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House Of Tudor 

American Heartbreak, Joe Buck, Polkacide,

Wednesday, Feb 23 2000
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Drawing on '70s-style virility and Detroit grit, American Heartbreak performs fast-paced no-nonsense rock 'n' roll that rails against, rather than revels in, juvenile stupidity -- suicide, drugs, conceit -- while still retaining the violence and aggression that made youth exciting. On its new CD Postcards From Hell the band's frank, angry diatribes are tempered by a couple of alley-side ballads, which prove our five-piece trash-rockers are a might more versatile than better-known groups of the same ilk (like the Backyard Babies, who are performing Monday, Feb. 28, at the Bottom of the Hill). American Heartbreak celebrates its CD release on Friday, Feb. 25, with Bubble (featuring members of Faster Pussycat and Vixen) at 10:30 p.m. at Cat's Club. Tickets are $5; call 431-3332.


Named for the naive dishwasher-turned-hustler played by Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck brings that square-jawed sincerity and misplaced-country-boy silliness to its music without getting sucked in by the ill-fated desperation of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo. Even on the reproving "Easy Street," which opens the band's debut Remember the Alimony! with a singular heartaching twang, it is clear these boys don't plan on ever really feeling down-and-out. Their laments are too funny -- an empty bottle of rye and an asthma inhaler from Quebec, a lascivious girl with a drunk-frat-boy libido ("She's the pizza boy in every porno flick") -- and their rowdy good times are too irresistible (bar brawls, discovery of the long-sought second kind of woman, and that crazy "Hillbilly Thunder Machine"). Honestly speaking, the members of Joe Buck have no reason to feel low; they've got good looks, good pedal steel, little ladies with pints of lager waiting in the wings, and one of the most enjoyable little-big-city-country thangs going since the Old 97's decided to write pop songs. Joe Buck celebrates its record release on Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Verdi Club with the Giblet Drippers opening at 9 p.m. Admission is free; call 861-9199.


Disentangling elementary facts from the lurid fancies that streak Polkacide's 15-year career is no simple task. Any of the nine regular musicians (give or take a dozen) will tell you straight-faced that the band began at the behest of San Francisco's now-defunct Deaf Club, a nightspot for the hearing impaired; they will also tell you guitarist Impor Hisky was abused as a child by an evil uncle who danced around in sarong and tam-o'-shanter while playing Debussy on a Victrola, and that tuba/euphonium player Ed Ivey collects other people's tattoos. These are the last serious moments you'll get from these irrepressible polka-loons. I can tell you with hazy self-assurance that Polkacide, led by sax player and vocal haranguer Ward Abronski and lederhosen-and-shabby-sausage-wearing clarinet player Neil "The Basa" Kaitner, crashed the punk scene in 1985, causing all the kids, with their spiky hair and rusty safety pin earrings, to lose their shit and do-si-do to the hypersounding chutzpah of a Bavarian biergarten. I can tell you that they became a sort of local cult: Fans knew what props to bring (beer steins, intestine-encased meat, riding crops, feather dusters); they knew what to shout, and when (Abronski: "In heaven there's no beer!" Crowd: "That's why we drink it here!" and later, Abronski: "I love to hear the vendors shout!" Crowd: "Kielbasa, beer, and sauerkraut!"); fans even knew what costumes to wear (who can forget the petticoated Polka Sluts and the horrifying proliferation of short pants?). Friends in other cities didn't believe me at the time, and Polkacide never seemed to leave town, preserving all its oompah-salvation for San Francisco; also the band only recorded one album that I can recall, until last year. Hardcore 2/4 is, for an ol' punk rocker of Eastern European ancestry (or anyone else without interest in venture capital and other forms of mind-numbing despair), an alcohol-induced reverie that fits in your stereo. It bounds, twirls, lurches, and whirls through a crazy quilt of (de)arranged traditionals like "Emilia Polka" and "Zosia," and Polkacide originals like "Wiener Dog Polka," "Loser's Waltz (Requiem for a Spilled Beer)," and "Chicken (Duck) Dance." It is, on sober reflection, convincing evidence that Abronski may have really gone to the Berklee School of Music and that the Basa may have really won the Illinois Music Championship as a 6-year-old soloist, and that both should be locked away somewhere soft. But does Hardcore 2/4 capture the magic? Not unless strangers strip in your living room while tossing beer, deep-sea diving flippers, and plastic wiener dogs at your head; for that you'll have to join Polkacide as the band prepares for a -- gasp! -- tour in the spring and celebrates its 15th anniversary on Saturday, Feb. 26, at the CW Saloon with the Stitches and someone else or other opening at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7; call 974-1585.

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Silke Tudor

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