BLACK DICE, 13 & GOD, BLOOD ON THE WALL Last August New York's BLACK DICE played one of the most aimless, self-indulgent sets of music I suffered through all year, so I was heartened to see Aaron Warren confess that the band's had a hard time performing live since drummer Hisham Bharoocha left in early 2004. Stuttering, wobbly electronic beats are front and center on their new album, Broken Ear Record (DFA/Astralwerks), providing a loose armature on which to hang grating synth blubberings, effects-drenched guitar spaz, quasi-tribal chanting, and sine-wave squeals. The vague rhythms give the listener something to grab onto, but it still mostly sounds like a bunch of yobbos way too impressed with their cool effects pedals.
13 & GOD is an unlikely collaboration between various members of whiny Berkeley hip-hop-rock nutjobs Themselves and the elegant Munich post-rock-pop band the Notwist. Their eponymous debut, released earlier this year on Anticon Records, captures the disparity between their styles, but the two groups also improve each other. The piercing nasality of Themselves vocalist Doseone is tempered by the serene crooning of the Notwist's Markus Acher, and the German band, unfortunately toothless in recent times, gets a nice rhythmic kick from the Californians.
On its second album, Awesomer (Social Registry), the Brooklyn trio BLOOD ON THE WALL looks back to the late 80s, when indie rock was more a concept than a sound and labels like Homestead, SST, and Touch and Go were releasing records by scads of inventive posthardcore acts. The band juggles the sound of midperiod Sonic Youth, grinding soft-loud Pixies dynamics, and Yo La Tengo's early Velvets fixation--they're more interested in retracing paths than blazing them, but at least they picked some good maps.
Black Dice headline, 13 & God plays third, Blood on the Wall plays second, and Boy in Static opens. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $15 in advance, $18 at the door, 18+. --Peter Margasak
FATAL FLYING GUILLOTEENS, THIS MOMENT IN BLACK HISTORY, BIRDS OF AVALON Cleveland's THIS MOMENT IN BLACK HOSTORY play with their influences so recklessly they could pass for a knife juggling act. It's a mix of raw backyard R & B as it might sound to a bubble boy, Trout Mask Replica as interpreted by hyperactive Japanese teenagers, and new wave as it might be understood by Norwegian bridge trolls. They're touring in support of a split CD on Gold Standard Laboratories with the Texas-based FATAL FLYING GUILLOTEENS, who play chaotic, slightly glam trash rock, with guitar that stabs you in the ear and a rhythm section that kicks you once you're down for good measure. Also on the bill are Chicago's Red Eyed Legends and North Carolina's BIRDS OF AVALON, a new band featuring Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler, formerly of the Cherry Valence. The Birds are the odd band out here--they play clean, stretched-out, full-on heavy rock leaning without fear on the old rugged cross of the guitar solo. Fatal Flying Guilloteens headline, This Moment in Black History plays third, Red Eyed Legends play second, and Birds of Avalon open. See also Saturday for a second Birds of Avalon show. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $8. --Monica Kendrick
HACKENSAW BOYS This group of college-town Virginians--now down to six members from a high of twelve--got a lot of attention in recent years touring with Cake and working the jam-band circuit. But it hasn't changed them much--they still faithfully play traditional country and bluegrass, and though they express some rather cosmopolitan world-weariness on a few songs on their new album, Love What You Do (Nettwerk), most of the record sounds like it was put out by some county-seat basement label and sold exclusively in grocery stores. Jack Straw opens. 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $10. --Monica Kendrick
HIT & RUN BLUEGRASS Many young musicians have embraced roots music as an antidote to pop artificiality, and that's been good news for bluegrass in recent years. An explosion of young pickers has pushed the genre in new directions, from the stripped-down and raw sound of Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops to the expansive folk-pop of Nickel Creek. Colorado's Hit & Run Bluegrass is a quintet of technically dazzling twentysomethings who play their music straight-up without sounding like reverent revivalists or virtuosic dorks. The group's self-released second album, Without Maps or Charts, mixes modern country vocals--particularly from guitarist Rebecca Hoggan and bassist Erin Coats--and old-timey song forms. Their presentation has a little too much Alison Krauss-style polish for my taste, but the album's an undeniably fine piece of work for such a young group. Iowa's Mike & Amy Finders Band opens this show, which kicks off the new season of the invaluable "Bluegrass Legends" concert series. 8 PM, American Legion Hall, 1030 Central, Evanston, 847-573-0443, $17. All ages. --Peter Margasak
NIKOS KOURKOULIS Greek pop music is a tangle of conflicting aesthetic impulses--traditional rhythms and instruments collide with Western glitz and bombastic pop-star production values. Helena Paparizou, who headlines this show, embodies the worst tendencies of the genre; her treacly "My Number One" won this year's Eurovision song contest, an annual celebration of all that's overwrought and artificial. But the best stuff delivers an exhilarating rush of shamelessly catchy hooks wedded to timeless rhythms. Nikos Kourkoulis is a devotee of new laika music, a slick offspring of rembetika--a gritty Greek urban music that had its heyday in the 20s and 30s--that sets the distinctive sound of bouzoukis and hand percussion alongside electric guitars, strings, and keyboards. Some of the contemporary ballads on last year's Tora (Heaven Music) are painfully sweet, but most of the songs masterfully balance past and present. And Kourkoulis is a superb singer, blessed with precise pitch control that allows him to imbue each heart-on-his-sleeve phrase with subtle quavering and leaping intervals. 8:30 PM, UIC Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison, 312-413-5740 or 312-559-1212, $55-$85. All ages. --Peter Margasak
THE NATIONAL, CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH In an Associated Press article last week about the commercial success of bands like Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie, Spin editor Sia Michel said that "indie rock" no longer merely denotes bands on independent labels. Now it's more a qualitative descriptor for "this kind of smart, but tuneful and passionate kind of rock music." I'd amend that to say it's all of those things plus a lousy singer. So I'll always think of CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH as an indie band, even if they land a major-label deal. (Which seems likely: their self-titled, self-released CD spent two months on top of Insound's sales chart, and it's the online store's all-time best seller.) The music's not awful: "Details of the War" achieves a stormy, Icicle Works-like tension, even if it doesn't quite go anywhere. But Alec Ounsworth's singing is damn near unlistenable most of the time. He's a graduate of the Lene Lovich School of Irritating Vocalists, where they train you to affect a strangled, constantly cracking style--as on "Heavy Metal," where he makes Will Oldham sound like Mel Torme.
THE NATIONAL shed most of their early alt-country and Nick Cave tendencies on their third album, Alligator (Beggars Banquet). Their moody, baleful melodies, combined with Matt Berninger's boozy vocals, make them sound like a midwestern Tindersticks (the five members of this Brooklyn group are originally from Cincinnati). The album's unerringly stolid tone won't boost any heart rates, but it'd provide the perfect ambience for an edgy north-side clothing boutique.
The National headlines both shows. Talkdemonic opens the early one, which is 18+; tickets are $12. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah opens the late show, which is sold out. 7 and 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508. --J. Niimi
SCHIZOWAVE The Chicago cabaret act Schizowave is fronted by Lena Potapova, a Moscow-born, classically trained singer, keyboardist, and songwriter citing a range of influences from Nina Simone to the "kings of metal" in Manowar. On Love, the group's forthcoming EP, her stark, growling drawl is positively castrating, especially on a wicked version of the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk to Fuck." But the band, apart from a penchant for performing in gold and silver masks, plays things relatively straight. Josef Levitus, a skilled flamenco and jazz guitarist originally from Saint Petersburg, plays like a coiled spring, as if there's a core of fierce free-prog indulgence just waiting to get out while he lurks in the slinky arrangements. Drummer Alan Lake and bassist Marc Piane, both veteran jazz players, keep it all anchored in a very dark but sweet-smelling place. 12 Gauge Noise headlines, Schizowave plays third, Drench plays second, and Vendooza opens. See also Saturday and Sunday. 9 PM, the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-0011, $10. --Monica Kendrick
BIRDS OF AVALON See Friday. Gays in the Military headline, Birds of Avalon play third, the Negatives play second, and the Billy Carter Band opens. 9 PM, Silvie's Lounge, 1902 W. Irving Park, 773-871-6239, $5.
NEW MODEL ARMY New Model Army got their start in 1980 alongside a whole crop of anthemic punk-inflected UK bands, but while their peers have either evolved into something unrecognizable (U2), faded away (the Alarm), or were struck down by tragedy (Big Country), New Model Army may have hit a peak with their newest release, Carnival (Attack Attack). For all its art-rock aspirations and poetic lyrics, that simple pub-rock sing-along quality is still in there, lurking in the shadows of synth builds, political manifestos, and odes to an older, wilder time when Pro Tools didn't exist. But a track like "Too Close to the Sun" makes me think future releases might yet find them in Peter Gabriel's "Rhythm of the Heat" territory. Sleepwalker Defense and the Early Risers open. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, 773-975-0505 or 866-468-3401, $12. --Monica Kendrick
SCHIZOWAVE See Friday. The Walkie Talkies open. 7 PM, Reversible Eye Graphic Shop, 1101 N. California, 773-862-1232. Free. All ages.
JOHN CAGE'S MUSICIRCUS First mounted at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1967, John Cage's Musicircus is a deliberately chaotic intersection of music, poetry, theater, dance, and other art forms; there's no overall scheme, just lots of different performances happening simultaneously. More than a hundred acts will collide for four hours throughout the Museum of Contemporary Art building; among the better known participants, all playing for free, are Tiny Hairs, Xianggang Delight, Terry Plumming, Julia Bentley, Panicsville, Lou Mallozzi, George Flynn, Dushun Mosley, the Fulcrum Point New Music Project, John Kannenberg, Hannah Higgins, and the University of Illinois Percussion Quartet. 1 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660. Free. All ages. --Peter Margasak
SCHIZOWAVE See Friday. Zak May headlines. 8:30 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, 773-549-5549, $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
KATE SIMKO, WOODY MCBRIDE, MARCOS ROMERO On the new Glass Cuts (Orange Mountain Music), 13 electronic music producers take on the sweet minimalism of Philip Glass. In theory the project has potential: it's a natural follow-up to Reich Remixed (Nonesuch, 1999), a moderately interesting album where artists like DJ Spooky and Nobukazu Takemura seriously dissected the work of Steve Reich. But in practice it's underwhelming. For financial reasons the musicians didn't have access to Glass's best-known pieces, like Einstein on the Beach, The Photographer, and his sound track to Koyaanisqatsi, so the participants used early work and recent material gleaned from the catalog of Glass's OMM label. But the problems go beyond the source material; most of the remixers deliver tepid techno treatments that do little to investigate the way Glass's pieces progress, which is far more interesting than his snoozy melodies and gauzy voicings. Instead snippets of Glass's music get reduced to drapery for dull ambient techno; only Implog and Taylor Deupree truly muck around with the structure. Three of the project's participants--Chicagoan Kate Simko, Minneapolis's Woody McBride (aka DJ ESP), and Uruguayan transplant Marcos Romero--will perform their pieces from the CD, then do DJ sets. Simko will be accompanied by local harpist Chanel Pease. a 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages. --Peter Margasak
AGAINST ME! The topical songs on Against Me!'s new Searching for a Former Clarity (Fat Wreck Chords) sometimes take on disappointingly predictable targets: "Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners" is actually about the music biz--geez, guys--and there's yet another punk tune about Condoleezza Rice, who seems to rouse an odd fascination in certain young men. But "Justin" is a hair-raisingly powerful take on the case of Justin Ellsworth, a marine killed in Iraq. (Ellsworth's parents sued for the right to access his e-mail account.) Front man Tom Gabel started out playing acoustic protest songs, and it shows--Against Me!'s music has a melodic richness and Americana flavor that remind me of Rank & File. The Epoxies, Smoke or Fire, and the Soviettes open this show, part of a Fat Wreck package tour sponsored by MySpace. 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $13.50. All ages. --Monica Kendrick
DRUMS & TUBA This band's a trio, not a duo, and I've always wondered if guitarist Neal McKeeby feels a little slighted. They're often filed in the party-band bin, but the long, dense songs on their new Battles Ole (Righteous Babe) go off to some very dark places. Adding vocals for the first time, they sound downright furious, moving well away from jokey funk to produce Malcolm McLaren-ish tranced-out grooves and moments of Zeppelin-esque grandeur. Sax, French horn, and organ fill out the sound of the album, which was recorded over two years in the band's home base of New Orleans. Quatre Tete and Amsterdam's zZz (not to be confused with Chicago's ZZZZ) open. 9:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $10. --Monica Kendrick
M.I.A. Maya Arulpragasam is playful, media savvy, and intensely charismatic, and the self-consciously crude visual loops she uses in her stage show--tigers running rampant, miscellaneous martial imagery--even make for a provocative art project. But after months of Internet hype and a last-minute rescue by Interscope, M.I.A.'s Arular debuted at 199 on the Billboard chart--a showing that was sobering, anticlimactic, and just plain unfair. Trust me on this: countless Missy Elliott fans are secretly seeking a spastic mash of Brazilian baile funk, dancehall, and hip-hop with a Sri Lankan agitprop twist--they just don't know it yet. Spank Rock opens. M.I.A. also plays a free in-store at 6 PM in the Virgin Megastore at 540 N. Michigan. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $19.50, 18+. --Keith Harris
THE ROBOT ATE ME On Carousel Waltz (5 Rue Christine), the Robot Ate Me mastermind Ryland Bouchard is more emotionally naked than he was last year on the band's trippier and more explicitly political double album, On Vacation. It's like he's removed not only his clothes but his skin and a layer of muscle tissue as well. Brittle and wavery, his voice has always sounded unabashedly unfinished, and those qualities are intensified here; a few additional musicians fill out the sound with horns and percussion, but it's Bouchard's sensitivity and righteous anger that come through. He's a bit like the guy in that famous photo of a 60s protest rally who's sticking a flower in the barrel of a rifle pointed at him--you want to kiss him and smack him at the same time. But he sounds like he knows precisely how much of himself he's exposing. The Heavenly States headline, the Robot Ate Me plays third, the Bon Mots play second, and Darling opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8 in advance, $10 at the door. --Monica Kendrick
WOLF PARADE Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop), Wolf Parade's debut album, is practically a guided tour of mid-aughts indie-rock devices. It has trauma-pop moves a la Montreal cohorts the Arcade Fire or Modest Mouse (whose singer, Isaac Brock, helped get the band signed and produced the album), some Wilco-esque avant-earnestness, and the sort of David Bowie/Gary Numan vocals the kids seem to like these days. But I'm not complaining: there's nary a bum tune, and with repeated listenings Wolf Parade's all-gray palette starts to shine like a rainbow of gloom. "Modern World" has a delicate poignancy, and the world-of-hurt malaise of "Dinner Bells" and "I'll Believe in Anything" is wrenching yet mesmerizing. The Arcade Fire headlines and Bell Orchestre opens. 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, sold out. All ages. --J. Niimi
WALTER MEEGO See Saturday. This show is a benefit for Riley Savage, a six-year-old kidney transplant survivor. The Changes headline; the Van Allen Belt, Brian McSweeney, Palaxy Tracks, Matt Kerstein & Elia Einhorn, Alison Breitman, Paper Airplane Pilots, Cracklin Moth, Matt Hoffer, the Society, Thax Douglas, the Life During Wartime DJs, and DJ World Class Listener open. 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $10.