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The List, August 6-12, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Slaid Cleaves, the Warlocks, the Bobby Broom Trio, Bat for Lashes, and more

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Thursday6

Slaid Cleaves
Rudresh Mahanthappa's Chicago Legacy Ensemble Featuring Bunky Green
Warlocks

Friday7

Bobby Broom Trio
Depeche Mode
Grant Park Orchestra
Brad Paisley
Warlocks
Zap Mama

Saturday8

Bobby Broom Trio
Grant Park Orchestra
The Low Anthem

Sunday9

Bat for Lashes
Darren Johnston
Misfits

Wednesday12

Darren Johnston

thursday6

Slaid Cleaves
  • Slaid Cleaves

SLAID CLEAVES Slaid Cleaves grew up in Maine, but given that he's a sharply observant songwriter with a deep appreciation for the ageless fundamentals of folk, country, and rock, I suppose it was inevitable that he'd end up in Austin, Texas. Though he's worked regularly with scene mainstays like guitarist and producer Gurf Morlix, who's all over Cleaves's new album, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away (Music Road), he's always been something of a square peg in Austin, singing his unabashedly pretty melodies in a sweet voice that lacks the obligatory parched twang—but for the past decade and a half those same qualities have helped make him one of the country's most compelling roots artists. Like Texas greats Steve Earle, Towns Van Zandt, and Guy Clark, Cleaves prefers to write about flawed or unfortunate souls, tenderly chronicling hopeless descents into misery, self-destruction, and death, often focusing on the small missteps that knock people off the rails—the drifter in "Tumbleweed Stew," for instance, ends up a fugitive after hooking up with "a truckload of illegals / And a pocket full of cocaine." In "Green Mountains and Me" Cleaves sings as a man who loses his wife in a war, which is pretty heavy subject matter to begin with, but then he adds a devastating turn in the last verse that casts his protagonist's grief as something so crushing not even passersby can bear it: "People on the street used to stop and chat / Now they look down and walk on by." 8:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Peter Margasak

Bunky Green
  • Bunky Green

RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA'S CHICAGO LEGACY ENSEMBLE FEATURING BUNKY GREEN Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is part of a new class of artists—alongside pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, both of whom have worked with him—who've found meaningful ways to combine jazz with the traditional music of their heritages. He's had a banner year, earning effusive praise for his 2008 albums Kinsmen (Pi) and Apti (Innova), which marry heady postbop and Indian classical music in sophisticated, focused, and distinctly different ways. But Mahanthappa was blowing killer postbop long before he developed this fusion, and that's the tradition he'll emphasize at this special concert. When he studied at DePaul in the mid-90s, he played with most of the musicians in what he's calling his Chicago Legacy Ensemble—bass trumpeter Ryan Schultz, trumpeter Tito Carrillo, pianist Ron Perrillo, and drummer Eric Montzka. (Bassist Francois Moutin, born in France and based in New York, is a member of Mahanthappa's regular quartet.) The real treat is the presence of alto saxophonist Bunky Green, 74, a Milwaukee native who made his name in Chicago during the 60s and now teaches in Florida. He was one of Mahanthappa's early influences, and you can still hear similarities in their styles: the bright, biting tone, the relentless energy, the harmonic sophistication, the inventive skeins of melody. The group will play tunes Mahanthappa wrote for the occasion, plus one or two by Green. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph, 312-742-1168. —Peter Margasak

WARLOCKS Ten years in, these Velvet Underground worshippers are still working their own niche—the Warlocks aren't so much shoegazers as pointy black boot gazers. But as is often the case with bands who stare at their footwear, on occasion they've failed to watch where they were going: on 2005's Surgery they got mired in soppy pop, and on 2007's Heavy Deavy Skull Lover they just sounded like they were trying too hard to convince us they were evil. But their fifth full-length, The Mirror Explodes (Tee Pee), strikes just the right balance between those two kinds of self-indulgence. They absolutely should be self-indulgent—that's a cornerstone of the genre—so the only real question is how. On Mirror, they've slimmed down to a five-piece and ditched the second drummer, but they still manage to shape their drony waves of sound in such a way that they seem substantial enough to splash around in—which they do, soaking one another in guitar fuzz as though it were muddy water. They're still metaphorically standing with their backs to the audience, but I get the feeling that's because we're not supposed to see how much fun they're having—they've got a facade of cool, nihilist detachment to maintain, after all. See also Friday. The Morning After Girls, Gliss, and Sadhu Sadhu open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Monica Kendrick

friday7

Bobby Broom - MICHAEL JACKSON

BOBBY BROOM TRIO Arguably the finest mainstream jazz combo in town, the trio led by guitarist Bobby Broom used its two most recent studio albums—Stand! (2001) and Song and Dance (2007)—to make a case for modern pop songs as worthy material for an improvising band. The new Bobby Broom Plays for Monk (Origin), on the other hand, is devoted to tunes either written by or associated with one of the most influential and important figures in jazz, and Broom, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Kobie Watkins tackle the pianist's hallowed compositions without changing their band's lean sound. Broom doesn't attempt to precisely emulate the jagged rhythms and tangled melodies of Monk's own performances, instead conveying the essence of each song in a new form that's subtly transformed by his velvety fluidity and grace. Carroll and Watkins lubricate "In Walked Bud" with a sly, unobtrusive funk groove, allowing Broom's blues-touched lines to glide elegantly over the top; in their hands the midtempo hard-bop workout "Ask Me Now" becomes a sophisticated ballad. These veteran players have no need to prove themselves fluent in the canon, and indeed they're doing something quite a bit more impressive with this album—they manage to put an individual stamp on Monk's ubiquitous and instantly recognizable tunes without wrecking their unique beauty. See also Saturday. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

DEPECHE MODE Since forming in 1980 Depeche Mode have survived health and drug problems, the loss of two key members—lead songwriter Vince Clarke quit in '81 to form Yazoo and then Erasure, and multi-instrumentalist Alan Wilder left in 1995—as well as a UK press that treated them like fluffy 'n' flaky teen idols and a U.S. press that decided they were scary goths. But they've stayed popular enough for long enough to become an institution, and their albums are still reliably enjoyable. By contrasting polished, glossy pop with the dark drama of human ugliness, they generate a cool and distinctive tension, and the band's recent affinity for IDM—specifically for rhythmic patterns that keep recurring in new permutations, like a theme and its variations in classical music—keeps the less inspired songs from blending into the wallpaper. Sounds of the Universe (Mute), released this April, takes a Kraftwerk-influenced turn that has some fans turning up their noses, but I'll rassle anyone who says "Wrong" isn't one of Depeche Mode's best anthems for the lost. The music is lurching, obsessive, and urgent, and the lyrics are a desperate chant—I'm not sure what's so cathartic about hearing Dave Gahan deliver lines like "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," but if there's anything a pop star can do, it's make failure sound thrilling. Gahan has missed several shows on this tour—he's suffered a bout of gastroenteritis, had surgery for a tumor in his bladder, and torn a calf muscle—so by the law of regression to the mean he ought to be in fine shape here. This set is part of Lollapalooza. 8 PM, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, lollapalooza.com or 888-512-7469, $80 (three-day pass $250). —Ann Sterzinger

GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA Leonard Bernstein described the end of Mahler's Ninth Symphony as "the closest we have ever come, in any work of art, to experiencing the very act of dying." Mahler's final completed work is an overwhelming journey, filled with nostalgia, apprehension, conflict, and finally resignation. His writing, constantly turning on itself, is never free of struggle. By spanning his emotional spectrum with the same thematic material—a first-movement gentle breeze becomes a violent storm, a second-movement peasant dance turns grotesque—Mahler creates tension that miraculously holds everything together. His astounding orchestration is sparse and transparent at times, thunderous and turbulent at others. In the last-movement adagio, where Mahler embraces life as he gives it up, ensemble and conductor are strained to the limit—Carlos Kalmar will need all of his inspiration and control. Thankfully, he's bringing the Grant Park Orchestra indoors for this symphony, whose conclusion often leaves audiences sitting in stunned silence. See also Saturday. 6:30 PM, Harris Theater, Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777. —Steve Langendorf

Brad Paisley - KURT MARKUS
  • Kurt Markus
  • Brad Paisley

BRAD PAISLEY Though you can hardly call him a Nashville outsider, Brad Paisley definitely stands out now that so much mainstream country is basically sappy soft rock—he's had huge chart success without shortchanging old-school honky-tonk fundamentals like twangy solos, spirited steel guitar, and sharp, easy wit. But his latest album, American Saturday Night (RCA), sometimes treads uncomfortably close to Music City formula. The romantic ballad "Then" is about as deep as a greeting card, and even when Paisley embraces the American melting pot on the title track—a maverick move given country's often reactionary politics—his take is disappointingly shallow, framed in terms of products (Amstel Light, Brazilian leather boots, Canadian bacon) instead of people. Still, it's nice to see him give voice to real loneliness and misery in a song like "Everybody's Here," since that kind of hurt—which used to drive so many country hits—doesn't tend to make it onto the radio anymore. Everybody knows how it feels to hit a bar for the first time after a bad breakup: "Now I look around and see a lot of single people / But there ain't a single one like me / Because they all wanna leave here with somebody / And I just wanna leave." Dierks Bentley and Jimmy Wayne open. 7:30 PM, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, I-80 and Harlem, Tinley Park, 877-598-8703, $25-$53.50. —Peter Margasak

WARLOCKS See Thursday. The Morning After Girls, Grimble Grumble, and the Vandelles open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10.

Zap Mama - JURGEN ROGIERS
  • Jurgen Rogiers
  • Zap Mama

ZAP MAMA On her latest album as Zap Mama, ReCreation (Heads Up International), Marie Daulne both revisits her past—"Singing Sisters" features Sylvie Nawasadio and Sabine Kabongo, who were both part of Zap Mama when it was an a cappella quintet—and continues to add depth and richness to the cosmopolitan strain of R & B she's settled into over the past decade. Though Zap Mama was originally inspired by the densely contrapuntal communal vocal music of Congolese Pygmies, these days Daulne applies her elastic voice to sultry balladry, French chanson, rafter-raising soul, and Bjork-like wordless abstraction; four tracks on the new disc were cut in Brazil with Alexandre Kassin and two of his steady collaborators in the +2 groups, Pedro Sa and Berna Ceppas, and others were recorded in New York with top-flight jazz and funk players like drummer Karriem Riggins and bassist Anthony Tidd. Guest vocalists include Bilal, G. Love, and French actor Vincent Cassel, and the lyrics are in several languages, but Daulne animates her songs with an aesthetic vision strong enough to help all this variety cohere into a surprisingly singular sound. This set is part of Lollapalooza.  1 PM, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, lollapalooza.com or 888-512-7469, $80 (three-day pass $250). —Peter Margasak

saturday8

BOBBY BROOM TRIO See Friday. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.

GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA See Friday. A pre-performance talk begins at 6:15 PM. 7:30 PM, Harris Theater, Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777.

THE LOW ANTHEM On their new album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch), this trio from Providence, Rhode Island, sound like time travelers from the mountains of West Virginia who've been listening religiously to early Low albums. But despite their rustic instrumentation and old-fashioned apocalyptic lyrics, fixated on nature's fury and man's cruelty, the Low Anthem are decidedly contemporary; their beautiful, hymnlike music drapes the restrained vocals of Ben Knox Miller in gentle guitar arpeggios, curving clarinet lines, and crawling bass. Whenever they try to raise the volume, though, they break their own spell. The primitive, stomping "The Horizon Is a Beltway" makes them sound like half-assed Tom Waits wannabes, as does their cover of "Home I'll Never Be," a Jack Kerouac tune that Waits has recorded—Miller trades in his whispery delivery for a gruff shout that might as well be a deliberate caricature of Waits. But Miller's gorgeous falsetto on the lovely, drifting "Charlie Darwin" is almost enough to make me forget those missteps. The Low Anthem play Lollapalooza early today, then open for Joe Pug at the Hideout. Noon, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, lollapalooza.com or 888-512-7469, $80 (three-day pass $250), all-ages. Also 10 PM at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak

sunday9

BAT FOR LASHES It's been a good year for witchy wonderfulness, but Natasha Khan's latest Bat for Lashes record, Two Suns (Astralwerks), and its subsequent live-wolves-unitards-smoke-machines-on-blast videos take spooky hipster enchantress to the top floor. The album uses dueling narratives to construct a study of good girl vs. bad, proving again the old adage that bad girls go everywhere—boys' beds, world tours, the back booths of clubs. In the case of Two Suns, the good and bad are two warring facets of Khan, and though she's not particularly comfortable with her blond bad-girl half, the tunes the good girl sings—Pollyannaish ballads of yearning for home and family—are a snore. The bad girl has the good songs and a heart full of earth-shredding ambition—which, when matched with casually slinky, up-tempo darkwave pop, is infinitely more compelling. This set is part of Lollapalooza. 1:30 PM, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, lollapalooza.com or 888-512-7469, $80 (three-day pass $250). —Jessica Hopper

DARREN JOHNSTON On Wednesday, Bay Area trumpeter Darren Johnston will lead a band of locals through tunes from his swell new album, The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed). Tonight he'll demonstrate his versatility in a freely improvised set with bassist Jason Roebke and Nate McBride. They'll play first, followed by Mind vs. Target, aka guitarist Shane Perlowin, bassist Joe Burkett, and drummer Michael Libramento. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Bill Meyer

MISFITS Lollapalooza, known to folks of my particularly pale complexion as the Free Sunstroke and Skin Cancer Festival, has never been particularly friendly to creatures of the night, but fortunately the Misfits are in town to pick up the slack. Bassist and vocalist Jerry Only is the only original member in the current three-piece lineup, but they're all 30-year punk vets—drummer Robo (who played with the Misfits in the early 80s) and guitarist Dez Cadena are of course alumni of Black Flag. Dez is as much the star of the show as Jerry these days, and on previous tours he's taken over on vocals for a few Black Flag covers in each set. The heavier, more metallic sound of the Misfits' post-Danzig years has some fans frustrated and others stoked—I know they won't stop arguing about it, but to me this seems like something that can only be decided one visceral reaction at a time, like whether slow zombies are scarier than fast zombies. Juicehead opens. 6:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $18-$20. —Monica Kendrick

wednesday12

DARREN JOHNSTON Darren Johnston is a consummately versatile trumpeter who sounds just as comfortable wrapping grainy ribbons of sound around a funk groove as he does steering perfectly pitched bop phrases through a landscape of swing or Latin beats. He's recorded New Orleans-style parade music and Angolan protest songs with the United Brassworkers Front and free improvisations with Fred Frith and Larry Ochs, but it's his original compositions, which both challenge and reward his sidemen with their elaborate rhythmic and harmonic settings, that make his new album, The Edge of the Forest (Clean Feed), so great. On "Broken," Johnston uses the aforementioned combination of coarse blowing and heavy grooves to set up a series of thrilling contrapuntal exchanges with clarinetist Ben Goldberg and tenor saxophonist Sheldon Brown, then resolves with a fearsomely intricate but immaculately executed unison coda. Tonight he'll lead four local players—trombonist Jeb Bishop, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Nate McBride, and drummer Frank Rosaly—through two sets that will include material from The Edge of the Forest. McBride will DJ before and after. See also Sunday. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer

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