ABIGAIL WASHBURN Stylistic purity doesn't seem to be much of a concern for banjoist Abigail Washburn: on her recent debut full-length, Song of the Traveling Daughter (Nettwerk), she blurs the boundaries between blues, bluegrass, and prewar folk and includes a pair of tunes written and sung in Chinese (she's studied and performed in China). Though she picked up the banjo only three years ago, she writes like a seasoned folklorist and has annotated her liner notes with information about the tunes she's adapted or that inspired her; her sources are the likes of Dock Boggs and Blind Willie Johnson. A number of string players, including coproducer Bela Fleck, add twangy layers to the recordings, but Washburn's voice--a striated cry that suggests a less ethereal Emmylou Harris--carries the music. The Evanston native performs with cellist Ben Sollee. Chris Smither headlines. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $20, $16 seniors and kids. All ages. --Peter Margasak
JOHN WESLEY HARDING'S LOVE HALL TRYST Earlier this year singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding published a long, dense, fanciful novel about gender and the search for love, Misfortune, under his real name, Wesley Stace. (I reviewed it back in April.) To accompany it, last month he released Songs of Misfortune (Appleseed), a song cycle of traditionals and originals that fit the themes of the book, performed by Harding with Kelly Hogan, Nora O'Connor, and actor-singer Brian Lohmann as the Love Hall Tryst. Their interpretations are loose--only Leonard Cohen's "Joan of Arc" resembles something like a cover--but what really sets the group apart is their (mostly) a cappella approach. The four sing twisted, braided harmonies that turn the familiar into the unearthly and back again, much as Harding's book does. 7 and 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $18. --Monica Kendrick
DEAD 60S Though these Liverpool lads put out their self-titled debut LP this May in the U.S., it won't be out till September in the UK--and consequently they've been beating the stateside circuit like a rug all summer, playing Lollapalooza, a leg of the Warped Tour, and a string of dates supporting the Bravery. The aforementioned LP plays a bit like a random assemblage of hooks and riffs from several different Clash records, without anything that stands out much for awfulness or for brilliance. The single "Loaded Gun" is pretty catchy, though, and in the band's defense they do at least sound like Clash records are their natural vocabulary. Walking Concert opens. 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $10. --Monica Kendrick
SLOW DAZZLE, PICASTRO Though Picastro occasionally sound like they've been hitting the cough syrup awfully hard, the Toronto quartet's grasp of instrumental color and dynamics on their new album, Metal Cares (Polyvinyl), is so exquisite and alert that the torpid rhythms feel like part of an elegant high-wire act. Front woman Liz Hysen, who accompanies herself on violin, guitar, and piano, sings in a vulnerable, wide-open voice that recalls Cat Power's Chan Marshall, but the gorgeous psych-tinged folk rock behind her is steady and assured--a beguiling mix of pump organ, cello, viola, and drums that those New Weird Americans could learn a thing or two from.
In Slow Dazzle, Shannon McArdle and Timothy Bracy take a break from the rocking indie pop of the Mendoza Line and crack open a chill, narcotic brew. Their debut, The View From the Floor (Misra), is moody and listless, with the pair trading catatonic vocals over circular, tranquilizing grooves. They have some of the Velvet Underground's trance-inducing splendor but none of the propulsiveness, and at their most lethargic they sound like a Mazzy Star cover band that tried to strike out on its own.
Slow Dazzle headlines, Grimble Grumble plays second, and Picastro opens. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8. --Peter Margasak
SPOTTISWOODE & HIS ENEMIES Like a wired Bryan Ferry fronting the Incredible String Band, but with horns like the Dresden Dolls use sometimes--oh, never mind. A mere simile's got no chance against this New York group's latest, Building a Road (High Wire), where English front man Spottiswoode takes on Leonard Cohen's tortured style of confronting the spiritual and the carnal simultaneously, realizes it all comes from the blues and the Bible anyway, and heads straight for the Source, high probability of annihilation be damned. He comes out of it with his hair barely ruffled. Thomas Pace opens. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door. --Monica Kendrick
D12 On their second album, 2004's D12 World (Shady/Interscope), D12 reprised their mix of fetishistic gun talk, venomous misogyny, and whatever they figured would get you to spit out your drink, all of it draped more often than not in Eminem's melodramatic production. But their camaraderie and shared history--they're clearly having fun playing off one another--give the songs a synergistic kick. There's also less of a discrepancy between Eminem's rhymes and his comrades' than there was on 2001's Devil's Night, though that's more Em's doing than theirs--his lyrics have felt more phoned-in than lashed-out lately. A few of D12's members have ventured away from the flock in the past few months, with mixed results. When Bizarre, the group's shower-cap-wearing misfit, peppers D12 albums with gross-out buffoonery, it's funny; when he pours it on nonstop for the whole length of his new Hannicap Circus (Sanctuary), it's painful. But Proof makes good use of the extra breathing room on his solo debut, Searching for Jerry Garcia (Iron Fist), sounding more authoritative and charismatic than ever. 7 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $18.50 in advance, $20 at the door. All ages. --Kabir Hamid
KOUFAX, OLD HAUNTS Hard Times Are in Fashion (Doghouse) is the third album by the quartet Koufax, and as the title suggests, the Pope brothers (late of the Get Up Kids) are still deep into arch pop that's defined by how shallow it is. No Wildean wit here, though: the best they can manage on numbers like "Colour Us Canadian" ("anything but American") is forced charm.
Olympia's Old Haunts released their first full-length, Fallow Field (Kill Rock Stars), in the spring, and it blasts through all Koufax's favorite poses and then some with a giddy, delirious, nervous energy--they're charming like a creative and curious toddler for whom you're not personally responsible.
Koufax headlines, Devin Davis plays third, Interiors play second, and the Old Haunts open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, 773-975-0505 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, 18+. --Monica Kendrick
LIZ PHAIR Perhaps the strangest thing about Liz Phair's career these days is the fact that she scares the shit out of so many people. Even in 2005, apparently, a smart feminist who's sold more than a million records can end up on the receiving end of a big steaming heap of scorn and revulsion--dished out by critics and plebes alike--just for writing a few MOR tunes about being a 38-year-old divorced mom who likes to, you know, do it. What makes this reaction even weirder is that her fifth album, Somebody's Miracle (forthcoming in October on Capitol), is just as inoffensively poppy as anything by Sheryl Crow. Classy and sweet, it's an unmistakable return to Phair's late-90s form--no Top 40 playlist pandering this time--though the big-budget production still makes it sound like the sort of thing you'd hear in the dressing room at Express. Mat Kearney opens. See also Thursday. 8 PM, Black Orchid, 230 W. North, 312-944-6200 or 312-559-1212, sold out. --Jessica Hopper
CHUCK PROPHET Last year's charming Age of Miracles (New West) showed off the variety of pop, soul, and blues forms that roots singer-guitarist Chuck Prophet can shape in the studio. Two live albums that've come out since then capture him in a rawer, more direct mode, rearranging and reimagining his catalog: Turn the Pigeon Loose (Cooking Vinyl), now in wide release after a limited-edition version came out in 2001, is a recording of his band from shortly after the release of 1999's The Hurting Business, and the bootleg As Seen on TV (Wonderama Recordings) collects his recent European television appearances. After this show Prophet heads to Tucson to play a one-off reunion gig with his old cowpunk band Green on Red--the first performance featuring the band's classic lineup since the late 80s. Local power-pop quartet Clearly & the Mainstream open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. --Bob Mehr
SKELETONS & THE GIRL-FACED BOYS Pop is supposed to sound effortless, which is one of the reasons I'm usually wary of popular avant-pop acts. Too many of them seem to want to make it clear just how hard they've worked to sound unaffected--you can hear all the research that went into getting the references right, and they manage to come across as guilelessly spontaneous without doing anything clumsy or rash or silly. Feh. Matt Mehlan's solo project Skeletons merges with a backing band, the Girl-Faced Boys, for the first time on "Git" (Ghostly International), and it clicks because the collision of sweet pop and weird noise (from drum machines, vintage synths, guitars, etc) sounds honestly organic. Here, things can go wrong and it's all right--nobody's looking askance at the musical equivalent of a fart joke in the middle of a tasteful Eno-tropicalia homage. Princess and Fa She Monde open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. --Monica Kendrick
LIZ PHAIR See Wednesday. Mat Kearney opens. Phair plays a third show on Friday, August 26, also at the Black Orchid, with opener Cary Brothers; it's sold out as well. 8 PM, Black Orchid, 230 W. North, 312-944-6200 or 312-559-1212, sold out.