Bok Bok Canceled
Wednesday9Nate Wooley, Ken Vandermark, and Paul Lytton
BOK BOK Canceled. Like drum 'n' bass before it, dubstep was once cherished only by a rare breed of dance-music fan, one attracted to its brain-twisting rhythms and ice-blooded mood. And like drum 'n' bass, dubstep has—despite its seeming unmarketability—become about as mainstream as dance music can get. That's mostly thanks to hedonistic "bro-step" producers like Rusko, as well as the appearance of the style's trademark wobbly bass lines in some unlikely places, like Britney Spears singles. Now under-the-radar DJs and beat makers are living in a postdubstep world, and London's Alex Sushon—a self-described "multi-platform designer" whose pursuits include fashion and font design—is one of the more promising talents. Under the name Bok Bok, Sushon makes and spins heady, addictive tunes, which he frequently posts on a dance-oriented blog called Lower End Spasm. There's a vague trace of dubstep in his clipped, tweaky rhythms, but he's folded the style back in on itself, dialing up the influence of predecessors like house and grime. Sushon also incorporates jams from other new artists, whose daring innovations will probably turn up on B96 in a watered-down form within a few years. Girl Unit, Kingdom, and Charlie Glitch open. Bok Bok and Girl Unit have canceled due to visa problems. Tonight's bill is now Kingdom, DJ Deeon, and Charlie Glitch & Sigma. 10 PM, Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-8828, $5. —Miles Raymer
ESBEN & THE WITCH Goth music has long been passe in the musical vanguard, and it's been decades since the heydays of Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Cure, and Sisters of Mercy. But for a certain subset of sun-averse, makeup-abusing folks, the genre never died, and those obsessive fans ought to love Esben & the Witch. Hailing from Brighton, England, and named after a grim Danish fairy tale, the much-hyped trio doesn't look particularly goth, but they've got the style down pat. Their debut album, Violet Cries (Matador), quickly demonstrates its allegiance to goth's original postpunk wave—descending bass lines, flanged-out guitar in metroniomic arpeggios, and front woman Rachel Davies's sweetly melodramatic howls. When the music hovers serenely, it suggests PJ Harvey sitting in with the Cocteau Twins; when it goes full throttle, it's like a more feral Siouxsie, with claustrophobic drum machine and thick reverb replacing the Banshees' faux-tribal beats. The trio has mastered the style's sonic palette, but not the harder task of coming up with memorable songs—dark, churning grooves might be all they're trying to write, but they're not enough for me. Wise Blood and Family Band open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak
HERCULES She didn't get much attention before opening night, but English soprano Lucy Crowe is the single most compelling reason to get yourself a seat for Lyric Opera's new production of Handel's Hercules. Crowe, making her Chicago debut in the role of Hercules's prisoner of war and probable sex slave, Princess Iole, has a voice so stunning she dominates a dream cast of opera luminaries at the top of their form, including bass-baritone Eric Owens as a rigidly contained Hercules; mezzo-soprano Alice Coote as his mercurial wife, Dejanira; and countertenor David Daniels as their friend Lichas. Handel's 18th-century adaptation of a 2,500-year-old play by Sophocles (The Women of Trachis) is mostly arias, studded with vocal acrobatics performed at breakneck speed. But the action moves at a glacial pace: Hercules returns from war with the princess; Dejanira gets jealous and gives him a fatal gift; everything is repeated and repeated again, and then there's a happy ending. The set is as sparse as the music is ornate: ten broken pillars and a marble bench, augmented by projections and backlighting; costumes, including an orange Gitmo jumpsuit with a black hood a la Abu Ghraib, propel the story into the 21st century. Director Peter Sellars's take on the material is deeply earnest: he wants it to get us talking about the psychological burdens veterans carry home. He'll be giving preshow lectures, which start an hour before each performance, and he's the second most compelling reason to be there. See also Sunday and Wednesday; this production closes March 21. 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33- $217. —Deanna Isaacs
BIRTH It could be argued that for nigh on a decade, Chicago's best and most commodifiable export was—no, not celery salt—noise rock. Remember those long-gone glory days when we had not just the Jesus Lizard or Shellac but a fancy dozen or trozen fakers in their wake, one to suit every taste? Who can forget Lynx, midway down the bill at every Fireside show for what seemed like an eon? Alas! All that so-called pigfuck has fallen out of fashion, successively overtaken by Tortoise, cocaine, and cassette labels. Now along comes a heathen trio called Birth, the sole standout in the gone-fallow fields of that rotten, swampy, squalling-and-squealing din. They're a young group, still cycling through drummers, but their brand-new debut LP, Birth (Dead Beat), sounds familiar and welcome to these old ears. Front man and Pittsburgh transplant Mike Siciliano howls like something's horribly wrong with him (I mean that as a compliment), and on tracks like "100 Year Old Egg" they lay it down like a band in command. This might be their year—and if we're lucky, 2012 will be as well. Human Eye headlines; E.T. Habit, Drugs Dragons, and Birth open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Jessica Hopper
DIPLO It still seems like just yesterday that Diplo's name was only known to a handful of adventurous dance-music fans who flocked to his self-released Favela on Blast mix tape. But it's actually been seven years since he introduced hip American ears to baile funk, an insanely raunchy and raucous musical style born in the grim ghettos of Rio. Of course, everyone else soon caught on to Diplo; his work on M.I.A.'s unexpected 2008 hit, "Paper Planes," earned him a Grammy nomination, a guaranteed slot on any future "Best of the Aughties" comps, and a seat in the control room next to five-star marquee names like Beyonce. Fortunately, though he's acquired a couple nice suits and a Blackberry sponsorship, he doesn't seem too different from the guy who once lacked the star power to cut the line at the Continental. He's still assembling fanboy-fervent genre compilations, like last year's dubstep primer Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep (Mad Decent); he's still championing borderline-fringe artists, like freaky electro-rockabilly auteur Bosco Delrey; and he still has an uncanny talent for putting together DJ sets that can make a room full of people go completely bonkers. Willy Joy opens. 10 PM, the Mid, 306 N. Halsted, 312-265-3990, $22. —Miles Raymer
FORCED COLLAPSE It's not unusual for a classically trained musician to pursue radical sounds, despite the reputation conservatories have for squelching them, and Michigan-born guitarist Christopher Riggs, who went to Oberlin as an undergrad, now studies with iconic iconoclasts Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier at Wesleyan. In light of that, you'd hardly expect him to be hidebound and conventional, but he takes "radical" and runs off a cliff with it. On just about every recording of him that I've heard—solo releases; a blistering trio called Trauma, where he plays with drummer Ben Hall and trumpeter Nate Wooley; the 2010 album Glass Key (You Are Your Only Machine), with Hall and jazz guitarist Joe Morris—he demolishes every conventional notion of what a guitar can sound like. His output on what he calls "FX pedal-less electric guitar" is by and large unapologetically ugly: grimy splotches, spastic rattles, tortured scrapes that sound like scrap metal dragged down an alley or fed into a recycling shredder. Forced Collapse is his duo with trumpeter Liz Allbee, a Bay Area fixture now in Berlin. She's got serious improvised-music bona fides—she played with Kihnoua, a project led by ROVA saxophonist Larry Ochs, on last year's Unauthorized Caprices (Not Two)—and her solo album Theseus Vs. (Resipiscent) is a collection of deliciously quirky songlike vignettes. Allbee's vocabulary of extended techniques has little to do with the unpitched breaths and sibilant sounds that seem to be de rigueur, though: her style is less gestural and more noisy and dirty, with a frantic, piercing, aggression. Forced Collapse's 2010 LP Consider the Weather a Failure (the sole vinyl release on Riggs's defunct cassette label, Holy Cheever Church) is a rising-and-falling rumble of writhing low-end scuzz, malevolently vocalic horn sputters, tart puckers, squealing bowed strings, and more—many sounds are impossible to identify, and the music is equally impossible to categorize. It's superficially repulsive but deeply thoughtful, reflecting the players' empathetic relationship—they create startling juxtapositions of tone color and evolve their tug-of-war with a nonchalant logic that keeps it gripping on listen after listen. Brett Nauke and Green Pasture Happiness open. See also Saturday. 9 PM, Enemy, 1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor, 312-493-3657, donation requested. —Peter Margasak
GET UP KIDS The great emo swarm of the late 90s, which coincided a little too perfectly with my first years at college, might as well have been engineered to exploit the weaknesses of an angsty 18-year-old kid who desperately wanted songs that spoke to his huge and obviously unprecedented heartbreaks—and the standard-bearer of that sad punk army was the Get Up Kids. It's been decade and change since their breakthrough record, Something to Write Home About, put both the band and Vagrant Records on the map, and almost six years since they broke up. But on the new There Are Rules (Quality Hill), the Get Up Kids' first full-length since reuniting in late 2008, front man Matt Pryor still has his familiar nasal croon—an instant and irresistible nostalgia trigger. As often happens when a group that pioneered a genre gets back together and starts recording again, lots of fans can't be bothered about the new material—they want their old favorites. The Get Up Kids have struggled with their role as the progenitors of late-90s emo, not juvst because it's hard to carry a flag without stepping on but also because all kinds of pop-punk tripe followed on their heels. They can't escape it, though: There Are Rules is a fine record, but it's impossible to listen to it without picturing a room full of kids with dopey smiles and bandannas in their back pockets, singing along to every single word of "Mass Pike." Miniature Tigers and Brian Bonz open. See also Saturday. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $22, 17+. —Kevin Warwick
AFEL BOCOUM Extraordinary Malian guitarist and singer Afel Bocoum hasn't released an album in the U.S. since Nonesuch put out his beautiful debut, Alkibar, a dozen years ago. In 2000 he gave a mesmerizing performance at the Park West, opening for longtime mentor Ali Farka Toure—with whom he began playing in the late 60s, when he was only 13. Bocoum also wrote the song "Dofana" on the master's classic 1993 album The Source—one of Toure's greatest performances. In the years since, he's collaborated with former Blur singer Damon Albarn and others on the surprisingly good 2002 record Mali Music and released two terrific albums with his band Alkibar—both issued by French label Contre Jour and available here only as pricey imports. His obscurity in the U.S. is a shame, because he's the best of Toure's disciples and a worthy successor. On his third and most recent album, Tabital Pulaaku (2009), he and his band play the same sort of Mande blues Toure made famous, albeit with less improvisational flash and a more ensemble-oriented sound. Bocoum sings in a sort of nasal chant (he mixes the Songhai, Tamasheq, and Peul languages), working his vocals into a rich, simmering backdrop of acoustic guitars, electric bass, calabash and djembe percussion, the twangy four-string lute known as the njurkle, and the piercing single-string spike fiddle called the njarka. He performs with fellow Malian Habib Koite and Oliver Mtukudzi of Zimbabwe as part of a package tour sponsored by Putumayo Records; they'll share a set and a backing band, taking turns singing their own songs, sometimes all onstage together. 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $30, $28 members, $26 seniors and children. —Peter Margasak
FORCED COLLAPSE See Friday. Daniel Wyche opens. 7 PM, Bond Chapel, University of Chicago, 1050 E. 59th, 773-702-8670.
GET UP KIDS See Friday. Miniature Tigers and Brian Bonz open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, sold out, 18+.
BEN VIDA On 2010's superb Bird Show Band (Amish), former Chicagoan Ben Vida put down his guitar for a Moog, playing squelchy, squiggly shapes that range delightfully over lean, loping grooves contributed by folks like Joshua Abrams, John Herndon, Dan Bitney, and Jim Baker. In the past few years Vida has also released an eponymous collection of analog-synth duets with fellow Chicago expat Greg Davis and a solo cassette, Patchworks, on Davis's label Autumn. Vida's electronic music doesn't travel back to the 80s a la Emeralds or Oneohtrix Point Never, but rather recalls the pioneering sounds of Morton Subotnick or the League of Automatic Composers. For this concert he'll perform a new work called Piece for Difference Tones (Interrupted) & (Computer Controlled) Analog Sound Objects. Part of the setup involves preset analog patches that intersect digital output to produce what he calls "non-representational sound objects" in the listener's inner ear—waves coaxed into being within the ear canal itself. However dry Vida's terminology, his synth music is an ear-tingling blast, and these exercises in difference tones promise to play tricks on your mind as well as your cochlea. 8 PM, Experimental Sound Studio, 5925 N. Ravenswood, 773-769-1069, $10, $7 members and students. —Peter Margasak
HERCULES See Thursday. 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$217.
YUJA WANG Born in China, trained at the Curtis Institute under Gary Graffman, possessed of phenomenal technique . . . sound familiar? Once flattered by the comparisons to Lang Lang, 24-year-old pianist Yuja Wang now seeks her own identity. Her artistry may still be catching up to her physical skills, but she's determined to be appreciated for more than just flying fingers—though you wouldn't know it from this fiendishly difficult program. She begins with Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli, which is actually based on an old Portuguese melody used by Corelli; it's the only solo piano work Rachmaninov wrote after leaving Russia. The 20 variations are more sober and tightly focused than his better-known pieces, but they can still absorb all the virtuosity and expressiveness that a performer can throw at them. Next comes the real challenge: Schubert's neurotic Sonata in C Minor, D. 958. The first of three sonatas completed in the composer's last months, it's an awkward but powerful piece with an unsettled character that's difficult to capture and balance. Wang opens the second half with a selection of early Scriabin, and she's sensational in these beguiling miniatures. The three finger-benders that close the concert—Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain (arranged by Chernov), Mendelssohn's Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream (arranged by Rachmaninov), and Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre (arranged by Horowitz)—demand to be seen as well as heard. 3 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $17-$75. —Steve Langendorf
DARK TIME SUNSHINE Chicago-based producer Zavala and Seattle rapper Michael Martinez (better known as Onry Ozzborn of Rhymesayers act Grayskul) have been collaborating as Dark Time Sunshine for just a couple years, they've already developed a distinctively insinuating sound: though their soothing, soulful grooves sound like they'd make great background music in a dim, noisy bar, the darkness simmering under their hypnotizing surfaces helps the songs stick in your brain. On the duo's first album, Vessel, and the subsequent Cornucopia EP (both released last year on Fake Four), Martinez raps with almost carefree ease, but his densely narrative lyrics touch on everything from zombies to acid attacks. The humor and optimism in their bleak, eerie songs comes out in part thanks to Zavala's psychedelic-inflected instrumentals, which blend classic breakbeats, avant-garde blasts of noise, and funky samples into a dreamy tableau—Dark Time Sunshine manage to be both corrosive and comforting. The Opus, Void Pedal, and DJ Prat open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 877-435-9849, $12, $10 in advance. —Leor Galil
SALEM With their Ryan-McGinley-goes-to-the-trailer-park looks and trendy witch-house sound—imagine a goth DJ's record collection chopped and screwed—Salem effortlessly leapt from obscurity to indie-music-blog ubiquity. Soon enough, most of the people paying attention to the group went from loving them to ignoring them in favor of the new-new—as is usually the case in these situations—but sticking with Salem has proved interesting. I still find much of last year's King Night (Iamsound) unlistenable, but in a really fascinating way that continues to compel me to put the album on. With their daring way of being tunefully terrible, their ability to attract frequent accusations of exploitative cultural appropriation, and their druggy-cool image, Salem just might be this generation's Pussy Galore. It's about time. Silk Flowers, Neil Jendon, and Fortieth Day + Noise Crush open; How to Dress Well spins a DJ set. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Miles Raymer
HERCULES See Thursday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $33-$217.
YASMIN LEVY On Sentir (Four Quarters), Israeli singer Yasmin Levy puts a sophisticated contemporary spin on her revival of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language that spread throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East after Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492. Thanks to the help of superb Spanish producer Javier Limon, who recently worked on genre-spanning recordings by singer Buika and pianist Bebo Valdes, the album's stylistic flourishes list toward flamenco, though never in predictable ways. A Spanish-language cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is driven by flamenco's traditional cajon and syncopated hand claps ("palmas") but otherwise retains the song's soulfulness; the original "Triste Vals," on the other hand, acknowledges the Middle Eastern modalities present in Ladino music with a Turkish ney intro. Throughout Sentir, Limon and Levy nod to the cultural diversity of the 16th-century Mediterranean, combining sounds of then and now in a celebratory hybrid. 8:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $20, $18 members, $16 seniors and children. —Peter Margasak
NATE WOOLEY, KEN VANDERMARK, AND PAUL LYTTON Though these three musicians were born in three different decades—trumpeter Nate Wooley in 1974, reedist Ken Vandermark in 1964, and percussionist Paul Lytton in 1947—each has had to move beyond a formative involvement with jazz in order to fully realize his potential as an improviser. Lytton went from an apprenticeship in big bands and an abiding love for the John Coltrane Quartet to the junkyard and the workshop; with a kit he constructed from cast-off scraps, army surplus electronics, and homemade drums, the Englishman shattered orthodoxies about what kinds of sounds constituted music. Vandermark transcended his early identity as a free-jazz firebrand by engaging with other genres and immersing himself in the creative processes of visual artists, eventually learning to make music that's about its own state of constant evolution. And Wooley, who grew up in an Oregon fishing town reading Down Beat and spinning jazz LPs, says in his liner notes for Creak Above 33 (Psi), the second recording of his duo with Lytton, that he's found his path by swapping the sureties of jazz for experimental settings where he feels clueless. He certainly never sounds like he's on automatic pilot on Creak Above 33: he matches Lytton's transistor-tortured clatter with tiny squelches and squeals squeezed from the trumpet's innards as well as good old-fashioned growls. Both Wooley and Vandermark have long-standing relationships with Lytton, but tonight will be the first time they've played together: the concert's three sets will be a Vandermark-Lytton duo, a Wooley-Lytton duo, and a Wooley-Vandermark-Lytton trio. Wooley and Lytton will play again at 10 PM on Thursday, March 17, at Elastic (2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor), improvising in a series of small groups with several other local musicians: cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Jason Roebke, percussionsit Michael Zerang, bassist Kent Kessler, saxophonist Dave Rempis, and keyboardist Jim Baker. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $10. —Bill Meyer