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BENT NIGHTS Xina Xurner;'Shame That Tune'; Asgeir
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Vern Hester
2014-10-21

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As promised, Pilsen art rockers Xina Xurner returned here for a blowout at DIY space Babylawn Oct. 5 after the band high-tailed it to L.A. two years ago. Just done with his MFA at USC, vocalist Young Joon Kwak, life partner Mavin Astorga and bandmate Mr. 666 ( both on synths and treated sounds ) used a small window of time ( Kwak was headed off to Japan ) to pretty much annihilate the West Sde of Chicago.

Three years after first experiencing the band, I still can't figure Xina Xurner out. Kwak still performs in a hybrid Caligula/geisha/goth-flavored drag and it still didn't matter that I could not decipher his distorted vocals. ( He still sounds like a theremin with a soul. ) Regardless, it was clear that Xina Xurner is not about being deciphered or analyzed, but experienced. With Astorga and 666 going apeshit with the treated noise, this avant industrial/metal/disco concoction ignited a booty-shaking melee that actually rocked the building to the foundations.

Although just as action-packed, but for altogether different reasons, the ongoing musical game show "Shame that Tune" celebrated its 49th edition at The Hideout Inn Oct. 10. With host Brian Costello, "life coach" Nick Rouley and composer/vocalist Abraham Levitan with tongue firmly in cheek, the subject for the evening was masculinity. The set-up is for an audience member to share an embarrassing anecdote from the past and, with the help of a spinning wheel ( the selections this time included manly titles like "Boys II Men" and "The Backstreet Boys" ), Levitan composes a song on the spot on said embarrassment.

The jokes were saucy from the jump ( For example, Levitan cracked, "When I was a teenager I was a backstreet boy for a while. I made a LOT of money" ) but once the stories started, the night went completely off the rails. How stories about a drunk Romanian 5-year-old peeing in her communion gown, a Russian 9-year-old hurling his browned undies out of a window overlooking a piazza in Rome, or a hot-to-trot teenager picking the worst time to have her genitals waxed had anything to do with masculinity was obviously irrelevant. The packed crowd certainly got what it came for ( high-octane rude comedy ), while the winner of the competition got a cookie.

Far more serene and sedate we have one Asgeir Trausti Einarsson, or simply Asgeir. After conquering Iceland with several hit singles and winning multiple European music awards, he hit Lincoln Hall Oct. 12 in support of his full-length debut, In the Silence ( One Little Indian Records ).

Asgeir's brand of pop rock feels confessional, delicate and lightly melancholic, and he sings in a crystalline falsetto like a calm angel gliding into the pearly gates. The man's voice is pure perfection, and the songs and production are clearly designed to romance it. U.S. ears weened on vulgar top-40 hooks may have to attune themselves to the CD's pristine and subtle elegance—but that can't be a bad thing.

"Going Home" is so hushed, mournful and quietly dramatic that it's damn near impossible not to get drunk on the sound and sadness of it. "Order in the Silence" could be tagged "cathedral rock," with its massive choir-like feel, while "Torrent" takes all that aural softness and whirls it into a cushy cyclone.

If In the Silence comes across as solemn, Asgeir's sold-out show was anything but that. The opener, Iceland's Low Rider, literally turned the evening on its head with Ryan Karaszija's arresting and soaring vocals and the band's soft whooshing soundscapes creating a surreal symphony. Low Rider is a new band that definitely should be investigated the next time it comes to Chicago.

By the time Asgeir got on stage, the bar had already been set impossibly high. In front of a packed room full of rowdy fans, he seemed timid and embarrassed at the reaction to his music and looks ( a sweet-natured, hirsute, tattooed, cuddly, Nordic hunk ). The wolf whistles and comments flew all night from the crowd ( "Take it off!!!," "Are you real?," "THANK YOU SINGING ICELANDIC GOD!!!!" ) but it didn't stop him from blowing the crowd clear out of the room, and doing it with quiet precision. This was a show where the crowd, juiced on hooch and expectation, actually came to listen, and the star of the show—unassuming and bashful as he seemed—gave them what they wanted. When he whipped out his lilting hit "King and Cross" near the finish, the vibe in Lincoln Hall was close to locking two hundred feral cats in a room with a ton of catnip.

Heads up: After a 40-year absence, groundbreaking queer country pioneers Lavender Country will be playing Schuba's Nov. 23. Also upcoming; out balladeer Sam Smith will play the UIC Pavilion Jan. 23 and peroxide-dipped queer '80s pin-up favorite Billy Idol hits The Riviera Feb. 7. Tickets are already on sale.


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