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LOS STRAITJACKETS 10/27, FITZGERALD'S; 10/29, SCHUBAS The "cult" following for this Nashville-based, Mexican-wrestling-mask-sporting instrumental roots-rock quartet is not just national (they've been on Conan O'Brien four times) but also international (they played two weeks in Moscow) and includes quite a few famous fans, many of whom lend their talents to the group's fifth and latest album, Sing Along With Los Straitjackets (Cavalcade). Allison Moorer and Lonesome Bob, Exene Cervenka, El Vez, the Reverend Horton Heat, and the Trashmen, among others, contribute vocals on classic surf, country, and R & B numbers; Big Sandy sings en espanol on versions of "Tallahassee Lassie" and "Mother in Law." The sole instrumental is Nick Lowe's "Shake That Rat"--featuring Lowe himself on blazing "lead bass." For this tour, the Straitjackets have Big Sandy in tow, and for the leg that includes Chicago, they'll also be joined by the World Famous Pontani Sisters, three twentysomething siblings from Brooklyn on a mission to revive the Ziegfeld Follies. GENESIS PROJECT 10/28, CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER I was one of lots of people last week searching for a readable translation of the Koran at a big chain bookstore in town, but there weren't any to be bought. In fact, the whole shelf in the religion section devoted to books on Islam looked noticeably thinned out, as did shelves on recent Middle Eastern and Central Asian history. That very day the Sun-Times had reported on the phenomenon: apparently people all over who had never taken much interest in comparative religion before were scrambling for some rudimentary understanding of Islam and Middle Eastern culture. I, for one, am greatly heartened by the idea that the number of people quietly buying books and surfing for Middle Eastern cultural Web sites might vastly exceed the number of shitheads assaulting Arab-Americans and vandalizing mosques. And by George Ryan's recent endorsement of Genesis at the Crossroads, an organization that fosters understanding of the multicultural stew that is the Middle East. This weekend they're presenting their second annual Genesis Project, a daylong festival of Muslim and Jewish music, dance, arts and crafts, and food. Performers include cantor Alberto Mizrahi with his ensemble Titiko, poet Mansour Ajami, the instrumental ensemble Salaam, Atissa Azar's Persian dance ensemble, the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, and others. Unlike many Cultural Center events, this one's not a freebie--tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door for adults. For more information on discounts for kids, families, and large groups, call 773-929-0224. CORN SISTERS 10/31, HIDEOUT On The Other Women (Mint), a live recording they made in 1998, Neko Case and her old Vancouver comrade Carolyn Marks breathe life into classic "corn" like "This Little Light" and "Long Black Veil" as well as less hoary niblets like Nick Lowe's "Endless Grey Ribbon" and the occasional original. Both high-flying neocountry singers--Case's high-lonesome tones trill around Marks's more honeyed ones--keep the camp from getting in the way of the soul; they both sing like women with much bigger hair. SPIRITUALIZED 10/31, METRO Not your usual Halloween fare: Jason Spaceman's seductive dictatorship strives for blue-eyed gospel heights with a choral angelic quality usually reserved for less bacchanalian holidays. In fact, Spiritualized's fourth album, Let It Come Down (Arista), verges on the unlistenably sanctimonious, with its organ and strings and invocation of Jesus; only Spaceman's awareness of his own crooked stagger across the straight and narrow ("The only time I'm drink and drug free / Is when I get my drugs and drink for free," he admits on the refreshingly gritty rocker "The Twelve Steps") manages to make acceptable comfort music out of what could be an orchestrated smothering in sugar. Even so, with this band it's usually worth a couple passes of the collection plate to see what happens live. MY NAME IS RAR-RAR 11/1, 6ODUM This local foursome claim as influences "fucked up circus music, Jacques Demy movies, the Cars, and 70s James Brown" but mostly what I hear on their seven-song CD-R is pranksterish no-wave pop, sharp and groovy but suffering from a certain degree of sameness. Judging from the performance credentials involved, though, I have a feeling the songs are only a fraction of the point. Also on the bill are Lovely Little Girls (see Critic's Choice).

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

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