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The List: February 25-March 3, 2010

Critic's Choices and other notable concerts: Pierced Arrows, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, John Primer, Tinariwen, and more

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Thursday25

Elephant Gun
Pierced Arrows

Saturday28

Carolina Chocolate Drops
MNDR
Dider Petit
John Primer
Red Stick Ramblers
Tinariwen
Laura Veirs

Sunday28

Carolina Chocolate Drops
Lionel Loueke
Sandwitches
Tinariwen

Monday1

Extra Life

Tuesday2

The Damnation of Faust

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ELEPHANT GUN I missed it when these Chicagoans released their second full-length, Beartime Stories (Cassette Deck), this fall, but nobody should take that to mean the band isn't worth paying attention to. Elephant Gun turn their raucous music into a contact sport, squeezing all eight of their members onto the tiniest of stages, and their busy but romantic Gypsy folk-rock jams hit every point between Gogol Bordello and Fairport Convention, even nodding to Bright Eyes with flashes of poignance that never last long enough for anybody to wallow in. Fiddle, horn, harpsichord, and harmonica pulse and curl around the music's rock-band core like a tangle of snakes cozying up to Indiana Jones, and tambourines and maracas pile onto the drums to make rhythms you could almost bang your head to. Beartime Stories shows considerable growth from the band's debut album, KP—their songwriting is now almost as impressive as their ear for arrangements and their prowess as instrumentalists. If they keep improving at this rate, pretty soon they'll be unstoppable. Hudson Branch, Torch Singer, Zach Pietrini & the Broken Bones, and Brother George open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $8, $5 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Pierced Arrows
  • Simone muller
  • Pierced Arrows

PIERCED ARROWS In Pierced Arrows Fred and Toody Cole pick up where Dead Moon left off, soldiering on with their distinctive sludge-pound-moan. The couple, now living in Clackamas, Oregon, have been married since '67 and playing together steadily since the early 80s, and Fred is well into the fifth decade of his recording career. The last song on their new Descending Shadows (Vice), "Coming Down to Earth," is a meditation on the loneliness of the long-distance rocker, and Toody's tough, vulnerable vocals make it one of the most powerful I've ever heard. "Walked up on the stage / Nervousness and age / Hit me like a plague / I told myself before / Can't do this anymore," she begins, and then rounds the corner: "It's hard to walk away / I guess it's in my blood / I still can't get enough / It's what I've come to love." Together or apart, Fred and Toody's voices are like no others—Fred in particular sounds like Bon Scott might have if he'd stuck around long enough to temper his balls-deep worldview with mature passion and seasoned reflection. Live, like Dead Moon before them, Pierced Arrows line up in a row, with drummer Kelly Haliburton joining the Coles at the front of the stage, and also like Dead Moon they consistently draw a dedicated following in Chicago. Year in and year out, the Coles deliver marathon sets of brooding, direct hard rock that's miles deeper than the punk and garage of the epochs they've outlasted—to say nothing of the ephemeral hipster hokum of today. Days Off and Hollows open. 9 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Brian Costello

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CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS With their third album, the brand-new Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch), the Carolina Chocolate Drops continue to shine a light on the traditional rural black music that's all but disappeared from popular memory. People today, if they think about prewar American music at all, tend to assume that black folks played the blues and white folks played country, but such a stark racial divide didn't exist at the time—that simplifying fiction only came to be imagined in retrospect. Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson, and Dom Flemons trade lead vocals and swap instruments—banjo, jug, fiddle, bones, kazoo, Autoharp, sometimes guitar—and they've improved greatly as players since starting the band five years ago. Genuine Negro Jig, produced by Joe Henry, augments their customary repertoire of traditional string-band tunes with a couple of originals and versions of some modern songs, including Blu Cantrell's grinding, beat-heavy R & B smash "Hit 'Em Up Style"—not as unlikely a choice as it seems, since its tale of a scorned woman spending all her lover's money fits just fine next to the lyrics of tunes eight or nine decades old. The Chocolate Drops have a fondness for period clothing, but don't expect revivalist rigidity from their performances—they're all about recapturing the anything-goes vitality this music had when it was new. See also Sunday. 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Peter Margasak

MNDR MNDR is Amanda Warner, who has voyaged from Portland to Minneapolis to Oakland to Brooklyn, along the way studying jazz bass at Macalester College, backing Sean "Har Mar Superstar" Tillman in his project Sean Na Na, playing winsome, toothy indietronica with Triangle, and wrecking brains in the Bay Area art-rave scene. Now she's making a go of it as a solo act: she's both producer and singer of MNDR's authoritative and approachable experimental club music, and she's formidable on both fronts. She makes seamless, studied bump, with plenty of fuzzed-out artful bits that underscore rather than obscure her hooks; she's sort of like Diplo and the Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio rolled into one. YACHT headlines; MNDR and Bobby Birdman open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Jessica Hopper

DIDIER PETIT On his recent Don't Explain: 3 Faces (Buda), French improvising cellist Didier Petit creates a rich sonic vocabulary, though the only instruments are his cello and his voice. Most of the material is original, but not even Petit's version of Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" sits comfortably in anything you could call jazz or swing—he sticks mostly to sorrowfully bowed lines that alternate between elegant, patient melodies and stormy, texture-rich double stops, though there are a few detours into sparse pizzicato. Everything he does seethes with emotional tension, which is especially impressive considering that his vocals—sweet long tones, agitated yodels, wordless murmurs—are sometimes so delicate they're barely aspirated, sounding instead like a man talking to himself in a deep sleep. At this show Petit will play three times: first solo, then in a duet with flutist Nicole Mitchell, and finally as a guest of powerhouse local quartet Extraordinary Popular Delusions (better known as the Tuesday-night group keyboardist Jim Baker leads at Hotti Biscotti with reedist Mars Williams, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Steve Hunt). 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Peter Margasak

JOHN PRIMER Blues guitarist John Primer learned from the best: having moved to Chicago at 18 in 1963, in the mid-70s he cut his teeth in the legendary house band at Theresa's Lounge on South Indiana, playing behind Junior Wells and alongside accomplished fretman Sammy Lawhorn, a veteran of Muddy Waters's group. Primer would go on to work with Waters himself for a few years before embarking on a 14-year stint with Magic Slim, and since the mid-90s he's been playing under his own name. On his latest CD, the aptly titled All Original (Blues House), he remains an earnest purveyor of the postwar Chicago style, but his harmonic ideas and rhythmic urgency are bracingly up-to-date. His slide technique, though uncompromisingly stark, provides plenty of thrills with its armamentarium of spine-­tingling shivers and shrieks; his rich, tough-­timbred vocals combine Delta earthiness with big-city urbanity; and his single-string leads, precise yet passionate, dance dexterously over, under, and through his bandmates' straightforward boogie shuffles. The blues is often referred to as a "living heritage," and Primer's blend of rootsiness and innovation demonstrate exactly what that should mean. Joel Paterson & the Blues Roundup open; Eric Noden plays a free acoustic set from 6 till 8:30 PM. 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash, 312-427-1190, $15. —David Whiteis

RED STICK RAMBLERS The Pine Leaf Boys are leading a legion of Louisiana bands revitalizing the singular mixture of French Acadian styles and country that's usually just called Cajun, and Baton Rouge's Red Stick Ramblers are among their growing ranks. On their fifth and latest full-length, My Suitcase Is Always Packed (Sugar Hill), the Ramblers jump between various breezy combinations of Cajun music, honky-tonk, and twangy western swing with great ease if not great originality. There's a certain studiousness to their approach—something you won't hear on an album by D.L. Menard, the Cajun Hank Williams—but the quintet plays with such impressive skill and audible joy that it's hard for me to hold it against them that they were born too late. I mean, who wasn't? Mar Caribe opens. 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, 847-492-8860, $25, $20 in advance. —Peter Margasak

TINARIWEN Tinariwen, the first and best of the so-called desert-blues bands to have built an audience outside Africa over the past decade, haven't altered their sound too much on their latest release, Imidiwan: Companions (World Village)—if anything they've cooled off an incipient trend toward rock. They recorded the album in a makeshift studio in a village in Saharan Mali, and the familiar, intimate setting seems to have helped them retrench their hypnotic sound. The heart of the music is still its lattice of terse acoustic and electric guitar figures—stabbing little riffs, grimy elongated tones, circular licks—whose distinct rhythms cycle past one another, shifting in and out of synch. Tinariwen don't let these taut, pregnant patterns climax or resolve, instead ratcheting up their delicious, carefully pitched tension with the help of clip-clopping hand percussion; this stored-up energy gives tremendous force to the restrained, chanted call-and-response vocals. Imidiwan: Companions is a beautifully recorded album that captures Tinariwen doing what they do best, and the fact that they'll be playing material from it here is reason enough to recommend these shows highly. But perhaps the most exciting thing about this tour is that it's the first time in five years that front man Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has accompanied the band to Chicago—his health has been fragile, and malaria and exhaustion have kept him off the road in the past. See also Sunday. 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, sold out. —Peter Margasak

Laura Veirs
  • david belisle
  • Laura Veirs

LAURA VEIRS On the superb new July Flame (Raven Marching Band), Portland singer-songwriter Laura Veirs uses stripped-down arrangements, but her lyrics are lavish—she fills her elegantly rustic songs with visions of nature's abundance and beauty. The title track is named after the fiery-colored peaches she buys at an Oregon farmers' market, and in "Little Deschutes" she sings with glowing wonderment about a canoe trip with her lover, turning even its mishaps into revelations ("Paddling through the hail storm / Clothes ravaged, the leaves all torn / A part of me was born"). One exception is "Carol Kaye," a salute to the legendary session bassist, but even there Veirs conveys an endearing sense of awe. Most of the songs on July Flame create intimacy with a smallness that invites the listener to come close—their backdrops are usually nothing but acoustic-guitar arpeggios, sparse drumming, spectral viola (played by regular collaborator Eyvind Kang), and subtle, meticulous washes of vocal harmonies. This leaves the focus squarely on Veirs's charmingly unfancy singing. Even though her delivery still sounds a bit stiff, the gentle production (by Tucker Martine, who also worked on Bill Frisell's Floratone) softens the boxy 4/4 feel of her phrasing, and with each album her melodies get prettier and more expansive. Veirs headlines with her band the Hall of Flames; she plays guitar and banjo, Alex Guy plays violin, Eric Anderson plays bass, Nelson Kempf plays guitar and keys, and everybody sings. The Old Believers and Cataldo open. Veirs also plays a free, all-ages show at 5:30 PM at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 N. Ashland. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14. —Peter Margasak

sunday28

CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS See Saturday. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $20.

MAGRUDERGRIND The crossed-out pair of eighth notes on the cover of Magrudergrind's second full-length, a self-titled 2009 album on Willowtip, gives you a pretty good idea how much respect this D.C. band has for the niceties of music making—and the title of its opening track, "The Protocols of Anti-Sound," hammers the point home. With their chunky spew of grindcore, thrash, and powerviolence—spiced with a bit of death metal—Magrudergrind are basically hate-fucking the very concept of musicality. They switch between blurry-fast blastbeats and punishing stomps that feel like getting your head slammed repeatedly in a car door; they bury their hot-asphalt riffs in so much sick distortion that it's hard to make out actual notes; and they stick steadfastly to vocal styles that sound like a wide variety of enraged or terrified creatures, none of them human. After 27 minutes—the total duration of the album's 17 songs—you feel like you've grown calluses on your eardrums. Misery Index headlines; Magrudergrind, Morgue Supplier, Wasted Fortune, Like Rats, and Primitive Evolution open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $13, $10 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer

SANDWITCHES I first encountered San Francisco's Sandwitches on the soundtrack of "Sandwiches," a short video by local filmmaker Zain Curtis. Their tune "Back to the Sea," with its trash-blues proto-girl-group sound, is a perfect accompaniment to Curtis's luridly nasty John Waters homage, which is simultaneously about a trannie, her Craigslist-stalking boyfriend, luncheon meat, and thrill killing. The song comes from the Sandwitches' full-length debut, How to Make Ambient Sadcake (Turn Up), where this all-girl trio—which includes women who've played in buzzed-about groups like Brilliant Colors and the Fresh & Onlys—take sounds dating from the postwar collision of vocal pop with rock 'n' roll and swaddle them in depraved fuzz and gothic reverb. The tunes that come out occupy an impressively broad range, from switchblades-at-the-sock-hop ravers to dreamy rainy-day ballads. Bird Talk and Other Minds open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3. —Miles Raymer

Tinariwen
  • Thomas dorn
  • Tinariwen

TINARIWEN See Saturday. Before this evening's show, members of Tinariwen will lead two workshops at the Old Town School, one for guitarists (with assistance from Nathaniel Braddock of Occidental Brothers Dance Band International) and one for percussionists; admission is $25 and space is very limited. Both workshops start at 3:30 PM. 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $28, $26 members and standing room only, $24 seniors.

monday1

EXTRA LIFE When I heard Extra Life's debut full-length, Secular Works, a couple years ago, I was put off by the music's aggressive eccentricity. But the band's audacious hybrid—it's basically heavy experimental rock slammed into precious art music, with modern adaptations of medieval vocal styles rubbing against furiously distorted bass lines and pop structures fighting for space with rigorously through-­composed asymmetrical arrangements—started to make sense to me on the new Made Flesh (Loaf). The group is led by Brooklyn-based polymath and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Looker, who studied with Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan and has since played free jazz with drummer Mike Pride, breathless hard-core chamber music with Zs, and wiggy art-pop with Dirty Projectors, among many other things. Extra Life's music is unapologetically ambitious and complex—the band's actually a bit obnoxious, in the same way Dirty Projectors are—but all the elements, from Looker's rhythmically elaborate vocals to the moody postgoth interludes to the explosions of brutal prog, are articulated with such precision, bravura, and intensity that the last bit of my resistance has been swept away. Tirra Lirra headlines; Extra Life and Cool Memories open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Peter Margasak

tuesday2

THE DAMNATION OF FAUST The Damnation of Faust, Hector Berlioz's very weird 1846 take on Goethe, careens through 20 difficult-to-stage scenes and is usually presented as oratorio. It has new life thanks to such techie wonders as video projection, however, and was one of the Met operas broadcast to movie theaters across the country last season. Lyric Opera's version, with silken-voiced tenor Paul Groves as Faust, features two superb members of the Met cast—John Relyea as Mephistopheles and Susan Graham as Marguerite. Compared with what I saw at the Century 12 in Evanston, it also features a vastly more inventive production. Stage director Stephen Langridge, working with set and costume designer George Souglides and lighting director Wolfgang Göbbel, places the story in a dazzling, light-rod-streaked late 20th century. It doesn't all work: pasting conventional antiwar imagery onto Berlioz's already klutzy but deeper and stranger libretto, for example, seems ill-advised. But from the moment the curtain opens on Faust at his desk in a room that hangs suspended above the Civic Opera stage like a brilliant flat-screen TV, it's irresistible. The great Lyric Opera chorus is on prominent display; Andrew Davis conducts the Lyric Opera Orchestra. This production runs through March 17. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$194. —Deanna Isaacs

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