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HIM 7/23, HOTHOUSE My first impression of this one-man project (drummer Doug Scharin, from June of 44 and Rex, plus a small army of part-time collaborators) was the Tortoise-lite blue-neon wankery on 1999's Sworn Eyes. But I recently heard Many in High Places Are Not Well, released last year on Bubble Core, and all is forgiven: it's rich, hypnotic, joyously busy, and cool but unrestrained, like Miles and Fela hanging out at Chez Eno. The guest vocalists and instrumentalists--Mum's Kristin Anna Valtysdottir, kora player Abdou M'Boup, and many more--get the free-range treatment, and you can tell they're happy to have room to stretch out. OJOS DE BRUJO 7/23, METRO Their Chicago debut at Martyrs' in February was shut down by police for alleged overcrowding, but this Barcelona-based band is giving our town another try--and this time they're playing a bigger room. On Bari, recently released in the States on World Village, their mixture of classic flamenco with hip-hop, soul, rock, and world beat is almost painfully passionate. The modern influences never overwhelm Marina Abad's aching voice, and the dueling acoustic guitars cozy up to the turntable, playfully twining around its beats and scribbles like they're a perfectly natural thing to find in a flamenco band. PAYBACKS 7/23, DOUBLE DOOR These rockers are Detroit garage-scene vets: their rhythm section does double duty in the Hentchmen, and front woman Wendy Case covered local music for the Detroit News. This tour they're celebrating the release of their second album for Get Hip, Harder and Harder, but a more apt title might be "Easier and Easier." The Paybacks' raunchy rock is like a force of nature that needs only be allowed to take its course: despite its walloping drums and grotty, bluesy guitar licks, it feels strangely light on its feet. Fortunately, Case seems to understand that rock isn't supposed to be effortless--her mountain-lion yowl sounds like it hurts a bit. SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD 7/23, ABBEY PUB; 7/24, EMPTY BOTTLE In the past these enfants terribles have come perilously close to hicksploitation, playing alt-bluegrass with speed-metal flash and blazing through a record number of stereotypes along the way. But their chops have always redeemed their shtick, if only barely, and over time their music has accrued warmth, depth, and tonal variety. At these shows they'll be previewing material from Should've Seen It Coming, forthcoming in the fall on Bloodshot. Just keep your goodies to yourself if they play that song asking for a "Little More Cocaine"--stimulants are the last thing these guys need. BILLY NAYER SHOW 7/24, SCHUBAS This New York group's distinctive music is only the key to a much larger room: part band, part art collective, the Billy Nayer Show also publishes demented zines and makes equally demented movies (among them The American Astronaut). Front man Cory McAbee's theatrical voice can go from a sinister, half-whispered croon to a campy show-tune bray, and each of the 23 songs on last year's self-released double CD Goodbye Straplight Sarentino, I Will Miss You is like a narrative with vital details missing--an invitation to make up your own backstories for the snippets of music, which plod, soar, rock, waltz, or tiptoe. TOYS THAT KILL 7/26, BOTTOM LOUNGE Grim, ghoulish, and dogged, this San Pedro punk band actually seems to be getting more primitive with each record. Their new four-song EP, Flys (Asian Man), consists of unreleased tracks from the sessions for their previous albums, Control the Sun and The Citizen Abortion, and it's straightforward, satisfyingly furious stuff, right down to the stiff monotone cover of Wire's "I Am the Fly." The Dillinger Four headline. FOUR SHILLINGS SHORT 7/27, UNCOMMON GROUND Christy Martin and Aodh Og O'Tuama, a duo based in San Francisco, bring a playful hippie eclecticism to Irish folk. On their latest CD, Of Labour & Love, they share vocal duties and play a trunkload of instruments between them--hammer dulcimer, tin whistle, banjo, krummhorn, mandolin, dumbek, even sitar. They skewer stereotypes both American and Irish (and Irish-American, in "You're Not Irish"), and their borrowings from traditional Indian music on "Raga Pahari Dhun," "Spitting Cousins," and "Ramble Away" sound surprisingly natural and dignified.

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