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The Bottle Rockets
Friday, Dec. 25; Hi-Pointe

By now you know the story: A year ago, the Bottle Rockets signed with Atlantic and released 24 Hours a Day, song-for-song their best record. They made the cover of No Depression, got a good review in Rolling Stone and then, with a speed that would impress NASA, they rocketed to oblivion. After a major tour with John Fogerty, the band lost bassist Tom Ray, and gigs have been catch-as-catch-can ever since. No matter how much success the Rockets deserve, their indelible ruralness, their flagrant honky-tonkness will forever doom them to the obscurity of great, raw and lasting American music.

Scott Taylor, who co-wrote "Welfare Music" and "Kerosene," once told me that Brian Henneman was the smartest person he'd ever met. Listening to a song like "Kerosene," I don't doubt it. The economy of the story is stunning, as is Henneman's delivery: He doesn't simply sing, he injects every syllable with some combination of pathos, rage, regret, empathy and judgment. Beneath his half aw-shucks, half aw-piss-off demeanor is a voice in touch with a deep well of expressiveness, with an instinct for the complexities of human character. His musical smarts run through his guitar playing as well. Perhaps you've seen him down at the guitar shop, playing the hell out of the axes with the look of a smith hammering a blade with secret satisfaction.

The Bottle Rockets are the definitive Midwestern band, which is not to regionalize them but merely to say that they passionately tell the story of this inescapable geography. They know this world and live it, criticize and celebrate it. Their shows can be silly and sloppy or pungent and searing -- mostly all of the above. Last year Henneman staged a Christmas-night show at the Hi-Pointe and began with a deadpan version of the Barney theme song. As he was joined by the rest of the band, the evening degenerated or transcended (depending on your vantage) into free-for-all requests, weird covers and mad-dog rock & roll. Henneman and Co. are at it again this Christmas evening at the Hi-Pointe. (RK)

El Bu'ho
Saturday, Dec. 26; Cicero's

One glance at his resume is enough to indicate that horn player El Bu'ho is the real deal, if you like fusion: stints in the '70s recording with Flora Purim, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius; touring musician in the early '80s with Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento; a stint in Col. Bruce Hampton's mid-'80s band; recording with Joe Cocker, the Memphis Horns, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Delbert McClinton. Perhaps most significant to a certain segment of the musical community, El Bu'ho was the horn player at Phish's 1996 Halloween show in Atlanta, a performance that is apparently legendary among Phish-heads as one of the band's best ever. He was also a member of the "legendary" 1997 Zambiland Orchestra concert that featured members of Phish, Leftover Salmon, Col. Bruce Hampton's Aquarium Rescue Unit and others. In a nutshell, the music of El Bu'ho, like that of many of the artists mentioned above, features meandering rock and jazz and blurs the line between the two. If you like fusion, either old-school or new-school, and can handle free-floating solos, noodling constructions and a bunch of crazy-legged dancers in your face, you'll dig this. If not, you won't. (RR)

Wolfie with the Teacups and Darling
Little Jackhammer
Monday, Dec. 28; Rocket Bar

They're clumsy and juvenile, loose and carefree, and when they performed at MRMF they stole my heart. Wolfie is a great bouncy pop band from Champaign, Ill., that comes alive the moment the first chord strikes the guitar; then the band members proceed to bounce and bounce -- well, at least bassist Joe Ziemba does, with some of the most inspired and happy-happy-joy-joy movements I've ever seen. The rest of the band provides the spring, in the form of guitars, drums and a perky keyboard that sounds straight out of the mid-'80s.

Wolfie's debut, Awful Mess Mystery (Mud), runs through 13 songs in 25 minutes; the band finds the melody, usually three or four fresh chords, runs through it a few times, leaps to the hook, bounces some more and then moves to the next song. Not much excitement on paper, but on record and live it's a marvel of brevity mixed with fun mixed with wide-eyed inspiration. The group's apparently in the middle of recording the next album and will perhaps have a new 45 to sell you at the show. Wolfie will make you happy. (RR)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Randall Roberts

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