Led by a velvet-voiced organ player with a penchant for 1920s slang, England's Flaming Stars simmer between the overstated melodrama of the Tindersticks' Curtains and the understated savoir-faire of Mick Harvey's tribute to Serge Gainsbourg. On Ginmill Perfume, a collection of 15 songs hailing from albums released in England over the last five years, Max Decharne coos and snarls as drones from a Farfisa keyboard drip off the walls like candle wax; bossa nova bass lines and surf guitar riffs flicker in smoky climes rife with characters better suited to a dime-store paperback. The retro-refracted sound isn't wholly unique, but it is impeccably executed, and unlike other Bad Seeds aficionados, Decharne is exceptionally literate without taking himself too seriously, hence the punkabilly freakouts that make dancing almost unavoidable. The Flaming Stars perform on Thursday, May 2, at the Great American Music Hall with Iowaska and Phantom Limbs opening at 7:30 p.m. and Jello Biafra acting as MC. Tickets are $10-12; call 885-0750.
Cosmopolitan lotus-eater and fringe filmmaker Peter Sempel was born in Hamburg but raised in the Australian Outback, where he was deprived of utilities and befriended by a lazy kangaroo. The influence of his rearing can be felt as much as seen in the grainy compositions and quality of light with which Sempel builds his celluloid collages. While his subjects are most often intensely urban, larger than life, and neoteric by nature -- Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld, Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister, Berlin new wave diva Nina Hagen, 84-year-old mime/female impersonator Kazuo Ohno, the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Australian expat Nick Cave, actor Dennis Hopper, and filmmaker Kenneth Anger, to name a few -- the images Semple creates around them are as intimate, as strange, and as beautiful as an old sun-bleached photograph found in a forgotten starlet's attic. This month's 20-year retrospective begins with 1999's Nina Hagen: Punk and Glory, which presents 15 years' worth of footage and interviews with and about the oddball cosmic siren, and ends with 1988's Dandy, a post-punk musical very loosely based on Voltaire's Candide. Jonas in the Desert, an artful biography of independent film director Jonas Mekas -- which includes interviews with Andy Warhol, Al Pacino, Yoko Ono, and Martin Scorsese, among others -- is also scheduled, as well as shorts on Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Wim Wenders, Cave, and Bargeld (the last two make appearances in nearly every Sempel project). And, of course, the wonderful sound collages that accompany Sempel's work are also reflections of the company he keeps. Sempel will appear in person at the first two screenings, Tuesday, May 7, and Thursday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut (530 Bush). Two more screenings take place Tuesday, May 14, and Thursday, May 16. Tickets are $5; call 263-8760.