MIKE STERN QUARTET A round, voluptuous tone laced with a drop or two of acid--that's the trademark of guitarist Mark Stern, that and the concise bursts of riffish melody that punctuate his solos. The solid new Who Let the Cats Out? (Heads Up) weaves together several threads of Stern's recent work, from kick-ass fusion to material that revisits Joe Zawinul's use of world beats and wordless vocals. But in his Jazz Showcase debut he'll concentrate on the purely instrumental, with a quartet that includes the redoubtable Lincoln Goines, a longtime Stern sideman, on bass. 9 and 11 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20. This four-night stand begins on Thursday, September 7, with sets at 8 and 10; see also Saturday and Sunday. --Neil Tesser
M. WARD Such is the slipperiness of M. Ward's record-collector blues that the title of his new album, Post-War (Merge), could be referring to just about any war, or at least any of the ones fought since they started making 78s. Ward's optimism is never unseemly, his cynicism never overbearing, and his gravelly, passionate voice never unsuited to his material--not even the Daniel Johnston cover with Neko Case singing along. He's eminently listenable, but this mostly just makes me wish he'd occasionally commit some spectacular breach of good taste. Oakley Hall opens. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $16, 18+. --Monica Kendrick
MIKA MIKO Purists may dismiss Mika Miko as just another goddamn Slits clone, with their buzzy, hiccupping guitar riffs and bouncy bass lines, but I'm a fan of the tight-jeans-and-middle-finger style of these five ladies from LA. I prefer the seven-inches they put out on PPM to their latest, C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. (Kill Rock Stars)--the singles are more hectic and fist-pumpy, with slack-jawed Valley-grrrl screaming--but the full-length's cleaner production values likely won't follow them to the stage. No matter what, it'll be a fun show, the kind of thing you'll want to look good for. The Gossip headlines, Erase Errata plays second, and Mika Miko opens. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $13, 18+. --Liz Armstrong
MIKE STERN QUARTET See Friday. 9 and 11 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
ANDREW BISHOP TRIO On his impressive debut, a set of loose-limbed originals called Time and Imaginary Time (Envoi), this multireedist from Ann Arbor achieves an admirable sense of space; his solos range far and wide, only rarely spinning out into the kind of busy density that can feel suffocating. Bishop is at his most aggressive on tenor saxophone, but I like him best on soprano, where he applies the dry, astringent tone of Steve Lacy to riff-based extrapolations that are at once probing and assured. He's ably supported on record by the fine drummer Gerald Cleaver (a collaborator of Roscoe Mitchell, Craig Taborn, and Joe Morris, among others) and bassist Tim Flood, who nimbly sketch out the tunes and maintain an elegant, sturdy pulse; they'll accompany him here as well. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. --Peter Margasak
ORISHAS Musicians in just about every corner of the world have found ways to fold hip-hop into their native traditions, but these Cuban expats were among the first to successfully manage the merger. Mixing Spanish-language rapping and singing, turntable-based sampling, and live instrumentation starting in the late 90s, Orishas conveyed a deep understanding of the heritage they left behind when they moved to France. But on last year's El Kilo (Surco/Universal Music Latino) they sound sleepy and disconnected from the sound of their homeland: there are an awful lot of Latino hip-hop acts out there now, and most of them display more hunger and passion than Orishas do here with their bromides about homelessness, race relations, and love of the game. El Kilo closes with a collaboration with Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, who brings an intensity the rest of the disc lacks; the track suggests the trio might do well to plug into America's bustling underground scene. The lineup for this show, headliner first: Frankie J, Luis Fonsi, Nina Sky, Orishas, and Jeannie Ortega. 8 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $29.50 in advance, $32 at the door, 18+. --Peter Margasak
PRESETS Sometimes when bands are asked about their favorite music, they'll name-check classical works to sound like well-rounded aesthetes, but like Kraftwerk's Ralf and Florian, Presets' members actually studied composition before discovering electronica. Songwriters and producers Julian Hamilton (vocals, keyboards) and Kimberley Moyes (drums and programming) met at an Australian conservatory where, Hamilton has explained, "by day we battled with Beethoven, Stockhausen, and 18th century harmony. . . . By night we were out dancing to the Pet Shop Boys, New Order, and acid house." Not surprisingly the duo's debut full-length, Beams (Modular), is an eclectic excursion into pop, IDM, and disco. "Kitty in the Middle" recalls the narcotized techno-pop of labelmates Colder, while "Are You the One?" taps the nervous buzz of Daft Punk. Kid Sister, J2K, Protman & Dangergirl, Synergy, and Bald Eagle open. DJ Mother Hubbard spins after the show. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $10. --J. Niimi
MIKE STERN QUARTET See Friday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
RANCID It's kind of weird to think about, but Rancid's Tim Armstrong is basically the punk-rock Springsteen. He's got the staying power, forming his first band, Operation Ivy, nearly 20 years ago. Like Bruce, he's got a catalog heavy on stylistic tributes and the transformative power of rock 'n' roll radio. They also have eerily similar taste in hats. After a long hiatus that followed their 2004 tour for Indestructible, Rancid reunited for a handful of acoustic shows earlier this year--again, shades of Bruce--and soon after announced plans for this tour and a new album, due sometime in 2007. Now: let's just make sure Armstrong's two rap-punk records with the Transplants join Human Touch and Lucky Town in the cutout bin of history. The Explosion and the Tossers open. See also Tuesday. 6:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $16.50. All ages. --Miles Raymer
RATATAT It may not live up to its title, but Ratatat's second album, Classics (XL), is certainly better than the duo's self-titled debut. Considerably more subtle and lucid, the new record is all about beats and melodic construction, rather than singeing your brows off with nonstop twin guitar leads. The riffs still rip, but now Ratatat sounds like the Fucking Champs if they'd spent the last decade listening to French house music--with some sweet Falco-esque cheese thrown in to lure the leg-warmers set. The Envelopes and Panther open. Ratatat will also be doing a DJ set (along with Rob Crow of Pinback) at the Five Star Bar & Grille, 1424 W. Chicago, on Sunday, September 10, at 10 PM; call 312-850-2555 for more information. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. --Jessica Hopper
RANCID See Monday. Sick of It All and the Tossers open. 6:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $16.50. All ages.
NOUVELLE VAGUE On their first album, this French collective transcended the kitschiness of their concept--bossa nova readings of new wave and punk classics--through sheer chutzpah, exposing the melodicism buried in tunes like Tuxedomoon's "In a Manner of Speaking" and Josef K's "Sorry for Laughing." They push the conceit to its breaking point on the new follow-up, Bande a Part (Luaka Bop), but they almost pull it off by opening up their stylistic range (though I don't hear the mix of Jamaican mento and Parisian accordion music the PR says they were shooting for). They breathe new life into the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love?" and Lords of the New Church's crusty "Dance With Me," but they fail miserably with the Cramps' "Human Fly" and Bauhaus's "Bela Lugosi's Dead"--songs that originally worked thanks to their singular atmospherics. And Lord knows why they bothered with U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)." The Submarines open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $15, 18+. --Peter Margasak
RICHARD BUCKNER For his eighth full-length, the new Meadow (Merge), singer-songwriter Richard Buckner pieced together a band whose members have played with Guided by Voices, Cobra Verde, Those Bastard Souls, the Mekons, and the Waco Brothers, among others. So it's no surprise that most of the record has more of a vigorous indie-rock feel than its sparse, haunting predecessor, Dents and Shells, which rocked out here and there but largely wasn't supposed to. I'm not sure this is the best way for him to go; his songwriting prowess is still indisputable, but it wasn't quite clear to me what got flattened out until I got to the closing track, the stark and lovely "The Tether and the Tie," which is just Buckner playing acoustic. Eric Bachmann headlines the early show and opens the late show. 6:30 and 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15. --Monica Kendrick