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cARCADE FIRE Besides my distaste for critics who anoint an "album of the year" while there's still snow on the ground, there's really just one reason I've been ignoring the media deluge surrounding the Arcade Fire's second album, Neon Bible. (It came out March 6 on Merge, but by then advance copies had been provoking hyperbole for months.) It's because I fell in love with the band after their debut, Funeral, and I didn't want to get sick of hearing about them. No, they're not the saviors of rock 'n' roll, and Win Butler is about as much the new Springsteen as Bruce Springsteen was the new Dylan. What they are is a fantastically good rock band. It sucks that at this point you can't talk about the Arcade Fire without talking about the way people talk about the Arcade Fire, because they don't seem meta at all--from what I can tell, they're not trying to participate in a discourse or deconstruct their influences or do anything besides play music they like. When I saw them touring behind Funeral they were one of the most gloriously exultant groups I've ever seen, as enthralled by their power as anyone in the audience. And given how unself-consciously brilliant they are on Neon Bible, it seems they've been ignoring the hype too. St. Vincent opens the first night of this sold-out three-night stand; see also Saturday and Sunday. a 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6363 or 312-902-1500. A --Miles Raymer

THE ELECTRIC SET In this solo project, Indian Jewelry guitarist Brandon Davis sounds like he's walked many a lonely trail and watched the last ember die in his share of campfires. If the vampires in The Lost Boys had been dusty cowboys, not punks, he could've provided the soundtrack. The Electric Set is goth and dramatic without sounding like the Ghost of London After Midnight Past: tumbleweeds of seriously flanged guitar drift on an electronic wind, warpath drums close in steadily from the distance, and Davis sings like a wounded wolf on a cliff in the moonlight. For this performance, which he's calling the Real Magic Show, he'll direct a cast of nine shamanic noisemakers, his biggest backing band yet; the evening also includes an aerial performance by Reversible Eye proprietress Elena Brocade, video by Richard Syska, and exercises "designed to empower the individual audience members through the demystification of miracles and magic." Participation is mandatory. a 9 PM, Reversible Eye Gallery, 1103 N. California, 773-862-1232, $6. --Liz Armstrong

cMINGUS EPITAPH ORCHESTRA Charles Mingus, the greatest jazz composer since Ellington, presented his masterwork, Epitaph, only once, during a disastrous 1962 Town Hall performance. When conductor, composer, and musicologist Gunther Schuller sought to reprise the piece in 1989, he had to confront a paper trail of misorganized sheet music that required wholesale reconstruction. What he put together was something like Mingus-as-Mahler, a fantasia of familiar and iconic themes cobbled into a sprawling, two-hour portrait of a busy and messy musical mind. The sheer breadth of this material might overwhelm an audience were it not for the uniquely charismatic melodies; by turns earthy, sophisticated, ethereal, rustic, and sublime, they mirror the many moods of Mingus himself. The 31-piece jazz orchestra Schuller assembled for this performance--one of four scheduled across the country in celebration of what would've been Mingus's 85th birthday--includes several modern titans, among them pianist Kenny Drew Jr., baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber, trumpeter Jack Walrath, and bassist Christian McBride. The band also stars saxists Steve Slagle and Craig Handy, trombonists Ku-umba Frank Lacy and Conrad Herwig, and tuba legend Howard Johnson. a 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $19-$79. --Neil Tesser

THEE MORE SHALLOWS Sometimes there's more to a band's breakthrough than buzz and bucks. On their last full-length, More Deep Cuts, this San Francisco art-pop three-piece sounded tense and hopped-up enough to be every so slightly vibrating, like they'd snorted No-Doz hoping to finish a term paper but ended up quietly scrawling disturbing notes in the margins of their textbooks. With their new third album, Book of Bad Breaks (Anticon), the tension finally gives way, and it turns out that what lies beyond isn't violence--it's bubble-blowing, giggling delirium. Though Book is a much noisier and darker-toned album, it still feels happier and more relaxed, as though the band knows the bleeps and buzzes in its impeccably produced tunes don't all go together, technically, but no longer cares who notices. The Diminisher and We Will Eat Rats to Survive open. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. --Monica Kendrick

TITTSWORTH The ultrahyper, ass-focused strain of dance music called Baltimore house is built around maybe three core samples, two of them by James Brown, and yet in the right hands it can assimilate any sound on the planet. DJ and producer Tittsworth--his real last name, though he doesn't miss an opportunity to work actual tits into the labels on his 12-inches--has turned everyone from Clipse to Justice to Don Imus into B-house stars. I get the feeling he could do the same for Keith Urban if the mood struck him. His frequent collaborator DJ Ayres, from bonkers Brooklyn collective the Rub, spins second; Zebo opens. a 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140 or 312-559-1212, $10 (free before 11 PM). --Miles Raymer


cARCADE FIRE, ELECTRELANE See Friday for more on the Arcade Fire; see Tuesday for more on Electrelane. a 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6363 or 312-902-1500, sold out. A

cChicago opera theater In a double bill closing this weekend, Chicago Opera Theater delivers gripping interpretations of two rarely performed early-20th-century works probing psychoanalytic depths: Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Schoenberg's Erwartung ("Expectation"). Bass-baritone Samuel Ramey brings dramatic conviction and a formidable growl to the lead role in Bluebeard (1911), the story of an older man with a dark castle and even darker past. As his doomed young bride, soprano Krisztina Szabo is stunning, though her bright lyrical sound doesn't always have the heft to project over the superb but brass-heavy orchestra. In the vocally demanding 30-minute monodrama Erwartung (1909), soprano Nancy Gustafson is outstanding as the unnamed woman haunted by her lover's death, conveying her character's hysteria with fierce intensity. The only disappointment of the evening is the silly--and distracting--costuming of Bluebeard's previous wives, who slink onstage in bodysuits and face paint like three refugees from Cats. Alexander Platt conducts. a 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-704-8414, $40-$120. --Barbara Yaross

cROBBIE FULKS Few musicians can match Robbie Fulks's command of pop and country idioms, and practically none works so hard to subvert their conventions. On his new double live CD, Revenge! (Yep Roc)--one disc is with his electric band, the other is mostly stripped-down acoustic stuff--his often inscrutable blend of sincerity and mockery feels like a coping strategy: Fulks clearly loves the enduring tropes of classic songcraft, but the repetition and sentimentality that typically accompany them seem to drive him nuts. His killer solo cover of the Cher hit "Believe" is simultaneously a searing critique of its inane lyrics (complete with a hilarious parody of that infamous vocal effect) and a showcase for its ridiculously catchy hooks. And then there's his guitar playing: in the intro to "That's a Good Enough Reason" he flits between hillbilly picking, Derek Bailey free improv, Django Reinhardt Gypsy jazz, John Fahey fingerstyle, and Nashville honky-tonk in the space of about a minute. With Fulks in our backyard it's too easy to take him for granted; a record like this makes a great reminder. Kevin Gordon opens. a 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $12. --Peter Margasak

OLD BLIND DOGS, FAIRPORT CONVENTION These two British-folk warhorses are both celebrating anniversaries. Scotland's Old Blind Dogs--young pups at only 15--arguably hit their stride in 1999, when piper Rory Campbell joined and set their music on fire. They've weathered many personnel changes over the years but have always pretty much sounded like the same band--something you can't really say of Fairport Convention. They've been fey and twee, fiery and grand (mostly during the Richard Thompson/Sandy Denny era), and now, 40 years on, seem to have settled into their role as the Olde English Grateful Dead. They can stretch out "Matty Groves" for what feels like an hour without blinking or taking a bathroom break. Old Blind Dogs headline and Fairport Convention opens. a 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $25, $21 kids and seniors. A --Monica Kendrick

SEA WOLF This LA-based group--basically just singer-guitarist Alex Brown and a rotating cast--recorded their debut EP, Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low (Dangerbird), with Phil Ek, who's famously twiddled knobs for the Shins, Modest Mouse, and Built to Spill. Sea Wolf have an easy way with candy-sweet indie rock, just like those bands, but they're even more subdued, with sad strings and timpani rolls adding drama to the shimmery-chimey guitar parts. All Smiles (see Sharp Darts) headlines and Bronze opens. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. --Jessica Hopper

t.k. soul Louisiana-based T.K. Soul, who bills himself as "the Bad Boy of Southern Soul," sings in a smooth tenor that lends him an air of youth, but his material reflects a refreshingly mature perspective. "Straight, No Chaser" admonishes "wannabe players" to stop mistreating women, for the sake of the women and of the good men who end up paying for their brothers' sins. "Real Love Is Calling" is an anguished meditation on the dissolution of a longtime love affair. The oddly upbeat "Cheating and Lying" tells a chilling tale of betrayal: a woman swears on her mother's and children's lives that she's faithful--and then gets caught in her treachery. Stan Mosley opens and veteran song-and-dance man Mr. Lee MCs. a 9 PM, Homan Square Community Center, 925 S. Homan, 773-266-3496, $25. --David Whiteis


cARCADE FIRE, ELECTRELANE See Friday for more on the Arcade Fire; see Tuesday for more on Electrelane. a 7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6363 or 312-902-1500, sold out. A

MICE PARADE For his seventh album as Mice Parade, a self-titled release on Fat Cat, New York post-rock percussionist Adam Pierce tried a change of scenery: he moved upstate and converted a garage into a studio, where he performed and recorded most of the disc himself. Kristin Anna Valtysdottir of Mum returns for a cameo on "Double Dolphins on the Nickel," and longtime Pierce collaborator Doug Scharin (Him, June of 44) is back again too. There are also some new faces, like Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab and Jay Israelson of the new wavey psych-pop collective Lansing-Dreiden, but they don't change the sound much: more organic and melodic than most post-rock, Pierce's music is essentially fusiony electric-acoustic pop, its jazzy drums and shimmering flamenco guitars rushing along with the cool momentum of illbient electronica or IDM. Tom Brosseau and David Karsten Daniels open. a 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, 18+. --J. Niimi


cBONE THUGS-N-HARMONY Like most groups that decide it's time to ditch the gangsta lean, fast-rap innovators Bone Thugs-n-Harmony started wrestling with their emotions a few years ago, churning out a few standard-issue repentance tracks with every new release. Maybe it's just declining sales, lawsuits, and inner turmoil finally catching up with them, but on the new Strength & Loyalty (Interscope) they reveal an emotional heft and moral certitude previously hinted at but never fully realized. Their street-hustle perspective is more melancholy and cynical than ever, guided by Scripture and a heavy knowledge of consequences. They even call a truce with longtime rival Twista, bringing him in for a cameo on "C-Town." But the most amazing thing about Strength & Loyalty is that, in spite of its gravity, it's also a flawless pop record, buoyed by the group's loquacious flow. .a 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $26.50-$28, 18+. --Jessica Hopper

cCRYSTAL CASTLES Video-game electronica seems to fall in and out of fashion depending on what kind of kids are going to art school. This year it's hot again, and I've never heard a band do it better than Crystal Castles. This Toronto boy-girl duo is glamorous and tragic, tender and filthy, like a glittery babe in the gutter--though the music's loaded with eight-bit samples, it doesn't so much as nod to the kitschy nerds working the same territory. With balls-to-the-wall beats, a hailstorm of grimy electronic ephemera, and adorably badass girl vocals, it lands on your head like a bucket of Legos. The Castles' only formal release, a seven-inch EP that came out last year on Merok, sold out in a flash (a second EP is forthcoming on Summer Lovers Unlimited), and unlike labelmates Klaxons they have more going for them than that one good song you secretly liked but are now sorta sick of. Word is they deliver live too. This is a first-anniversary party for the Funky Buddha's Outdanced night; DJ Autobot of Flosstradamus, Magic Is Kuntmaster, Heart Shaped Hate, and DJ Ian Hixxx open. a 10 PM, Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand, 312-666-1695, $10, $7 before 11 PM with RSVP to --Liz Armstrong

celectrelane On their first three albums, this English quartet made a virtue of creative sprawl, but as impressed as I was by their experiments with texture and rhythm on 2005's Axes, I'm glad they've taken a more focused approach on the new No Shouts, No Calls (Too Pure). On Axes they sometimes sounded like they'd bitten off more than they could chew; here each member sticks to what she does best, and it gives the trance-inducing pop tunes a new directness and clarity. Drummer Emma Gaze takes what's essentially a single post-Motorik groove and tweaks it into 11 minor variations. Guitarists Verity Susman and Mia Clarke reduce the minimalist strum frenzies of the Velvet Underground and the Feelies even further, transforming scrappy little departures and choppy transitions into songs, and bassist Ros Murray quietly holds it all together. Susman sings her pretty melodies much the same way she plays--a bit sheepishly and anemically--but her style suits the pared-down songs perfectly. Sterling opens. Electrelane also opens for the Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre on Saturday and Sunday; see separate Treatment items for details. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. --Peter Margasak

cTRIO BALKAN STRINGS See Wednesday. a 8 PM, Katerina's, 1920 W. Irving Park, 773-348-7592, $7.


FARSHID ETNIKO Now that this Saint Louis group has self-released two albums, it may be time to stop asking "Should a Persian-Latin-blues fusion band even exist?" and just consider the music on its merits. The guitar playing of Iranian-born bandleader Farshid Soltanshahi is what either guides this improbable caravan safely through the desert or leaves it to die. And like the hero of the epic, comedic drama his music would make a good soundtrack for, he stumbles, wanders, encounters all sorts of strange characters--menacing harmonicas, alien percussion tribes, seductive new-age sirens--and finally prevails, largely through charisma and pluck. This show is technically free, but the venue suggests a $5 donation. a 8:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000. AF --Monica Kendrick

cTHESE ARE POWERS These Are Powers's "Silver Lung," the A side of their debut seven-inch, grabs you from the get-go with a completely diseased guitar riff--a pulsing, mechanical bleat that sounds like a meltdown alert at a nuclear reactor. Formed just this past September, the Brooklyn trio has attracted plenty of attention already, in part because bassist-vocalist Pat Noecker was in the Liars and guitarist-vocalist Anna Barie was in Knife Skills. Like Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, These Are Powers have a postapocalyptic sound that veers between dread and panic, and drummer Ted McGrath plays simple quasi-tribal beats on a kit with no hi-hat, a nod to the early minimalist style of Bob Bert and Ikue Mori. Those aren't even the only cues the band takes from early New York postpunk and no wave: the seven-inch was mixed and mastered by ex-Voidoid Ivan Julian, and the unsettling black-and-white video for "Silver Lung" looks like an homage to mid-80s Cinema of Transgression heavyweight Richard Kern. Head of Femur and Brenmar open. a 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $7. --J. Niimi

cTRIO BALKAN STRINGS This Belgrade-based family act operates under an ambitious code of simplicity: Zoran Starcevic and his two sons, Nikola and Zeljko, seem to have made it their project to condense the entire Balkan musical tradition into a repertoire that can be played by six hands on three guitars. All classically trained and all exuding an audible affection for rock, blues, pop, and jazz--particularly the hot jazz of Reinhardt and Grappelli--the Starcevic boys take a microcosmic approach to their original compositions as well. Each track on their two self-released albums (the latest is Water-Mill) is airtight, with a lush and dazzling orchestral quality that belies its instrumentation. If you think you hear a scrap of Greekish melody or a Transylvanianesque trill, you're probably right--countless such ideas get developed like patterns in a silk weave, followed to a satisfying resolution, and then left behind for the next odd rhythm or jaunty whirl. See also Tuesday. a 9 PM, Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. A --Monica Kendrick


cUNSANE The granddaddies of posthardcore metal, these New Yorkers make the genre's popular vices--exaggerated bleakness, numbingly un-relenting volume, enervating levels of unfocused rage--sound like virtues. Front man and guitarist Chris Spencer took a much-needed break from Unsane between 2000 and 2003 (he'd been jumped in Vienna in '98 and hospitalized for internal bleeding, then promptly toured for six months), but it's like they never went away: the lineup's been stable since '94, the music's still reliably brutal, and the album covers are as gory as ever. (Yep, that's real blood.) Their sixth studio disc, Visqueen (Ipecac), wears its menace low-slung. Compared to the wound-up Taxi Driver rock the band started out with back in '89, it's nearly funereal sometimes, and it takes metal back through hardcore all the way to the electric blues: check the shrieking harmonica and hair-raising slide guitar on "This Stops at the River." The doomy, dogged, bottom-heavy riffs carry all the resignation Spencer's torn-up, vengeful vocals can't. 400 Blows, Mouth of the Architect, and Sweet Cobra open. a 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $12, $10 in advance, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

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