CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA WITH YO-YO MA "As a musician I'm kind of nomadic, Waldo-like," said Yo-Yo Ma in a 2008 CNN interview. "I feel like you can drop me most places and I'll be OK. I'll find out what's going on and find a way to participate." The cellist's passion for exploration and communication and his profound humility are a large part of what makes him perhaps today's most beloved classical-music figure. He's the ultimate ambassador, whether playing a Bach Suite, an Appalachian fiddle tune, a Piazzolla tango, or an ancient Silk Road melody. Here he gives the world premiere of the Cello Concerto by Uzbek composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky, commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Advance word from Orchestra Hall characterizes it as symphonic and tragic in scope, with a stunningly beautiful ending coda. Add the impassioned conducting of young Carlos Miguel Prieto, and you have a recipe for something special. The program begins with Silvestre Revueltas's mercurial Suite From Redes, distilled from the composer's film score depicting life and struggle in a Mexican fishing village, and concludes with Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony, which turns inward in a vast opening largo that ranks with the composer's best orchestral writing. See also Friday and Saturday. 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, sold out. —Steve Langendorf
CLEM SNIDE After five albums of witty, quirky art-country, Clem Snide fell apart in the mid-aughts without releasing what was apparently going to be their final record. But last year front man Eef Barzelay, the band's one remaining original member, reconvened Brendan Fitzpatrick and Ben Martin from the most recent Clem Snide lineup to release and tour behind the lost LP, Hungry Bird. This winter the same lineup released The Meat of Life (429 Records) to mixed reviews; some folks complained that the band now sounds too laid-back, with too much violin, or that Barzelay's rapier wit has softened into gentle irony. But Clem Snide's percussion-optional strumming has always moved back and forth between sweetly soft and agitated, and Barzelay has never tried to sell himself as a cowpunk—even Evelyn Waugh eventually learned that you can tickle a fellow to death instead of stabbing him. To my ears the band's restraint makes the spurts of intensity more satisfying: on the lead track, "Walmart Parking Lot," the freshly dumped protagonist drives around all night feeling "punched in the heart, in the throat, in the kneecaps too," but when the sun rises over the ugly big box it's so beautiful that he bursts into a swift-swelling ahh-ahh chorus despite himself. The irony is aesthetic, and makes nothing of the potential sociopolitical significance of Walmart—which means it's just fine for a lost-love song. The Heligoats open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14. —Ann Sterzinger
GASLAMP KILLER Gaslamp Killer's DJ sets don't so much juxtapose different musical genres as laugh at the very concept of dividing music by such reductive criteria as genre. In his world, acid rock and alt-rock are shelved next to eight-bit electro and Dirty South rap as "music that can get a crowd to wild out," while Hindi pop ballads, dubstep cuts, and 70s jazz-flute jams go together because they're all good for getting a head-nodding stoner groove on. It's an extreme case of anything-goes-ness, even for a member of the LA post-hip-hop crew Brainfeeders. His live sets have a rep for getting nuts—he acts as his own hype man—but if you're in a more introspective mood check out his pair of 2007 mix tapes, It's a Rocky Road, which survey a period in the 70s when jazz and funk got together to see how many different instruments could be improved by liberal application of the wah-wah. Caural + K-Kruz, DJ Solo, and Chris Widman open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $10, $8 before midnight. —Miles Raymer
JULIETA VENEGAS Mexican-American pop singer Julieta Venegas brings an effortless airiness to her hooky melodies, and whether she's singing to a waltz-time beat or a reggae throb, the music is usually wrapped in happy, summery guitar strumming.But that breezy feel has always been supported by keen craftsmanship and musical intelligence, and her latest album, Otra Cosa (Sony Music Latin), is no exception. In her lyrics she displays a relatively sober attitude toward romance—on the album opener, "Amores Platónicos," she compares an unreliable lover to a garden, complaining that the fantasy of what he might offer trumps reality—but even the songs where she sounds most pained are leavened by whimsy. She plays almost everything on her records (accordion, guitar, keyboards, percussion, cavaquinho), and longtime coproducer Cachorro Lopez adds bass and programmed beats. Venegas stumbles a couple times on Otra Cosa—"Revolucion" not only has a cliched, quasi-anthemic melody but uses a choir of children on the chorus, a cardinal sin in my book—but I can't think of another Spanish-language pop singer who's so thoroughly liberated from the personality-free flash and froth that often seems to come with the territory. 11 PM, V Live, 2047 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-5483, $30, 18+. —Peter Margasak
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA WITH YO-YO MA See Thursday. 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, very limited ticket availability, $60-$125.
LOCAL NATIVES These barely postcollegiate lads are about the purest, sweetest (sounding, at least) indie-rocking thing to writhe up out of the hotbed of terrible punk-pop and right-wing ideology that is Orange County. Their artistic process is all BFF democracy—the five longtime friends share a house and songwriting duties, and three of them switch off as singers. It makes them a tight and nuanced unit, and the featherweight, chimey interplay is sharp and seamless on their melancholy debut, Gorilla Manor (Frenchkiss). Suckers open. 7 and 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, early show all-ages, late show 18+, both sold out. —Jessica Hopper
JEAN-MICHEL PILC TRIO Pianist Jean-Michel Pilc seems to envision postbop as a series of 3-D matrices filled with interchangeable modules. In any given song he can substitute, modify, or simply remove any element without jeopardizing the integrity or momentum of the whole—and he can do it spontaneously and at breakneck speed, driven by a fiercely swinging rhythm section. On the new True Story (Dreyfus), supported by brilliant drummer Billy Hart and bassist Boris Kozlov, Pilc employs similar methods in a relatively ruminative and restrained setting, and the results are even more satisfying—it's as if he's doing everything in slow motion, allowing the listener to better grasp the complexity of his technique and the richness of his imagination. On "High Sky—The Elegant Universe" the trio sounds epic, constantly and unfalteringly transforming the song's trajectory and density, and not a single gesture is just empty flash—they all make the music more interesting. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak
SONOI Singer and guitarist Adam Busch first outed himself as an art-rock Anglophile on 2003's City Life (Jagjaguwar), the third album by his old band Manishevitz. On songs like "Private Lines" and "Hate Ilene," Manishevitz used Roxy Music-style flamboyance to frame tales of early-adulthood insecurity—a combination no less effective for its paradoxical nature. On Sonoi (Meno Mosso), the self-titled debut CD by Busch's new trio with bassist and keyboardist Ryan Hembrey (a fellow Manishevitz alum) and drummer Pierce Doerr (a composer for This American Life who's also done some mean cooking for the Hideout's Soup and Bread nights), his lyrics are boiled down to a few cryptic images; as though to fill the resulting space, the music draws on a broader range of vintage British influences. On "Anchor Tattoo," the way Hembrey uses his bass to trace meandering lines across a backdrop of undulating synths and patiently evolving drum patterns reminds me of the moodier moments on Japan's Tin Drum. The droll horns on the recurring instrumental "R Pryor" would sound right at home on a Robert Wyatt album, and the tension between motion and stasis on the album closer, "Friends in Dry Places," recalls Brian Eno's collaborations with Cluster. But while it's nice to be reminded of records I already like, what keeps me coming back to Sonoi is the way it makes those familiar spacey sounds into something unfamiliar—it's like hearing someone tell me his half-remembered dream about a place I've been before. The Lonesome Organist headlines; Sonoi and David Daniell open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Bill Meyer
TORCHE By the time Chapter Ahead Being Fake, a split ten-inch by Miami-based doom-pop stompers Torche and Japanese heavy-rock subversives Boris, comes out in the States on June 29 via Hydra Head, it will have been out in Japan for nearly a year. Did someone think it would take us that long to prepare? Torche have been learning to get by as a trio since second guitarist Juan Montoya left in late 2008, eating up miles of road with tourmates as diverse as Harvey Milk and Coheed & Cambria, and their track on the Boris split, "King Beef," is the first recording they've released without him. It's a hell of a teaser for the next full-length: a drawn-out session of sweet and syrupy down-tuned riffing and thunking, thundering tribal drums, it's huge and infectious, like a Slade hit dosed with the same gamma rays that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk. The heroic vocal hooks that made Torche's Meanderthal so great are absent, but it's hard to miss them while you're getting pounded into your component particles by a barrage of pure id. Coheed & Cambria headline; Circa Survive and Torche open. In related news, Torche front man Steve Brooks will play the Empty Bottle on June 22 as part of the reunited Floor. 7 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 888-512-7469, $27.50-$29. —Monica Kendrick
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA WITH YO-YO MA See Thursday. 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, sold out.
JEAN-MICHEL PILC TRIO See Friday. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.
PLANTS AND ANIMALS This Montreal trio's sound is an amalgamation of a half dozen other bands I've liked over the years—Arcade Fire, older Animal Collective, the jam-bandiest bits of Broken Social Scene. Part of their charm is their deftness with shopworn licks, and they've gotten over on nostalgia for the mid-to-late-90s indie rock they evoke; their previous album won them a Juno and a place on the Polaris Prize short list. The brand-new La La Land (Secret City) may net them more of the same—though they're getting progressively less derivative, they're still comfortingly familiar. As they find their footing, the outline of an original sound emerges, and it's shaping up to be no less righteous than the ones they've borrowed. La La Land is at its best when Plants and Animals douse their take on Radiohead deep-space twinkle in angular unrest or take it even further toward anxious postpunk, uptight and twisting in discomfort with a funky clavinet. Elliot Brood opens. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14, $12 in advance. —Jessica Hopper
- Caroline Desilets
- Plants and Animals
STEVE DAWSON Few Chicago singer-songwriters have been as solid for as long as Steve Dawson, but his consistency has also turned out to be one of his biggest liabilities. In the early 90s Dawson had a songwriting deal in Nashville, and he and his band Stump the Host were on the brink of signing a major-label contract (they didn't). That's turned out to be the high point of his career, though, at least commercially—and part of the reason has to be that he's never changed his impeccably crafted mix of twang, soul, and pop in order to follow a trend. He writes great songs and sings them beautifully, and in the late 90s, when he could've gone over big with the alt-country audience if he'd put on a cowboy hat and bolo tie, he stayed true to his workaday self instead. Most of Dawson's work has been with his long-running band Dolly Varden, but he's best when he calls all the shots—and on his second solo album, the new I Will Miss the Trumpets and the Drums (Kernel Sound Recordings/Undertow), he played every instrument and sang every note, with only a few exceptions. The familiar Dawson signposts are there—the Al Green/Hi Records sound of "Goodbye," the vintage Van Morrison feel of "Today She Found the Way (to Break My Heart)"—and as usual he also delivers subtler numbers without such clear pedigrees. On songs like the harrowingly beautiful "Mastodons" and the gospel-tinged "I Wish That I Could Believe in You Again" (where he simulates a choir by multitracking his own voice), emotional darkness lurks beneath the grace. For this release party Dawson will be supported by a knockout 12-piece band that includes drummer Gerald Dowd, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Jason Roebke, pedal-steel whiz Joel Paterson, reedist Keefe Jackson, cornetist Josh Berman, string player Tom Murray, and three backup vocalists. Ingrid Graudins, one of those three vocalists, opens. 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $20, $18 members, $16 seniors and kids. —Peter Margasak
FUCK THE FACTS Ottawa four-piece Fuck the Facts are sometimes referred to as a grindcore band, but it would be more accurate to say they're a band that bounces from one style of heavy music to another with alarming frequency, and they just tend to hit grindcore a little more often than the rest. On their recent self-released, limited-edition Unnamed EP, the Ottawa quartet uses grind's blastbeats and insect-swarm guitars as a foundation, piles on death-metal riffage, chuggy hardcore breakdowns, and bursts of noisy powerviolence, and coats the whole thing in a thick patina of doom-sludge. An upcoming DVD, Disgorge Mexico, catches some of the energy of the group's famously frenetic shows. The Chicago Thrash Ensemble, Small Town Murder, Eunuchs, and Heaving Mass open. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $10, 17+. —Miles Raymer
THEM CROOKED VULTURES Rock supergroups sucker me in every time: there's something irresistible about a collection of lordly egos roped together into a single monstrous entity. Of course, as easy as it is to imagine that such a combination will produce something astronomically awesome, in reality most supergroups try so hard to hit those heights that they just make a confused mess—their music is like overworked Play-Doh, with all the different colors mushed together into a pile of shit brown. Them Crooked Vultures don't force things, though: on their self-titled debut for Interscope, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), and Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) let their psyched-out, bluesy sagas meander where they will. Sure, the songs sometimes take convoluted tangents (the seven-minute "Elephants" can't even begin to figure itself out), but they're definitely songs, not piles. Grohl absolutely slays on the drums, John Paul Jones is John Paul Jones (did I mention he was in Led Zeppelin?), and Homme brings his trademark QOTSA desert-rock ambience, all druggy riffs and dusty, drawling vocals. They're no Damn Yankees, but Them Crooked Vultures redeem the word supergroup. Alberta Cross opens. 7 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212, sold out. —Kevin Warwick
GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW Last year Georgia Anne Muldrow, already an underground soul sensation thanks to her 2006 album Olesi: Fragments of an Earth (Stones Throw), made it clear she's just been getting warmed up. Working not just as a singer and a rapper but as a producer and a songwriter, she released an unstoppable flow of music, including two more albums and several compilations and collaborations. Erykah Badu has been getting most of the props, but lately no one in black music has approached Muldrow's ambition, prolificacy, and range. Though her 2009 album Umsindo (on SomeOthaShip Connect, the label she runs with her partner, MC Declaime, aka Dudley Perkins), begged for an edit, she's seriously upped the quality control on her latest, Kings Ballad (Ubiquity)—it underlines the vastness of her talents without trying to show off her entire skill set at once. Her singing is more focused and contained and the arrangements are more direct, connecting the hip-hop ethos that produced her with the old-school fierceness of feminist pioneers like Roberta Flack and Nina Simone. The new record uses all live instruments—not a sample in sight—but the soul sound Muldrow creates is hardly retro. Though she harnesses the looped feel of hip-hop, it doesn't box her in; her tracks are alternately lush and minimal, with rich, layered vocal harmonies and cosmic, off-the-beat rapping. Rita J, Innosphere, and DJ Tone B. Nimble open. Muldrow also plays a free in-store at 5 PM today at Reckless Records, 1532 N. Milwaukee; Declaime will join her for both performances. 9 PM, the Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash, 312-753-5700 or 866-388-4849, $15, $7 in advance. —Peter Margasak
SHUTTLE Dubstep artists, like those working in heavy metal and certain flavors of gangsta rap, are judged as much for their ability to generate a particular kind of vibe—in their case an ominous sort of gray urban alienation—as they are for their actual musical skills. Though the Internet took dubstep global years ago, until recently the only producers who could really nail the gloom thing came from England. That changed with last year's Tunnel EP (Ninja Tune) by Shuttle—aka Nate Donmoyer, drummer for Boston indie It band Passion Pit. Its flickers of d 'n' b snare and seismically deep synths give it an appropriately subterranean feel, while the wicked twist Donmoyer puts on the de rigueur bass wobble and the sampled sound of a gun cocking—minus the expected payoff of a shot—work to build up Hitchcockian levels of anxiety. It's likely to be the grimmest music you'll ever see people freak to. Clique Talk, Bear the Bell, and ANR open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, limited $5 tickets. —Miles Raymer