The List: March 4-10, 2010 | Soundboard | Chicago Reader

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The List: March 4-10, 2010

Critic's Choices and other notable concerts: The Magnetic Fields, Katherine Young, Atomic, Goatwhore, Efterklang, the Gunshy, and more

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Thursday4

Katherine Young

Friday5

Atomic
Clovers
Robyn Hitchcock
Matana Roberts

Saturday6

Atomic
Robyn Hitchcock
Matana Roberts

Sunday7

Goatwhore
Magnetic Fields

Monday8

Atomic
Efterklang
Magnetic Fields

Wednesday10

Sture Ericson
The Gunshy
Turbo Fruits

thursday4

KATHERINE YOUNG Right from the foghorn blurt that kicks off her recent solo album, Further Secret Origins (Porter), bassoonist Katherine Young makes it plain that she's got some untraditional ideas about what to do with her conservatory training. A former Chicagoan and onetime Reader employee, she left town a few years ago to study at Wesleyan with Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton (she's now finished with her master's and based in Brooklyn, but still plays in Braxton's Falling River Quartet), and even when she lived here she was already pushing the limits of her unwieldy instrument in projects ranging from the pop band Roommate to the experimental trio Civil War. Young loves the bassoon's harrowing multiphonics and juddering low register, and turns the horn into an abrasive noise generator on tracks like the grinding "Patricia Highsmith," which cycles on a thick, bluesy riff that's overtaken by samples of squealing car tires and police sirens, and "Elevation," which collides acidic, spittle-flecked rumbles with feedbacklike washes. The album's range of tone colors is minimal, but Young's keen compositional ideas help each of its seven pieces come to life—"For Autonauts, for Travelers," for example, is based on a Julio Cortazar book about a road trip, and it sandwiches several disparate episodes (the stops) between reiterations of a fixed pattern (the road). For tonight's performance Young has adapted the music on Further Secret Origins for a superb quartet she's calling Pretty Monsters, with guitarist Jeff Parker, violinist Erica Dicker, and drummer Tim Daisy, so she'll have a much broader sonic palette to work with—not to mention more percussion than just the beats she built by overdubbing the unpitched thumps of her bassoon keys. She says the quartet will elaborate on the tender melody of "Some People Say That She Doesn't Exist," the album's shortest piece, and suggests that they may also play a Velvet Underground tune. Pretty Monsters open; a quartet of cornetist Josh Berman, reedist Keefe Jackson, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly plays the second set. 10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $8 donation requested. —Peter Margasak

Katherine Young
  • MATTHEW BILLINGS
  • Katherine Young

friday5

ATOMIC I can't think of a postbop outfit that's been more consistently excellent over the past five or six years than the Scandinavian quintet Atomic. They gather ideas and vocabulary from a huge swath of jazz and improvised music—pretty much anything acoustic that's evolved since the dawn of free jazz in the 60s—and braid them into an undercurrent of ferociously swinging rhythms. On 2008's three-CD set Retrograde they proved they could loosen the strictures of their compositions without sacrificing any focus or intensity, and on the new Theater Tilters Vol. 1 (Jazzland) they take full advantage of the range they've opened up. "Bop About," as its title suggests, is concise, charging postbop, but other tunes plunge deeply into abstraction—"Andersonville" (the name, like "Green Mill Tilter," is a nod to Atomic's Chicago ties) sounds a bit like British heavies AMM in its opening moments, as pianist Haavard Wiik thwacks the strings inside his instrument and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love creates explosive banging and resonant ringing in isolated gestures. The five pieces here, composed by Wiik or reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist (the quintet is rounded out by trumpeter Magnus Broo and bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten), don't slot neatly into one category or the other but rather move fluidly along the spectrum between them from episode to episode, with the tug-of-war between the two poles generating a delicious tension. That's not to say you'll be thinking about any of this as you listen—Atomic are nimble enough for a Formula One track but pack the power of a bulldozer, and you probably won't be able to figure out what hit you till it's all over. See also Saturday and Monday. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

Atomic
  • Atomic

CLOVERS There's no shortage of bands making airy, reverbed-out garage pop these days—Girls, Real Estate, Beach Fossils, and Dum Dum Girls, to name a few of the dozens that leap to mind—but even though Clovers are working a similar throwback style they still deserve a listen. Though I originally went to the MySpace page of this Cleveland four-piece thinking they were another band with a similar name (these Clovers don't have anything to do with "Love Potion No. 9" either), the songs I heard kept me from clicking away. Other bands trafficking in this fashionable sound tend to drift a little too far into the stoney haze they whip up, but Clovers maintain their focus and add hints of punk energy. Foreign Born headlines; Free Energy, Clovers, and DJ Hugsen Kissus open.  10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10, limited $5 tickets. —Miles Raymer

ROBYN HITCHCOCK I'm a longtime Robyn Hitchcock fan, but I've written him off several times—there have been a few albums over the past three decades where he's seemed too pleased with his own eccentricity, or where he's deployed his wacky psych-pop template lazily, without adding anything to it. But when he makes a record like last year's Goodnight Oslo (Yep Roc), all is forgiven. Recorded with the Venus 3, a trio of rock vets that includes Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Young Fresh Fellows auteur Scott McCaughey, the songs are consistently catchy and concise. Hitchcock makes a few stylistic missteps—the retro-rock vibe he attempts on "Saturday Groovers," for instance, sounds generic and toothless—but most of the tunes are firmly rooted in his post-Syd Barrett sound world, which he can still mine for strong, fresh material when he puts his back into it. The stripped-down arrangements and delicate vocal harmonies on the best songs remind me of my favorite Hitchcock record, I Often Dream of Trains, and coming from me that's high praise. For these shows he plays solo, so if you're not a fan of his between-song banter you'd best prepare yourself for plenty of it. Tonight's gig is part of the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (see page 58) and will be preceded at 7 PM by a screening of John Edgington's documentary Robyn Hitchcock: I Often Dream of Trains; both Hitchcock and Edgington will be present. See also Saturday. 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out. —Peter Margasak

MATANA ROBERTS Matana Roberts was very nearly a fully formed artist when she left Chicago in the late 90s to study at the New England Conservatory, but since settling in New York in the early aughts she's clearly blossomed. She's played in Greg Tate's kaleidoscopic Burnt Sugar as well a variety of intriguing improvising ensembles, both ad hoc and long-running; she's recorded with indie bands like TV on the Radio and Silver Mt. Zion; and most significantly she's begun a rich autobiographical opus called Coin Coin, which is already a sprawling multimedia work and looks to get bigger. She has new records due this year with a British quartet and a New York trio, but this weekend she returns to Chicago with one of her most durable and satisfying ensembles, the Chicago Project. On its self-titled 2008 debut for Central Control the quartet refracts a postwar blues feel (a la 50s Chicago bop) through avant-garde ideas laid out by the AACM in the 60s to create rippling, muscular music that's aimed squarely at the future. The group usually consists of guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Josh Abrams, and drummer Frank Rosaly, but for this weekend's shows the rhythm section will be replaced by bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Chad Taylor, a fellow New York-based Chicago expat who played with Roberts in the trio Sticks & Stones. See also Saturday, when flutist Nicole Mitchell joins in. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Peter Margasak

saturday6

ATOMIC See Friday. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.

ROBYN HITCHCOCK See Friday. 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, 847-492-8860, sold out.

MATANA ROBERTS See Friday. Tonight flutist Nicole Mitchell joins Roberts, Bankhead, Parker, and Taylor. 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $20.

sunday7

GOATWHORE Over the course of 20 or so years of experimentation, black metal has lost so many of the elements it inherited from rock 'n' roll—not just rock's sense of melody but also the scales and rhythms it took from the blues—that it's more properly considered an evolutionary descendent of rock than a subset of the genre. Now that some bands are working bits of rock back into black metal, the widespread belief among the faithful in "true" black metal—which can be corrupted by "impurities" like rock—makes their music a double-blasphelicious treat. Nothing on Goatwhore's latest, last year's Carving Out the Eyes of God (Metal Blade), is going to have you confusing this New Orleans four-piece with Led Zeppelin, but their blend of black and death metal has a visceral heft, with thundering low end and thick mids—a quality that's been bled out of more traditional black metal, which tends to be thin and shrieky and so blurrily fast that it hardly ever lands a good solid punch. Combine that with the faint traces of bluesy swagger they add to their rhythms—likewise in dramatic contrast with the squared-off, straight-ahead pummeling that's typical in the genre—and as far as the grim and frostbitten arbiters of kvltness are concerned Goatwhore might as well be playing guitar boogie. Enfold Darkness, the Muzzler, Hate, and Dark Spectrum open.  7 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $13, $10 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer

MAGNETIC FIELDS According to bandleader Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields' new Realism (Nonesuch) is intended as an inversion of Distortion, the group's 2008 homage to the noisy pop of the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy. In press materials he calls the all-acoustic album "folk," but I wouldn't take that description at face value—not any more than I would Merritt's withering lyrics. The band shapes his subdued melodies with appealing delicacy, using a mix of instruments that in theory could be folky—ukulele, accordion, violin, piano, even sitar and cuatro—but the jaunty, twinkling pop that results has about as much in common with folk as Liberace does. Merritt still gets plenty of mileage out of jarring contrasts in tone between words and music, and the songs are filled with deadly barbs delivered with his usual droll emotional distance—in "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" he addresses an ex he won't forgive, singing "I want you crawling back to me / Down on your knees, yeah / Like an appendectomy / Sans anaesthesia." This batch of tunes might be a little too distant, though. Merritt continues to address his favorite themes—social artifice, romantic cruelty, serial heartbreak—but the material on Realism lacks the crackling metaphors and sharp observations of his best work. "The Dolls' Tea Party" is a treacly flop, its criticism of superficiality undercut by cliched toy piano and stilted, mock-formal female vocals, and "The Dada Polka" makes a stab at 60s flower pop that could charitably be described as halfhearted. There are a few gems, however, including "Seduced and Abandoned," in which a pregnant woman is jilted at the altar, and "From a Sinking Boat," a tender and (for Merritt) shockingly uncynical farewell song. It's hardly surprising that a songwriter as prolific as Merritt would hit a dry spell eventually, but I'm not counting him out just yet. Laura Barrett opens; see also Monday.  7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777 or 773-728-6000, sold out. —Peter Margasak

monday8

ATOMIC See Friday. 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630.

Efterklang
  • Efterklang

EFTERKLANG Usually nothing does it for me like a happy pop song, but when I first heard Efterklang's new third album, Magic Chairs (4AD), I was actually a little disappointed to hear intelligible lyrics, propulsive drums, and what might qualify as neat pop structures. This Danish ensemble, with a core of four but an auxiliary cast that's sometimes in the dozens, made a fan of me with template-busting compositions that downplay narrative and rhythmic drive in favor of meditative soundscaping. On Efterklang's debut full-length, 2004's shimmering Tripper, the vocals didn't enter till more than two minutes into the lead track, which was more than enough time for me to have decided it was instrumental—and when they did come in, it was hardly a revelation on par with, say, the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth. Instead boy-girl croons blended into the delicate layers of strings and electronica as unassumingly as a pair of violins. The vocals were more up-front on the group's second album, Parades, but they were still indistinct (if not wordless), which worked to foreground the music's theatrical atmospheres, created with a wide palette of orchestral and otherwise eclectic sounds; though the singers helped set and then shift the emotional tone of the songs, I was essentially free to decide what they were about. Fortunately Magic Chairs doesn't jettison the subtle aesthetic Efterklang has spent so long building—the album's forthright new pop bounce is a joyous addition to it, and there's still room in the music for my imagination. It's growing on me. Volcano! opens.  9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $12. —Ann Sterzinger

MAGNETIC FIELDS See Sunday. Laura Barrett opens. 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777 or 773-728-6000, $30-$35.

wednesday10

STURE ERICSON Swedish reedist Sture Ericson, based in Denmark, is best known around these parts as a member of the Electrics, an improvising quartet with trumpeter Axel Dörner, bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, and drummer Raymond Strid that last played Chicago in 2006. But he's been an active figure in Scandinavian jazz for more than three decades, and unsurprisingly he has his hand in many other projects. I haven't heard as much of Ericson in those contexts as I might like, but the material I have encountered reveals a wide-open aesthetic—he incorporates rigorous postbop, screaming free jazz, and gesture-oriented improvisation (the last particularly in his trio with Strid and guitarist David Stackenas, both fellow Swedes). On this rare stateside visit he'll improvise with two musicians who likewise resist easy categorization: local cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Milwaukee percussionist Jon Mueller, who's equally at home with visceral noise and pin-drop electroacoustic improv. Jim Dorling spins.  9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Peter Margasak

THE GUNSHY Native Pennsylvanian and current Chicagoan Matt Arbogast has been recording as the Gunshy since 2002, but he only acquired the band to go with that bandlike name after his move to Chicago in '04. On the Gunshy's third album, Souls (2005), he populated his haunted landscapes with plenty of other players, but he didn't sacrifice a bit of his eerie, laserlike focus. The real breakthrough album was his fourth, There's No Love in This War (2007), based on letters exchanged during WWII between the soldier who'd become his grandfather and the young woman who'd become his grandmother—it's a minor masterpiece, with all the intimacy of the best gruff, scuffed-heart indie singer-songwriters and none of the self-absorbed solipsism of the worst. Last year's I Gave Too Much Time to the Wine (Yer Bird), which compiles several Gunshy EPs and a few new songs, continues this trend: though still a young man, Arbogast sounds like a grizzled old salt sitting in a waterfront bar telling tales. You can't be sure which stories are originally his own and which started as someone else's, which ones are true and which are complete fiction. He'll play solo for this show, which celebrates the release of a split seven-inch on California label Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club, which the Gunshy share with grimly funny Phoenix folk-punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad. Jared Grabb and the Spend open. 9 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Monica Kendrick

TURBO FRUITS Turbo Fruits' sophomore album, Echo Kid (Fat Possum), is a head-first plunge down a Slip 'n Slide of boisterous garage goodness. Guitarist-vocalist Jonas Stein, who started the band as a side project to Be Your Own Pet (he's now the only member left from those days), decided to keep it going when BYOP broke up in 2008, and he's proved more than capable of running his own playground. With titles like "Naked With You" and "Mama's Mad Cos I Fried My Brain," this Nashville three-piece isn't worried about sounding sophisticated—though the tunes have a frill or two here and there, they work because at their core they're just simple head-bobbing rock 'n' roll, dumb-fun and proudly juvenile. And lyrics aside, Stein's songwriting is genius, packed with infectious vocal and guitar melodies. Turbo Fruits shove so many hooks down your gullet that they'll probably win you over before you can even decide whether they're too obnoxious to take seriously. Surfer Blood headlines; Turbo Fruits and Million Young open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out, 18+. —Kevin Warwick

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