Music » Soundboard

The List: August 12-18, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Rufus Wainwright, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jamey Johnson, Boris, Crystal Castles, Ty Segall, and more

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Toumani Diabate & the Chicago Transilience Ensemble
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Jamey Johnson
Last False Hope
Metal Rouge


Annie Get Your Gun
Crystal Castles
Rufus Wainwright


Annie Get Your Gun
Last False Hope
Lower Dens


Annie Get Your Gun


Ty Segall


Grant Park Orchestra


TOUMANI DIABATE & THE CHICAGO TRANSILIENCE ENSEMBLE When brilliant Malian kora player Toumani Diabate played Millennium Park three years ago with his long-running Symmetric Orchestra, he borrowed a horn section—including Jeb Bishop, cornetist Josh Berman, and reedist Nate Lepine—from the local jazz scene. Having developed a clear rapport with Diabate, they did more than simply play charts; they elaborated on the written parts and created something new. Now Diabate is returning the favor, after a fashion. For tonight's concert he's collaborating with an excellent band of Chicago jazz musicians—Bishop, Berman, Lepine, percussionist Hamid Drake, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Jeff Parker, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Joshua Abrams. They'll play a mix of new pieces written (and in some cases rearranged for this group) by Bishop and Berman, as well as adaptations of Diabate tunes, including some from the recent Ali and Toumani (World Circuit/Nonesuch), a stunning collaboration with Ali Farka Toure that the guitarist recorded less than a year before his death in 2006. Bishop is a thoughtful composer and arranger, and he says that in both the new pieces and the adaptations he's tried to key on specific qualities in Diabate's meditative music: "a certain kind of triplet-based rhythmic flow, the use of underlying two- or three-chord alternating patterns (at least as heard through my ears), diatonic clustering." Rounding out the group are five more African musicians, who also accompany Diabate at Pritzker Pavilion on Wed 8/11 for a concert with the Grant Park Orchestra: Mohamed Koita on electric bass, Ganda Tounkara on ngoni, Fode Lassana Diabate on balafon, Fanta Mady Kouyate on acoustic and electric guitar, and Fode Kouyate on drums and calabash. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Randolph and Michigan, 312-742-1168. —Peter Margasak

DJ JAZZY JEFF To the general public DJ Jazzy Jeff will always just be the dude who costarred with Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the video to "Parents Just Don't Understand." But to serious hip-hop heads he's an elder god of the DJ scene, credited with popularizing the transformer scratch—probably the first sound that comes to mind when you think "DJ scratch"—and capable of turning the act of packing a dance floor using songs everyone knows into an expression of high art. (Check out his Michael Jackson tribute on YouTube for an example of his ability to make the most worn-out material sound fresh and new.) He's also a high-caliber producer who's worked with everyone from Eminem to Rhymefest, and his 2002 album The Magnificent is a high point in rap's neosoul phase. If you can get over the novelty act-ness and Will Smith-ness of the Fresh Prince era, you'll find that even the beats those guys were putting together back then straight-up bang. The Chaotic Good opens; the Cool Kids (see Q&A) spin.  10 PM, Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-8828. —Miles Raymer

Jamey Johnson
  • James Minchin
  • Jamey Johnson

JAMEY JOHNSON Jamey Johnson's rise to country stardom has to be one of Nashville's most encouraging success stories. The Alabama native moved to Music City in his mid-20s without a contact or a clue and ended up writing hits for the likes of George Strait and Trace Adkins; as a performer he's found an audience for the sort of unabashedly dark material mainstream country has largely left behind. As Kelefa Sanneh wrote in a recent New Yorker profile of Brad Paisley, "in the post-Garth era, [country] has thrived partly because of its willingness to chronicle domestic bliss in plainspoken language." But Johnson, who scored with a song that closes with the couplet "I had a job and a piece of land and my sweet wife was my best friend / But I traded that for cocaine and a whore," clearly never got the memo. He'll challenge the Nashville orthodoxy again next month, releasing a 25-track double CD, The Guitar Song (Mercury), into a milieu that clings to the ten-song format—I can't even remember the last double album by a mainstream country singer. The collection feels a little bloated despite Johnson's stripped-down delivery, but it's still one of the three best country records I've heard this year. The first disc, called "Black," contains the stormiest tunes, mixing classic honky-tonk (including a killer take on Roger Miller's "Mental Revenge") with sharp originals ("Even the Skies Are Blue" puts a nice twist on an overused metaphor: "The sun might be shining / But even the skies are blue"). The second, "White," is comparatively sunny, though hardly Pollyannaish. Though a few songs flirt with a flashy rock sound, most of the album—which he'll surely preview at this small-club gig—is indebted to 70s country, particularly Texas outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Craig Boyd opens. 9 PM, Joe's, 940 W. Weed, 312-337-3486 or 866-448-7849, $25. —Peter Margasak

LAST FALSE HOPE Looking for a band to keep an eye on? On the strength of a grainy Facebook video and a demo song, I'm putting a few dollars on this suburban septet, fronted by hardcore-singer-turned-mandolin-slinger Jahshie P, who's determined to wed the haunting, high-lonesome sound of bluegrass with the intensity of hardcore. A veteran of Failed Resistance and Neverland, among other less remembered bands, he's assembled a lineup that includes guitars, fiddle, bass, drums, and his wife on banjo. In terms of sound LFH is more in league with combat-boot-wearing Celtic-punk bands than most alt-country artists—they've picked a fine place to stake out for their mosh-pit hoedown. Pearls Mahone & the One-Eyed Jacks headline; the .357 String Band and Last False Hope open. See also Saturday. 11 PM, Reggie's Music Joint, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0120, $5. —Monica Kendrick

METAL ROUGE Through their music the Los Angeles-based improvisers in Metal Rouge both sympathize and identify with those who can't tolerate the corruption of the world. Their first release, a five-CD-R box called Ephemeroptera, was named after the order of insects that includes mayflies, whose aquatic nymphs are among the first creatures to die when water is polluted; their 2008 CD Three for Malachi Ritscher (Root Strata) meditates upon the final mission statement of local antiwar activist and music archivist Malachi Ritscher, who self-immolated in 2006 to protest the Iraq war. The dance between Andrew Scott's shimmering ribbons of E-bowed electric guitar and Helga Fassonaki's starbursts of lap steel, synthesizer, and wordless vocals often seems to take place high in the stratosphere, but Metal Rouge's latest LP, Trails (Emerald Cocoon), is a blazing return to earth. Now a trio, they surround the shuffling drums of new member Caitlin Mitchell with slow-flowing waves of reverberant strings on "The Sunshine Path / May 1971" (a memorial to Beat poet Lew Welch), which makes it feel like a lonely walk in unmapped woods. It's a relief when they finally give voice to their rage on "Ripe Century / The Sad Song (666)," letting loose with leveling blasts of feedback and explosive cymbal crashes—it sounds like Sonny Sharrock taking over the Dead C. Zelienople, Xela, and Sam Hamilton open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Bill Meyer


ANNIE GET YOUR GUN The Ravinia Festival shot itself in the foot twice on its way to this weekend's production of Annie Get Your Gun. Initially theatergoers were enticed by the stellar pairing of Patti LuPone as Annie Oakley and Brian Stokes Mitchell as the target of her affections, Frank Butler. But in late June, Mitchell dropped out (a scheduling conflict was blamed) and now LuPone's Annie will set her sights a bit lower—on Patrick Cassidy. Then, two weeks ago, Ravinia disappointed an audience of thousands when its annual benefit concert—featuring LuPone and other members of the Annie team—ended early to accommodate donors who had paid for dinner and cocktails in addition to the show. That said, nobody's better equipped to handle the words and music Irving Berlin wrote for Ethel Merman in 1946 than the gutsy, Tony Award-winning LuPone. And Berlin was the real sharpshooter in this show, hitting his mark repeatedly with dazzlers like "Anything You Can Do" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." George Hearn is Buffalo Bill Cody, Lonny Price directs, and Paul Gemignani conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. See also Saturday and Sunday. 7:30 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $20-$90. —Deanna Isaacs

BORIS This fiercely experimental and never predictable Japanese trio doesn't know how to sit still. In July Boris's split single with Torche, Chapter Ahead Being Fake, finally got an American release, and in June the band put out a compilation of rerecorded songs and alternate versions called Variations that leans hard on the heavy side of their output. Their latest, though, is the one provoking a chorus of WTF from the peanut gallery: the new BXI (due later this week on Southern Lord) is a four-song collaboration with Ian Astbury, front man of the Cult and still the target of derision for his turn as Jim Morrison in a zombie version of the Doors a few years back. That derision isn't entirely justified—a live video of Boris performing "The End" with Astbury in Sydney, Australia, earlier this year is chilling and mesmerizing, much as I imagine the Doors themselves seemed to young people back in the day (especially if they were wide-eyed with acid as well as with innocence). And BXI is beautiful and eerie, teasing the imagination with a taste of what the parties might've sounded like in a long-gone hippie black-magick coven—there's even a version of the Cult's "Rain" where Boris guitarist Wata uses her ethereal voice to spirit-raising effect. Alas, Astbury isn't along for this leg of the tour; the only extra member at the Chicago show will be Ghost guitarist and regular Boris collaborator Michio Kurihara. Russian Circles and the Life and Times open.  9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $18, 18+. —Monica Kendrick

Crystal Castles
  • Crystal Castles

CRYSTAL CASTLES Crystal Castles' 2008 self-titled album succeeded thanks in part to its appealing take on chiptune music, the bleep-bloopy retro-tronica based on sounds lifted from vintage video-game systems—the duo injected the uber-geeky style with a trashy streak of noisy aggression. And when they blew up, becoming more than just a cult band, they did so with help from an artfully bratty public persona—not only did they attract several allegations of intellectual-property theft, they also developed a reputation for ending their live performances with a tantrum only a few songs in. But time passes for all of us, even artsy electro-punk bands, and Crystal Castles' second self-titled album (released this spring on Fiction Records), while still way more aggro than your average dance record, has a relatively restrained aesthetic—as on the chilly, house-inflected "Baptism"—that suggests a growing maturity. And the lack of scandal this far into the album's promotional cycle suggests that the rumors of the duo's newfound commitment to finishing their sets might turn out to be true. Rusko, Sinden, Twelves, and Destructo open; Alex Zelenka and Midnight Conspiracy spin.  6 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $30, 17+. —Miles Raymer

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT Coming after several heavily orchestrated albums, a full-blown re-creation of Judy Garland's famous Carnegie Hall concert, and his first opera, Rufus Wainwright's latest record, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (Decca)— a collection of piano and voice performances—can't help but feel stripped down. But Wainwright's songs remain dense with harmony and movement, his singing is still florid, and in some ways the new album—recorded shortly after the death of his mother, idiosyncratic folk singer Kate McGarrigle—is as loaded with information as anything he's done. A couple of tunes reflect directly on the loss, including "Martha," a virtual phone message for his sister suggesting they visit their mother during her final days. But even songs with other subjects seem to convey a kind of unmoored emotional state: "Sad With What I Have" is a meditation on misery, while "Give Me What I Want and Give It to Me Now!" opts for angsty petulance. The record also includes three adaptations of Shakespeare sonnets, from a collaborative project with stage director Robert Wilson, and an aria from his opera, Prima Donna. As a whole the album is erratic, but Wainwright has more than enough magnetism and drama to keep the individual pieces compelling. In the first part of his set here, he'll perform songs from the new record as a cycle with video by Scottish filmmaker Douglas Gordon. Martha Wainwright opens. 8 PM, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, 312-902-1400 or 866-448-7849, $48.50-$58.50. —Peter Margasak

WITCHBANGER I admit it—this band's name makes me giggle, and I can't stop. A fairly new local metal quintet, Witchbanger borders on supergroup status, at least for people to whom the names Wickerman, Buried at Sea, and Unfortunaut mean anything (and you should be one of those people). The demo they recorded in June burbles and roars with something approximating giddy joy, as if they're just about to pull the silly pained-looking guitar-face masks off all the ax-wielding metalheads in the world and admit that everyone playing stoner doom is having the time of his (or her) fucking life. Plague Bringer, Blood of the Tyrant, I Klatus, and Lungs open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $10, $7 in advance. —Monica Kendrick


ANNIE GET YOUR GUN See Friday.   7:30 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $20-$90.

LAST FALSE HOPE See Thursday. The All-Girl Boys Choir and the Cortlandt Homes open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $10, $8 in advance.

LOWER DENS Because of Jana Hunter's association with Devendra Banhart—his label Gnomonsong has released a few of her records, and the two coreleased an album a few years back—the Texan has frequently been lumped in with the thankfully dissipating freak-folk crowd. But her two solo records suggest that she follows her own path; her melodies are generally sparse and her singing does little to bring them out, resulting in restrained songs that lack the overwrought eccentricity that defines so many denizens of that scene. A few years ago Hunter moved to Baltimore and started the rock quartet Lower Dens, which recently released its debut, Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong). Even in this new setting Hunter's husky, narcotic voice—buried under minimal, metronomic drums and abstract electric guitars reminiscent of mid-80s new wave and early-90s shoegaze—retains some of its detachment. The music sounded cold to me initially, but at its core are some surprisingly tender melodies; the gentle power of Hunter's voice drew me in and helped melt the chill. Inoculist and Little Gold open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak


ANNIE GET YOUR GUN See Friday.   7:30 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $20-$90.

Ty Segall
  • Ty Segall


TY SEGALL In a little more than two years, across three full-length albums and a smattering of singles and such, San Francisco troubadour Ty Segall has established himself as a consistent source of smart, punchy garage pop. Like his self-titled debut and last year's Lemons, his new Melted (Goner) provides listeners with a plethora of hooky tunes and a fizzy punk buzz. Though Segall, a stunningly prolific songwriter, is a garage rocker at heart, he doesn't just bang out variations on three-chord progressions: the chromatically flavored "Sad Fuzz" might come off like a deep cut from the Kinks' high-pop phase if it didn't sound like something being blasted up from the basement. (While it would be fair to call the recording lo-fi, it packs more of a wallop than the thin, tinny productions that usually get tagged that way.) Of course, he can also do great things with simple formulas when that's the turf he feels like digging: "My Sunshine" showcases a big Neanderthal riff that stomps and shimmies like something straight off a Teenage Shutdown comp. The Royal Baths and CoCoComa open. Segall also plays a free in-store at 5 PM at Permanent Records (1914 W. Chicago, 773-278-1744); the Royal Baths open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Miles Raymer


GRANT PARK ORCHESTRA Brahms was 21 when he set out to write his first symphony in 1854, but he soon decided the task was beyond him and set about reworking it: first it became a sonata for two pianos, and more than four years later parts of it ended up in the first movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1. That concerto is one of Brahms's most impassioned works, opening with thundering timpani, fiery trills, and dramatic melodic leaps that foreshadow its anguish and grandeur. There are also many quiet, tender moments, including the soloist's first entrance and the second movement's warm and mostly serene adagio, but the third and final movement is an exhilarating rondo that begins in D minor, then shifts into D major before concluding with an uplifting coda. The pianist will be Horacio Gutierrez, a veteran of the virtuoso repertory and silver medalist at the 1970 International Tchaikovsky Competition. The program begins with Saint-Saens's "Marche Militaire Francaise" (from his Suite Algerienne), followed by Georges Bizet's Symphony No. 1 in C Major and concluding with the Brahms concerto. Bizet, best known for his opera Carmen, composed his exuberant first symphony while a 17-year-old student at the Paris Conservatory in 1855, but it remained unknown by the public till it was discovered in that institution's archives in 1933. Carlos Kalmar conducts. There will be open rehearsals Tue 8/17 (11 AM-1:30 PM, 3-5:30 PM) and today (11 AM-1:30 PM). 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Randolph and Michigan, 312-742-1168. —Barbara Yaross

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