the participation of Kathleen Hanna on her few new songs didn't produce anything other than tried-and-true Joan Jett tunes. But I guess she's earned the right to slack off a bit--after all, she anticipated revolution grrrl style as a teenager and then spent 15 years waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Lately it seems she's come into her own, as a poster babe and role model for a generation of womyn-loving womyn who like their music loud and whose biggest concession to earth-mother sensibilities might be choosing PVC over leather. She may be politically popular now, but she's not too politically correct to contribute a track to an upcoming Twisted Sister tribute album, nor (hopefully) to keep doing those Gary Glitter covers. An album is due soon--if there's new stuff to be heard, I imagine she'll try it out here. SMOG, SEAN O'HAGAN 7/1, DOUBLE DOOR Bill Callahan is the closest thing indie rock has to Leonard Cohen and has done more to bring dignity to heartbreak than nearly anyone after him: sparse, brittle, aching records like last year's Dongs of Sevotion (Drag City) are chicken soup for the cynical soul. His band, Smog, is not a band exactly--rather it's Callahan and whomever he's hanging out with at the time, usually musicians who audibly relish the opportunity to fill in Callahan's blank backgrounds. For this show, his band will be drummer Jim White (Dirty Three, Nick Cave), guitarist Mike Saenz (Chestnut Station, Plush), and violinist Jessica Billey (Bonneville, Mick Turner). He's got a new album in the can for release later in the year, so expect a preview of new material. The High Llamas, whose main brain Sean O'Hagan is apparently flying in just for this gig, still haven't toured the U.S. behind Buzzle Bee, released by Drag City in the fall. Though he won't be able to reproduce the orchestral glory of the record in a solo show, it'll be a great chance for him to show off what he's been doing for us lately. LUNASA 7/3, RAVINIA Celtic bands don't really need imagination--it's fine if they have it, but it's not a priority. What they really must have is the ability to turn on a dime, or a shilling as the case may be. Lunasa have it in spades on their latest, The Merry Sisters of Fate (Green Linnet), between fiddler Sean Smyth and the recently added Cillian Vallely, who once played with Riverdance (hey, when you're a uilleann piper, a gig's a gig). Yet as spectacular as their performances are, they come off a bit cold--they make me think that if Maud Gonne were alive today she might be a metalhead.

--Monica Kendrick

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