Min Xia-Fen Asian Trio
NAJAT AATABOU, JUSTIN ADAMS & JULDEH CAMARA Moroccan singer NAJAT AATABOU became a star in her homeland almost by accident—she'd snuck out of her parents' house to sing at a wedding near her tiny hometown in the Atlas Mountains, and after a stranger clandestinely recorded her, cassettes of that performance started turning up everywhere. Aatabou left home when she was still a teenager, after her conservative family all but disowned her—they didn't see one another for three years—but the move paid off and she quickly became one of the country's greatest chaabi singers, using her songs to address neglected women's issues like single motherhood, domestic violence, and adultery. She has a husky, authoritative voice and navigates the tricky polyrhythms of the Maghreb as easily as a native might wend her way through the crowded maze of a souk; lately she's found a balance between traditional Berber melodies and modern instrumentation like electric guitars and keyboards.
Ever since Ali Farka Toure turned up on Americans' radars in the late 80s, the nature and meaning of the connection between West African music and the blues has been debated regularly. To my ears no artist has done more to make the link tangible than British guitarist JUSTIN ADAMS—well-versed in both types of music, he collaborates regularly with Robert Plant and has produced records for Tinariwen. His latest album with Gambian griot JULDEH CAMARA, Tell No Lies (Real World), takes a few false steps—sometimes it underlines connections a bit too literally, for instance by hijacking the famous Bo Diddley beat or borrowing the tune to Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man." But more often than not the marriage feels seamless and natural; Adams is mindful of his virtuosity, using it mostly in service to rhythm and texture, and Camara sings with easy, tightly coiled soul while unfurling beautifully droning lines on an ancient type of single-string fiddle called a riti.
Adams and Camara open; Aatabou headlines. Both acts are making their Chicago debuts. a 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Randolph and Michigan, 312-742-1168. F A —Peter Margasak
JON IRABAGON & MIKE PRIDE A lot of great artists have won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition since it started in 1987, but not till last year, when New York saxophonist Jon Irabagon took top honors, did the prize go to a musician bent on pushing past the traditional mainstream sound. In the wild quartet Mostly Other People Do the Killing he works within the bebop continuum even as he merrily subverts it, and though his Monk winnings include a contract with the relatively conservative Concord label—the album is due this fall—he just released a disc with iconoclastic New York drummer Mike Pride, I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues (Loyal Label), that makes it clear he's got a maverick streak a mile wide. It consists of a single 47-minute improvisation that storms like the locomotive on the album cover through a series of riffs and lines, many of which recur repeatedly in mutated forms to create a nonstop flurry of shifting settings—free jazz, rock, blues, speed metal—but never come off the rails. And each section of this epic, though spontaneously created, retains the focus and concision of a pop song. For a Q&A with Irabagon, visit my blog Post No Bills. Frankenstein opens. a 10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $7 suggested donation. A —Peter Margasak
MOANERS Singer and guitarist Melissa Swingle, formerly of Trailer Bride, and drummer Laura King aren't the most prolific duo in the world—they released their latest, Blackwing Yalobusha, in 2007, and its follow-up is due early next year—but given how great their live show is, as far as I'm concerned they can do all the road testing they want. Based in North Carolina, the Moaners play sexy, eerie garage blues with a spicy side of rockabilly, but their music only sounds primitive; it's much more detail driven than it seems on the surface, and that careful craftsmanship finds expression in joyful onstage catharsis. Constantine & the Emperors and Slow Gun Shogun open. a 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Monica Kendrick
WHITE MYSTERY Hard to believe it's been almost seven years since a 17-year-old Miss Alex White announced her arrival on the Chicago garage-rock scene with a month of Fridays at the Hideout—backed by nothing but the primitive pounding of drummer Chris "Playboy" Saathoff, she stunned audiences with her skilled songwriting and soulful howl. Now 24, she has something of the wizened veteran about her, and functions as a sort of de facto elder to the thriving crop of young musicians emerging from her alma mater, Northside College Prep, which includes members of the Smith Westerns and the Stranger Waves. Her newest project, White Mystery, returns to the winning formula of her duo with Playboy and her previous two-piece, the Red Lights; this time her younger brother Francis plays drums, and his style is somewhere between Beat Happening's Cro-Magnon rhythms and what you might hear from one of those kids at Guitar Center who always commandeers a display kit to see if he can sound like Keith Moon. They've been gigging a lot lately—last weekend they played at their mother's photo exhibit, which commemorated the 30th anniversary of Comiskey Park's Disco Demolition Night—and their debut seven-inch just came out on HoZac Records, perfectly capturing their gleeful (Billy) Childish-ness and swaggering Monks-y stomp. The Stranger Waves, the Pelts, and Poppets open. a 10 PM, Cobra Lounge, 235 N. Ashland, 312-226-6300. F —Brian Costello
ANDREA MARCOVICCI Cabaret star Andrea Marcovicci has played Chicago pretty regularly over the past two decades, but she's usually appeared at large venues like Park West or Symphony Center. This four-night engagement at the 80-seat Wicker Park boite Davenport's is a rare opportunity to see her in a setting comparable to her home base in New York, the Algonquin Hotel's famed Oak Room. The finest cabaret singer of the baby boom generation—influenced as much by pop-folk stars like Joni Mitchell as by older artists like Mabel Mercer and Frank Sinatra—Marcovicci is also a seasoned actress whose credits range from feature films and Broadway productions to TV soap operas and New York's Shakespeare in the Park (she played Ophelia opposite Sam Waterston's Hamlet). Though her once bell-like voice has grown husky with age, the 60-year-old Marcovicci remains skilled at mining unexpected nuances from familiar standards. She honors the beauty of classic songs and explores the dramatic complexities of their lyrics, and onstage she maintains a warm yet regal presence and an intimate connection to both her material and her audience. In the show she's performing here, Marcovicci Sings Movies II, she pays tribute to icons of American cinema—Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Audrey Hepburn—and to the brilliant songwriters who wrote for them, including Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Leo Robin, and Henry Mancini. Her theme is the way Hollywood has shaped our concept of love—a subject to which she brings a captivating blend of ironic bemusement, analytical intelligence, and unabashed romanticism. See also Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. a 8 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-1830, sold out. —Albert Williams
- Those Darlins
THOSE DARLINS Just when I thought the alt-country mine had collapsed, this trio of punked-up southern belles climbed out into the sunlight with the most immediately charming debut album since the Old 97's made Hitchhike to Rhome. It's got tuneful yet conversational vocals, snappy lyrics, and almost annoyingly catchy melodies, but like an Old 97's disc, Those Darlins (released on the group's own label, Oh Wow Dang) gets its biggest jolt of excitement from the drumming. The difference is that Those Darlins don't even count a drummer among the official members of the band. Jeff Curtin, who produced the record, is credited with drums on three-fourths of the tracks, and road drummer Linwood Regensburg, aka Sheriff Lin, plays on the rest, but neither man turns up in the group's promo photos. I don't know what that says about their status—maybe they're just not sufficiently darlin' to qualify for full membership. But their joyful variations on simple beats can turn even a lightweight song like "The Whole Damn Thing"—it's about getting sauced and eating a chicken that's been sitting out too long—into a barn burner. Puking Pearls and Deep Sea Diver open. a 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $5 with Pitchfork wristband. —Ann Sterzinger
TOTAL ABUSE Tonight's headliners, Fucked Up, have spent the past few years elevating hardcore punk to the status of art music—adding piles of overdubs, stretching songs far past the three-minute mark—but these Austin boys are perfectly content down at gutter level. Their no-frills blasts of screaming and riffage hark back to a time when for every VFW hall there were at least three bands with a copy of Black Flag's Damaged and a laundry list of reasons why society was totally fucked-up. Between Total Abuse and the crusty Boston throwbacks in Brain Killer, this show should be heavenly for dudes who think $500 is a reasonable price for an original Agnostic Front seven-inch. Fucked Up also play Saturday at Pitchfork (see page 45); Total Abuse, Brain Killer, and Manipulation open. a 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Miles Raymer
- Harvey Milk
HARVEY MILK When some bands reunite, you want to ask them why they bothered, but others make you wonder why they ever split up in the first place. The more-heard-about-than-heard Harvey Milk—as far as I know the heaviest band ever to come out of Athens, Georgia—doesn't quite fit into either category, though. It's starting to sound like all the personalities the trio screwed around with in their 90s incarnation, even the sinister faux-Melvins shtick, were just experimental sketches: last year's Life . . . the Best Game in Town (Hydra Head), their second full-length since reuniting in 2005, is quite possibly their all-time best. (Since May it's also been available as a double LP, and Chunklet reissued the amazing DVD retrospective Anthem earlier this year.) Sludgy and playful, wide-ranging but focused, Life manages to include spectacular digressions—like a cover of Fear's "We Destroy the Family"—without slipping into the apparent randomness of some of the band's earlier releases. Earth and Sunn 0))) alum Joe Preston joined the group's studio lineup on guitar and bass for this record—he's not touring, alas—but Harvey Milk clearly owe their new consistency to their own long-simmering creative juices, not to a celebrity guest. Torche and Young Widows open. a 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $15, $13 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick
ANDREA MARCOVICCI See Friday. a 8 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-1830, sold out.
ANDREA MARCOVICCI See Friday. a 7 and 9:30 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-1830, early show sold out, $35.
MIN XIAO-FEN ASIAN TRIO The Asian Trio doesn't exactly stick to Asian music—the name has more to do with where the musicians are from than what they play. Korean cellist Okkyung Lee and Japanese percussionist Satoshi Takeishi are both important figures on New York's jazz and improvised-music scenes, and at least in this group bandleader Min Xiao-Fen favors an elastic, expansive strain of improv that's not hitched to any particular idiom—though she plays a traditional lutelike instrument called the pipa, she only occasionally betrays her Chinese roots. Since moving from China to New York in 1992, Min has moved fluidly between radically different communities—Chinese classical music, jazz, free improv—and worked with everyone from Tan Dun to Randy Weston to Derek Bailey. This trio just might show off that malleability best. A live set recorded in Philadelphia in 2007 (slated for release on a new label run by Ars Nova, Philly's most important jazz and improvised-music presenter) includes chaotic textural passages, where Min injects the tumble of notes with vocal shouts and whinnies; gently lyrical spells, where Lee's lovely bowing forms a plush cushion for Min's spindly pipa; and electronically refracted episodes, where Takeishi switches from drums to live processing that warps and colors his bandmates' output. This concert—the Asian Trio's local debut—is part of Chinese Cultural Week in Chicago, but the music should deviate deliriously from any Chinese tradition. a6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Randolph and Michigan, 312-742-1168. F A —Peter Margasak
ANDREA MARCOVICCI See Friday. a 8 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-1830, sold out.
FUTURE OF THE LEFT I'm such a fan of the underappreciated Welsh band Mclusky, which disbanded in 2005, that I nearly did a cartwheel when I stumbled upon Future of the Left's debut, Curses, back in 2007. Two-thirds of Mclusky—front man Andy Falkous and drummer Jack Egglestone—started the band with Kelson Mathias of the defunct Jarcrew on bass, and their songs have the same biting lyrics and enthusiastic mean-spiritedness that made Mclusky so lovable. On Curses the biggest difference between the two groups was that Falkous had started playing synth now and then instead of guitar, but on the new Travels With Myself and Another (4AD) the trio leavens its familiar gritty crunch and ominous, deadpan backup vocals with an extra dose of melody, both in the riffs and in Falkous's singing. Even though Future of the Left is apparently blazing its own trail musically, rest assured that the old piss and vinegar is still there: you don't have to look any further than song titles like "You Need Satan More Than He Needs You" and "Lapsed Catholics" to see that. Rollo Tomasi opens. a 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. —Kevin Warwick
PSYCHEDELIC HORSESHIT The post-SXSW interview with Psychedelic Horseshit front man Matt Whitehurst that appeared on the Washington Post's Post Rock blog—which hilariously rendered the band's name "Psychedelic Horse[expletive]"—was one of the most entertaining things to hit the world of indie-rock journalism in a long time. Rambling, pissy, and rendered almost unreadable by the intersection of Whitehurst's frequent profanity and the Post's stuffy style, it's an epic salvo of shit talk directed at what seems to be every semipopular indie band he could think of. "Wavves to me sounds like [expletive] TV on the Radio," he says in one typical outburst. "That band sucks [expletive]." Of course lots of people probably think his band sucks [expletive] too, but the easy things to criticize about Psychedelic Horseshit—the terrible recording quality, the beyond-slacker sloppiness—are all products of deliberate aesthetic decisions. (I know he says he'd record clean if he could, but I'm not buying it.) It's like he's daring himself to leap a hurdle of his own making: Can he pull songs out of his ass that are catchy enough to win people over, even though he's basically flipping the whole world the bird with his snotty 'tude and subamateur sound? So far it seems to be working. Lovvers and the Daily Void open. a 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Miles Raymer
KEEFE JACKSON & FRANK ROSALY The way seven-inch singles focus attention on just a few minutes of music makes them a marvelous format for free jazz, but for the players at least they're also a demanding one. They have to get to the point, say what they need to say, and stop—not everyone can submit to such rigorous discipline. Tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Keefe Jackson knows all about economy: on Ready Everyday (Delmark), by his band Fast Citizens, he doesn't even solo on three of the seven tunes, and when he does take a turn, the impeccable logic of his lines and the richness of his tone leave you wanting more. He delivers just that on "Word Made Fresh" b/w "Real Absence," a seven-inch he recorded with drummer Frank Rosaly. Jackson's high-register squiggles and coarsely voiced, rippling runs push the limits of the tenor's tonal envelope, and Rosaly's carefully modulated surges match not only Jackon's energy level but his purposeful clarity. This is a release party for the single, which Rosaly is putting out on his own Molk imprint; the duo headlines, and Fred Lonberg-Holm's Entente, with bassist Anton Hatwich and clarinetists James Falzone and Jeff Kimmel, opens. Eric Leibundguth spins. a 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer