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Critics' Choices and other notable shows

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BENGA Of all the styles that have built on the drum 'n' bass beat—everything from glitchy IDM to post-Timbaland hip-hop—the genre's most legitimate spiritual heir is dubstep. It put the brakes on the frantic tempos of drum 'n' bass, steered it toward its roots in dub reggae, and sunk what was already a frequently dark style right into the Challenger Deep. Benga's 2008 Diary of an Afro Warrior (Tempa) is a good place for dubstep novices to jump aboard. Its beats stutter less recklessly than some, its synths are big and wobbly but not overwhelmingly dense, and Benga—much like drum 'n' bass great LTJ Bukem—is good at cooking up a pleasantly spacey vibe and working uncheesy touches of jazz into the mix. XI and Phaded vs. Chris Widman open. a 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $15, $10 before midnight. —Miles Raymer

VIC CHESNUTT Vic Chesnutt didn't have to go far for his latest collaboration, 2008's Dark Developments (Orange Twin)—it's a sweet little album with Elf Power, who share his hometown of Athens, Georgia. The Elephant 6 psychedelic treatment gives a golden lift to Chesnutt's sardonic and often depressing lyrics—Dark Developments stands in sharp contrast to North Star Deserter, the beautifully bleak 2007 record he made in Montreal with a whole crowd of Constellation Records folks, including members of Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Chesnutt isn't bringing Elf Power on this trip—they've already taken two substantial tours together—but onstage he's as wry and engaging as he's ever been, so you probably won't miss them. Jonathan Richman headlines; see also Friday. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Jessica Hopper

cDVORAK FESTIVAL The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is closing its season with a three-week celebration of Antonin Dvorak called "Echoes of a New World," the most ambitious festival dedicated to one composer the orchestra has ever staged. Running through June 20 (it's already under way), it showcases the great Czech's distinctive combination of brilliantly inventive melodies, Slavic elements, and passionate Romanticism. Tonight's concert features Dvorak's Cello Concerto (one of the festival's must-hear works, repeated June 19) with 26-year-old soloist Alisa Weilerstein, as well as the orchestral pieces In Nature's Realm and Symphony no. 8. The other don't-miss orchestral piece is the famous Symphony no. 9, From the New World (also performed June 19), with its Native American and African-American melodies, but beginning June 13 there's also a sampling of Dvorak's chamber music (including the exhilarating Piano Quintet op. 81) courtesy of the venerable Emerson String Quartet, pianist Jeffrey Kahane, and violist Paul Neubauer. On June 18 and 20, superb soprano Patricia Racette joins the CSO to sing several operatic excerpts (including the sublime "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka) and star in the massive choral work Te Deum; the same program also includes the stunningly sweet Romance for Violin and Orchestra, with soloist Rachel Barton Pine. Festival director Sir Mark Elder conducts. For complete listings go to cso.org/dvorak; see also Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. a8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $17-$199. A —Barbara Yaross

cMAYHEM A fair number of people outside the metal scene now consider black metal an art form, which is great, but bands like Mayhem can't have had that in mind when they started—they just wanted to sound as fucking evil as possible, and they really, really do. Mayhem's 1994 masterpiece De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is a murky maelstrom of blurry-fast drums, gnashing guitars, and the hideous vocals of Attila Csihar, who forgoes the usual slate-gray shrieking in favor of howls, croaks, gurgles, and moans that are even more frightening for being more human—it sounds a lot like that recording floating around the Internet that's supposed to be of damned souls in hell, picked up by microphones in a deep-drilling rig run by Russian geologists. And you can't beat the album's horrific backstory: vocalist Dead killed himself while the band was writing it (Csihar sings his lyrics), and bassist Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnackh of Burzum, stabbed guitarist Euronymous to death before its release. On this tour Csihar, longtime drummer Hellhammer, original bassist Necrobutcher, and two road guitarists calling themselves Morfeus and Silmaeth will play material from Mayhem's entire discography, including the four studio albums since De Mysteriis—the bulk of which were written by recently departed guitarist Blasphemer. And Csihar, who's also touring with Sunn0))) in July, is selling Life Eternal (Saturnus/Season of Mist), a limited-edition CD of five tracks from the demo version of De Mysteriis with Vikernes's bass parts, buried in the mix after Euronymous's murder, at their original level. Nachtmystium, Lair of the Minotaur, and Yakuza open. a6 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $24.50-$29. A —Miles Raymer

cGHISLAIN POIRIER Not to belittle the people who make lazer bass, but the reason I like it is because it sounds like all they do is pile every good kind of ass-shaking music on top of every other good kind of ass-shaking music. It's largely a product of Montreal's rowdy and excellent party scene, where the crowds go equally nuts for pretty much anything DJs throw their way—crunk, hip-hop, dancehall, soca—a state of affairs that seems to have inspired DJ-producers like Ghislain Poirier to try to play them all at once. New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones coined the term "lazer bass" specifically in response to the 2007 remix of Poirier's "No More Blood" by fellow Montrealers Megasoid, and it's still the form's high point: druggy-slow 808 thumps, a backbeat like somebody slapping a street sign with a chain, dive-bombing analog bass synths, noises like a dozen Nintendos having simultaneous breakdowns, and an antiviolence rap by Face-T that at Poirier's gigs has reportedly provoked whatever the happy version of a riot is. He's joined here by MC Zulu. DJ Intel headlines; Daedelus, Poirier, and Rene Romero open. a9 PM, Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand, 312-666-1695, $10. —Miles Raymer

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VIC CHESNUTT See Thursday. Jonathan Richman headlines. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15.

cPJ HARVEY & JOHN PARISH Many reviewers have taken it upon themselves to remind us that A Woman a Man Walked By (Island), PJ Harvey's latest collaboration with John Parish, shouldn't be taken as simply a PJ Harvey record with a different person playing the instruments—and she herself has been careful to defer to Parish. But she's still furiously PJ, and she's never been the type of performer who can wait in the wings; by her nature she dominates the stage, commanding our full attention. That said, she does follow the mutable shapes of Parish's licks and song structures; her voice shrinks and expands to fit his strange turns, all the while retaining its singular personality. On the title track, she squeals "Stick it up your fuckin' ass" in a witchy, fluttery falsetto that turns into a growl thick with mocking relish—this is certainly the PJ we have come to know and love these past 20 years. a7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, $35. A —Jessica Hopper

cISIS The brightest star in the firmament of progressive metal, Isis has been making variations on the same record for almost a decade, but that's hardly a liability—I mean, nobody was like, "Come on, Faberge, lay off with the eggs." Like its predecessors, last month's Wavering Radiant (Ipecac) is architectural in structure and detail, simultaneously grandiose and hermetic, so that listening to it feels like exploring the ruins of an alien temple—but where 2006's In the Absence of Truth brought to mind ornate mosaics and tangles of half-buried statuary in an uninhabited desert, the new one is all marble columns and plates of brass at the bottom of the sea. Isis wields its power with such restraint and precision that a single perfectly chosen chord change in "Hall of the Dead" can work as a climax to the angelic fury of the final chorus—nothing follows that sting but a long, ringing fade, and nothing ought to. The vocals, dwarfed by towering guitars on 2004's Panopticon, continue to creep up into a more conventional place in the mix, which annoys me—but that unfortunate choice is offset by the addition of a deeply excellent keyboard sound, as stately and penetrating as the 16-foot stops on a pipe organ. The album is big enough to climb inside and stand up in, and when Isis unfolds its songs to their full height onstage you can't even see the top of them. Opening are the mighty Pelican and Cleveland's sorely underappreciated Keelhaul, whose fourth album, Keelhaul's Triumphant Return to Obscurity, is forthcoming on Hydra Head. a8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $18, $15 in advance, 18+. —Philip Montoro

DALE WATSON Texas-based guitarist and singer Dale Watson has always been a dyed-in-the-wool honky-tonker, and he's long reserved part of his repertoire for trucker songs, that peculiar subgenre of honky-tonk made famous in the 60s by the likes of Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Dick Curless, and Red Simpson. But with The Truckin' Sessions Vol. 2 (Hyena), Watson has exhausted this homage to life behind the wheel of a big rig—two collections of trucker songs from one guy, even a decade apart, is a little much, and many of the best tunes on the new one, like "Hey Driver" and "Truckin' Man," have appeared on earlier albums. Still, no matter what the material, Watson stays faithful to the sound and spirit of hard-core country—at this point in his career, with his flicker of alt-country fame long extinguished, he's making music for true believers. Fulton County Line opens. a 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $12. —Peter Margasak

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SARAH BORGES & THE BROKEN SINGLES For the past few years Boston's Sarah Borges has been refining a hybrid of the indie rock she grew up loving and the country music that's fascinated her lately. Her third album, The Stars Are Out (Sugar Hill), is her most mature and sophisticated yet, but fortunately that doesn't mean she felt obliged to stop backing and forthing and focus on one genre—as she proves with a killer reworking of Smokey Robinson's classic slow jam "Being With You," she puts her instinct for a good song first. Though I'm not crazy about the watered-down Joan Jett vibe of the opener, "Do It for Free," the rest of the album expertly balances zippy power pop (including a version of Any Trouble's "Yesterday's Love"), twangy retro numbers, and even some moody ballads (among them the record's most unlikely cover, the Magnetic Fields' "No One Will Ever Love You"). What makes it all work is Borges's voice—alternately sweet, raspy, howling, and soulful—and the unflashy playing of new guitarist Lyle Brewer. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson headline. a 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $25, $20 in advance. —Peter Margasak

cDVORAK FESTIVAL See Thursday. The Emerson String Quartet opens tonight's concert with String Quartet op. 97, followed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Midday Witch and Symphony no. 3; this program is repeated on Tuesday. a8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $17-$199. A

ANTHONY HAMILTON On last year's terrific The Point of It All (So So Def) Anthony Hamilton makes his most convincing defense yet of old-school southern-soul verities. Though he's best known for singing hooks on hip-hop cuts and his own records use hip-hop production—looped breaks, programmed beats, guest raps—he flies in the face of hip-hop culture's hedonistic materialism and mania for instant gratification, singing love songs where the words "courtship" and "relationship" wouldn't sound out of place. Aided by a tight coterie of producers, Hamilton writes fully formed tunes, complete with choruses and bridges—no verse-hook-verse-hook structures here—and unlike many contemporary R & B singers he steers clear of empty melismatic fluff. His churchy vocals, precise and emotionally powerful, hark back to the likes of Bobby Womack and, to a lesser degree, Curtis Mayfield, but the total package doesn't sound the slightest bit retro. Musiq Soulchild opens. a 8 PM, Arie Crown Theater, McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-791-6190 or 312-559-1212, $47.50-$67.50. A —Peter Margasak

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cJEFF ALBERT QUARTET New Orleans trombonist Jeff Albert has been a frequent visitor ever since he landed in Chicago after Hurricane Katrina. He soon returned home, but two other Crescent City musicians who'd made the trip, drummer Quin Kirchner and bassist Matthew Golombisky, stayed here; in early 2006 the three of them (and four Chicagoans) formed the Lucky 7s, who have a new album, Pluto Junkyard, out on Clean Feed. Even before Katrina, Albert was working to absorb the influence of free jazz—a genre that rarely takes root in his hometown, with its tradition of celebratory street-parade and dance-band jazz—and the prevalence of those more abstract strains in the Chicago scene has had an unmistakable influence on the excellent new album by his New Orleans quartet. The tunes on Similar in the Opposite Way (Fora Sound), all Albert originals, burst with energy and ideas: the players embrace their New Orleans heritage with wonderful multilinear improvisation that's reminiscent of Dixieland-style simultaneous soloing, even as they explore the sort of less structured postbop that's popular with Chicago's Umbrella Music community. Albert has a wonderfully fat, buttery tone and a highly melodic style; drummer Dave Cappello and bassist Tommy Sciple make for a limber, funky rhythm section; and saxophonist Ray Moore is not only an excellent foil for Albert but also a forceful, inventive soloist in his own right. The Engines headline. See also Monday. a10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

cGORAN BREGOVIC & HIS WEDDING AND FUNERAL ORCHESTRA Goran Bregovic may not ever shake the controversy that accompanied his rise to superstardom—Boban Markovic and Esma Redzepova have accused him of taking full credit for songs he cowrote with them—but the fact remains that his savvy distillation of various Romany musics into a punchy, potent contemporary style has helped connect even relatively traditional Balkan artists to a global audience. On the new Alkohol (Wrasse), his first U.S. release, he and a tight ten-piece band rip through a variety of traditional themes that he's adapted to varying degrees, presenting the raw electric thrill of Balkan brass in a refined and sophisticated guise. Most of the album was cut live in 2007 at the fabled Serbian brass-band festival in Guca—a fraught setting, given the suspicious eye the fest's hard-core audience casts upon popularizers—and Bregovic's group sure sounds like it had something to prove. He shares vocal duties on many tunes with a pair of strong female singers, and throughout the disc he underlines the razor-sharp horn charts—driven by fat-sounding beats from Alen Ademovic's two-headed tapan drum—with tasteful electric-guitar lines. You can hear touches of his rock-band past on a few tracks, and DJ Shantel of Bucovina fame adds a touch of electro to "Gas Gas Gas," but by and large Bregovic doesn't try to rethink traditional Balkan music so much as amp up its power. He made his North American debut here in 2006 with a 43-member ensemble, and though this time he's only bringing 19 musicians I still expect a knockout spectacle. a7 PM, Pavilion, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $10-$40. A —Peter Margasak

cDVORAK FESTIVAL See Thursday. Tonight's concert features the Emerson String Quartet performing two string quartets, op. 96 and op. 106; it's then joined by pianist Jeffrey Kahane for the Piano Quintet op. 81. a3 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $22-$96. A

cSTAN MOSLEY Soul-blues singer Stan Mosley is clearly influenced by Bobby Womack, but he's no mere imitator. His coruscating timbre is rougher than Womack's, and the emotional fire that charges his voice—a combination of streetsy toughness and disarming vulnerability—is entirely his own. Mosley's new album, I'm Comin' Back (CDS), showcases his versatility as well as his chops: on up-tempo numbers he attacks the groove with leathery shouts that recall James Brown, and on ballads his choked delivery conveys both anguish and compassion. Though he mellows out on the bouncy, danceable title tune, his soft-edged croon has all the focus of his more aggressive vocals as he promises his lover he'll mend his ways this time. His onstage demeanor underlines that blend of good-natured roguishness and heartfelt sincerity: his self-confidence stops just short of arrogance, and his warm smile and insinuating body language make it plain that, despite the gritty subject matter of some of his songs, this is a party for lovers. a9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, 773-342-0452, $15. —David Whiteis

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cJEFF ALBERT QUARTET See Sunday. a10 PM, Skylark, 2149 S. Halsted, 312-948-5275, donation requested.

cJAMES BLACKSHAW Though he's a virtuoso on the 12-string, British guitarist James Blackshaw isn't showy about his talent: his approach, which borrows from fingerstyle innovators like Robbie Basho and John Fahey, is intricate but restrained. In pieces that have grown more structured and rigorous from one album to the next—he has an impressively large discography for someone still shy of 30—he's developed a swirling sound that uses the patient, meticulous organization of detail to hypnotic effect. On the new The Glass Bead Game (Young God), Blackshaw attempts his most elaborate arrangements yet, enlisting guests Joolie Wood (violin, clarinet, flute) and John Contreras (cello), both Current 93 vets, as well as Lavinia Blackwall on wordless vocals. The opener, "Cross," works Blackshaw's fleet arpeggios and fingerpicked solos into layers of lulling, mahogany-dark strings, creating a lush, immersive mesh where his formidable technique never distracts your ear from the total effect. Blackshaw focuses on piano for two of the album's five tracks, including the epic "Arc," but so far his skills on the instrument are adequate only for the supplementary overdubs he added to earlier albums, not for carrying the whole weight of a song—he sounds like a low-rent Satie, and next to his fluid guitar work his piano playing feels plodding and clumsy. Given how quickly he's evolved as a guitarist in just four years, though, I wouldn't be surprised if he became a proper pianist in short order. Greg Davis& Chris Weisman open. a9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak

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cDVORAK FESTIVAL See Thursday. The Emerson String Quartet opens tonight's concert with String Quartet op. 51, followed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Midday Witch and Symphony no. 3. a7:30 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $17-$199. A

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