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BENT NIGHTS: mtvghosts, Lincoln Durham
by Vern Hester

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After watching them cut up onstage at last months Glitter Creeps blow-out at The Empty Bottle ( April 20 ), I still can't figure out local punk-poppers mtvghosts. Fronted by vocalist Donnie Love, who performs in drag ( well, he is pretty ), the band wallows in '60s pop while demonstrating a deft art-rock edge. I can't tell if this is meant as a joke or heady art, and I suspect this bunch likes it that way. The new CD Five 5ides of Time ( available on bandcamp ) didn't really clear things for me.

The opener, "Daylight on the Square," is awash in whooshes of OOOOOOOOOhs and AAAAAAAAhs, and sounds like a great vintage '60s summer single from The Association ( "Cherish," "Never My Love" ) or The Dave Clark Five ( "Happy Together" ). "Daylight" is sweet, goofy and innocent but "I'm Seeing Stars" takes all that fizz and turns it on its head. Worthy of oddball nut Ezra Furman, "Stars" is quirky, bouncy and engaging to a fault and calls to mind Paul Simon at his most playful ( "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Allergies" ). "Gypsy Diver"—which is catchy, melodious and airy—is really a wicked little joke. The song is not an actual song but a hook repeated like a loop, and it made me want to swat Love on his fanny for his impish mischief.

If the album comes off like something from another era, the band's onstage wallow in subversive comedy was for the here and now. Love flounced and frolicked about like an emancipated cheerleader but with deadpan, baby faced guitarist James Matkovich standing next to him, they looked quaint and absurd. As Love flashed his panties and whipped his hair back and forth, doing his best That Girl impersonation ( Marlo Thomas would have been envious ), Matkovich glared at the audience blankly while puckering up and providing those aforementioned AAAAAAAAhs. To say the least, mtvghosts are clearly the fun we did not have back in the 1960s.

At the opposite extreme, we have New Jersey-by-way-of-Texas rocker Lincoln Durham and his new album, Revelations of a Mind Unraveling ( Droog Records ). Where mtvghosts create music upholstered in soft billowing pop, Durham strips his blues/Appalacian-soul/rockabilly/roots rock down to a searing, stew of beat and breath.

As displayed by his packed show at Schuba's May 13 and the new album, Durham—who is essentially a one man band ( he accompanied himself on guitar, harmonica, and drums )—is all about unfussy uncomplicated big noise. With a voice like the crack of an old bullwhip dipped in whiskey, at first listen he sounds like the number-one candidate to write "The Great American Murder Ballad Songbook." After a look at his lyrics there is nothing so extreme, but his subjects tend to grapple with holding onto ones soul, facing down regret, and owning mistakes. In short, Revelations of a Mind Unraveling is not a pop lark for sissies.

"Suffer My Name" is the kind of barbed, unrefined white blues we rarely get anymore outside of John Hasbrouck or Honey Hole Johnson while "Bones" is so mournful and unadorned it sounds positively haunted. The kicker here is the hair-raising "Creeper"—with its tone of regret, emotional torture, redemption and an aura of heavy guilt reminiscent of the protagonist of the chestnut "The House of the Rising Sun." "I've been creeping in the shadows with the wretched and I've got to get away," Durham croons, but for all his bare-knuckled determination and manic flailing, he still sounds like a lost cause.

On stage at Schuba's, Durham kept things light by making merry in his intros. "This song is about lollipops and rainbows," he cracked before tearing into a ferocious take on "Bones," and he was right to do that. If Durham's music is hard edged and uncompromising watching him perform it is a trip in itself. Rail thin, dressed in black with his clothes hanging off his body, and crowned with a drooping Mohawk, Durham flung himself into each song with such feverish intensity that it was both compelling and off putting. Clearly this man is speaking for our troubled times, which is pretty disturbing in itself.

Heads up: Pioneering queer rockers Pansy Division play Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport Ave., for a 10 p.m. show with local faves Strawberry Jacuzzi opening Friday, May 20. Cathy Richardson hits City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., for a show on Friday, May 27, while Against Me!—fronted by trans woman Laura Jane Grace—will play The Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Sunday, June 19.

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