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The List: December 10-16, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: the Flaming Lips, Pelican, Keri Hilson, Marduk, Unsilent Night, and more

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Thursday10

Eric Alexander
Cannibal Corpse

Friday11

Eric Alexander
Breakaway
Flaming Lips
Leftovers
Pelican

Saturday5

Eric Alexander
Black Bear Combo
Keri Hilson
Marduk
Russian Circles
White Car

Sunday13

Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown
Eric Alexander
Unsilent Night

Monday14

Tyler Jon Tyler, Sleepovers

thursday10

ERIC ALEXANDER Illinois native Eric Alexander, a mainstay of New York's hard-bop scene, wasn't yet born when saxophonists like John Coltrane, George Coleman, and Dexter Gordon were creating some of their greatest work in the 60s—he's 41—but like other young players he's absorbed their music through recordings. The sound of that golden era remains the lingua franca of much mainstream jazz, and Alexander speaks it as well as anyone these days. For nearly two decades the tenor saxophonist has been refining his practice, and his recordings, like the recent Revival of the Fittest (High Note), reveal him as a devoted craftsman. He's unlikely to challenge your sensibilities, but his skill, knowledge, and good taste are all impressive. Though he sticks to the territory he's chosen, in all of his work you can hear the passion of a player driven to explore within the boundaries he's set for himself. For this four-night engagement he's backed by local players: pianist Dan Trudell, bassist Clark Summer, and drummer George Fludas. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20. —Peter Margasak

CANNIBAL CORPSE Pick up pretty much any Cannibal Corpse record and you're guaranteed chugging riffage and machine-tight blastbeats, arranged into songs with titles like "Fucked With a Knife" and "Skull Full of Maggots." The band advertise their love of gore with album artwork full of butchered bodies and flayed ghouls, and their lyrics—rendered borderline indecipherable by the throaty bark of George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher, who replaced original singer Chris Barnes in 1995—are just as reliably gruesome. It's definitely a formula, but it's still a fruitful one, and the group proves it on this year's Evisceration Plague (Metal Blade). Cannibal Corpse are one of the longest-running and biggest-selling death-metal bands ever, and for years they've been a lightning rod for busybody politicians who take them too literally and see their very existence as a symptom of a grave societal ill. But to the musicians and fans they've inspired—Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small based Dethklok front man Nathan Explosion on Fisher—Cannibal Corpse are a brutal gift that keeps on giving. Hatebreed headline, in a booking decision that can only be characterized as a miscarriage of justice; Cannibal Corpse, Unearth, Hate Eternal, and Born of Osiris open. 4:45 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $27.50, $24.50 in advance. —Miles Raymer

friday11

ERIC ALEXANDER See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

BREAKWAY In May I blogged about the superb postbop album pianist Paul Giallorenzo had made with his quintet Get In to Go Out (which is now called GitGo, and plays Saturday night at Heaven Gallery), but like many local improvisers he maintains several different projects with distinct aesthetics and approaches. In the trio Breakway, Giallorenzo focuses on purely improvised abstraction, processing his piano with contact mikes and electronics or abandoning it entirely in favor of an analog synth. The music on Get Down (Friends and Relatives) is sometimes hectic, sometimes slow and considered, but even the most spacious passages consist largely of tense, frenetic gestures. Drummer Marc Riordan scrabbles and scrapes at his kit, creating a blur of cymbal patter, stuttering beats, and texture-based racket. Giallorenzo and electronicist Brian Labycz create swells and bursts of processed tones—snaking, skittering lines, supernovas of white noise, bulbous bloops and high-frequency bleeps—that not only blend and contrast thoughtfully with each other but also dance atop Riordan's playing with clear logic and easy grace. A trio of Jim Dorling, Emmett Kelly, and Michael Zerang headlines; Breakway and Splitter open.  9 PM, Enemy, 1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor, 312-493-3657 or enemysound.com, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

Flaming Lips
  • Flaming Lips

FLAMING LIPS When I wrote about the Flaming Lips for the Reader's coverage of this summer's Pitchfork Music Festival, I took them to task for settling into predictability over the past decade—and their set in Union Park, while it demonstrated their ability to raise the bar for showbiz spectacle, was as formulaic as ever. But then I heard their latest album, Embryonic (Warner Brothers). With this sprawling collection they've not only broken with the fizzy, overloaded psych-pop they've been playing since The Soft Bulletin but also made some of their weirdest music in 20 years. It's by no means perfect, and it's weighed down by the Flaming Lips' usual self-indulgence—at more than 70 minutes, it would've benefited from some editing—but it's as exciting as anything they've ever done, threading ghostly traces of pop melody into a collage of raw, throbbing post-Krautrock grooves, in-the-red noise, and flickering, abstract patterns of guitar and electronics. The music has the wanderlust and wide-open feel of electric-era Miles Davis, which is hardly a direction you'd expect from a band at the peak of their popularity; unlike their other recent records, it demands that you stick with it for the long haul, till you're sucked into its spacious vortex of sound and texture. I'm not confident that the band's live show will shift gears to keep pace with the new record, but now that the Lips have surprised me with Embryonic, I'm at least willing to hope they'll surprise me onstage. Phoenix and Pete Yorn open. 7 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont, 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212, $40-$50. —Peter Margasak

LEFTOVERS It's so sad that Buddy Holly never got to hear power pop. When his heart-tugging melodies met Pete Townshend's demolitions-grade guitar chords, they created a rich vein of music that tough-nerd bands are still mining today. When the Leftovers debuted five years ago with Stop Drop Rock n' Roll, you might not have pegged them as purveyors of power pop—it's a noisy, punky album that sounds like it was recorded in a beehive, and the vocals are buried in the mix. But even then the band saw themselves that way: on "New Rock Alternative" they complain about radio stations sticking to tried-and-true power-pop acts ("As soon as the Romantics are on the air / You won't find me anywhere"), with the obvious subtext that they're the young, old-fashioned upstarts who really deserve that exposure. On the Leftovers' fourth album, this year's Eager to Please (Crappy/Oglio), there's still a ton of punk energy—drummer Adam Woronoff, who's done a few short stints with the Queers, hasn't lost a step—but the group's three singers bring their great pop voices out from behind the fuzz. That simple production decision, combined with a more frankly excited deployment of sunshiny choruses, has swung their sound away from the Ramones and toward the Rubinoos, a move that makes the most of their charms. The Queers headline; the Leftovers, the Hypnic Jerks, and I Love Rich open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Ann Sterzinger

PELICAN This instrumental metal foursome, currently split between Chicago and Los Angeles, disappointed some fans with 2007's City of Echoes (Hydra Head), whose relatively short and catchy songs flew in the face of the maximalist aesthetic the band had established with several discs full of towering epics. But the new What We All Come to Need (Southern Lord) seems likely to win some back, with tightly focused tracks that return to the feel of Pelican's early material if not to its scope. Of course some people are always going to grumble—honestly I wouldn't recognize the metal scene without all the trolls who insist that every band I like is an abomination—but I'm sure the band can suck it up. They've had a burger named after them at Kuma's, and they're still rubbing elbows with luminaries like Aaron Turner of Isis and Greg Anderson of Sunn 0))), both of whom contributed to What We All Come to Need. So did, among others, Allen Epley of the Life and Times—as a vocalist on the album's closer, "Final Breath." This is a first for Pelican, and a development I have mixed feelings about. A sense of solitude, which encourages inner-space exploration and wide-open interpretation, has long characterized their music, in no small part because it's instrumental. Hearing a human voice on a Pelican song is downright jarring—it's as though you've been wandering for years in a desolate but beautiful alien landscape, imagining yourself utterly alone, and then someone strolls up and asks for directions. Black Cobra and Disappearer open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $14, $12 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

saturday12

ERIC ALEXANDER See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

Black Bear Combo - BENJAMIN GREENBERG
  • Benjamin Greenberg
  • Black Bear Combo

BLACK BEAR COMBO Speculation about Michaele and Tareq Salahi's motives for crashing Barack Obama's first state dinner has so far centered on their reality-show aspirations, but I choose to believe that the couple were just hoping Black Bear Combo would still be around. Six weeks ago the Chicago sextet donned skeleton suits and joined the Redmoon theater company to enact a madcap Halloween spectacle on the White House lawn. I'm sure it was a great show—alas, I had prior commitments—but Black Bear Combo don't need creepy costumes or a big production to turn a crowd into a party. Saxophonist Doug Abram wrote the lion's share of the tunes on the band's new self-released CD, Game of Death, and the ensemble—which also includes trumpet, euphonium, tuba, accordion, and a tapan-style parade drum—delivers his melodies with a velocity and drive that would satisfy a Minutemen fan. But Abrams favors ragged, raucous horn voices and odd-metered beats that come straight from the brass-band tradition of the Balkans, where the celebrations sometimes last for days. Black Bear Combo open this show, which benefits Second City's Letters to Santa charity and doubles as a release party for all three groups on the bill. JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound headline with two sets, one as the backing band for a revue with an impressive roster of front men—Renaldo Domino, Danny Black, Marvin Tate, Baby Teeth's Abraham Levitan, Jai Alai Savant's Ralph Darden—and the other as the main attraction. Heather Perry & the Blanks play second, and the East of Edens Soul Express spins between sets. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $8. —Bill Meyer

Keri Hilson - PARRISH LEWIS
  • Parrish Lewis
  • Keri Hilson

KERI HILSON After being the sing-the-hook cameo chick on a string of middle-of-the-road not-quite-hits (Lloyd Banks's "Help," Diddy's "After Love"), Keri Hilson was thrust into the collective pop consciousness in the summer of 2007 by Timbaland's "The Way I Are." Now she's getting her karmic payoff: the big singles from her debut, this year's In a Perfect World . . . (Interscope), all include cameos from huge stars, and she outshines them all. "Knock You Down" (featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo) is pretty much the best thing Yeezy's been involved with in 2009, and "Turnin Me On" (featuring Lil Wayne and produced by Polow da Don) seems to be in heavy rotation everywhere except preemie wards and the funerals of the elderly. Hilson's voice is pop slick, but she's got a grain to her and doesn't seem manufactured; she's a genuine talent, just a girl with pipes who wants to make it. She shares the bill at the B96 Jingle Bash with Pitbull, Justin Bieber, David Guetta, Jay Sean, Sean Kingston, Jeremih, Livvi Franc, and Jump Smokers. 6 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont, 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212, sold out. —Jessica Hopper

MARDUK This foul Swedish black-metal four-piece—and I mean "foul" in the best way—set out to be the most brutal and blasphemous band ever, and though it's awfully hard to keep score, there's no way they're not in the running. The 1995 CD reissue of their 1991 debut, a demo called Fuck Me Jesus, depicts on its cover a nude young lady having a go at herself with a crucifix, and it's been mostly downhill from there. Marduk took a shot at christening their own genre by naming a song "Christraping Black Metal" on the 1999 album Panzer Division Marduk, one of several releases to fortify their anti-Christian sentiment with Nazi themes and imagery. This tactic was probably intended to offend, well, everybody, and it even drew the ire of actual neo-Nazi black-metal acts, who called the band poseurs. Good for Marduk, I guess—if neo-Nazis are happy with what you're doing, it's probably time to reevaluate your direction. Only guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Hakansson remains from the founding lineup, though bassist Magnus "Devo" Andersson was around for a while in the early 90s. Vocalist Daniel "Mortuus" Rosten came aboard in '04, and the impressive new Wormwood (Regain) is his third full-length with the band; his growling, shrieking, gargling, and howling gives the album much of its power. Marduk's east-coast trip in August was their first visit to the States in eight years—visa problems forced them to miss the Blackenedfest tour in May—and Mortuus was so happy to be here that he drank a chalice of congealing cow's blood onstage in New York. Nachtmystium, Mantic Ritual, and Merrimack open. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $18, $15 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Russian Circles - CHRIS STRONG

RUSSIAN CIRCLES "Pretty" isn't a word normally associated with heavy metal, but there are tracks on Russian Circles' new Geneva (Suicide Squeeze) that beg for it: the slow-motion cumulonimbus boil of "Melee," for instance, with its churning guitar distortion and elegant strings, or the hushed and contemplative "Hexed All." This local instrumental trio are still headbangers at heart, though, and counterbalance the loveliness and moodiness with punishing cuts like the title track and the album opener, "Fathom," whose grind and growl makes it seem like petty snobbishness to try to draw lines between Russian Circles and "real" metal. Young Widows, Sweet Cobra, and Phantom Family Halo open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14, $12 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer

WHITE CAR Halloween weekend I got stuck at one of those epic fire-hazard parties full of SAIC sophomores. There were five bands on the bill and I wanted to see the much-hyped headliner, but I was feeling sober and ancient and was mostly just waiting it out—until White Car saved the night. A blazing throwback to the Wax Trax! aesthetic circa 1987, this local duo captures the sound of industrial music at its apex, right before Al Jourgensen's newfound love of distorted guitar turned it from a kind of fey but hard-edged electro into something churning and aggro. White Car were perfectly menacing, complete with a creepy, shirtless singer in a cowboy hat and a Trenchcoat Mafia longhair on keys—they're the best new local band I've seen all year. Mahjongg headlines.  9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Jessica Hopper

sunday13

JASON ADASIEWICZ'S ROLLDOWN Jason Adasiewicz's affable demeanor and outsize, loose-limbed vigor have long made the vibraphonist one of the more entertaining onstage presences in Chicago's creative-jazz community, but what's really established him as an MVP are his subtlety, harmonic facility, and textural imagination. His recent appearances with Klang, Loose Assembly, and Joe McPhee's Topology have demonstrated how enormously he's grown as a sideman, and Varmint (Cuneiform), the recent second album by his quintet Rolldown, proves that he's evolved just as much as a leader. His compositions evoke the volatile blend of dreaminess and daring in the Blue Note recordings of Bobby Hutcherson and Andrew Hill, and they're well designed to draw out his bandmates' strengths. The bluesy ballad "I Hope She Is Awake" sets up cornetist Josh Berman for a solo that's deeply rooted in prebop methods but utterly contemporary, while "Hide" balances mind-bending complexity from alto saxophonist Aram Shelton with skillful modulations of sonic density from drummer Frank Rosaly. And the sauntering "Dagger" elegantly reconciles the tightly knotted figures of bassist Jason Roebke with the marvelous spaciousness of Adasiewicz's solo. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Bill Meyer

Jason Adasiewicz - MICHAEL JACKSON

ERIC ALEXANDER See Thursday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

UNSILENT NIGHT Every holiday season since 1992, New York composer Phil Kline has been presenting his piece Unsilent Night in outdoor performances by and for the public, who literally carry the music as they stroll through city streets. Though a CD of the piece released by Cantaloupe in 2001 hints at its mesmerizing beauty, this is one work that needs to be experienced in the flesh. Its eight movements consist of layers of ethereal drones, bell-like electronic peals and chimes, and wordless vocals that intone drifting, hypnotic melodies, but the music gets its juice from the way live performances turn those layers into moving parts. Kline has isolated various components of Unsilent Night, and they're distributed to the performers on cassette or CD or as MP3 files; each brings a boom box, battery-powered iPod dock, or other portable audio player, and they all press play simultaneously. The components recombine, but in unstable ways: as the sounds bounce off buildings, carry on the wind, get soaked up by trees and bodies, and shift according to the distribution and orientation of the playback devices, Unsilent Night becomes three-dimensional, constantly changing in density, volume, and focus. This season Unsilent Night will be performed in 22 North American cities as well as in Melbourne, Australia, and the first official installment in Chicago is being organized by pianist Mabel Kwan, a member of Ensemble Dal Niente. Everyone is welcome to show up and participate—just RSVP to unsilentchicago@gmail.com to reserve a CD or cassette or receive an MP3 download link. The performance, which should run about 45 minutes, will begin at the Water Tower and move south along Michigan Avenue; it's hard to predict how many people will be participating, but in New York the number has peaked at about 1,500. 5 PM, Historic Chicago Water Tower, 800 N. Michigan. —Peter Margasak

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TYLER JON TYLER, SLEEPOVERS There's no such thing as too many bands with loving couples in them. The two singers for the Sleepovers, guitarist Dan Boldon and tambourine shaker Annie Boldon, are a husband-and-wife team, and with Dan's twin brother Doug on drums and Nathan Johnson from the Yolks on keyboards this local foursome makes irresistibly charming, borderline wholesome pop rock. It's hard to imagine lyrics like "Sleepovers are fun, they're so fun, they're so fun, they're so fun" sounding anything but creepy or facetious these days, but when you hear Dan and Annie sing them together you can't deny their bubblegum earnestness—an earnestness they also bring to covers of Rick Springfield's "Welcome to the Rodeo" and the Troggs' "Give It to Me." Tyler Jon Tyler also includes a couple: Ponys drummer Nathan Jerde, who plays bass here, and vocalist-guitarist Rebecca Flores. The first thing you'll notice about Tyler Jon Tyler's debut seven-inch, "Faster Than Light" b/w "New England Street" (out last month on Trouble in Mind), is Flores's commanding singing, and next you'll probably pick up on the pedigree of the music—the cleanly jangling guitars, simple melodic bass lines, and stomping drums (played by the Daily Void's Tom Cassling) are rooted in the early-90s indie-pop of Washington, D.C., and the Pacific Northwest. But unlike, say, the Vivian Girls, who sound like they're trying to remake albums from the back catalogs of K Records and Simple Machines 19 years after the fact, Tyler Jon Tyler wear their influences lightly—and by comparison they sound refreshingly unpretentious. The Yolks headline; Tyler Jon Tyler and the Sleepovers open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Brian Costello

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