Sally Timms with Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire

Wednesday, Jan. 19; Side Door

For the best distillation of the beauty of Sally Timms' music, you're advised to pull out René Spencer Saller's review of Timms' Cowboy Sally's Twilight Laments for Lost Buckaroos (RFT, Dec. 15). But we'll repeat the kicker of the review, for it captures the essence of Sally Timms: "Her voice is one big gorgeous fuck-you, and it thrills as it chastens."

We're in the cold, boring season for St. Louis music, and this show takes place on a Wednesday night when nothing else is going on -- you need a midweek drink anyway. For true incentive, though, you need to hear Timms sing.

Perhaps you already have: it's her voice that graces many of the great Mekons songs of the past 15 years. After making her first appearance as a member of the longest-running Brit-punk band (they've been recording once again in Chicago, where Timms and fellow Mekon Jon Langford reside) on 1985's Fear and Whiskey, she graduated from deputy to full-fledged member, then proceeded to floor us later that decade on the heavenly "Ghosts of American Astronauts," from their So Good It Hurts, where her brushed-chrome tone somehow managed to uncover grace inside the bumpy words "Nixon sucks a dry martini."

Buried deep in this grace is a flippant undercurrent as Timms lobs her velvet voice into the audience. Some of the most affecting moments occur when she does this, though; often self-consciousness is closely followed by transcendence as she loses herself in the song. She'll rotely start a number she's sung hundreds of times, such as John Anderson's "Wild and Blue", and sing it like she just doesn't care. But then -- and you can watch it happen -- her face will soften as magic displaces mischief, and immediately Sally Timms has vanished and her voice is in charge. There's no better moment in music than when this happens, and her resistance makes the inevitable submission all the more powerful.

Timms opens for the ever-wonderful Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire, also from Chicago, a group we seem to highlight in one fashion or another every time they come through. They combine elements of Western swing, ragtime, early Weillian cabaret and jazz, and they do so effortlessly and infectiously. The evening will no doubt be the highlight of the January calendar. (That isn't saying much, of course. This show would be the highlight of any month's calendar, though. Just go.)

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