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CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN 1/17 & 18, ABBEY PUB The latest addition to the box-set display case at your local megastore (so museumlike, no?) comes courtesy of these 80s indie wise guys. Dismissed as dilettantes then by some shortsighted folks, CVB are now fondly recalled, probably because they were smart enough to quit while they were ahead. (Memo to Butthole Surfers: just stop already.) Front man David Lowery went on to cash in with Cracker (Remember that one song? Me neither), but he didn't come up with a single tune in the 90s that could compete with anything on 1985's great Telephone Free Landslide Victory. The Friday show is sold-out. There are two shows on Saturday: an early 18-and-over performance and a later one that's 21 and up (and sold-out). See Rock Etc. in Section One for more on CVB. LILYS 1/17, SCHUBAS There really are only a few riffs in rock 'n' roll. How else could I possibly hear a faint echo of Motorhead's "Orgasmatron" in "Squares," a new song by Kurt Heasley's pop band Lilys (from a forthcoming full-length on Manifesto Records)? That tune is a bit of infectious fluff from a man long renowned for rifling through the Zombies section at the power-pop shop, filing the serial numbers off whatever he can pilfer and offering up his wares for resale. Though the source material was familiar, Lilys' 1996 album Better Can't Make Your Life Better was still a breath of fresh air in a year dominated by turgid grunge aftershocks--but Heasley has yet to prove he can compete in a more crowded pop market. WITCHES 1/17, EMPTY BOTTLE Some of the sweetest-sounding Velvet Underground songs are actually sheer evil. "Sunday Morning" and "Here She Comes Now" emanate a cloud of wrongness, suggesting a wicked intelligence at work--one that does not believe in the innocence of pop, has never believed in that innocence, and is in fact contemptuous of those who do. Over the years that quality's been adopted, intentionally or not, by some of the best garage bands: the Seeds might have thought they were emulating those cuddly Liverpudlians, but they came off sounding like they molested puppies. In such wickedness the Witches excel. Demoniac front man Troy Gregory writes subliterate song titles--"Y Du U Make Me Feel Like That," "(What Is Yer Preferred Device) It," "I Luv'd Wrong"--on On Parade (Fall of Rome) and fills his Web site with hyperliterate references--Blake, Chomsky, Burroughs. That should give fair warning that an unsettling sort of genius, disguised as crash-bang trash pop, this way comes. Goblins headline. 7000 DYING RATS 1/18, FIRESIDE BOWL Is the Chicago underground too riddled with mild-mannered post-post-everything? Is metal's general humorlessness starting to ride up your ass? Here's just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, since Weasel Walter is moving to California and the band claims that finding yet another new drummer is too much of a bother, they're calling it quits after this show. Admittedly, it's starting to look like the Rats' time is past anyway: their kind of turn-on-a-dime genre hopping has been commandeered by too many goobers who do it too earnestly. But chin up; 2001's The Sound of No Hands Clapping (Tumult) won't be their last release--there's new material already recorded. ZWAN 1/19, 20, 22, 23 & 25, METRO Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin's post-Pumpkins band--an indie-rock supergroup featuring Matt Sweeney of Chavez, A Perfect Circle's Paz Lenchantin, and Dave Pajo--is the most eagerly awaited new-old thing to hit town in at least a decade. All five nights of this Metro occupation sold out in something like 15 minutes, and the band's Reprise debut, Mary Star of the Sea, doesn't even come out till January 28--though fans have been able to hear many of its soaring songs at the band's Web site for weeks. (Hell, you can already get guitar tabs on-line.) My biggest beef with the Pumpkins--the way Corgan's musical ambitions chafed against his band's taut song-based format--was also the factor that rocketed them past most mainstream 90s alt. With the soul of a goth boy and the brain of a prog rocker, Corgan was never at home in modern-rock dullsville. This awkward line straddling was part of what devotees loved about the Pumpkins, but I always wished they'd push themselves a little harder. There are few reaches on Mary Star of the Sea--it's pretty meat-and-potatoes in a Corgan sort of way. But then again, there's Pajo, who I suspect contributes heartily to the sinuous stretch of the guitars--and could lend a hell of a lot more if allowed. CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO 1/23, SCHUBAS Active since the early 90s, the California Guitar Trio takes its name from the place where it coalesced as a band, but it's really an international effort--the players hail from the U.S., Japan, and Belgium, and met in England through a Robert Fripp guitar course. They form a fairly formidable instrumental unit, and when they get going, it sounds like there are more than three of them flailing away; they reportedly held their own when opening for King Crimson's 1995 reunion tour. But earning respect in prog and fusion circles is one thing; getting away with a Christmas album--titled, of course, A Christmas Album (InsideOut Music)--is another entirely. Instrumental yuletide fare is generally less oppressive than the vocal stuff, and traditional tunes are always preferable to any fresh tinsel cow pies, as this disc shows: progressive music's worship of the classical serves Bach and Handel very well, and you can't go wrong with "Greensleeves." Now that we're clear of the holidays, they may return to their less festive originals. Then again, their cover of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" could still work as a sing-along for us peaceniks in the crowd. JON LANGFORD & the SADIES 1/23, ABBEY PUB The new Mayors of the Moon (Bloodshot) is the best album of Americana I've heard in some time--and it took a Welshman and a bunch of Canadians to make it. Jon Langford approaches American music with a quality--devotion coupled with clear-eyed distance--that perhaps only an immigrant can possess. (Insert your own ponderous essay on the role of the exile here.) His salty old punker voice, its accent proudly incongruous, has a hard-bitten veracity that's been all but bred out of too many corn-fed Yankee boys' wholesome warbles. But I'm still not sure whether "Little Vampires"--almost a straight cop of the Gun Club's "Mother of Earth"--merits a knuckle rap or a knowing wink. I must be getting old; I can't even tell rip-off from homage anymore. For this show, there will be three separate sets: first the Sadies with Langford, then the Sadies proper (showcasing their excellent new Yep Roc album, Stories Often Told), then Langford and his Waco Brothers.

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

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