The List: May 27-June 2, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Erykah Badu, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, Andre Williams, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Pharez Whitted Sextet, and more

Andre Williams

Andre Williams

drew reynolds


Bird Talk
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra




Gilles Aubry, Antoine Chessex, and Valerio Tricoli
Andre Williams, Dirty Diamonds


Brian Jonestown Massacre
Eleventh Dream Day
Pharez Whitted Sextet


Broken Bells, Morning Benders


Erykah Badu


BIRD TALK I'm not sure if anyone besides Greil Marcus has ever used the expression "catchy as fuck" to describe a band, but let it be known that Bird Talk are in fact catchy as fuck. This Chicago four-piece aren't exactly inventing a new genre (there are already plenty of fancy lads aspiring to that anyway), but the incandescent soul in their poppy new-wave dance-party rock sets them apart from other bands working similar turf. "Number on the Wall," "Virgins and Babies," and "Crown and Coke (Do It! Do It!)" are packed with hooks and undeniably charming, and on "Crazy Mad"—Bird Talk's standout tune—guitarist-singer Melissa "Jumpy" Marquez shows off her tremendous vocal range while the band nails that cool sound 80s English groups liked to use when they indulged their Motown influences. Birthday Suits headline; the Blind Shake and Bird Talk open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Brian Costello

click to enlarge Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra

THEE SILVER MT. ZION MEMORIAL ORCHESTRA On six albums across the past decade, this Montreal-based collective—formerly known as A Silver Mt. Zion, Thee Silver Mountain Reveries, and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band With Choir, among other permutations—has developed a sprawling, detailed sound by fusing ragged, passionate folk to widescreen post-rock. The group has gotten better and better at harnessing its instrumental depth, and in its current incarnation the layered lines of violinists Jessica Moss and Sophie Trudeau make it seem much bigger than a five-piece. But it wasn't until several members of the band backed the late Vic Chesnutt on last year's At the Cut that they truly moved me. Silver Mt. Zion's recent Kollaps Tradixionales (Constellation), their most song-oriented effort, does it again in Chesnutt's absence—guitarist Efrim Menuck, who's also in Godspeed You! Black Emperor, isn't half the singer Chesnutt was, but his voice swells and cracks with raw emotion. The album begins and ends with huge, episodic compositions, and the 15-minute opener, "There Is a Light," is so intricate and varied that it could stand alone as an EP. The band deals in the kind of cinematic dynamics familiar to fans of Godspeed, but given the way it accomplishes those rises and falls—with resonant string arrangements and elegant four-part horn charts, with former Chicagoan Matana Roberts guesting on alto sax—they seem more like a means to an end than an end in themselves. The melodies are gently bittersweet, in a kind of counterpoint to the band's large-caliber firepower, and even at its most driving and aggressive the music bustles with detail. Silver Mt. Zion have long been inspired by the Ex, and on Kollaps Tradixionales they convincingly transplant the spirit of those Dutch iconoclasts into songs that trade melodic intensity for frenetic art-punk rhythms. Sadhu Sadhu opens. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra also plays Wednesday, May 26, at Lincoln Hall with openers Shapers. That show likewise starts at 9 PM; it's 18 and up and costs $15. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15. —Peter Margasak


SHONDES Between their feminist/gender-queer pedigree and Louisa Solomon's vocals, it's been pretty easy so far to draw a straight line from NYC quartet the Shondes to Sleater-Kinney. Their new sophomore album, My Dear One (Fanatic), however, shows them figuring out their own angular way. Songs like "Make It Beautiful" recall Firehose, as the disjointed parts—klezmer-tinged violin, muscular bass, country-soft drumming—wiggle into a cohesive, propulsive whole. The Minneapolis Henrys and the Homoticons open.  10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8, 18+. —Jessica Hopper



GILLES AUBRY, ANTOINE CHESSEX, AND VALERIO TRICOLI This international trio has yet to release a recording and hasn't performed in Chicago before, but its members have explored sound qua sound in myriad settings, breezing across genre boundaries to cover a broad territory that includes electroacoustic music, improvisation, drone, and noise. Swiss musicians Antoine Chessex and Gilles Aubry got their starts as jazz saxophonists, but there's little trace of those roots in their recent projects—Aubry rarely even plays sax anymore, preferring laptop and electronics. They're both in the deconstructed doom band Monno, which drives crushing, monolithic sludge reminiscent of Sunn 0))) with primordial beats vaguely similar to vintage Swans, but they're just as comfortable and convincing playing purely abstract music. On 2005's Swift Machine (Creative Sources), a trio record with guitarist Torsten Papenheim, they play brittle, tactile free improv that's as quiet as Monno is loud. Aubry also has a taste for ambient sound, and on the recent s6t8r (Wind Measures) he manipulates field recordings made inside several rooms of a former experimental-music space in Berlin, allowing the noise from passing trains to bleed into his tracks. The third member of tonight's trio, Italian sound artist Valerio Tricoli, plays in the uncategorizable avant-rock band 3/4HadBeenEliminated, but on his 2003 solo album Did They? Did I? (Bowindo) he too investigates ambience and field recordings, exploiting the gaps between close and distant elements to create a fascinating three-dimensional effect and reveling in the way sounds decay and warp in space. On an unreleased new Chessex piece called "Dust," written for three violins and Tricoli's electronics, he manipulates the clustered strings in real time, using a Revox reel-to-reel machine to accelerate, decelerate, refract, and explode their hovering drones. Green Pasture Happiness headlines. 9 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $7 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak

BLOWOFF WITH RICHARD MOREL & BOB MOULD With Husker Du and Sugar behind him, Bob Mould began collaborating on Blowoff—in Mould's words, a regular "music-centric gay dance party drawing mainly, but not exclusively, men in their 30s and 40s," with D.C. progressive-house producer/remixer Richard Morel, and in 2006 the two released a CD under the moniker. They're in Chicago for Bear Pride and International Mr. Leather, and Blowoff will be a Wrigleyville destination for lowercase-cub lovers and folks who prefer their house music more party than club.  11 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $16. —Jessica Hopper

ANDRE WILLIAMS, DIRTY DIAMONDS Soul singer ANDRE WILLIAMS has worked in music for more than 50 years as a performer, producer, and songwriter, and cut his teeth at legendary labels like Fortune, Motown, One-derful, and Chess. He's been there, done that, and wiped up the mess with the T-shirt. In the 80s he came off the rails, laid low by drugs and for a time so destitute he took to panhandling—it hurts to imagine how many great records he might've made in those years—but his comeback, now well into its second decade, isn't just a campaign to market his 60s greatness to a new crowd. Williams, 73, still has it, and people still love it. He's long been known for using a lot of blue language in his rhythm and blues, but the new That's All I Need (Bloodshot) will disappoint the porn-soul junkies. He's in elder-statesman mode, straight-up holding forth, full of pithy things to say about addiction, poverty, nationalism, aging, regret, love, and pride. (If you really miss the smut, check out his first book of short stories, Sweets, which came out last year on Kicks Books.) Recorded in Detroit with members of the Dirtbombs and the Electric Six—and featuring appearances by guitarist Dennis Coffey of famous Motown house band the Funk Brothers—That's All I Need simmers with sparse, smoky garage-blues licks that curl up around Williams's authoritative voice. He sounds like a man who's trying to make his peace with God, but he's definitely bargaining from a position of strength. —Monica Kendrick

Over the past few years locals the DIRTY DIAMONDS have been trying to find a sweet spot with their balance of dusty girl-group soul, classic Chicago house, and post-What's the 411? hip-hop R & B. Their original lineup—three female singers and a dude making beats—didn't quite get them there, but as a septet with live guitar, bass, and drums, they might have found it. Their second release, a new EP called Monster Ballads (downloadable free at, is an electro-fied slice of pop R & B that bumps and squirms with bubby, extroverted energy. The last time I saw the Dirty Diamonds their stage show wasn't as tight as their recordings, but I'm sure they're working on closing that gap. —Miles Raymer

Williams headlines; the Dirty Diamonds open. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance.


BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE To record the Brian Jonestown Massacre's tenth album, the new Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? (A Records), mastermind Anton Newcombe brought the band to Iceland—his part-time home of late, and better suited to his flavor of weirdness—and he sounds calmer for it. And by "calmer" I mean relaxed enough to create a sprawling, indulgent, meandering mess of a record that is nonetheless continually fascinating. Spacemen 3 veteran Will Carruthers, vocalist Unnur Andrea Einarsdottir, and returning guitarist Matt Hollywood also seem to be having the time of their lives with this strange blend of trance, Krautrock, Nordic folk, and psychedelia (not to mention the occasional moronic football chant or shameless Joy Division rip-off). One can never accuse Newcombe of aiming low—he sounds like he's trying to create club music for the young people of a society that doesn't exist yet. Elephant Stone opens.  8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $21, 18+. —Monica Kendrick

ELEVENTH DREAM DAY There was a time in the mid-80s when you could count on seeing Eleventh Dream Day every month, and every show was a good one. Frequent gigging amplified the quartet's onstage intensity, which they channeled into their incendiary debut LP, Prairie School Freakout, by recording mostly live in the studio. These days the band's concerts are considerably less frequent, and for a few records now they've leavened the wildfire guitar and yearning vocal harmonies of yore with keyboard and percussion textures. In advance of the sessions for what's scheduled to be their first album in five years, Eleventh Dream Day have been stoking the fires by playing the same ten new songs (and a shifting selection of oldies) at the Hideout almost every Sunday this month. If the difference between their somewhat ramshackle first show and their ferocious, unbridled second show is anything to go by, the strategy is paying off—and tonight's concert, the fourth and last in the series, should be one for the ages. The swell new material includes breakneck rockers like the organ-driven "Tall Tall Man" and the synth-laced "Satellite," and there's a slow-burn epic called "Downed Tree" whose extended guitar solos are as freaky as anything bandleader Rick Rizzo played back in the day. Head of Skulls! opens.  8:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Bill Meyer

click to enlarge Pharez Whitted

PHAREZ WHITTED SEXTET Trumpeter Pharez Whitted, an Indianapolis native, moved to Chicago in 2001 to take a job as director of jazz studies at Chicago State University, and he's been active on the local scene ever since—most notably as a member of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and in various pickup groups with the likes of Ari Brown and Kobie Watkins. He hasn't spent much time leading his own bands, though, and previous to the release of the new Transient Journey (Owl Studios) he hadn't released a record under his own name for 14 years. Back then he was signed to Motown's smooth-jazz subsidiary, MoJazz, and the last record he put out, Mysterious Cargo, was glib and toothless background music. Since then he's righted the ship, working within the tradition of soulful postbop that his family has surrounded him with—both his parents were professional musicians and trombonist Slide Hampton is his uncle. On Transient Journey he plays with a muscular sextet that includes guitarist Bobby Broom, saxophonist Eddie Bayard, pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Greg Artry, presiding over a crackling session of coolly swinging hard bop. He knows how to depart from time-tested models without foundering, whether with the contemporary electric gloss of "The Truth Seeker" or the sleek funk of "Until Tomorrow Comes," but to my ears his band sounds best when he sticks just a little closer to jazz tradition—showing off his high-powered post-Freddie Hubbard chops on a bluesy Art Blakey-style stormer like "Brother Thomas," for instance, or revealing a fragile vulnerability on a beautiful ballad like "Plicky."  7:30 PM, Room 43, 1043 E. 43rd, 773-285-2222, $10 suggested donation, $5 for students and children. —Peter Margasak


BROKEN BELLS, MORNING BENDERS When Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) first made waves in 2004, mashing up Jay-Z and the Beatles on The Grey Album, I never would've guessed he'd become one of the most distinctive auteurs in pop. He's used his skills at hip-hop production in all kinds of non-hip-hop ways, working with the likes of Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, Beck, and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse (their collaborative project, Dark Night of the Soul, will finally get a proper release this summer). He's got a predilection for 60s-style pop-rock, which is a big part of what makes BROKEN BELLS, his group with Shins singer-guitarist James Mercer, work so well. Burton can repurpose programmed beats and cut-and-pasted backdrops to serve the kind of strummy guitars and comfort-food melodies that made the Shins indie-rock royalty, and this helps push Mercer in some pleasantly novel directions. On Broken Bells' self-titled debut, which came out in March on Columbia, he sometimes sings in a quasi-soul falsetto, higher than anything I've ever heard from him ("The Ghost Inside"), or uses his guitar to heighten the Morricone-esque drama of Burton's production ("Mongrel Heart"). The second half of the album flags a bit, but reports from the road suggest that the live band improves the depth and vitality of all the songs. —Peter Margasak

Big Echo (Rough Trade) is an apt title for the MORNING BENDERS' second full-length, as it seems to have been recorded under the premises that anything can be improved with a generous helping of reverb and that too many overdubs are better than too few. (Coproducer Chris Taylor may have brought these concepts over from his main gig in Grizzly Bear.) But as heavy as they lay on the atmosphere, these four Berkeley lads don't show an unhealthy dependence on it. Their melodies—giddy towers of references to half a century of pop music—are strong enough to stand on their own, and they serve them up with a level of conviction not always associated with artsy indie rock. —Miles Raymer

Broken Bells headline; the Morning Benders open. 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212, sold out.

click to enlarge Erykah Badu
  • Erykah Badu


ERYKAH BADU New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh (Motown), the second album in Erykah Badu's Amerykah trilogy, is supposedly the airing of her vulnerable, unknowable id—the flipside of the polemical, assured ego we heard on her kinda-comeback, New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War. The new one is a breakup album cast up from the hell-pit of desperation—myopic, airless riffing that rides fusiony keyboard riffs into the tear-stained horizon. Still, it's Badu; even at her feel-bad worst, she's more real and more personal than any comparable alternative. She's also touring the shit out of this record, and given that she's a notorious recluse prone to long periods of inactivity, you gotta get while there's something to be got. N.E.R.D. and Janelle Monae open. The same bill plays the same venue again on Thursday, June 3.  7:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 312-559-1212, $49.50-$69.50. —Jessica Hopper

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