BLACK MOUNTAIN I like a band with a good work ethic. Black Mountain has averaged an EP or album a year since 2005's self-titled debut, and on top of that the members maintain a stable of a dozen or so side projects—including front man Stephen McBean's fantastic Pink Mountaintops, whose Outside Love was one of my most listened-to records of last year. That would probably be enough to give me a soft spot for them even if they weren't the riffiest, catchiest throwback guitar boogie-slash power-pop band working today. "Old Fangs," a sneak-peek track from the upcoming Wilderness Heart (out in September on Jagjaguwar), shows that they've still got their heads planted firmly in the 70s with an organ part that's Deep Purple heavy. But I still haven't gotten sick of their 2008 Sub Pop single "Lucy Brown," which has to be the most attractive portrayal of a drug problem since Royal Trux split. David Vandervelde opens. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15. —Miles Raymer
NOSAJ THING As with other Angeleno producers in orbit around sampling savant Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing—aka Jason Chung—creates music that gets called hip-hop mostly because no one's thought up a better name for it. Chung often infuses his beats, like the ones on last year's Drift (Alpha Pup), with jeep-worthy bump, but his rhythms are twistier than you'd expect from a hip-hop track and his instrumentation is aimed more at creating atmosphere than establishing melody. His songs overall have an almost cosmic level of stoniness to them, like a deep-space satellite bouncing back The Chronic 18 years after its initial transmission. His take on this current LA sound is more straightforward and accessible than Flying Lotus's jazzy freak-outs or Ras G's space reggae, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it makes his remix work—stripping down and further chilling the XX's "Islands," setting Drake et al's "Forever" adrift on a sea of slow-motion keyboard swells—some of the strongest to come out of the scene.
This is a whole-building event at Smart Bar and Metro; Nosaj Thing headlines downstairs, with Leo 123, Chris Widman, and Nameloc opening, while Datsik, Eprom, Phaded, and Jeekoos play the big room upstairs. 10 PM, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $16, $13 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer
DEADMAU5 I don't mean this as an insult, but there's nothing really progressive about Deadmau5's "progressive house"—this is old-school rave, with all the trappings and all the delight. His shows, regardless of your budget for pharmaceutical psychedelics or taste in dance music, are must-gos for two reasons: the best people watching I've ever experienced at a concert (at one I saw a shirtless, spray-tanned man mist himself with Axe body spray and then continue dancing), and that so-loud-you-can't-breathe steamroller sub-bass, which the lizard brain simply cannot resist. Brazilian Girls, Designer Drugs, and Rye Rye open. 5 PM, Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Dr., 773-598-0852, $40. —Jessica Hopper
AGAINST ME! The decade-long argument over whether or not Against Me! is a "real" punk band seems to have been settled, and it looks like group mastermind Tom Gabel has had the last word. On the recent White Crosses (Sire) the group is even more polished and the hooks sound even more arena-size than on 2007's New Wave, and if the guitar leads redolent of 80s Camaro rock (and, well, new wave) scattered generously throughout the album are strong clues that the band's lost its confrontational edge, a surprisingly direct line from Gabel's otherwise typically verbose lyrics makes it explicit: "I was a teenage anarchist," he sings over a Journey-ish climax. "The revolution was a lie." Silversun Pickups headline; Against Me! and the Henry Clay People open. 6:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 866-448-7849, $30. —Miles Raymer
ERIC BOEREN QUARTET The music of Ornette Coleman occupies a special place in the imagination of Eric Boeren. The dynamic Dutch cornetist writes original tunes that share the puckish melodic sensibility and uncontained joy of Coleman's music, and he often covers Coleman outright—there are two of the master's songs, for instance, on the excellent new Song for Tracy the Turtle—Live at Jazz Brugge 2004 (Clean Feed). But Boeren is no mere copycat or tribute artist. A key fixture on the Amsterdam scene, he brings elements of Coleman's aesthetic to the loosey-goosey, quick-change approach pioneered by Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink in the ICP Orchestra. His terrific quartet, which released its first album in '97, uses set lists that are really more like clusters of tunes—the musicians decide which number to play when (and at what point to jump to the next one) on the fly. Boeren has a seemingly telepathic connection with his brilliant front-line partner, reedist Michael Moore, and the rhythm section—muscular bassist Wilbert de Joode and, on Song for Tracy the Turtle, German free-jazz drummer Paul Lovens—goes from cushioning the horns with a spry bounce to blowing open the sonic space with an eruption of clatter. (Lovens, who in the early 70s helped define the noisy, gestural, unmetered style that's now common in free improvisation, proves here that the roots of his radical technique lie in his understanding of the ebb and flow of swing.) The horn players tangle and untangle, sometimes sliding into new song by teasing bits of its melody out of the sweet-and-sour harmonies and jagged counterpoint of their ongoing improvisation. Other times the transitions are sudden—the segue from the title track into "A Fuzzphony" is a single graceful leap—but their logic feels totally natural even when it's impossible to see them coming. For these rare Chicago shows the quartet will play not with Lovens but with its regular drummer, the inimitable Han Bennink. See also Sunday. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Peter Margasak
ERIC BOEREN QUARTET See Saturday. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested.
- Jane Richey
- Trombone Shorty
TROMBONE SHORTY, SUSAN COWSILL With his recent major-label debut, Backatown (Verve Forecast), Troy Andrews, aka TROMBONE SHORTY, looks primed to be the next breakout act in New Orleans music. Self-assured if somewhat facile, the album packs brass-band funk, hard-rock riffing, jazz improvisation, and sparkling modern R & B into a party-music powerhouse, with the great technique and respect for tradition that mark the Crescent City aesthetic. Andrews, 24, is just as versatile an instrumentalist as he is a stylist—he plays as much trumpet as trombone and contributes the occasional keyboard or drum track—and his exuberance and confidence with all kinds of music make it easy to forgive him when he overestimates his own skills as a singer or lets himself get boxed in by too-slick production. The studio isn't exactly his turf yet—judging from the live recordings I've heard, he really comes to life when he gets onstage.
SUSAN COWSILL began her musical career at age eight as the youngest member of 60s family band the Cowsills, the model for the Partridge Family. These days she lives and works in New Orleans, but the superb new Lighthouse (Threadhead)—only her second solo album—reflects a much different side of the city's musical life than Backatown. Her songs are an immaculate mix of twangy guitar pop and folk rock, with lyrics that confront the destruction wrought upon her city (and her own life) by Hurricane Katrina. Cowsill lost her brother Barry to the storm, as well as her home and most of her belongings; his body wasn't found for four months, and the day before his much-delayed memorial service in February 2006 her brother Billy died at his home in Calgary, Alberta. Despite all that, "ONOLA," which describes a woman quitting the city she loves, is the exception here—most of the songs are streaked with guarded, bittersweet optimism about New Orleans's future, especially the closing love letter, "Crescent City Sneaux," which invokes the town's indomitable spirit and its way of weaving joyous music into the fabric of everyday life. Cowsill's slightly burred voice, which sometimes reminds me of Lucinda Williams without the southern drawl, is a perfect fit for the tone of her songs: raw, a bit sweet, and bracingly honest.
Both artists perform today as part of FitzGerald's 30th annual American Music Festival. Cowsill plays in the club at 4:30 PM and Trombone Shorty (joined by his band Orleans Avenue) plays in the tent at 9:45 PM. Noon, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $35, $30 before 1 PM, $5 children, all-ages till 9 PM. —Peter Margasak
BASTARD NOISE One of the few benefits of living in Los Angeles in the mid-90s was getting to see Henry Barnes's Bastard Noise project and its various permutations on a biweekly basis. An aptly titled offshoot of peerless power combo Man Is the Bastard, it's long outlasted the group that spawned it. Though a whole host of folks have come in and out of the lineup, the current incarnation actually consists of four MITB alums, and after making their way through every heathen genre known to the underground (brittle electronic noise, wretched heaving soundscapes, dazzling aggro-static) on something like 100 releases since 1994, the group seems to have returned to the rock-instrument setup and blistering powerviolence of MITB's youth. On this tour they'll even be trotting out some reworked "lost" MITB tracks. The band's live rep has never waned—I can guarantee they'll brutalize your senses to the point where you'll actually forget how nasty Ronny's smells. Millions, Winters in Osaka, and Sea of Shit open. 8 PM, Ronny's, 2101 N. California, myspace.com/ronnysbar, $10. —Jessica Hopper
- K. Griggs
ZOROASTER Atlanta trio Zoroaster are releasing their third full-length, Matador, this week on E1 (formerly Koch), which has been on a metal binge lately, signing the likes of High on Fire, Hatebreed, and Crowbar. They're hitting the road with one hell of a dazzling small-stage light show, but it's not like they really need any bells and whistles anymore: producer Sanford Parker has helped them shape their rambling, shambling trip metal into something fiercely focused, a collection of thundering, frenzied exhortations to dark unholy orgies. The music has some of the inexorable forward momentum of the best Motorhead, while still retaining a hint of languid but threatening sensuality. On several songs—"Ancient Ones," "D.N.R.," "Old World," the title track—it's not hard to imagine lissome hippie chicks swaying by the light of ceremonial fires, with the flickering shadows making it hard to see at first that they're not quite human. Elsewhere, as on "Firewater," Zoroaster make good on the veiled threat of anarchy implicit in all their music, seemingly just to warn you that they can. This is one of the most beautiful metal records I've heard this year. Black Tusk and Dark Castle open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Monica Kendrick
UNTHANKS As of last fall's superb Here's the Tender Coming (released in April in the U.S. by Rough Trade), British folk group Rachel Unthank & the Winterset have changed their name to the Unthanks, formally acknowledging that Rachel's sister Becky has always been just as important to the group's sound. Unsweetened by vibrato, their voices are somewhat austere and plain, but together they cover a wide expressive range, with Becky's creamy, aerated timbre in subtle contrast to Rachel's more direct, even slightly biting delivery. Longtime producer Adrian McNally married Rachel in January and has joined the group as a full-time onstage member, playing piano and some percussion—a position he first assumed when the previous pianist, Stef Conner, missed the band's most recent stateside tour due to visa problems. Another new member, Chris Price, adds guitar, bass, and ukulele, joining violinist-accordionist Niopha Keegan to round out the core lineup of five—often augmented on Here's the Tender Coming by guests on strings or subtle, muted horns. The beautifully baroque sensibility the Unthanks bring to British folk is more pronounced than ever this time out, with their most elaborate arrangements yet, but the focus hasn't shifted away from the sisters' dazzling voices, which can wring heartbreaking beauty from songs of grief and suffering: "The Testimony of Patience Kershaw," a tune written by Frank Higgins in the 1960s, borrows its lyrics from an 1842 address to a legal commission on child labor given by a girl working in a coal mine, and the traditional song "Annachie Gordon" tells the story of a suicide precipitated by arranged marriage. Like Waterson/Carthy before them, the Unthanks make ancient music their own—their approach, far from standard-issue strummy folk rock, is closer to orchestral pop—and their exceptional live performances sparkle with charm and humor. Noah Harris opens. 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, 847-492-8860, $15, $10 in advance. —Peter Margasak