THE BAD PLUS On their latest record, Never Stop (E1), the Bad Plus—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King—perform exclusively original material for the first time in their ten-year history. In and of itself that isn't noteworthy, because most of their albums have had more originals than covers—it's just that those covers, which reimagine well-known pop and rock songs, have been what's drawn mainstream attention to the trio, in the process earning it an unfair reputation as a bunch of arch shtickmeisters. The new effort allows audiences to hear the band's sharp wit, technical rigor, and overflowing musical intelligence without being distracted by the hovering presence of, say, Nirvana or Pink Floyd. In fact certain songs on Never Stop seem like they could be radio hits themselves if they were covered by pop or rock artists. The title track, which Anderson wrote for an Isaac Mizrahi fashion show, would make a great disco anthem—it's got an insistent four-on-the-floor pulse, a soaring melody, and a euphoric tension-and-release cycle that climaxes when the whole band pounces on a dwindling vamp, bringing back the track's full-on groove with a sustained, explosive piano chord that sounds like Iverson's playing it with both forearms. "People Like You" at first sounds like a version of the pensive, pretty romanticism I associate with pianists like Tord Gustavsen and (at times) Brad Mehldau, but it slowly gains intensity till it could almost be a Mary J. Blige ballad. Despite their accessibility, though, these songs are jam-packed with high-level improvisation and taut interplay among the musicians. King's stomping attack, Anderson's anchoring soul, and Iverson's breathless pyrotechnics will probably never convince the naysayers that there's nothing gimmicky about what the Bad Plus does—but I was won over a long time ago. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., 312-360-0234, $30, $25 students. —Peter Margasak
- John Sturdy
- Snow Angels
SNOW ANGELS Since 2003 this seasonal "supergroup"—a tinsel-encrusted side project that includes members of Mannequin Men, Vee Dee, Johnny & the Limelites, and the Automatic Stinging Machines—has thrown an annual party where they've played garagey, ebullient covers and PBR-flavored holiday originals. "CTA X-Mas Train" is one of the standout tracks from their 2009 EP Seasonal Help (Diversey), and it was going through my head last week when, lo and behold, I caught a Blue Line train with decked-out halls. The Snow Angels' punky depiction of that garish spectacle is rather accurate—though it sounds nothing like the music on the train itself, which could benefit from a little less Burl Ives jingle and a little more Ramones/Velvets rumble—so imagine my surprise when I came across an interview in which guitarist and singer "Chris Maas" (otherwise known as Vee Dee bassist Dan Lang) revealed that he'd never actually seen the thing in person. (YouTube truly is a holiday miracle.) The Snow Angels' set is preceded by Shame That Tune, a live game show hosted by Baby Teeth's Abraham Levitan and Snow Angels drummer and sleigh-bell shaker Santa Coz, aka Johnny & the Limelites front man and Reader contributor Brian Costello. Contestants share embarrassing music-related memories, and then Costello interviews them for a few minutes while Levitan writes a song about their story in a randomly chosen style; the audience's reaction to the song and story determine the winner. 8:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Monica Kendrick
BONERAMA This brass-balled army, founded by two Harry Connick Jr. sidemen, mixes New Orleans traditions like Dixieland and second-line jazz with southern-tinged funk and rock. You can almost taste the flavor of the goo that drips out of their spit valves—and their sound is so big you'd think they had hundreds of them. Bonerama—which in reality has four trombones, a bass trombone, and a sousaphone in its arsenal—has covered the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, and the band is passing its genre-melding wisdom down to the next generation by holding workshops and clinics on jazz fundamentals and the music business. I'm not normally big on jammy fusion, but these guys are just ridiculously fun. The Lowdown Brass Band opens. See also Saturday. 9:30 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494, $15. —Monica Kendrick
- Michael McDermott
JOHN LEGEND In the process of finding mainstream success, neosoul singer John Legend has rendered his music toothless—by now it's little more than a tepid stream of dopey, forgettable love songs. He's got a pleasant enough voice, though, so I allowed myself to hope for good things from his collaboration with the Roots, Wake Up! (GOOD Music/Columbia), a collection of classic socially and politically conscious soul tunes from the late 60s and early 70s (and one Legend original). But somehow Legend makes indelible songs by the likes of Baby Huey, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Harold Melvin sound tedious. His narrow range and lack of gravitas hogtie him on the most explosive numbers (like the Les McCann & Eddie Harris standard "Compared to What") as well as the most anguished ones (like Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Felt to Be Free"). The support from the Roots is sturdy, but it's also uninspired—and because Legend can't summon any inspiration himself, he just keeps falling flat on his face. By virtue of its superior material, Wake Up! easily trumps the albums he's made on his own—but that's not much of a compliment. 7:30 PM, the Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center, Hammond, Indiana, 219-473-6060 or 866-448-7849, $45-$95. —Peter Margasak
MAGDA It's been a while since Ellen Allien kicked out the kind of minimalist jams that earned her such a devoted following, so it's fair to say Magda is now the reigning queen of techno. The Polish-born, Berlin-based DJ and producer has been at this for a while—she grew up in Detroit, where she rose through the ranks of the city's celebrated scene by dint of her own ingenuity and style, eventually catching Richie Hawtin's ear—but she remains a breath of fresh air. Her debut for Hawtin's M-nus label, From the Fallen Page, sidesteps the bouncy sets of minimal techno and electro she's known for, though not the love of old-school Detroit techno that animates them: dark, eerie space and warbly, synthetic bass lines are everywhere. Her live sets are elastic—she complicates her minimalism right up to the point where you'd have to call it something else, building to a more seductive, juicy sound that speaks to the Chicago tradition. She performs here with longtime collaborator Mark Houle. 10 PM, Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, 312-337-2191, $20, $15 in advance. —Jessica Hopper
MICHAEL MCDERMOTT Chicago singer-songwriter Michael McDermott has been such a steady presence for the past 20 years that it's not hard to take him for granted. But whenever I hear a new album from him, I kick myself for my laziness, because the man can sure raise goose bumps. On last year's Hey La Hey (Oarfin), he used his knack for wordplay—which has made a fan of Stephen King, who in 1996 wrote the liner notes to McDermott's self-titled third album—to weave together his family history and his intellectual but deeply felt Catholicism. There's something sepia-toned and eerie about McDermott's work, but it's tempered by a hopefulness that only veers into sentimentality at the right moments. He performs twice tonight: at 7 PM he plays solo, basing his set list on online requests (given the size of his discography, there's a lot of room for surprises), and at 10 PM he's accompanied by a full band for a set of his own choosing. Julia Klee opens the early show and Musikanto opens the late one. 7 and 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15, $12 in advance. —Monica Kendrick
MILLIONYOUNG, SUNGLASSES The glory days of chillwave were a simpler time for America. Back then, only nerds knew what Wikileaks was, the so-called ground zero mosque had yet to turn everyone into babbling shit-idiots, and any kid with a vintage synthesizer and a dream could end up in a New York Times trend piece. I also remember the weather being much nicer, given that it was this past spring. Now the cool kids are all "rape gaze" this and "fake codeine addiction" that, and it gets dark much earlier in the day. MillionYoung, aka Mike Diaz, has promised that the 2011 full-length follow-up to his cheerfully bumping 2010 EP Be So True (Arcade Sound) will move away from chillwave, but I doubt that will be enough to save him from the inevitable backlash, when gangs of post-witch-house youth-crew revivalists declare war on "being chill." Godspeed, Mr. Diaz.
Sunglasses are two guys who wear sunglasses and make music that suggests maybe we should all be wearing sunglasses too—that is, we should be a little buzzed on 'shrooms but not freaking out. It also suggests that hanging out with a buddy to make beats and run a ton of weird sounds through a ton of effects is a complete blast. Their self-titled EP (it came out earlier this year on new indie powerhouse Lefse) is a condensed dose of sunshine that blends electro-pop with Animal Collectivism and ends well before it wears out its welcome.
MillionYoung headlines; Sunglasses and the Great Mundane open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance. —Miles Raymer
JUICEBOXXX Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx is only 24, but he's already been performing for almost a decade, and he treats every show like it's his last. He pours reckless amounts of energy into his cathartic live sets, dancing, leaping, and contorting his gangly body as he shouts his party-rap anthems, his face red and the veins in his neck bulging alarmingly—I've seen him hit himself in the head with a mike till he bled. He doesn't expect to be the only one freaking out, either—he often raps from the middle of the crowd, and for such an unthreatening-looking guy he can be surprisingly confrontational, even grabbing fans and shaking them. But Juiceboxxx isn't about violence: he makes music to dance to, and if he gets rough, it's only to start people moving. This year he beefed up his discography with his first two mix tapes, Thunder Zone Volume One and Journeyman From the Heartland (both self-released), where he spits confidently over fuzzy guitar licks, smooth rap beats, and hyperactive electro. He also recently added DJ and guitarist Willy D. to his live lineup. Kid Color, Fuzz, Moneypenny, and Team Bayside High open. 9 PM, Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-8828, $5, free with RSVP to chicagoRSVP@thebeautybar.com. —Leor Galil
MEMORIZE THE SKY As Memorize the Sky reedist Matt Bauder, bassist Zach Wallace, and percussionist Aaron Siegel have developed a musical language based on the exploration and slow evolution of color and gesture. On their third full-length, the fantastic new Creeks (Broken Research), they deploy a new vocabulary within that framework, adding electronics, synthesizer, and field recordings. The untitled piece on side A of the LP-only release begins like a wide field rustling with small, busy percussive noises—I hear erratic conga playing and electronically manipulated pops from Bauder's saxophone, but many others are hard to peg—and then settles down into a pleasant duet of bird calls and analog-synth squiggles. Its continually unfolding flow of sounds, both familiar and puzzling, keeps the track compelling throughout its length, but what's really impressive is the way every musical event, no matter how small, seems arranged to advance the whole. Everything is improvised, but what these three musicians can build on the fly feels just as thoroughly knit together as a composition. For tonight's second set, New Orleans trombonist Jeff Albert debuts his Instigation Quartet, where he's joined by three locals: guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Joshua Abrams, and drummer Quin Kirchner. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak
WAKA FLOCKA FLAME At least Waka Flocka Flame has the decency to admit he's motivated primarily by five-figure concert guarantees, rather than the drive to create art or the conviction that he has extraordinary gifts as a lyricist—that makes him about a dozen times more honest than most of the rappers he shares the pop charts with. He also puts the effort he saves by not sweating his lyrics to good use—his jumping, yelling, dread-shaking performances are as addictive as they are ridiculous. Earlier this year he combined that energy with a pile of beats by the excellent producer Lex Luger and ended up with Flockavelli (Warner Brothers), and it comes on like pounding a bag of Pop Rocks while getting tasered in the back of the head. Ludacris headlines; the massive bill also features Waka Flocka Flame, Soulja Boy, Ciara, T-Pain, Lloyd, Jazmine Sullivan, Ginuwine, Bobby V, Sean Garrett, Twista, and Jeremih. 6 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont, 847-635-6601 or 866-448-7849, $20-$125. —Miles Raymer
HAMID DRAKE & MICHAEL ZERANG When percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang played their first winter solstice concert 20 years ago, they wanted to offer friends who didn't necessarily observe the usual December holidays a ceremony of their own. Every year since then they've welcomed the solstice in the same room, a dance-rehearsal space on the second floor of Links Hall. Each concert is broadly similar: beginning in darkness, lit only by candles, the two men play until the dawn fills the room. But while the passage of time has turned the performances into a tradition, the music never feels rote; after all, Drake and Zerang are master improvisers. Surrounding their drum kits are djembes, congas, frame drums, tablas, bells, and other instruments from around the globe, and they make intuitive use of all of them, weaving together African, Middle Eastern, and Indian rhythms, madly swinging jazz grooves, and a few strands from sound worlds all their own. The result is a cohesive fabric of dazzling complexity and beauty, created from nothing but the most ancient forms of musical sound. The spiritual dimension of these concerts is never overbearing, but I've never left one without feeling uplifted. Drake and Zerang also play at 6 AM on Thursday and Friday mornings. 6 AM, Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0824 or solsticelh.eventbrite.com, $20. —Bill Meyer