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The List: March 25-31, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Janelle Monae, Vampire Weekend, Citay, Tegan and Sara, Tatsuya Nakatani, and more

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Goes Cube
Rickie Lee Jones
Vampire Weekend


Deadstring Brothers
Tegan and Sara
Vampire Weekend


Judson Claiborne
Ana Tijoux


Denise LaSalle


Janelle Monae
Tatsuya Nakatani


Janelle Monae


Tatsuya Nakatani


GOES CUBE The first reviews I read of Brooklyn's Goes Cube almost steered me away from them. The way the writers gushed about the band's technical skill made me suspect there wasn't anything else to praise—I was expecting brutally tight songs that couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag. But one listen on Lala doesn't cost a thing, so I gave Goes Cube's 2009 LP Another Day Has Passed (The End) a whirl and instantly got hooked. Their gutsy slam-and-bash shares elements with hardcore and melodic death metal (they've earned comparisons to Refused and In Flames), and though they've definitely got chops, they're also clever, cliche-busting songwriters. The music vibrates with sincere anger (certainly not unusual in their metier), but it's also given resounding depth by a touch of real melancholy—the pulsing, anthemic "Saab Sonnet" is the only song nominally about a car that's ever made me feel like crying. "Goes Cube Song 30" steals back some of what Nirvana stole from metal and loaned to punk, and "Property," the A side of a seven-inch pressed for this tour, anchors frenzied, seesawing guitar with a simple, punchy descending bass line, like a levelheaded bouncer taking down an anguished drunk. East of the Wall and Shifting Totem open. 9 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Ann Sterzinger

RICKIE LEE JONES Rickie Lee Jones is 30 years into her career and two albums into a fierce little comeback of sorts (she never really left us). As pretty much every review has noted, her latest, Balm in Gilead (Fantasy), is her best album in some time (some say a decade, others two—depends on how your preference in Rickie runs). It's a linear work, even more so than 2007's Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, where she interpreted Bible themes and made Jesus sound like the boyfriend she couldn't get over. Balm is about as straight and poppy as the circuitous jazzbo rambler has ever been; her girlish voice, ageless and sunshiny, spreads beautifully alongside gravelly, weary cameos from Vic Chesnutt and Ben Harper. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $35. —Jessica Hopper

VAMPIRE WEEKEND Not to blame the victim, but Vampire Weekend pretty much asked for the kind of beatdown Jessica Hopper gave them in her January Reader review of their latest album, Contra (XL). If you don't want to be accused of being vaguely yuppie world-music poseurs, it's best not to attach phrases like "Upper West Side Soweto" or "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" to your music, or to issue obnoxiously fastidious press releases where you make a point of explaining that your use of Auto-Tune isn't influenced by American pop (as if being influenced by American pop were such a terrible thing). All that said, I'm not persuaded that Vampire Weekend's appropriation of African and Caribbean sounds is offensive—it's certainly no worse than the Strokes copying Tom Petty or Robin Thicke trying to be a soul man—and I don't think their cultural sampling is any more egregious than M.I.A.'s. Like her, they've achieved impressive pop success with such techniques, and it's hard to see why they get so much more flak about it. Yeah, self-satisfied Ivy League kids can be annoying, but that's not enough to ruin the jittery sugar high of "California English" or the balance of aggression and etherealness in "Giving Up the Gun." Abe Vigoda opens; see also Friday. 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out. —Miles Raymer


CITAY Guitarist Ezra Feinberg and his sprawling San Francisco psych band, Citay, are all about excess. On the group's recent third album, Dream Get Together (Dead Oceans), the carefree, ambling grooves are piled high with layers of guitars—often including intertwined leads or florid, drawn-out solos—and the main vocal lines are often doubled or tripled, in unison or in harmony. On "Hunter" there's even an analog-synth solo that would make Emerson, Lake & Palmer tip their hats. The band's hazy hippie vibe and tendency to use lots of notes might seem to imply a lack of focus, but the music is surprisingly catchy and straightforward. Primary vocalists Tahlia Harbour and Meryl Press usually sing together, in a sunny, ultramelodic style that recalls the Mama & the Papas, and the rhythms are toe-tappingly direct. Guest vocals from Merrill Garbus, aka Tune-Yards, give a relatively blunt and earthy feel to "Mirror Kisses," and the album closes with an unexpected cover of Galaxie 500's "Tugboat." Dream Get Together was produced by Tim Green of the Fucking Champs, who's also among the guitarists laying down serpentine leads; he's not in the touring lineup, though, which is scaled down to seven members from the 11 credited on the album. Michael Columbia and Baron von Something open. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $8 in advance. —Peter Margasak

DEADSTRING BROTHERS Detroit rockers the Deadstring Brothers recently released their fourth album, Sao Paulo (Bloodshot), and it doesn't take even one step out of the shadow of what's obviously the band's primary inspiration—they still seem perfectly happy exiled on their own Main Street. Between the post-Mick Jagger strut and howl of front man Kurt Marschke and the appealingly loose, jagged guitar interplay between Marschke and Spencer Cullum, the Deadstring Brothers do the early-70s Rolling Stones sound as well as anyone, including what's left of the Glimmer Twins themselves. But they build an identity of their own with their stolen blueprints, turning in flinty, soulful performances that bring infectious vitality to bluesy rockers and boozy honky-tonk. The South Sixteens, Indignant, and the Sweeps open.  8:30 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $8. —Peter Margasak

Tegan and Sara
  • Tegan and Sara

TEGAN AND SARA In a recent Pitchfork piece Sara Quin talks about the different listening habits she and her twin sister, Tegan, had over the years, and says that it stunted their musical development to grow up in Alberta, Canada, and then skip college. As a result they're still playing catch-up, which goes a long way toward explaining how they remain largely immune to the vicissitudes of indie-rock fashion even as they're lumped in with the indie-rock scene. If the jerking staccato guitar riff that holds down "Hell" on last year's Sainthood (Sire) is any indication, Tegan and Sara may have only just discovered Hot Snakes, or possibly even Shellac. Guesswork aside, it's a jarringly intriguing departure for a pair of songwriters best known for round-edged emo pop tinged with new wave. Being a Tegan and Sara song, of course, it eventually transitions into a punchy chorus that will wedge itself into your head and stay there for days, but the anxious energy it begins with—an energy that permeates Sainthood—is proof that a decade into their career the Quins are still challenging themselves and their audience. Steel Train and Holly Miranda open. 8 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212, $32.75. —Miles Raymer

VAMPIRE WEEKEND See Thursday. Abe Vigoda opens. 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out.


ALTAN Altan are by now a grand old flagship of traditional Irish music, but thanks to the lilt in their songs—in the rich instrumental backdrops as well as the sweet voice of fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh—they still sound youthful and light on their feet. That holds true even when they play with the RTE Concert Orchestra (one of several ensembles maintained by Ireland's public broadcaster, Raidio Teilifis Eireann), as they do on their new 25th Anniversary Celebration (Compass). The album collects 15 of the band's most popular tunes, performed live in Dublin, their lilies most thoroughly gilded by the lavish arrangements. Of course the lifeblood of traditional Irish music is the informal social session, not the orchestral collaboration, and in keeping with that heritage Altan ought to let their hair down a little here—it should also help that, given their international stature, the Abbey Pub is actually a rather intimate venue for them. 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 866-468-3401, $25, $20 in advance, 18+. —Monica Kendrick

JUDSON CLAIBORNE Judson Claiborne is the name Chris Salveter chose when he struck out on his own after several years fronting the local group Low Skies, and the new name helped give his new music space to breathe and come into its own. His first record as Judson Claiborne was a solid piece of good old feel-bad countrified folk-rock not too far removed from the Low Skies formula, but his latest, Time and Temperature (La Societe Expeditionnaire), is a weirder thing. With assistance from Mucca Pazza members Ronnie Kuller and Jeff Thomas, Salveter has expanded his sound to include sprawling, slightly chaotic arrangements of strings and horns. Even relatively subdued numbers like "I Am Learning Pantomime" are somewhat ramshackle, seemingly put together with whatever instruments were within reach at the time, but all the extra sound doesn't obscure the songs' essential sad-guy-with-a-guitar core. The Cave Singers headline; Black Atlantic and Judson Claiborne open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401,$12. —Miles Raymer

ANA TIJOUX Rapper Ana Tijoux is a multinational child, born in Lille, France, in 1977 to a French mother and a Chilean exile father. After the Pinochet regime unraveled and Chile transitioned back to democracy in the late 80s, her family moved to Santiago, where she embraced hip-hop—already a musical lingua franca for much of the world. By the late 90s her trio Makiza had become stars by adapting the aesthetic of New York's Native Tongues crew—not just the sound but the "conscious" lyrical style—for South America, rapping in Spanish and tackling subjects relevant to Chileans, not just copying the postures of stateside hip-hop. In 2006 Tijoux got a jolt of crossover exposure when she rhymed on "Eres Para Mi," a huge international hit by Mexican singer Julieta Venegas. She released her first solo album the next year, and her second, 1977, came out last fall (Nacional will release it in the U.S. next month). On the new record, where she raps in both Spanish and French, she reminds me a little of Bahamadia: her nimble delivery and barrages of consonants give her voice a percussive bounce that complements the beats, and she sticks to a narrow range of pitches, creating a cool sort of tension. The backing tracks collide live instruments and samples of instruments (vibes, flute, bass, guitar, strings) with turntable scratching and hard-funk grooves for an old-school feel that's alternately plush and harrowing. All Natural, Inc.; Olmeca; and Phillip Morris open. 9 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $12. —Peter Margasak


DENISE LASALLE Denise LaSalle first hit the national R & B charts in 1971 with the jaunty but fervent "Trapped by a Thing Called Love," which stayed at number one for months and sold more than a million copies—a major accomplishment in those days, especially in R & B. Today, like many of her contemporaries, she works mainly on the southern soul-blues circuit, where her recordings continue to sell well and she's still a guaranteed concert draw. Always sassy, over the years she's grown steadily more transgressive: though she sings that she's "a lady in the street, freaky in the bedroom," to judge by her frequently raunchy songs ("Dial 1-900-Get-Some") and matching stage persona ("Does my band sound good? They fuck good, too! I auditioned 'em!") she doesn't much care if she's seen as a lady anywhere. "Cheat Receipt," written by Luther Lackey and previously recorded by Toni Green, is the lead single from LaSalle's upcoming Malaco album, and though it lacks the bite of some of her better-known material it's customarily frank about bedroom matters: a woman who catches her man cheating, it says, can scare him into behaving by threatening to cash in her "cheat receipt" and enjoy a bit of extracurricular activity herself. But LaSalle's bad-girl antics aren't merely salacious; they're also liberating. The women in her songs claim ownership of their sexuality and demand their due, often in unabashedly profane terms ("Real women would like you to lick it before you stick it"). She can do more than set men straight too—as she proves when she tones things down to croon a careworn ballad like "Why Am I Missing You," there's a tender heart beneath her warrior-bitch exterior. Theo Huff opens. 8 PM, Mr. G's Supper Club, 1547 W. 87th, 773-445-2020, $35. —David Whiteis

Janelle Monae
  • Janelle Monae


JANELLE MONAE Janelle Monae's career has been in slow wind-up mode for so long (three years, two EPs) that it's easy to confuse her situation for a failure to launch. She's had hype and press and big tours the whole time, plus a neat long-form video where she plays a tap-dancing robot—and finally, due in May, a proper long player, ArchAndroid (Atlantic). The "female Andre 3000" tag still applies, but she could also hold her own as a third member of OutKast—she has the voice, the talent, and the barely distilled Funkadelic I'm-from-another-world vibe. (She's got a lot of soul for a robot.) "Tightrope," the lead single, has her paired with Big Boi, backed by tight horn arrangements and upright bass; it recalls "Hey Ya" in its handclapping thump and its undeniability. Her songs have a total ease with pop hooks (Diddy produced, go figure), but in their frills and details she keeps her weirdness intact. See also Tuesday. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, 18+. —Jessica Hopper

Tatsuya Nakatani
  • Chris Reeg
  • Tatsuya Nakatani

TATSUYA NAKATANI Tatsuya Nakatani is no punk, but he's a self-sufficient road dog on par with the Minutemen, who famously declared "We jam econo." The Osaka-born, Pennsylvania-based percussionist is in the middle of a four-month tour he booked himself, which will take him across the country and down to Mexico; along the way he'll be selling his self-released CDs and sometimes sleeping in his Honda Element. During his three days in Chicago this week he'll play with locals in configurations that will showcase his mastery both of egoless collaboration and of solitary performance. On Fever Dream (Taiga), a new double LP by the improvising trio MAP, Nakatani's strategically placed drum strikes and rushes of clattering metal mesh with Reuben Radding's groaning double bass, Mary Halvorson's tight knots of guitar notes, and potent silences to form constantly shifting, perfectly balanced tableaux. And his latest solo CD, Abiogenesis (on his own H&H label), is a study of economy; many of its 15 tracks make concise, compelling statements using just one element of his percussion setup, which usually includes metal bowls, three drums, a homemade bow, and two sizable gongs (which he's bringing with him on tour for the first time). Tonight he'll play duets with pianist Ben Boye at Heaven Gallery, which recently acquired a grand piano. Tomorrow he'll play solo on WNUR at 11 AM; see also Wednesday. 8 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor,, donation requested. —Bill Meyer


JANELLE MONAE See Monday.  8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14.


TATSUYA NAKATANI On the last night of his visit to Chicago, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani will perform solo, as will reedist Edward Wilkerson Jr. For the evening's first set, Nakatani will play alone, then in a duo with Wilkerson. For the second set Wilkerson will play alone (the first time he's done so in concert), then in a trio with Nakatani and bassist Joshua Abrams. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer

  • Alex John Beck
  • Serena-Maneesh

SERENA-MANEESH It's been four years since the U.S. release of this Norwegian band's debut, so I suppose people can't be blamed for asking "Serena who?" Still, it's a shame if they are. Serena-Maneesh's long-awaited second album, S-M 2: Abyss in B-Minor, just turned up on 4AD—which is apt, since it certainly uses a lot of the same sounds you might've heard circa 1989 coming out of the room of a college art student on the make. If you were to guess that these guys (and gal) are big fans of My Bloody Valentine and even the Cocteau Twins, I'd say that's a very safe bet. But Abyss is deceptive—though it was recorded in a cave and mixed by longtime Can engineer Rene Tinner with plenty of trippy flourishes, it's too twitchy and restless to really work as seduction music for shoegazer foot fetishists. The irritable syncopation of "Reprobate!" is anything but womblike, and "Blow Yr Brains in the Morning Rain" and "Honey Jinx" are garagey and greasy enough to sound like something the early Warlocks would've been proud of. If Serena-Maneesh are just as full of surprises live, this should end up being one of those shows you can really make your friends feel bad about missing. The Depreciation Guild, Apteka, and Canyon open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick


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