ERIC BIBB Eric Bibb paints from a broad palette: he plays traditional and contemporary folk, acoustic variations on old-school R & B, funk, and soul, and stripped-down rock 'n' roll as well as blues and gospel. It's an eclectic catalog, and there's a whiff of dilettantism about it--at times he sounds like Taj Mahal trying to sound like Josh White trying to sound like Leadbelly. But when he's not trying so hard on his latest, A Ship Called Love (Telarc), the music's very effective. Love songs like "I'll Never Lose You" and "Like Aretha Loves to Sing," with their willowy picking and gently propulsive rhythms, gracefully capture the bittersweet, angst-tinged intensity of romantic commitment; on "The Way You Are," where he encourages a woman to reject society's standards of beauty, his low-key delivery keeps the song from sounding overly earnest. His lyrics can be cloying ("I don't mean race, color, or religion / But being united by a common decision and vibe"), but his textured vocals evoke a range of emotions that somewhat redeems the treacly sentiments. John Mayall headlines, Robben Ford plays second, and Bibb opens. 8 PM, Hemmens Cultural Center, 150 Dexter, Elgin, 847-931-5900, $30-$60. All ages. --David Whiteis
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE Broken Social Scene have finally released Broken Social Scene, their long-awaited follow-up to the 2003 breakthrough You Forgot It in People, but lest you think their sudden lapse in album-titling ability heralds a paucity of ideas within, fear not. This is so dense and prolix that listening all the way through in one go is like eating yourself so sick on cotton candy at a county fair down south that you can no longer outrun the kudzu that wants to grow all over you. And there are moments, like "Handjobs for the Holidays," where it almost sounds like they know they've lost control of their addiction to comically ambitious arrangements. Feist opens. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $22, 18+. --Monica Kendrick
RHETT MILLER I'm sure Rhett Miller is a sweet guy, but going back and listening to his 2002 album, The Instigator (Elektra), it's all too clear why his solo career didn't take off: from its circa 1979 pouty-faced cover close-up to its circa anytime heartland lite rock, he just didn't have enough firepower to distinguish himself. Alive and Wired (New West), the new live double CD by Miller's band, the Old 97's, is full of exactly what his solo effort was missing: excitement. It's good to know that if he's going to keep taking these solo flights, at least he has a good base to come back to. Griffin House opens. 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $15. --Monica Kendrick
SAMPLES Almost pretentiously unpretentious, the Samples have met nearly every trend during their 13-year career with the stolidity of a rock in a stream; their lot falls somewhere between "potential 'XRT classic" and "thinking man's Dave Matthews." They're touring in support of the new DVD edition of Seventeen, a live recording featuring main songwriter Sean Kelly and guitarist Tom Askin as an acoustic duo, as well as their latest studio album, Black and White. Frisbie opens. See also Saturday. 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $20. --Monica Kendrick
GWEN STEFANI We're all so dazzled by Gwen Stefani's multiculti sluttiness, killer style, and willpower that no one's much concerned that the empress isn't wearing much clothing. She can sing when she wants to, though sometimes it really sounds like she needs to blow her nose, but she sure as hell can't write: her lyrics and rhythms are downright awkward. She's practically a grandma compared to the other ladies who flash their tum-tums on a regular basis, but her geeky self-assuredness and refusal to grow up is somehow endearing and inspiring, like if you only practiced in front of the mirror long enough you could be just like her. Black Eyed Peas open. 7:30 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont, 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212, sold out. All ages. --Liz Armstrong
BEST OF PAIN The Empty Bottle's Web site is billing the Best of Pain, Bobby Conn's new project with members of Baby Teeth, as a Bread tribute band. Conn, for his part, will say only that it features "the most extreme, most challenging, and most disturbing music I have ever attempted. I predict that no one will forget the performance or leave unchanged by the experience." So whether he does or doesn't cover "Baby I'm-A Want You," somebody's sensibilities are bound to be offended. Detholz! headlines and Cheer-Accident plays second. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. --J. Niimi
GALACTIC INMATE One afternoon I was in bed with my girlfriend, y'know, crashing the custard truck. We had the radio tuned to the Haitian show, and soon we collapsed, drifting off to the lulling Caribbean rhythms and warm voices. After a long peaceful snooze I awoke to a darkened room and someone screaming: "Too much too much too much too much Johnson! / Too much Johnson, you forgot your pants! / I wanna be a naked ice dancer! / I wanna be the king of France!" The soothing Haitian music had been replaced by a loud, sloppy punk band doing a live-to-air performance. Later I found out it was the local band Galactic Inmate, which features members of 36 Invisibles and the Camaro Rouge. They haven't made a record yet, but their hilarious five-song demo recalls the flailing riffs and back-of-the-class antics of the Dicks and Fear. As mood music, though, it blows. Pedestrian and Young Mens Dept open. 9 PM, Cal's, 400 S. Wells, 312-922-6392, $5. --J. Niimi
SAMPLES See Friday. Backyard Tire Fire opens. 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $20.
HELSINKI TRIO The sound elements of the multimedia piece Count the Stars/Neglected Rooms are the work of Werner Dafeldecker and Burkhard Stangl, key figures in Vienna's experimental music scene; Didi Bruckmayr, vocalist for the multimedia performance group Fuckhead, designed the video. After reading a description of the methodology behind the piece at Bruckmayr's Web site, I still can't say I fully understand what they're up to. The score is said to be derived from analysis of "electromagnetic radiation, sent by stars, pulsars, black holes, etc," which was also used to create audio files that interact with a percussionist's live performance of the score; meanwhile, processed images of outer space move and morph in response to the audio signal. Got that? But if a related four-minute piece viewable online is any indication, the final product has an otherworldly beauty; the herky-jerk alien percussive sounds trigger an abstract array of fragmented orbs, streaking lines, and milky squiggles. A portion of Count the Stars will be performed here by its creators; then the minimalist Viennese trumpeter Franz Hautzinger--Dafeldecker and Stangl's collaborator in the Helsinki Trio--will join the others for a set of improvisation. This is the final program in this year's Sound Field festival. a 6 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages. --Peter Margasak
KOOL HERC It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to call DJ Kool Herc the Louis Armstrong of hip-hop, or even its Prometheus. Herc moved to the Bronx from his native Kingston, Jamaica, in 1967 at age 12, bringing with him the concept of the sound system: a portable loudspeaker, turntable, and mike rig that reggae DJs would set up at outdoor parties. By the mid-70s, Herc was hosting sound system parties of his own, spinning soul, funk, and R & B instead of reggae and dub. But Herc retained the Jamaican DJs' practice of "toasting," sending stylized shout-outs to his friends in the crowd, who'd respond in kind, and these grew into raps. Herc is also credited with inventing the breakbeat--the result of manipulating and cross-fading two copies of the same record to prolong a song's funky instrumental breakdown. It was only a short jump from there to another innovation, the "merry-go-round," in which he'd splice together short sections from different records. This was effectively the beginning of sampling, meaning all the ingredients for hip-hop were now in the mix. Ironically, Herc has never released a record of his own. He headlines here; the bill also includes Booda Blaou & Mic One, Dynamic Vibrations, Jitu & Lord Cashus D, Garden Music, iRon, Animal Cracker, A8 All-Stars, GQ tha Teacher, Layman, Ryan Officer, and Steph Staa. See also Monday. 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door. --J. Niimi
KOOL HERC See Sunday. Lady Kier headlines, Major Taylor opens. a 9 PM, Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand, 312-666-1695, $10 in advance, $15 at the door.
WORLD LEADER PRETEND It's only natural to be suspicious of a band named after an R.E.M song (and not one of their better ones at that), even more so when the singer sounds like a grunge guy with Ian McCulloch stuck in his throat. But Punches (Warner Bros.), the second album and major-label debut from this New Orleans band, has a soulful, theatrical audacity that requires repeat listens to appreciate. The songs are oddly built--slightly music hall with a prog bent--with a weird southern-rock tinge, like Coldplay with a taste for soul food. Lying in States opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8, 18+. --Monica Kendrick
GIANMARIA TESTA Singer-songwriter Gianmaria Testa has been called the Italian Leonard Cohen, and true enough, he shares a few traits with that revered mope. Testa writes lyrics with a poetic concision--or at least the English translations included in his CDs read that way. On "Potrai," a song from his most recent album, 2003's Altre Latitudini (Le Chant du Monde), he uses just nine lines to express his certainty that a lover who claims she wants nothing to do with him is kidding herself; songs with multiple verses weave in elegant metaphors free of the usual love-song cliches. Thankfully Testa can carry a tune much better than Cohen--he sings in a low, burnished voice that recalls his fellow countryman Paolo Conte--and his arrangements bridge the gap between small-group swing and acoustic-guitar balladeering, vividly framing his voice and adding a lovely Italian folk melodicism to his songs. This is his Chicago debut. a 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages. --Peter Margasak