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The List: February 10-16, 2011

Critics' Choices and other notable shows

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>Critic's Choice< Bobby Conn
>Critic's Choice< Jessica Lea Mayfield


The Church
>Critic's Choice< 
The Eternals
>Critic's Choice< Gang of Four


Frank Fairfield
Cedric Wilson


Frank Fairfield
>Critic's Choice< Jeannie Holliday
>Critic's Choice< Pacifica Quartet


>Critic's Choice< Trey Songz
>Critic's Choice< Robyn


>Critic's Choice< Deerhoof


Max Bemis


BOBBY CONN If you're not familiar with the work of homegrown Chicago genius Bobby Conn, you've got some catching up to do—and this show is a good place to start. Back in 1998 Conn released his second full-length, Rise Up!, a terrifying concept album drenched in 70s excess and relentlessly (if not quite sincerely) advancing an agenda indistinguishable from the mania of a Christian apocalypse cult. Many a would-be provocateur in the realms of punk and industrial has explored similar themes, but Conn and his crack band outdo them all by giving their record the seductive pull of the shallowest, most hedonistic pop-cultural product—it's glittery, bombastic, and joyous, a dancing queen with the vacant eyes of a true believer. The album sounds designed to be a full-blown stage spectacle, but it's only been performed in its entirety once, at least in Chicago—and that was at its release party. Like a lot of Conn's older work (particularly his "Continuous Ca$h Flow System" meta-scam of the mid-90s), it now sounds prescient, like an early diagnosis of the spiritual and economic mess we're in this decade. The band from Rise Up! is long gone—Conn and his wife, violinist Julie Pomerleau, are the only members left from that era—but his current crew includes formidable showmen like drummer Josh Johannpeter (Mahjongg, Lazer Crystal), bassist Jim Cooper (Detholz!, Baby Teeth), and keyboardist Job Steinmeier (Detholz!). They'll play two sets at this show: one of the complete Rise Up!, the other of new material that's been in the works for a couple years. Conn plans to record it next month for a September release. Cave opens. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10. —Monica Kendrick

JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD On her new second album, Tell Me (Nonesuch), Jessica Lea Mayfield sticks with understatement, singing in a matter-of-fact conversational drawl that occasionally belies the intensity of her lyrics. "Hate has brought me up / The stairs into your house," she intones flatly on "Our Hearts Are Wrong," a snapshot of a romantic battle of wills where she struggles and fails to hide her feelings. That's one of several songs where she handles her own emotions like a card counter, playing the odds in a calculated way because she's lost big when she's gone with her gut. There's also warmth in Mayfield's cool detachment, though, thanks to her restrained and well-proportioned country-rock melodies and the grace with which producer Dan Auerbach (the Black Keys' front man) shapes the minimal arrangements. On Tell Me, Auerbach employs the same stripped-down feel and hypnotic breakbeats that anchor many of his own band's songs. A handful of the tunes use programmed drum loops, which doesn't always work; the mild electro leanings of "Grown Man" make Mayfield sound like a karaoke singer. Fortunately most of them use flinty grooves and biting electric-guitar bursts that perfectly enhance her chilly delivery, highlighting the distance between the sound and the content of her seductively catchy songs. Justin Townes Earle headlines; Mayfield and Tom Schraeder open.  9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $16, 18+. —Peter Margasak


THE CHURCH You could say that this Australian quartet, formed in 1980, took a long time to hit their stride—or you could say that they've hit plenty of strides over the years, and probably aren't done evolving yet. Their process of trial and error has always been fascinating to watch: They started out bright-eyed and mystical, a lite neo-psych band bearing Rickenbackers and playing with a tunefulness that got them compared to fellow upstarts R.E.M. and U2. A few years later they started showing a bitter streak, and by the early 90s you could almost hear them muttering "fuck it" as they stretched out into a relatively free and improvisatory-feeling psychedelic sound. The Church have never broken up or had a reunion tour, but they do like their retrospectives—they've put out an impressive number of reissues and compilations. For this U.S. tour they're doing the "play a classic album all the way through" thing, except turning it up to 11. They'll play three albums each night: 2009's Untitled #23, 1992's Priest = Aura, and 1988's Starfish (the band's breakthrough record and the source of the single "Under the Milky Way"). 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959, $32.50, 18+. —Monica Kendrick

  • Eternals

ETERNALS The loss of a key member is a blow for any band, even more so when that member is a good drummer. This would seem to be especially true for a band like the Eternals, who build almost everything in their music around intensely dense, mind-expandingly varied, and relentlessly propulsive grooves. When the trio's third drummer, Tim Mulvenna, left last year, I would've expected vocalist Damon Locks and bassist Wayne Montana—the group's core from day one—to put the Eternals on hold till they found a worthy replacement, but instead they took his departure as a challenge. Though Mulvenna appears on four tracks of the new Approaching the Energy Field (Addenda), for the bulk of the album Locks and Montana use programmed beats, augmenting them with an inventive array of nonpercussive tools—keyboards, samples, vocals, Montana's serpentine reggae-flavored bass lines—that they deploy in layered lattices or as minimalist punctuation. It's the most counterintuitive record in the band's history, apparently assembled through a series of willfully weird choices. The drummerless tracks seem to dispense with logic altogether—they're mostly structured around Locks's vocals, which range from nasal chanting to punkish hectoring to falsetto keening, and they bubble over with an unpredictable diversity of sounds that dwarfs Locks's range. Rob Mazurek drapes the cyclical, hypnotic opening section of "The Floods" in gossamer cornet lines, and the grimy "Shadow Radio" recalls Locks and Montana's old postpunk band Trenchmouth with its stuttering jackhammer stomp and Locks's slow-motion invocation of Bad Brains front man H.R. The Eternals have never sounded like anybody else, and if it's possible for a band to get more unique, they've done it. As he has for the past several months, Areif Sless-Kitain of Reds & Blue (also Montana's bandmate in I Kong Kult) will drum on older tunes as well as Energy Field songs that feature Mulvenna; he'll also sit out from time to time while Locks and Montana do their thing. Opening are the Bedfellows, whose lineup includes singer Michael Guarrine, drummer Damien Thompson, and guitarist Ethan D'Ercole—all from old Eternals comrades the Watchers. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10. —Peter Margasak

Gang of Four - MIKE GULLIC
  • Mike Gullic
  • Gang of Four

GANG OF FOUR The past decade must have been unbelievably validating for Andy Gill and Jon King, the core members of Gang of Four. They entered the 21st century with their brilliant reputation—slightly tarnished, perhaps, by their new-wavey kinda-hit "I Love a Man in Uniform"—largely confined to a tiny, ardent fan base of record geeks, but in the intervening years they've become one of the biggest delayed-reaction influences on independent rock since the Velvet Underground. Back in 2002 the Rapture's heavily GoF-influenced "House of Jealous Lovers" helped start a passionate romance between hipsters and the combo of skritchy punk guitars and danceable disco beats, and it still hasn't been extinguished. This has not only inspired about a million similar-sounding acts, it's also encouraged fans to seek out the bands who pioneered the sound—and as a result, Gang of Four's nearly flawless 1979 debut, Entertainment, has entered seemingly permanent heavy rotation in fashionable bars, boutiques, hair salons, and so on. So what if the January release Content (Yep Roc), the group's first album of new material since 1995, is a somewhat tepid affair that sounds less like an essential Gang of Four record and more like any of several dozen recent efforts by newer bands? Attendance is still highly encouraged, if only for purposes of kissing the postpunk ring. Hollerado opens. 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $28.50, 18+. —Miles Raymer


FRANK FAIRFIELD Southern California musician Frank Fairfield isn't merely a devotee of old-timey American music—in his hairstyle, his clothes, and most powerfully his performances, he pretty much ignores the past seven or eight decades of our musical history. He plays banjo, acoustic guitar, and fiddle on his self-titled debut, released in 2009 by Tompkins Square, putting his spin on essential traditional tunes like "Nine Pound Hammer" and "John Hardy." His voice—a clenched, nasal yawp steeped in pure mountain soul—crackles with vitality even as it sounds like it's preserved in amber. The urgency of his singing, his intense focus and confidence, and the authority with which he handles his chosen idioms make him seem less like a careful preservationist and more like a time traveler. His album may sound like an archival recording, but this music is exactly what he was made to play. Others appear to agree: Fairfield toured with Fleet Foxes in 2008, and this weekend he appears for the first time at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, one of the most respected events of its kind in the country (and one of the most hard-core). See sidebar on page 51; set order had not been announced at press time. See also Sunday.  7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th, 773-702-8068, $25, $20 seniors, $10 students. —Peter Margasak

INTERPOL Interpol's 2002 album, Turn On the Bright Lights, is a perfect example of a great record that comes out at exactly the right time–its excellent songs, framed by glossy black sonics, clicked perfectly with an American rock audience apparently primed to go batshit crazy over Joy Division a couple of decades after the UK. It's no surprise that the band has attempted to recapture that lightning-in-a-bottle moment with each subsequent release—or that they've failed every time. However, Interpol's most recent effort, a self-titled full-length released in September by Matador, comes closest to matching their debut. While their past couple records have felt like desperate attempts to hang onto their cachet, on Interpol they return to crafting satiny, gothic baby-making music with their trademark rarefied cool. School of Seven Bells opens. 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out. —Miles Raymer

CEDRIC WATSON San Felipe, Texas—about 50 miles west of Houston—isn't exactly a Creole hot spot. But that's where accordionist, fiddler, and singer Cedric Watson grew up, and in the past few years he's emerged as the great hope of Louisiana's black Creole culture. Youthful visits to relatives in Louisiana sparked his curiosity, and a year after finishing high school he moved to Lafayette and began learning the local French dialect. Before long he was relighting the sputtering torch once carried by the likes of Amadé Ardoin and Canray Fontenot: Watson became the key member of Pine Leaf Boys, a group of Cajun revivalists who played tradition-oriented originals and classic material, and a few years he ago he struck out on his own. On his second album, L'esprit Creole (Valcour), he gracefully ping-pongs between Cajun and zydeco, adding generous helpings of soul, blues, and Caribbean music (he plays the Hohner Erica, a diatonic button accordion that's popular in the islands) that complement rather than overwhelm the Creole flavor. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys open. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, sold out. —Peter Margasak


FRANK FAIRFIELD See Saturday. This show is part of the 51st annual University of Chicago Folk Festival; see page 51. 6 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th, 773-702-8068, $20, $15 seniors, $10 students. 

JEANNIE HOLLIDAY Jeannie Holliday's voice ranges from a melismatic pop-jazz flutter to a soulful, blues-inflected wail—and what's more, she's developed this impressive instrument in just a few years on the scene. On her album You Can't Blame Me (Blast), she spices her crisp phrasing with tempo-bending, shape-shifting bits that show a strong hip-hop influence. She also adds rough edges to her sweet soprano, sounding at times like a higher-pitched Mavis Staples. That vocal toughness is especially appropriate for songs like "A Change Has Come," which is both a celebration of Barack Obama's presidential victory and a serious-minded meditation on the responsibilities it implies. And it's even evident when she portrays herself as a lovelorn dreamer on "Now Is the Time Baby"; her delivery is sensual yet precise, a combination that speaks to her romantic resolve. Holliday also performs on Friday, February 18, at Amberg Hall at Bethel New Life Church, 1140 N. Lamon; she'll do shows at 8 and 10 PM, and tickets are $25, $20 in advance. At the church concerts, Mz. Peachez coheadlines and Merv Murphy and Little Bobby Reynolds open; at press time, Holliday had the stage at Gene's to herself. 9 PM, Gene's Playmate Lounge, 4239 W. Cermak, 773-590-9127. —David Whiteis

PACIFICA QUARTET Shostakovich's 15 string quartets, played in a series of five concerts by the Pacifica Quartet at the Auditorium Building's Ganz Hall—the perfect storm of composer, ensemble, and venue—make for one centerpiece of the ongoing citywide Soviet Arts Experience festival, presenting art, dance, music, theater, and lectures through early 2012. (A Pacifica Shostakovich cycle is also in progress at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, with London's Wigmore Hall to follow; a recording is due on Cedille Records.) Shostakovich's music, inseparable from his life, is inevitably viewed through the prism of Soviet repression and, in the case of his later output, debilitating illness. His quartets are some of his most personal works—often disturbing, possessed of a tremendous pull, and so potent that it's easy not to notice how well crafted they are. At this concert, the fourth in the series, the Pacifica plays the quartets numbered 7, 10, 11, and 12. Unlike Beethoven's, Shostakovich's quartets don't neatly fall into groups, but in the later works his writing becomes increasingly austere, though with an expanded and more modern musical language. The virile 12th quartet, written as the composer was perhaps already feeling death's approach, contains a final burst of life. (The closing program of the series, Sun 2/27, will consist of the final three quartets, beginning with the achingly bleak 13th and culminating with the otherworldly six adagios of the 15th.) Shostakovich's writing rewards the Pacifica's strong individual voices. The players' delivery is rich but taut, and though it's perhaps not perfectly suited to the eeriness and desolation in these works, it's nonetheless powerfully emotionally charged. Preconcert lectures by Henry Fogel and William Hussey are at 1 and 6 PM. 2 and 7 PM, Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan, 312-341-2238, $35, $10 student rush tickets. —Steve Langendorf


ROBYN Swedish pop star Robyn released Body Talk (Interscope) as a trio of mini albums in order to better sell herself in the 21st century—she figured that people would rather buy three EPs than one LP. (The third installment also came out as a full-length, with its five songs surrounded by favorites from the first two.) Each of the EPs is a potent little pop bomb—even the nonsingles are confectionary perfection—but I would like to see her go totally JoJo Newsom berserker on that shit and drop some 30-track epic. She's making headway in the States (with help from Pitchfork and from quirky being the new sexy), but she has yet to escape the Kylie Minogue netherworld of artists who are icons to gay fans, with arsenals of bulletproof dance-club staples, loads of charisma, and great outfits, but who haven't figured out how to supplant Madonna. Or Britney. Or anyone. Robyn is a commanding performer, all effusive superstar dazzle and cool looks—the last time I saw her play, I went into labor, but she was so good I stayed for her entire set. Diamond Rings and Natalia Kills open. Rescheduled from Friday due to illness. 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out. —Jessica Hopper

TREY SONGZ There's a whole generation of young male R&B singers vying to take R. Kelly's throne should he ever stop writing jams or get caught doing something so disgusting it finally exhausts his audience's capacity for forgiveness. Currently Trey Songz is in the lead. Over the course of four albums he's proved that he's got a voice as supple and agile as Kelly's and a similar talent for steaming up his surroundings. On his most recent collection, last year's Passion, Pain & Pleasure (Atlantic), he also shows himself capable of competitive levels of single-entendre hilarity (the ridiculous "Love Faces," whose best line has to be "Let me feel and find your panties") and wacked-out tautology (the amazingly recursive lyrics to "Panty Droppa," off the iTunes version). To top it off, tunes like the Nicki Minaj-assisted "Bottoms Up" demonstrate his talent for crafting hip-hop-spiked R&B bangers that can own dance floors and airwaves for months at a time. Lloyd opens.  7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, $49.50-$100. —Miles Raymer


  • Deerhoof

DEERHOOF In the cover story from the February issue of the Wire, the four members of Deerhoof talk so differently about the making of the new Deerhoof vs Evil (Polyvinyl) that it's hard to believe they're all referring to the same album. Bassist and singer Satomi Matsuzaki says they used deliberate rhythmic experimentation, with everyone playing drums, in hopes of making their music more danceable. Drummer Greg Saunier makes the process sound like a free-for-all—everyone brought songs, he says, and everybody shredded everybody else's ideas, with no plan to guide them and no studio time to focus their efforts. Guitarist John Dieterich explains that he chose to emphasize the "ugly" and "garbage" sounds of his instrument, and fellow guitarist Ed Rodriguez praises the same creative chaos Saunier seems to think is a little absurd—he's impressed by the way his bandmates can separate criticism of ideas from criticisms of one another. Personally, I think the difficulty Deerhoof must have in reconciling their disparate viewpoints into coherent musical statements is a big part of why they're one of my favorite bands—hard work and open, searching minds make for reliably great records. On Deerhoof vs Evil, the massive backbeat of "Qui Dorm, Només Somia" provides only one of many ways to parse the meter—the band slathers on polyrhythms created with guitars, keyboards, and hand percussion to create competing accents and subdivisions, pitting stumble against swing and burble against stomp. "No One Asked to Dance" veers toward late-60s psych-pop, with acoustic guitars, organ, and brushed drums supporting Matsuzaki's delicate, gorgeous vocal melody. The music retains Deerhoof's signature collision of fractured post-Beefheart rock and sugar-sweet hooks, but that dichotomy has never sounded more natural. They connect the two poles of their aesthetic with such playfulness and imagination that their music isn't just fascinating—it's also incredibly fun. Ben Butler & Mousepad and D. Rider open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $15, 17+. —Peter Margasak


MAX BEMIS When Max Bemis was 14, someone at Drive-Thru Records—one of several labels already courting him—told him he'd be the next Bob Dylan. That's a lot of pressure to put on a teenager, but Bemis rose to meet it: though he's certainly not the pop-cultural force that Dylan is, in the world of pop punk he's become an iconoclast not unlike Dylan. As front man for third-wave emo act Say Anything, Bemis has done more to force the evolution of aughties pop punk than anybody else—even Green Day's celebrated American Idiot hasn't had such a huge effect. Say Anything's ambitious second full-length, 2004's . . . Is a Real Boy (Doghouse/J), is a rock opera that strikes a balance between the passionate grandeur of a Broadway musical and the hard-nosed sincerity of, say, Saves the Day. Bemis's lyrics in particular—idealistic and witty enough to make songs about neurosis, clinical depression, and the Holocaust unexpectedly accessible—set the band apart from the Warped Tour pack. Neither 2007's In Defense of the Genre (J) nor 2009's Say Anything (RCA) reach the heights of . . . Is a Real Boy, but they both advance the group's efforts to meld Top 40 pop and emo. This is a solo show for Bemis, and as well as his often intimate songwriting works with Say Anything's arena-size rock, it should sound even more raw and potent when he's up there alone. River City Extension opens. 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out. —Leor Galil

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