STREET SMARTS? Would you pay money to watch a paranoid schizophrenic sing the same song over and over again, albeit with different lyrics, backed by a pre-programmed Technics synthesizer? The notion is a lot less far-fetched than you think; if the idea turns you on, you'll get your chance this week when Wesley Willis comes to town.
For the uninitiated, Willis was just another six-foot-four, 320-pound homeless schizophrenic living on the streets of Chicago, drawing and selling sketches to anyone who would buy them as a means of keeping his considerable belly full of food (that, plus assistance from the government). Somewhere along the line he acquired his beloved Technics KN2000 keyboard and began writing songs, performing them on the streets alongside his drawings. He was soon "discovered," given his own art show by the guy who discovered him, and eventually taken in by said gentleman, adopted as his roommate. His new roommate just happened to have ties to the local burgeoning rock community, and before long he was opening shows for anyone who would have him. He began selling self-released tapes and CDs of his music, which he churned out at a frantic pace (seven full-length releases in a single year was not uncommon). Every release had 24 songs, and every song clocks in at just under three minutes. It all sounds pretty charming so far, huh?
The problem is this: Wesley Willis has no musical talent. The majority of his songs fall into specific categories: there's the "I Whipped (Somebody's) Ass" songs ("I Wupped Batman's Ass"; "I Whipped Mighty Thor's Ass"); the songs that are actually about asses, be it his own or an animal's ("The Vultures Ate My Dead Ass Up"; "Taste a Bulldog's Ass"); the songs about life's little follies ("I Killed Your Daddy After Midnight"; "I'm Sorry That I Got Fat"); and finally, there are the songs about famous people, either real-life or fictional ("Jello Biafra"; "Apollo Creed") and his songs about bands ("Urge Overkill"; "Bon Jovi"). Every song uses the same keyboard backing--the "demonstration" mode of his Technics--and every song is virtually the same. For example, his songs about bands follow this formula: the name of the band, where he saw them, the venue's capacity, how much they rocked, the band's name chanted over and over, then the words, "Rock over London/Rock on Chicago," followed by a common advertising slogan. End of song. Repeat ad nauseam.
Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Wes is off the streets, ostensibly making enough money to get by on his own. I'm glad that he's able to perform the music that quells the "mean voices" in his head, the result of an excruciatingly brutal upbringing on Chicago's south side. In fact, my problem with the whole scenario doesn't lie with Willis himself, but rather his audience. After all, why would anyone go see a Wesley Willis show but for its comedic value? An opportunity for jaded hipsters to have a good laugh at his expense, at the expense of a mentally damaged individual? Wesley Willis is a freak show for the Now Generation, and that's all he is from an audience's perspective. It might be mildly humorous for about five minutes, but after that it just becomes rather sad.
If that's your idea of a good time, then go forth and witness Wesley Willis on Monday, February 19, at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. The Country Teasers open the show at 9 p.m. For additional information call 884-0874.
DROOL ON THIS: That fine band from Denton, Texas, Slobberbone, returns to town for a gig this weekend. The band is still touring on the strength of last year's excellent Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, on New West Records. Though the band is filed under alt-country at your local record store, the Pogues-ish "Meltdown" and aptly titled Replacements ode "Placemat Blues" stand proudly alongside the jaunty mandolin-fueled "Trust Jesus" and the bluegrass-on-moonshine vibe of "Lazy Guy." There's nothing new here, no bold revelations to be unearthed; just a kick-ass album by a kick-ass band of Texas rowdies. And they kick ass live.
Check 'em out at 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 18, at Plush, at the southwest corner of Fourth Ave. and Sixth St. Fourkiller Flats opens the show, and you can call 798-1298 for more info.
LETTER ROCK: From the ashes of Taint sprung the Elemenopees, one of the Naked Pueblo's better punk bands. Comprised of singer Travis Peters, guitarists Brian and Cameron Combs (don't call either one of 'em "Puffy"), bassist Darren Santos, and drummer Robin Roberts, the band has been increasingly wowing the crowds with their upbeat and energetic take-nothing-too-seriously brand of punk rock, maaaan. Enjoy debauchery? You've come to the right place, as the Elemenopees take over the stage at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. at 9 p.m. on Friday, February 16. Left Unsaid and Good Talk Russ (a Vacation reference, if I'm not mistaken) open the show. Cover is $5, and you can call 622-8848 with any questions you may have.
PICK IT UP: Billed as an Acoustic Evening at Plush, bluegrass guitarist extrordinaire Peter McLaughlin teams up with his buddies Chris Brashear and Tom Rozum for a performance this weekend. McLaughlin, a Tucson resident, won the National Flatpicking Guitar Championship in 1988. He performs regularly with the Flagstaff-based Flying South and Laurie Lewis, with whom Rozum has collaborated as well. Brashear is a veteran of Kentucky Rose, Frog Mountain and The Perfect Strangers. The trio will be playing an early show at 8:30 p.m. and a late show at 10:30 p.m., both on Friday, February 16. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Hear's Music and The Folk Shop, with a $2 discount for members of In Concert!, KXCI, TFTM, TKMA, and DBA. They'll be $12 at the door. For more info call 798-1298.