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The List, August 27-September 2, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: M.O.T.O., the Brunettes, La India Canela, Steely Dan, and more

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Willie Pickens


A. Spencer Barefield Quartet


A Spencer Barefield Quartet
The Intelligence
La India Canela


La India Canela
Steel Panther


Steely Dan


Steely Dan


Free Energy
Gordon Grdina Trio


WILLIE PICKENS Though jazz is often regarded as a soloist's music, even the most talented front man needs a good band, and Chicago is loaded with great players who seem content to fill supporting roles. Pianist Willie Pickens has made a handful of superb recordings as a leader over the years—most recently the two volumes of Jazz Spirit (Southport) in 2006, where he interpreted gospel tunes and spirituals—but he's spent most of his career helping other people sound good. He's been a sideman to everyone from Eddie Harris to Bunky Green to Elvin Jones, and he's practically the house pianist at the Jazz Showcase. Pickens's consummately tasteful playing is rooted in bop fundamentals, but he's also profoundly flexible, a requirement in his line of work. Tonight he gets the spotlight he deserves, leading a group with two locals—drummer Robert Shy and bassist Stewart Miller—and one out-of-town guest, the great New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison. Opening the show is Ron Perrillo, another pianist who works mostly as a sideman; in fact he has yet to make a record under his own name, though he's been a crucial presence on the local scene for nearly two decades. His excellent band features trumpeter Pharez Whitted, drummer Kobie Watkins, bassist Dennis Carroll, saxophonists Eddie Bayard and Pat Mallinger, and trombonist Tom Garling. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph, 312-742-1168. —Peter Margasak


A. Spencer Barefield - BARBARA BAREFIELD
  • Barbara Barefield
  • A. Spencer Barefield

A. SPENCER BAREFIELD QUARTET Jazz historians like to write about the great geniuses, but it takes guys like A. Spencer Barefield to keep the music alive. The Detroit-based guitarist is director of the Creative Arts Collective—Detroit's answer to the AACM, founded in 1978—and in that capacity he's organized concert series in venues as prestigious as the Detroit Institute of Arts and as humble as his own home. Of course that's not to say he isn't a talented player—he's made some fine records under his own name and contributed to some swell Roscoe Mitchell albums, most notably the immortal 1980 session Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes. Barefield often makes avant-garde forays, which draw as much from contemporary chamber music and African traditions as they do from jazz, but his latest album, 2004's Soul Steppin' Through the Fabulous Ruins (CAC/Xenogenesis), is solidly in the tradition. Riding a rhythm section that achieves an almost weightless sense of swing, Barefield rarely strays from conventional tonality, but on a pair of Thelonious Monk covers he displays not only a deep engagement with challenging structures but also a droll wit. For his first Chicago gig as a leader in 14 years, Barefield will front a quartet with three local veterans: saxophonist Edward Wilkerson Jr., bassist Harrison Bankhead, and drummer Dushun Mosley. See also Saturday. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Bill Meyer

  • Ettes

ETTES There are lots of ways to skin the rock 'n' roll cat, many of them as complex and delicate as any surgery, but sometimes you just want to hear a band like the Ettes lay into it with a dull knife, screaming with glee. Singer-guitarist Lindsay "Coco" Hames pours all her energy into her badass voice—a gutsy, smeary drawl that can cut through the dirtiest of mixes—and lets the Ettes' great cave-punk rhythm section do the heavy lifting. Between Jeremy "Jem" Cohen's brutal fuzz bass and the attack-dog stomp Maria "Poni" Silver throws down on the drums, you could almost talk yourself into going out in public wearing a "Punx not dead" T-shirt: this dead-simple music follows a pretty old recipe, but it's as fresh as your grandma's coleslaw. Having covered the Reigning Sound's "We Repel Each Other" on their first album, Shake the Dust, the Ettes invited Reigning Sound front man Greg Cartwright to their newish hometown of Nashville to produce their third full-length, Do You Want Power, which is due September 29 on Take Root—and that ought to tell you everything you need to know about the respect these guys pay their influences. White Mystery, Buzzer, the Impediments, and Tiger Spirit open. 9 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $10, 17+. —Ann Sterzinger

Paul Caporino of M.O.T.O. - CHRIS ANDERSON

M.O.T.O. After 20 years in Chicago, M.O.T.O. are leaving us. The band is basically singer, guitarist, and songwriter extraordinaire Paul Caporino plus whoever he can recruit to back him up, and Caporino's moving to Providence, Rhode Island, in September. To be a Master of the Obvious about it myself, 20 years is a long time. It's been long enough for M.O.T.O. to outlast a string of meh-worthy mini epochs in Chicago rock—the Wicker Park major-label signing frenzy of the 90s, emo, post-emo, chain-wallet pop punk—and it's definitely been long enough for the band to become the kind of scene fixture everybody takes for granted. It's always seemed like a given that Caporino and company would be playing out somewhere every month, blazing through one brilliant pub-punk anthem after another. Caporino's influences are, well, obvious—Nick Lowe, the Buzzcocks, Cheap Trick, the Ramones—but it takes a knack for more than just picking the right idols to come up with a tune as perfectly succinct as the beer-commerical-worthy "I Hate My Fucking Job." (Hell, even Dylan had to travel a few metaphorical miles to say the same thing in "Maggie's Farm.") And that's just one of about 25 songs I hope M.O.T.O. play at these two farewell shows. "Go Naked," "Crystallize My Penis," "We Are the Rats," "Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance to the Radio"—I could go on and on. M.O.T.O. are second of three on Friday at the Bottle, so if a long good-bye is what you want, the Mutiny show on Saturday is your best bet—M.O.T.O tops the bill on that one, and they'll almost certainly be playing another of the one- to two-hour "greatest hits" sets they've become notorious for. Caporino plans to keep touring after his move, but there's no telling when he'll be back in Chicago just yet. Bang! Bang! headlines; M.O.T.O. and Bird Talk open; see also Saturday. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, limited $5 tickets. —Brian Costello


A. SPENCER BAREFIELD QUARTET See Friday. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15.

BRUNETTES When the twee-pop revolution comes—it'll be bloodless, of course—I want to be on the Brunettes' side. They know what they're doing: their tunes go right up to the edge of lethally sweet but don't cross the line. I would say they're saccharine, but the Brunettes come from New Zealand, and that's just how Kiwi pop bands roll—with perfect, triumphant hooks doused in fuzz and some honey-voiced woman working over the bones of 60s pop sha-la-la. The Brunettes' music is cute, but it doesn't sound like that's all they're aiming for—it's not cloying. What you get are big Technicolor bursts of happy, perky electro-pop laid out on a garage-rock template, which also shows itself in the sly undercurrent of horny-teenager vibes beneath the thunderous hand claps (see also Belle & Sebastian). Throw Me the Statue headlines; the Brunettes and Nurses open. 9:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Jessica Hopper

THE INTELLIGENCE Lo-fi garage rockers seem to take great pleasure in writing the sugariest sonic confections they can and then plunging them into a sea of cheap effects boxes and cheaper recording decks. The Intelligence, masterminded by multi-instrumentalist and A Frames drummer Lars Finberg, have been doing this sort of thing for a decade, but not till lo-fi became hip in the past year or so did they start attracting the attention they deserve. This Seattle outfit's aesthetic is a perverse balance of pop's accessible nature and punk's purposefully off-putting one, and when they get the two sides in perfect equilibrium the results are deeply satisfying. On the new Fake Surfers (In the Red) they throw in neck-snappingly abrupt changes and a sense of existential dread worthy of a Reagan-era hardcore band but still frequently hit that sweet spot—high points include the staticky punk of "Moody Tower" and "Thank You God for Fixing the Tape Machine" as well as the Kinks-thrown-down-a-well sound of "Warm Transfers." Maximum Wage and Boystown open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Miles Raymer

LA INDIA CANELA Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 till his death in '61, loved merengue and aggressively promoted it, turning it into the country's de facto national music. Though it's taken many forms over the decades, most of what washes up on our shores tends to be the variety called merenge de orquesta, a frothy, sophisticated big-band style first popularized in the 1930s (when big, horn-heavy pop bands dominated American ballrooms) and transformed after Trujillo's death by stars like Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas. But another style that persists today, merengue tipico, is a more direct descendant of the music's original form, thought to have evolved in the 19th century in the northern region of Cibao; its stripped-down, high-octane sound uses only voice, accordion, two-headed tambora drums, and the metal scraper called the guira, as well as electric bass (an innovation made in the 60s) and often saxophone. One of the style's most fiery and fluent practitioners is Lidia Maria Hernandez Lopez, aka La India Canela, whose crack outfit tears through the tricky rhythms and breakneck tunes on the wonderful Merengue Tipico From the Dominican Republic (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008) with a casual, graceful precision that makes death-metal bands seem heavy-handed. Above nimble bass lines and frenetic drumming (her group uses two tamboras), squeezebox and sax interlock to form brisk, jumpy grooves; the lead instruments trade concise solos, and a selection of singers braves the barrage of notes to add forceful, soulful vocals. La India Canela leads an eight-member ensemble here. Today's first two sets are part of the Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival; the third is a free ticketed concert at the Old Town School. See also Sunday. 2:30 PM, Salon de Baile stage, and 5:15 PM, Los Barrios stage, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, 312-744-3370. Also 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $5 donation requested. —Peter Margasak

M.O.T.O. See Friday. Bent Left, Das Kapital, Junker, and Voice of Addiction open. 9:30 PM, Mutiny, 2428 N. Western, 773-486-7774.

PLANKTON MAN Plankton Man (ne Ignacio Chavez), a native of Baja California, has been making dance music in one form or another since the early 90s, but he first attracted notice about ten years ago as part of innovative Tijuana crew the Nortec Collective, which threaded samples of Mexican norteño and banda into its sprawling strain of electronica. Though he left the group in the early aughts, he hasn't abandoned its sonic blueprint—he's made a couple of albums with Terrestre, another former Nortec member. Unfortunately since his second collection with Terrestre in 2004 he's only released a handful of tracks under his own name, plus some material with Kobol, a duo with Argel Medina that flipped the Nortec script and crafted glitchy, tightly coiled broken beat with a frothy smooth-jazz feel. This show is part of the third annual Latin Electronic Music Festival (FMEL); the bill, headliner first, is Luis Flores, Plankton Man, Leo 123, and Minusbaby. 10 PM, Sonotheque, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-7600, $10, $5 before 10 PM. —Peter Margasak


LA INDIA CANELA See Saturday. This set is part of the Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival. 6 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, 312-744-3370.

Steel Panther - NEIL ZLOWZOWER
  • Neil Zlowzower
  • Steel Panther

STEEL PANTHER To properly parody 80s hair metal, a genre that all but parodies itself, you really have to take it to the wall. Spinal Tap are dilettantes, and even Weasel Walter's ahead-of-the-curve early-90s Motley Crue tribute band, 2 Fast 4 Love, didn't show the kind of dedication the guys in Steel Panther do. Though their claim to be forgotten hair-metal pioneers from 1985 is of course bogus, they've actually been around a good ten years, including previous incarnations as Metal Shop, Metal Skool, and Danger Kitty. On their debut, Feel the Steel (Universal Republic), they give us the whole package—including, er, packages (the drummer's stage name is "Stix Zadinia"). The power ballad "Community Property" maps the virgin/whore dichotomy neatly onto the girlfriend/groupie dichotomy, with drop-dead comic timing—and though it's awesomely, unabashedly offensive, it actually feels refreshingly honest next to the goopy faux-sentimental bullshit you usually get in songs like this. I still think the southern boys in Bandway should get credit for getting there first, but Steel Panther do it better. They love to talk about all the coke that goes up their noses, but they can make Coke shoot out of mine. Cealed Kasket opens. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $18. —Monica Kendrick



STEELY DAN When you realize that you've become a Steely Dan fan, it can be a traumatic experience. If Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, with their harmlessly clean tones, insufferable smugness, and studio bands full of ringers, have embodied in your mind for your entire music-loving life the triumph of slick professionalism over genuine soul that typified rock at its bloated late-70s worst, it's downright disturbing to find yourself actually getting down with them. We like our Others to stay Other. But once I emerged on the other side of this particular looking glass—a mirror covered in rails of coke, with Becker hovering over it—all the negatives became positives. I could see the Dan's infinite smoothness both as a fuck-you to rock's hang-ups about authenticity and as an innocuous disguise to help them smuggle some truly warped lyrics onto pop radio; their immense self-satisfaction I understood as merely the outward expression of their unflappable, infuriating cool. It's amazing that 30 years after their peak they can still fuck with my head like that. Tonight's set will include a complete performance of Aja, an album that's pretty much perfect front to back. Sam Yahel opens; see also Tuesday. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 312-559-1212, $72-$144. —Miles Raymer


STEELY DAN See Monday. Tonight's show will include a complete performance of Gaucho. Steely Dan also plays Thursday and Friday, September 3 and 4, at the same venue; Thursday's set will include a complete performance of The Royal Scam, and Friday's set list will be determined by online votes from ticket holders. Guitarist Larry Carlton, who appears on all three of the albums Steely Dan is re-creating on this tour, will join the band for the two final shows; Sam Yahel opens all dates. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 312-559-1212, $72-$144.


FREE ENERGY Minneapolis pop-punk outfit Hockey Night was inoffensive enough, in the way anonymous-sounding pop punk tends to be. Apparently something about their music appealed to LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy, though, because now that Hockey Night alums Scott Wells and Paul Sprangers have relocated to Philly and started a new band they're calling Free Energy, he's taken them under his wing. Murphy produced Free Energy's upcoming album, currently titled Stuck on Nothing, and it's due on his DFA label on an unannounced date. This combination of curmudgeonly dance-music producer and scrappy guitar-rock band might seem odd, but the two parties find common ground in retrophilia. The three songs released online do well by Free Energy's obvious influences—T. Rex, Thin Lizzy, Mick Ronson's work with Bowie—and provide Murphy with another good reason to bust out his cowbell. Old Fake and Village open. 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10. —Miles Raymer

Gordon Grdina Trio
  • Gordon Grdina Trio

GORDON GRDINA TRIO Vancouver guitarist Gordon Grdina explores gritty, aggressive free improvisation in Box Cutter, his quartet with the great clarinetist Francois Houle, and plays patiently expansive, hushed postbop in a sublime trio with drummer Paul Motian and bassist (and key mentor) Gary Peacock. He's a member of Sangha, a quartet that mixes traditional Indian, Arabic, and Persian music, and he shows off his art-rock chops on Dark Blue World's new The Perilous Beauty of Madness (Drip Audio). His gorgeous chamber ensemble East Van Strings, with cellist Peggy Lee, violinist Jesse Zubot, and violist Eyvind Kang, brings together some of those threads on the brand-new The Breathing of Statues (Songlines)—post-Bartok writing and Arabic modes provide a spooky, pensive setting for spells of improvisation that are woven judiciously into the evolving shape of each piece. But the group Grdina brings to town for his Chicago debut tonight—a muscular, agile trio with bassist Tommy Babin and drummer Kenton Loewen—might cover more bases than any of the others. On the superb . . . If Accident Will (Plunge) the wild, bruising energy of "The Monk" suggests one of Joe Morris's delirious rushes of notes; the spacious "Cobble Hill/Renunciation" spotlights Grdina's sharp oud playing, which reflects Arabic tradition while flouting it; the gorgeous closer, "Yellow Spot Into the Sun," glides through a melancholy, Radiohead-worthy melody. For its second set the trio will be joined by local trombonist Jeb Bishop. Josh Abrams spins. 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Peter Margasak

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