Wedding Present, Crystal Skulls | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Wedding Present, Crystal Skulls 

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David Gedge is the only original member of the recently re-formed Wedding Present, and he's still got plenty of his old bile on the new Take Fountain (Manifesto): last year Gedge broke up with Sally Murrell, his longtime girlfriend and collaborator in the post-WP project Cinerama, and that's stoked the fire under his already simmering cauldron of bitter rhetorical questions and nasty double entendres. (In 1991's "Rotterdam," for instance, he succinctly describes lusting after someone whose intelligence he doesn't respect: "I wanted you but not the way you think.") The new Weddoes record, their first since Saturnalia in 1996, employs all of Cinerama's personnel (except Murrell, of course) and many of that band's characteristic film-music gestures, like spaghetti-western horns (on "Interstate 5") and lugubrious strings ("Perfect Blue"). Even the album title is a movie reference: "Take Fountain," as in Fountain Avenue, was supposedly Bette Davis's advice to aspiring actresses coming to Hollywood. I just wish Gedge would've brought back a little more of the cathartic passion from the Wedding Present of yore--though the lyrics on the new disc are still blistering, only a few tunes, like "Ringway to SeaTac" and "It's for You," have the buzzing guitars, aching melodies, and throbbing rhythms that used to propel them. I know this makes me a bad person, but I like Gedge better the more angry and jealous he gets--and this time around, the relatively levelheaded music just makes him sound resigned. With any luck, though, he'll give his back catalog a good therapeutic workout onstage.

On Blocked Numbers (Suicide Squeeze), the debut album from Seattle's Crystal Skulls, the reedy croon of front man Christian Wargo rests uneasily amid the band's sophisticated, guitar-driven pop--like Morrissey or Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon, Wargo creates tension by singing in a conspicuously nonrock style against the harder grain of the music. The arrangements are solid, despite some cloying new-wave synth parts, and the tunes are pretty, but Wargo's overreliance on a handful of melodic phrases transforms what initially sounds elegant into something glib and tedious.

Saturday's show is sold out, but tickets are still available for a second show on Sunday; see separate Treatment item. The Crystal Skulls also play a free in-store Saturday at 3 PM at Reckless Records, 3157 N. Broadway, 773-404-5080. Sat 4/23, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, sold out.

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