MEST, "PHOTOGRAPHS" (MAVERICK) ***
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
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.
CREAM, "LIVE AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL" (REPRISE) *
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
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
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.