The quality of an improv show is directly proportional to the quality of the improvisers who create it. Put together a group of kids who know nothing about the world—or themselves—and you get a lot of cliches and imitations of bad TV. Put together an ensemble of strong, experienced actors who happen also to like to improvise and you have the optimal conditions for a piece filled with well-articulated characters in amusing relationships and interesting situations. That latter was the case with Natural Gas, the Gift Theatre's house improv team, on the night I saw them. As in every improvisation, not every moment worked, and some actors made basic mistakes, like introducing inconsistencies. All the same, their show contained more than the usual moments of spontaneous delight—and occasional splashes of pure inspiration. —Jack Helbig $5
Local comedians and monologists share personal stories of inadvertent defecation. Michael Sanchez and Monte LeMonte host. $5
Japanese doom band Church of Misery don’t vary their subject matter much—and five albums in, they’re in no danger of running out of serial killers to sing about (even if they sometimes have to share with Macabre). Bassist and main songwriter Tatsu Mikami, the only member left from the band’s founding in 1995, offsets this single-mindedness with an uncommonly varied musical aesthetic. The recent Thy Kingdom Scum (Rise Above/Metal Blade), the follow-up to 2009’s Houses of the Unholy, integrates psychedelia, blues, and really filthy death metal into its Saint Vitus-style sludge. New guitarist Ikuma Kawabe nails Tony Iommi’s trippy boogie buzz, and Church of Misery continue to pay homage to early-70s heavy heroes (they covered Sir Lord Baltimore’s “Master Heartache” on their previous album, a Quatermass rarity on this one) with a refreshing sense of delight. It’s as though a corpse were to sprout fungus in bright, pretty colors. —Monica Kendrick Witchbanger and Cokegoat open. $15
Michigan indie label Count Your Lucky Stars, founded in 2007 by Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) front man Keith Latinen, has released some of the best albums from the blossoming fourth-wave emo scene. Mathy Chicago four-piece Mountains for Clouds, with their command of the intimate side of the 90s midwestern sound, have the potential to be one of the best bands on CYLS. This year’s Maybe It’s Already Everywhere feels as warm as sitting in front of a crackling fireplace while snow gently falls outside, and it gets even better when Mountains for Clouds break away from recycling second-wave guitar patterns—on “That Night a Forest Grew” a familiar twinkly riff fights through swells of shoegaze-style distortion, which drop out and leave it sounding transformed into something like emo Krautrock. Labelmates Foxing open the show, and these Saint Louis gentlemen belong in a venue grander than Township: they recorded their recent debut album, The Albatross, with a string section, a handful of woodwind players, and a small army of backing vocalists, transforming cozy tunes indebted to American Football into towering symphonic songs fit for concert halls. I hope the audience steps up and fills in for the crowd of guest vocalists belting out the chorus of the elegiac “Intuit.” —Leor Galil Mountains for Clouds headlines; Foxing, My Dad, and Bag open. $5
Monthly Second Saturday show featuring open studios, poetry readings, and live music. Reception Sat 3/9, 5-10 PM.
So much poppy mid-90s skate punk—or “melodic hardcore,” according to the dudes making it—came out of southern California that it’s easy to forget about little ol’ 88 Fingers Louie from Chicago, Illinois. But these guys’ hypercatchy, breakneck punk was just as great as anything their labelmates on Fat Wreck Chords did, and it’s aged remarkably well—probably because they never had to rely on dick and fart jokes. Their final release, a split EP with Kid Dynamite that came out weeks before they broke up in 1999, is an overlooked treasure. It was starting to seem like 88 Fingers Louie might be remembered only as the group that gave birth to Rise Against—the commercially accessible and massively bro-y band that guitarist Dan “Mr. Precision” Wleklinski and bassist Joe Principe started next. But successful reunion tours in 2009 and 2010 (Principe didn’t take part) proved otherwise, and tonight’s show is a 20th-anniversary party for Louie—the lineup once again includes Principe, and the set will be divided up between all three of the band’s former drummers, who include founding Alkaline Trio member Glenn Porter and John Carroll, who now plays in Paper Mice and Mucca Pazza. —Luca Cimarusti The Bollweevils and the Bomb open. $17.50
Chef Matthias Merges offers a six-course tasting menu with seatings at 6 and 9 PM and a champagne toast at midnight ($99, $145 with pairings).
Call 'em what you want—alt-rock, Americana, adult contemporary—the dudes from Waukesha, Wisconsin, are heading down for New Year's. $49.50-$59.50