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The List: September 16-22, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Justin Townes Earle, Happy Birthday, Katatonia, Male Bonding, Peter Stampfel, Suuns, and more

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Friday17

Ryan Cohan Quintet
Happy Birthday
Katatonia
Greg Ward's Fitted Shards

Saturday18

Charlatans UK Postponed
Ryan Cohan Quintet
Justin Townes Earle
Male Bonding
Raven
Peter Stampfel
Super Wild Horses

Sunday19

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ryan Cohan Quartet
Super Wild Horses

Monday20

Heavy Times

Tuesday21

Suuns

Wednesday22

Dead Confederate

friday17

RYAN COHAN QUINTET One of the city's most reliable mainstream jazz pianists, Ryan Cohan has built a discography that consists mostly of thoughtfully arranged suites—sprawling works that often call for large casts of collaborators and multiple lineup permutations. But after touring steadily with his quartet for the past few years, including several State Department-sponsored trips to Africa and Russia, he decided to capture what they do each night on the bandstand. The buoyant new Another Look (Motema) is a passel of sharp original compositions that shows off the strong rapport and crisp rhythmic interplay he's developed with reedist Geof Bradfield, bassist Lorin Cohen, and drummer Kobie Watkins. Cohan couldn't totally resist his love for collaboration, though, and augmented the band with New York vibist Joe Locke, who enhances the pianist's keen use of harmony, and percussionist Steve Kroon, who does the same for his rhythms. The sextet crackles on the opening "Monk'n Around," which cleverly interpolates a quote from Monk's "Four in One," and most of the pieces have a propulsive snap that's complemented by the rich timbres produced by Bradfield's silken tone and the ringing resonance of piano and vibes. "This or That" opens with a serene, tempo-shifting melody, providing the subsequent improvisations with potent source material. And Cohan's treatment of the Ellington standard "Caravan" draws upon Afro-Cuban reference points and the bluesy Afrocentric swing of pianist Randy Weston; with Bradfield and Locke sitting out, Cohan deploys a battery of shape-shifting, rhythmically charged phrases, giving the familiar theme plenty of new life. See also Saturday and Sunday; Locke will join Cohan's quartet tonight and Saturday. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

HAPPY BIRTHDAY King Tuff formed this band because he was too shy to sing his songs of romantic awkwardness alone. He does so in a soaring sort of squawk, as adolescent as his subject matter on Happy Birthday's self-titled Sub Pop debut. But he's well paired with stickswoman Ruth Garbus, who has a big, womanly voice—like her sister Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards—that counteracts Mr. Tuff's woebegotten warble. They sound something like Dinosaur Jr would have if Lou Barlow had kicked J Mascis out, rather than the other way around—fuzzed-out bubble-pop. The music will feel familiar to anyone who heard the popular indie-rock bands of the early 90s, though the trio have close contemporaries in the prettified garage-band sound of Girls. They're a fine and happy sort of band, Happy Birthday. Dirty Projectors headline. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $21, 18+. —Jessica Hopper

Katatonia
  • Linda Akerberg
  • Katatonia

KATATONIA These dour Swedes, from a land of long winter nights and cradle-to-grave health care, play a romantic flavor of gothic metal in the tradition of their English contemporaries My Dying Bride, though they call it simply "dark rock." (Vocalist Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nystrom work out their more visceral impulses in the death-metal band Bloodbath, where Renkse plays bass and fellow Swede Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth sings.) Katatonia's eighth full-length, Night Is the New Day (Peaceville), released last fall, begins with the wall-slamming "Forsaker" and quickly opens up into painterly layers of instrumentation, adding keyboards, strings, and more to create a surprisingly deep and nuanced web of textures. Renkse's clean, resonant vocals sound like something you might hear in a cold and cavernous stone cathedral somewhere in the forsaken far north, and they serve to anchor the listener in the proper state of melancholy—some of the acoustic interludes and delicate synths raise the possibility that a sunbeam might leak into the gloom, and we can't have that! Swallow the Sun, Orphaned Land, Novembers Doom, and Clad in Darkness open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $20. —Monica Kendrick

GREG WARD'S FITTED SHARDS Saxophonist Greg Ward, who left Chicago for New York a year ago, has established himself as one of the instrument's most adroit young practitioners, whether he's playing classic African pop in the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International or deftly trading postbop phrases with fellow reedist Tim Haldeman in Mike Reed's People, Places & Things. On the debut from his Chicago-based quartet Fitted Shards, South Side Story (19/8)—also his first recording as leader—he tries to cram in bits of every discipline that interests him, like many young jazz musicians do. He adorns his multipartite original tunes with shifting rhythms, elaborate harmonies, and improvisations that reflect his soulfulness and intellect, but the record suffers from fussy, overstuffed arrangements straight out of the 70s jazz-fusion playbook. What really spoils the album for me, though, are the 80s-style synthesizer tones and solo lines from keyboardist Rob Clearfield, a gifted technician with seriously bad taste. Drummer Quin Kirchner and bassist Jeff Greene ably navigate the serpentine charts, but their efforts aren't enough to shake off the visions of a keytar-slinging Chick Corea. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Peter Margasak

saturday18

CHARLATANS UK Postponed The legally mandated appending of their country of origin to their name—to differentiate them from the late-60s American psych-rock band—only drove home the fact that Charlatans UK would only ever catch on in the United States with a demographic predisposed to Anglophilia (as well as to trench coats and floppy hairdos). Though "Weirdo" made the rounds on alt-rock radio, the greater grunge-loving American rock scene of the 90s just couldn't get down with the Charlatans' tendency to swirl and drift rather than pound their point home. But those with more subtle tastes—usually the same people who'd wear Cure T-shirts to shreds—found much to love on records like 1992's Between 10th and 11th, and a considerable number have stuck around all the way through to their 11th album, the brand-new Who We Touch (Cooking Vinyl). Sherlock's Daughter opens. Postponed 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $20. —Miles Raymer

RYAN COHAN QUINTET See Friday. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE With his third album, the brand-new Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot), Justin Townes Earle continues to make profoundly satisfying music with modest methods, surveying and mining America's southern musical heritage without trying to reinvent it. All the songs are originals, and though he's transplanted most of the settings to New York, where he lives, his lyrics engage the universal themes embedded in our folk tradition—they would've worked just as well 70 years ago as they do now. On the country-gospel title track the narrator brings a celebratory air to his impending suicide, treating it not just as an escape from his troubles but also as a way to go to heaven while he's still good with God. The Woody Guthrie-style "Working for the MTA" updates the railroad-song tradition by following the train underground, and while Earle distinguishes working on a subway from toiling aboard a freight train ("This ain't my Daddy's train / No, I ain't seen the sun in days"), slaving away is slaving away, no matter what the era. Earle credibly explores slap-bass rockabilly ("Move Over Mama"), horn-kissed country soul ("Slippin' and Slidin'"), piano balladry ("Rogers Park"), and the kind of talking folk-rock mastered by his father, Steve ("Christchurch Woman"), revealing his easy fluency in all of them. Jessica Lea Mayfield opens. Earle also plays a free in-store at 5 PM at Reckless Records, 3126 N. Broadway. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15, $13 in advance. —Peter Margasak

MALE BONDING A while back a friend living in the UK IM'd me a couple of videophone clips of the London trio Male Bonding performing at a warehouse in Camden for a small but visibly excited crowd. The combination of the group's frenetic energy and the Jäger-bomb-like effect they had on their audience brought to mind party-starting domestic acts like No Age and Matt & Kim. My friend assured me that they were a Next Big Thing, and sure enough it was only a couple of months before word got out that Sub Pop had snatched them up. Though Male Bonding has disappointed the people who expected them to blow up in the States the way Bloc Party did, the collision of dance-inflected rhythms, careening punk energy, bubblegum melodies, and slinky, Afrophile guitar licks on their debut full-length, Nothing Hurts—which they may have perfected on the album's centerpiece, "Weird Feelings"—has an undeniable crackle. Americans may yet get down to this band like those kids in Camden did. Titus Andronicus headlines; Best Coast, Free Energy, and Male Bonding open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $19, $17 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer

RAVEN You might remember this British trio as hair-metal second-stringers from the late 80s, but they actually came together in 1974. They're at their best playing the kind of fierce hard rock that marks them out as contemporaries of Judas Priest—their proto-thrash attack is good enough to make me forgive those schlocky 80s records and the rather dumb gimmick they once used of playing in athletic gear. Cursed with a Spinal Tap-like career trajectory, Raven almost dropped the thread altogether back in 2001, when guitarist Mark Gallagher nearly lost his legs after a wall collapsed on him. The band went on hiatus while Gallagher rehabbed, eventually regrouping to record last year's Walk Through Fire (Metal Blade), a hard-earned and intense return to form. Earthen Grave, Bible of the Devil, Stone Magnum, and Diamond Plate open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 866-468-3401, $18, $15 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

PETER STAMPFEL According to legend, singer Peter Stampfel was the first to use the word psychedelic in a song; in 1964 he and Steve Weber, who'd just started the Holy Modal Rounders, tweaked Charlie Poole's folk-blues standard "Hesitation Blues" to fit the trippy tenor of the times. The Rounders wrestled folkie purism to the ground and poured acid-spiked Muscatel down its throat: their self-consciously nasal drawls, rusty-razor vocal harmonies, and edge-of-dementia lyrics both satirized and paid homage to the rural traditions they invoked. Stampfel was also an early member of the Fugs, who became legendary for their merciless blend of social satire and scatological excess (titles like "Coca Cola Douche," "Boobs a Lot," and "Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel" were not atypical). Having survived with his wit, his chops, and presumably his liver intact, Stampfel is now something of an elder statesman of gonzo folk. On his latest full-length, Dook of the Beatniks (PFAM), he's as unhinged as ever, offering up twisted marvels like the garage-punk anthem "Big Slop Buckets" and the hillbilly-noir send-up "Our Lady of Oklahoma" alongside clothespin-on-the-nose takes on roots classics like Johnny Cash's "Big River" and Little Richard's "Keep a Knockin'." Stampfel doesn't get out of New York much these days, so this Chicago appearance is not to be missed. The Cairo Gang opens. Stampfel will also play a free solo set (with his daughter Zoe on hand drums and backing vocals) at 2 PM at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —David Whiteis

SUPER WILD HORSES Since I don't actually know the Australian duo Super Wild Horses I can't say whether their aura of gleeful sloppiness and amateurism is a cultivated affectation or the real deal (or even a little of both), but whatever they're doing, it works. The recent Fifteen (HoZac)—their first full-length after a couple of singles that were eagerly snapped up by garage-pop freaks—and the handful of decent live clips that have made it online give off the scary-fun verge-of-falling-apart energy of a band just stepping out of the basement. The big difference between Super Wild Horses and your high-school punk band is that they have a stockpile of sugar-sweet jams—these two girls are so full of pop and sunshine they make Best Coast look like goths. White Mystery headlines; Super Wild Horses, Wet Hair, and Outer Minds open. See also Sunday. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Miles Raymer

sunday19

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Riccardo Muti begins his tenure as the tenth music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with their first CD together—a thrilling live recording of Verdi's Requiem made while he was music director designate in January 2009 and due next week via CSO Resound—and this free concert in Millennium Park. In June 2008, at the press conference to announce his appointment, Muti made it clear that he intends not only to make good music in the concert hall but also to "serve the community." Now 69, Muti has led nearly all the world's great orchestras—he's been a regular at the Salzburg Festival since 1971 as well—and his resumé includes terms as the principal conductor of legendary Milanese opera house La Scala (1987-2005), the Philadelphia Orchestra (1980-'92), and London's Philharmonia Orchestra (1974-'82). He'll begin by showing his deep roots in Italian opera with Verdi's overture to La Forza del Destino. The program also includes Liszt's Les Preludes, the most popular of his symphonic poems (a form he invented); Tchaikovsky's lush, dramatic Romeo and Juliet, with its famous love theme; and Respighi's visually evocative Pines of Rome.  5:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph, 312-742-1168. —Barbara Yaross

RYAN COHAN QUARTET See Friday. 7:30 PM, Room 43, 1043 E. 43rd, 773-285-2222, $10, $5 students.

SUPER WILD HORSES See Saturday.  5 PM, Permanent Records, 1914 W. Chicago, 773-278-1744.

monday20

HEAVY TIMES A band called Heavy Times needs to have song titles like "Ice Age" (if that ain't a heavy time . . . ) and "Drug Lake," and its music, if not heavy in the metal sense, should at least seem like a soundtrack to Robo-tripping on the beach and falling down around the bonfire. This Chicago outfit scores on both counts. Heavy Times have been recording since the mid-aughts (originally as Slums), but only recently have they started gigging steadily, in the process helping prove that the list of exciting rock bands in Chicago doesn't end with the same three or four who seem to get on all the good shows. So far they've released an LP and a cassette, which got HoZac's attention—the label will be releasing a Heavy Times seven-inch this fall. "Ice Age" is a fine example of the hooky lo-fi pop stomp that's increasingly becoming HoZac's stock in trade, and "Drug Lake" is a ray of sludge-rock hope for anyone wishing all these reverb-heavy neo-lo-fi bands would evolve their rhythms beyond the usual "Mongo no like syncopation" quarter-note cave pound. Radar Eyes headline; Crocodiles and Heavy Times open.  9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Brian Costello

Suuns
  • Suuns

tuesday21

SUUNS Montreal four-piece Suuns (formerly Zeroes) make music that sounds like paranoia feels. Their forthcoming full-length debut, Zeroes QC (Secretly Canadian), pairs a mind-altering undercurrent of pulsing electro with a slashing, prickly rock-band core of guitar, bass, and drums; Ben Shemie's vocals, which skip from droning and bleak to hauntingly maniacal (see "Pie IX"), help create a creepy aesthetic reminiscent of Liars, except a little druggier and more erratic. On the lead track, "Armed for Peace," a chunky, stomping beat mutates into a falsetto-led jam full of X-treem guitar licks that reminds me of the late Party of Helicopters. The album lulls and numbs you with thick, hypnotic waves of synth, then shocks you back into consciousness with jolts of raw guitar noise; it'd make a great soundtrack for the kind of taut, tongue-gnawingly suspenseful scenes Stanley Kubrick is so good at. I just can't get over these guys—most live bands that lean heavily on electronics sound like pretentious assholes who think they can replace bashing with button pushing and not lose anything important. Hearing one that doesn't is goddamn riveting. Land of Talk headlines.  9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14, $12 in advance. —Kevin Warwick

wednesday22

DEAD CONFEDERATE This five-piece from Athens, Georgia, has always provided a good solid diversion with their choogling hybrid of southern boogie and grunge, but their latest album, Sugar (TAO/Razor & Tie), is a considerable leap forward. The single "Giving It All Away" (with guest guitar from J Mascis) is hooky and mesmerizing, and "Quiet Kid" is sincerely frightening and harrowing in pretty much exactly the way that Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" wasn't. Like fellow new-south rockers the Drive-By Truckers, Dead Confederate boast more than one capable songwriter: Hardy Morris and Brantley Senn contribute in equal measure. The tension between their creative contributions provides an extra momentum of its own—you'll just end up frustrated if you insist on deciding which one is Stonewall Jackson to the other's Robert E. Lee. Alberta Cross headlines; Dead Confederate and J. Roddy Walston & the Business open. 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $15. —Monica Kendrick

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