Hailing from Cincinnati, the Ass Ponys tow one of the wickedest rhythm sections in the Midwest, guitar effects from B-grade sci-fi flicks and A-grade Stax Volt, and the most twisted comic sensibility shy of David Lynch. Titles tell part of the tale: "X-tra Nipple," "Swallow You Down," "Kung Fu Reference," "Casper's Coming Home," "Baby in a Jar." Try to penetrate lyrics such as "Robots coming through the corn/Magnus, Sir Lancelot reborn," or "I can be your Oppenheim/You can be my only/Trying to think of words that rhyme" without laughing, and you've missed the point. Chuck Cleaver's flagitious genius, his devotion to the nooks and crannies of popular culture -- Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer and John Carradine are his Kafkaesque heroes -- and his sometimes bleak, sometimes surreal but always sympathetic sense of humor raise the Ponys to some kind of iconic spot on the post-punk totem pole.Cleaver's voice, with its queer falsetto and cackling edge, compels the way unbridled dementia always does. And his band (featuring Bill Alletzhauser on guitar, Randy Cheek on bass and transistor radio and Dave Morrison on drums) pushes dynamics into the stratosphere, even when Cleaver is ranting like a bagman at a bus stop. Those who caught the Ponys at Twangfest will recall just how mental Cleaver's monologues can get. But they'll also recall just how hard, smart and melodic this band, one of the most essential on the indie scene, can rock. A must-see, as is opener Bob Reuter, who's never sounded better.