by Leor Galil
The Umbrella Music Festival continues through Sunday night, and I suggest reading Peter Margasak's guide to the city's most daring jazz festival. There are plenty of other shows too. Tonight there's Bridesmaid at Empty Bottle and Basia Bulat at Schubas. Tomorrow you can check out Allen Toussaint at SPACE or Grant Hart at Red Line Tap. Saturday you can see the World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die at Saki in the afternoon or at Beat Kitchen in the evening. To close out the weekend, on Sunday evening there's Sebadoh at Schubas, Absu at Cobra Lounge, and Chicago Opera Theater's Orpheus & Euridice at Eckhart Park.
There are plenty more shows beyond just those—check out Soundboard for all the weekend's offerings and read on for some more recommendations from Reader critics.
For more than 40 years brothers Ron and Russell Mael have made some strange, synthy pop albums as Sparks—as Kevin Warwick explains, the group's most recent release is a musical that imagines Ingmar Bergman visiting 1950s Hollywood. "The Maels have never lacked for ambition, which is perhaps why their artsy, flamboyant oddness took a while to make a dent in the States—even the over-the-top MTV of the 80s seemed ill-equipped to embrace a band with an eccentric shoulda-been radio single about Mickey Mouse," writes Warwick. "Their breakout moment happened primarily in Europe, when the perfect Kimono My House (1974) caught fire—it would eventually be recognized as a timeless work of pop art, as keen on showmanship as it is on carnivalesque, cartoonish hooks." Tonight is the final night of Sparks' two-show stint at Lincoln Hall.
Local instrumental Krautrock group Cave perfected their hypnotic sound with 2011's Neverendless, which is so fantastic that Peter Margasak says it raised an important question—how would the band follow the album and avoid rehashing it? "Cave provide a magnificent answer on the recent Threace (Drag City), maintaining the taut grooves and fat-free arrangements while pushing the music subtly into the realm of funk—albeit an airless strain of funk that's at least as concerned with warping brains as it is with moving asses," Margasak writes. Threace is Cave's first full-length with guitarist Jeremy Freeze (Jerusalem, the Starbaskets), who has replaced synth player Dave "Rotten Milk" Pecoraro, and Margasak says Freeze gives bandleader Cooper Crain more to work with. "As usual, though, Cave's secret weapon is the rhythm section, bassist Dan Browning and drummer Rex McMurry: their imperturbable sense of time and motion gives the rest of the band all the room they need to make such sensual, patiently crafted music." Wooden Shjips headline.
Gospel vocal group the Blind Boys of Alabama have been kicking around since 1939, and most of the folks who helped make the recent I'll Find My Way (Sony Masterworks) weren't involved in the group at the start. "Clarence Fountain, the sole surviving original member, added his trademark bass vocals from his home in Birmingham (he requires weekly kidney dialysis and isn't fit for travel), while the rest of the band holed up in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, with producer Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who frequently used them as background singers for an eclectic cast of his peers—Sam Amidon, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, Patty Griffin, and Casey Dienel of White Hinterland, among others," writes Peter Margasak. "Thankfully the Blind Boys still take center stage for some stirring performances. On 'I Shall Not Be Moved' and 'Take Me to the Water,' the recently enlisted Paul Beasley astonishes with his falsetto singing, while the band put together by Vernon and Phil Cook of Megafaun recalls the slide-happy gospel-rock sound Ry Cooder fashioned when he worked with Terry Evans and Bobby King in the 80s." My Brightest Diamond opens.
"Combining synthy teen pop with cheap drum machines and guitars blasted at death-metal levels of distortion sounds like a recipe for an irony-laden noise-band side project, but Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells have never been anything less than fully committed to competing in pop's big leagues," writes Miles Raymer. "Sleigh Bells' new Bitter Rivals (Mom + Pop) is a mosaic of Mariah-style R&B, digitally trashed cock-rock guitar riffage, rave synths, unexpected soul samples (Minnie Riperton?), and assorted random noises (dogs barking?) that somehow still sounds like it has a chance at the Top 40."