DAN DARRAH 11/26, JOY-BLUE Singer-songwriter Dan Darrah holds down a regular Friday-night gig at this friendly little bar, playing funky modern hippie music to unwind from office work by--vaguely Cat Stevens-esque stuff with traces of salsa and hip-hop. On his self-released CD, Farina Dumplings, he plays guitar, harmonica, piano, keyboards, and some percussion, accompanied by a drummer and a bassist; here he goes it solo. SPLENDER 11/26, DOUBLE DOOR DKNY shills Splender have made some waves in the biz with their faux indifferent "Yeah, Whatever," but the only tune on their Halfway Down the Sky (on Columbia's C2 imprint) with any hint of personality is the opener, "I Don't Understand," which is catchy in a tuneless, forgettable Romantics kind of way. (Go on; name more than two Romantics songs.) Supposedly this was Todd Rundgren's first production-for-hire in nearly a decade; what was he thinking? ANDRE WILLIAMS & THE SADIES 11/27, EMPTY BOTTLE This show almost didn't happen: after their bus broke down outside Washington, D.C., last Friday, gutter-mouthed and gravel-throated soul veteran Andre Williams took a brief, unannounced hiatus from touring with his current backing band, space cowboys the Sadies. The Canadian quartet and the man who wrote "The Greasy Chicken" were supporting their recent collaboration, Red Dirt (Bloodshot), a surprisingly textured collection of twangy blues that beats Williams's last recording (Silky, with former Gories Mick Collins and Dan Kroha) by a country mile. But Williams has turned up, apologies have been made, and the green light seems to be on for an evening of his irresistible red-light-district songs. NORTHWOODS IMPROVISERS 12/1, EMPTY BOTTLE One of the weirder side effects of living in Chicago is that one can actually suffer from free-improv burnout. But if you're starting to think you know all there is to expect from the genre and its usual suspects, haul your ass off the couch for this Michigan trio. The Northwoods Improvisers play a sort of avant-traditional music that resembles little of what's being created in Chicago lately. They began as a "total improvising electric garage band" in 1976, but shortly thereafter established their expansive all-acoustic aesthetic. They've played the Montreux Jazz Festival and recorded for British improviser Trevor Watts's Arc label, but their latest accomplishment, the album Lightning Darkness (Entropy Stereo)--which includes a version of Sun Ra's "God Is More Than Love Could Ever Be"--sounds like a pinnacle to me. Drawing as much from Middle Eastern keening, Indian sacred drones, and Native American flute peals as from jazz, these spacious, reverent pieces clear a fresh path for the imagination. VERBENA 12/1, METRO It's that time of year again--when people who've been hungry all year are inundated with guilt goodies from the pantries of the more fortunate and then held up as the beaming beneficiaries of corporate goodwill. Tonight the Internet takeout service Food.com is bribing rockers with a conscience to soothe (or can of creamed corn to unload) with a performance by Alabama's Verbena, whose sexy grunge experiment Into the Pink (Capitol) helps me keep a straight face when I say I still love rock 'n' roll. (I practice in front of the mirror every morning.) Guitarist Anne Marie Griffin, who was conspicuously absent from the touring lineup for several months earlier this year--a "personal decision," according to the band's Chicago-based booking agent--is back. Booty goes to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.