Best shows to see: Catherine Irwin, How to Dress Well, Dave Douglas, and more

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Catherine Irwin
  • Catherine Irwin
Normally by mid-December the live music scene is already hibernating. Maybe it's global warming, but this weekend there are still plenty of touring musicians risking inclement Midwest weather to bring their music to Chicago, although the action does seem to drop precipitously after this coming weekend. But why worry about that now? Aside from the four Soundboard recommendations after the jump, there are plenty of other events vying for your attention. On Thursday the Puerto Rican jazz drummer Henry Cole debuts his rugged, multi-stylistic Afrobeat band at Mayne Stage, while on Friday veteran jazz pianist Willie Pickens presents his final Christmas concert at the Hyde Park Union Church. Local harmony-happy psych-rockers Outer Minds celebrate the release of their second album of 2012 with a show at the Empty Bottle, while veteran hip-hop weirdo Kool Keith holds down the fort at Reggie's Rock Club. On Sunday afternoon a veritable roll call of Chicago new music ensembles get together to play a benefit for New Amsterdam Records at the Empty Bottle, which was seriously victimized by Hurricane Sandy, and later New York klez vets the Klezmatics bring their raucous soulful Jewish music to Space in Evanston.

Fri 12/14: Catherine Irwin at the Hideout
As I wrote this week, "In a recent online interview for No Depression, Freakwater cofounder Catherine Irwin shrugs off the supposed importance of change and development for musicians: 'People like to believe in "progress." I don't really care about it. A lot of the musicians I really admire just do what they do.' Given that Irwin practices what she preaches—her songs achieve their profound emotional impact without breaking any ground she hasn't covered already—it's a little frustrating that she took a decade to put out her second solo album, the excellent new Little Heater (Thrill Jockey). This show marks her first local performance in a couple of years; she's joined by fiddler Anna Krippenstapel, who played here recently in Joan Shelley's June Brides, and guitarist Jonathan Glen Wood of Louisville band Old Baby."

Fri 12/14: How to Dress Well at Co-Prosperity Sphere
Miles Raymer says Tom Krell has gracefully weathered the unexpected attention this lo-fi R&B project garnered a couple of years ago, but that hasn't been his only challenge. "In the intervening months he's reckoned with personal tragedies, including the death of his best friend, while learning to handle the gaze of critics and fans; the album Total Loss (Acephale), released in September, displays a level of confidence that his previous releases (as compelling as they were) just didn't have. The most obvious change is that Krell has hauled his tracks out of the abyssal reverb tank he was using before—his beats aren't brash, but they assert themselves. His voice, mixed front and center, has taken on an impressive strength and suppleness, especially when he bends it to a falsetto that's reminiscent of R. Kelly. This isn't just an indie rocker playing at being an R&B singer. This is real."

Fri and Sat 12/14 & 12/15: Dave Douglas Quintet at Green Mill

The strong new band led by trumpeter Dave Douglas draws its inspiration from a set of hymns his late mother requested he play at her funeral. The music stuck with him, but he didn't expect it to become the repertoire for a new project. As I write this week, "Douglas originally planned to record instrumental versions of the hymns, but at a concert in January he met vocalist Aoife O'Donovan of contemporary bluegrass band Crooked Still and was struck by her gorgeous, unfussy singing. She brings that lyrical clarity to six of the album's nine songs, and imbues the title track—an adaptation of a Jean Sibelius hymn—with an ethereal, uncategorizable grace that doesn't belong to jazz, bluegrass, or sacred music. On the Ola Belle Reed tune 'High on a Mountain,' though, the band does a credible impression of a bluegrass combo without bluegrass instruments (though O'Donovan does play some acoustic guitar)."

Sun 12/16: Braid at Metro
Kevin Warwick's soft spot for emo gets all warm this week with Braid performing their 1998 album Frame & Canvas in its entirety. He writes, "Braid are as much posthardcore as emo, leaning on the intricately interwoven guitar melodies of Chris Broach and front man Bob Nanna, and Nanna's earnest vocals—sometimes cracking, sometimes endearingly out of tune—are as synonymous with the era as Four Minute Mile or Chris Carrabba's haircut. Braid disbanded not long after Frame & Canvas—the two-volume singles collection Movie Music came out posthumously in 2001 and 2002—but last year they reunited, releasing an EP of new material called Closer to Closed through their old pals at Polyvinyl."

photo: Sarah Lyons

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