BLACK KEYS On paper the self-titled debut from Black Keys side project Blakroc sounds like a train wreck. Though the Keys are a fine couple of musicians, I'd describe them as "workmanlike" rather than "genre-smashing geniuses," and I can't say I would've green-lighted them for a rap-rock hybrid project that throws them together with a group of hip-hop heavies that includes proudly crass capitalists like Jim Jones, Ludacris, and former Roc-a-Fella honcho Damon Dash—I mean, who'd play the visionary artiste and make the crossover work? Before I heard Blakroc, I figured that it might sound at best like the couple of really good tracks on the Judgment Night soundtrack and at worst like the rest of the Judgment Night soundtrack. Turns out it's one of the most engagingly eccentric rap records of the year. The Black Keys' murky stew of rock, funk, blues, and dub goes great with the rhymes from the album's respectably wide-ranging cast of high-caliber MCs—the aforementioned Jones and Luda, plus Mos Def, the RZA, Raekwon, Billy Danze from M.O.P., and Pharoahe Monch—and for their part the rappers seem so unconcerned with impressing anyone that most of them come across looser and more entertaining than they have in years. Between Blakroc and the appearance of their song "Your Touch" in Eastbound & Down, I've kinda fallen in love with the Black Keys this year. Kurt Vile & the Violators open. See also Friday. 10 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, 12/31 sold out, 18+. —Miles Raymer
VON FREEMAN See Tuesday. Freeman plays with saxist Ed Petersen, pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy. 8:30 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $25.
GIRL TALK Even when mashups were the new hotness, most of 'em left me cold. The prototypical format—the vocals from song A edited to fit the instrumental track from song B—just makes me wonder why kids can't think of a more exciting way to flout copyright law. As such I've never had a dog in the fight over much-hyped, much-reviled mashup king Greg Gillis—aka Girl Talk—and my first listen to his music was an accident, the result of a misplaced click on a page of Lala search results. The Pittsburgh native is fond of the incongruous or ironic clashes that the mashup technique practically begs for, but unlike most of his smashy brethren he's able to go beyond merely recognizing that it'd be hilarious to have Sinead O'Connor squeak "nothing compares to you" while Too Short carries on about a blow job in Shawnna's "Gettin' Some"—he can make it so that the resulting track, in this case "Play Your Part (Pt. 1)" from his 2008 LP Feed the Animals, actually rocks. He accomplishes this in part by folding a dizzying number of source songs into each mix; he also has a musical ear as sharp as his sense of humor. Can't buy that in a cutout bin. Grand Buffet and Hearts of Darknesses & Urbindex (DJ set) open. 9:30 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-3600, sold out, 17+. —Ann Sterzinger
MARGOT & THE NUCLEAR SO AND SO'S OK, fellow fans of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, stick your little paws in the air if you were keen for the band to shed most of the personnel from their 2006 debut LP—a sweet slice of crying-jag pop called The Dust of Retreat—and start trying to rock. Front man Richard Edwards—he and bassist Tyler Watkins are all that remains of the Dust lineup—has moved from Indianapolis to Chicago, and he's been working with guitarist Ron Kwasman (also a sideman to David Singer), engineer and drummer Brian Deck, and singer-songwriter Cameron McGill on keyboards and, alas, harmonica. The band's third album, Buzzard, is due in 2010, and Edwards has blogged about the sessions thusly: "Ronnie is killing it on the guitar and very soon you will be treated to some decidedly rocking Margot music. With a little of that wimpy stuff too, just to stay consistent." Well, I never! I haven't heard any of the new material yet, but I'm not a fan of the playing Kwasman has done with Singer, and I don't think it bodes well that he's an avowed Phish fan—the Americana-inflected tunes on Margot's second album, released in overlapping versions titled Animal! and Not Animal (Epic), erred on the side of rambling even without him. All that said, I like Edwards's songwriting enough that I'll keep an open ear. The band will play most of Buzzard at this show, which is also a release party for the first single, "Birds." Everything, Now! opens. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $40, $30 in advance. —Ann Sterzinger
PREFUSE 73 In recent years it's seemed as though producer Scott Herren has shifted his focus toward his song-oriented project Savath & Savalas, and indeed, that group's latest album, La Llama (Stones Throw), is as satisfying as anything he's ever done. But this year he also released an album as Prefuse 73, under which guise he's traditionally whipped up sample-based fantasias rooted in hip-hop but drawing from a kaleidoscopic variety of sources that fly by almost too fast to parse. Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (Warp) flips the script a bit, employing more live instrumentation, but if anything the music is more choppy and abstract than usual. Most of the 29 cuts are around a minute long, composed of fragments that bleed organically into one another, and in keeping with the Prefuse 73 aesthetic, the beat is paramount—much of the album hangs together like a DJ set. But good beats are a dime a dozen; what makes Prefuse 73 special is Herren's deft touch with shifting textures, twitchy counterrhythms, and woozy, reverb-soaked shards of melody. Umphrey's McGee headline. 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212, $65, 18+. —Peter Margasak
URGE OVERKILL The vogue for reviving styles from the 90s, a decade that was steeped in retro even when it happened, has the potential to create all sorts of weird recursion. Say for instance a bunch of kids threading their way backward through the also-rans and shoulda-beens of the grunge years happen upon Urge Overkill's Saturation or The Supersonic Storybook and get stuck on their many hooks or seduced by the group's satiny smarm. Then say they decide to start a band built around UO's sound and style, which itself was an ersatz re-creation of 1970s guitar rock and swank polyester-everything fashion. It's not exactly the Large Hadron Collider eating the planet with an accidental black hole, but the idea of a retro-retro revival will probably make at least a few people dizzy enough to need to sit down. The reunited UO are usually a four-piece, anchored by founding members Nathan "Nash Kato" Kaatrud and Eddie "King" Roeser; a new album has been rumored for some time. A Friend Called Fire opens. 10 PM, House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $43, $39 in advance. —Miles Raymer
- Urge Overkill
WHITE BLUE YELLOW & CLOUDS Saxophonist and composer Matt Bauder is best known (and deservedly so) as a killer jazz improviser—on Harris Eisenstadt's terrific 2009 album Canada Day (Clean Feed) he loaded his flowing, sanguine solos with almost every postfree trick in his considerable repertoire—but he's always pursued other interests as well. In the trio Memorize the Sky, for instance, he explores rich drones, and with his charming group White Blue Yellow & Clouds he rather unexpectedly pays homage to sunny California pop and old-school rock 'n' roll. On last year's Introducing White Blue Yellow & Clouds (I and Ear) Bauder mostly lets the strap hold his horn while he sings covers of Sam Cooke, the Beach Boys, and a few old white-bread doo-wop numbers, as well as original tunes that reference that classic stuff. Bauder's an adequate singer, but more important he's smart enough to know he can't duplicate, much less improve upon, the music he's saluting; instead he puts an imaginative spin on it, adding a bagpipelike coda to his Cooke-flavored "Seeing Stars," drowning his version of the Flamingos chestnut "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" in deliciously murky reverb, and reducing "God Only Knows" to just the song's chorus, which cycles seductively and accumulates layers of vocal harmonies until the sparse instrumental accompaniment is almost inaudible. Though Bauder led an ensemble called White Blue Yellow & Clouds when he lived in Chicago a decade ago, that was a completely different project; tonight is the local debut of this one. The set might be a little ragged—his backing band will be Jason Ajemian's the High Life, of whose members only Ajemian, who played on Introducing, is familiar with the material—but I bet it'll be a hoot anyway. The High Life, who also open the show, include trumpeter Jacob Wick, reedist Peter Hanson, guitarist Owen Stewart-Robinson, and drum-mer Marc Riordan. John Herndon spins. 8:30 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, heavengallery.com, $20 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak
BLACK KEYS See Thursday. Kurt Vile & the Violators open. 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, $27, 18+.
- Michael Jackson
- Von Freeman
VON FREEMAN See Tuesday. Freeman plays with saxist Ed Petersen, pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.
VON FREEMAN See Tuesday. Freeman plays with saxist Ed Petersen, pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.
VON FREEMAN In these parts tenor saxophonist Von Freeman is duly recognized as one of the greatest bebop blowers ever to emerge from Chicago, but unlike his old buddies Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin—both fellow alums of the DuSable High School music program run by Walter Dyett—he hasn't thrived on the world stage. This is partly because he's stayed rooted in Chicago, rather than roaming in search of brighter lights and bigger audiences, and partly because he's only cut around a dozen albums as a leader—and when he made the first one, the 1972 Atlantic LP Doin' It Right Now, he was already pushing 50. On nearly all those albums he's backed by an ensemble assembled for the studio, not by a regular working group—which seems a shame, given that for years there's been an obvious candidate at hand. Freeman has been leading a weekly jam at his New Apartment Lounge for almost three decades, and for much of that time his sturdy backing band has had a reasonably stable lineup. Until recently, though, you could only hear Freeman with the New Apartment group on half of the 2002 album The Improvisor (Premonition). Sometime Reader contributor John Corbett went out of his way to book him with the same band when he curated the Berlin Jazz Festival in 2002, and their killer set—which I was lucky enough to hear in person—finally saw release a few months back as Vonski Speaks (Nessa). It's as good or better than any of Freeman's previous albums because of the way he cuts loose: before ripping into the breakneck title track, he asks longtime drummer Michael Raynor if he's had his Wheaties. Freeman had just turned 80 at the time—he's now 87—and when he pours it on, his band has to work hard to keep up. He also brings a tenderness to "Darn That Dream" that's underlined by the trademark sharpness in his tone, which he uses to pack extra emotion into every phrase, be it keening, lilting, or scalding. Raynor, guitarist Mike Allemana, and bassist Jack Zara (replaced about five years ago by Matt Ferguson) support Freeman with chemistry and intuition developed through steady collaboration. You can count on getting 100 percent from Freeman no matter where you see him, but I still think his humble home at the New Apartment Lounge is the best place. He plays the Green Mill with a different group earlier this week; see also Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. 10 PM, New Apartment Lounge, 504 E. 75th, 773-483-7728. —Peter Margasak
BUTCH WALKER I don't necessarily mean it as an insult when I say that Butch Walker, the songwriter and producer who broke out in the late 90s fronting the Marvelous 3 (of "Freak of the Week" fame), is one of the preeminent hacks of our time. He and the other masterminds I consider his peers—Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Linda Perry, occasionally Jon Brion depending on my mood—are all experts at exploiting pop formulas to their fullest. None of them breaks any new ground, but that isn't what they're trying to do—they're just arranging timeworn pop tropes in ways that feel somehow brand-new. The songs that Walker keeps for himself reflect his alt-rock leanings—he's written or produced songs for Fall Out Boy, Weezer, and the All-American Rejects as well as Pink, Lindsay, and Avril—but despite their scruffy exteriors they're as formulaic as his pop-diva stuff. It's a formula he continues to do well with, though; he and his new band, the Black Widows, will release I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart in February. Walker performs solo every night at Schubas till January 8, and he's playing one of his old albums front to back at each of the first three shows: Letters on January 5, The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites on January 6, and Sycamore Meadows on January 7. Each set will include a fan-selected cover, and the last show is entirely audience choice; fans can vote for tunes on Twitter by using the tags #butchwalkersetlist or #butchwalkercover. Gold Motel opens; all dates sold out. See also Wednesday. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out. —Miles Raymer
DKV TRIO Saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark has self-consciously reached beyond jazz in shaping the aesthetics of newer ensembles like Fire Room and the Frame Quartet, but he hasn't forgotten his roots—and there's no better way to hear them than to see the DKV Trio. Vandermark, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Hamid Drake have been playing together in this configuration since the mid-90s, and while their obligations around the globe keep them from doing so very often these days—they've only had two Chicago gigs in the past year—whenever they pick up the thread again it's like they were never apart. Kessler's partnership with Vandermark stretches back beyond DKV's inception, and there is still no bassist who propels him more empathetically. Drake, who learned polyrhythms from around the world as a sideman to the likes of Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef, cycles those influences in and out of the action with such ease that you almost don't notice how spectacular his playing is. The trio will play two sets; between them Vandermark will spin records from Ethiopia, where he's just been touring with members of the Ex. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Bill Meyer
BUTCH WALKER See Tuesday. Walker will play The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites in its entirety; Gold Motel opens. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out.