I have a recurring fantasy wherein U.S. Maple appears on American Idol: the look of repulsion on that smug Brit's face as he witnesses Al Johnson's lurching gait, his dainty ears subjected to that adenoidal, rasping, incomprehensible wheeze mmm, I can almost taste it. Not to mention the stuttering, interlocking double-guitar attack of Mark Shippy and Todd Rittman, a Herculean feat of perverse mathematical precision if ever one was. They'd last about 14 seconds, but it would be sooo worth it. Sigh. Actually, for all their perceived radicalism, U.S. Maple shouldn't be too disturbing to anyone familiar with Lick My Decals Off, Baby-era Captain Beefheart or Song of the Bailing Man-period Pere Ubu But, really, how many of us can there be? Truly, I've never seen a band polarize open-minded audiences more completely than U.S. Maple. And when they open for poppier indie-rock groups, they've been known to turn flocks of normally docile Rivers Cuomo look-alikes into bloodthirsty lynch mobs. Those disillusioned secular humanists still unrecovered from having awakened in a political landscape wherein you can have any flavor you want as long as it's Bush should take comfort from the relative pluralism of a music market that allows U.S. Maple to roam within earshot of decent, God-fearing citizens. Their version of Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" on the recent Purple On Time CD (Drag City) is a wonder, aching, delicate and numbly psychotic. U.S. Maple is the musical equivalent of a drunken, hideous ogre drawing forth a river of blood during vain attempts to scrape a gnarled fingernail over an itch in the middle of its gargantuan, boil- covered back. Or something like that. Radical Houston hip-hop freaks Freedom Sold open, along with Bring Back the Guns. -- Scott Faingold
Friday, December 10, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-864-2727.
Radney Foster has never quite attained the same level of acclaim as some of his Nashville peers from the mid-'80s. Granted, he doesn't have Dwight Yoakam's film credits, Steve Earle's criminal record or Lyle Lovett's hair. Maybe his clean-cut, bespectacled look makes him appear too normal. Still, his music shouldn't be overlooked. From his early days as half of the popular duo Foster & Lloyd through his now-dozen years as a solo artist, Foster has crafted an impressive legacy of crisply melodic country tunes. The Pride of Del Rio, however, refuses to become just another hat on Music Row. His songs often venture effortlessly into rock, pop and R&B. But it's in a live setting that Foster really lets his restless musical spirit loose. He's apt to take his biggest solo hit, "Just Call Me Lonesome," and rework it into something fresh. -- Michael Berick
Tuesday, December 14, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-529-9899.
G.W.A.R., with Dying Fetus and All That Remains
Before puke-punk legend G.G. Allin died of a drug overdose in 1993, critics penned disclaimers about his gory, self-mutilation-driven live shows. One pundit wrote, "Unless you're trying out for a very tough detergent commercial, don't sit anywhere near the stage." The same warning holds true for twisted theatrical metal band G.W.A.R., although the fluids flying through the air at a G.W.A.R. show are manufactured by the band, along with most of its outrageous entrails-esque costumes. Originally the brainchild of art students from Virginia, G.W.A.R. has continued its quest for world domination for the past 16 years, spewing goo all over fans every night before getting back on the bus to gobble down sandwiches, smoke joints and secretly assert that R.E.M. is a brilliant band. Don't hold that against them, though -- it might just be a side effect of eating baby brains or something. -- Niki D'Andrea
Tuesday, December 14, at the Engine Room, 1515 Pease, 713-654-7846.
It took me a while (okay, about two years) to finally sit down and listen to the first album from Clarence Greenwood, better known as Citizen Cope. The questions kept me away. Who is this dude? What kind of music does he do, anyway? Will it be one of those albums that I won't like even though all the other music enthusiasts with refined tastes think it's so choice? Well, after a long period of doubt, I finally listened to his self-titled 2002 debut and found it to be, well, interesting. At first listen, the guy does sound like he comes from the Everlast School of Postmodern Folksinging. Here is a former member of the hip-hop community (he was the DJ for the group Basehead) dropping downtrodden, world-weary, Bukowski-esque acoustic ditties -- all with a hip-hop attitude and an unusual dub-influenced finesse. And let it be said that the man does drop some tunes that are loose and funked-up enough to grab your attention. -- Craig D. Lindsey
Monday, December 13, McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-529-9899.
AM60, with Rhonda Roberts, Drop Trio, Southern Backtones and DJ Jeffrey "King of Grief" Thames
Indie-pop foursome AM60 was facing a dilemma: Front man Chris Root assembled the group in New York City, cut a demo and shipped the music overseas for consideration. A small U.K. company bit. In the meantime, his other band, the Mosquitoes, landed a record deal and started touring with Air and Sugar Ray in the States. Then the BBC started playing AM60, and the guys were suddenly in demand in the land of bangers and mash. What to do? Root juggled both projects for a while, but he's now focusing his attention on AM60, which just released its U.S. debut, Big as the Sky. Which also describes the range of this bill, as opening acts include ukulele chanteuse Rhonda Roberts, jazz-funk fusionists Drop Trio, rockers Southern Backtones (see this week's Local Rotation for a take on their new album) and melancholy KPFT record-jockey DJ Jeffrey "King of Grief" Thames spinning the sad songs that say so much between sets. -- Michael Gallucci and John Nova Lomax
Sunday, December 12, at the Proletariat, 903 Richmond, 713-523-1199.