BARE MUTANTS In a culture supersaturated with "me me me," the "us us us" happening in Bare Mutants is pretty refreshing—a band of friends getting together to make music, just for the joy of it and the satisfaction of collective self-expression, embodies the best qualities of Chicago's music community. Formed by Jered Gummere (the Ponys) and also featuring Jeanine O'Toole (the 1900s) and Seth Bohn (Mannequin Men), the five-piece has a humble cameraderie and a quiet confidence. Four of the five members tend to be seated onstage—Bohn stands, because it's easier for him to play bass that way—and this in itself encourages the audience to focus on sound rather than spectacle. The band's music often seems to be picking up where the Ponys left off—waves of tension and release, layers of fuzz swirling around minimalist rhythm guitar a la Spacemen 3 or Galaxie 500—but Bare Mutants' aesthetic is clearly still coalescing. When they play a song like "Nothing Is Gold"—sung by O'Toole and reminiscent of those weird novelty numbers the Kinks got up to at the height of their foppishly alcoholic rock-opera phase—it's clear how much potential has yet to be tapped here. —Brian Costello Smith Westerns headline. 9 PM, Schubas, $16. 18+
JOHNNY RAWLS Johnny Rawls toured the chitlin' circuit for years with deep-soul legends like O.V. Wright (for whom he also worked as musical director) and Little Johnny Taylor, but most of his own work has incorporated sprightly pop and mainstream rock 'n' roll, alongside occasional hints of churchy grit and old-school fervor. On the recent Memphis Still Got Soul (Catfood), though, he seems to be digging deep into his down-home roots. Rawls's voice is huskier than ever (that may simply be because he turns 60 this year), and the production features fatback horns and funk-driven rhythms, with less lead-guitar artistry than usual. He covers Wright's "Blind, Crippled, and Crazy" with loving dedication, and he lays himself bare on the ravaged-sounding ballad "Stop the Rain." Even when he adds dollops of pop ebullience ("Flying Blind," "Give What You Need"), the music retains its Memphis soul flavor, with crisp horn charts and organ lines that sound borrowed from Booker T. Jones's lick book. "Burning Bridges" crosses the line from deep soul into soul-blues rock, and a few other tracks call to mind contemporary southern soul-blues with lyrics full of jaunty irony and sexual high jinks. But all in all, the album is Rawls's deepest yet, and if he re-creates its feel onstage, it should be a special treat for soul-starved listeners whose closest contact with the "real thing" has been live Otis Redding recordings from the 60s. —David Whiteis 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, $10.
SALLIE FORD & THE SOUND OUTSIDE On the title track of her debut album, Dirty Radio (Partisan), Oregon-based singer Sallie Ford shares some choice words about the generic sounds of modern radio: "What is this robot-sounding bullshit?" She certainly provides a robust alternative, chewing up syllables like a wood chipper and singing with a bizarre hybrid of rockabilly sass, blues gravitas, and swing-era insouciance. Members of her nimble band recently backed up Jolie Holland—another quirky singer who, like Ford, can make English sound like a foreign language—and here the Sound Outside juggles instrumental phrases that mirror Ford's raggedly eclectic vocal delivery, which suggests Erin McKeown's but without the music-school discipline. On most of her tunes, Ford spins bad-girl narratives set in other eras, but even when she doesn't specify a time or place, her turns of phrase are still evocative—like "Wanna suck you up in a straw / Even if it was against the law." —Peter Margasak Man Is Man opens. 10 PM, Hideout, $10.
SADE It's a testament to Sade's enduring popularity that tickets for the first date of a three-night stand at the massive United Center sold out almost immediately when they went on sale a whopping 308 days in advance. (More tickets for that show have since been made available.) Some credit is due to last year's Soldier of Love (RCA), Sade Adu and company's subtly masterful return to recording after a ten-year hiatus, but things probably would've gone the same way had they decided to tour without a new release. Their prior collection, Lovers Rock, with its slow-burning pileups of vintage soul, modern R&B, reggae, and a touch of hip-hop, was almost certainly a primary factor in the conception of a good percentage of today's elementary school students, and its painfully gorgeous centerpiece, "By Your Side"—which also appears on their recent retrospective, The Ultimate Collection (Epic)—is as close to perfect as any song released in the aughts. I mean, they could probably fill the arena at least once just on the strength of that cut alone. —Miles Raymer See also Saturday and Sunday. John Legend opens. 7:30 PM, United Center, $49.50-$149.50.
MARK FARINA About a decade ago there was a little club-slash-restaurant in Bucktown—I've forgotten its name—that usually attracted a majority douchebag clientele but on Sundays would often host late-night DJ sets by the likes of Mark Farina and Tommie Sunshine (as well as a few other folks who weren't international club megastars). The gigs weren't promoted and seemed to serve mostly as a release valve for Farina et al—a chance to play old punk songs and ELO jams for a small group of mostly friends. Farina is best known as the creator of a mellow house offshoot with the unfortunate name "mushroom jazz," but he's also a voracious listener and seems to genuinely love playing records—even if that means spinning big, obvious classic-rock numbers for a couple dozen people at a time. —Miles Raymer Ken ECB and Nate Manic open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, $20, $15 before midnight.
ICEAGE It's an increasingly poorly kept secret that Scandinavia—to many, the land of corpsepainted black-metal bands and cyborglike pop stars—is home to one of the most compelling punk scenes around. Copenhagen's Iceage are currently leading the pack, and they've attracted a lot of attention with the recent reissue of their debut album, New Brigade (What's Your Rupture?). The teenage foursome obviously grew up on a diet that included lots of Swedish posthardcore icons Refused, but New Brigade also has plenty of gothy ambience, and its pop hooks are even more unabashedly catchy than the ones on The Shape of Punk to Come. Iceage's music has a certain Scandinavian flavor, both in its slate gray atmospherics—with reverb and echo liberally applied to basically everything—and in its precise execution. The songs also make you wonder what it would've sounded like if Ian Curtis and Joe Strummer had started a band together and it was as good as you'd hoped. As Iceage's popularity grows, though, their taste for fascistic imagery—which seems to come out of a perverse aesthetic curiosity and not any actual ideology—is bound to come under closer scrutiny. They should probably cut it the fuck out before people start throwing Skrewdriver into the pile of references. —Miles Raymer See also Sunday. Raw Nerve, Population, and ACxDC open. 8 PM, Empathy Lodge, firstname.lastname@example.org, donation requested.
BRAD PAISLEY There's probably nobody in mainstream country better at simultaneously embracing and poking fun at the genre's conventions than Brad Paisley—the guy eats up cliches like corn pone. Every time one of his songs makes you cringe, the next thing you'll do is smile or nod when you get the joke. On his previous record, American Saturday Night, he dared to embrace the election of Barack Obama—controversial turf for his demographic—but on the new This Is Country Music (Arista Nashville) he's back to his bread and butter. Right from the title track, which opens the album, he celebrates the plainspoken concerns and folksy wisdom of country—and he litters its lyrics with references to hits from the music's history. He adeptly plays both sides on "Camouflage," celebrating its ubiquity in the south and even going as far as to posit it as an alternative to the Confederate flag, which he understands "offends some folks" ("The only thing as patriotic as the old red, white, and blue / Is green and gray and black and brown and tan all rolled into / Camouflage"). As usual, Paisley juggles soccer-mom ballads ("Remind Me," his duet with Carrie Underwood), shit-hot guitar slinging ("Eastwood"), harmony-loaded summer pop ("Working on a Tan"), and quaint, 70s-style honky-tonk, demonstrating his mastery of it all. —Peter Margasak Blake Shelton and Jerrod Niemann open. 4 PM, First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, sold out. A
SADE See Friday. John Legend opens. 7:30 PM, United Center, $49.50-$149.50.
EXPLODING STAR ORCHESTRA The evolutionary narrative of jazz is strung with nodal points—the Ellington Orchestra at the Cotton Club, the Thelonious Monk Quartet at the Five Spot, the Miles Davis Quintet at Chicago's Plugged Nickle—that reflect the energy generated by an ensemble when it plays the same venue night after night, a repetition that allows the musicians to reach new levels of empathy and creativity. Nowadays it's hard enough for a band, especially a big one, to play a weekend in a single place, but cornetist and electronicist Rob Mazurek and his Exploding Star Orchestra are taking the stage for four nights this week at the Whistler. It's a rare commitment both for the venue, which usually devotes one evening a week to jazz, and for the orchestra's members, many of whom lead bands of their own. Mazurek intends to take advantage of the occasion to workshop "Transgressions," a new piece featuring bass guitarist Matthew Lux. You can also expect to hear pieces from the group's next album, Sixty Three Moons of Jupiter (Delmark), recorded in Brazil with esteemed multi-instrumentalist and former Chicagoan Roscoe Mitchell. Mazurek lives part of each year in Brazil, but lately he's been homesteading in Berwyn and playing with the orchestra's musicians in smaller groups like Starlicker. It ought to be a gas to see how this extended time together in the Whistler's relaxed setting (cocktails will be shaken, and it's the shushers who will be shushed) charges their already vivid blend of recited texts and acoustic and electronic sounds. —Bill Meyer See also Tuesday and Wednesday; this engagement runs through Thu 8/11. 10 PM, the Whistler.
MY BRIGHTEST DIAMOND The two albums singer-songwriter Shara Worden has released as My Brightest Diamond—2006's Bring Me the Workhorse and 2008's A Thousand Shark's Teeth—are among the strongest, most distinctive pop records I've heard in the past decade. Worden's voice is so spectacular that not even her elaborate, highly dramatic rock arrangements can put it in the shade. Worden, who earned a bachelor's degree in classical vocal performance at the University of North Texas, has such remarkable command of her pitch, dynamics, and phrasing—her delivery used to remind me of Mia Doi Todd's mannered style—that she's able to adapt her nonrock approach flawlessly to indie-pop songs. Recently she's been spending more time with collaborators far removed from the rock world: she made terrific contributions to last year's Penelope (New Amsterdam), an art-song cycle by Sarah Kirkland Snider, and for this show she's partnering with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras. Worden will be backed by 50 local high school students performing new arrangements by CYSO faculty member Brian Baxter, mostly of songs from the forthcoming My Brightest Diamond album All Things Will Unwind (due October 18 on Asthmatic Kitty). She wrote it for eclectic New York chamber group yMusic—they've provided simpatico support for folks like Bon Iver and Antony & the Johnsons—and it's her strongest record to date, with gorgeous arrangements that masterfully complement her dazzling range. —Peter Margasak See also Tuesday. 6:30 PM, Millenium Park.
RINGWORM, NAILS Cleveland thrashers Ringworm tour like true road warriors, but they're not especially prolific in the recording department—their new Scars (Victory) is their first full-length since 2007's The Venomous Grand Design and only their fifth in an on-and-off career that's lasted 20 years. They started off on the cusp of metal and hardcore and have moved gradually toward the former ever since; the razor-sharp precision of Matt Sorg and John Comprix's dual-guitar attack—especially on shredding songs like "Voluntary Human Extinction" and "Angelfuck"—lets you know where their hearts are these days. Front man Human Furnace has also been roaring it up with Gluttons and Holyghost, but his gritty pipes are at their best in Ringworm—and by the way, the band's namesake isn't a worm at all but rather a skin fungus, with nasty little spores that get into everything. —Monica Kendrick
To carve pissed-offedness into an album, you need a lot more than someone screaming bloody murder, slabs of sludgy guitar hell, ferociously thrashy drumming, and the world's meanest chisel. Last year's Unsilent Death (Southern Lord), cordially brought to you by the underexposed trio of SoCal ragemongers known as Nails, gets angry right. Recorded by Converge's Kurt Ballou at his studio GodCity, this skull-shaking masterpiece is a 14-minute row of middle fingers, blending elements of hardcore, grindcore, punk, and metal to create a freakish juggernaut of boiled-down, concentrated ugliness. The opener, "Conform," is a 32-second firing squad of blastbeats that jumps straight into "Scum Rise," a Discharge-esque burst of hardcore punk, which then segues into the 33-second "Your God"—leaving you three songs deep into Unsilent Death in just over two minutes. The brevity of Nails' sophomore album is easy to complain about (they're calling it a full-length, after all, not an EP), but by the time I get to the "epic" closer, "Depths," and its mega breakdown (the track runs a whopping four minutes), I'm just as ready to firebomb a gas station or reenact every one of John Rambo's scenes in First Blood as I would be if I'd listened to a balls-out record three times as long. —Kevin Warwick Ringworm headlines; Nails, Bitter End, and New Lows open. 7:30 PM, Subterranean, $10. 17+
WUME Local duo Wume—previously spelled "Wumme," always pronounced "womb"—fill the A side of the new Distance (Rotted Tooth/Catholic Tapes) with a sprawling, lumbering, spellbinding song called "I'm Around Midnight/Too Many Riders" that clocks in at more than 15 minutes. April Camlin (drums, vocals) and Albert Schatz (synths, vocals) play what they call "mutant new age music," using a spaced-out Krautrock vibe to string together episodes of icy minimalism, sweeping grandeur, and freaky psychedelia. Camlin and Schatz pair oozing, slinking sounds with lockstep rhythms, and in their live show, precise execution dovetails with relentless repetition to draw you into the sort of trance where even the subtlest shift in the music feels like a massive sea change. —Leor Galil Oakeater and Oriental Rugs open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle.
EXPLODING STAR ORCHESTRA See Monday; this engagement runs till Thu 8/11. 10 PM, the Whistler.
DOGS Nothing against shows at the Empty Bottle, but I can't help but feel like the best place to see the Dogs would be in a hammock on a cool summer evening, while the band played atop a grassy hill at sunset. The 13 songs on the local chamber-pop act's recent third album, the self-released Camping, sound exactly that idyllic, from the harmoniously plucked violin strings on "Blinding Stars" to the breezily strummed acoustic guitar on "Dance More." The four-piece has a knack for splitting the difference between happy and wistful; though I've never had the pleasure of riding a Megabus to Minnesota, "On the Highway (Come to See You)" makes the ordeal sound like as much fun as a front-porch hootenanny on an August night. —Leor Galil Jeff Harms and Tiny Fireflies open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, $8, free with RSVP to email@example.com.
ETTES For their supremely solid 2009 album Do You Want Power, the Ettes brought in Greg Cartwright of the Reigning Sound to produce, but for the brand-new Wicked Will (Krian/Fond Object) they've once again gone with Liam "I don't know if you heard, but I engineered the White Stripes' Grammy-winning 2003 album Elephant" Watson, who was behind the boards for two earlier Ettes records. Watson works with what's always worked for the band: the soul and garagey sass of front woman Lindsay "Coco" Hames. On Do You Want Power her voice sometimes got muddled up with the guitar fuzz, but the production here adds clarity and crispness to her persona—Hames owns Wicked Will from the get-go, when she sets up the pins with the ominous opening number, an acoustic yarn called "Teeth" ("The funny thing about it is I know you got what I need / But every time you smile, I can tell you're just showing your teeth"). That's followed by a more Ettes-centric jam, the driving, blown-out "Excuse," and in two songs, the trio has created fitting soundtracks for two different scenarios: a pair of haggard, middle-aged drunks slow dancing in a dank Nashville bar, then a pool-playing dude coolly tapping his foot to the beat while eyeing his next shot in a dank Nashville bar. And twangy romps like "My Heart" and "Trouble With You" are just too damn infectious to deny. —Kevin Warwick Heavy Cream and Hans Condor open. 8 PM, Schubas, $12. 18+
EXPLODING STAR ORCHESTRA See Monday; this engagement runs till Thu 8/11. 10 PM, the Whistler.