JASON AJEMIAN & THE HIGHLIFE During his years in Chicago, bassist Jason Ajemian was best known as a jazz musician, working in groups like Dragons 1976, Triage, and Exploding Star Orchestra, but he also moved outside the genre, playing outsider folk with Josephine Foster as Born Heller or genre-averse improvised grooves with Nori Tanaka as LayAllOverIt. For the past few years his most active group has been a peculiar quintet called the Highlife, which at most keeps one foot in jazz. The lineup consists of superb improvisers—trumpeter Jacob Wick, saxophonist Peter Hanson, guitarist Owen Stewart-Robertson, and Chicago drummer Marc Riordan—and on the group's new second album, Riding the Light Into the Birds Eye (Sundmagi), they treat Ajemian's scores as sly suggestions rather than strict blueprints. He creates them using drafting software AutoCAD, and his serpentine, episodic compositions channel fragments of conventional notation through mazelike graphic elements that sometimes look like seashells or dungeons. The elaborate melody of a piece like "Bliss Is This" sounds like it could fly on Broadway, but the band doesn't play it straight, instead tangling it up in loosey-goosey, slaloming harmonies and multilinear improvised phrases that seem like willful acts of sabotage. Ajemian isn't a great singer, and often pushes his voice well past its limits, whether he's crooning or using a hectoring funk style—on "His Name on Records" he sounds a bit like Commodores-era Lionel Richie singing "Come Together." He and Riordan carve out grooves that usually owe their feel to rock or funk, but Hanson, Wick, and Stewart-Robertson never fall in line in a dumb and obvious way—they toy with the grooves or step out of them entirely, coming off like savvy, focused no-wave veterans. No matter how hard I try to parse this music, I'm left scratching my head in confusion and admiration. For this show, trumpeter Jaimie Branch will fill in for Wick and drummer Nick Jenkins will cover for Riordan. —Peter Margasak See also Monday. Tim Daisy & Jeb Bishop headline; the Highlife and the World Without Parking Lots open. 8:30 PM, Heaven Gallery, donation requested.
PENTAGRAM Addiction can be a real crapshoot. You have your Amy Winehouses and Kurt Cobains, who sadly didn't survive, and then you have Bobby Liebling, front man, songwriter, and only constant member of Pentagram. Resembling a leathery strip of beef jerky with terrifying eyes and hair, Liebling has nearly died so many times it gives his harrowing proto-doom metal a special kind of credibility. (A documentary about his struggles, Last Days Here, screened at South by Southwest this past spring.) Now clean and sober, he has a real shot at a lasting career renaissance that might bring him at least some of the fame he could've had in the early 70s were it not for bad luck and for, well, being out of it even by early-70s metal standards. (Pentagram didn't actually manage to record and release an album until the mid-80s.) His case is helped a lot by Last Rites (Metal Blade), the band's first new studio album in seven years. Liebling claims he wrote hundreds of songs in the 70s and hasn't written a new one in 30 years—luckily, if he has hundreds more like these, he doesn't need to. Last Rites sounds like it was airlifted in from the pagan past (picture a bunch of tripping occultists in the eldritch haze of a graveyard in 1972) and tempered in the flame of the dozens of metal festivals the band has played lately—it's both otherworldly and sludgily, creepily concrete. For an interview with Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin, see Artist on Artist, page B9. —Monica Kendrick Valient Thorr, Jeff the Brotherhood, Beak, and Bongripper open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, $16. 17+
KREAYSHAWN Recently I became one of the nearly ten million people who've watched the official YouTube video for Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci" since it was posted in May, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who didn't even wait till the end of the tune—which is graced with a blithely addictive vocal hook—before I started downloading her Kittys x Choppas mix tape. Kittys has a couple of tracks with some of the pop-crossover potential of "Gucci Gucci" (specifically the clubby "Bumpin Bumpin"), but many of Kreayshawn's raps sound like freestyles by someone who's far from the point at which she should be sharing anything with an audience. Factor in the reports that her live shows are even sloppier, and it appears that Columbia might have reason to regret signing her to a deal rumored to be worth $1 million. But if she's as savvy a media artist as I think she is, she might be able to pull it together to turn her Internet buzz into actual stardom. Perhaps then we might get what music critics all over the world are surely secretly hoping for: a Kreayshawn-Kesha beef. —Miles Raymer Hollywood Holt and Chrissy Murderbot open. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, $22, $17.50 in advance. 17+
PERSONAL & THE PIZZAS Yes, there is a "true story" behind the New Joisey goomba personas that Personal & the Pizzas deliver in 30 minutes or less, but unlike most other garage-punk bands who play dress-up, they make it more fun to go along with the ruse. Guitarist and singer Personal writes and plays four-chord hook-krazy gems of gloriously stupid trash 'n' roll—"I Don't Wanna Be No Personal Pizza," "$7.99 for Love," "I Can Read"—by borrowing the best riffs from the Stooges, the Ramones, the Dictators, and the New York Dolls. He's backed by the Pizzas, a rhythm section with noms de peetz like Nikki Carwash and Dee Dee Eepdish, and their hilarious between-song banter—which makes them sound like an absurd mix of the Sweathogs from Welcome Back, Kotter and the low-level hitmen who get whacked early in mafia flicks—is worth the price of one of their shows all by itself. Serious Beards and other spoilers of parties need not attend, but if you like your entertainment as loud, cheesy, and addictive as jalapeño poppers—oof, madon'!—this is a must-see. —Brian Costello Mickey and the Yolks open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, $8.
RUNNING Running's brand of noise punk is terrifying: dark, drenched in distortion and reverb, and stampeding at breakneck speeds. The bass is beyond dirty, the drums are big, loose, and erratic, and the buried vocals are mean and creepy. On their self-titled LP, out on the local label run by Permanent Records, they sound like they're falling apart at the seams, musically and mentally. Running would make a good soundtrack to the apocalypse, if only their songs weren't concerned with life's most trivial problems: the early closing of your favorite convenience store ("Always Open"), the rising price of diapers ("#1 Dad"), and how horrific it is when someone brings kale to a potluck ("Kalehead"). —Luca Cimarusti Joan of Arc headlines; Implodes and Running open. 9:30 PM, Subterranean, $10. 17+
- Kris Arnold
COFFINWORM I sometimes suspect that most indie doom bands see the nihilistic lyrics and occult trappings of the genre—and of metal in general—as kind of silly, and thus surround them with ironic air quotes. No matter how hard they bang their heads, they can't shake the too-cool-for-this critic out of their brains. But this has its costs: if you aren't willing to write off the possibility that Aleister Crowley might not have been far off-base, at least in some senses, you'll inevitably find bands who take this approach to be lacking in a certain dark passion. You might mistake Indianapolis's Coffinworm for one of them—anyone who comes up with an over-the-top song title like "Spitting in Infinity's Asshole" has to be joking, right?—but these guys never break character, even in chummy interviews with, say, Brooklyn Vegan. ("Our name is in reference to Choronzon, the Dweller of the Abyss," goes one answer. "He stands symbolically as the last barrier between the adept and enlightenment, with the goal being the eradication of the ego.") Their 2009 demo, Great Bringer of Night, seized ears with the sinister resonance of its demonology, which it's damn hard to achieve unless you're sincere. For its follow-up, last year's When All Became None (Profound Lore), producer Sanford Parker honed their thick, intricate blackness into an oddly crisp primordial ooze—the sound of wicked skills meeting potent conviction. The next Coffinworm album is likely to come out next summer, so study carefully the texts—we've got to be prepared. —Monica Kendrick Lord Mantis, Hunters, and Northless open. 10 PM, Bottom Lounge, $6.
KATY PERRY Tunes that bear the stamp of producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin are similar to sharks. That is, they're frighteningly perfect at what they're designed to do—in this case, lighting up all of the brain's pop-sensitive nodes—and also I think they're just the fucking coolest. Consider what the duo did for Katy Perry. For a couple months late last year it felt like B96 was playing her "Teenage Dream"—off the album of the same name—three times an hour. I'm gladly sitting through it again as I write this, bopping my head and marveling at its chorus for probably the thousandth time. Even knowing that the lyrics are about wanting to bone Russell Brand hasn't ruined the song for me, which almost defies belief. —Miles Raymer Natalia Kills opens. 7:30 PM, Allstate Arena, $25-$45.
WILLY TORRES With his fine second album, Hardcore (Latin Street Music), Puerto Rican-born, New York-based singer and conguero Willy Torres solidifies his reputation as a staunch proponent of salsa dura, or "hard" salsa. His NYC Salsa Project is a lean, versatile, hard-hitting sextet with a repertoire dominated by tunes from Torres. He spent years as a backup singer for the likes of Victor Manuelle, Willie Colon, Yomo Toro, and Gilberto Santa Rosa, and got his big break when he was promoted to a permanent member of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Torres pretty much sticks with that group's old-school New York salsa sound (despite his own band's relatively compact size), and his mediocre stab at funk on "NY Flavor" suggests he shouldn't try to cross over. Torres will be supported by the powerhouse Chicago group Angel Melendez & 911 Mambo Orchestra (Melendez plays trombone on Hardcore). This album-release event is part of Summerdance; Lisa "La Boriqua" will give dance lessons (merengue, bachata, and salsa) beginning at 4 PM. —Peter Margasak 5 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, 601 S. Michigan, 312-742-7529.
- Day Still
- Jason Ajemian & the Highlife
JASON AJEMIAN & THE HIGHLIFE See Thursday. Tonight drummer Marc Riordan and keyboardist Danny Van Duerm will join the lineup from the Heaven Gallery show, turning the band into a seven-piece. Love of Everything headlines; Summer Girlfriends, Jason Ajemian & the Highlife, and Paletazo open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle.
A STEVE REICH CELEBRATION Steve Reich turns 75 on October 3, and as that landmark birthday approaches, the composer has been the subject of numerous career-spanning celebrations—including this impressive concert by two superb local ensembles, Eighth Blackbird and Third Coast Percussion. The centerpiece of the program is Reich's durable and popular Music for 18 Musicians (1976), which canonized his most enduring interests: complex polyrhythms and minimalist harmonic material. The work is built around 11 chords, each with its own dedicated movement; they convey a wide range of emotion by shifting from major to minor and precisely varying the patterns of relentless rhythmic pulses. Eighth Blackbird played it in February at the MCA, and this repeat performance is testimony to Reich's eminence: it's rare that a single piece by a living composer can be heard at two major concerts in the same city within a year. The other two works on this evening's program are much newer, and they demonstrate that neither Reich nor his proponents have to lean exclusively on his past achievements. Reich wrote the Pulitzer-winning Double Sextet (2007) for Eighth Blackbird, and its premiere recording came out last year, with the six-member ensemble accompanied by a recording of itself; tonight they'll be joined by six more musicians. The more recent Mallet Quartet (2009) was written for So Percussion, and their premiere recording of it appears on the forthcoming WTC 9/11 (Nonesuch). Both pieces have three movements (fast, slow, fast), and the latter embraces Reich's love of jazz, with springy, buoyant vibraphone atop hypnotizing low-end marimba. —Peter Margasak 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park.
STEVIE NICKS If Stevie Nicks could get Urban Outfitters to pay her royalties for biting her style over the past few years, she could probably make back a good portion of the fortune she infamously put up her nose during Fleetwood Mac's peak. Her influence on the young women of today isn't strictly sartorial, though; newish acts like Bat for Lashes and Warpaint aren't just helping out America's manufacturers of black lace but have rediscovered Nicks's formula of infusing sturdily constructed rock songs with a beguilingly witchy aura. None of them can match the original, but then again, who can—in the past three and a half decades a lot of great female musicians have tried and failed to out-Stevie Stevie. It would be tough simply to match her voice, which is strong and supple underneath all of her warbling, and it'd be considerably more difficult to top the expressiveness she brings to every song she writes—it alternates between gritty, emotional realpolitik and starry-eyed Laurel Canyon dreaminess. In May she released In Your Dreams (Reprise), her seventh solo album, demonstrating that all of strengths remain intact. —Miles Raymer 8 PM, Rosemont Theatre, $37-$123.
- Jim Newberry
- Harrison Bankhead
HARRISON BANKHEAD If you've got a taste for adventurous jazz, you're probably already familiar with Harrison Bankhead. The bassist has lent propulsion and inspiration to established bands like 8 Bold Souls, Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble, and Indigo Trio as well as to countless one-off ad hoc groups. His enduring partnership with saxophonist Fred Anderson brought out the best in both men, and for years Anderson bugged Bankhead to make a record of his own. He finally cut Morning Sun Harvest Moon (Engine) in April 2010, just two months before Anderson died, and it shows that Baba Fred was right all along. Bankhead is accompanied by musicians who have performed with him in other ensembles—percussionist Ernie Adams, drummer Avreeayl Ra, violinist James Sanders, and reedists Edward Wilkerson Jr. and Mars Williams—and he plays Mingus-like swing, jovial calypso, and blown-out free jazz with equal aplomb. The lineup from the recording will reconvene tonight for two sets; Reader critic Peter Margasak will spin records between, before, and after them. —Bill Meyer 9 PM, Hideout, $10.
GRADES As front man for Chatty Cathy, Kortland Chase managed to slip a little R&B sensuality into the group's melodic alt-rock with the help of his butter-melting voice. Now that Chatty Cathy has fallen silent—the band played its last show in July—he's giving free rein to his soulful side with a solo project called Grades. Chase has only made four recorded songs public so far, but they're enough to demonstrate his knack for combining sensual radio-ready neosoul and chilly, sterile electronica. He's still got some work to do—his flat cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry" makes it pretty clear he doesn't always know how to navigate this new territory—but his pulsing jams could make for a solid new spin on a style that's already helped acts like the XX and How to Dress Well become big names among indie fans. —Leor Galil Wolf in a Spacesuit headlines. 10 PM, the Whistler.
VICTIMS Hardcore punk bands age in something like dog years, so when one manages to plug along for 14 years, it's kind of the equivalent of ZZ Top's 42-year career in bluesy southern boogie. Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, and active since 1997, Victims have compiled a tortured, angsty catalog, rocking Discharge-style thrash filled with driving, pummeling rhythms worthy of the sincerest fist pumps and head bangs. And they don't sound worn out on their newest full-length, A Dissident (Deathwish Inc./Tankcrimes), blowing through 13 tracks of fuck-yous while vocalist and bassist Johan Eriksson adds his customary mix of guts and bile. Produced by Nico Elgstrand of Entombed, the album is a tad more "contemplative" than 2008's Killer, with two songs longer than three minutes (gasp) and multiple windows of designated solo time—the band's usual sense of urgency is hardly absent, but they sound like they might not be lit on fire. Compared to earlier albums, A Dissident is practically anthemic, and its epic-for-Victims opening cut, "Theft," more than proves that these guys still have some terrain left to explore, even in an increasingly crowded genre. —Kevin Warwick Eunuchs, Full On, and Tension Generation open. 7 PM, Pancho's, $7.