Music » Soundboard

The List: November 12-18, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Devo, Girls, Don Byron, Shrinebuilder, the Reigning Sound, Brother Ali, and more

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Thursday12

The 1900s, Brighton MA
Devo
Girls
Peter Bjorn and John, El Perro Del Mar

Friday13

Devo
Girls

Saturday14

Don Byron
Earthen Grave
Kingdom
Shrinebuilder

Sunday15

Reigning Sound

Monday16

Devendra Banhart
Berlin Philharmonic

Wednesday18

Brother Ali

thursday12

THE 1900S, BRIGHTON MA In late September the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir flipped their van on I-65 in Indiana en route to a festival gig in Cincinnati. All six members of the local pop collective were hospitalized, some for weeks (bassist Mark Yoshizumi is still in a rehabilitation facility), and even though five of them have health insurance they're still on the hook for tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. They also lost most of their gear in the crash and were forced to cancel their remaining 2009 tour dates; many have been unable to return to their jobs because of their injuries. The city's music scene has already done a lot to show its support for the band, and this is the latest benefit concert on their behalf. Both groups playing tonight run in the same indie-pop circles as SYGC, though they play different styles—the 1900s offer a frequently dark take on folky orchestral rock, while Brighton MA kick out mini epics that split the difference between the Walkmen and Echo & the Bunnymen. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Miles Raymer

DEVO It's robotic and jerky and stuffed with artsy spiel about "de-evolution," but to my ears Devo's 1978 debut album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (Warner Brothers), remains one of the greatest rock records ever made. Mark Mothersbaugh worked hard to be the antithesis of the cool front man, and between his bizarre vocals—simultaneously detached and hyperactive—and the catchy, off-kilter riffs, the songs struck just the right nerve, becoming subversive classics in spite of their conceptual freight. That's not to say Devo's philosophy was always a liability; their satire could be sharp and hilarious. But it worked best when it complemented the music, and eventually their combination of dystopian cynicism and faux futurism overshadowed their jittery punk bite—an unfortunate shift paralleled by the band's move from a mostly guitar-based sound toward a synth-dependent one. All the same, there are some great songs on their later albums, and several turn up on 1980's Freedom of Choice, which spawned the smash "Whip It." Next year Devo will release their first album since 1990, tentatively titled Fresh Devo, but on this trip they're playing Are We Not Men? and Freedom of Choice front to back, the first record on Thursday and the second on Friday—both were reissued earlier this month in remastered editions with live tracks from the band's recent tours. The live cuts from Are We Not Men? don't have the snap and excitement of the album versions, but I'm still psyched to see Devo play the whole album in the flesh, even if it is obvious that three decades have gone by. "If we looked like we were yellow cheeseburgers in 1979," Mothersbaugh told me in an interview four years ago, "in 2005 we're kind of like double-patty cheeseburgers." JP Inc. (the current project from JP Hasson, formerly known as Pleaseeasaur) opens. See also Friday. 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, $41, 18+. —Peter Margasak

GIRLS Judging strictly by his lyrics, the default emotional state of Girls front man Christopher Owens is "heartbroken." The band's Google-confounding new album, Album (Matador), opens with the line "Oh, I wish I had a boyfriend," and over its dozen songs it catalogs what seems like several dozen varieties of romantic sadness. But Owens and JR White—the group's only permanent members—aren't mopes when it comes to the music. They almost always set their bummed-out lyrics to frisky, jangly pop as weightless and giddifying as a balloon full of nitrous, combining Owens's ragged voice—which alternates between a scrappy, nasal yelp and a campy pseudocroon—with retro-flavored bubblegum that seems supersimple until you listen closely enough to notice what's going on inside it. But there's one song on Album, "Hellhole Ratrace," where the music gets as swoony as the lyrics, and it's also the best—it spends the first half of its seven minutes as a sweet, delicately embellished acoustic ballad and the second half as a slow-motion fuzz-box meltdown topped by a vocal hook so satisfying that even three and a half solid minutes of repetition can't wear it out. Real Estate and Dominant Legs (who share a backing band with Girls) open. See also Friday. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10, limited $5 tickets. —Miles Raymer

PETER BJORN AND JOHN, EL PERRO DEL MAR Nothing on Living Thing (Almost Gold), the fifth album by Swedish indie-rock darlings PETER BJORN AND JOHN, is as catchy as their hit "Young Folks," but then again, nothing else on Writer's Block was either. The most striking thing about their latest record is the production—Bjorn Yttling has emerged as a skilled and distinctive producer in the past few years, working with the likes of Lykke Li and Anna Ternheim, and his contributions to Living Thing are inventive and appealing enough that they routinely outclass the melodies. He likes to isolate specific instruments to give their parts extra rhythmic punch, and he can do it without crushing a dainty tune. Unfortunately, many of the dainty tunes here are innocuous and merely pleasant, and that's not enough to keep Yttling's production from beating the shit out of them—on the twitchy "It Don't Move Me," for instance, it's not the wan melody but instead the percussive, reverby bass line that burrows into your brain. —Peter Margasak

El Perro del Mar
  • El Perro del Mar

On Sarah Assbring's latest album as EL PERRO DEL MAR, Love Is Not Pop (Licking Fingers), she finds a work-around to help her make the most of her impossibly twee mini-mouse vocals—instead of putting them out front alone, the new record surrounds them with ghosty, moody 4AD-style new wave. Instead of sounding tiny, she sounds ethereal, which adds a new dimension to her precious, hoping-for-romance lyrics. Now that it's floating in a sea of reverb and delay, her voice takes up more space, and she doesn't seem scared of the sound of it anymore. The songs always stop shy of rocking out, their dark vamping and synthetic plinking staying closer to the realm of soundtrack music—some tracks feel like they could run on for another 20 minutes, drifting infinitely, soft and pure. What hasn't changed on the new album is Assbring's unassuming Swedish charm, something she shares with Lykke Li—they recently did a split single together, to which Assbring contributed a cover of Aaliyah's version of the Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)." In fact Love Is Not Pop might be what a Lykke Li record would sound like if you sucked the party music out and filled it with Valentine candy hearts. —Jessica Hopper

Peter Bjorn and John headline; El Perro del Mar and Yourself and the Air open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $22, $20 in advance, 18+.

friday13

DEVO See Thursday. JP Inc. opens.  8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, $41, 18+.

GIRLS See Thursday. The Smith Westerns and Dominant Legs open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, sold out.

saturday14

Don Byron - CORI WELLS BRAUN
  • Cori Wells Braun
  • Don Byron

DON BYRON Clarinetist Don Byron has distinguished himself by nonchalantly exploring not just within his home turf of jazz but far outside it—from classical arias and lieder to the songs of soul saxophonist Junior Walker. His 1993 album devoted to the work of overlooked Jewish clarinetist, bandleader, and comic Mickey Katz still stands as his greatest such excursion: Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz not only netted Byron his broadest exposure but also gave a major boost to the klezmer revival started by groups like the Klezmatics and Brave Old World. In New York in the 90s, it seemed like klezmer was everywhere. That said, Katz's music wasn't pure klez; taking cues from his old boss Spike Jones, he played with parody, tossing bits of country, Latin music, and jazz into his frailachs and horas and creating bizarre and often hilarious Yiddish hybrids like "Haim Afen Range." Most of the fluid, high-energy tunes on Byron's album—expertly played by a star-studded cast that included trumpeter Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine—are covers of songs from Katz's mid-50s masterwork, Music for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs & Brisses, and the homage is straightforward and heartfelt. Byron presents this music for the first time in Chicago at these concerts, and he leads a typically strong band: reedist J.D. Parran, trumpeter Charles Lewis, trombonist Jacob Garchik, violinist Todd Reynolds, pianist Daniel Kelly, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Ben Wittman, xylophonist Michael Kozakis, and singer Jack Falk. 7:30 and 9:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, $20. —Peter Margasak

EARTHEN GRAVE I first caught this local band in June when they opened for Pentagram, and I bought a copy of their self-released debut EP, Dismal Times, on the spot. (Not at all by coincidence, it includes a Pentagram cover, "Relentess.") Earthen Grave's deeply grounded sound ('bout six feet under, I'd say) fidgets like a seismograph needle between thrash, doom, stoner rock, classic metal, and psychedelia. Their lineup includes veterans of Trouble, the Living Fields, and Trifog, but what makes them more than your standard five headbangers in jeans is member six, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, a world-class classical player who debuted with with the CSO at age ten (though she probably got more press when she lost a leg in a Metra accident in 1995). Barton Pine is a very public metal fan of long standing, and when she lets her freak flag fly in Earthen Grave—she plays an electrified six-string monster called a Viper—it gives the band's music a jarring and otherworldly edge. Novembers Doom, Woods of Ypres, Sacred Dawn, and Empyrean Sky open. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

KINGDOM DJs no longer labor under the expectation that they restrict themselves to one particular style, and genre-spanning mixes have actually become fashionable—but few people work as broad a range of music as Brooklyn-based DJ and producer Kingdom. If a track has syncopated beats, an icy attitude, a weird sound effect or synth squiggle, and a ridiculous amount of bass, he's all over it, no matter where it falls in the insanely complicated taxonomy of club music. His October mix for influential Swedish blog Discobelle is an impressive survey of electronic styles, both obscure (trancehall, UK funky, kuduro, guarachero) and not (it ends with "Fancy" from The-Dream's chart-topping Love Vs. Money). The Ghetto Division DJs, Chicago Dead Beats, Goldar, and Delacutti open. 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $8, $6 before 12:30 AM, 18+. —Miles Raymer

Shrinebuilder
  • Shrinebuilder

SHRINEBUILDER You want a real supergroup? Shrinebuilder's lineup is an embarrassment of riches: Scott Kelly, singer and guitarist for Neurosis; Scott "Wino" Weinrich, front man for Saint Vitus and singer and guitarist for Hidden Hand; Al Cisneros, bassist and vocalist for Sleep and Om; and Dale Crover, drummer for the Melvins. If they had a mind to, they could rip through the trendy underground metal scene like real vikings pillaging a Wagnerian opera set. Most of the tracks on their five-song self-titled debut, recorded in three days and released last month on Kelly's Neurot label, are long, challenging, and supple, deriving their power less from raw fury and more from otherworldly grandeur, sinister patience, and the kind of cat-and-mouse tension that it takes a bunch of crusty old guys to really handle properly. All four members contribute vocals as well as moments that will remind you of their respective bands, and the total package is towering and regal, its geometry non-euclidean and its doomy ambience—especially on "Pyramid of the Moon"—grounded in seafloor-solid rhythms. Rwake opens the early show and Yakuza opens the late show. 8 and 11 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Monica Kendrick

sunday15

REIGNING SOUND It's been five long years since Greg Cartwright and his band the Reigning Sound put out their last studio album, but on this summer's Love and Curses (In the Red) they don't miss a beat. Cartwright sticks to the raw garage rock that's gotten him this far, though the Reigning Sound are neither as trashy and primitive as the Oblivians or as desparate-sounding and melodramatic as the Compulsive Gamblers—these days the songs clearly come first, not the posturing. He draws inspiration from 60s country and vintage R & B, both in his ripping originals and in his choice of obscure covers, but his music never sounds much like either; in fact, some of the tunes, like "The Bells" and "Something to Hold Onto" give off a late-60s Dylan vibe, and the accordion-driven "Banker and a Liar" has more than a little Tom Waits in it. His hoarse holler roughs out the melodies with an appealing inelegance—his emotions often seem to get the better of his intonation—and the wailing guitars and rippling organ get the rest of the job done with no fuss. The Reigning Sound's lineup has suffered from a lot of turnover, but Cartwright has long working relationships with most of the current group, and it shows. Drummer Lance Wille and former Freakwater bassist David Wayne Gay back him up on Live at Goner Records (Goner), a killer in-store set from June 2005 that finally got a CD release this spring; they've since been joined by organist Dave Amels, and together they're the strongest version of the band so far. Ronnie Moon & the Style Tycoons open. 8 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Peter Margasak

monday16

Devendra Banhart
  • Devendra Banhart

DEVENDRA BANHART Few indie artists are easier to make fun of than Devendra Banhart—between his half-baked post-hippie persona, his glam-vagrant fashion sense, and his self-satisfied splashing in the shallow waters of celebrity, he's one of the most ridiculous musicians to ever sing a note. But his new What Will We Be (Warner Brothers) is the second straight Banhart record that I've managed to enjoy, despite my reservations. He's certainly not making it easy on me: he still contorts himself into blatantly silly poses, singing vaguely creepy shit like "When I was a young boy / I had a lot of young boys / And we taught each other dearly how to love" in his best Chet Baker croon. There's an appealing breeziness to many of his songs, though—an effervescent lattice of guitars skitters across the surface of "Baby," and "16th & Valencia, Roxy Music" rides on a throbbing glam-disco groove. Most of the superb band from the recording, including guitarists Noah Georgeson (who also produced) and Rodrigo Amarante (who's also in Los Hermanos and Little Joy), is touring with Banhart. If only he'd put a sack over his head onstage. 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, $28.50. —Peter Margasak

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC There are more first-rate orchestras today than ever before, but fewer seem to have truly distinctive styles or sounds. The Berlin Philharmonic, though, which for decades has been near or at the top of any short list of the world's greatest, still has its trademark luxuriant strings and perfect balance of woodwinds and brass. Principal conductor Simon Rattle arrived in '02, and his voracious appetite for new music has unmoored the Berliner somewhat from its traditional Austro-German repertoire (a process begun by his immediate predecessor, Claudio Abbado). But the music on this program is woven into the orchestra's DNA. The concert opens with Wagner's rousing Prelude to Die Meistersinger. Next is Schoenberg's kaleidoscopic Chamber Symphony No. 1, a work that's both innovative and listener friendly, performed here using the composer's 1935 revision for full orchestra. Last is Brahms's Symphony No. 2, his most gentle and endearing, a piece that's guaranteed to show off the Berliner's sound at its most opulent—Rattle and the BPO recently released a compelling live set of the composer's four symphonies that underscores the thematic and rhythmic complexity in the writing. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $61-$199. —Steve Langendorf

wednesday18

Brother Ali - JULIAN MURRAY
  • Julian Murray
  • Brother Ali

BROTHER ALI Minneapolis's veteran albino rapper has come up from the pathos on his fourth long player, Us (Rhymesayers). Brother Ali has gone from homeless to home owner, from divorced to remarried with a new baby—and his ascension to adult man with his shit together is only part of the album's big picture. Though Ali himself is getting over, he remains a keen observer of the travails of others—rape survivors, Somali immigrants, and street hustlers are among the subjects of his more notable song-stories. Ali delivers them with theatrical flair, but with the small details in his portrayals and his ain't-it-a-shame compassion, you never doubt they're taken straight from real life. Longtime collaborator Ant once again handles the production, draping his beats with lush collages of familiar-sounding soul samples, and this time out Ali sounds relaxed too—confident in his sensitacho swagger, with less of the manic insistence of an MC with something to prove. Us is the work of someone utterly comfortable in the vast expanse of his skills. Evidence, Toki Wright, and BK-One open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $15, 18+. —Jessica Hopper


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