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The List: December 17-23, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Rise Against, the Detroit Cobras, Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang, the Snow Angels, Joan of Arc, and more

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Rise Against


The Merry Widow
Rise Against
Treasure Fingers


Detroit Cobras
Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang
Snow Angels


Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang
Joan of Arc
Wiz Khalifa
The Merry Widow
Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens


Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang


Covers For Cover II


RISE AGAINST This Chicago institution, most of whose members are straight-edge, vegan, or both, is blessed and cursed by the same kind of fans who latched onto Fugazi and Earth Crisis—the kind who scrutinize a band's every decision for traces of impure motive or compromised principle. But Rise Against have been in the trenches with the Warped Tour generation for ten years now, and they seem all but immune to the slings and arrows of those who would cry "sellout"—when they rolled out a limited-edition Vans skate shoe in 2007, they accompanied it with a detailed statement attesting that it was vegan friendly and sweatshop free. About the only grumbling the band can't silence is grumbling about their music—and those complaints aren't going to go away, not as long as Rise Against continue to veer from their hardcore roots every third track or so, playing midtempo tunes loaded with production flourishes that make them sound downright "alternative." Their latest, last year's Appeal to Reason (Interscope), suffers from election-year datedness, but its political passion is like Kevlar armor protecting it from nitpicking. I think the band's secret weapon is the very same thing that sometimes makes them seem ham-handed: heartfelt lefty labor-anthem sing-along sentimentality. Street Sweeper Social Club and AM Taxi open. See also Friday. 7:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, sold out, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Rise Against - MEENO
  • Meeno
  • Rise Against


THE MERRY WIDOW The scene that opens Lyric Opera of Chicago's Merry Widow is a stunner, inspired by an 1873 Tissot painting: a tableau of belle epoque gowns in sherbet shades against a silver foil backdrop. It's one of many high points in this production of Franz Lehar's classic 1905 operetta about a rich widow whose matrimonial plans are critical to the survival of her fictional eastern European country. Directed by Chicago Shakespeare's Gary Griffin and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, it has relatively spartan sets by Daniel Ostling, exquisite costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, and a hard-rhyming translation of its often cynical lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Soprano Elizabeth Futral plays the widow, Hanna Glawari, whose haunting second-act solo ("Vilja") is another highlight; the gentlemen's lament in the same act ("Everywoman") had Lyric's buttoned-up audience clapping time like the crowd at a hootenanny. Andriana Chuchman and Stephen Costello deliver winning performances as the itchy young wife of an aging diplomat and her determined lover, while the orchestra (just released from contract limbo), chorus, and dancers all add to the frivolity. One hitch on opening night: in a few instances voices failed to carry, particularly from the back or upper part of the stage. The trouble may have been a gremlin in the sound system, in which case it should be fixable, but tenor Roger Honeywell (who plays the widow's love interest, Count Danilo Danilovich) was inaudible in his lower register and managed to fumble an entry in which he's supposed to be stumbling drunk. See also Sunday; The Merry Widow continues until January 16. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $46-$207. —Deanna Isaacs

RISE AGAINST See Thursday. This special tenth-anniversary show is a benefit for the Intonation Music Workshop, which provides neighborhood-based music education for at-risk youth. The band promise to revisit their Fat Wreck Chords days and play nothing but songs from their first two albums, The Unraveling and Revolutions Per Minute—that is, the ones that made people love them in the first place. The Bollweevils and Noise by Numbers open. 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, sold out. —Monica Kendrick

TREASURE FINGERS Atlanta's Ashley Jones, aka Treasure Fingers, makes music that's not easy to find a genre tag for, which makes him something of an oddity in the dance world, where there are so many—two records that sound more like each other than like anything else are practically enough to qualify as a subgenre. Most of Jones's material tops throwback disco-house beats with things like burbling electro-funk synths, bursts of chiptune bleeps, IDM-style sliced-and-diced samples, and the kind of filter-swept vocals most commonly associated with Daft Punk. His remixes are crafty and inevitably several times funkier than the originals, but his best work yet is a song of his own, the addictive "Cross the Dancefloor," which is one of those rare dance tracks that could appeal to people who make a point of avoiding dance music. Only Children and Kid Color open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $12, $10 before midnight. —Miles Raymer


DETROIT COBRAS Though this can be hard to imagine in retrospect once you're familiar with them, if you haven't actually heard the Detroit Cobras they don't sound like such a big deal. Front woman Rachel Nagy and guitarist Mary Ramirez, two high-talent chicks from Detroit with a tough-girl shtick as unsubtle as Nagy's big ol' voice, have been working since 1994 with a revolving-door backing band that often includes the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright—who seems to have a hand in every decent garage-rock project in this arm of the Milky Way—but their smokin' sets of garage-soul consist almost entirely of covers. Nobody who wants to get taken seriously as a musician starts a cover band, but in an article on the Cobras' Web site Nagy offers a sensible explanation for this modus operandi: Why write umpteenth-generation copies of the classics when you can go straight to the source? She and the band rough up nuggets from the 50s and 60s by artists both familiar and obscure, paying tribute instead of merely ripping off. The one Cobras original I've heard—"Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat)," from 2005's Baby—is a catchy but insubstantial piece of Devil Dogs-style innuendo, but it's hard to argue with the lost treasures of artists like Ruby Johnson, the Chiffons, and Garnet Mimms. This show is a 15th birthday party for Bloodshot Records, the Cobras' current home, as well as a benefit for labelmates Lawrence Peters and the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, who are both struggling with some serious medical bills. Donations of canned food for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago will get you discounted drinks, and there will be free Santullo's pizza while it lasts (which won't be long). The Dexter Romweber Duo, the Blacks, and the Lawrence Peters Outfit open. 8:30 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $10 suggested donation. —Ann Sterzinger

HAMID DRAKE & MICHAEL ZERANG Whether you long for snowy slopes or just for one more minute of sunlight, the winter solstice is worth celebrating, and in Chicago we have a reason that's uniquely ours. Every year since 1990 master drummers Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang have marked the year's shortest day with a series of sunrise performances that are as much rituals as they are concerts. Each one starts the same way, with the two men walking into a room lit only by candles and selecting an instrument from their transcontinental collection of bells, gongs, and drums—djembes, dumbeks, frame drums, tablas, congas. As the darkness lifts, the music swells: Drake and Zerang range freely through rhythms drawn from jazz as well as from the traditions of India, Africa, and the Middle East, winding through passages of crystalline delicacy and surges of pure sound as they bring the music to a series of climaxes. When dawn finally shines through the windows, the duo end with a silence as enveloping as any percussive barrage. See also Sunday and Monday. 6 AM, Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0284, $20, $18 in advance at Bookworks (3444 N. Clark, 773-871-5318). —Bill Meyer

Snow Angels - JOHN STURDY

SNOW ANGELS The Snow Angels—members of Mannequin Men, Vee Dee, Johnny & the Limelites, and the Frigates—have been spreading holiday cheer like a social disease for six years now, and they're starting to look like a real band, even though they only exist during those magical months when Walgreens is clogged with Christmas crap. They've just released an EP, Seasonal Help (Diversey), which features pop-punk and rockabilly-infused takes on several of the songs you love to hate on Lite FM this time of year, alongside obscurities like Loreena Mann's "Indian Santa Claus"—which is somehow both racist and adorable, like boys' lit from the 30s—and a giddy, Ramones-cuddly original tune called "CTA X-mas Train." My favorite track, though, has to be their eight-minute version of "Little Drummer Boy." Usually that piece of schmaltz is unendurable no matter how quickly it's over, but the Snow Angels turn it into a steady stream of pulsing, psychedelic garage choogle that could go on a hell of a lot longer if it wanted to. Their shows, reliably goofy and boozy (eggnoggy?), don't lean too hard on Christmas music—the band also play vintage rock from the likes of Chuck Berry, the Sonics, and the Beach Boys. Check your holiday cynicism at the door. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Monica Kendrick


HAMID DRAKE & MICHAEL ZERANG See Saturday. 6 AM, Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0284, $20, $18 in advance at Bookworks (3444 N. Clark, 773-871-5318).

Joan of Arc - JEREMY BOLEN
  • Jeremy Bolen
  • Joan of Arc

JOAN OF ARC Joan of Arc have never been an easy band to define—it's hard to keep track of who's in the group, much less predict what they'll do next. So it's fitting that the next album to bear the band's name isn't really a Joan of Arc record. Don't Mind Control, due January 26 from Polyvinyl, is a compilation of 18 bands that have shared members at one time or another with the constantly morphing project Tim Kinsella has led for the past 15 years. At least 40 players are involved, and the collection is more eclectic even than Joan of Arc's output, which is saying something—there's everything from the stuttery drone of Liz Payne's group the Zoo Wheel to emo-pop by Mike Kinsella's band Owen. For this year's Flowers (also on Polyvinyl), which actually is a Joan of Arc record, Tim Kinsella recorded with several different lineups over the course of a year, but he threads the sessions together with his absurd deadpan humor ("Suffering succotash, leafy green good griefs," he sings in "The Garden of Cartoon Exclamations") and fondness for sonic collage—on the title track he nonchalantly juggles post-Fahey fingerstyle guitar and careening postpunk, and "Fasting" juxtaposes scraping percussion and gurgling analog synth. At this point trying to pin the guy down is futile; it's better to just open your ears to whatever he's going to pull next. Male, My Empty Phantom, and Victor Villarreal open. 8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3. —Peter Margasak

Wiz Khalifa
  • Wiz Khalifa

WIZ KHALIFA "The best rapper out of Pittsburgh" isn't a crown I can imagine anybody spilling blood over—I'm not sure I can name two MCs from the Steel City—but even if the field were crowded, upstart Wiz Khalifa would stand out. On the mix tape Burn After Rolling and the album Deal or No Deal (Rostrum), both of which he released last month, he raps about generic topics—bitches, money, haters—with a charming cockiness that's hard to resist. He occupies a spot on the hip-hop spectrum about halfway between the pseudo-thugs who've dominated rap for the past decade and the new jacks who seem poised to dominate it for the next. He'd be a good gateway artist for dudes who know the gangsta era is over but who still can't talk about Drake without saying "no homo." Dave Coresh, Tha Basix, 1773, and DJs Intel and Trentino open.  10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer

THE MERRY WIDOW See Friday.  2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $46-$207.

Elizabeth Futral in The Merry Widow - DAN REST
  • Dan Rest
  • Elizabeth Futral in The Merry Widow

ARAM SHELTON'S FAST CITIZENS Most of the members of Fast Citizens are composers and bandleaders in other settings, and the sextet have found a way to take advantage of this deep bench. Their debut album, 2006's Ready Everyday, was billed to Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens, and Jackson wrote most of the music; the terrific new Two Cities (Delmark) is credited to Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens, and this time most of the songs are Shelton's. (No word yet on who'll have his name attached to the next record.) The ingenious arrangements on Two Cities make full use of the ensemble—reedists Jackson and Shelton, cornetist Josh Berman, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Frank Rosaly—to suggest a much larger group. On "The Twenty-Seven," the kwela-kissed "Two Cities" (both its title and its division into two sections refer to the fact that Shelton lives in Oakland, while the rest of the band is based here), and the gorgeous ballad "I Am Here, You Are There," which borrows the meditative chamber-jazz feel of the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop's early work, the four-man front line shapes contrapuntal themes and shifting patterns with a rich variety of rhythms, timbres, and metabolic rates, often presenting two or three at once. Fast Citizens make improvisation their main focus, and frequently split into subgroupings to structure the activity: Berman and Jackson joust buoyantly at the start of "Big News," for instance, while the rest of the ensemble hangs back or lays out, and "In Cycles" isolates three different duos, one after another. Lonberg-Holm's "VRC #9," on the other hand, organizes the improvising with predetermined structures, including pointillistic stop-start blurts and a spinning lick that gets faster every time it repeats. The band will be a five-piece for this concert, minus Lonberg-Holm, and drummer Marc Riordan will fill in for Rosaly. The Ritwik Banerji Quintet opens. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak


HAMID DRAKE & MICHAEL ZERANG See Saturday. 6 AM, Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0284, $20, $18 in advance at Bookworks (3444 N. Clark, 773-871-5318).

  • Netherfriends

NETHERFRIENDS Shawn Rosenblatt, the sole steady member of local psych-pop project Netherfriends, is 23 years old, and he says he figures he's got a few years before he hits his musical stride. But on "Friends With Lofts," from the band's most recent EP, Calling You Out (Emergency Umbrella), the suburban Philadelphia native sounds like he's the perfect age to capture the contrast between the lovely idea of an artsy kid moving to the big vibrant city and the reality of that kid's band playing loft shows for "50 drunk people who barely listen." With a tenor voice that ranges from a polite sneer to an ethereal croon, he delivers lyrics that veer from nostalgic to cynical, accompanied by clouds of piano and synth, crashing cymbals, blazing brass, demure xylophone, and his own layered backup vocals—imagine Stars' Set Yourself on Fire playing from inside a giant cone of cotton candy. A Netherfriends LP is scheduled for the spring. A Lull and Aktar Aktar open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Ann Sterzinger


COVERS FOR COVER II In case these last few days before Christmas find you in danger of a yuletide OD, the local acts at this benefit—many of them bands assembled for the occasion—are all playing cover sets of fine secular fare. The lineup includes power-pop chicks the Maybenauts taking on Bowie, Iris (featuring members of the Wanton Looks) as the Breeders, Dressed in Black (with members of the Hidden Mitten) covering the Gossip, Slutter (members of the Venom Lords) doing Kiss—and, most promising, Sally Timms of the Mekons as Velvet Underground ice queen Nico. The evening's host is Ratso's sister Rattina from Chic-a-Go-Go, and just as with the first Covers for Cover in 2006, proceeds go to a women's shelter—in this case the CAWC Greenhouse, which provides housing and support for women affected by domestic violence. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $12, $10 at door with donation of toiletries, 18+. —Jessica Hopper

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