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Friday 5

BLUES EXPLOSION Jon Spencer's merry pranksters still know plenty of their great old tricks, and they tear through most of 'em on the new Damage (Sanctuary). But while the record has a big enough sound--jet-engine guitars, Bonham-grade drum assaults--something about it still manages to feel cramped, as though the wide-open spaces of the Explosion's primeval years have been settled and filled in with riffs. And half-assed instrumentals and clumsy rapping aren't the way back out into the wild. The Ponys open. 10 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $17.50, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

LE TIGRE Balancing a post-riot grrrl, pro-queer snarkiness with a sense of playfulness borrowed from the B-52's, Le Tigre's new album, This Island (Universal), expands on the trio's usual melange of personal and political themes. On "Viz," which tackles butch-lesbian identity politics, JD Samson sings: "They call it climbing, and I call it visibility / They call it coolness, and I call it visibility / They call it way too rowdy, I call it finally free." The band's scope becomes global, though, on "New Kicks," a joyously bombastic dance track full of sampled news reports of worldwide antiwar protests and clips of a rousing Al Sharpton speech. The Gossip and Measles Mumps Rubella open. a 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, $21. All ages. --Monica Kendrick

JONATHAN RICHMAN Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love (Sanctuary/Vapor) is Richman's gazillionth solo album, but the first produced entirely by Richman himself. That means even less studio gloss than usual: there are fewer horns and backup singers on the album than he's employed in recent years. But he still puts forth simple, spare, embarrassingly sweet songs filled with observations about life that sound more like hard-earned lessons than platitudes, despite their wholesomeness. Unfortunately, Richman's choice to self-produce means he lacks a collaborator who might enhance his strengths and downplay his weaknesses, and most of the songs feel overly familiar. Perhaps even Richman's tired of his old routines--he sounds the most alive and excited on the album when he's singing in French or Italian. Jesse DeNatale opens. 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $12.50 in advance, $14 at the door. --Monica Kendrick

WARLOCKS This fantastic psychedelic rock band, which spent its early years sharing members with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and touring with the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, turned a lot of heads with last year's Phoenix (Mute/Birdman). My head had already been turned by their 2000 self-titled debut EP, though, and I expect their next album, forthcoming in 2005, to rock me like a candy-colored hurricane. The trippy Dead Meadow joins the Warlocks on the bill, and you can expect a moment of loudness from each band in honor of their early boosters, Greg Shaw and John Peel, both of whom died last month. Shaw, the founder and helmsman of Bomp Records, released the first two Warlocks albums, and Dead Meadow recorded a Peel Session with the legendary British DJ and tastemaker in 2002. Out Crowd opens. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $12. --Monica Kendrick

Saturday 6

HELMET I'm not sure why Page Hamilton felt compelled to resurrect the Helmet moniker for Size Matters (Interscope), his first album under that banner since 1997. The rest of the lineup is entirely new, and Hamilton's involvement in a variety of avant-garde side projects suggests he can think creatively enough to come up with a new name. Plus, time has eroded the power of the Helmet brand; what sounded innovative and arresting in the mid-90s has been diluted by an onslaught of inferior nu-metal imitators. Size Matters definitely outperforms the whole stale mass of Korn-y survivors, but it sounds like it's arrived either too late or too soon for its time. Instruction opens. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $15. --Monica Kendrick

MADELEINE PEYROUX After honing her guitar and vocal skills by busking on the streets of Paris as a teenager, Madeleine Peyroux made a minor splash at 22 with her 1996 debut, Dreamland. Her voice's uncanny similarity to Billie Holiday's attracted wide attention, and her coffeehouse-cool readings of country, blues, and pop standards presaged Norah Jones's multiplatinum version of that formula. But shortly after a tour promoting Dreamland, Peyroux disappeared from the industry, leaving her early promise unfulfilled; a cyst on her vocal cords scotched the recording of a follow-up album, and what was supposed to be a brief convalescence became a lengthy sabbatical. Careless Love (Rounder), released in September, announces her return with a mix of songs similar to those on her debut, but her voice now sounds less like Holiday's and much more like her own. Her band, led by jazz keyboardist Larry Goldings, fuses gentle swing and prewar blues without sounding stiffly archival. Jackie Greene opens. 7 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $22. --Peter Margasak

SILKWORM On Silkworm's ninth album, It'll Be Cool (Touch and Go), the band sounds as assured and muscular as ever, and comfortable enough to mess around with things a little, adding sped-up guitar to "Penalty Box" and weirdo vocal manipulations on "Something Hyper." The music is still grounded in the elegantly lumbering boom of drummer Michael Dahlquist and bassist Tim Midgett's powerful rumble, while guitarist Andy Cohen drops in grinding arpeggios and thick slabs of color. And lyrically Silkworm is still playing brainy games, undercutting apparent themes with last-minute twists: in "Xian Undertaker" a cynical meditation on faith ends with an assertion that the protagonist will get into heaven even if God doesn't exist, and a promise of friendship in "The Operative" is followed with the couplet "You know you're so special / You know I'm insane." MirrorAmerica and Nuees Ardentes open; see the Meter for more on Silkworm. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10. --Peter Margasak

UNCLE WOODY SULLENDER, OLIVIA BLOCK Aside from occasional excursions by guitarists like Eugene Chadbourne and Ivar Grydeland, the banjo has rarely been heard in free improvisation, but Chicagoan Uncle Woody Sullender uses that ax exclusively on his terrific new album, Nothing Is Certain but Death (Dead CEO). Electronics mangle the sound of his picking on a few tracks and nobody will confuse his playing with Earl Scruggs's, but you mostly hear the banjo in all its brittle, twangy glory. Several songs recall John Fahey's lyrical finger-style guitar, while others are delightfully jagged and emphasize the instrument's dry snap; throughout are duets with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, vocalist Carol Genetti, and Jason Soliday, who conjures up an electronic tsunami on one track. According to Sullender, for this gig he'll perform "a composition for string trio and stereo speakers [that] examines different forms of listening and consciousness" with violist Amy Cimini, cellist Kevin Davis, and double bassist Brian Dibblee. Also performing is sound artist and composer Olivia Block in a rare live appearance. In her words, "Heaving To" promises "whipping wind, creaking wood, falling and swirling pieces of amorphous aural debris, violins scattering and horns and winds sounding, all embedded within a storm at sea." A quintet of live musicians will augment Block's meticulous electronic 'scapes. 9 PM, 3030, 3030 W. Cortland, 773-862-3616, $5-$10 suggested donation. All ages. --Peter Margasak

Sunday 7

PETER BROTZMANN CHICAGO TENTET Despite the logistical difficulties inherent in uniting musicians from three different countries, the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet is now the German reedist's most heavily recorded band. This year alone the group has released two CDs, Signs and Images (both Okka Disk), and appeared on one side of Two Lightboxes (Locust Music), an album by cellist and tentet member Fred Lonberg-Holm's Lightbox Orchestra. It's also one of Brotzmann's most versatile ensembles, capable of attacking everything from intricate, swinging unison melodies to entropic free-for-alls. This show, titled Be Music, Night, explores the work of one of Brotzmann's favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen; assisting is occasional Brotzmann collaborator Mike Pearson, who will present the poems through recitation, physical performance, and projected images. This event is part of the Chicago Humanities Festival; see the sidebar in Section 2 for a full schedule. 8 PM, Thorne Auditorium, Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago, 312-494-9509, $10. All ages. --Bill Meyer

GIANT SAND The cloud of 9/11 looms over much of Giant Sand's Is All Over the Map (Thrill Jockey)--"There's more to you now, now that something isn't there," leader Howe Gelb sings on "NYC of Time." A sense of mortality brings out the best in Gelb; on this album his awareness of the gravity of loss balances out the singer-guitarist-pianist's usual penchant for whimsy. And despite the absence of Gelb's longtime rhythm section, Joey Burns and John Convertino (who currently front Calexico), the new one's a worthy successor to Chore of Enchantment (2000), the best release in the band's 19-year discography. The trio of Danish musicians called in to replace Burns and Convertino handles the shifts from dusty country to francophone tango to distortion-splattered rock with aplomb, providing a solid framework from which Gelb's impressive lyrical and instrumental excursions can pop out like broken cartoon bedsprings. The Handsome Family headlines. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $15. --Bill Meyer

MATTHEW SWEET, VELVET CRUSH Even as Matthew Sweet was heading for a personal worst in 2002 as part of the barren soft-rock supergroup the Thorns, he was finding his bearings as a solo artist. Recorded early that year, Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu (initially a Japan-only release) features key players from Sweet's 1991 power-pop classic, Girlfriend--including Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck--and it crackles with that album's catchy directness and intensity. A few months later he started work on Living Things with a similar crew plus legendary art-song oddball Van Dyke Parks; the instrumentation is nearly all acoustic, but the arrangements transcend typical unplugged torpor with a sun-drenched clarity. Both recently out in the U.S. on Superdeformed/RCAM, these albums are Sweet's strongest since 1993's Altered Beast. Menck and Velvet Crush guitarist Paul Chastain (also a longtime Sweet crony) display their ongoing allegiance to the harmonies-plus-crunch aesthetic on the new Stereo Blues (Action Musik); here they'll play in Sweet's backing outfit and take over for a Crush set in the middle of the show. (For more on Velvet Crush see the Meter.) 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212, $23.50. A --Peter Margasak

Tuesday 9

DAUGHTERS This Providence band showed promise on last year's Canada Songs (Robotic Empire), though I think the more accurate word might be "threat." Chaotic, bruising noise like this, with its no-wave-is-good-wave jaggedness and overlapping shrieks, is usually assumed to represent anger. But the band seems to express a toddlerlike glee both in making these barbaric yawps and in recognizing their power to energize and enervate. Tower of Rome opens. 6 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, 773-975-0505 or 800-594-8499, $8 in advance, $10 at the door. All ages. --Monica Kendrick

MARILYN MANSON What a smart, smart man Marilyn Manson is: while most born-ugly people rush to beautify themselves with plastic surgery, he successfully capitalizes on looking icky. Manson's carved a market niche out of offending people with his aesthetic alone, even though his taste in Nazi-style uniforms isn't nearly as provocative as he probably likes to think it is. (Besides, if we're talking fashion, everybody knows the German army had the best outfits.) Repeating "fuck," "rebel," "sex," and "drugs" isn't particularly offensive either--not when you're recording for Interscope and your rage retails at Best Buy--and all the chain-saw guitars, clomp-stomp beats, and white-witch shrieking he employs eventually starts to sound a little moronic. But the excuse for this tour, a best-of album titled Lest We Forget, reminds me that adolescent dopiness has its place--anything that makes me wanna order drive-through Taco Bell and make out in the parking lot can't be all bad. 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, sold out. All ages. --Liz Armstrong

Wednesday 10

FRODE GJERSTAD-BOBBY BRADFORD QUARTET Because Norwegian jazz has long been defined by the chilly aesthetic of ECM Records, alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad spent most of his career playing his ferocious brand of free jazz with musicians outside his homeland. Gjerstad established his career in the early 80s with South African expat Johnny Dyani and Brits like John Stevens and Kent Carter, but he's recently discovered younger Norwegian sidemen, among them explosive drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Oyvind Storesund, who'll play at this gig. But the real treat is great LA cornetist Bobby Bradford, a significant collaborator of Ornette Coleman and clarinetist John Carter. The Texas native's free-jazz style is enhanced by his daunting technical rigor and a keen melodic sensibility, cultivated on LA's Central Avenue bop scene in the 50s. Bradford's swinging approach stands in sharp contrast to Gjerstad's more visceral and abstract pyrotechnics, but the two have worked together sporadically over the years and the results have always been highly focused. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $8. --Peter Margasak

Thursday 11

LUNA As I write this, the moon's coming out of an eclipse. But Luna's heading into one: the band recently announced that its tenth album, Rendezvous (JetSet), will be its last. This is Luna's farewell tour as well--at least until the reunion, which should probably arrive sometime between 2010 and 2015. I've never been a huge fan of the band's moody and uneventful wee-hours rock, but Rendezvous is a fine note to close on: The songs are muted and musing, but they come on confidently, and front man Dean Wareham has learned to give his subtle shifts of color and light more emphasis. The album evokes Yo La Tengo in its quieter mode, or the sly and wistful moments on your favorite early Tom Verlaine album. Palomar opens. a 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-777-8932, $15, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

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