The List: August 26 - September 1, 2010 | Soundboard | Chicago Reader

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The List: August 26 - September 1, 2010

Critics' choices and other notable shows: Johnny Rawls, the God Bullies, Wye Oak, Memoryhouse, Elizabeth Cook, and more

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Johnny Rawls Revue
Wye Oak


Coliseum, Fight Amp
Fruit Bats
God Bullies, TV Ghost


Memoryhouse, Twin Sister


Elisabeth Harnik


Stereo Total


Elizabeth Cook
Alon Goldstein


JOHNNY RAWLS REVUE Vocalist and guitarist Johnny Rawls has an impressive deep-soul pedigree: he served as musical director for both O.V. Wright and Little Johnny Taylor, and in the 80s he worked the southern circuit on his own for several years. His true gift, however, is his ability to leaven those influences with sparkling pop. His voice, though seasoned with gospel grit, is a buoyant instrument graced with youthful lightness; his guitar leads, though rooted in southern blues and soul, are brightened with melodic gaiety. At times in his career these tendencies have worked against each other, but when he's on his game he mixes them into a deeply satisfying pop-soul stew, as on his most recent recording, last year's Ace of Spades (Catfood). Spurred by full-bodied horns and propulsive funk rhythms, he evokes his chitlin'-circuit roots with a leathery rasp on outings like "Live for Today," and on "Drive All Night" he fuses pop, power-ballad rock, and soul-blues into an effortless-sounding whole. Rawls delivers the caustic social commentary of "American Dream" with a bracing fusion of anguish and anger, and on "He's a Good Man" he's in full preacher mode, fervid yet tender.  9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash, 312-427-1190, $10. —David Whiteis

WYE OAK Wye Oak front woman Jenn Wasner sounds goth as hell on the Baltimore duo's new EP, My Neighbor/My Creator (Merge). But she flips the script from suicidal to homicidal on "I Hope You Die," uttering the title's unsubtle sentiments while someone taps a woodblock gingerly in the background. Soft, dark, and spooky, Wye Oak are sonically and aesthetically miles from the DayGlo-rainbow ironic 80s-inspired buttsplosion that's laid claim to Baltimore these past few years—by comparison, they're practically traditional indie rock. Lou Barlow & the Missingmen headline; Young Man opens. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14. —Jessica Hopper

  • Nick Thieneman
  • Coliseum


COLISEUM, FIGHT AMP There aren't many records that embody the desire to throw a cinder block through someone's windshield like COLISEUM’s recent House With a Curse (Temporary Residence). Or grabbing the Blackberry out of a talky yuppie’s hand and smashing it on the ground. Or just straight-up punching a guy in the face for being a dick. Very few groups encapsulate the rage that wells up dozens of times a day when you’re crowded in with millions of other people, threatening to explode into your own private Falling Down, as perfectly as this Louisville trio does. Their arrangements are sparse enough to show off how dead simple the music is—a three-note guitar riff, a throb of a bass line, some drafty Bonhamin- a-castle drums, a melodic bellow—but the songs hit like a bag of cement. Bricking the plate-glass windows of the Ed Hardy bar in your hood isn’t rocket science. The soundtrack doesn’t need to be complicated either. —Miles Raymer

Right at the beginning of the first book of the noise-rock bible, there’s a whole chapter about building a towering fortress of sound with distorted guitar sludge, growling bass, and brain- pummeling drum thunder. New Jersey’s FIGHT AMP (formerly Fight Amputation) add coarse punk grit to this foundation, a la early Unsane and Jesus Lizard. Dirty, loud, and unpleasant, last year’s Manners and Praise (Translation Loss) was made to sell in dingy, poorly lit basements and PBR-soaked shithole bars. It may lack some of the bite that made 2008’s Hungry for Nothing so awesome, but it’s still an unapologetic, filthy romp—a defiant middle finger thrust in your face. —Kevin Warwick

Coliseum headlines; Sweet Cobra, Burning Love, and Fight Amp open. 7 PM, Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866468- 3401, $12, $10 in advance. A

FRUIT BATS By titling last year’s clong-awaited fourth album The Ruminant Band (Sub Pop), this Portland/ Chicago combo set themselves up for a lot of jokes about bovine pacing and indigestion, but they sound so laid-back that I can’t imagine they care. Bandleader Eric Johnson joined the Shins in 2007, partly sidelining the group, but when the Fruit Bats returned, it was with a force that belied their easygoing 70s folk-rock shamble. Produced by drummer Graeme Gibson, the record has plenty of exuberant, focused brainpower underneath its long hippie hair, flowing from pop to honky-tonk to FM-radio muscle-car music with crisp energy and easy glee. Johnson was once a teacher at the Old Town School, and for this gig the Fruit Bats will team with up a current teacher, guitarist and composer Nathaniel Braddock—of Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, Ancient Greeks, and Zincs fame—for a one-off collaboration. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $18, $16 members, $14 seniors and children. A —Monica Kendrick

GOD BULLIES, TV GHOST During the early to mid 90s Kalamazoo, Michigan, cultivated a fertile sludge-rock scene that, like most music created in Kalamazoo, resonated pretty much not at all with the rest of the world. The exception was the GODBULLIES, whose albums for Amphetamine Reptile—the spiritual homeland of sludge—are widely considered to be among the pinnacles of pigfuck, the postpunk movement pioneered by the likes of Big Black and the Jesus Lizard. The God Bullies seemed particularly taken with that scene’s love of audience antagonism, and there are few elements of the band that don’t seemed designed specifically to fuck with people. The music is a toxic murk of detuned metal riffs and what sounds like a Black Flag record being melted. Vocalist Mike Hard didn’t so much sing as groan, whine, and giggle lyrics that read like a stream-of-consciousness list of every human degradation he could imagine. Live shows, which allowed the band the opportunity to directly assault their fans, tended to be legendary in direct proportion to how terrifying they were. —Miles Raymer

There was a time, believe it or not, when you’d never heard anything like TV GHOST. Now, listening to these guys’ insecticidal howls— which pay tribute to early Buttholes, the Cramps, Suicide, no wave, and pretty much every avant-whatever with a backbeat from the past decade—I’m reminded of a line from PiL’s anti-nostalgia broadside “Memories”: “I think you’re slightly late, slightly late.” Which isn’t to say that this foursome from Lafayette, Indiana, is the Sha Na Na of shart-rock nastiness. They’re more like what the Jam was to 60s Britpop—the original sources are so great that a really enthusiastic imitation is still pretty good. A few years back during a set at Cal’s, they were energetic young malcontents who broke bottles and danced on the shards, and their effects pedals cut beautiful abrasions in the foul air. A splendid half hour’s worth of entertainment, no doubt—but instead of leaving with that inspired feeling you get when a band takes the raw material of influence and transforms it into something that feels new, I left brooding on what a bastard art form rock ’n’ roll is and always will be. —Brian Costello

The God Bullies headline; TV Ghost, White Drugs, and My Cold Dead Hand open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-2763600 or 866-468-3401, $12.

Twin Sister
  • George Kalivas
  • Twin Sister


MEMORYHOUSE,TWIN SISTER Bands don’t get more charming than MEMORYHOUSE. They’re a pair of young, geeky-cute kids from Guelph, which is as precious as you’d imagine a woodsy college town in rural Ontario to be. They maintain a tumblog where they post artsy photos, rehearsal recordings, and mix tapes whose track lists include both Boards of Canada and Raekwon. The project was initially intended as a one-off collaboration between classically trained composer Evan Abeele and photographer (and now singer) Denise Nouvion, but it’s evolved into a wide-eyed exploration of pop music by two people with little prior experience in the genre. On their recent EP, The Years (downloadable free at, they set well-crafted hooks out to drift on streams of super-chilled ambience and end up with something that sounds like a pop song unraveling in the breeze. —Miles Raymer

It’s been a while since “Strong Island” was known for any sort of rock music not made by hardcore dudes in tearaway track pants. This summer’s bloggernet darlings TWIN SISTER are the inverse, drawing hard on feminine, fey, nerds-in-love vibes on their new EP, Color Your Life (Infinite Best). Front woman Andrea Estella has a soft voice that doesn’t go a lot of places, but she’s languorous to the max. The band matches her in dreaminess, coming on like vintage Yo La Tengo sans the guitar pyrotechnics—the songs are gauzy little clouds of drone and vibrato that pulse along with airy organ. Essentially the perfect music for lazy late August. —Jessica Hopper

Memoryhouse headlines; Twin Sister, Yawn, and Distractions open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $12, $10 in advance, 18+.

Elisabeth Harnik
  • Elisabeth Harnik


ELISABETH HARNIK Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik winds up a two-week Chicago residency with two informal sets where she’s joined by local cornetist Josh Berman and Japanese drummer Nori Tanaka, who spent ten years in Chicago before running out of visa options in 2007. Harnik, who first visited the city as part of the Umbrella Music Festival in 2008, represents a new generation of improvisers who didn’t come to the discipline via jazz; she’s an accomplished classical pianist and composer who’s consistently proved that academic training is no impediment to spontaneity. On the 2009 album Dr. Au (Ein_Klang) by the group Plasmic she’s in excellent form, playing subdued yet dissonant chords, lightning-fast percussive runs, and sophisticated piano-guts scrapes and plucks. I expect her to bring the same vocabulary to these collaborations. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-7091401, donation requested. —Peter Margasak


STEREO TOTAL Stereo Total’s tenth album, Baby Ouh! (Kill Rock Stars), captures the Franco-German female/male duo at their ridiculous best. Ultra-cute and ultra-kitschy, they fulfill the American fantasy of ESL Euro- hipsters to the hilt. “I Wanna Be a Mama,” sung by the male half of the band, Brezel Göring, is a bouncy bit of sarcastic bubblegum: in his flat German accent, he describes how he’d like to be a mom, name his baby Lucifer, and teach him how to make a living as a prostitute, all while Francoise Cactus fills in the choruses with innocent la-la-la-las. Brilliant Pebbles and Boutros open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Jessica Hopper


ELIZABETH COOK The title of the fifth and latest album by country singer Elizabeth Cook, Welder (31 Tigers), reportedly refers both to the profession her father learned while serving hard time for running moonshine and to the way she likes to bring in elements from other genres. Not to belabor a metaphor, but while seams are definitely visible, I like the hodgepodge. Cook is a sharp observer with a refreshingly blunt manner, whether she’s acknowledging her own questionable judgment in the tart “El Camino” (“If I wake up married, I’ll have to annul it / Right now my hands are in his mullet”) or ruminating on the celebratory atmosphere at “Mama’s Funeral.” On a number of tunes she wanders the same wide country- folk-rock territory occupied by Julie and Buddy Miller (Buddy contributes backing vocals to “All the Time”), while “Yes to Booty” is a descendant of the biting ultimatums put forth by Loretta Lynn (“When you say yes to beer,” she advises her man, “you say no to booty”). Cook also covers the forgotten 1959 Frankie Miller hit “Blackland Farmer” and brings an aching empathy to “Til Then,” a gorgeous ballad by her guitar-playing husband, Tim Carroll, about a couple biding time as they wait for a ship that’s likely never to come in. Ernie Hendrickson opens. 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance. —Peter Margasak

ALON GOLDSTEIN Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein highlights the relationship of Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann by including works of all three in his recital in honor of Robert’s 200th birthday. There has been speculation about a love affair between Brahms and Clara ever since Robert’s death in 1856—an event that devastated both of them—and whatever the case, they remained lifelong friends. Goldstein uses the movements of Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, op. 17, to bookend this evening’s program, beginning with its passionate first; it’s followed by Clara’s short Scherzo No. 2 in C Minor, op. 14, and Brahms’s lengthy Scherzo in E-flat Minor, op. 4. The second half starts with the three elegant pieces of Brahms’s Intermezzos, op. 117, and ends with the last two movements of the fantasy. This music requires a large tonal range and immense sensitivity, traits evident in much of Goldstein’s playing, particularly in Schubert’s Impromptus, op. 90 (on a 2009 promotional CD of a live concert), and Sonata in C Major (“Reliquie”), D. 840, which appears on a 2005 CD produced by the Jerusalem Music Centre— though both recordings also reveal that at times he can sound a bit restrained. Born in 1970, Goldstein made his orchestral debut at 18 with the Israeli Philharmonic; he’s a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University and Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, where he was a student of Leon Fleisher. 6 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $10. A —Barbara Yaross

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