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COPTIC LIGHT 4/5, FIRESIDE BOWL Jon Fine (most notoriously of Bitch Magnet, with pre-Seam Sooyoung Park, and most recently a touring member of Don Caballero), Kevin Shea (a former Chicagoan and member of Storm and Stress), and Jeff Winterberg make ferocious, luminous instrumental music that doesn't sound exactly like rock 'n' roll but most definitely is. Though people are bound to guess they improvise, they don't: the two songs they sent me, "U.B.B." and "We Are Ugly but We Have the Music" (that's a Leonard Cohen reference), are like sharp, brilliant shards picked up off the floor after a metal band's precisely choreographed hotel-room trashing, then obsessively assembled into something else...sort of like the Devil's Tower Richard Dreyfuss builds out of his mashed potatoes in Close Encounters. TANYA DONELLY 4/5, METRO Singer-songwriter Tanya Donelly paid her dues long ago--for a time the veteran of Throwing Muses, Belly, and briefly the Breeders seemed ubiquitous. Unfortunately dues don't always collect interest: her first solo album, 1997's Lovesongs for Underdogs, got lost in the shuffle when it turned out that "alternative" was never meant to be mainstream. But as she tells an interviewer in a piece quoted in her press sheet: "I feel like even though there's a lot to complain about...people like me are all in a better position because it's back to the way that it was in the late 80s, where you're actually not competing with what's on the radio." Translation: the underground has come back home. After taking time off to have a baby, she began recording the new Beautysleep (4AD), which, ironically, is as good a pop record as you're going to hear from anyone on the radio this year. Donelly's sweet voice sparkles with feminine ambition as she takes her own path through Beth Orton country, stops in for tea at Kate Bush's place, and eventually finds a nice plot that's completely her own. TONY LEVIN 4/5, MARTYRS' The former King Crimson bassist is the very model of a musician's musician--which in these lean times could be taken to mean that his liner notes are full of equipment endorsements and a high percentage of his press clips comes from specialist instrument magazines. But while that's all true, and his latest solo album, Pieces of the Sun (Narada), contains its fair share of noodling, the man who popularized the Chapman Stick isn't merely showboating; he shares the spotlight with Robert Fripp disciples the California Guitar Trio and rounds out the proficient but uneventful fusion with bits of deep crunch and genuine whimsy. TRS-80 4/5, EMPTY BOTTLE This local trio won't be forced into a niche: they've never really belonged in the "serious" electronica scene dominated by dour technophiles like Oval, but four-on-the-floor dance music isn't really their forte either. Their atmospheric pulsating comes off as hedonistic and groove driven, but it's not robotically precise; live drumming gives it a degree of looseness that's generally welcome in rock or jazz but can befuddle a crowd that needs to know where its next beat is coming from. This show is a record-release party for Mr. Kickass (Invisible), their fourth full-length; the live set incorporates visual projections made-to-order for each song. CAPITOL YEARS 4/6, ABBEY PUB A Philly denizen who calls himself Shai, Son of Eli, recorded most of the Capitol Years' Meet Yr Acres (Full Frame) at home on a four-track machine, then took it to producer Thom Monahan (Silver Jews, Beachwood Sparks, Chamber Strings), who helped him bake it into a folksy art-rock layer cake. He's been pegged as a Beatle worshiper, and I can certainly hear the influence of the late-era Fab Four, but the repeating chorus on "Rolling Hills" sounds like a nip from Mott the Hoople; "Lord, Lord, I've Gone Blind," the title repeated mournfully over a simple guitar pattern, sounds like Tim Rutili; and the record ends with a cover of "All Tomorrow's Parties." Only after the record had been out for a bit and garnered some attention did Shai put together a band to play it, tapping friends from a noisier previous project. This is their first proper U.S. tour; later this month, they'll begin recording their first album as a group. They play here on an afternoon bill as part of the ongoing International Pop Overthrow festival; if they can pull off anything like the romantic sophistication of the album live, this show'll be the sleeper of the week. CLEM SNIDE 4/6, ABBEY PUB The Brooklyn quartet Clem Snide have been on a hot streak: their second album, The Ghost of Fashion, made Rolling Stone's top-50 list, and their "Moment in the Sun" bumped the Foo Fighters' "Next Year" as theme song to the NBC show Ed--either of which could explain their appearance this January on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Recently they've collaborated with Daniel Johnston and released a new EP, Moment in the Sun (Spinart), featuring two versions of the title track. In both incarnations, the song is glamorous and meek at the same time: over lazy Stonesy guitar licks and muffled organ toots, front man Eef Barzelay stitches his heart to his thrift-store sleeve. Barzelay chronically castigates love for its imperfections, its frailty, its mortality, and its lack of cinematic grandeur; his intolerance for pettiness of course makes him look petty in turn, but what's endearing is that he seems to know it. CARLA BOZULICH & NELS CLINE 4/10, SCHUBAS I'm always going to be interested in anything that either of these people comes up with: singer Bozulich and guitarist Cline are two of the most passionate-sounding artists on the indie boards today. Bozulich has been goose-pimpling my arms since her mid-90s work with the Geraldine Fibbers; Cline (who raised eyebrows a couple of years ago by covering John Coltrane and Rashied Ali's Interstellar Space with drummer Gregg Bendian) has always been a powerful improv player with a rock 'n' roll heart--which he occasionally exercises by getting down-to-earth with Mike Watt. Cline will open this bill with his formidable instrumental band the Nels Cline Singers, who have just released a beautifully diverse album, Instrumentals (Cryptogramophone); the band will then accompany Bozulich as she interprets Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger in its entirety. (She'll release an album version of the same in August.) LES SAVY FAV 4/11, METRO Les Savy Fav appears on Arena Rock Recording Co.'s hot This Is Next Year: A Brooklyn-Based Compilation, along with the aforementioned Clem Snide, the truly great Oneida and Ida, the occasionally great They Might Be Giants, and a host of generally less great but newsworthy bands who're doing their part to drive up rents in Williamsburg. Les Savy Fav's recent Go Forth (Frenchkiss) is a pretty infectious record in a derivative way: like several other bands in the area, these guys obviously like to shake their booty to radical disco punk like Public Image Ltd. and Gang of Four, which has been rendered less than radical by time and fashion. Still, it sounds good, and Les Savy Fav play it tight and fierce, throwing the whole of their considerable force behind incantations like "Use sentiment like aloe / Use sentiment like mace / Use sentimental explanations / Of how we got to this place / I got fucked by fate / On fate and I's first date."

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

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The Sea & Cake, Moonrise Nation Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
August 16

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