Saturday30Battles Florian Hecker Femi Kuti & the Positive Force Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
GHE20 G0TH1K NYC-based dance party Ghe20 G0th1k is a town hall for squeaky-clean students and half-naked crazies, bankers and activists, dorks and divas, voguing queers and mimes in their PJs. Hosted by Venus X (aka Venus Jazmine Soto) and $hane, this free-for-all is soundtracked by a trail mix of hardstyle R&B, speakers-blown reggaeton, ghettotech, chopped 'n' screwed darkwave, news broadcasts in other languages, sound bites from 90s movies, and recordings of sirens, yowling animals, and cash registers going berserk—and naturally everyone's going nuts. This is maximalism at its best: taking one of everything—no, seriously, everything—throwing it all into a room, turning off the lights, and cranking the volume. If a science-fiction convention hosted Jeremy Scott's Fashion Week party in a dungeon, this is what you'd get. —Liz Armstrong How to Dress Well headlines with a DJ set; Ghe20 G0th1k and resident DJs Teen Witch and Baby Bamboo open. 10 PM, Berlin, $7, free before 11 PM with RSVP to do312.com/event/2011/04/28/cult.
DAVID GRUBBS In virtually all of his post-Bastro output, David Grubbs has been meticulous about proportion in his music, diverging from familiar rock patterns not just in the way tunes of different shapes and sizes fit together on an album but also in how single tunes progress from section to section. His fantastic 2010 collaboration with percussionist Andrea Belfi and electric guitarist Stefano Pilia, Onrushing Cloud (Blue Chopsticks), consists of five gorgeously constructed pieces that progress via changes in instrumental color, density, and tone, among other qualities; though this shifting topography of sound distinguishes the songs from one another, taken together they form a beautifully coherent whole. Grubbs sings on just one track; the trio focuses on subtle instrumental interaction, carefully evoked moods, and shimmering textures. Even when he makes a song-oriented collection like 2008's An Optimist Notes the Dusk (Drag City), Grubbs takes a similar approach. On the opener, "Gethsemani Night"—a tune about Thomas Merton's transition to monkhood at the Kentucky abbey referred to in the title—his vocal melodies alternate with biting instrumental passages that shift between his sparse but resonant electric guitar and Nate Wooley's parched, sibilant trumpet. On "An Optimist Declines" Grubbs clips and elongates specific phrases to emphasize meaning, hurriedly singing "shortening course of a life" and then leisurely crooning "lengthening course of a day." Sometimes songs are purely instrumental for several repetitions through a section, but even then drummer Michael Evans prevents stasis from setting in by changing up the density and intensity. A onetime Chicagoan, Grubbs rarely returns to town, and this is the first time he'll play songs from An Optimist here (along with some tunes from a forthcoming collection). —Peter Margasak Ken Camden and Jason Ajemian open. 9 PM, Hideout, $8.
FIELDED It's hard not to fall for Fielded, the solo project from Ga'an vocalist Lindsay Powell. One listen to "White Death," the title track of her new seven-inch on Sophomore Lounge Records, ought to be enough for anyone with a working prefrontal cortex and the capacity to feel. A rapturous, minimalist anthem, it features sparse, sampled vocal percussion and a velvety backdrop of pulsing synths, but the real treat is Powell's clear, fierce voice. Her singing anchors the four-song single, and it's just as moving whether she's shouting to the heavens or electronically warping her voice beyond recognition. Onstage she's no less engaging, often tossing a hand in the air like a gospel singer swept up by a gust of melody or a flood of the holy spirit—and in the heat of the moment you can feel it right along with her. —Leor Galil Zath and Verma open. 10 PM, Hideout, $8.
- Keith Aguiar
- Shannon & the Clams
HUNX & HIS PUNX, SHANNON & THE CLAMS Recently a loose confederation of Bay Area bands—including but not limited to Girls, Nobunny, Sonny & the Sunsets, Shannon & the Clams, and the Sandwitches—has been mining golden-oldies bubblegum pop and dressing it up in punk drag. They've been hitting pay dirt with almost alarming frequency, sending garage-rock aficionados worldwide into a collective swoon. The latest such gem is Too Young to Be in Love (Hardly Art), the sophomore full-length from Hunx & His Punx. Like his contemporaries, front man and songwriter Hunx (aka Seth Bogart, formerly of queer dance-punk outfit Gravy Train!!!!) largely bypasses the direct influence of the stomping, Nuggets-approved Stones wannabes that pieced together the garage-band template, instead diving into the fluffy, candy-toned, Brill Building pop of the girl groups and proto-boy bands that their little sisters were hooked on. Bogart puts a tiny bit of camp spin on the proceedings—think equal parts John Waters and a slightly ironic, punkified take on Tom of Finland—but his love for the source material rings true, and his reimaginings of it are addictively excellent. —Miles Raymer
They look like scrappy punks, but Oakland outfit Shannon & the Clams are more like something from a John Waters lucid dream (obligatory Waters reference number two), complete with horny teenage anthems that walk the line between greasy, frantic 50s rock 'n' roll and innocent, hip-swinging 60s pop. The new album from Shannon Shaw (also famous as one of Hunx's Punkettes) and cosongwriter Cody Blanchard, Sleep Talk (1-2-3-4 Go!), is full of desperation, mild perversion, and drunken, woozy girl-group sha-la-la. If there were any justice in the world, "The Cult Song," with its surfy licks and harmonized refrain of "I don't wanna be in your cult no more," would be a top-ten hit with its own dance craze. —Jessica Hopper Hunx & His Punx headline; Shannon & the Clams and Mickey open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, $8.
MIND OVER MIRRORS When Jaime Fennelly (Peeesseye, Phantom Limb & Bison, Acid Birds) relocated from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Washington's San Juan Islands in 2007, the multi-instrumentalist swapped the catharsis of onstage performance for the more private outlet of snapping black-and-white pictures whilst going about his work as a restoration forester. After moving first to Seattle and then to Chicago, he's transmuted his memories of that time into the music of Mind Over Mirrors. By playing his Indian harmonium (a bellows-driven keyboard) through a tape echo and some guitar effects, Fennelly builds up massive walls of sound, which he records to tape—a choice that parallels his decision to take pictures with film. The saturated, in-the-red sound of MOM's debut LP, The Voice Rolling (Digitalis), matches the grainy quality of Fennelly's photos, and the music has a similar sense of charged immediacy. The remorselessly churning "Barely Spun" rolls over you much like Faust's epic "Krautrock," and looped feedback so corrodes the stark melody of "Point Hammond" that it sounds like you'll find flakes of rust instead of a vinyl groove when you return to the record. —Bill Meyer Corridors headlines; Jon Mueller, Mind Over Mirrors, and Michael Vallera open. 9 PM, Enemy, donation requested. Mind Over Mirrors also play Thu 5/5 at 9 PM at Impala Gallery, 1768 Greenleaf, email@example.com, $5 suggested donation. Sun Splitter headlines; Steven Hess & Mike Weis and Mind Over Mirrors open.
MOGWAI You might suspect that Mogwai would be completely worn out after making slow-motion, dynamically intense, mostly instrumental, and mostly guitar-based art-rock for 16 years. You might also suspect that the band and its hordes of copycats—many of them quite successful—would by now have flogged that niche subgenre to death. Amazingly, though, Mogwai and their trademark style still have lots to offer, and the group's seventh album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Sub Pop), proves it. "Mexican Grand Prix" freshens things up with doses of Kraftwerk—motorik drumbeat, vocoder-enhanced vocals, car references—and of Stereolab's Kraut-ier moments, and throughout the record there's a marked increase in the use of keyboards and electronics. But tracks like the opener, "White Noise," prove that the Mogwai sound doesn't need much tinkering. —Miles Raymer Errors open. 9 PM, Metro, $25. 18+
- Jason Frank Rothenberg
BATTLES When Tyondai Braxton, who cofounded Battles in 2002, announced his sudden departure in August, I admit I doubted the band had a future. Based partly on Braxton's stylistically slippery 2009 solo album, Central Market, I assumed he'd been the guiding force behind the genre-averse sound the quartet created on 2007's Mirrored. But the remaining members—guitarist Ian Williams, bassist Dave Konopka, and drummer John Stanier—proved me wrong with Gloss Drop (due from Warp on June 7), pushing Battles further into turf all their own. The band wrote much of the material on the new record while Braxton was still aboard, but in a Pitchfork interview Konopka says the group reworked it all. They brought in guest vocalists to compensate for Braxton's absence—techno producer Matias Aguayo, Blonde Redhead front woman Kazu Makino, new-wave relic Gary Numan, Boredoms kingpin Yamantaka Eye—but the instruments burst with so much personality, colliding daring ideas and unclassifiable sounds, that the music would sound great without any singing. There are clearly plenty of electronics and keyboards, but it's hard to say where they leave off—trying to figure out which noise is coming from where is wonderfully puzzling. The pointillistic, chiming guitars sound like a cross between steel-pan drums and amplified kalimbas; Stanier's jittery, punishing beats sound like a drum machine gone berserk. For me it counts as very high praise when I find music almost impossible to describe, so I'm very happy to be confounded by Gloss Drop's irresistible grooves, ever-shifting textures, and gleaming melodic fragments that seem somehow lighter than air and heavier than an anvil. —Peter Margasak 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, sold out. 18+
- Rebecca Steele
DEAD MILKMEN Listening to The King in Yellow, the first album of new Dead Milkmen material since 1995's Stoney's Extra Stout, is a lot like catching up with one of your cooler, smarter, and funnier friends from high school who managed to grow up without losing all the qualities that made him your friend in the first place. Their jangled guitars, their bitingly witty lyrics, their snotty Philly accents, their playful and iconoclastic version of hardcore—a reminder of a time when it actually had a sense of humor—make it clear what you've been missing in the years since. "Don't trust the happy / The happy are insane / If you see someone smiling / Run! Get away!" advise Rodney Anonymous and Joe Jack Talcum on the chorus of "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song," between verses about what a still-fucked-up world we're living in. The Dead Milkmen remain best known for "Punk Rock Girl"—a song that became a left-field hit during the pop nadir of the late 80s—but albums like Big Lizard in My Backyard, Eat Your Paisley, Bucky Fellini, and Beelzebubba have held up better than much of the music of that time, both over- and underground. Furthermore, I'm hard-pressed to find a song more prescient than "Right Wing Pigeons." Since the band's re-formation in 2008, with deceased bassist Dave Blood replaced by Dan Stevens (Joe Jack Talcum's former bandmate in the Low Budgets), they don't play out anywhere near as often as they used to; tonight's show is a rare opportunity to see one of the greats of American punk rock. —Brian Costello The Lawrence Arms, Reaganomics, and Holy Mess open. 7:30 PM, Congress Theater, $18.
- Nina Sabatino
- Dead Milkmen
GRAILS Portland-based instrumental quartet Grails don't tour very often as a unit, being in the habit of sharing members with numerous other groups (including Om, Holy Sons, and Harvestman, a side project of Neurosis guitarist Steve Von Till), but their live shows are nonetheless reliably powerful experiences. Originally cast in a sort of art-doom mold, on recent releases (including the fourth disc in their Black Tar Prophecies vinyl series) they've moved more eclectically through the quasi-genre of "soundtrack seeking film." Many of the haunting, suspended moments on their new Deep Politics (Temporary Residence) seem designed to hang on visuals that exist only in the listener's mind, in a way that reminds me a bit of recent Earth (though more intensely orchestrated) or what the score to Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man might have sounded like if it had been scored by Tony Iommi instead of Neil Young on solo guitar. Grails layer sounds with painterly care, but the final product stops just short of being "lush." Their landscape is definitely a desert, but the sun's gone down—it's cool, dark, and thick with nocturnal hunters and night-blooming flowers. —Monica Kendrick James Blackshaw opens. 7 PM, Empty Bottle, $10.
FLORIAN HECKER Vienna-based electronic musician Florian Hecker must not worry about looking like an egghead—his work is often rooted so thoroughly in theoretical discourse that it might evaporate without it. The cover art for his latest album, 2009's Acid in the Style of David Tudor (Editions Mego), is nothing but the beginning of an impenetrable essay by philosopher Robin Mackay, which carries on inside for another 11 pages. The new work that Hecker will give its U.S. debut in Chicago tonight is allegedly a sonic exploration of the concept of "hyperchaos" as posited by French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux, though I can't makes heads or tails of how. (You can take a stab by reading a conversation among Hecker, Meillassoux, and Mackay at here; Meillassoux never gets closer to a quotable definition of hyperchaos than, "It is not more disorder than chaos, it is order or disorder.") Fortunately Hecker's fiercely visceral strain of abstract electronic music is perfectly capable of working you over even if you don't have a firm grip on the academic mumbo jumbo. He deals extensively in psychoacoustics and in the ways sound travels in a given environment, carefully modeling sounds to play tricks on the ears and on the brain's sense of space—the label's description of Acid at one point refers "an intense head related localization blur." He creates most of his pieces using algorithmic computer software with a fair amount of randomness built in, but for Acid he fed sounds generated on an old-fashioned Buchla modular synthesizer through an equally old-school analog computer (a 1968 Comdyna GP-6). The results are of a piece with his usual output: suddenly morphing globs, squeals, and spears of sound that are as vividly physical as they are disorienting. —Peter Margasak 8 PM, Graham Foundation, Madlener House, free with RSVP to hecker.eventbrite.com.
FEMI KUTI & THE POSITIVE FORCE It doesn't necessarily mean much to say that Femi Kuti has finally put some teeth in his music on his new album, Africa for Africa (Knitting Factory)—throughout his career he's softened the bluntness of the seething Afrobeat pioneered by his father, Fela, for broader commercial appeal. He hasn't exactly stripped down his style on Africa, but he does without the polish evident on nearly all of his previous work, and his lyrics recall his dad's fiery political stridency. The songs indict his homeland's widespread culture of corruption, excoriating both colonial greed and homegrown inefficiency. The title track is a cry for civic pride and social responsibility, and "Make We Remember" is a roll call of bygone leaders, from Malcolm X to Patrice Lumumba to Nelson Mandela. The album summons a powerful charge of righteous indignation—something that's more necessary than ever now that his father's music is a smash on Broadway. —Peter Margasak DJ Warp opens. 9 PM, Metro, $25. 18+
JOE MULLINS & THE RADIO RAMBLERS Banjoist and singer Joe Mullins named Hymns From the Hills (Rebel), the second album with his band Radio Ramblers, after a gospel radio show that his father, DJ and bluegrass fiddler Paul "Moon" Mullins, launched in Middletown, Ohio, in 1964. The younger Mullins followed his father's twin vocations, playing in a local band called Traditional Grass while breaking into radio in 1982, and by 1990 he'd launched a version of his father's program that even used the same name. He's found success in both fields—he owns several Ohio stations—and before leading his own group he worked in the all-star band Longview. Steeped in the conventions of bluegrass, the all-gospel Hymns From the Hills makes a fine addition to the repertoire, with high-profile guests (Doyle Lawson, Larry Sparks, Rhonda Vincent) adding extra flavor. In fact, Ralph Stanley saves the collection's sole misstep, a spin through the Sunday-school standard "Jesus Loves Me" that includes a ragged children's choir from Mullins's church cloyingly delivering the chorus. The Radio Ramblers complement the traditional numbers with some decent originals, but one new tune jumped out at me: "O the Love of My Redeemer," written by Chicago's own Josh Caterer of Smoking Popes fame. A quick Google search indicates it's become a modern gospel staple. —Peter Margasak Long Journey Home opens. 8 PM, American Legion Hall, $20, $15 seniors and children.
- Shervin Lainez
- An Horse
AN HORSE Pause that mix tape you're making for a sec and go dig up a couple tracks off An Horse's latest, Walls (Mom + Pop). Regardless of whether you're putting together an I-want-you mix to woo your crush or a postbreakup mix to salve your tender heart, there's plenty of rock-ballad sentimentality and loneliness to choose from—"100 Whales" even cops some attitude with the line "Tonight, I'm thinking of someone else" (oh, snap!). The boy-girl Aussie drums/guitar duo is sort of like the Tegan and Sara of their homeland, but with more tough guitars. One adorable complication: When front woman Kate Cooper sings about her heart, her accent makes it sound like "my hat." —Jessica Hopper Manchester Orchestra headlines; An Horse and Harrison Hudson open. 6:45 PM, Metro, $20, $17 in advance.