- Mark Seliger
- The Hold Steady
THE HOLD STEADY Naysayers complain that the Hold Steady only has two songs. The thing is, many of the band's fans would probably agree—there's the chunky, riffy bar-band burner and the sweeping, expansive piano-heavy ballad (a la "Born to Run"), both dealing with young counterculture types whose brains are addled by drugs and/or love and/or religion. The difference between the two camps is that those who adore the group find the Hold Steady's continual revision to be fascinating, comforting, or even (maybe) meditative. The endless rant of front man Craig Finn spans five albums (so far) and has come to look like a sprawling, experimental Great American Novel, one that requires the repetition of musical and lyrical themes to keep the whole thing from collapsing under its own weight. On last year's Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant) they dial down the 70s cock rock in favor of the muscular alternative rock of the members' native Minneapolis. Finn recently recorded his first solo album, and the Hold Steady will begin working on their sixth LP this fall, so expect a few new burners and ballads tonight. —Miles Raymer Donkeys open. 9 PM, Metro, $25. 18+
PETER BJORN AND JOHN It's pretty easy to read the chorus of Peter Bjorn and John's "Second Chance" as autobiographical: "You can't, can't count on a second try / The second try is such a comedown." This roughed-up ditty, driven by hand claps and cowbell, comes from the new Gimme Some (Almost Gold/StarTime), which shows that the Swedish trio isn't trying to duplicate the convergence of factors that made "Young Folks" an unexpected international sensation five years ago. The group has retooled its style with each subsequent album, following up the relatively subdued and mellow sounds of 2009's Living Thing with the stripped-down, twitchy energy of its latest effort; Gimme Some merges punky immediacy, simple hooks, and relentless dance grooves. It's hardly a spellbinding combination, and indeed, the record is a modest achievement—but it's a pleasurable one, at least for me. Peter Bjorn and John are playing four shows in Chicago; if you're reading this on Wed 8/24, you may still be able catch them at the Empty Bottle. —Peter Margasak See also Sunday and Monday. The 1900s open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, sold out. 18+
SUPREME CUTS See Saturday. This is a DJ set. Elite Gymnastics headline; Supreme Cuts, DJ Tra La La, Baby Bamboo, and Teen Witch open. 10 PM, Berlin.
- I Can Hear Myself Levitate
I CAN HEAR MYSELF LEVITATE This Chicago quintet got some buzz last year for their debut EP, What Is Left; this show celebrates the release of its self-released follow-up, A City Submerged, which their press release describes as "the story of a city's demise brought on by a leader's lack of dignity, morality, and selflessness." Hmm, I wonder if that's allegorical. Either way, I Can Hear Myself Levitate's sound is better suited for more ambitious concepts than What Is Left's focus on relationship disintegration. Here and there they get spacey and indulgent—"Saints" opens with some guitar woo-woo that sounds like Jimi Hendrix drooling in his sleep—but for the most part the salty, savory postpunk angularity of their noodling and riffing on A City Submerged and the touch of Dischord earnestness in their vocals (see also Fugazi) bolster the dourness of the lyrical message on the power of the pleasure principle. —Monica Kendrick Onasis, Mismatch, Without a Breath, Photo Finish, and DJ Haha open. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, $10. 18+
SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE After he signed to Drag City in 2005, Ben Chasny got more ambitious: though his early psych-folk recordings as Six Organs of Admittance are generally sparse and acoustic, for most of the past few years he's been recording in actual studios, collaborating with loads of musicians, and delivering a hard-hitting, electric sound. But Chasny has recalibrated his approach since the most elaborate and powerful of his recent efforts, 2009's Luminous Night; his latest album, this year's Asleep on the Floodplain, is a kind of reconciliation with his earlier material. Chasny recorded the music at home in San Francisco and Seattle between 2007 and 2010, supplying all the guitar, harmonium, and singing on the record's ten pieces—the only guest is the Magik Markers' Elisa Ambrogio, who lends her voice to "River of My Youth." Chasny moves among various combinations of deft fingerstyle guitar, introspective folk-pop balladry, rippling drones, and chiming, ragalike electric-guitar extrapolations; the epic "S/word and Leviathan" includes a massive wave of slashing, distorted noise. But he's assimilated these seemingly disparate elements into one of his strongest, most cogent efforts. For this solo performance he'll focus on music from the new album. —Peter Margasak Donovan Quinn and Swim Ignorant Fire open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, $12.
- Graham Tolbert
- War on Drugs
WAR ON DRUGS Imitating Bob Dylan's voice can provoke an ambivalent response—some people give praise, while others roll their eyes at the blatant try-too-hardness of it. Responses to War on Drugs front man Adam Granduciel tend toward the former, probably because he wears the Dylan style with such credible panache. On the Philly outfit's sophomore full-length, Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian), he carries the torch for indie Americana with his lazy, echoing drawl, backed by guitars that flutter around the band's simple rhythms, often crossing over into atmospheric psych. The album would make a fine soundtrack for some rolling countryside, and to keep it from getting too lulling the War on Drugs provide perfectly placed diversions—tracks like "Your Love Is Calling My Name" and "Baby Missiles" have a more "urgent" pace and maybe a slight Tom Petty spin. Slave Ambient is as chill and hypnotic as it is meticulously orchestrated and deliberately paced, featuring an awesome synergy of guitar, keyboard, and yes, even a little Dylan-esque harmonica. —Kevin Warwick Caveman and Tammar open. 10 PM, Schubas, $12.
- Susana Baca
SUSANA BACA Singer and activist Susana Baca has spent most of her career researching, preserving, and advocating for Afro-Peruvian culture, and her efforts have paid off. These days there's no shortage of international artists exploring its once-buried riches—from popular Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon to panglobal dance group Novalima. Her government has noticed, and new president Ollanta Humala named her Peru's Minister of Culture in late July, making her the country's first black government minister. On her terrific new album, Afrodiaspora (Luaka Bop), Baca takes a different approach than on previous recordings, drawing on her recent travels and academic studies to interpret songs of the African diaspora in the new world—not just Afro-Peruvian material but also tunes made famous by Cuban great Celia Cruz, the Meters/Neville Brothers classic "Hey Pocky Way," a piece by Mexican nuevo cancion singer Amparo Ochoa, and more. Eight of the eleven tracks feature guest musicians, who often color them with regional instruments—though the guests and the songs sometimes hail from entirely different regions (and despite the presence of Chicago blues harpist Billy Branch, there's no blues number on the album). Whether the music is from Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, or elsewhere, Baca's crack working band—bassist Oscar Huaranga, percussionist Hugo Bravo, and guitarist Ernesto Hermoza—give it an Afro-Peruvian foundation. They'll support her on this date, joined by violinist Maria Elena Pacheco. —Peter Margasak 7 and 9:30 PM, Mayne Stage, $30-$45.
BRAID Like most 90s midwestern emo progenitors, Braid broke up just before the style's explosion in popularity in the early aughts made bona fide rock stars out of bands who had lifted their predecessors' sound more or less wholesale. Late last year Braid cofounder Bob Nanna reconvened the group, intending to record a couple songs for the annual vinyl-geek bonanza known as Record Store Day, but they didn't schedule a session in time to get a seven-inch out by mid-April. Instead the band's longtime home, Polyvinyl Records, released the new Closer to Closed—available on RSD-worthy 180-gram white vinyl—last Tuesday. Former Jawbox front man J. Robbins recorded the four- song EP in a single weekend, and in terms of guitar-chiminess and wistful-mood-settingness, it stacks up pretty well against Braid's classic work. Nanna denies that they've officially reunited and claims there aren't any plans to continue after next month's Pygmalion Music Festival in Champaign-Urbana, but stranger things than a new Braid long-player have certainly happened. —Miles Raymer All Eyes West and Fires open. 9 PM, Metro, $17. 18+
- D. L. Anderson
- Lost in the Trees
LOST IN THE TREES Chapel Hill's Lost in the Trees are a band I was kind of prepared to dislike—both folk and classical have traditionally been ill-served by fusions of the two—and yet there's something about them that won me over as soon as I listened to this spring's reissue of their debut full-length, All Alone in an Empty House (Anti-). Lush but never fussy, graceful but never slick, their eloquently orchestrated melancholy is irresistible in its very intimate way. They're less a studio creation or a fake-folksy hootenanny and more a sort of acoustic American style of torch-song cabaret and private chamber group. Lost in the Trees are the sort of ensemble that might get a lot of work if we still had a tradition of staying up all night with the recently dead (and maybe letting our hair down a little as the night wears on—which is something I understand the band does live). —Monica Kendrick Thin Hymns open. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, $14.
NRBQ Earlier this summer NRBQ released its first new album in seven years, Keep This Love Goin' (Clang!), but astute observers will recognize the lineup as the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, with Chicago-based guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Pete Donnelly, and drummer Conrad Choucroun—keyboardist Adams is the only previous NRBQ member involved. The old NRBQ went on hiatus in 2004 and played a reunion show in 2007, but since then it's ceased to exist. This March Adams revealed the reason for the hiatus: he'd been diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer. By the time he had a clean bill of health again, his bandmates had moved on; in 2007 he formed his quartet, then waited four more years to reclaim the NRBQ name. Though the new group plays material from throughout NRBQ's history, I sure hope they don't neglect the new record, which is full of songs that celebrate enduring love, from "Boozoo and Leona" (a touching portrait of zydeco accordionist Boozoo Chavis and his wife) to the title track (one of several Beach Boys-flavored pop nuggets that fall just this side of corny). Despite the prevalence of pure pop, Adams gets in some of his trademark jazz licks—he accents the sweet hook of Ligon's "My Life With You" with chromatic stabs and comping straight out of the Thelonious Monk playbook, and he takes a Brubeck-ish solo on a version of the 30s pop hit "Gone With the Wind" (the only song here that doesn't end happily). This new NRBQ has a ways to go before it equals the resilience and range of the original lineup, which lasted nearly four decades with only a few roster changes, but it's off to a more than auspicious start. —Peter Margasak The Sanctified Grumblers open. 9 PM, FitzGerald's, $15.
RELEASE THE SUNBIRD It may be one of the oldest tricks in the pop toolbox, but there's still something fundamentally sneaky about using gorgeous orchestration and pretty melodies to make lyrics full of pain and bitterness go down easy. Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave recorded Come Back to Us (Brushfire)—the debut full-length of his new solo project, Release the Sunbird—on a whim in Bloomington, Indiana, last year, though it sounds as much like California as indie pop can. More intimate than recent Rogue Wave releases, it has a romantic, earnest surface that makes it perfectly suitable as background music—you might not even notice how much death, addiction, terror, and grief there is in Rogue's smooth-voiced presentation (well, assuming that whatever you're multitasking on is pretty damn absorbing). But whether it's passive-aggressive or not, Come Back to Us is a haunting, beautiful record that perversely makes me hope Rogue has more baggage to get out of his system. —Monica Kendrick 7 PM, Schubas, $14.
SUPREME CUTS While most Chicagoans took the opportunity to hibernate during February's blizzard, Mike Perry and Austin Keultjes started recording their first jam as Supreme Cuts. That song, "Amnesia," is as warm as a winter afternoon spent canoodling under a mound of blankets next to a roaring fire. It's an effect these two former members of the Dirty Diamonds seem to have a flair for creating; on their proper debut, a four-song EP called Trouble (Small Plates), they meld spaced-out samples, chopped-and-screwed vocals, and sumptuous synths to make music that oozes with a lush but warped sensuality. Perry and Keultjes have been awaiting the EP's release since putting the finishing touches on it in late spring—it comes out digitally today, and the vinyl version will be available Tuesday—but they haven't just been sitting around. Throughout the summer they've been uploading dark, warped remixes of pop songs to their Tumblr (Kate Bush, Gucci Mane, Lorenzo with Keith Sweat), and earlier this month they dropped a mix via the Fader that includes a new Burial-style dubstep banger called "Jacy" that wraps up with an irresistible juke beat. It's a good thing they've kept working, since for this show—Supreme Cuts' live debut—they'll need more material than just their hot-and-heavy EP tracks. —Leor Galil See also Thursday. oOoOO with Butterclock headline; Glitter Bones and Supreme Cuts open. 10 PM, $12, $10 in advance.
PETER BJORN AND JOHN See Thursday. Bone & Bell open. 9 PM, Schubas, sold out.
PETER BJORN AND JOHN See Thursday. Rhunes open. 9 PM, Schubas, sold out.
VREID In 2004 Terje "Valfar" Bakken, front man and main songwriter of Norwegian black/folk-metal band Windir, suffered what was possibly the most black-metal of all possible deaths. Not a homicide, not an overdose, not even a human sacrifice—on a hike to his family's cabin, he was caught in a snowstorm and froze to death in the hostile landscape his music evoked so well. Though Windir died with him, three of his bandmates have stayed together ever since in the four-piece Vreid, and while they might be said to lack some of Valfar's "vision thing," they are solid and consistent—and on their new fifth album, V (Indie), they're downright convivial. The music has far more of a thrash component than Windir's and rather less subarctic mysticism—though the longer tracks, like "The Others and the Look," have fiercely cinematic pacing and a nearly classical use of motif. It's music for beating your head against an ancient fir tree, but it's also the rare black-metal album you can sort of have a beer with, even though you're sitting in broken glass. —Monica Kendrick Kampfar, Necronomicon, Ov Plagues, and Empyreus open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, $15. 17+
JIM WARD When At the Drive-In split a decade ago—damn, a decade ago—my social circle's collective judgment was that, while not as out-there or (let's say) rambunctious as vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Jim Ward was the steady hand on the levers of the machine. But when Zavala and Lopez went on to spread their wings (maybe a tad too far) with the proggy psych-rock of the Mars Volta and Ward took a more paint-by-numbers indie-rock route as front man of Sparta, it became painfully obvious that only together could they reach the perfect balance. There's no ATDI reunion in the stars, though, and Ward recently took the prescribed detour for any indie veteran who's been around the block: he released a solo album, Quiet in the Valley, On the Shores the End Begins (Tembloroso). A compilation of three previously released EPs, it's full of pleasant, relatively restrained, croaky acoustic yarns. Fortunately, it also includes The Electric Six EP, where Ward reworks six standouts from the album with a full band (electric guitar included). He sheds most of the Tweedy, stretches his vocal cords, and smartly plays around in his wheelhouse. Given that Ward announced earlier this month that Sparta has come out of hibernation to work on its first album since 2006, this release looks a little like an attempt to give himself a nudge in the publicity department—but either way it's just fine. —Kevin Warwick The Lusitania opens. 9 PM, Schubas, $12.