Music » Soundboard

The List: February 11-17, 2010

Critic's Choices and other notable concerts: The Residents, Ben Allison, Mariah Carey, Doom, Zola Jesus, and more

by , , and



Devin Hoff




Ben Allison
Mariah Carey
Zola Jesus


Brooklyn Rider
Mariah Carey




Living Sacrifice


Burkina Electric


GOLEM This Brooklyn sextet's previous album, Fresh Off Boat, was full of songs about the experiences of Ukrainian Jews on their way to Ellis Island. Golem's latest, Citizen Boris (JDub), takes the next logical step and looks at the lives Jewish immigrants have built in America—singer and accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan based many of her lyrics on tapes of interviews she'd conducted. Though the title track, which incorporates a prosaic recitation of questions and answers from a citizenship exam, would stink up an off-Broadway musical, many of her other songs do a fine job evoking the complex, confusing process of assimilation—"Mirror Mirror" presents the inner monologue of a woman who's having second thoughts about leaving the homeland, for instance, and "Tucheses and Nenes," a nod to a Lenny Bruce routine about obscenity, is an amusing look at the language barriers between recent immigrants and more settled Americans. I find second vocalist Aaron Diskin a little too theatrical—imagine Mandy Patinkin in the body of Eugene Hutz—but the music itself is smoking hot, a recklessly giddy amalgam of eastern European styles spiked with especially bracing work from trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and violinist Alicia Jo Rabins. Black Bear Combo opens. 9 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $15, $12 in advance. —Peter Margasak

DEVIN HOFF During his years in the Bay Area, bassist Devin Hoff developed into a key player not only in jazz and improvised-music groups around the country—among his notable collaborators are clarinetist Ben Goldberg and trumpeter Steven Bernstein—but also in adventurous rock bands like Xiu Xiu and Carla Bozulich's Evangelista. He's probably best known for his ongoing work with guitarist Nels Cline, but no matter what the project he's functioned as a rhythmic and harmonic anchor, getting the job done forcefully and without fuss. A couple years ago he self-released Solo Bass, a collection of concise pieces—some spontaneous, some composed—where he vividly demonstrates his facility with thematic improvisation, elaborating on nubby riffs and knotty, warmly lyrical phrases with muscular pizzicato and kaleidoscopic bow technique. He can be restrained or even abstract, using extended silences and ghostly harmonics, but what really commands attention is the way he loads each performance with a strong narrative arc and inventive melodic variation. Last fall Hoff moved to Chicago, and this performance is his unofficial coming-out party. He'll open with a solo set, then join a quartet with drummer John Herndon, reedist Dave Rempis, and bass clarinetist Jason Stein.  10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $8 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak


CONGOROCK In 2007, at the height of the bloghouse bubble, Italian DJ and producer Congorock collaborated with the Bloody Beetroots on what I consider to be the closest approximation of the genre's platonic ideal. "Bluto Fucks Popeye" is a swarm of stomping and chattering percussion, distorted, drunkenly lunging synths, dollar-store ray-gun bleeps, and chopped-up vocals so relentlessly manipulated they often register as nothing but rhythmic blurts of abstract sound. The track's changes arrive at an ADHD pace—it'll either make you want to shred a dance floor or give you a panic attack. Most of Congorock's work under his own name is way roomier, for better or worse; it sticks closer to the acid-house formula of giving the audience a good long tease before overloading the fuck out of its collective mind. Willy Joy and Charlie Glitch open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $12, $10 before midnight. —Miles Raymer

Ben Allison


BEN ALLISON For a few albums now, New York jazz bassist Ben Allison has been pushing his melodic music in the direction of moody rock a la Radiohead. But he's not attemping any sort of fusion, and he's not playing rock qua rock either—what he is doing is borrowing the concision of rock, writing lean tunes whose steady-rolling, unfussy grooves and dark ambience transmit simmering intensity. Guitarist Steve Cardenas has become a crucial part of this project, laying down hypnotic patterns or soloing with easy fluidity and sturdy rigor; his improvisations combine rock vocabulary with the harmonic sophistication of jazz and favor narrative development over pyrotechnic bravado. Because Allison and drummer Rudy Royston, who joined the band for the recent Think Free (Palmetto), are such a solid and re­assuring rhythm section, the front line can take certain liberties—maintaining a careful cool no matter how aggressive the beat, for instance, or spilling over harmonic boundaries set by chord changes—without sapping energy from the songs. Trumpeter Shane Endsley (also of Kneebody) and superb violinist Jenny Scheinman (who has plenty of experience outside jazz, with everyone from Rodney Crowell to Robbie Fulks) share Cardenas's sense of economy, playing gorgeous, tuneful solos constructed so meticulously it's easy to suspect they're written down. The tunes on Think Free are a mix of catchy new originals and revamped versions of older pieces that Allison wrote for his chamber-jazz combo Medicine Wheel, and onstage I expect this quintet to dig in a little harder than they do on disc, with longer solos and a flintier attack. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

MARIAH CAREY I've had several arguments, one of them rather heated, on the topic of "Who's better, Mariah Carey or Mary J. Blige?" Throughout those debates—all with the same person, embarrassingly enough—I thought it was obvious that Mary, with her heavy spiritual vibe and her recurring themes of anguish and doubt and the struggle to overcome, was realer and more powerful than Mariah the bubbly airhead. But I've since come to realize that Mariah does "bubbly airhead" every bit as well as Mary does "tortured but empowered woman." She's accepted an award for her debut as a serious actress while unabashedly schnockered, she's prank-called her husband's radio show pretending to be a porn-obsessed Long Islander, and her forthcoming Angels Advocate (Island), a collection that's mostly remixes of songs from last year's Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, includes weightlessly giddy earworms like the recent version of "Up Out My Face" featuring Young Money sensation Nicki Minaj (whose recent work suggests that she might turn out to be everything I used to hope Lil' Kim would). Her best songs are like sniffing glue—except the buzz they give you is worth the cost in brain cells. See also Sunday. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 312-559-1212, sold out. —Miles Raymer

MF Doom
  • Doom

DOOM There are artists who go for the occasional touch of mystery, and then there are artists like Doom. Not only does he refuse to be photographed without his trademark metal mask, but he also loans that mask to coconspirators who lip-synch his lyrics onstage, sometimes obviously and awfully. It's not clear if he considers this performance art or if he's simply being lazy and greedy—in interviews he's all but admitted to doing it, but he's cryptic about his motives. Doom revels in esoterica and enigma, and his rhymes are just as inscrutable as his persona. I once had a rapper friend unpack the meaning behind a Doom lyric, and even though the passage was only two bars long the explanation took several minutes—and it was mostly concerned with folk beliefs indigenous to a specific region of Italy. The gregarious and straight-talking Mos Def, who's coheadlining this show as part of a duo with Doom, is a potentially interesting foil. Word has it that he'll be featured prominently on the upcoming sequel to Doom's 2004 collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy—one of the best hip-hop records of the aughts—so it's not entirely unrealistic to hope they'll preview some of that material here. Mike Relm, Qwel & Maker, Bin Laden Blowin' Up, the Comeups, Rude One, Trew, Demchuk, and RTC open. 8 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 312-804-2736 or 773-227-7595, $26.50, 17+. —Miles Raymer

ZOLA JESUS Zola Jesus, aka Nika Roza Danilova, is a gothic dreamboat from Nowheresville, Wisconsin, who writes music as bleak and intense as a midwestern winter. She grew up on a hundred acres of forest, without television or the Internet, and now goes to college in Madison, where she studies French and philosophy. In interviews she talks about the nonexistence of God, proposes a "Nickelodeon Black" network to prepare kids' minds for the darkness of reality, and tells slapstick childhood stories that involve parts of dead animals hanging from tree branches. Though she's only just started making ripples on the larger indie scene, she seems well on her way to developing a cult following—her powerful charisma and single-minded devotion to her aesthetic are the kinds of things that turn fans into worshippers. As strong as her persona is, her songs are even better: last year's The Spoils (Sacred Bones) weaves velvet-and-lace atmospherics and the sonic language of early industrial music into a tight mesh. At its best this combination of the swoony and the abrasive produces wonders like "Tell It to the Willow," which closes the album's LP version—it's as unsettling as walking in the deep woods alone at night but as addictive as any adrenaline rush. Fucked Up headline; Kurt Vile, Zola Jesus, and Boystown open. Zola Jesus also plays a free in-store at Permanent Records, 1914 W. Chicago, at 4 PM. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Miles Raymer


BROOKLYN RIDER Last week I wrote about the genre-defying Kronos Quartet, who've smashed the stodgy old templates for what a contemporary classical group can be. New York's Brooklyn Rider are part of an explosion of post-Kronos ensembles that also includes the likes of Ethel, Alarm Will Sound, Eighth Blackbird, and Bang on a Can, and they're all pushing even further. I first heard Brooklyn Rider—violinists Colin Jacobsen and Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords, and cellist Eric Jacobsen—on their 2008 collaboration with Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor, Silent City (World Village), whose daring but respectful fusion of Persian and Western classical musics collapses the distance between Tehran and New York. All four members have played in the touring incarnation of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project—in fact, Brooklyn Rider arose out of that experience, and their subsequent output as a group has demonstrated an abiding interest in new work from all corners of Asia. Their superb new record, Dominant Curve (In a Circle), celebrates what they call the "pioneering vision" of Claude Debussy and takes as its centerpiece his String Quartet in G Minor, which he wrote four years after he first heard Javanese gamelan music at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889—the harmonic experiments in that composition set in motion ripples of influence still felt today. The album also includes Justin Messina's electroacoustic string-quartet arrangement of John Cage's "In a Landscape" (1948), originally for solo piano or harp, as well as three all-new works: one by Colin Jacobsen, one by Japanese composer Kojiro Umezaki (who adds shakuhachi and electronics), and one by Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky. This program includes the aforementioned pieces by Jacobsen, Debussy, and Yanov-Yanovsky, plus Philip Glass's Fourth String Quartet (1989) and part of Giovanni Sollima's Viaggio in Italia (2000). 3 PM, Lund Auditorium, Dominican University, 7900 W. Division, River Forest, 708-488-5000, $22. —Peter Margasak

MARIAH CAREY See Saturday.  7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 312-559-1212, $69.75-$150.75.



RESIDENTS It's hard to imagine a Residents fan on whom this irony would be lost, but I'll spell it out: after spending four decades hiding behind giant eyeball masks and a shadowy entity called the Cryptic Corporation, this jovially sinister bunch of surrealist drama queens suggested on their blog last month that their current Talking Light tour is an attempt to locate their own identity. In the past couple years they've released several albums' worth of odds and ends and truncated projects (like the ill-fated Bunny Boy series), and now they're searching for focus, asking themselves, "Who are the Residents?" Sorry, guys, but I don't think most folks are all that curious anymore. As long as you keep up the bizarro entertainment—corrupting, exalting, and redefining pop music—you can be whoever you want to behind your curtain. The Talking Light story line is more personal and intimate than the plots the Residents typically employ for their anti-rock operas. Whereas 2007's The Voice of Midnight featured an eerie, mind-fucking Sandman who harvested human eyes to feed to his babies, Talking Light is a bedchamber-theater piece set to music, its stage dressing a combination of cozy furniture and intrusive circular screens. The group's onstage contingent is a trio, not the usual quartet, and there will be no eyeball masks—though the members are still disguised, two as oddly dreadlocked and goggled aliens and the third as an "old man." He's among the show's most prominent characters, and not only is he struggling to understand the things he did as a teenager, he isn't sure whether anything he remembers—or even his own impending death—is real. He also plays the harmonica. 8 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 866-468-3401, $25. —Ann Sterzinger


LIVING SACRIFICE Christian metal has always faced aesthetic dilemmas that neither other types of metal nor other types of Christian music have ever really had to deal with. Metal has always depended on a feeling of "diabolus in musica" (if not on actual tritones), and if instead it has "the minor fall, the major lift" of a pious hallelujah, it'll lack the threatening charge the music needs—to put it secularly, it'll suck. Not to mention that a large part of your potential audience will condemn your sound as a tool of the devil no matter what your lyrics say. Living Sacrifice, when they started in the late 80s, were one of a very few credible Christian death-metal bands, and they remained so until their breakup in 2003. The Infinite Order (Solid State) is their first album of new material in almost eight years, and they sound like they've never been away. The record makes attacks on atheism ("Nietzsche's Madness") and satanism ("Organized Lie"), but confrontation isn't what these guys do best, despite their thrashy power; they're better at positivity, and their lyrics turn tracks like "Love Forgives" and "God Is My Home" into improbably joyous hymns. Wisely they've rendered that joy almost inaudible in the music—out of the hoarse growls and grinding riffs rises just the faintest glow of triumphalism. Impressive. War of Ages, Shai Hulud, Lionheart, and the Great Commission open. 5 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance. —Monica Kendrick


BURKINA ELECTRIC This trans­atlantic outfit, led by Brooklyn-based percussionist and composer Lukas Ligeti—son of famed Hungarian composer Gyorgy—comes into its own on its new second album, Paspanga (Cantaloupe). Burkina Electric has found a perfect balance of Western electronic dance music and traditional song forms from Burkina Faso. It certainly helps that the group includes a singer as strong and charismatic as Mai Lingani—who's a star in Burkina Faso and can rough up her limber, glassy voice into a startling growl—as well as a guitarist as fluid and colorful as her countryman Wende K. Blass. But Ligeti and his German collaborator, Pyrolator (aka Kurt Dahlke, a former member of influential groups D.A.F. and Der Plan), hold up their end of the bargain: the beats they wed to their bandmates' hypnotizing rustic melodies aren't jacked-up club stomps but rather three-dimensional matrices of live and programmed percussion that sift, shift, lope, and gallop. The marriage is thoughtful and effective, with each half strengthening the other whether one's lying low or they're both going full tilt. The group also includes dancers Hugues Zoko and Idrissa Kafando, who contribute backing vocals. 8:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $5 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak

Add a comment