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The List: March 11-17, 2010

Critic's Choices and other notable shows: Shapers, Claychella, Harvey Milk, Joe Henry, Ted Leo + Pharmacists, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, and more

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Kenny Barron
Battlefield Band
The Marriage of Figaro
Pretty Good Dance Movies


Harvey Milk
Joe Henry
Ted Leo + Pharmacists
Pretty Good Dance Moves


Diamond Rings


John Doe
The Marriage of Figaro
Real Estate


ROVA Saxophone Quartet


ROVA Saxophone Quartet


SHAPERS Shapers stepped onto the Chicago scene fully loaded. Their debut as a live band was just this past fall, and now they're self-releasing their first album, Little, Big. They aren't total newbies—all four members also played in May or May Not, and bassist-guitarist Steve Reidell is a constant presence on every MP3 blog in the world as STV SLV of remix duo the Hood Internet—but it's still impressive how quickly their aesthetic has come together. Little, Big is a sweet heap of artful krautrock (Neu! and Cluster are clear influences) with occasional fitful vocals, and its nine songs cover an interstellar range: the pulsing ambience of "When I Was a Zygote," the backward thunderclaps and jaunty percussion of "Hot Gravy Available," the 15-minute synth-psych master jam "Mothership Sequins." For me Amelia Styer's synth work steals the show, but Shapers are strong players all around—right now they seem capable of almost anything. Old Fake and the Driftless Pony Club open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $5. —Jessica Hopper



KENNY BARRON One of the most flexible and reliable pianists in modern postbop, Kenny Barron has been a trusted sideman for many greats, including Dizzy Gillespie in the 60s and Stan Getz in the 80s, but over the past two decades he's blossomed as a leader in his own right—he was just named one of the NEA's eight Jazz Masters for 2010. Since the 90s he's made a dazzling and diverse series of recordings, from intimate duets with jazz violinist Regina Carter to bossa nova and samba with Brazil's Trio da Paz. Barron's 2008 album The Traveler (Sunnyside) is particularly eclectic, with vocals from up-and-comer Gretchen Parlato and veteran drummer Grady Tate as well as cameos by envelope-pushing Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke. But Barron thrives best in a classic piano trio, and that's the configuration he'll use tonight—he's joined by bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake. In a trio setting he uses his broad harmonic vocabulary, electric rhythmic elasticity, and sure-handed grasp of dynamics to turn both beloved standards and sturdy originals into models of small-group interaction and fiercely concise swing. 8 PM, McAninich Arts Center, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn, 630-942-4000, $38, $36 seniors, $28 youth. —Peter Margasak

BATTLEFIELD BAND The Battlefield Band's motto is "Forward With Scotland's Past," and their latest CD, Zama Zama: Try Your Luck (Temple), exemplifies it as well as anything they've done. On the new album this Glasgow-based quartet uses instruments both traditional (fiddle, bagpipes, bouzouki, whistle, accordion) and modern (electric bass, electric guitar, Hammond organ) in songs that address greed and its consequences through the ages—topics range from Gaelic legends about a "Cave of Gold" to whaling in Scottish waters to the current global financial crisis. The music is deeply rooted but contemporary: even when it evokes Celtic tradition most pristinely, it surges with a rocklike energy, and vocalists Alan Reid and Sean O'Donnell sing with the sneering defiance of troubador punks. The material includes original songs, vintage Celtic ballads, a reworked Nina Simone number ("Plain Gold Ring"), and a venerable bagpipe tune set to the chords of Hendrix's "Purple Haze" (the closing track, "The Pretty Apron," incorporates "The Flirting Brown Maid"). As usual in folk music, the tales are cautionary: venal gold diggers may get their comeuppance, but evil itself remains, and it's up to us to be vigilant. Liz Carroll opens. 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $22, $20, $18 seniors and children. —David Whiteis

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO Lyric Opera concludes its season with Mozart's 1786 masterpiece Le Nozze di Figaro. Its story of love, jealousy, trust, and forgiveness is touching yet hilarious, and in the performance I saw its glorious score was executed by a superb cast and orchestra that brought to life every comic twist and turn of Susanna and Figaro's wedding day. As the maid Susanna, gifted soprano Daniella de Niese—impressive in 2007's Giulio Cesare—was effervescently charismatic, and particularly expressive in the final act's "Deh! Vieni, Non Tardar." Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as the valet Figaro was her perfect match, delivering a firmly resounding "Se Vuol Ballare." Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was boldly commanding in demeanor and sound as the philandering Count Almaviva; soprano Anne Schwanewilms (sublime in 2006's Der Rosenkavalier), though regal as the Countess, sounded thin and at times was nearly inaudible. (She's since withdrawn due to a bronchial infection and will be replaced by Amanda Majeski tonight and Nicole Cabell thereafter.) After a shaky start, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato played Cherubino—the hormonally overcharged youth—with conviction, delivering a beautifully lyrical "Voi Che Sapete." Figaro was last performed at Lyric in 2003, so I wouldn't count on this coming back anytime soon. This production runs through 3/27; Sir Andrew Davis conducts 3/12, 3/18, and 3/20, and Leonardo Vordoni conducts 3/15 and 3/22-3/27. See also Monday. 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$194. —Barbara Yaross

PRETTY GOOD DANCE MOVES Two years ago, when I reviewed the debut EP by this local electro-pop duo (now a four-piece onstage), I bagged on them for basically being a weak-sauce Postal Service—an especially unkind comparison given how weak-sauce the Postal Service is to begin with. I don't take it back, but the band's brand-new EP, PGDM (Township), has raised my opinion of them considerably. Their preferred sonic palette, heavy on 80s synth patches and showing vestigial traces of IDM, still isn't my cup of tea, but Aaron Allieta and Jimmy Giannapoulos have turned up the energy and started messing around with moods besides mopey—including a foray into heavy sexiness for "Sample Your Body." They also demonstrate a facility with smartly creased pop songs (like "Leave Me Alone," fronted by Bjorn Yttling) that makes them sound like überproducer Max Martin in indietronic drag. Harper Blynn and California Wives open. See also Saturday. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $5, 18+. —Miles Raymer

VOIVOD When these oddball Quebecois thrashers say that last year's Infini (Relapse) is likely the final album they'll release as Voivod, I believe it. After all, it's the second record they've cobbled together painfully since founding guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour died of colon cancer in 2005 at age 45—they used guitar tracks he'd recorded with a laptop in his apartment to create studio versions of songs the band had never played when he was alive. Founded in 1982, Voivod created a heady mix of hardcore and NWOBHM on their early releases, then grew wondrously progressive late in that decade, getting spacey and sci-fi and weird until they were virtually the Canadian answer to Chrome. Former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted not only played on Infini (he's been a studio member of Voivod for a few records now) but mixed the album, pointedly avoiding guitar overdubs in order to lovingly showcase the sophisticated blasts and wails of D'Amour's lo-fi recordings. The result is an hour-long testimonial to what was and what could've been that can stand alongside the band's strongest work. Voivod's four-piece touring lineup includes three founding members—drummer Michel "Away" Langevin, vocalist Denis "Snake" Belanger, and long-absent bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault, and—plus guitarist Daniel Mongrain of Quebecois tech-death band Martyr. Kreator headlines; Voivod, Nachtmystium, Evile, and Lazarus A.D. open. 6 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $28, $25 in advance. —Monica Kendrick


CLAYCHELLA For the past few years Clayton Hauck—the guy behind the nightlife photography site Everyone Is Famous and a contributor to the Reader's new Photo Pit feature—has thrown himself a public birthday party that doubles pretty effectively as a survey of Chicago hipster club culture. Pretty much everyone on the schedule for this dance-music marathon has spun with, collaborated with, or remixed everyone else on the list. Being that this is a party above all, the roster is packed with DJs that favor ass-shaking over head-nodding. Nick Catchdubs, the lone out-of-towner on the bill, is best known as cofounder of the dance-heavy Fool's Gold label—home to Kid Sister and Flosstradamus—but his DJ sets include everything from radio rap to 90s alt-rock. The Dark Wave Disco team keeps things goth-friendly with mixes that pull together electro, house, and stuff like EBM and industrial. Kid Color and Black Holes have been drawing attention from the nightlife crowd recently, the former with a concentration on retro-inspired disco and the latter with work like a housed-up remix of Hollywood Holt's "Caked Up." Also on the bill: Flosstradamus, the Hood Internet, Matt Roan, Willy Joy, Million Dollar Mano, Mic Terror, Hollywood Holt, Bald E, Frankie Banks, Moneypenny, Skyler, Major Taylor, Marco Morales, Just Desserts, Team Bayside High, Capcom, and many more.  Noon till 2 AM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, free before 10 PM and $5 after (ages 21 and up) or free before 5 PM and $10 after (ages 18-20). —Miles Raymer

Harvey Milk
  • Mike White
  • Harvey Milk

HARVEY MILK If you thought Athens, Georgia, blew its weirdness wad in the 80s with the likes of Pylon, R.E.M., and the B-52's, you haven't been paying attention to Harvey Milk. That's forgivable, I guess—not too many people did back in the day, when they had their initial run from '92 to '98. These masters of slow-motion demolition re-formed in 2006 and have been wreaking delicious havoc ever since: their 2008 comeback album, Life . . . the Best Game in Town (Hydra Head), connected with a world that had finally caught up to them, earning the band the widespread respect they've always deserved. Hydra Head will release a follow-up, A Small Turn of Human Kindness, in May, and has just reissued what would've been Harvey Milk's 1993 self-titled debut if it'd been properly released at the time, which as it happens was recorded with Bob Weston here in Chicago. It's easy to imagine this grottiest of exhumed tar-pit monsters seizing the ears and imaginations of graveyard-shift college-radio DJs in the pre-Internet era: its clanging, down-tuned, boiling-and-groaning tracks are saturated with a nasty, perverse heaviness redolent of the Melvins, the Butthole Surfers, and early Swans, and in '93 they would've foreshadowed the coming of the sludge-metal eruption. Much of this material made it onto other albums in other forms, but most of those albums aren't easy to find, even now—and here the songs are at their rawest and purest. Coalesce and the Atlas Moth open. 9:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-340, $15, $13 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Joe Henry

JOE HENRY In recent years Joe Henry has earned more acclaim as a producer—he's worked with American roots and soul greats like Allen Toussaint, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Bettye LaVette—than he has as an artist in his own right. Though his albums have long drawn inspiration from vintage Americana, he transforms it into something a bit less accessible with his quasi-poetic lyrics and clouds of murky ambience. On his latest, Blood From Stars (Anti-), he drinks heavily from the blues, but the thick, moody atmosphere he creates as producer provides the dominant flavor. Longtime Henry drummer Jay Bellerose defines the edges of the record's huge sonic space with a cavernously booming bass drum at one end and featherlight snare at the other; filling in the middle are stabbing, stinging guitar (and occasional cornet) from Marc Ribot, billowy organ and stuttering piano from Patrick Warren, and swells of bass from David Piltch. The core instruments stick together but never quite lock down, giving their ensemble work the beautifully disheveled feel of Howlin' Wolf's Sun sides—and the way Henry plays with overdubs and postproduction effects makes some of his arrangements sound like an old radio tuned halfway between two different versions of the same song. Henry is an elegant singer, and because his melodies aren't especially assertive his slightly nasal voice sometimes works like just another instrumental layer. If there's a problem with Blood From Stars, it's that some of Henry's lyrics are too arty—they sound great in his mouth, but they don't always make much sense. When he's more direct—like in "The Man I Keep Hid," where he mercilessly indicts his own double life—he's a lot more effective.  7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $22, $20 members, $18 seniors and children. —Peter Margasak

TED LEO + PHARMACISTS When Ted Leo's killer college band, Chisel, were graduating from Notre Dame in 1990, they were torn between Chicago and D.C. They picked D.C., which is smart—their foppish, mannered mod pop might have not found a good home amid the macho din that swelled from our city back then. Twenty years later, Ted's mod soul has endured, and it's incandescent. His latest solo jawn, The Brutalist Bricks—his first for Matador—is his most energized, confident, and best articulated album since 2001's Tyranny of Distance. He moves easily among all the things he can do: the soft soulfulness of "One Polaroid a Day," where his voice is sweet and husky; the piano-driven power-pop polemics of "Woke Up Near Chelsea"; the Damned-esque punk hooks of "Where Was My Brain." Put together they make as pure a Ted Leo record as you could wish for. Title Tracks and the Chicago Stone Lightning Band open. 7 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Jessica Hopper

PRETTY GOOD DANCE MOVES See Friday. The Bon Mots open. 1 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance, kids under two free.


DIAMOND RINGS Diamond Rings is front man John O'Regan of brittle Toronto indie-art band the D'Urbervilles doing cooled-out synth cabaret. His deep, flat voice is as swaggery as it is swishy, which makes him sound a bit like the dark and melodramatic baby of Nick Cave and Marc Almond. On his latest seven-inch, "Wait & See" b/w "On Fire" (Tomlab), he ditches the remnants of indie rock from his debut and goes full-on new-romantic electro—which suits him perfectly. "Sooner or later / I'll disappoint you," he croons, his lyrics punctuated by the lightest pish of a transparently synthetic cymbal. Think About Life headlines. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $8 in advance. —Jessica Hopper


JOHN DOE Singer, songwriter, bassist, guitarist, poet, and actor John Doe had a busy 2009. He toured extensively with his most famous group, X, turning several shows into fund-raisers for Sweet Relief, a charity the band has long supported that helps career musicians who've been floored by health-care costs; X front woman Exene Cervenka, who's also Doe's ex-wife, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis early last year. He also released the remarkable Country Club (Yep Roc), a collaboration with Canadian hell-raisers the Sadies, and though it sort of got lost in the shuffle at the time, it grows in stature with each listen. Eleven country standards made famous by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Tammy Wynette rub elbows with four original songs in a haunting honky-tonk haze; Doe is passionate and sensitive and the Sadies vibrate with a charged restraint. You couldn't blame him if he decided to take it easy this year, but I bet he won't. Danny Black opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO See Friday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$194. 

REAL ESTATE Over the past year New Jersey-born combo Real Estate has staked out primo territory in many an indie record geek's heart with a succession of winsome singles tossed off so casually they seem effortless. Their oeuvre so far—collected on a self-titled album released late last year on the hot-shit Woodsist label—consists of sweet little bits of bubblegum, played lightly with a treble-heavy twang and sunk into waves of vintage reverb. It's the sound of not sweating it—the musical equivalent of spending a sunny summer afternoon getting baked poolside in a suburban backyard (an image that titles like "Suburban Beverage," "Suburban Dogs," and "Pool Swimmers" certainly encourages). There's nothing innovative or mind-blowing about Real Estate, but there's nothing missing from their formula either. Their songs are so perfectly constructed they're like hermetically sealed little bubbles you can crawl inside and bliss out for a couple minutes at a time—and that isn't a bad thing at all. Woods headline; Real Estate and Netherfriends open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $12, 18+. —Miles Raymer

ROVA Saxophone Quartet
  • Myles Boisen
  • ROVA Saxophone Quartet


ROVA SAXOPHONE QUARTET Now in its fourth decade, ROVA is a bona fide institution: one of the first saxophone quartets in improvised music and almost certainly the longest-running, this San Francisco group has served as model and inspiration for innumerable like-minded ensembles. Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Bruce Ackley, and Steve Adams (who replaced Andrew Voigt in the late 80s) have developed a distinctive ROVA idiom, which combines advanced jazz language and elaborate contrapuntal architecture and draws on influences as varied as contemporary classical, postbop, and free jazz. Many of the group's recordings have had unifying themes: The Mirror World was explicitly inspired by the work of experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, and two separate albums have interpreted John Coltrane's Ascension. ROVA has increasingly collaborated with outside artists, from Russian free-jazz combo the Ganelin Trio to modern composer Alvin Curran, and sometimes expands into a big band called the OrkestROVA; the quartet has also joined the Nels Cline Singers to become the Celestial Septet, which just released its first album on New World. Raskin, ROVA's baritone-sax specialist, wrote all the music on 2007's The Juke Box Suite (Not Two), evoking a global collection of styles ranging from Brazilian choro to Detroit rock, but the group's instrumentation and approach make everything sound like ROVA first and foremost. "Juke Box Mambo," for example, abstracts the jumpy, syncopated rhythms of mambo into a popping, skeletal horn line, and mellows its brassy punch into something flowing and lyrical. As usual, the tunes rely on complex arrangements rather than glib vamps, and their steady development gives each soloist plenty to work with. Tonight the members of ROVA join four local improvisers—cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, electronicist Lou Mallozzi, guitarist Julia Miller (on multispeaker MIDI guitar), and bassist Jason Roebke—for two sets of free and structured improvisations. See also Wednesday. 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak


ROVA SAXOPHONE QUARTET See Tuesday. Tonight ROVA plays two sets of original material. Josh Berman spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10.


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