When: Sat., Feb. 27, 7 & 10 p.m. and Sun., Feb. 28, 7 p.m. 2010
Tinariwen, the first and best of the so-called desert-blues bands to have built an audience outside Africa over the past decade, haven't altered their sound too much on their latest release, Imidiwan: Companions (World Village)—if anything they've cooled off an incipient trend toward rock. They recorded the album in a makeshift studio in a village in Saharan Mali, and the familiar, intimate setting seems to have helped them retrench their hypnotic sound. The heart of the music is still its lattice of terse acoustic and electric guitar figures—stabbing little riffs, grimy elongated tones, circular licks—whose distinct rhythms cycle past one another, shifting in and out of synch. Tinariwen don't let these taut, pregnant patterns climax or resolve, instead ratcheting up their delicious, carefully pitched tension with the help of clip-clopping hand percussion; this stored-up energy gives tremendous force to the restrained, chanted call-and-response vocals. Imidiwan: Companions is a beautifully recorded album that captures Tinariwen doing what they do best, and the fact that they'll be playing material from it here is reason enough to recommend these shows highly. But perhaps the most exciting thing about this tour is that it's the first time in five years that front man Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has accompanied the band to Chicago—his health has been fragile, and malaria and exhaustion have kept him off the road in the past. —Peter Margasak Saturday shows sold out.