Music » Soundboard

The List: October 21-27, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Blonde Redhead, Deerhunter, the Gories, the Legendary Pink Dots, Suffocation, and more

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>Critic's Choice< Blonde Redhead
>Critic's Choice< Callers
>Critic's Choice< Deerhunter
>Critic's Choice< Gories, Gentleman John Battles
>Critic's Choice< Legendary Pink Dots


Jeff Chan
>Critic's Choice< Gories
>Critic's Choice< Suffocation


>Critic's Choice< The Seasons Project


>Critic's Choice< Gary Numan


>Critic's Choice< Bobby "Slim" James


BLONDE REDHEAD When Blonde Redhead first became a hit with the indie-rock cogniscenti in the mid-90s, it didn't seem like they had much staying power, given that their appeal was rooted in sounding exactly like Sonic Youth but being multinational and more attractive. By the time of their masterful 2000 album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, though, they'd reinvented themselves as the indie-world leaders in tasteful black-turtleneck mopiness, and they haven't budged from that spot despite the efforts of a decade's worth of Interpol-inspired ersatz Joy Divisions. Their recent Penny Sparkle (4AD) unites them with Van Rivers & the Subliminal Kid, Swedish electronic producers who've worked with Fever Ray and Bat for Lashes, and the duo's lush layers of spacious synthetic drums and vintage keyboard tones add a retro-goth flavor to the album. But like Blonde Redhead's best work, it's also a great soundtrack for pretending you're the protagonist in a French New Wave movie. Pantha du Prince opens. 8:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 866-448-7849, $22.50, 18+. —Miles Raymer

CALLERS Sara Lucas, singer of the Brooklyn trio Callers, has the kind of voice that overthrows my better judgment. She can be irritatingly fussy, she wantonly shows off her sizable range, and she ornaments her melodies with breathless curlicues, acrobatic swoops, and elasticized, quasi-jazzy phrasing—she's like a Phoebe Snow for the post-Ani DiFranco generation or something. But despite all that, her skill, precision, and power have got me hooked. It also helps that the band's new second album, Life of Love (Western Vinyl), keeps surprising me even after half a dozen spins—Lucas and her resourceful bandmates, guitarist Ryan Seaton and drummer Don Godwin, borrow from ethereal folk-rock, Brill Building pop, blue-eyed soul, and art-rock, sometimes all in the same tune. The songs are warmly lyrical, and the dynamic arrangements—which create as much variety within a single track as there is across the whole nine-track album—give Lucas plenty of scenery to chew on. Whether turning a cover of Wire's austere "Heartbeat" into an emotional rollercoaster or combining a romantic 50s pop vibe with the ambience of an underwater alien city on "How You Hold Your Arms," Callers are never predictable—and better yet, that's only part of their appeal. Rollin Hunt headlines; Callers, Rock Falls, and the Spend open. 8 PM, Ronny's, 2101 N. California, ronnysbar, $7. —Peter Margasak

  • Aaron Wojack
  • Callers

DEERHUNTER Deerhunter's seemingly inexhaustible talent for coming up with catchy tunes has made them arguably the best indie-pop band currently working, but it's the complications they put between their listeners and their hooks that make them the most interesting one. Their recent fourth album, Halcyon Digest (4AD), opens with "Earthquake," five minutes of slo-mo lo-fi drum machine and guitar, hissy atmospherics, and narcotized vocals—it probably would've been catchy as hell if the band had played it twice as fast. Even the record's snappier, punchier cuts, like "Don't Cry" and "Memory Boy," tend to wander off into abstraction, staking out their own spot in a territory unique to the band where garage rock, twee, and swoony, floppy-haired Britpop somehow overlap. As far as I can tell the only thing really wrong with Halcyon Digest is the frequent use of what sounds like a pickup-equipped acoustic guitar plugged straight into the recording deck—the tone that produces has ruined a number of otherwise great songs, including most of Bob Mould's catalog. Real Estate and Casino vs. Japan open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $19, 18+. —Miles Raymer

GORIES, GENTLEMAN JOHN BATTLES Along with the Oblivians (with whom they took a double-reunion tour of Europe in 2009) and the Devil Dogs, Detroit three-piece the GORIES set the template for the frenzied cave-pound of neo-garage rock—in 1986, when many current practitioners were learning to go potty, guitarists Mick Collins and Dan Kroha and drummer Peggy O'Neill were teaching themselves how to play. Their 1989 debut, House Rockin', is a sweaty-souled, liberating blend of hair-raising Sonics-esque howling, three-chord mayhem, and dexterously bluesy solos that manage to be both violent and (for lack of a better word) tasteful—at the very least they feel appropriate to the songs. Crude, trashy, and stripped-down—the band used no bass, no kick drum, and no cymbals—the Gories sound was less a souped-up hot rod and more a soapbox racer rattling downhill at unsafe speeds. But they got over on ballsiness and charisma for two more equally charged albums—1990's I Know You Fine, but How You Doin' and 1992's Outta Here—before calling it quits. O'Neill joined '68 Comeback, Collins went on to greater fame leading the Dirtbombs, and Kroha became Danny Doll Rod, bringing his signature guitar sound to Demolition Doll Rods—and all the while the Gories' legend grew. The band's reunion shows have been selling out across Europe and America, and it's a safe bet both their Empty Bottle gigs will too.

It's refreshing to see a true believer and rock 'n' roll lifer like GENTLEMAN JOHN BATTLES on the bill of a big show like this. One of Chicago's more obsessive raconteurs on the subject of music, as well as a Chic-a-Go-Go mainstay and Roctober magazine illustrator and writer, Battles isn't the kind of person to treat garage rock as a soundtrack to barfing Sailor Jerry all over a Scion. For him it's a way of life, not a lifestyle to be purchased, and you can't deny that the cat's worship of the comic-book/B-movie/wild-sounds aesthetic is sincere. With nothing but his croon and a blazing call-and-response stun guitar, he gives it his all whether the audiences are there or not—for a fine example, look up the YouTube clip of Battles's frenetic cover of the Dave Dudley trucker-on-speed classic "Six Days on the Road." You get the feeling the music is simply another way for him to proselytize about the trash culture he loves.

The Gories headline; White Mystery and Battles open. The Gories also play Saturday; see separate List item. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Brian Costello

LEGENDARY PINK DOTS Lord knows "cult band" doesn't mean what it used to, but the Society for the Prevention of the Watering-Down of Terms has specifically approved the use of that phrase to describe the Legendary Pink Dots. Edward Ka-Spel and Phil Knight (and a lot of shorter-term team players) have spent the past three decades skirting the edges of synth pop, goth, industrial, psych, neofolk, ambient, darkwave, and other genres with sillier names. Their bazillionth album, Seconds Late for the Brighton Line (ROIR), sounds a little bit like a refutation of their past attempts at poppiness—its droning, eerie concoctions of collaged sounds and oddly distant instruments rise and fall according to an obscure logic of their own, with crescendos and diminuendos never occurring quite where one thinks they should. The overall effect is disconcerting, like an otherwise pleasant house without a single 90-degree angle in it. It's an introverted record, but considering that this tour is a 30th-anniversary celebration for the band, I expect that when they get onstage they'll be more outgoing than these songs suggest. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $15. —Monica Kendrick


JEFF CHAN Jeff Chan may have grown up in the Bay Area, but the 39-year-old reedist came home when he moved to Chicago eight years ago. His robust tone and unerring sense of swing recall the work of Chicago-based tenor saxophonists like Gene Ammons and Fred Anderson; even when he works with traditional Japanese and Korean themes, as he does on his latest album, Horns of Plenty (Asian Improv), he sounds like he's playing the blues. He's found like-minded collaborators in AACM affiliates such as reedist Edward Wilkerson Jr. and percussionist Avreeayl Ra; they'll be part of both bands Chan leads at these gigs, which are part of the 15th Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival. The Big Fun Philharmonic, which plays this afternoon at the Cultural Center, is Chan's big-band project, in which disciplined charts serve as springboards for the players' impassioned solos; the Cultural Arts Quartet, which plays tonight at the Velvet Lounge, is his go-for-broke free-jazz outfit.  1 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Also 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Bill Meyer

GORIES See Friday. CoCoComa and Hollows open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15.

SUFFOCATION Seven years and three albums after Long Island death-metal band Suffocation clawed their way out of the mass grave marked "indefinite hiatus" (the reunited lineup includes three members from their full-length debut—not bad), they still haven't produced anything with the potential to be as influential as their first three records, 1991's Effigy of the Forgotten, 1993's Breeding the Spawn, and 1995's Pierced From Within. Then again, that would be a tall order. Those albums were down-and-dirty monsters of strobe-light seizure metal—you could easily swallow your own tongue imitating Frank Mullen's vocals (think werewolf with a sucking chest wound) or give yourself an aneurysm trying to keep up with Mike Smith's blastbeats. (And Mullen's "death-metal spirit fingers" belong in the pantheon of rock gestures alongside Pete Townshend's windmills.) If last year's Blood Oath (Nuclear Blast) suffers from anything, it's muscle memory—Suffocation have certainly hit their stride again, but that might be what's keeping them from trying much new. Either that or they just don't feel obligated to redefine their genre twice. The songs are straightforward at their core, despite the sudden tempo changes and unpredictable lurching from half-time to double-time—like all the great technical death metal that Suffocation inspired, they yoke the fiendishly complex to the bluntly primitive to make an arrhythmia-inducing nongroove feel like a brutal bludgeoning. The Faceless, Through the Eyes of the Dead, Decrepit Birth, and Fleshgod Apocalypse open. 2:30 PM, Clearwater Theater, 96 W. Main, West Dundee, 847-836-8820, $20. —Monica Kendrick

  • Suffocation


THE SEASONS PROJECT Philip Glass has been among the predominant forces in minimalist music (though he prefers to call it "music with repetitive structures"), which is characterized by its use of short, repeated musical ideas, often arpeggios, broken chords, or even just pairs of notes. In 1965 and '66, dissatisfied with the dissonant, atonal postmodernism that had become de rigueur in academia, Glass worked closely with Ravi Shankar, absorbing from Indian classical music the technique of layering patterns according to shifting or flexible groupings of pulses; from there he developed his familiar hypnotic style, with simplified textures, complex matrices of cellular rhythms, and relatively static harmonies. As influential as this style would become, it often felt emotionally dry, though Glass would become more expressive in the decades to come. In 1982 he wrote his first film score, and such work has since become an important part of his career; it seems likely that the necessity of responding to onscreen moods helped him develop the lyrical and romantic elements of his music. He began to use greater chromatic dissonance and more frequent harmonic changes, and his repetitive themes mutated increasingly seamlessly—resulting in something far more intimate and accessible. Glass's Violin Concerto No. 2: The American Four Seasons, written in 2009 at the request of gifted American violinist Robert McDuffie, displays these qualities generously. A companion piece to Vivaldi's Four Seasons and intended to be performed with it—Glass is calling the juxtaposition The Seasons Project—the concerto has its Chicago premiere tonight with McDuffie as soloist. Each of the four orchestral movements is preceded by a solo violin piece, which can also be played in order as a suite (something McDuffie has already done). The violin movements, the most expressive parts of the concerto, are infused with Bach-inspired lyricism, and require the use of complex techniques—standard for Baroque performance—such as playing simultaneous melodies or sustaining a trill to accompany a melodic line. The excellent Venice Baroque Orchestra will perform the Vivaldi on period instruments (tuned to A440) and the Glass on modern instruments, including a bit of synthesizer.  3 PM, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, $45-$75. —Barbara Yaross


GARY NUMAN Gary Numan is best known for his 1979 smash "Cars," but his first four albums—both with Tubeway Army and as a solo artist—are all essential new-wave records. They promised a wondrous future in which artists would use synthesizers for good and realize the absolute necessity of real drum sounds, and though that's not exactly how things turned out, the current wasteland of bad synth pop just proves how well Numan's records have held up—and not only on the dance floors of Neo or Late Bar. Robotic grooves layered with soaring, haunting melody lines scored Numan's somewhat Burroughsian lyrics, which described the disconnectedness of a humanity seemingly made cold and sterile by technology. Yet an acute sensitivity and depth of feeling pulsed underneath the surface of all that mechanized anomie—too bad it was lost on many listeners when these albums were first released. At this show Numan will perform his 1979 solo debut, The Pleasure Principle, from beginning to end, which should go far to show that there's a lot more to it than its I Love the '80s-approved hit; here's hoping it'll lead to a reassessment of Numan's catalog, and that Replicas and Tubeway Army will get the same treatment soon. Recoil and Architect open. For more on Numan, see the Q&A. 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $26, 18+. —Brian Costello


BOBBY "SLIM" JAMES The first recording from Chicago singer and guitarist Bobby "Slim" James, 1968's "I Really Love You" (Karol), made little noise here, but overseas it became an aficionados' favorite; in more recent years his music has become popular on northern-soul playlists in the UK. Back home, though, James continues to scuffle along what's left of the south- and west-side blues circuits, recording classy but underrecognized CDs like last year's Brand New Man (Annie Gee), on which he delivers material by coproducers Bob Jones and Robert Newsome in his trademark stripped-down soul-blues style. His guitar work, despite its odd, thin timbre, is supple and expressive; his vocals convey deep emotion without getting overly theatrical. Unlike too many contemporary soul-blues artists, James specializes in songs that tell meaningful stories; whether he's describing a country-bred striver confronting the hardscrabble realities of big-city living ("Real Story") or meditating on the toll that emotional vulnerability can take on even the strongest people ("It's Only That They're Lonely"), he has an ability to combine weary wisdom with hopeful romantic longing that recalls the glory days of deep soul. James usually leads a trio or quartet onstage, so the songs will sound leaner at this show than they do on the album—but his emotional forthrightness and deft musicianship, as well as the unforced yet propulsive support he gets from his band, make it unlikely you'll miss the studio arrangements. This is a regular Wednesday-night gig. 9:30 PM, Water Hole Lounge, 1400 S. Western, 312-243-7988. —David Whiteis

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