Showbox at 6 p.m.
Wed., April 14, with Grandaddy, the Fire Theft, and Saves the Day. $22.50.
From the mid- to late '90s, Braid defined truck-stop, lover-boy emo-core, and this wasn't a bad thing at all. The quartet delighted heartbroken Jawbreaker and Jawbox fans in a way those bands' successors, Jets to Brazil and Burning Airlines, steadfastly refused to. Braid's inevitable, far too ballyhooed breakup— necessitating not only the customary farewell tour, but a final-show live disc and a posthumous double B-sides album—paved the way for doppelgänger offshoot Hey Mercedes: frontman Bob Nanna, bassist Todd Bell, drummer Damon Atkinson, and a carousel of second guitarists. Unsurprisingly, little really differed between Braid and Mercedes, with two critical exceptions: Nanna dumped a helluva lot of sugar into Braid's snappy, dueling-guitar gas tank, and many fans stopped giving a crap. So as high profile as this tour looks from the outside, it's really a lame-duck, baby-smooching last run. Hey Mercedes will (temporarily?) cease to exist shortly after its completion to make way for, you guessed it, Braid Reunion Madness! Is this desperation? A cynical money-making ploy? The fulfillment of a labor of love the boys never quite got out of their system? Maybe a little of all three, but given that all indie brats would stubbornly prefer to celebrate the old than embrace the new—I'm just as guilty, always pitting Drive Like Jehu against Hot Snakes—people will come to the Braid shows, Ray. Oh, people will come. Still, tonight's Mercedes floor show should be carefree fun, if lacking the comparative disregard to formula Braid delivered. ANDREW BONAZELLI
Studio Seven at 8:30 p.m.
Wed., April 7, with the Lawnmowers and Dorkweed. $7.
Every year a crop of brats turns 16, drops their TRL habit for an after-school job, and strolls the mall with an extra 50 bucks. These days the gallerias pedal Stooges T-shirts, London Calling patches, and pre-safety-pinned pogo pants, so every year there are several hundred new bands made up of part-time burger flippers who think they discovered garage punk. Two or three years ago, Jessica Reynoza, Alex Nowicki, and Richie James Eaton—the kids in the Willowz—could have been those kids, but legend has it that they were long familiar with Blondie and the Sonics. They're from SoCal and the frontman's mom was friendly with Henry Rollins, so they were born cool. But whether you buy it, get born into it, or receive it as a hand-me-down, a garage-rock revival is still a revival, and the songs on the Willowz's Dionysus-issued self-titled debut are definitely recycled. Guitarist/singer Eaton's highly imperfect swagger is swift and snotty, so coupled with drummer Nowicki's stomp, "Get Down" is a prototypical retro-rock shaker that's about as enjoyable and immediately recognizable as "Hotel Yorba" was a few years ago. "Put Together" makes more than one allusion to the Flamin' Groovies, "Keep on Looking" is aching to be a psychedelic Cream-er, and the acoustic-only "I Wonder" (featured in the flick Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) rips off Ray Davies—or Radiohead, depending on how you hear it. Either way, this is the new stuff, and it sounds an awful lot like the old stuff. You shouldn't be surprised. LAURA CASSIDY
Paramount Theater at 8 p.m.
Tues., April 13. $25.50/$28.50.
Cringing my way through Educated Guess (Righteous Babe), I can't help but wonder why Ani DiFranco is so embarrassing. My stint as an Ani-phile has something to do with it, but I've reconnected painlessly with other youthful passions. So maybe it's the little girl voice and the violent guitar, working together to keep Ani's heart welded to her sleeve. The trademark guitar is there, but Educated Guess also has a few new tricks, like the striking, drone-ish "Bubble" and a "prepared"-sounding, slightly out-of-tune guitar throughout. And the juxtaposition of hushed baby-doll harmonies (all done by DiFranco, who as usual sings and plays everything) with beat-up acoustic actually lends itself to the melancholic, frustrated vibe. Then there's the subject matter itself. "Animal" hits several favorite liberal folksinger themes (capitalism, religion, the environment), offering a generic critique of America. "Grand Canyon" is equally cringe-worthy, partly because it is spoken word, which often borders dangerously on smugness, partly because of lyrics like "Coolest f-word ever [feminism] deserves a fucking shout!" But while a line like "Why can't all decent men and women/call themselves feminists?" may sound trite, its relevance becomes evident in interview after interview with reputedly strong female artists who insist that they're not man-hating feminists. Embarrassing or not, Ani still reaches because she's willing to spill her guts—and to spell out complex issues in easily understandable ways. RACHEL DEVITT