COUCH 5/11, SCHUBAS This instrumental outfit from Germany, which has just released its fourth album, Profane (its second in the U.S., via Matador), is compared fairly often to Tortoise, and with good, if not great, reason: both are fine examples of happy nerd power, using pop sensibilities to create music that's perceived as something other than pop. But Couch's glossy, stubbornly agreeable guitarless jauntiness comes closer to the mellow car-commercial music that the Chicago band is often accused of. MAHOTELLA QUEENS 5/11, OLD TOWN SCHOOL The Mahotella Queens were perhaps the foremost female vocalists in South Africa's mbaqanga tradition--a mid-60s township style that set a male basso profundo, or "groaner," against sweet girl-group harmonies derived in part from American R & B. Their sweetly swaying lullabies for a nation thrashing in its nightmares, both on their own and behind preeminent groaner Mahlathini, stand up against anything Motown produced in the same period. After a time-out in the 70s, the band re-formed, continuing to perform through the euphoria of Nelson Mandela's ascendance and further tragedies of AIDS and postapartheid unrest. Go for the moving story, stay for the moving singing. JAH WOBBLE 5/11, DOUBLE DOOR Jah Wobble's floor-shaking bass lines distinguished the already distinct early work of Public Image Limited--a far more serious and successful exploration of alienation than John Lydon's previous band ever managed. But since leaving PiL in 1980, he's become something of a social butterfly, stretching his aesthetic to work with groove purveyors ranging from Can's Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit to U2's the Edge. With his own band Invaders of the Heart, he's taken a decidedly spiritual world-groove direction that posits him as a sort of thinking man's Bill Laswell. (The song titles on their 1994 Island release, Take Me to God, are telling: "Becoming More Like God," "I'm an Algerian," "I Love Everybody," and of course "Yoga of the Night Club.") On the new Passage to Hades (Blueprint), a collaboration with Evan Parker, the saxophonist drones and skitters and peals like a soulful seabird over Wobble's downright saurian dub chugging. The result is something like club-mixed Moroccan trance music slowed way way down--and is far better than I expected. Here he'll play with his newer project Deep Space, who as the name implies aim for the chakra located closest to the booty. Also on this bill are the glorious local jazz ensemble 8 Bold Souls. KEN VANDERMARK 5/12 & 13, SCHUBAS Last year my colleague Peter Margasak dismissed the Chicago Noise Pop festival as just one more week of good shows in a city that doesn't want for good shows. There's some truth to that--but I must say that this year it amounts to a really, really, really good week. The festival gets some of its firepower from the local scene--many of the bills mingle worthy Chicago acts with international hotshots, highlighting the cross-fertilization that's so prevalent here. On the first night of this two-night stand at Schubas, reedman Ken Vandermark--who happens to be both a worthy local act and an international hotshot--will duet with Superchunk guitarist Mac McCaughan, who might be mistaken for just another indie rocker seduced by free jazz if he hadn't put his money where his mouth is with his Wobbly Rail label. Also on the bill are drummer Robert Barry and saxophonist Fred Anderson (who have a duet record coming out on Thrill Jockey on May 22), and Vandermark's duet with up-and-coming violinist Mat Maneri. On Sunday evening, Vandermark and Maneri meet again in a quartet with Kent Kessler and Tim Mulvenna. FUCKING CHAMPS 5/15, EMPTY BOTTLE; 5/16, FIRESIDE "The solitary aim of the c4am95 is to destroy weak music and its purveyors by simultaneously rejecting and exalting the tenets of the classic rock idiom," reads the declaration on the Web site for these three hard-rocking smart-asses. Read between the lines of the rhetoric, of course, and consider it fair warning that the crisply rendered stuff on their most recent full-length, IV, issued last year by Drag City, sounds an awful lot like that which they "simultaneously reject and exalt." Assuming, of course, that your notion of the "classic rock idiom" is broad enough to include Faith No More and all things Albini--and really, why shouldn't it? Great song titles include "Esprit de Corpse" and "These Glyphs Are Dusty," but calling a song "NWOBHM 2" is a little snarky coming from guys who don't look like they'd come out on the good end of a barroom brawl with Girlschool. REVERBERATE: AN EVENING OF AURAL AROUSAL 5/17, LOGAN SQUARE AUDITORIUM For 15 years, Andersonville's Experimental Sound Studio has provided a nice-price recording studio, offered hands-on workshops in recording and sound-making techniques, provided a home away from home for visiting composers and sound artists, and even hosted a few notable festivals. And for 15 years sound artist Lou Mallozzi, a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute, has helped to guide the institution through money woes, relocations, and, most tragically, the death of cofounder Dawn Mallozzi two years ago, all the while receiving a fraction of the attention of other local creativity boosters. In this fairly high-profile and high-style benefit for ESS, in the gorgeous and underutilized Logan Square Auditorium, Mallozzi and friends present an installation/performance by Jim O'Rourke; Ancient Greeks guitarist Nathaniel Braddock's ongoing collaboration with dancer and choreographer Asimina Chremos; experimental films by Paula Froehle, Wen Hwa Ts'ao, and Stephanie Barber accompanied by Charles Kim's Sinister Luck Ensemble; a silent auction of original work by painter Jim Lutes, instrument inventor Hal Rammel, and others; and, later on, a dance DJ, cash bar, and food.