ARBOURETUM, PONTIAK Over the past couple years Thrill Jockey has sometimes seemed more like a Baltimore operation than a Chicago one, with more than a half-dozen signings of artists from in and around Charm City, but the additions of Arbouretum and Pontiak have convinced me that Bettina Richards is steering the label right. On last year's superb Song of the Pearl, ARBOURETUM serves up its most convincing and focused folk-rock yet: the songs draw upon the refined melodic shapes of traditional British folk, but the band's muscular delivery gives them an exhilarating punch. Front man David Heumann has a soulful voice, raw but gentle, and the performances sound like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span at their most extroverted, except with every gesture magnified by tightly controlled washes of psychedelia and ferociously airy swing. PONTIAK, who moved from Baltimore to a small town in Virginia a few years ago, are a classic power trio consisting of brothers Van, Lain, and Jennings Carney. Perhaps because they know each other so well, they can relax without falling apart; their resonant grooves are wonderfully loose but hang together like they're bound by gravity. Their latest and best record, Living, doesn't push into the red like the previous Sea Voids and Maker, but just because it's more chill doesn't mean it's less intense. On "And by Night" the trio deploys its old drilling force, but there's an almost sexy funkiness to "Algiers by Day," and the all-acoustic "Forms of The" maintains a creeping tension despite its spaciousness. Arbouretum headlines; Pontiak and Bitchin' Bajas open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak
- Natasha Tylea
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA With passion, clarity, and intelligence, conductor Semyon Bychkov can make even the most complex and difficult music accessible. At 57, he holds posts with the Munich Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and this year he won BBC Music Magazine's Disc of the Year award for a recording of Wagner's Lohengrin. He regularly serves as guest conductor with the world's great orchestras, among them the CSO—with whom he'll perform Mahler's Fifth Symphony this weekend. Finished in 1902, it's a monumental work, more than an hour long, enormously technically demanding and emotionally wide-ranging. It begins with a solo trumpet fanfare that becomes the principal theme of the first movement, Trauermarsch ("Funeral March"), and after a majestic orchestral entrance the music darkens, grows quiet, and simmers with a tragic undercurrent. This material alternates with a hauntingly lovely melody first heard in the upper strings, and in the movement's middle section there's an out-of-control frenzy that uses appropriated European Jewish music—distantly recalled in the manic opening of the second movement, marked "Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence." The third movement jumps from gentle and bucolic to agitated without warning, a typical Mahlerian mix. The beginning of the fourth movement is the most frequently played excerpt of any of the composer's works; magically serene, it makes time seem to stand still, then increases the intensity and longing before giving way to the surprisingly jubilant final movement. The program opens with the U.S. premiere of Detlev Glanert's Theatrum Bestiarum, written in 2005 and loosely based on his opera Caligula; it contrasts bombastic outbursts with quieter sections and textural intricacies. See also Friday and Saturday. 8 PM, 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $31-$215. —Barbara Yaross
MOHAMMAD REZA SHAJARIAN Arguably the greatest singer of Persian classical music in the modern era, Mohammad Reza Shajarian has spent most of his career in front of small, austere ensembles—the music's emphasis is on melodic exposition and improvisation, with almost no harmony, so there's rarely any call for more than one of a given instrument. But on this tour the legendary 69-year-old singer is working with a much bigger group: the Shahnaz Ensemble, directed by tar master Majid Derakhshani and often 16 members strong. On their recent album with Shajarian, the stately and beautiful Rendan e Mast (2009), a phalanx of stringed instruments (including oud, santour, qanun, setar, kamancheh, and two developed by Shajarian—the kereshmeh and saghar, both relatives of the lute) alternately sculpts massed unison figures and fragments to play contrapuntally, and a crew of hand percussionists propels the music with surging and falling tension. Shajarian doesn't make it to Chicago often, and he's never played here with such a large group. 8:30 PM, Copernicus Theater, 5216 W. Lawrence, 312-437-4726, $50-$65. —Peter Margasak
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA See Thursday. 1:30 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $31-$215.
CHAINSAW DUPONT Mississippi-born David "Chainsaw" DuPont bills himself as a purveyor of "Delta crunch guitar," but if that were the whole story he'd hardly be notable on a scene already clogged with bloozy fretboard pyrotechnicians. He's certainly capable of hot licks when the situation demands them, but he usually exercises enough restraint to let the most fervid emotions remain implied. Live (Chicago Blues), released earlier this year, documents a stint he did at the Hideout in 2007; in his lead work he's at his most aggressive and eclectic, cutting swaths through everything from vintage funk (James Brown's "Cold Sweat") and sweet soul testifying (Marvin Gaye's "I'll Be Doggone") to rock-influenced originals that manage to invoke the vaunted Delta tradition. DuPont's vision is ambitious, even audacious—he's probably best known for his "Blues Street Trilogy," a three-CD project on the Blues Warrior label that honors the musical traditions of New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago—and this is a release party for another genre-busting project. The appropriately named Acoustified/Electrified (Chicago Blues) showcases DuPont in settings that range from back-porch intimacy to urban blues houserocking. See also Saturday. 9 PM, Lee's Unleaded Blues, 7401 S. Chicago, 773-493-3477, $5. —David Whiteis
SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS I'm generally a bit allergic to bands that make deliberately retro music, but I've got no problem with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Beginning with a hard-funk template and stretching out on subsequent records into various strains of 60s soul, they've always rivaled the quality of the classic acts that inspire them. Jones is inarguably a first-class belter, with a warm, exuberant personality and heaps of old-fashioned showmanship, but the Dap-Kings' MVP is bassist Bosco Mann, aka Gabriel Roth, who's also the producer and primary songwriter for most of the projects on his Daptone label. On the fabulous new I Learned the Hard Way his arrangements are more elaborate than ever—in addition to the usual horns, several tracks have a full complement of strings—and despite their ambition they never sound cluttered or muddled. Such is the band's dedication to all things vintage, from songwriting style to studio techniques, that you'd never guess this was a new recording without checking the date on the album cover—and in this case, that's a compliment. That kind of fetishism doesn't seem like a misapplication of resources when the music's this good. The Heavy opens. For more on Jones and the Dap-Kings, see Jeremy Henderson's essay on page 46. 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, sold out, 18+. —Peter Margasak
LUDACRIS, KESHA Ludacris is at his best when he's at his most cartoonish—a hyper-lascivious party animal with an endlessly dirty mind. So the news that he was working on something like a concept album—the most notoriously fun-killing of all formats—was disheartening. Turns out it's about fucking, which is a relief. Originally planned as a team-up with Chicago rapper Shawnna (who's since left Luda's Disturbing tha Peace to take up with T-Pain's Nappy Boy Entertainment), Battle of the Sexes links him up with a fair percentage of the female stars currently working in hip-hop (among them Eve, Lil' Kim, and the cramazing Nicki Minaj), and the results snap hard enough to make up for the strange joylessness in the debauchery on his other recent albums.
Several female acts have found underground success in the past few years by showing that girls can do "louche clubster" just as well as boys, so a mainstream artist was bound to break using the same approach. Kesha, a protege of pop wizard Dr. Luke, has Uffie's flow, the Millionaires' fuck-'em-and-forget-'em attitude, and more ambition than either. The obnoxiously nasal talk-singing and dangerously sugary electro-pop-rap on her debut album, Animal (RCA), connected with a gajillion teenage girls—and a really surprising number of actual adults—who were apparently looking for something harder than Miley Cyrus but weren't yet sophisticated enough to see through Kesha's flimsy party-girl image. Hopefully it's just a phase.
Ludacris headlines; Kesha, Jay Sean, Trey Songz, Kevin Rudolf, and Jason Derulo open. 6 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont, 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212, $10-$250. —Miles Raymer
ROBERTO CARLOS When most people in the States think of Brazilian music, Roberto Carlos doesn't leap to mind, but he's huge throughout South America and Europe and has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide. In the early 60s he was a poster child for the Jovem Guarda, a youth-oriented rock 'n' roll movement that baldly aped American sounds and styles, but by the end of the decade his songs, many written with Erasmo Carlos (no relation), had developed an identity of their own. On the classic 1968 album O Inimitavel he mixed a rock backbeat with flourishes of soul—here a horn section, there an inflection in his distinctively raspy voice—and leaned hard on romantic ballads. Starting in the 70s, though, his music gradually softened into sentimental mush, with toothless arrangements that spoiled even the best-written tunes. He'd already begun recording in Spanish, to help his albums reach a broader audience in Argentina, Mexico, and beyond; most of his records have been untitled, picturing him in half-winsome, half-cheesy poses on their covers, often wearing a suit jacket and open shirt. In the 90s he developed problems with obsessive-compulsive behavior, which turned some of his quirks—he prefers his clothes and backdrops to be in shades of blue and white—into handicaps. He began refusing to sing certain words, like "evil" and "lie," which meant he had to retire some of his hits. According to a story the New York Times ran in April, when Carlos, 69, began this U.S. tour—a celebration of his 50 years in music—he's confronted those problems over the past half decade and emerged reenergized. In 2008 he released an unexpected collaboration with Caetano Veloso, one of his early admirers: a live program of Antonio Carlos Jobim songs called E a Musica de Tom Jobim. When Carlos first started singing, before he turned to rock 'n' roll, he was in thrall to bossa nova pioneer Joao Gilberto, and he hasn't lost his touch with the style. This set promises to be a career overview. 8 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Rd., Rosemont, 773-561-9500 or 312-599-1212, $65-$125. —Peter Margasak
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA See Thursday. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $31-$215.
CHAINSAW DUPONT See Friday. At 8 PM DuPont will play an "Acoustified" set; at 9 he'll plug in. This show is a stop on the Chicago Blues Tour, which features performances at ten venues throughout the city, and the ticket price is for the entire event; see chicagobluestour.com for details. 7:30 PM, Water Hole Lounge, 1400 S. Western, 312-243-7988, $45.
SWASHBUCKLE Wish every day was Talk Like a Pirate Day? Then you'll want to check out Swashbuckle, a New Jersey thrash trio who swab the deck with metal mundanes. Pirate metal isn't exactly a genre in the musical sense—their mentors in booty, Germany's Running Wild, were more of a power-metal band, and their chief raiding rivals, Scotland's Alestorm, are firmly in the folk-metal camp, a place Swashbuckle only visits to play the occasional mug-swinging chantey. But by their lyrics they're all brothers under the black flag. Last year's Back to the Noose (Nuclear Blast) set a high standard for tight riffs and wanton plundering, and the forthcoming Crime Always Pays promises not to disappoint, judging by the way Swashbuckle tastefully address sensitive subjects in song titles like "Gallows Pole Dancer" and "You Bring the Cannon, We'll Bring the Balls." Appropriately, they're one of the 40 bands playing the 70000 Tons of Metal fan cruise next winter. Hypocrisy headlines; Scar Symmetry, Hate, Blackguard, and Swashbuckle open. 6 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $20, $18 in advance. —Monica Kendrick
- Ian Rook
BUZZCOCKS When Da and Tutu & the Pirates played their double reunion show earlier this month, it proved conclusively that Chicago's first-wave punk rockers can get around without the help of mobility scooters—some can even dance like they're still at La Mere Vipere. So it's difficult to imagine what kind of jerkoff would want to spend $50 on what the Double Door calls "Premium Seating" in order to sit and passively watch while the Buzzcocks play the entirety of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites—their first two albums, both from 1978 and packed with some of the greatest love/lust songs written in the final quarter of the 20th century. Unless your gout's acting up, you should be ready to hit the dance floor or you should stay home. While many of their punk contemporaries kept busy gobbing about whatever it was that a bunch of old men were doing in Parliament, Buzzcocks found so much existentialist teen angst and anarchy in the interpersonal that they didn't need to bother with politics—which is perhaps one reason their music has held up so well. The precarious and ambivalent search for love among awkward noncommittal youth of all ages, soundtracked by propulsive pop punk that's as brainy as it is horny, has a somewhat more timeless appeal than the bloody House of Lords. Mute recently reissued Another Music and Love Bites (as well as the band's third album, 1979's A Different Kind of Tension), accompanied by demos, singles, live tracks, and outtakes—the kind of bonuses that make this a great time to be a fan. The Dollyrots open. 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $25-$50. —Brian Costello
BESNARD LAKES This excellent Montreal combo refines its painterly touch on the new The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar), filling out its epic jams and sprawling melodies with dense, meticulous brushstrokes of screaming guitar and vintage keyboard. The gorgeous harmonies of bassist Olga Goreas and guitarist-keyboardist Jace Lasek, which sound like a funhouse version of Beach Boys vocals, take their time entering—they're part of the payoff for sticking with the sumptuous, slow-building arrangements. The songs are big and billowing but not fussy or bombastic; the Besnard Lakes opt for jet-engine volume and three-dimensional sculptural depth over fancy technique and intricate structures. In lesser hands these lush, drawn-out songs might feel self-indulgent, but here the scale and richness justify themselves as thoroughly as the elegant tunefulness and instrumental fire. The Ponys open. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph, 312-742-1168. —Peter Margasak
SIX Space is the place for Six, but not the way Sun Ra had in mind. Three years ago pianist Jacques Demierre and analog synthesist Thomas Lehn founded this mostly Swiss improvising sextet—a sort of all-star group that also includes violist and vocalist Charlotte Hug, saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, clarinetist Isabelle Duthoit, and vocalist and musical saw player Dorothea Schürch—to make music that self-consciously reveals, exploits, and takes inspiration from the acoustic qualities of the space in which it's performed. As befits an ensemble devoted to serving the setting, they've never cut an album, though various subgroupings have been recording together for years; I'm especially partial to Lausanne (For 4 Ears), a spectacularly alien-sounding CD by Leimgruber and Lehn. Some of the players—especially Hug and Demierre—are capable of dazzling, virtuosic solo turns, and all of them have extraordinary vocabularies of conventional and extended technique, but as Six they rein themselves in a bit. In a video on Demierre's Web site, they're clearly exploring the room with sound, not trying to flood it, and each contributes just enough to make the group's total output richly detailed and fraught with drama. With Canadian clarinet virtuoso Francois Houle sitting in for Duthoit, Six are undertaking an ambitious North American tour, and their two Chicago concerts are at venues with such drastically different acoustics—the Fulton Recital Hall is open and reverberant, Elastic enclosed and dry—that I recommend attending both. See also Tuesday. 8 PM, Fulton Recital Hall, University of Chicago, 1010 E. 59th, 773-702-8670. —Bill Meyer
SIX See Monday. 9 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $10.
KOBOKU SENJU On its brand-new debut album, Selektiv Hogst (Sofa), Japanese-Norwegian quintet Koboku Senju follows a calm through-line across turbulent free improvisation, finding austere and meditative beauty in a profusion of sonic details and textures that easily could've been dizzying. Tetuzi Akiyama (guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) provide what little noise and aggression there is in the music—the former kicks up some dissonance on the opening track, "Nedvekst (Om a Vokse Nedover)"—but generally they stop at suggesting violence, creating an atmosphere of portent and dread with high-frequency long tones and sparse, ringing guitar. The Norwegians—tubaist Martin Tacks and remarkable trumpet-sax duo Streifenjunko—are responsible for most of the activity, combining unpitched streams of breath, striated legato phrases, sputtery flatulence, terse melodic curlicues, percussive popping, and more. It all collides and overlaps into an interwoven whole, so that it's useless to try to identify foreground and background parts; the pleasure is in how the components fit together and morph en masse. Tacks told me via e-mail that a few of the album's seven tracks developed from simple prompts—"someone saying a word like death metal, funeral march, or techno before we started playing"—but of course nothing here sounds remotely like any of those genres. The performances are beguilingly rich and uncategorizable, and Selektiv Hogst is easily the best free-improv recording I've heard in years. Streifenjunko and Akiyama & Nakamura open; Brent Gutzeit spins. On Thursday at 8 PM at Enemy (1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor) members of Koboku Senju will improvise in various configurations with locals Frank Rosaly, Josh Abrams, Michael Hartman, Brent Gutzeit, Todd Carter, and Aaron Zarzutzki; it's all-ages. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak