The List: January 14-20, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Freelance Whales, Omar S, Jacob Wick, Lee Fields, the Necks, and more

Lee Fields

Lee Fields

Thursday14

Freelance Whales, Bear in Heaven

Friday15

Lissie
Omar S
Jacob Wick

Saturday16

The Octagon

Sunday17

Lee Fields
Jookabox

Monday18

Soft Speaker

Tuesday19

Necks

Wednesday20

Fred Anderson Trio with Corey Wilkes

thursday14

FREELANCE WHALES, BEAR IN HEAVEN As the post-Sufjan Stevens glut of quasi-orchestral indie pop has proved, only a few bands can weave a gaggle of auxiliary instruments into their winding, anthemic songs without muddying the central melodies—the Welsh boys and girls in Los Campesinos! have it down pat, for example. On FREELANCE WHALES' self-released debut, Weathervanes, to be reissued by Frenchkiss in March, the promising New York five-piece ornaments the customary guitar-based setup with harmonium, cello, laptop, banjo, glockenspiel, synth, and even a couple devices they built themselves. But the album's inspired tunes don't end up swamped by cookie-cutter hooks and gratuitous layers of do-nothing instrumentation—instead they vibrate with inventively deployed textural and rhythmic sounds as well as an occasional tension between rustic flavors and taut programming. Judah Dadone's coy, airy vocals sound an awful lot like Ben Gibbard's (distractingly so at times), and some of his lyrics are too cutesy for my tastes (in "Hannah" he rhymes "take the elevator" with "lemon Now and Later"). But Freelance Whales already succeed in most of their ambitions—I'm sure their practice space is so cluttered with gadgets, gizmos, and thingamabobs that it's hard to walk across, but their music goes down easy. —Kevin Warwick

I've seen BEAR IN HEAVEN compared to Pink Floyd, no doubt on account of the mellow-but-sinister psych-prog vibe they share, but The Wall never creeped me out quite as much as this young Brooklyn foursome's recent second album, Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes). With its droning chorused vocals, relentless martial snare drum, crystalline keyboard arpeggios, vintage sci-fi electronic squiggles, and aggressively crisp cymbal sound—less like vibrating metal than shattering ice—it's a great winter record. But I don't mean wintry like standing on the Argyle el platform in a snowsuit and grumbling—instead you're flailing around some twilit alien snow­scape, crashing into trees and glimpsing evil, grimacing pixies out of the corners of your eyes while the clomping boots of enemy troops get louder behind you. —Ann Sterzinger

This show is part of Tomorrow Never Knows. Surfer Blood headlines; Freelance Whales, Bear in Heaven, and Lasers and Fast and Shit open. Bear in Heaven also play a free in-store at Reckless Records (3126 N. Broadway) at 5 PM. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, 18+, sold out (five-day festival passes still available).

friday15

LISSIE When Rock Island native Lissie Maurus was working open mikes in Chicago in the early aughts, I never heard about her. Then in 2004 she moved to the Los Angeles area, where she continued to plug away as a singer-songwriter in coffeehouses and loaned her exquisite voice to techno tracks like Morgan Page's breakout single, "The Longest Road." Plenty of people eventually did notice her, and this fall Fat Possum released her debut, the EP Why You Runnin', produced by Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses. Its five sparsely arranged songs inhabit a kind of no-man's-land between alt-country, folk, and pop, and Maurus has a particularly fine feel for the gothic Americana that put Neko Case on the map—in fact, I thought her version of Hank Williams's "Wedding Bells" was a Case cover before I realized what it actually was. She controls her huge, honeyed voice with casual expertise, so that the emotional swells in tunes like "Everywhere I Go" hit like a ton of bricks. City and Colour headline. 7:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $25, $21 in advance. —Peter Margasak

OMAR S After spending nearly a decade cloistered in willful obscurity, Detroit producer, DJ, and auto worker Alex "Omar" Smith claimed his rightful spot on the map last year. His recent DJ mix for the Fabric series, which consists entirely of his own work—only the second time that had happened in 45 installments—was among the best electronic albums of 2009. Smith is dismissive of almost every other label and artist going, and puts out his records on his own FXHE imprint; he's staunchly DIY, and in interviews he's insisted he only worked with Fabric to promote himself and his label. Until recently, if you wanted Omar S music, you had to mail-order records from him or buy two-dollar MP3s via an archaic e-mail-based system. If he were merely good, this would come across like an annoyance or an affectation, but because he's such a singular genius it makes him seem like an intriguing enigma. His dark, minimal tracks, fully analog and outfitted with restrained references to early Chicago house as well as to the musical legacies of Detroit—from its frostiest techno to its dustiest Motown—make him one of the most exciting artists working in any field. David Powers opens. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $15, $10 before midnight or in advance. —Jessica Hopper

JACOB WICK Though he's just 24, trumpeter and former Chicagoan Jacob Wick seems almost nonchalant about his stylistic range, technical skill, and conceptual curiosity—all of which would be impressive in a player twice his age. He's just as confident and musically generous playing brisk postbop with the trio White Rocket as he is exploring the outer reaches of extended technique on a jarring 2008 duo album with percussionist Andy Greenwald, 37:55 (Creative Sources). Wick graduated from New York's Purchase College a couple years ago and then settled in Brooklyn, and since October he's been on a one-man tour of the country called "Road Trip: Drawing a Perimeter of the United States" that has included a stay of more than three weeks in Chicago. (He gets back home January 28.) He'll open this concert with Swarm, a solo piece that he says "focuses on breaking down the trumpet into its constituent parts: air, spit, metal, song." He's posted several performances of the piece at jacobwick.info, and you can indeed hear all those elements in isolation: wet and dry breath sounds, the clanking of valves, streaks and tangles of notes, even some wordless vocals. Of course "song" is hardly an absolute term, and Wick has a penchant for abstraction that puts him in league with radical horn blowers like Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, and Greg Kelley. Closing the show is the set-length piece This Is It, for which Wick will be joined by keyboardist Paul Giallorenzo, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and vocalist Carol Genetti. The score consists of nothing but a few written instructions: "Improvise; when it's over (for you), say: 'This is it' over and over again, continue repeating until you are uncomfortable, then, get over it, repeat until the end." 9:30 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $7. —Peter Margasak

saturday16

THE OCTAGON It's easy to deride Brooklyn bands for being pretentious—not only is it fun, it's often totally called for. But the Octagon are a notable exception to the stereotype, and their recent Warm Love and Cool Dreams Forever (Serious Business) displays zero trace of affectation. Though the album was home-recorded on Tascam four-tracks, giving it the kind of lo-fi sound that's currently in vogue, the music itself is simple, direct indie pop a la Eric's Trip, loaded with crunchy overdrive and big, hooky power chords—no highlife guitar licks, atmospheric synths, or other fashionable flourishes. Not all the songs succeed, but the better cuts are good for a couple minutes of pop bliss, which is about the best thing a band like this can hope for. The digital EP Arm Brain Heart & Liver, a teaser to Warm Love, is free at seriousbusinessrecords.com. Absinthe Junk headline; the Octagon, the Bali Shag Vipers, Keith & the Compilations, Sara Masterson, and Oakley Stevens open. 8:30 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, 773-549-5549, $10. —Miles Raymer

sunday17

LEE FIELDS Since the mid-90s veteran soul singer Lee Fields has orbited the periphery of the New York-based hard-funk revival anchored by Daptone Records, the label that made Sharon Jones a star—in fact, label cofounder Gabriel Roth met Jones at a Fields session for Daptone predecessor Desco in 1996, where she sang backing vocals and he worked as an engineer. It wasn't till last year's My World (Truth & Soul), though, that Fields finally displayed his full range. His command of James Brown-style shout-singing comes through loud and clear on "Money Is King," but there's much more to him than gritty exhortations and drum-tight rhythms—when he switches to straight-up soul singing, particularly on ballads, it's downright beautiful. Truth & Soul label owners Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels, who produced the album, go for a full-blown retro-soul approach, with strings and horns gilding lean, crisp grooves, and Fields has the presence and gravitas of an artist for whom this music isn't retro at all. He's not the most original stylist—you can hear traces of Otis Redding in the elegant "Honey Dove" and some Bobby Womack in the title track—but his graceful, inventive phrasing and casual authority can put a pretender like Mayer Hawthorne in his place. My World is hands-down the best soul record I heard in 2009. Fields headlines with his band the Expressions; JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound and Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers open. DJ Misa spins between sets. This show is part of Tomorrow Never Knows; see page 46.  9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15, 18+. —Peter Margasak

Jookabox - LISA FETT
  • Jookabox
  • Lisa Fett

JOOKABOX In a more perfect world, a sampling of songs by Jookabox (formerly Grampall Jookabox, aka David Adamson) would replace the labored kookiness of Karen O as the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are. The Indianapolis-based singer-songwriter, who plays live with a four-piece band, makes manic, joyful, urgent albums, like this fall's Dead Zone Boys (Asthmatic Kitty)—they're effortless listens, their scrappy indie rock full of brisk strumming, hyperactive beats, and all sorts of yawping and whooping and hollering, both giddy-gleeful and confused. When Adamson sings, he sounds like he's careening through life, like his days as a teeth-gnashing boy monster are just barely behind him. Truman & His Trophy open. 8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3. —Jessica Hopper

monday18

SOFT SPEAKER Retro pop with a Smiths patina is apparently a renewable resource: bands have been mining it for years, and they're still somehow coming up with good music. Last year's self-released Conditions EP from locals Soft Speaker, for instance, is all swoon 'n' jangle, aside from a probably unnecessary spaced-out remix of the digital single "The Great Brick Mosque & I." The emotive vocals of guitarist-keyboardists Paul Foreman and Nick Rocchio, pushed high in the mix, are a bit melodramatic for me, but the band's tight, surprisingly tough rock more than makes up for it. Wisely they avoid slumping into neither-here-nor-there tempos, with songs that clearly mean to be fast (the fuzzy, feisty "Burden You") or slow (the perfectly mopey "Breaking Bones"). A new EP, Stranger in the Alps, is due in March. Coltrane Motion headline; Soft Speaker and Panda Riot open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Miles Raymer

click to enlarge Necks - TIM WILLIAMS

tuesday19

NECKS Early in their history together keyboardist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and percussionist Tony Buck—aka venerable Australian trio the Necks—carved out a niche so specific that it's hard to believe they haven't yet exhausted its possibilities. Their basic approach is to begin with a brief improvised motif, which they then loop for 45 minutes or so, deconstructing and reconfiguring it via the accumulation of innumerable small permutations; in the studio they add intrigue to their recordings with overdubs and creative mixing. As they proved in their Chicago debut last February, they can transform the tiniest nucleus of raw material into consistently nuanced and captivating music. On this fall's Silverwater (ReR), their first studio album in three years, they make one of the most abrupt stylistic shifts of their career, which Buck explains in part by pointing out that it's the first Necks release tracked to hard disk instead of tape. The core of the music is still improvised, but the single 67-minute piece on Silverwater is assembled from several separate sections rather than cut in a single long take—and rather than elaborating on just one phrase as usual, they pick a new motif for each section, using editing and overdubs (including electric guitar from Buck) to blend them together. The extra instrumental layers give the music a greater range of textures, densities, and dynamics, but the real source of the Necks' brilliance remains the dazzling resourcefulness that's allowed them to extract so much from so little for so long. Vox Arcana opens the early show; the Joshua Abrams Group opens the late show.  7 and 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Peter Margasak

click to enlarge Corey Wilkes, Fred Anderson

wednesday20

FRED ANDERSON TRIO WITH COREY WILKES This concert celebrates the release of the sixth Fred Anderson album in 12 months, but the onstage lineup recalls a time when the octogenarian tenor man went decades between records. A Night at the Velvet Lounge: Made in Chicago 2007 (Estrada Poznanska) documents an appearance by Anderson's trio at the Made in Chicago Jazz Festival in Poznan, Poland. On that record Anderson's accompanists are virtuoso bassist Harrison Bankhead, his most faithful sideman, and percussionist Dushun Mosley. Mosley's shifts between relaxed swing and edgy funk keep his partners on their toes, and the CD's high point comes when his lively calypso beat on "Gin and Bourbon Street" prompts Anderson to channel his inner Sonny Rollins. Though Mosley has gigged around town for decades with the likes of 8 Bold Souls, tonight is a rare chance to catch him onstage with Anderson. And I'm even more excited about the presence of guest trumpeter Corey Wilkes, who's a full 50 years the saxophonist's junior. Though Anderson rarely plays with trumpeters these days, from the 60s through the 90s he had an indefatigable partner in Bill Brimfield, who added rich harmonies and probing solos to his tunes. I can't wait to hear what Wilkes will bring to the mix with his extra­ordinary chops. 8:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Bill Meyer

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