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KatJonBand's ragged sound belies months of effort
By Jeff Pizek | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/24/2008 12:04 AM

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KatJonBand, "KatJonBand" (Carrot Top)

Chicagoan Jon Langford of English institution The Mekons and Kat Ex of Dutch veterans The Ex have hung in similar circles for decades. Each possesses a catalog marked by integrity, tenacity and progressive impulses, meaning both socially sympathetic politics and ever-evolving influences. Despite longtime familiarity, it wasn't until their 2004 pairing for an impromptu Amsterdam set that Langford and Ex decided to explore their musical correlation.

The duo collaborated sporadically, but it's still surprising that this self-titled debut as KatJonBand took several years to complete, Its 10 songs don't seem hastily slapped together, but a warm, ramshackle raggedness belies months of preparation. Among Langford on guitar, Ex on percussion and both singing with endearing accents poking through, there's an eerie sparseness lending vitality into upbeat rockers such as "Do You?" and "Machine Gun & The Ugly Doll."

The sarcastic likes of "Conquered" and "Crackheads Beware" are the closest to pop this gets, although the folky turns of "Limbo" and "Hey You Don't Love Me" are mighty tuneful. The experimental flavor is best felt in the Beatnik-y rap of "Moonscape" or in the atmospheric liberties the duo takes with traditional songs "Albion" and "Red Flag." As expected, a mature pulse of antiwar sentiment and relevant social concern courses throughout the diverse proceedings. Smart, sinewy, spiky and occasionally sonorous, "KatJonBand" is evidence that even while forging their own paths, sometimes punks should listen to their elders.

KatJonBand performs with The Coctails, Antietam and The Bitter Tears as part of Carrot Top Records' Sweet 16 Party at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. $15; proceeds benefit the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis. (773) 227-4433.

The World/Inferno Friendship Society, "Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century" (Chunksaah),

While still a cult attraction, Brooklyn's World/Inferno Friendship Society deserves a look from anyone fed up with the status quo. This nine-piece anarchist punk cabaret orchestra, currently featuring members of The Hold Steady and The Dresden Dolls, has crafted a singular sound that is only somewhat indebted to punk rock itself, but infused with proud DIY philosophy. For instance, they manage to keep a biographical concept album under 36 minutes long.

World/Inferno's latest focuses on the life of character actor Peter Lorre, beloved by cinephiles for playing bad guys in classics like "Mad Love" and "The Maltese Falcon," along with strangely sympathetic creeps in "M" and "Casablanca." The lyrics, most crooned by the suave but unpretentious Jack Terricloth, honor Lorre's public fame and private heartaches equally. The thespian's struggle with drug addiction is explored, along with his flight from Nazi Germany, financial woes and alienation from the acting community.

Fast-paced, irreverent rock rears its head most notably at the eye-popping climax of cinematic opener "Peter Lorre's Overture" and throughout the ready-for-Warped-Tour "Everybody Comes to Rick's." The disc shows greater influence overall from big band swing, torch songs, waltzes and Eastern European folk styles, reflecting the popular sounds of Lorre's heyday and his Austro-Hungarian Jewish roots. The music often feels cheerful due to rollicking horns, clarinet and piano, but Lorre's is ultimately a sad tale, one compassionately told and offered by the subversive Society as an example of human tragedy that can result in any era ruled by cash and constructed images.

The World/Inferno Friendship Society performs with Sheriff Scabs, Chris Connelly and Syndicate X at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago. $10. (773) 278-6600. Also with Dormlife, Dr. Ed and the Flu Shots and The Takeouts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Clearwater Theater, 96 W. Main St., West Dundee. $10-$12. (847) 836-8820.