ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO The Boxing Mirror, out Tuesday on Back Porch Records, is Alejandro Escovedo's first disc of new material since he fell gravely ill from hepatitis C in 2003; the disease nearly killed him, so the occasional bromide like "Gonna learn how to live / Not to simply get by" (from "I Died a Little Today") is forgivable. But thankfully Escovedo takes advantage of his recovery mostly by pouring more of his soul into his music. His songwriting and singing are as good as they've ever been, but producer John Cale doesn't always do right by him; his use of electronics sounds uniformly incongruous, particularly on "Looking for Love," which is splintered by synthetic beats, or the oddly stomping "Take Your Place," whose synths make it sound like an homage to Escovedo's niece Sheila E. Luckily he's always riveting live, performing with an intensity that few can match. The Horse's Ha, a duo of Freakwater's Janet Bean and the Zincs' Jim Elkington, opens. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, sold out. All ages. --Peter Margasak
THE ESSEX GREEN, TAPES 'N TAPES On its third full-length, Cannibal Sea (Merge), THE ESSEX GREEN tips its psych-to-pop ratio a little farther toward pop, making the disc its best to date. It was bound to happen: the core members of the Brooklyn group--Ladybug Transistor bandmates Sasha Bell and Jeff Baron, along with Chris Ziter--have always seemed to prefer the sunnier side of late-60s rock, evoking the Byrds, the Mamas & the Papas, and the Monkees. On the album, they pay tribute to their forebears with the "Last Train to Clarksville"-like intro riff of "Snakes in the Grass" and the Roger McGuinn-esque 12-string-guitar refrain on the jaunty "Penny & Jack." But the songs also showcase a noteworthy change: Bell's vocals, which previously functioned more as color, now ring out strong and beautiful. --J. Niimi
TAPES 'N TAPES is an indie-rock band. See, isn't that a lot clearer than piling up a bunch of references to Pavement, Wire, the Pixies, and the Feelies? The urgently droning rave-ups on The Loon (Ibid), the self-released debut full-length from these lo-fi Minneapolitans, share a sensibility with those bands, but not exactly a sound. Josh Grier's squawk, more awkward than arty, eschews the baldly emotive in the same way his lyrics dodge the literal--he's searching for a slyer form of expressiveness, just like his indie forebears did. Tapes 'n Tapes also open for the Wrens Saturday at Schubas; see separate Treatment item. --Keith Harris
The Essex Green headlines, Tapes 'n Tapes play second, and Brighton, MA opens. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.
MANISHEVITZ Apart from some occasional touring, often with singer-songwriter Edith Frost, the local art-pop combo Manishevitz has kept a relatively low profile since the release of 2003's minor masterpiece City Life. They've split with their label, Indiana-based Jagjaguwar, and have begun recording a self-financed follow-up, funded in part by the money generated from the appearance of City Life's leadoff track, "Beretta," in an episode of The O.C. The half-dozen songs in progress from those sessions show the group's Eno-period Roxy Music influence has deepened, and Adam Busch's Ferry-esque warblings and lithe melodies have only gotten sharper. This set at the Bottle should preview the group's new material, including standouts like "Bluebird" and "Cincinnati"; the new disc is due in the fall. Detholz! and Volcano! open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. --Bob Mehr
HOT MACHINES There's a pretty high premium placed on "rawness" in garage rock, and one thing I like about these locals is that they don't pretend there's only one kind of raw. Singer-guitarists Alex White (here without her Red Orchestra) and Jered Gummere (also of the Ponys) and drummer Matt Williams (from LiveFastDie and the late Baseball Furies) play three-chord blowouts that are stripped of punk's usual hostility, presumably for the same reasons demolition-derby drivers pull all the dead weight out of their cars. The cover of the band's second seven-inch (on Dusty Medical, the label run by Mistreaters guitarist Kevin Meyer) is an illustration of a revolver with the barrel flipped to point back at whoever holds it, but it's clearly loaded with something other than lead--"Microphone" is a blast of jubilant, focused energy, and "Can't Feel" connects because White can feel, so much so that everyone listening can too. The Hunches and the Vilent Lovers Club open, and the Get Drunk DJs spin throughout. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $10. --J. Niimi
IVY QUEEN The undisputed queen of reggaeton--if only because she's one of the few women competing with the men on the charts--Puerto Rico's Ivy Queen is also one of the most enduring performers in the genre. Starting her career in the early 90s, she became a star in her homeland after releasing her first solo album in 1997, and since then she's steadily made inroads throughout Latin America and into the U.S. On 2004's Real (Universal Music Latino) her low-pitched, hectoring flow is fit for both hip-hop grooves (Swizz Beatz, N.O.R.E., and Fat Joe pitch in) and galloping reggaeton beats. But though she's got a strong, cocky delivery, her braggadocio eventually gets wearying. Angel & Khriz, Xtreme, KMW, and DJ Rico Suave open. 7 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212, $37. All ages. --Peter Margasak
PEZBAND, CHAMBER STRINGS Reviewing the CHAMBER STRINGS' second disc, 2001's Month of Sundays, Peter Margasak anticipated that the band's third one "should be an instant classic." Unfortunately that soul-pop masterpiece hasn't been made yet; around the time Month of Sundays came out front man Kevin Junior slipped deeper into a drug habit, and in the years since he's dealt with depression and the deaths of close friends, including frequent touring partner Nikki Sudden earlier this year. Junior bounced around Europe for several years before moving to New Orleans a few months ago; in an effort to put his life back together, he plans to return to Chicago this summer to relaunch his career. "The only things I know how to do are write songs and park cars, and I can't get a job parking cars 'cause they took my license away," he recently told me. "So, music it is." Junior's former bandmates have gone on to form San Tropez (who'll be performing at the early International Pop Overthrow show today), but he ultimately plans to put together a new Chamber Strings lineup and start recording again. This acoustic gig is his first Chicago performance in more than four years. --Bob Mehr
Formed in 1971, Chicago power-pop quartet PEZBAND released three LPs on Passport Records during the 70s, moved to New York during punk's heyday, and returned to Chicago before dissolving in 1982. Last year a Japanese label, AirMail, rereleased the Pezband catalog, bringing renewed attention to the band and inspiring their current reunion. Now a trio, they're working on a new disc that includes songs from Women and Politics (their unreleased fourth album) along with new tracks. They're planning more local shows as well as an overseas tour. --J. Niimi
This show is part of the International Pop Overthrow festival; see page 34 for this week's schedule. Pezband headlines; the Handcuffs, Watershed, Million Yen, the Chamber Strings, Wonderful Smith, and Catsplash open. 8 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408, $10.
IRA SULLIVAN & FRIENDS WITH CHRISTIAN TAMBURR Miami multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan can raise roofs with his alto sax, turn his trumpet into a furnace, chill the soul with a ballad on tenor, and send his soprano into the modal wilderness; he turns 75 next week, but he's still agog at the act of improvisation, which makes him a perennially startling performer. For the latest of his semiannual visits to Chicago, he's brought Christian Tamburr, a vibraphonist a third his age. Tamburr wears the influence of Gary Burton proudly, especially on his solid debut recording as a leader, 2004's self-released Move. He's not only mastered the percussive snap of Burton's technique, but also delved into the extended harmonies Burton brought to the instrument; the few of us who got to hear Tamburr last summer, when he took part in the weeklong Steans Institute for Young Artists workshop at Ravinia, got a dose of his empathic comp work as well. Since a recent move to Florida, Tamburr has worked often with Sullivan, who's clearly impressed: Sullivan rarely brings sidemen north with him since he has a rich network of Chicago colleagues to work with. The two will be joined by pianist Stu Katz, bassist Marlene Rosenberg, and drummer Robert Shy tonight and Sunday. On Friday, April 28, Sullivan will take part in the tribute to the Jazz Showcase's Joe Segal at Symphony Center, featuring Yusef Lateef, Von Freeman, Jimmy Heath, and others; see listings for more info. 9 and 11 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $25. --Neil Tesser
TAPES 'N TAPES See Friday. The Wrens headline and the Oranges Band opens. 10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out.
IRA SULLIVAN & FRIENDS WITH CHRISTIAN TAMBURR See Saturday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
OFFICE Take a look at their MySpace page, which lists contact info for their manager, publicist, and lawyer, and it's clear that the guys and girls in local band Office have aims that go beyond modest Chicago renown. Their self-released debut, Q & A, is the sort of crystalline synth-pop that wouldn't be out of place on the sound system of a teen shopping emporium. They're like a glamorous new-wave version of Fountains of Wayne, with a fondness for thick production and giddily clever lyrics. But I like them best when they drop the Cars-isms and become more of a quivering, fey guitar band, which better suits singer Scott Masson's lapses into a fake British accent. This is the first of four weekly shows Office will play at Schubas. Crap Engine and Freer open. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $6. --Jessica Hopper
GOOD STUFF HOUSE I didn't really expect something like Alan Thicke's TV music when I first heard the chipper sobriquet of this Zelienople side project. But I suppose Good Stuff House's entrancing self-titled debut (on Time-Lag Records, the sometime home of Charalambides and Six Organs of Admittance) could be a sitcom theme. That is, if the opening credits were 40 minutes long. And if the "house" were populated by Matt Christensen and Mike Weis of Zelienople and experimentalist Scott Tuma of Souled American and the Boxhead Ensemble. And if the "stuff" were pump organs, piano guts, contact mikes, a harmonium, a guitar strung with cables, and a "Universaltor" (a guitar string attached to a ceiling fan that strikes a homemade banjo). And if by "good" you meant "hypnotically eerie, with moments of apocalyptic hyperorchestral drone." The seven-track CD-R, limited to 150 copies, is packaged in a lovely hand-assembled and numbered paper cover, with disquieting black-and-white photos glued on the front and back. Tanakh headlines and Number None opens. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. --J. Niimi
BUTTFUCK PUSSY The entire output of this semilocal noise duo (Eleanor Balson, aka Soft Serve, and Randall Bailey from Panda Express) consists of three MP3s, the longest of which lasts about 90 seconds--not much to go on, I know. The tracks are somehow simultaneously twinkly and brutal, like a tiny disco inside a chain saw or an ice cream truck full of flying razor blades. Buttfuck Pussy performs somewhere in the middle of a doozy of a bill at the Version>06 International Noise Awards--the other acts are Bloodyminded, Brotman & Short, Rotten Milk vs. Bubblegum Shitface, Pommel, Spunky Toofers, Metaphysical Playroom, Mr. Fuckhead, Is, and Hookworm. For a complete festival schedule, see Section 2. 6 PM, South Union Arts, 1352 S. Union, 312-850-1049 or 773-837-0145, $5. All ages. --Liz Armstrong
CHARLIE ROBISON A fan of John Prine and the husband of a Dixie Chick, Charlie Robison was initially mistaken in the late 90s for one of those quick-witted, fun-lovin' regular guys who were supposed to rescue Nashville from all them damn pretty boys. His latest album, 2004's Good Times (Dualtone), inspires no such misperceptions, but he's no less sure-footed: both the roadhouse arrangements and heartbroken lyrics confidently tweak Texan traditions without making a big production out of it. And he's even sharper when it comes to the all-important title subject, particularly on his revamp of the old eating-as-sex metaphor, "Love Means Never Having to Say You're Hungry." Jack Ingram opens. 8 PM, Joe's, 940 W. Weed, 312-337-3486 or 312-559-1212, $10. --Keith Harris
ROOMMATE The basic building blocks of this local act's new Songs the Animals Taught Us (Plug Research)--filter-swept analog synths, hella-processed electronic beeps, and the kind of IDM drum programming that's helped make the word "skittery" so popular--don't do much to distinguish the album from any other take on the tech-pop style of Postal Service beat maker Dntel (who's also Roommate's labelmate). What sets it apart and makes it matter is that band captain Kent Lambert is determined to coax something more than the usual romantic solipsism out of the sound. Using unexpected elements like easygoing banjo parts and spaced-out Motown grooves, he crafts woozy sound pieces to back up his paranoid, David Byrne-style musings on the mundane terror of middle-class life during wartime. He sounds like a privileged hipster who's realized there are things in this world more important than his sneaker collection. Lambert will be accompanied by a full band at this record-release show; Belfrie and DJ Kim Soss open. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $8. --Miles Raymer