On their fourth album, South Side pop punks Mest get serious -- up to a point. Always a hardworking, hard-touring group, bandleader and key songwriter Tony Lovato pushed himself to the edge of self-abuse in support of the band's last disc, the self-titled "Mest" (2003), continuing to perform after painful back surgery, and succumbing to drug and alcohol addiction.

New songs such as "Take Me Away (Cried Out to Heaven)" and "Cursed" chronicle that experience and Lovato's road to recovery -- "You'd be better off dead than lying here alone/ Desperately waiting for the beating of my heart," he sings in the latter. But otherwise, the formula is unaltered Mest, full of driving punk-rock beats, tuneful sing-along choruses and rollicking rhythm guitars that, if they never quite rise to the tunefulness of a Screeching Weasel, certainly are better than 90 percent of the pop-punk out there today, including Green Day in its lesser moments.

Unfortunately, bad luck still seems to be following the group: Mest was slated to launch "Photographs" on a tour supporting Social Distortion, but pulled out because its drummer is suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome. It will, however, play a special record release show at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield. For tickets, $11, call (773) 472-0449.



This notion may be greeted as heresy by some fans of rock's most famous supergroup and, in retrospect, the progenitor of the jam band nation. But during its brief existence in the late '60s, Cream -- the stellar trio of guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker -- was at its best as a singles band, crafting concise and creative psychedelic rock nuggets such as "Badge," "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room."

Stretching out onstage with its endless, improvised, blues-based jams, Cream could be as boring as the Dave Matthews Band at its snooziest. Yet this is the Cream that's re-created four decades down the road in a new, two-disc live set chronicling the senior-citizen musicians' reunion last May at London's Royal Albert Hall, where they played their last concert before that in November 1968.

The band's jams haven't gotten any more interesting in the years since: In his soloing, Clapton evokes a leisurely drive in a Lexus rather than an out-of-control rocket ride, with more of the mellow mediocrity of recent solo tours than the fiery explosions of his early days in the Yardbirds and Cream Mach I. And there's simply no reason in this lifetime for me or any other music lover to again endure Baker's century-long drum solo, "Toad." (All right, so it really clocks in at 10 minutes, but it feels like a century.)

Cream's best songs share space with its worst ("Pressed Rat and Warthog" or "Sleepy Time Time," anyone?); little is added to the many live recordings documenting the band in its original incarnation, and the whole package is essentially a useless, nostalgic souvenir of a concert we won't experience -- unless you're planning to travel to New York to see the group's next three reunion concerts Oct. 24-26 at Madison Square Garden.