Music » Music Feature

The List: December 24-30, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Robbie Fulks, Roy Hargrove, Josh Berman's Old Idea, Fiery Furnaces, and more

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Saturday26

Robbie Fulks
Maggot Twat
Unicycle Loves You

Sunday27

Jimmy Bennington's Colour and Sound Featuring Perry Robinson

Monday28

Perry Robinson & Jimmy Bennington

Tuesday29

Czar
The Good Life
Roy Hargrove

Wednesday30

Josh Berman's Old Idea
Fiery Furnaces
Roy Hargrove
Yoahn John Kwon

Robbie Fulks

saturday26

ROBBIE FULKS I'm a longtime fan of Robbie Fulks the musician, who devotes himself to the study of songcraft in many different styles and yet never sounds studied. Earlier this year he released an uneven but fascinating 50-track collection called 50-Vc. Doberman through robbiefulks.com, displaying his masterful range with dips into bluegrass, murder ballads, R & B, power pop, commercial country, turn-of-the-century popular songs, and more. I'm also a fan of Robbie Fulks the entertainer, and at his traditional year-end show that side of him will be on full display. I'm sure he'll do songs from the new collection, as well as some Michael Jackson covers—his MJ tribute album is finally coming out this spring—but only half of tonight's entertainment will be straight-up music. Aided and abetted by his versatile band, which features multi-instrumentalist and regular collaborator Scott Ligon, he'll also take a sidelong look back at 2009 with a kind of musical-comedy sketch revue. "There's props and actors and costumes and bargain-basement special effects, so it's definitely a production," he says. Bits in the works include Fulks's annual "Rap of the Dead" (a darkly funny obituary roll call) and the cabaret-dance number "We've All Got a Child Inside Us," which features the characters of Jackson and Roman Polanski. Few performers can so deftly erase the line between naive hokum and withering satire. 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Peter Margasak

MAGGOT TWAT Spam and Pizzer Manwhat (aka brothers Pete and Dan Manzella, both formerly of Hurtlocker) are the sentient members of this Chicago trash-thrash outfit, handling all the playing, programming, and vocals. "Drummer" Dick Pancakes is literally a dummy, propped up onstage and used as an all-purpose punch line and abuse receptacle—you can see a fair amount of such foolishness on Maggot Twat's 2005 DVD The Morons That Ruined Heavy Metal. Other stunts they've pulled include launching chicken feet into the crowd, sawing instruments in half, and diving into trash cans full of broken glass. Even just listening to their ridiculously catchy gross-out metal is hazardous—I'm going to have "Raped By an Ape" (from the band's most recent album, 2006's 8-Bit Apocalypse) stuck in my head for weeks. Equally addictive are the lo-fi and sometimes hilariously filthy Flash games they host at their Web site. Maggot Twat's set here, sadly their last, is part of the annual Holiday of Horror mini festival anchored by local "murder metal" veterans Macabre, which provides an essential community service by venting the tensions associated with the Official Merriest Time of the Year (and ironically might work to lower the murder rate). Macabre headline; Maggot Twat, Johnny Vomit, These Are They, the Muzzler, Earthen, and Primitive Evolution open. Idiom, an oddball local prog-metal combo with a lead xylophonist, play next door at Reggie's Music Joint; they'll perform Macabre's 1987 EP Grim Reality, which was finally reissued on CD this year after decades out of print. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

UNICYCLE LOVES YOU I'm starting to think the word "psychedelic" needs to be used with greater care. Local indie-rock four-piece Unicycle Loves You are often described that way, on what seem to me like the thinnest of pretenses: one guy exclusively plays keyboards, which I guess is a common feature of psych bands, and on last year's self-titled debut LP for Highwheel, singer-guitarist Jim Carroll occasionally sounds like Robyn Hitchcock, who is, y'know, kooky. But when they play live it's clear that their concise, hard-strummed pop songs—when they draw one out, it's usually for a tantrum, not a jam—have more in common with the teeth-gritting, neurotic blastitude of the Wedding Present. Unicycle Loves You plan to release their second LP in 2010, and at this show they're giving away a self-released EP of un­released material and B sides. Pet Lions and We Will Eat Rats to Survive open; DJ Screeble Dee spins. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Ann Sterzinger

sunday27

JIMMY BENNINGTON'S COLOUR AND SOUND FEATURING PERRY ROBINSON The Spirits at Belle's (Cadence Jazz) is credited to the Jimmy Bennington & Perry Robinson Quartet, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's true that local drummer Bennington put the group together in late 2007, after setting up the first Chicago gigs that the New Jersey-based Robinson—one of the rare clarinetists to fly the flag for the instrument in bebop and free jazz since it went out of fashion at the end of the swing era—had played since the mid-70s. But the other two players in the quartet, Matthew Golombisky and Daniel Thatcher, are equally essential to the album's novel sound. The two double bassists fill the space between Robinson's adroit, graceful maneuvers and Bennington's loose grooves and colorful fills with a rich assortment of tightly woven walking lines, darting solo forays, and out-of-tempo strums. They won't join Bennington and Robinson for this record-release concert, but their replacements, bassists Mike Staron and Brian Sandstrom, are veteran session men who've both played with Hal Russell—in other words, they know a thing or two about rolling with the punches. See also Monday.  8 PM, Uncommon Ground on Devon, 1401 W. Devon, 773-465-9801, $10 suggested donation.  —Bill Meyer

monday28

Perry Robinson & Jimmy Bennington See Sunday. Robinson and Bennington perform as a duo.  9 PM, Brown Rice, 4432 N. Kedzie, 312-543-7027. 

tuesday29

CZAR This local art-metal trio is a side project of Chicago industrial institution Acumen Nation—vocalist-guitarist Jason Novak and drummer Dan Brill are both in that band too, and guitarist Brian Elza, formerly of epic indie-rock outfit Chiral, joined them for a spell in 2003. Czar have only been gigging since late last winter, and in May they released a self-titled EP on their own Cracknation label. Its five tracks include a rich diversity of guitar sounds and textures, riveted in place by inventive percussion; there are only occasionally vocals, and they're not a high point. To my ears Czar have a great deal of promise but no fully developed identity yet; they seem to have realized that highly structured, panoramic landscape metal is fun as hell to play, but because they're still unloading their entire arsenal of songwriting tricks on every tune, none of them ends up with any particular character. It's unfortunate too that Mastodon beat Czar to the last-days-of-the-Romanovs theme—those aren't guys you want to be stuck following. Blood of the Tyrant and the Chicago Thrash Ensemble open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $5, $3 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

THE GOOD LIFE Cursive's 2000 album, Domestica, which tells the story of a dissolving marriage across nine painful, bombastic, and supremely memorable songs, helped establish front man Tim Kasher—whose own divorce inspired it—as one of indie rock's greatest bum-out artists. The Good Life is his side project, debuted at about the same time, and with it he takes a more subtle and intimate approach to dissecting relationships in song. The band's latest, 2007's Help Wanted Nights (Saddle Creek), is another concept album, this one set in a small-town bar—a milieu with a lot of potential for pathos. Kasher does a fantastic job extracting every drop, and his heartbreakingly pretty music would actually sound really good in a run-down small-town bar. Tim Kinsella and Old Canes open. 8:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Miles Raymer

Roy Hargrove

ROY HARGROVE For much of the past decade trumpeter Roy Hargrove has explored a variety of stylistic fusions: in his band Crisol, for instance, he played bracing Latin jazz, and in the RH Factor he dipped into funk and hip-hop. For the past couple of years, though, he's been reclaiming his roots in hard bop, and in the liner notes to his 2008 quintet record, Earfood, he made that pretty clear: "My goal in this project is to have a recording that is steeped in tradition and sophistication," he wrote, "while maintaining a sense of melodic simplicity." He maintains that devotion to the familiar pleasures of old-school jazz on this year's Emergence (Emarcy), the first recording by his long-running but only sporadically convened big band. Hargrove's lyrical, sanguine improvisations, which sound more thoughtful and patient than ever, are surrounded with exceedingly plush arrangements—the band's lineup is 19 strong. Much of the album has a strong retro vibe—the Count Basie oomph of the shuffle blues "Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey," the smoky ambience of "My Funny Valentine"—but Hargrove doesn't completely suppress his love for contemporary stuff, and at one point in his tune "Roy Allan" he drops in a musical quote from Grandmaster Flash's "The Message." On this trip he leads a sturdy quintet that includes dyed-in-the-wool bopper Justin Robinson on alto sax and flute and hard-swinging Montez Coleman on drums; rounding out the group are bassist Amin Saleem and pianist Sullivan Fortner, an upstart who's been turning heads with vibist Stefon Harris. See also Wednesday; this engagement runs through Sunday, January 3, and includes a $50 New Year's Eve show with sets at 9 and 11 PM. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20. —Peter Margasak

wednesday30

JOSH BERMAN'S OLD IDEA One great thing about the cohort of young Chicago jazz musicians that includes cornetist Josh Berman is the way its principals have developed distinct artistic identities. You could've heard Berman play in two other long-running Chicago-centric groups over the past two weeks, but there's no mistaking the output of his own flagship band, Old Idea, for either Rolldown's ebullient update of the Blue Note vanguard or Fast Citizens' carefully calibrated juxtapositions of genre and mood. Berman gets a lot of mileage from some ideas that, though they're old, are still pretty good. Like Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, he writes material designed to elicit solos from his sidemen that grow from and enhance the architecture of the tunes. And his playing, like the midcentury stylings of brass men Ruby Braff and Miles Davis, can be vigorously lyrical. But Berman's a man of his time, and his work also has peppery textural qualities that add zing to the Latin gestures of "What Can?" and the breakdowns punctuating the fleet freebop of "Nori." The namesake of the latter tune, drummer Nori Tanaka, played on Old Idea's self-titled debut for Delmark, where he was a joy to hear, but our nation's immigration laws have since intervened to protect us from seeing him in person. Drummer Marc Riordan will take his place, and the rest of the group—saxophonist Keefe Jackson, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Anton Hatwich—remains intact. Reader critic Peter Margasak spins records between sets. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $6. —Bill Meyer

FIERY FURNACES I'm Going Away might be my favorite Fiery Furnaces album yet. The Friedberger sibs have located the perfect balance point between their passion for noodly complication and their love for smooth-edged AOR pop, creating a strange synergy from a combination that might seem antithetical on its surface. The album peaks with its closer, "Take Me Round Again," a six-and-a-half-minute collision of stately, uber-accessible pop and Beat-inspired weirdness, alternating between verses where Eleanor's lyrics shift and slide like a Burroughs cut-up and a chorus that's one of the catchiest I've heard this year. It reappears on a new Thrill Jockey release of the same name, where Eleanor and brother Matthew each rework a half dozen songs from I'm Going Away. Matthew's version of "Take Me Round Again," steeped in disco-fied glam, ditches almost everything I like about the original, but both remakes of the relatively rocking "Keep Me in the Dark" are much better—Matthew gives it a woozy psych-soul treatment, and Eleanor turns in a sly, brooding acoustic take. Cryptacize opens. The same bill plays Lincoln Hall on New Year's Eve for $25, $20 in advance; that show is 21 and up. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15, 18+. —Miles Raymer

ROY HARGROVE See Tuesday.  8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

YOAHN JOHN KWON South Korean-born pianist Yoahn John Kwon, a winner in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's Young Musicians Competition, offers a program on his 28th birthday that's the perfect antidote for holiday-music overload. Unfortunately, I know more about holiday music than I've been able to discover about Kwon's playing. But both works on this program spring from their composers with great power and originality. From the vehemence of its opening to the rapt serenity of its finale, Beethoven's last piano sonata—no. 32, op. 111—pushes form and instrument to their limits. In his Barcarolle, Chopin transforms what traditionally was a pleasant gondolier's song into a luminous work of unexpected drama and profundity. 12:15 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Steve Langendorf

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