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BUSKER SOUNDCHECK 12/17, DOUBLE DOOR For their annual holiday show, this midwest alt-rock juggernaut will good-naturedly demolish traditional tunes as well as "Christmas classics" by the Beach Boys, the Andrews Sisters, and the Kinks. KAHIL EL'ZABAR'S RITUAL TRIO WITH PHAROAH SANDERS 12/17 & 18, DeJOIE'S Percussionist and promoter Kahil El'Zabar, who briefly but effectively made a jazz hot spot out of Rituals, is booking a new venue: DeJoie's, a restaurant and club on the trendy Randolph Street corridor. Last weekend he brought in baritone sax great Hamiet Bluiett to perform with Malachi Thompson's Freebop Band; this weekend tenor man Pharoah Sanders will play with the Ritual Trio (El'Zabar, bassist Malachi Favors, and saxophonist Ari Brown). Sanders is also making a record with the trio for Delmark. CULTIVATORS 12/18, PHYLLIS' MUSICAL INN Singer-songwriter Dan Israel has a long track record--his acoustic duo with Brad Bouten, One Town Horse, rode the journeyman circuit in Chicago in the late 80s. Israel then joined the migration to Austin, then went back home to Minneapolis, where he formed the Cultivators, who haven't played here in two years. This show supports their new album, Mama's Kitchen (on the Arizona-based Hayden's Ferry label), which is pretty much the musical equivalent of what you'd expect the food at a restaurant called Mama's Kitchen to taste like: bland down-home fare for folks with weak teeth. Bouten opens. GRACE 12/18, GRIFFIN'S WM singer, adores Stone Temple Pilots, would like to meet WM guitarist and WM jobber who's played drums with Heart for lowest-common-denominator limbo. Seriously, though, this Seattle trio is big in Saint Louis. NASH KATO 12/19, METRO The holidays are a time for giving, so don't be a scrooge--give Nash Kato another chance. After splitting with Geffen, losing guitarist Ed Roeser, and signing to Sony's 550 Music imprint in 1997, Urge Overkill mysteriously disappeared. Now the gaunt front man is staging a comeback, with a solo album, Debutante, due in March on Stone Gossard's Loosegroove label and a holiday MP3 available now at www.nashkato.com. Also on the bill for Q101's annual holiday concert are Local H, Sarge's Elizabeth Elmore, and the Blue Meanies, among others. This show is technically free, but the suggested $5 donation goes to Alternative Means, a conglomerate of five local charities: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Horizons Community Services, the Chicago Child Care Society, and Crisis Intervention & Evaluation Services of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. WESLEY WILLIS 12/20, EMPTY BOTTLE The story of Wesley Willis always seemed like a tragedy waiting to happen: Willis is a mentally ill man with a tough past who wants nothing more out of life than to make the voices stop, draw his obsessively geometric cityscapes in peace, and be a rock star. His 15 seconds of fame in the early 90s included a glossy sidebar in Entertainment Weekly, and for a brief time his hard-driving band, the Wesley Willis Fiasco, was a real force to be reckoned with--the storm they created seemed to balance out the storm in Willis's head to create flashes of genuine rock 'n' roll edginess, which has gotten to be rare as unicorns around here. But eight times out of ten any appreciation for his music was of the rubbernecking or smirking sort, and the spectacle of this gigantic, bullfrog-voiced, scar-faced man ordering Wicker Park trendies to buy his rock 'n' roll CDs prompted a lot of people to ask, Is this guy for real? Well, he was--and apparently still is: Willis has a new album, Dead End Street, and he and his trusty Casio keyboard have reportedly been touring like mad, racking up nearly 100 shows on the coasts and in the south. The local Beluga label helps distribute his record, and he has a track on the new Beluga . . . On the Rocks 3 compilation. His appearance is part of a monthlong series of Beluga showcases that double as benefits for the Lakeview Pantry, which distributes food to the needy; admission is $5 or two cans of food. MARK ROBINSON, WHYSALL LANE 12/21, EMPTY BOTTLE Guitarist and songwriter Mark Robinson, who runs the Teenbeat label, has played in half a dozen bands over the last decade--most notorious among them Unrest, whose early albums Kustom Karnal Blackxploitation and Malcolm X Park were reissued last month by No. 6 Records. His most recent project is the group Flin Flon, which released its sophomore album, Boo-Boo, on Teenbeat this summer, but for this show he's going it alone. Whysall Lane is another Teenbeater gone solo: Richard Baluyut of Versus. U.S. Maple headlines incongruously. PRESTON REED 12/22, SCHUBAS When acoustic powerpicker Preston Reed gets rolling, it's hard to believe there's only one person playing--but he never sounds like he's demonstrating technique for its own sake. On some of the cuts on his 1996 CD, Ladies Night (Dusty Closet), he uses percussive effects and beats that approximate funk, and on others he approaches the gleeful momentum of a bluegrass player. The "pretty" tunes are the most generic and least interesting; the richness of his sound just starts to sound busy. And I wish all his pieces weren't structured like three- or four-minute pop songs--I'd like to hear him stretch out a bit, a la John Fahey or Leo Kottke. --Monica Kendrick

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