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CONCERT REVIEWS X and The Damned, Gogol Bordello, Bettye Lavette and more
by Vern Hester

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If the concert scene in Chicago this past May was characterized by gloom, dampness and a scarcity of choices, the shows in June can be appreciated for a sudden turnaround in eclecticism, quality and expansiveness.

So many huge must-see shows hit the city in the first two weeks of the month ( Ariana Grande, Wu Tang Clan, Empire of the Sun, George Clinton and Parliement/Funkadelic, The Dead and Company ) that one could be forgiven for having eardrum fatigue—even if you did wear plugs. Of the shows I actually did attend, I had a hard time digesting so much variety and class in such a short period of time.

First was a double bill with punk legends X and The Damned at the House of Blues on May 30. The iconic Exene Cervenka fronted the original line-up of X ( John Doe on bass, D.J. Bonebreak on drums, and Billy Zoom on guitar ) for a tidy rip through the band's 40-year history including "White Girl," "Nausea" and "In this House I Call Home." Then Dave Vanian sauntered out sporting elegant Goth dinner wear to the theme of the tv show The Avengers ( which seemed apt ) to lead bandmates Captain Sensible ( on guitar ), Paul Gray( on bass ), Pinch ( on drums ), and recently returned original member Monty Oxymoron ( on keyboards ) for a set focused on The Damned's 1979 album Machine Gun Ettiquette ( on Chiswick Records ). The near-capacity crowd, which was made up largely of middle agers danced and sang along loudly the entire evening.

The next night queer rocker/painter/video darling/artiste Seth Bogart hosted a gallery opening for his latest project, "100 Toothbrushes," which featured an array of witty toothbrush sculptures bearing images of everyone from Betty Boop to Dolly Parton to Klaus Nomi. The opening, which took place at The Soccer Club, 2923 N. Cicero Ave., not only featured the unveiling of his new work and a companion book but featured Bogart performing new songs which he is in the process of recording. The packed gallery turned into a dance party with Bogart singing the new "David's Mouth" and "Do You Brush?" The gallery showing closes Friday, June 28.

On an entirely different note, rocker Eugene Hutz brought his gypsy punks Gogol Bordello to the Riviera Theater on June 1 to celebrate their 20tth anniversary. Regardless of the band's boasting of being from "the Motherland" ( Eastern Europe, in this case ), it now sports a decidedly international line-up. ( The band now includes members from Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, Ecuador, and New York. ) Despite all that mouth, the show was just another excuse to plow through the discography ( including "Alcohol," "Trans-Continental Hustle," and "When the Trickster starts a Poking" ) and a few well-chosen covers ( Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel," Iggy Pop's "Real Wild Child" and The Cramps' "I Can't Find My Mind" ). Hulz also chose to flip the bird at his imagined haters, fling his arms about and spin around on one leg while playing guitar. The fans in the packed theater ate it up.

On a more reverential note, storied legend Bettye LaVette headlined the 36th Annual Chicago Blues Festival to a full house at Pritzker Pavilion on June 8. Apart from singing new material from her latest album, Things have Changed ( on Verve Records ), she offered a mixed selection of her discography including her first hit at 16, "My Man...he's a Loving Man," the '60s- era "Let Me Down Easy," a reading of George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity?" and a raucous version of Lucinda Williams' "Joy."

On June 14, platinum-selling havey-metal Grammy winners Mastodon hit Northerly Island to celebrate the 10th anniversary of itsr breakthrough album Crack the Skye ( on Reprise Records ). Despite looking like a a hardcore motorcycle gang, vocalists Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders spoke eloquently about the band's Chicago connections ( they recorded a live version of Crack the Skye at the Aragon Ballroom ) while subtly putting across a political message ( bassist Bill Kelliher wore a T-shirt that read "No More Forced Motherhood" ). Despite all the politeness, Mastodon still tore through a set filled with rage and fury ( "Oblivion," "The Last Baron," "Mother Puncher" ) while the fans screamed, pumped their fists in the air and stayed to the finish in the drizzling rain.

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