Local Time

MEI LING LIST: The Rocket Bar used to be called Pablo's. It's next door to the Side Door/Hot Locust complex. When the highfalutin contingent got bored with Pablo's and moved on to wherever it is those people go to when they get sick of a place -- maybe a Hooters, maybe the Monkey Bar, maybe just back to the county -- the club tore out the beautiful booths (my one complaint), de- rehabbed the place and recast the space as a rock bar, replete with pinball machines, a pool table and 1950s Formica tables. Not as swank -- more rock.

With this physical alteration came also a philosophical one. Manager Jen Medeiros and booking guy (and member of Five Deadly Venoms) Jimmy Vavak have been scheduling mainly Chicago and St. Louis guitar bands and are apparently upping things a notch in the next few months and bringing in bands almost every weekend, starting this Saturday, Dec. 5, when Mei Ling performs with Chicago's American Heritage.

Mei Ling is a loose confederacy of musicians who perform in other bands: Eric Abert plays in Ring, Cicada; Jason House is also in Pave the Rocket; and the double guitar duties are fulfilled by ex-Back of Dave guys Nate Sander and Ben Wilson. If you're at all familiar with those bands, you can glean a bit of insight into Mei Ling's music: hard guitars battle with an equally hard rhythm section, and the resulting tense roller coaster jerks as it rolls. They get a few bonus points from me for remaining wholly instrumental and leaving the screaming emotion wrapped up in the tension of the music itself. And the music is tense: Distorted melodies ring from underneath the surface, chaotic patterns give way to simple, locked-in guitar grooves that fall apart as they sneak back underneath. If that description means nothing, here's a more digestible one: distorted instrumental rock, a tad confusing and deliberately unfocused, remarkable in both musicianship and fury. Highly recommended.

-- Randall Roberts