Downtown Music

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February 23, 2004 // UPDATED 2:58 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

Young love/insanity

Not sure if your boy- or girlfriend can handle the complete, chaotic complex package that is the true you? (Smooth operators and functional folks: skip ahead to "Urge Overkill.")

Here's a good way to find out: take them to see U.S. Maple. These guys can straight-up rock, but they never stay smooth long. Instead, the antirock-conventioneers improvise, wheeze and whoop -- vacillating between pure pandemonium and subtle swooning.

Either that potential life partner will ditch you halfway through the show, thinking you're totally psychotic, or you'll both click so completely with the arrhythmia of the evening that you'll be stuck together forever.

It's a crazy litmus test, but I guarantee it. (Well, it would've worked for my husband and me, but I must confess that when we first saw them play we were way past that tender stage of trying to frighten one another away.)

Lucky for the rest of you looking for love and needing to scare away the falsies, U.S. Maple is touring in promotion of their newest release and first collection of love songs, "Purple On Time." The album even includes a cover of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" turned into a sort of haunting, twisted love song a stalker might leave on a victim's answering machine.

"I always thought that 'Lay Lady Lay' was one of Dylan's more eccentric songs," lead singer Al Johnson explained. "When I was growing up, I remember hearing it on the radio quite a bit, and thinking it was a bit misogynist. For us to tackle 'Lay Lady Lay' is like us trying to play the French National Anthem. I mean, it's so far from where we're really at."

It's also the only song on the album that has clear-cut lyrics. U.S. Maple songs have to be listened to as a whole and not as words attached to a musical background. Lines like, "or get your stitches/from your brother's rainbow bomb" and "young hands put serious meat on me" might inspire restraining orders and pepper spray if read aloud and out of context, but coupled with the music on "Purple On Time" they convey love.

Understanding a U.S. Maple song takes "reading between the lines" to a whole new level. (Something a the mate of a high-maintenance soul needs to be able to do.)

Even better than the album, though, is seeing U.S. Maple perform live. Johnson, a veteran of the Chicago theatre scene, delivers his lines with all the panache of a tribal shaman, strutting like a chicken and waving his bicycle-gloved-hands about his head like he was swatting flies.

"When you see this band live, the show is different every single time," Johnson said. "It just can't be done the same way twice. A lot of times, we're just trying to rescue the songs, and rescue the set -- it's like we're trying to keep these songs from falling over into a ravine."

Ah, it's just too bad they weren't here in town for Valentine's Day.

Friday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m.

First Avenue's 7th Street Entry, 701 1st Ave. N.

$7. 332-1775.

Sounds like Slayer, tastes like chicken

I have a soft spot for any band with the same name as a Lloyd Kaufman film, and Cannibal Corpse is no exception. I don't know if there is any direct conne- ction between the band and "Cannibal Corpse: The Musical," but the subject matter of their hilariously dark music (monsters, mutilation and pickled testicles) is so similar to that of Kaufman's hilariously dark films (monsters, mutilation and pickled testicles) that I'm thinking this is just more than coincidence.

Life's just too short to take such things seriously -- it's much better to sit back and enjoy the show.

(P.S. This is an especially great show to take in the night after a former love interest fails their U.S. Maple litmus test.)

Saturday, Feb. 28, 5 p.m.

The Quest, 110 N. 5th St.

$14.50. 338-3383.

Urge Overkill

They're back! Despite swearing to never play together again, Chicago's Urge Overkill is once more hitting the First Avenue stage, no doubt bringing their matching medallions and Neil Diamond dance moves with them.

This swank trio is sure to bring out the woman in just about anyone who attends this show, so make sure you pick your companions wisely.

Friday, Feb. 27, 6 p.m.

First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N.

$10 advance, $12 at the door. 332-1775.

Holly Day can be reached at