Ike Reilly breaks the rules 

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Ike Reilly Assassination (Chicago), with L.P. (New York) and Wonderdrug
Wednesday, March 9, 9 p.m.
Melody Inn

Ike Reilly’s music is all over the map, and not surprisingly, so are his fans.

That’s fine with him.

“People are playing it on the radio in places, and people come to see us and they sing along, so I think in some ways we’re more accessible than many acts, because of the human quality, the uncontrived nature of it,” says the Chicago music scene veteran. “These songs connect with people, and a lot of different people, not just hard-core music fans but regular working people, high school and college kids, the 50-year-old rock ’n’ roll fan. We’re finding that we can’t really pigeonhole who’s coming to see us at all.”

The Ike Reilly Assassination, a quintet that plays tonight at the Melody Inn, is the latest venture in a career that stretches back to the 1980s.

After working with such bands as the Drovers and the Eisenhowers, Reilly took a hiatus from the music business in the mid-’90s. He returned in 2001 with a well-received album, Salesmen and Racists, and a subsequent tour that allowed his newly formed band to gel. He brought them into his studio for the follow-up, Sparkle in the Finish, released last year to more rave reviews.

The overall genre is power pop, for lack of a better term, with no shortage of sweet melodies, guitar hooks and Farfisa-type organ.

But often, from one individual tune to the next, the only common threads are Reilly’s hoarse vocals and his beat-writer penchant for cynical commentary, surreal imagery and odd characters.

The opener, “I Don’t Want What You Got (Goin’ On),” is wiseacre hip-hop in the vein of Beck. “The Ballad of the Choir Boy Bank Robber” is a blast of howling, lo-fi blues. And, edgy lyrics aside, “The Boat Song (We’re Getting Loaded)” is a bubbly slice of ’80s alternapop that would have fit nicely on any John Hughes soundtrack.

Although Reilly penned all the songs, he credits the disc’s artistic success to his band: guitarist Phil Karnatz, bassist Tommy O’Donnell and drummer Dave Cottini, originally of Indianapolis. Keyboardist Ed Tinley is an engineer and producer who, aside from having helmed both Reilly albums, has worked with Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins.

“The first record was a conglomeration of songs I recorded with different musicians, and we were perceived by people who hadn’t seen us or heard us as kind of a singer-songwriter trip,” Reilly says. “The difference now is, my band are the only musicians on this record, so it gives it a cohesiveness even though it’s all over the place. We have the ability to draw on pretty much any music, from the ’50s to now. We don’t force anything. It’s whatever serves the vibe of the song.”

Reilly’s lyrics are literary enough to merit Dylan comparisons, but aside from a few short stories, he has little interest in prose writing. He certainly has no designs on writing the Great American Novel.

“I don’t have the attention span for that,” he says. “That’s why I’m in a rock ’n’ roll band.”

He is dabbling in film, however. A song from his first album is on the soundtrack to The King, an upcoming film starring William Hurt. Reilly appears in the film, performing the song in Spanish.

Does he have a future in Hollywood? Well, in terms of visual appeal, one critic described the Assassination as a “boy band of serial killers.”

Indeed, their publicity photos are a bit intimidating, but are these guys really as scary as they look?

“We all have crosses to bear, and my face is one of them,” Reilly says. “We’re not, like, a smiley band, but we’re totally approachable.”

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