Music » Soundboard

The List: October 7-13, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Belle & Sebastian, Dungen, Tim Sparks, Burton Greene, Faun Fables, Kylesa, Chucho Valdes, and other notable shows

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>Critic's Choice< Dungen
Horse Meat Disco
>Critic's Choice< Tim Sparks


>Critic's Choice< Burton Greene
>Critic's Choice< Macbeth


>Critic's Choice< Lina Allemano Four
>Critic's Choice< Faun Fables
>Critic's Choice< Kylesa
>Critic's Choice< Chucho Valdes


>Critic's Choice< Belle & Sebastian
A.A. Bondy
Wee Trio
>Critic's Choice< Tim Sparks


Big K.R.I.T.
Wee Trio
>Critic's Choice< Macbeth




DUNGEN This Swedish collective, headed by singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes, skyrocketed to indie-world popularity thanks to the quality of the riffage on their 2004 prog-boogie gem, Ta Det Lugnt, and songs like "Panda" that appealed equally to urbane postrock aficionados and solo-addled Golden Earring fans. Riffs aren't everything on the excellent new Skit I Allt (Mexican Summer), but they're thankfully not as scarce as they were on the 2008 album 4, where Ejstes abandoned guitar for piano. He seems to have found the sweet spot between his experimental tendencies and his innate shredditude, and much of Skit I Allt—like the opening track "Vara Snabb," which bounces happily between stoned-sounding hippie jazz and even more stoned-sounding fuzz-rock—satisfies on both counts. Better still are cuts like "Soda," "Nästa Sommar," and the title track, where both impulses take a backseat to Ejstes's impressive talent for pop—by borrowing moods and sounds from Neil Young's warmer solo moments and the baroque bum-outs of late-career Elliott Smith, he makes brain-snaggingly catchy songs that stand up to repeated deep listens. The Entrance Band opens. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15. —Miles Raymer

HORSE MEAT DISCO If you've ever had the itch to roll with a psycho glitter queerbo crew, you've probably ended up at one of Berlin's Thursday-night Stardust parties. In celebration of Stardust's two-year anniversary, Berlin is hosting the DJ collective responsible for Horse Meat Disco, a celebrated London club night with a regular crowd of cutie-pie scruffy fashion gays, heteros who homo on the weekends, and hedonistic spazzes decked out like alien muscle monkeys and wearing the most makeup I've seen this side of the Sephora where the Jersey Shore hoochies load up. The four hotshot DJs at the heart of the operation are total dorks for warm, pulsating disco of all stripes, from Afro- to Italo-, and on their two compilation albums you'll find it getting snuggly with funk, electro, deep house, psychedelia, and more—plus their deep tracks are so obscure I couldn't name them if you paid me. Clique Talk, Chrissy Murderbot, and Kid Color open. 10 PM, Berlin, 954 W. Belmont, 773-348-4975, $10. —Liz Armstrong

TIM SPARKS Minneapolis-based Tim Sparks is a journeyman of acoustic fingerstyle guitar, a restless searcher whose curiosity has continually widened his musical scope. Over the decades he's adapted traditional jazz, postbop, classical, Brazilian music, and eastern European folk, parlaying the latter interest into a string of strong original recordings for Tzadik's cheekily named Radical Jewish Culture series. As one of three contributors to Masada Guitars (2003), Sparks locates his own sound in tunes Tzadik head John Zorn composed for his long-running quartet Masada. Unlike Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell, who take relatively faithful approaches to the source material, Sparks assimilates styles from all over the globe into his dazzling, precise arpeggios, while respecting the Jewish origins of Zorn's scales. Sparks brings that same ethos to Little Princess—Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (2009), where he tackles the music of the brilliant and influential klezmer clarinetist in a trio session with bassist Greg Cohen and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Here too he plays against type, adding accents from as far afield as flamenco and choro and bringing out the mutant makeup of both Brandwein's exuberant work and a great majority of 20th-century music. Sparks will focus on material from these albums for his two solo sets in town this week; see also Monday. The Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo headlines. 8 PM, Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse, 773-381-4554, $15. —Peter Margasak


BURTON GREENE After Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor blew holes in the walls of jazz, a stream of New York-based musicians poured through the breach, each brandishing his or her own definition of freedom. Pianist Burton Greene is part of that second generation. In 1963 he and bassist Alan Silva championed total improvisation in the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble; the following year he participated in the groundbreaking October Revolution concerts and joined Carla Bley, Sun Ra, and Bill Dixon in the Jazz Composers Guild, an early attempt at self-empowerment by avant-garde jazz musicians. He went on to record for the notoriously radical ESP label, most notably playing his piano like a discordant harp on Patty Waters's unforgettable rendition of "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Greene moved to Europe in 1969, and he's moved on musically too, bringing electronics and ethnic elements into his music. On Retrospective 1961-2005: Solo Piano August 18, 2005 (CIMP) he riffles through his back pages, using a light, fleet touch to give Monk's "Little Rootie Tootie" an air of impish glee and imposing order upon chaos with the cool head of an air traffic controller on the dissonant, ruminative "Now You Hear It Now You Don't." And on last year's Two Voices in the Desert (Tzadik), he and clarinetist Perry Robinson bring dry-eyed romanticism to the klezmer-inspired melodies of German composer Syl Rollig. Greene grew up in Chicago and spent seven years of his youth studying classical music at the Fine Arts Building; at age 73 he's returning there for this rare local gig, part of the fifth annual Chicago Calling Arts Festival. He'll play duets with bassist Harrison Bankhead; Turkish pianist Seda Röder opens. 7 PM, Curtiss Hall, Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan, 312-291-0000, $20, $10 students. —Bill Meyer

MACBETH My blood boiled during the first act of Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production of Verdi's Macbeth, as the conniving Lady Macbeth (soprano Nadja Michael, dressed to kill in cut-to-the-waist, slit-to-the crotch gowns a la Morticia Addams) and her corruptible husband (dashing baritone Thomas Hampson) plotted their infamous regicide. Not for the right reasons, though—I had missed the opening curtain and, along with a couple dozen other laggards, was relegated to opera hell, watching the first 45 minutes or so of the three-hour production on a TV in the lobby. On the small screen, it looked like it might be stunning: a towering fire in the woods, a Gehry-esque castle of curving steel. Once I was seated, not so much. The staging, by Chicago Shakespeare Theater's artistic director, Barbara Gaines, takes a reductively literal approach to a story whose impact depends on what can't be seen: the inner demons that bring about self-destruction. In this production, all-too-solid ghosts pop up like jack-in-the-boxes and witches bobble on wires like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins. But the walking forest—Great Birnam Wood, which moves upon Dunsinane Castle at the story's climax—never appears. That said, Verdi's gorgeous but often weird score—delicate when it should be fierce, rhapsodic in despair—is superbly performed all round, with the usual fine work from Lyric's chorus and orchestra, under guest conductor Renato Palumbo. See also Tuesday; this production runs through October 30, with six more performances. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$207. —Deanna Isaacs


LINA ALLEMANO FOUR You can't miss the influence of Ornette Coleman's classic quartet on this sharp combo led by Toronto trumpeter Lina Allemano. On the group's excellent new album, Jargon (Lumo), the rapport Allemano and alto saxophonist Brodie West demonstrate with their simultaneous melodies recalls Ornette's connection to trumpeter Don Cherry, and the limber rhythm section—bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser—creates an elastic sense of time much like Charlie Haden did with Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell. But Allemano also has her own thing going. The ensemble as a whole sounds more easygoing and organic than Coleman's band, and her appealingly loosey-goosey tunes, while full of angular contours and wide intervals—she and West use all the space these structures give them when they improvise, and their refined intuition yields knowing caresses as well as astringent harmonies—have less of a blues sensibility than Coleman's. On "Sling Slang" Fraser raises the temperature—suggesting acceleration without actually speeding up—but what I like most about the group is how effortless and relaxed its brilliant interplay usually feels. The players make great use of space, and their approach seems confident and measured compared to the meterless blowing sessions so common these days in music that leans toward free jazz—all of which makes it that much easier to savor Allemano and West's gorgeous lines. Slow Cycle headlines. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

FAUN FABLES It's been four years since the previous full-length album from Faun Fables, the brainy, feral avant-folk collaboration between singer-songwriter Dawn McCarthy and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum multi-instrumentalist Nils Frykdahl—perhaps because another collaboration of theirs, two-year-old daughter Edda, has also been making demands on their time. What makes this duo more than your usual strummy oddment is that it's a lifestyle for them—which also involves staging theater productions and, in recent years, learning and implementing preindustrial homesteading skills. Each album is a slice of McCarthy's beautifully odd brain; she's managed to grow up without losing faith in fairy tales. The forthcoming Light of a Vaster Dark (Drag City) has a mournful undertow in its domestic scenes and nature metaphors, plus a bit of the sad sway of the doleful ballads in the Child collection—it's as if the cozy house she and Frykdahl have built were full of ghosts. The instrumentation is more polished, conventional, and accessible than on earlier records, but as always what really sells the music is the utter conviction in McCarthy's beautiful voice, which is part Sandy Denny, part Patty Waters, and part siren or ancient Scandinavian skald—there's no thought so strange that she can't connect it to a soul. Daniel Knox opens.  8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. —Monica Kendrick

KYLESA Legend has it that the dark, down-tuned guitar sound central to doom metal owes its existence to 17-year-old Tony Iommi losing the tips of two fingers on his fretting hand during his last day on the job at a sheet-metal factory. Rather than give up the guitar, he made himself prosthetic fingertips and loosened the strings so it'd be easier to fret them, and thus was born the signature Black Sabbath tone. Though boatloads of bands use it these days, Savannah's Kylesa are one of the most compelling—they twist that lava-thick and deadly sound into a flexible braid of joyful noise that also integrates some of the best parts of space rock and classic punk. (Sometimes vocalist-guitarists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants trade lines like a louder, fiercer John Doe and Exene.) Kylesa's forthcoming Spiral Shadow (due October 26 on Season of Mist) puts this stylistic limberness to great use, keeping every song fresh and surprising—"Crowded Road," with the group's massive double-drummer attack at full throttle, sounds like at least four different bands trying to pass one another, and on "Distance Closing In" you could swear they've got bloody pieces of the Brian Jonestown Massacre stuck in their chassis. Despite this variety, though, the focus is almost always on Pleasants's eerie, trippy guitar—she plays that style as well as anyone with all her fingers can. This show is part of Riot Fest. High on Fire headlines; Torche, Kylesa, and Droids Attack open. 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $23, $21 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

CHUCHO VALDES It's been nearly a decade since veteran Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes has performed in Chicago—in fact he's barely played in the States during that time—so this performance can be seen as evidence of a slow diplomatic thaw between his country and the U.S. He's continued to make great music, though, and on his stunning new album, Chucho's Steps (Four Quarters), he sounds as vital as ever. The record is full of nods to the collision between Afro-Cuban music and jazz, which has fueled Valdes's aesthetic for most of his career: In a tip of the cap to hard-bop drummer Art Blakey, Valdes calls his band the Afro-Cuban Messengers, and the title track has a complex, multisection 50-bar melody that's an obvious salute to Coltrane's breathless "Giant Steps." The album opens with the high-octane "Zawinul's Mambo," a serpentine monster that quotes Weather Report melodies over grooves as fiercely progressive as anything from rising young stars of Cuban jazz like Dafnis Prieto and Yosvanny Terry. "Danzon" begins with an elegant interpretation of the dance form it's named after, then jumps into the cha-cha, which descended from it; "Yansa," named for the Yoruban orisha of wind, is a stormy exposition on the malleability of the clave rhythm, pocked with pointillistic bass, violent piano clusters, and soulful call-and-response chants led by bata drummer Dreiser Durruthy Bombale. Valdes turns 69 the day before this concert, where he'll lead the excellent eight-piece combo from Chucho's Steps. 7 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $20-$60. —Peter Margasak


BELLE & SEBASTIAN A four-year hiatus hasn't appreciably altered the sound of Belle & Sebastian, and some of the criticism leveled against the band's new album, Write About Love (Matador), has hinged on that fact. I've always enjoyed their music, but I haven't obsessively tracked their growth, so this just seems like nitpicking to me. Leader Stuart Murdoch continues to draw his primary inspiration from the 60s—the plush harmonies of the Mamas & the Papas seem like a key influence on the title track, where he duets with actress Carey Mulligan, and "I Want the World to Stop"—and the group's execution has never been more polished or forceful. That's not always a good thing; on the graceful midtempo ballad "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John," the spotless arrangement makes the band sound like an anonymous group of session musicians behind guest vocalist Norah Jones. Murdoch's writing is aging well, with the exception of his lyrics about misunderstood youth, which are starting to sound tired, if not a little weird: on the foppish arrested-development protest "I'm Not Living in the Real World," one of his bandmates sings, "Up in the morning, heading for the schoolyard / Big boys being bullies make it so hard." With their tuneful charm, Belle & Sebastian have been winning me over—despite the occasional nitpick of my own—for 15 years, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Smith Westerns open. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, $42.50. —Peter Margasak

A.A. BONDY Something like four out of five bohemian males will at some point in their 20s start a rootsy solo project with the intent of being the next Dylan or Springsteen or Neil Young—or at least scoring some makeouts—and the odds of any one of them being at all good brush up against the infinitesimal. The funny thing is that the A.A. Bondys of the world aren't really working with different raw materials than the many dudes hogging time at open-mike nights: folky chord progressions, a slightly weathered voice from what are probably Camel Lights, confessional lyrics about love and America and substance-abuse problems. But something about Bondy's way of assembling those well-worn tropes—his songs are compellingly catchy, and though he paints in broad strokes he never does anything cringeworthy—makes me want to stop what I'm doing and listen to his records instead of sending them straight to the trash can. Quieting Syrup opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance. —Miles Raymer

TIM SPARKS See Thursday. Nicholas Barron opens. 8 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $10.


BIG K.R.I.T. Every time it looks like Dirty South hip-hop is about to devolve entirely into self-parodic ringtone-beat trap rap, some new MC or producer pops up to remind us how goddamn good it can be. Big K.R.I.T. (who both raps and produces) is the form's latest savior, and this summer's impeccable mix tape K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is an impressive pileup of southern rap touchstones: he dabs his humid beats with the occasional crunky gloss, he's got a heavy, swaggering flow that can make him sound like Big Boi or T.I., and he proudly reps his upbringing in Bumfuck, Mississippi. Curren$y headlines; Big K.R.I.T. and Smoke DZA open. Corner Boy P, Fiend, Trademark Da Skydiver, and DJ Trew spin. 10:30 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $18, $16 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer

FORGETTERS After taking a break from music for a few years after the demise of Jets to Brazil in 2003, punk bard and former Jawbreaker front man Blake Schwarzenbach apparently returned in the mood for something a bit faster and louder. In 2008 he put together the short-lived Thorns of Life, which he described as "a storehouse of fond hatred," and his new band, Forgetters, is a lean, rough power trio in the mold of Mission of Burma, rounded out by Caroline Paquita (ex-Bitchin') and former Against Me! drummer Kevin Mahon—perhaps the most straight-ahead rock band he's led to date. They're touring on their debut double seven-inch, which is rife with Schwarzenbach's polemical disenchantment—the catchiest songs about U.S. foreign policy you'll hear this year. 97-Shiki opens. 8:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance, 17+. —Jessica Hopper

MACBETH See Saturday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$207.


HERCULANEUM Last year Herculaneum reedist Dave McDonnell moved to Cincinnati for grad school, but he visits Chicago so frequently that you wouldn't know it from the band's schedule. And listening to Herculaneum's upcoming fourth album, Olives & Orchids (a vinyl-only release on EF, a new label run by the group's drummer, Dylan Ryan), you have to wonder whether McDonnell's commuter status has given their music an extra shot of immediacy. Both Ryan and McDonnell contribute compositions—the first time anyone but the drummer has written for the group—and the music's as tricky as ever, the tightly coiled, feverishly intense pieces flush with odd time signatures and multi-episode constructions. Tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine rips into the angular theme of "Dynasty" with terse ascending phrases in a stark, dusky tone—until suddenly the key and groove change, ushering in an equally forceful solo by trumpeter Patrick Newbery. The visceral standard set there rarely flags throughout the record—the band sounds hungrier than ever. Drag City DJs spin. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $7. —Peter Margasak

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