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Critics' Choices and other notable shows

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B1G T1ME This local octet, drawn from jazz and rock bands (the Delafields, the Country Melvins, Patricia Barber's quartet, and lots of others), started out as a novelty act—reimagining cheeseball hits of the 80s as fractured-blues hair-raisers in the style of Tom Waits and obvious Waits influences like Howlin' Wolf and Captain Beefheart. But earlier this year they came out of the toolshed as what they really are: a tribute band. Front man Zebulun Barnow, who's honed his showmanship in the Blue Man Group band, is much more than another gravelly-voiced guy with a bullhorn and a porkpie hat, and he and percussionist Chris Anderson bring theremin, trash cans, fire extinguishers, and all sorts of creatively employed junk into the mix. At this point they've got a deep catalog of Waits tunes down—30 and counting. a 10 PM, House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $6-$8. —Monica Kendrick

cEXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY Explosions in the Sky have had an unlikely trajectory. A second-wave post-rock band, they released their first album in 2000, on the heels of the brief period in the mid- to late 90s when epic wordless homage to Slint was a viable trade for some of their predecessors. On early tours they played up their Texan pride, favoring onstage decor that included a cow skull and the Lone Star flag. But their grandiose and complicated take on the old loud-quiet-loud formula—sort of a quiet-quiet-quiet-pretty-quieter-quietest-hint-of-loudness-drum-fill-speeding-up-louder-rumble-rumble-fake-out-rumble-louder-louder-suddenly-quiet-again-(psych!)-superloud-crashing-arc-of-guitar-thunder formula—is what's earned them their audience. Over the course of five albums and the Friday Night Lights soundtrack (to which they contributed 11 of the 14 songs), Explosions in the Sky have gone from favorites of guitar nerds and discerning indie rockers to newly minted icons for jam-band enthusiasts—a loyal bloc that now accounts for much of the quartet's huge live draw. And it's easy to see how that came to be: Phish tours are as rare as daylight comets these days, and nobody wants to come down listening to Moe. Jason Lytle opens. a8 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 866-468-3401, $20, $18 in advance. A —Jessica Hopper

c Leon fleisher and Friends "Suddenly I realized that the most important thing in my life was not playing with my two hands: it was music." At age 37, pianist Leon Fleisher was shattered both professionally and privately by the focal dystonia that crippled his right hand. For decades he found his salvation in championing left-hand-only repertoire, conducting, and especially teaching. Now 80, he's miraculously playing and recording with both hands again. Here he brings together some chamber music heavyweights: violinists Miriam Fried and Donald Weilerstein, violists Kim Kashkashian and Paul Biss, and cellist Frans Helmerson. First on the program is Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, op. 71, no. 2. Less subtle and clever than some of its predecessors, it was written in bold strokes intended for a large public concert hall and features a prominent first violin. The piano part in Brahms's passionate Piano Trio in C Major, op. 87, is wonderfully balanced with his gorgeous string writing and suits the unpretentious Fleisher. Last is Mendelssohn's edgy String Quintet no. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 87, which should surprise those only familiar with his most popular works. a8 PM, Martin Theatre, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $10-$40. —Steve Langendorf

Oumou Sangare - ED ALCOCK
  • Ed Alcock
  • Oumou Sangare

cOUMOU SANGARE The liner notes to Seya (World Circuit/Nonesuch), the extraordinary new album by Malian singer Oumou Sangare, credit more than four dozen musicians, but such is her power and magnetism that even the biggest, most elaborate arrangements register as little more than artful settings for her dazzling jewel of a voice. And despite dashes of Western pop flavor—electric bass and guitar, Hammond organ, plush horn and string sections—the songs retain a deep connection to Malian music in both their core instrumentation and their basic structures. Sangare is from Bamako, at the edge of the Wassoulou region of Mali, where the dominant form of music evolved from traditional hunter's songs; the style has long been dominated by women, a rarity in Africa, and the content of its lyrics has changed to address contemporary social problems. Sangare has always pushed the envelope on that front, artfully confronting taboo topics like forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and doesn't soften her tone on Seya. She's even more effective onstage than on disc: nearly six feet tall even without her headdress, she can communicate both gravity and joy, outrage and sensuality, and she's usually flanked by charismatic women whose singing and dancing redouble her exhortations. The seven-piece band she brings here is led by "Benogo" Brehima Diakite, a virtuoso on the kamele n'goni (literally "lute-harp for young people") who's been Sangare's musical foil for nearly 20 years. a8 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph, 312-742-1168. F A —Peter Margasak

Oumou Sangare's MySpace page
Sunn 0))) - GISELE VIENNE
  • Gisele Vienne
  • Sunn 0)))

cSUNN 0))) All-ruling doom duo Sunn 0))) have thrown down the gauntlet with their seventh studio album, Monoliths& Dimensions (Southern Lord)—and it's less a glove than an armored fist that tunnels straight down to the center of the planet. Though core members Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson can make a mesmerizing record with just guitars and basses, they've long used collaborators to give their massive drones extra layers of color and texture, and here they've invited literally dozens—among the extra instruments are harp, flute, conch shell, hydrophone, and tubular bells. The album's impressive horn section includes trumpeter Cuong Vu and trombonist Julian Priester; Eyvind Kang, playing viola, contributes a perversely macro form of microtonality; a women's choir led by Jessika Kenney, who specializes in Persian classical music and has worked with Wolves in the Throne Room, adds a pulsing, ethereal chant; and other guests include guitarists Dylan Carlson (from Earth) and Oren Ambarchi and vocalist Attila Csihar (from Mayhem and Tormentor). Ambarchi and Csihar are both members of Anderson's side project the Burial Chamber Trio, and Csihar has sung (if that's the word) with Sunn0))) before; he turns in commanding performances on three of the four epic tracks on Monoliths& Dimensions. Every time I think these guys have topped out and can't surprise me anymore, they stomp on my certainty and make charnel-house sculpture out of its broken bones, God bless 'em. The touring lineup is O'Malley, Anderson, Csihar, and Steve Moore, who plays keyboards and trombone on the album. Eagle Twin and Chord open. a9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Monica Kendrick

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cDANIEL LEVIN Cellist Daniel Levin leads a drummerless quartet that's released three albums full of the sort of elegant melodic statements and quietly intense, carefully shaded interactions that give chamber jazz a good name. But his trio on Fuhuffah (Clean Feed)—where he's backed by bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten and drummer Gerald Cleaver—is a straight-up jazz band, no adjectives necessary. Levin fills the same role that horn players like Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman have in similarly stripped-down settings, boldly extrapolating from his own strong melodies over a swinging, muscular rhythm section. Even when he and Haaker Flaten bow in tandem on the folk tune "Hangman," their earthy lyricism and haunted spirituality make me think of Charles Mingus and Albert Ayler. Though he's based in New York, Levin has spent the past three summers in Chicago, and tonight's trio show—with Frank Rosaly subbing for Cleaver and trumpeter Jaimie Branch sitting in for one set—kicks off another seasonal residency. See also Monday and Wednesday. a10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested. A —Bill Meyer

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SONGS FOR PRESIDENTS This project had its genesis in 2006, during February Album Writing Month (FAWM.org), a yearly online songwriting challenge that asks participants to write 14 songs in 28 days. Christian Kiefer, J. Matthew Gerken, and Jefferson Pitcher chose 14 former U.S. presidents apiece and wrote a song about each one; after the month was done, they called in friends like Califone, Bill Calahan, Mark Kozelek, and Alan Sparhawk to polish and expand their demos into last year's Of Great and Mortal Men (Standard Recording), a book and three-CD set covering all 43 presidents, George W. Bush included. (After the 2008 election, they added a tune about Obama on the project's Web site.) The music varies from melancholy gospel to jubilant country-rock; the lyrics are sometimes merely unmemorably verbose, but there are real gems too, like Pitcher's sublimely spacey contemplation of William Howard Taft's medical troubles. Local guests including Jon Langford, Anna Fermin, and Tim Kinsella will round out the band for two local performances, one at the Hideout and the other at Taste of Chicago. See also Saturday. a 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Bill Meyer

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cTERRY ADAMS These days, when artists jumble styles like so much bouillabaisse, it's easy to forget that NRBQ really set the standard for catholicism in rock 'n' roll. Country, free jazz, hard rock, rockabilly—no band better encapsulated the richness of American music. They called it quits four years ago, but keyboardist Terry Adams has kept on chugging: in 2005 he made a jazz record with Sun Ra saxophonist Marshall Allen, and he's continued working with his old NRBQ chums, including original guitarist Steve Ferguson, on 2006's warped roots record Louisville Sluggers (Clang!). He's in pop mode on the excellent new Holy Tweet (Clang!), a trio effort with longtime 'Q drummer Tom Ardolino and a relative youngster, Chicago jack-of-all-trades Scott Ligon. You can hear plenty of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, twang, and more, but this is no retro trip; the shit is in Adams's blood. And unlike many a musical polymath, he manages to keep it simple, fun, and raw—never "pro." Tonight at the FitzGerald's American Music Festival (see page 44), he leads his Crazy Trio—rounded out by Ligon and original NRBQ drummer Tom Staley—with guest saxophonist Jim Hoke. aDoors at noon, set time 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 866-468-3401, $30 at the door ($25 if you arrive by 1 PM), four-day pass $100, all-ages till 10 PM, kids 12 and under $5. —Peter Margasak

The music page at the NRBQ site

SONGS FOR PRESIDENTS See Friday. This set is part of Taste of Chicago; see page 42. a Noon, Taste Stage, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, 312-744-3315. F A

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cRICHIE HAWTIN Richie Hawtin might be the biggest gadget geek in the world of electronic dance music, which is really saying something given how thoroughly technophilia saturates the genre. He was either the first professional DJ to use time-coded blank LPs to control a laptop full of sound files or else he was very close to the front of the line; in the late 90s he contributed to the development of Final Scratch, one of the software packages that's turned the technology into an industry standard. He recently shook up the world of DJ trainspotters—the people who get a special charge out of identifying every last track mixed into a club set—by announcing that he'd added a plug-in to his Traktor DJ suite that would feed that info to his Twitter account in real time. He's been ahead of his time musically too, especially with the minimal techno sound he helped pioneer as Plastikman in the early 90s; in the past couple years it's seen a huge revival, mostly in European clubs but also in the studios of a globe-spanning generation of young producers who are looking to strip techno of its bloat and return it to its Detroit roots. Barem and Ambivalent open. a10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $20. —Miles Raymer

MAN MAN If you'd told me in 1995 that one day I'd like a band led by a singer calling himself Honus Honus who seems to be shooting for a goofied-up hybrid of Tom Waits and Nick Cave—a band that not only resuscitates old-timey swing and skiffle beats but prominently features a xylophone—I would've dumped my Huber in your appletini. But Philadelphia weirdballs Man Man sound more likely to prank call the Squirrel Nut Zippers than to schmooze with 'em. They stuff ten pounds of soul into a five-pound bag, creating jaunty, snazzy tunes so odd and lumpy you almost want to ask them what exactly they were trying to pull off. I guess it's possible they don't even know—full of surreal lyrics, chaotic breakdowns, and tormented trumpet whinnies, their music marches from klezmer freak-outs to sweet oboe solos with a slap-happy urgency. It doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, but that's part of its unlikely charm. Chandeliers open. a 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $15, 18+. —Ann Sterzinger

RICHARD SWIFT Since his previous full-length under his own name, 2007's Dressed Up for the Letdown, LA studio geek Richard Swift has made a series of bizarre stylistic detours: he's released experimental Krautrock-ish soundtracks under the name Instruments of Science & Technology, lo-fi song fragments on the Richard Swift as Onasis double EP, and dabblings with blue-eyed soul and doo-wop on the digital-only EP Ground Trouble Jaw. He's a dilettante for sure, but with the new The Atlantic Ocean (Secretly Canadian) he proves that his gifts for melody and arrangement exert such a powerful pull that they can draw all those experiments together into a cohesive whole—in the end they turn out to be raw materials for his central enterprise, not diversions from it. Swift is still in debt to both the Brill Building era and Motown, but his piano-driven, hook-laden songs bear his own distinct stamp; they're sharply produced, spiked with cynical lyrics, and judiciously ornamented with bits of synth and noise that make his irresistible melodies even more engrossing. Old Lights and Chaperone open. a 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, $10 in advance. —Peter Margasak

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cDANIEL LEVIN See Friday. New York-based cellist Daniel Levin continues his Chicago residency, playing a freely improvised trio set with bass clarinetist Jeff Kimmel and bassist Nate McBride. a7:30 PM, Myopic Books, 1564 N Milwaukee, 773-862-4882. F A

cMAXIMUM WAGE If you enjoyed Ian Adams's playfully caustic pop sensibility in his old drum-machine duo Happy Supply or in the Ponys—where he occupied a sort of Brian Jones role, sans the maracas, drugs, and paternity suits—you should find much to appreciate in this new band. In Maximum Wage he plays with drummer Paul John Higgins from his previous group, the Submarine Races (who released an incredible but sadly overlooked final LP, Hard to Look At, Easy to See, last year on In the Red), and new bassist Ryan Weinstein, Higgins's bandmate from Red Eyed Legends and a vet of Euphone and White Savage, among others. (Full disclosure: Higgins is the Reader's editorial designer.) Adams is responsible for the reverbed 12-string Rickenbacker jangle and sharp but sweet hooks, and the group as a whole is talented and creative enough to pull off nods to both Ray Davies-style foppishness and the Minutemen's open-spirited econo jam. Headlining this free show are locals CoCoComa, fresh from maternity leave (that sounds so much cooler than "back from rehab") and with two new members joining guitarist Lisa Roe and drummer and singer Bill Roe, who made the baby in question: A.J. Cozzi from Radar Eyes on guitar and organ and T.J. Brock from the Half Rats on bass. Tyler Jon Tyler opens. a9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. F —Brian Costello

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Daniel Levin - LUCIANO ROSSETTI
  • Luciano Rossetti
  • Daniel Levin

cJAY-Z Ever since Barack Obama came out as a Jay-Z fan, Hov has seemed hungry to upgrade his status from hip-hop's CEO to something a little more statesmanlike. It was his version of "My President," not Young Jeezy's original, that everyone was quoting on January 20 ("Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk . . . "), and his tribute to the first hip-hop president can actually give you a touch of the spine-tingling hope vibe that a good Barry speech does. On his latest single, "DOA (Death of Auto-Tune)"—from the upcoming The Blueprint 3—he goes straight past presidential to dictatorial, issuing decrees condemning not just Auto-Tune but ringtones and even iTunes over a greasy, jazz-funk-sampling track from Chicago producer No I.D. He may come off like a cranky old man when he goes off on the kids with their tight pants, but he's a more complicated character than that—between his 2008 single with T.I. and Kanye, "Swagga Like Us," which samples M.I.A., and last winter's "Brooklyn Go Hard," where Santigold sings the hook, he looks almost like a closet hipster. Ciara and Fabolous open. a8 PM, Charter One Pavilion, 1300 S. Linn White Dr., Northerly Island at Burnham Harbor, 877-598-8703, $25.75-$200. A —Miles Raymer

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cDANIEL LEVIN See Friday. These two sets should force cellist Daniel Levin to tap into very different aspects of his improvisational personality. First he'll duet with saxophonist Mars Williams, a no-holds-barred blower who never sounds better than in freely improvised contexts like this one. Then he'll join bass clarinetist Jeff Kimmel and percussionist Marc Riordan to play something Levin calls "language pieces," intended to foster conversational improvisations in which the instruments swap roles. John Corbett spins records between sets. a9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer

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