Music » Soundboard

The List: March 24-30

Music Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Robert Glasper Trio, Xray Eyeballs, Dawnbringer, Godspeed You! Emporer Black, Francois K, Agalloch, Steve Coleman & Five Elements, Danielson, and more.

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>Critic's Choice< Robert Glasper Trio

>Critic's Choice< Xray Eyeballs


Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

>Critic's Choice< Robert Glasper Trio


Nicolas Jaar

Thollem McDonas


>Critic's Choice< Dawnbringer

>Critic's Choice< Robert Glasper Trio

>Critic's Choice< Godspeed You! Black Emperor

>Critic's Choice< Francois K


>Critic's Choice< Agalloch

>Critic's Choice< Robert Glasper Trio

>Critic's Choice< Godspeed You! Black Emperor


>Critic's Choice< Steve Coleman & Five Elements

>Critic's Choice< Godspeed You! Black Emperor


>Critic's Choice< Danielson


CHANTS Jordan Cohen of Madison, Wisconsin, aka Chants, makes experimental electronic music for people who might head straight from a musique concrete concert at Enemy to a dance party at Smart Bar. On the first Chants album, last year's Onlooker (Layered), the 29-year-old's beatscapes incorporate gnarly jazz, snippets of field recordings, and skittering vocal samples. Cohen enlisted nine other musicians to help record it, and at times it sounds like there are too many cooks in the kitchen: hand claps, blasts of skronky horn, and bits of sampled noise collide with abandon, as though they were all tossed into the air at once, and the fragile threads of melody holding the songs together often seem about to break. But again and again Cohen somehow pulls everything together, and his spazzy, syncopated tunes are downright danceable. Live, he's the sole performer in this sonic circus, playing a sampler, a drum kit, and a percussion setup that usually includes actual pots and pans. His stage show sounds a little overwhelming, but if it's anything like Onlooker, it'll be thrilling and altogether fascinating. Tony Trimm headlines. 9:30 PM, the Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee, 773-227-3530. —Leor Galil

ROBERT GLASPER TRIO Pianist Robert Glasper named his most recent album, 2009's Double Booked (Blue Note), as a nod to his old bad habit of scheduling two gigs at once. More meaningfully, though, it

Robert Glasper - JOEY L.
  • Joey L.
  • Robert Glasper
refers to the two sides of his musical personality. The first half of the album showcases his acoustic trio; on the flip, his electric quartet the Experience plays a gritty mix of jazz, soul, and hip-hop. But ultimately the groups aren't that far apart. The Experience's stuttery funk recalls the rhythmic template developed by hip-hop producer J Dilla; Glasper (on Fender Rhodes), electric bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Chris Dave play with the groove like they're using a computer to cut and paste beats, while guests like Mos Def and Bilal pitch in on vocals and saxophonist Casey Benjamin sometimes sings through a vocoder. The acoustic tracks, on which upright bassist Vicente Archer replaces Hodge, superficially sound more like mainstream jazz, but their rhythmic malleability recalls the volatility of the Experience's pieces, with accents and tempos in constant flux beneath the pianist's glassy, soulful playing. I find some of Glasper's melodies a bit treacly, but his skill is undeniable. The way he rips through Monk's "Think of One," veering from stride to Monk-style refraction to mainstream swing and incorporating the same quote from Ahmad Jamal's "Swahililand" that Dilla sampled for De La Soul's "Stakes Is High," leaves no doubt about his ability to reconcile jazz tradition with contemporary soul and hip-hop. For these shows he's joined by Hodge and drummer Mark Colenburg; see also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $20. —Peter Margasak

XRAY EYEBALLS The world needs more bands willing to write a "crystal meth breakup song," and Brooklyn's Xray Eyeballs are here to help. A five-piece featuring three members of Golden Triangle (whose Double Jointer LP was one of my favorites of 2010), Xray Eyeballs released their debut seven-inch on HoZac this month, and it'd make a fine soundtrack to late-night leering and frothing in the downtown-at-dawn dropout discos Richard Hell once sang about. The first song, "Crystal," is like some kind of new-wave coupleskate for terminal fuckups—a cavernous, effects-heavy sway-and-lurch with arty pop hooks anchored by traditional garage rhythms. On the B side, "Broken Beds" and "Kam Sing Nights" have Golden Triangle's orgiastic paroxysms of reverbed-out boom-chick, but the tracks are shorter and the guitars have more of an insecticidal vibrato. Xray Eyeballs' first LP, Not Nothing, comes out April 19 on Kanine; this is definitely a band to watch in 2011. Paul Cary and Nones open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $8 in advance. —Brian Costello


DALE EARNHARDT JR. JR. Lately so many up-and-coming indie acts have burdened themselves with names that riff on the names of famous people—Mickey Mickey Rourke, Com Truise, Truman Peyote—that you have to wonder if they know it makes them sound like smug, cool-obsessed kids. But if Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are trying to be ironic, the bullshit starts and ends with their name. On last year's four-song Horse Power EP (Quite Scientific), the duo's only release so far, everything about them sounds earnest to the core. They've got their breezy, feel-good sound down pat, singing sweetly perfect, radio-friendly love ditties that mix airy indie rock, folk, and electronics. Their first full-length, It's a Corporate World, isn't due till June, but their charming tunes have already proved that they've got what it takes to stay engaging long after their stupid band name gets stale. Reptar and Northpilot open. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. —Leor Galil

ROBERT GLASPER TRIO See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.

GREENHORNES When Cincinnati's Greenhornes released Four Stars (Third Man) in November, it'd been eight years since their previous album; drummer Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence have been busy since '05 playing with Jack White in the Raconteurs. (Lawrence is also in the Dead Weather.) But when your sound is so unapologetically rooted in the past, a long absence won't make it feel dated when you return—good thing, too, because Greenhornes front man Craig Fox doesn't sound much different than he did when the band formed 15 years ago. Unlike many of their garage-rock contemporaries, who combine Neanderthal stomp with punk austerity, the Greenhornes reject low-budget minimalism in favor of explicitly hooky melodies and full-blooded production. The new album's soul-stoked rock numbers ("Better Off Without It") and harpsichord-kissed psych ballads ("Cave Drawings") make for a good game of name-the-influence (candidates include the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and the Easybeats). But the songs are so instantly memorable that I haven't spent much time thinking about their provenance. Hacienda and White Mystery open. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $12. —Peter Margasak

NICOLAS JAAR Nicolas Jaar is a precocious one. Barely into his 20s, he's already the proprietor of a tastemaking boutique electronic label, Clown and Sunset, as well as its best-known act. Like the other artists on his imprint, Jaar uses a vocabulary of modern electronic sounds drawn from house and techno to create abstract, largely beatless music that's heavily indebted to avant-garde classical and jazz musicians. The results sometimes verge on ambient or new age, but the spirit of unconventional composers like Erik Satie—Jaar describes being "haunted" by Satie in his SoundCloud bio—shines through in the tone of Jaar's work. Judging by his recordings, including his new debut LP, Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company), his Smart Bar set could give the venue's normally hedonistic crowd an opportunity for contemplative chin-stroking. Orchard Lounge opens. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $15, $10 in advance, $12 before midnight. —Miles Raymer

THOLLEM MCDONAS I've only heard a couple of recordings by Bay Area pianist Thollem McDonas—he's made nearly 20 in the past five years—but that's enough to convince me of his nonchalant range. McDonas is a free improviser who pairs a strong understanding of classical music with a willingness to collaborate with indie-rock freaks (he's a member of the Naked Future with Old Time Relijun's Arrington de Dionyso) or sing along with his playing. On his 2008 solo album, Racing the Sun Chasing the Sun (Creative Sources), he weaves bits of two separate concerts together into a cogent whole, and the result is a relentless zigzag of rhythms, densities, and moods that ranges from kinetic, tightly wound flurries to calm, meditative queries. More recently he paired up with virtuosic Italian bassist and contemporary classical composer Stefano Scodanibbio for On Debussy's Piano And . . . (Die Schachtel), a series of "structured improvisations" recorded on the piano Debussy owned for the last 14 years of his life. On that album too, McDonas's playing doesn't privilege any particular style, but his breathless curiosity is audible. He plays in a duo with local bass clarinetist Jason Stein tonight; a quartet of Stein, Keefe Jackson, Jeff Kimmel, and Brian Labycz headlines. 9:30 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616. —Peter Margasak


DAWNBRINGER Why does this Dawnbringer show have local metalheads aflutter? Because it's only the third one since multi-instrumentalist Chris Black, Dawnbringer's only permanent member, founded the group in 1995—and the most recent was in '98. Black generally hasn't thought of Dawnbringer as a live act, and at any rate it's not like he doesn't play out elsewhere: he drums for Pharaoh, based in his previous home of Philadelphia; he's the front man and bassist for local trio Superchrist; and he has a project called High Spirits, which started as a solo thing but has turned into a proper band. (He also runs a label called Planet Metal and works behind the scenes with Nachtmystium.) Dawnbringer albums aren't too frequent either: last year's Nucleus (Profound Lore) was the first in four years, which considering its greatness is rather a shame. Nucleus is a gritty, blowsy, and occasionally downright groovy blast of classic melodic metal that mashes up half a dozen familiar flavors, and it pulls you up short every song or two to think to yourself, "Oh, right—metal is rock 'n' roll, isn't it? Still?" Black overdubbed bass, drums, synth, and vocals, producer Sanford Parker added occasional unobtrusive synths, and four guitarists filled in the rest, but despite this labor-intensive process the album has a stripped-down feel, which helps create the illusion that you and your buddies could do this in your garage. But you probably can't, because the quality that Dawnbringer seems to be going for isn't one that metal traditionally emphasizes. It's innocence, of all things—the pure but awkward earnestness of learning to play an Iron Maiden song for the first time. Onstage Black will sing and play bass, Matt Altieri and Scott Hoffman (Black's main Dawnbringer accomplice since '97) will play guitars, and Ian Sugierski of Superchrist will play drums. Oblong Box and Terra Caput Mundi open. 9 PM, Red Line Tap, 7006 N. Glenwood, 773-274-5463, $7. —Monica Kendrick

ROBERT GLASPER TRIO See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR The run-up to the second invasion of Iraq threw the zeitgeist a curveball. While a generation of songwriters fumbled to find the contemporary voice of youth outrage and a gaggle of electroclash DJs and producers worked—perhaps more successfully—to find novel ways to distract the same crowd from the world's problems, Godspeed You! Black Emperor took a different path. The Montreal-born art-rock orchestra simply (or so it seemed) sat down and recorded an album that perfectly captured the atmosphere of paranoid, starry-eyed bloodthirstiness wafting up from their neighbors to the south. Released in 2002, Yanqui U.X.O. still delivers the intensity promised by its cover—a photograph of falling bombs suspended over a rural landscape—as the band piles up layers of strings, guitars, and percussion into increasingly unstable structures, then lets it all collapse into an expanse of noise. If anything, its snapshot of free-floating confusion metastasizing into rage appears more crisply focused with the passage time. Ironically the type of sweeping, orchestral rock Godspeed helped popularize has since become a favorite of ad creatives scoring car commercials. These Chicago dates are part of the first U.S. tour the group has taken since going on hiatus in 2003. Eric Chenaux opens; see also Sunday and Monday.  9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, sold out, 18+. —Miles Raymer

FRANCOIS K No one person can take credit for inventing the remix; it arose out of the combined work of countless dub producers, disco DJs, and electronic musicians who saw the potential of using recording gear as an instrument. But if there's a single individual responsible for the popular conception of the remix—that is, a funked-up, more danceable edit of a pop or rock song—it's Francois Kevorkian, better known as Francois K. His roots run deep in the international underground dance-music scene, though he's best known for his remix work for a lengthy and astoundingly diverse list of acts, including Kraftwerk, King Crimson, Joni Mitchell, Wham!, Depeche Mode, and cult disco auteur Arthur Russell. In the 80s and 90s a whole lot of pop fans got introduced to the second wave of house music by buying, say, U2's "New Year's Day" single and flipping it over to find a Francois K remix. Kevorkian's versions are often as recognizable as the originals, but fundamentally, fascinatingly different—and quite often an improvement. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $15, $10 in advance, $12 before midnight. —Miles Raymer


  • Agalloch

AGALLOCH The Pacific northwest with its gloomy nine-month cloud cover is becoming something of a new Scandinavia when it comes to folkish black metal—and Portland's Agalloch lean at least as hard on the moonlit-heathen-sacrifice atmospherics as any European artist. Their fourth full-length, last fall's Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore), reprises the band's favorite trick of lulling the listener with a very pretty instrumental at the start—though it's been a long time since I've heard cello and birdsong sound so sinister—and then charging into a distinctively bloody dreamscape that echoes with shamanic sorcery (they list "petrified bone" as an instrument), its long, tangled guitar lines howling like an evil wind in the trees. Of the six tracks, only that intro lasts less than nine minutes, and each of the album's mini epics travels a lot of cold, alien, and rather romantic terrain to get to its climactic final battle. Since Agalloch have decided against brevity, though, they've had to come up with other ways to leave an audience wanting more. They love to release special editions so limited you'll probably never see one in the wild, including a wooden-box version of their 2006 LP that came with a bag of ashes or a piece of bone. They're also very sparing about playing shows, to say nothing of touring—they seem to come around about as often as a solar eclipse, with the biggest difference being that you can predict an eclipse. Worm Ouroboros and Locrian open. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $18, $15 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

ROBERT GLASPER TRIO See Thursday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $25.

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR See Saturday. 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, sold out, 18+.


STEVE COLEMAN & FIVE ELEMENTS If you start by reading the liner notes of Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi), the latest album from saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, you might not want to listen to it: "'060706-2319 (Middle of Water)' is an intuitive composition based on a moment that is almost the exact middle of the astrological month of Cancer . . . a sonic rendering of this moment especially relating to intuitive energy," reads a typical passage. On paper, the Chicago native's music can seem daunting and more than a little sterile; Coleman's song titles are nearly as technical and obscure as Anthony Braxton's, and he draws upon a wide range of systems (musical, mathematical, and scientific) for his compositions. Fortunately, the music on Harvesting is easy to enjoy, with or without all the extra information Coleman seems eager to supply. His rigorous postbop rides on a dense grid of propulsive polyrhythms; on this record, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey construct an ever-shifting matrix of grooves and accents, all interlocking smoothly, inspired by the traditions of Ghana, Cuba, and India (Coleman has studied in all three countries). The band's front line—Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Tim Albright's trombone, Jen Shyu's wordless singing, and Coleman's alto—usually plays all at once, each musician's improvisations highly attuned not only to the compositional framework but to the unfolding gestures of the others. In the past the technical ferocity of Coleman's music has sometimes made it feel chilly, but Harvesting is one of his warmest and most melodic albums—particularly the dazzling interpretation of Per Norgard's "Flos Ut Rosa Floruit," where Shyu takes center stage. This is Coleman's first local concert in more than a decade, and he'll lead a stripped-down version of Five Elements with Finlayson, pianist David Virelles, and drummer Kassa Overall; the day before, he'll teach a workshop at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  6:30 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak

GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR See Saturday. Joshua Abrams's Natural Information Society opens.  7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449, sold out.


DANIELSON Now we have Sufjan and David Bazan, but first there was Daniel Smith, aka Danielson, the OG Christian indie-rock dude it was OK—cool, even—to like. He was a pioneer—he did it in the 90s! Beginning in the middle of that decade, Smith and his ensemble the Danielson Famile released a long string of endearingly weird albums, which border on earnestly wacky and often veer toward the precious; after 2006's Ships, though, the group scattered and Smith took five years off to be a daddy. His new full-length, Best of Gloucester County (Sounds Familyre), is a rebirth of sorts, a reinvention of the Daniel Smith we once knew. Gloucester County is a twinkly (but not cute) meditation that hovers weightlessly, even directionlessly. The chamber-pop elements have become terse and intense, and the arrangements are heaped-up and claustrophobic, with carefully arranged layers of static sound—indie songcraft turned ramblin' raga. It's a more subtle, grown-up version of Danielson to be sure, though there are still some signs of the ol' familiar guy lingering: "People's Partay," for instance, is about a celebration with "party pizzas" and "a nature walk for seniors," and it sounds like the lyrics were written with lots of exclamation points. Sonoi and Miracle Condition open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, 18+. —Jessica Hopper

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