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The List: December 3-9, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: The Dutchess & the Duke, Dave Rawlings, Gwar, Priestess, and more

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Pieta Brown


Katya Kabanova


The Dutchess & the Duke
Field Music cancelled


Dave Rawlings


Katya Kabanova


Raekwon cancelled
Welcome to Ashley


  • Tammy Valentine
  • Pieta Brown

PIETA BROWN Producer Don Was had never heard of folk rocker Pieta Brown when he happened to catch a solo performance she gave on LA's KCRW a couple years ago, but right away he knew he wanted to work with her. She has that kind of voice—intimate, raw, and enveloping. To say that Was produced Brown's new seven-track EP, Shimmer (Red House), originally intended as a demo recording, is perhaps wording things a little strongly: her singing is adorned only by his barely present bass lines, her acoustic guitar, and some sparse electric accompaniment by guitarist Bo Ramsey (who also did some production work on her excellent 2007 album Remember the Sun, giving it a simpatico mix of electric twang and blues feeling). But Was clearly wanted to put the focus squarely on her remarkable voice, and he has—if it doesn't get to you here, it never will. I think Brown's warmth and versatility are better served by full-band arrangements, but Shimmer is a fine piece of work. Ami Saraiya opens. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Peter Margasak


Jason Collins, Liora Grodnikaite, Judith Forst, and Karita Mattila
  • Jason Collins, Liora Grodnikaite, Judith Forst, and Karita Mattila

KATYA KABANOVA Lyric Opera's first production in 23 years of Janacek's 1921 masterpiece, Katya Kabanova, stars soprano Karita Mattila, whose tour de force performance is as riveting as Janacek's score. Her luminous voice is breathtaking at any volume, and every sound and move she makes is dramatically convincing. She portrays the kind and gentle Katya, whose spirit is being crushed by her cruel and dominating mother-in-law (mezzo-soprano Judith Forst) and her passionless marriage to mama's boy Tichon (tenor Jason Collins). Katya can't suppress her erotic longings, though they conflict with her own extreme piety as well as the rigid mores of small-town Russia in the late 19th century. She begins an affair with Boris (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) while Tichon is on a business trip but then suffers unbearable guilt. The music, some of Janacek's best, is intensely emotional, colored with pungent dissonance that can be almost brutal when it reflects Katya's inner turmoil. His unique lyricism more frequently finds expression in orchestral parts than in vocal ones—the latter often borrow from the natural inflections of the Czech language, with a sound similar to the sprechstimme of Schoenberg—but Katya's melodies are glorious, tender, and impassioned. They're especially spellbinding in the first act, when she reminisces about life before marriage—beginning calmly and then spinning out of control—and again near the end, shortly before she commits suicide by hurling herself into the Volga, when she achieves a kind of serenity that becomes euphoric. Markus Stenz conducts. This production runs through Saturday, December 12; see also Monday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$207. —Barbara Yaross

RUSKO Like drum 'n' bass before it, dubstep in its uncut form is too deep, dark, and weird to find a large mainstream audience, which is fine by me. I don't mind if the real heavy shit never spreads beyond a small group of addicts. But the style's characteristic rubbery, speaker-destroyingly deep bass and tweaked rhythms—twisted just far enough to be interesting without losing their danceability—could have some commercial appeal if someone lifted the vibe a bit. Which is why Rusko is better positioned to break out than anyone else in dubstep right now—he keeps the good parts but doses them with happy, ravey synths, creating candy-coated tracks like "Kumon Kumon" that are almost begging for a Britney vocal. Phaded, Quadratic, and Merrick Brown open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $12, $10 before midnight. —Miles Raymer


The Dutchess & the Duke - CHRIS ANDERSON

THE DUTCHESS & THE DUKE It's neither fair nor accurate to call what the Dutchess & the Duke are doing simply "folk," as though Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison had met playing "Big Yellow Taxi" in the round with a bunch of hirsute women who own dulcimers. Folk is only one of the starting points—alongside country, pop, and psych—for their second full-length, Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art), a beautifully crafted masterpiece that's all the more welcome in this foul age of wanton Auto-Tune abuse. Lortz and Morrison combine male-female harmonies, acoustic and 12-string guitars, keyboards, strings, and percussion into brooding, introspective songs—stripped-down and vulnerable but still complex—that benefit in no small way from Lortz's detailed arrangements and Greg Ashley's rich production. Sunset/Sunrise ought to turn up on plenty of year-end top-ten lists—it's a perfect release to cap a decade distinguished by unprecedented access to music of all styles and sounds, and with any luck it points toward a coming decade of similarly original hybrids of familiar genres. Ashley and Love of Everything open. The Dutchess & the Duke also play a free in-store at 5 PM at Reckless Records, 1532 N. Milwaukee. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Brian Costello

Field Music - IAN WEST
  • Ian West
  • Field Music

FIELD MUSIC In spring 2007 brothers Peter and David Brewis of Sunderland, England, put their art-pop band, Field Music, on hiatus so that they could explore the proverbial other avenues—last year, for instance, David released a sharp collection of relatively guitar-heavy material on Thrill Jockey under the name School of Language. "Hiatus" is often bullshit-speak for "breakup," but Field Music are in fact back together, in a new four-piece lineup that includes bassist Ian Black and guitarist and keyboardist Kev Dosdale. With their forthcoming third album, Measure (due in February from Memphis Industries), they seem to be making up for lost time; it's 20 tracks long and runs almost 73 minutes. The Brewises pick up more or less where they left off, setting immaculate postpunk melodies against tight, busy arrangements—the new tunes will do nothing to quiet the comparisons to early XTC that Field Music have been attracting for years, but I can think of worse bands to sound like. This is one of two U.S. shows they're playing before Measure's release. Sleep Out and Canasta open. Update: Field Music have cancelled their U.S. tour due to illness. 9:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Peter Margasak


IMPLODES Local quartet Implodes is all kinds of big guitar damage: shoegaze fuzz blasts, sparkly drone, slicks of tuneful sludge, distortion so thick it obscures the keyboards, the vocals, and even the drums. Sometimes the band's dissonance is reminiscent of Glenn Branca's orchestras, but there are only two guitarists here: Ken Camden is part of the mini scene anchored by Zelienople, who've got their own style of ethereal hugeness, and Matt Jencik, formerly of Taking Pictures, was Slint's fill-in bassist in 2007 and just started playing with David Pajo in Papa M. The relatively new practice recordings Implodes have posted on their MySpace page are more original and lucid than the tracks on their debut release, which came out this summer on local cassette-only label Plustapes—though they're a baby band, only gigging since August, they already sound pretty colossal. Magical Beautiful headlines; Above/Below Sea Level and Implodes open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3. —Jessica Hopper

DAVE RAWLINGS Since the early 90s guitarist and singer Dave Rawlings has served as a crucial foil for Gillian Welch, humbly doing the instrumental heavy lifting and adding a splash of vinegar to their old-timey harmonies with his piercing high tenor, which has the pinched, nasal tone favored by traditional Appalachian musicians. He's long stayed out of the spotlight, but last month he finally released his debut album with the Dave Rawlings Machine, A Friend of a Friend (Acony). On each of its nine tracks Welch is right by his side (though their usual roles are reversed), and they're backed by members of Old Crow Medicine Show and guests who include Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench. Rawlings's meditation on addiction, "Sweet Tooth," would sound at home on one of Welch's records, but it's the only song that would: traces of Gram Parsons are audible on "Ruby," there's a bit of Nashville Skyline-era Dylan in "Bells of Harlem," and "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," which Rawlings cowrote with Ryan Adams, labors in the shadow of the version Adams released on Heartbreaker in 2000. Though A Friend of a Friend is a satisfying record, it can be tough to pinpoint the character Rawlings brings to it—on his epic medley of Bright Eyes' "Method Acting" and Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," he starts to seem a bit like Woody Allen's Zelig, the famous fictional cipher who took on the qualities of the people around him. Maybe he waited so long to step out as a bandleader because he doesn't have much to say. Rawlings is joined here by Welch and members of Old Crow Medicine Show, and some Welch songs ought to turn up in their set. Redgrave opens. 7:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 866-468-3401, sold out. —Peter Margasak


GWAR If humans were rational creatures, World War I really would have been the War to End All Wars, and Gwar would've been the only monster-rock band we ever needed. (Sorry, Lordi.) With this tour they're celebrating a quarter century of thrashy metal, X-rated Cthulhu-meets-Conan self-mythologizing, and giant latex demon cocks. Gwar's extended family of "slaves"—their affectionate name for the humans who lend a hand by whipping up the next batch of fake semen, say, or repairing the band's grotesque prosthetics—has been working overtime, and you can expect the current stage show, which revamps the Cardinal Syn story line from 1995's Ragnarok, to include among its myriad atrocities the visiting of messy unpleasantness upon an ersatz Michael Jackson and a homeless alien. The band is pimping two releases: the brand-new Lust in Space (Metal Blade) and a reissue of the 1992 album America Must Be Destroyed that includes a DVD of the film Phallus in Wonderland and the live video Tour de Scum (which are exactly as tasteful as they sound). America Must Be Destroyed was a musical response to the 1990 obscenity arrest of front man Oderus Urungus, aka Dave Brockie, in North Carolina, and if you ask me, the really mind-boggling thing about the whole incident is that it took him so long to get his ass thrown in jail. After 25 years it's hard to believe there's any line Gwar haven't crossed, but they seem confident they'll never run out of transgressions—an optimism that I find powerfully life-affirming. Job for a Cowboy and the Red Chord open. 6:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $25, $23 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

KATYA KABANOVA See Friday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$207.

MEW It'd be misleading to attach the phrase "force of nature" to these veteran Danish indie rockers—though the pleasures they deliver with their subtle blend of postpunk, disco, and stadium rock are intense, they're mainly gentle. Still, the best way I can think of to share the feeling I get from "New Terrain"—the opening track of Mew's latest LP, whose absurdly long title I'll truncate to No More Stories (Columbia)—is to ask you to imagine sitting in a warm wetsuit on the edge of a frigid north Atlantic beach, watching wild waves crash all about from inside your comfy second skin. The whole album is rich with melodic, liquid vocals that curl beautifully around spikes of rhythm. All the Day Holiday opens. 7:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $19. —Ann Sterzinger


FREQUENCY This local quartet includes some of the Chicago jazz scene's most familiar names, but there are no stars involved, and nobody acts like one. Drummer Avreeayl Ra, reedist Edward Wilkerson Jr., bassist Harrison Bankhead, and flutist Nicole Mitchell put their considerable compositional and multi-instrumental prowess—now and then everybody picks up a flute of some sort or adds a bit of vocals or percussion—at the service of a collective sound that encompasses succinct tunes and exotic fantasias. Certain pieces on their sole album, a self-titled outing released in 2006 by Thrill Jockey, recall the virtues of past AACM ensembles. With its tangle of dry flute and pungent sax over an acoustic funk groove, "The Tortoise" is a virtual redux of Henry Threadgill's Air, and the sprawling "Satya" progresses from passages of churning free jazz to delicate interludes for handheld percussion, recalling the album-side-long epics the Art Ensemble of Chicago recorded in the LP era. But Frequency are more than mere revivalists. I can't think of any other band capable of making an improvisation like "From the Other Side"—which sounds like it was scored for trees and the cackling birds that roost in them—feel so thoroughly musical.  8:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Bill Meyer

  • Priestess

PRIESTESS These Montreal metalheads let four years elapse between their debut, Hello Master, and its follow-up, Prior to the Fire. Most of that time they spent on the road—they didn't start recording till 2008—but a big chunk was lost to hassles with their label, RCA. The suits kept insisting, anachronistically, that they didn't hear a radio single in the demos the band was presenting, and they repeatedly sent the boys back to the drawing board. The two parties eventually went their separate ways, and to RCA's credit, Priestess was allowed keep the finished album the label had paid to record; it was released in Canada on Indica in October and will come out in the U.S. next year. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the delays, Prior to the Fire has an undeniable urgency. The band has redoubled its already remarkable ability to write hooky, infectious songs that hitch hair-metal giddiness to stoner metaphysics: "Raccoon Eyes" and "We Ride" have humor and Camaro-rock sass, while "The Gem" and "Trapped in Space and Time" bring the astral travel. Early Man, Rabid Rabbit, and Naam open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10, $5 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

RAEKWON Raekwon is like the Joe-Pesci-in-Goodfellas of the Wu-Tang Clan. The rest of the crew can work up pretty persuasive renditions of hardened killers, but with the Chef it doesn't feel like an act—he comes off like the type of dude who's got the potential to snap and do something actually homicidal. There's just something a little too real about the way he raps about shooting up a Bennigan's. The recent Only Built 4 Cuban Linx . . . Pt II (EMI) is the long-awaited sequel to his supremely influential 1995 solo debut. As before he teams up with Ghostface Killah, and as before the album is an epic, cinematic narrative about crack slinging delivered with the cold-blooded intensity that made Rae one of the best rappers of his time—a quality he hasn't shown this strongly in a decade. The list of producers providing beats reads like a who's who of mid-90s rap—Pete Rock, the RZA, Erick Sermon, J Dilla, Dr. Dre—and their work, like Raekwon and Ghost's performances, easily stands up to the stuff they were doing back in the day. Capone-n-Noreaga and Queen Yonasda open. Update: This show is cancelled. Ticket refunds available at point of purchase.  9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $23, $21 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer

WELCOME TO ASHLEY For the past few years Welcome to Ashley have occupied a weird in-between zone in the Chicago music scene. They've got a few too many hipster quirks to really catch fire with the post-Greek-system part of the population that goes for straight-ahead, unaffected rock music, but their rock music is a little too straight-ahead and unaffected to impress most hipsters. Their tunes have hearts of classic rock wrapped in layers of classic alternative rock, which puts them about halfway between the Smiths and the Boss—and they play those tunes with conviction, like they don't give a shit what anyone thinks. Red Light Driver headlines; Adam Ashbach and Welcome to Ashley open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8, 18+. —Miles Raymer

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