The List: January 7-13, 2009 

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Lady Gaga, Pierre Boulez with the CSO, Rob Mazurek, Anvil, Das Boton, and more

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

Thursday7

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The Names That Spell

Friday8

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Lady Gaga
Rob Mazurek

Saturday9

Balkano
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Lady Gaga
Rob Mazurek
Miyumi Project

Sunday10

Anvil
Das Boton
Lady Gaga

Tuesday12

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday13

Cancer Bats
Rob Mazurek

thursday7

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Tonight the Chicago Symphony Orchestra begins its monthlong celebration of Pierre Boulez's 85th birthday, which arrives on March 26. Since 2006 the CSO's conductor emeritus, after a tenure as principal guest conductor that began in 1995, Boulez is one of the few renowned composers who's also a top-tier conductor; the last was probably Gustav Mahler. He burst onto the scene as a rebellious youth in Paris with remarkable pieces like his first two piano sonatas, written in the late 40s, and he's still a significant influence on new music today, in part because IRCAM—the institute for the exploration of electroacoustic and contemporary classical music that he founded in the early 70s—continues to attract composers and performers from around the world. Boulez led his first CSO concert in 1969, presenting Debussy, Bartok, Webern, and Messiaen—a composer under whom he'd studied. For this series of four concerts he'll begin with Ravel's lovely Le Tombeau de Couperin, an homage to the Baroque French suite, performed here in the four-movement orchestral version from 1919. The program closes with a concert version of Bartok's only opera, the dark one-act Bluebeard's Castle, sung by mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and bass-baritone Falk Struckmann. Sandwiched between these works from the early 20th century is the CSO premiere of a piece from 2006: the Flute Concerto of Boulez protege Marc-Andre Dalbavie, performed by principal flutist Mathieu Dufour. Roughly 17 minutes long, it's a thrilling whirlwind of coloristic effects, scored for a chamber-size ensemble that allows both soloist and orchestra to come through clearly, without the usual competition for sonic space. This may be one of the last chances Chicagoans get to see Dufour for a long time, since in September he was announced as principal flutist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; strictly speaking he's on a leave of absence from the CSO, and he's likely to decide by this spring whether he'll carry on with the new job or keep his post in Chicago. (Update: Dufour has decided to remain in Chicago with the CSO, though a scheduled shoulder surgery in February may keep him off the stage until late May or June, when he is expected to return for Bernard Haitink's residency and Beethoven festival.) See also Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, when the same program will be reprised. 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $18-$199. —Barbara Yaross

THE NAMES THAT SPELL Warm melodies and clever percussion make local band the Names That Spell almost thoroughly fun, and even when the guitar slips into jam-band territory or the lyrics dip into dopiness, the tunes are redeemed by coherent songwriting and the timely use of earthy sax, bold trumpet, and bits of piano that remind me of Peanuts specials. The Names That Spell put out their own records, and the artsy parody of corporate blather on their MySpace page—which crowds out potentially useful information like a bio—implies that they're quite happy roaming the DIY wilderness. But their most recent disc, a 2008 singles collection called A & R, might've benefited from the presence of a mean-spirited record-label suit to veto groaners like "I sort of really wish I was a sea cucumber / 'Cause then all of my friends would be anemones." Kellen and Me, Jessica Hernandez, Jarryd Scott, and Claire Stahlecker open. 8 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 877-435-9849, $5, $3 in advance. —Ann Sterzinger

friday8

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA See Thursday. 1:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $18-$199.

LADY GAGA Finally, a pop icon who's willing to take on the culture she's part of. Lady Gaga seems motivated equally by a drive to master pop form and by a desire to subvert it. Her rhetoric is as strong as her songwriting, and if you've only heard her hits on the radio or seen pictures of her kooky costumes, you're missing the real fun. "When I say to you, there is nobody like me, and there never was," she says in a December Los Angeles Times profile, "that is a statement I want every woman to feel and make about themselves." She's open about her feminism in interviews, and her video for "Bad Romance" makes it pretty plain too. Its final shots reference The Burning Bed, the infamous made-for-TV movie based on a real-life battered wife's revenge, and the charred skeleton Gaga lies down beside—formerly a man who appeared to be buying her as a sex slave—does double duty as a stand-in for the music industry, with its addiction to woman-as-commodity. Gaga may spend many of the video's early scenes as a doe-eyed coquette, but she isn't nearly as harmless as she seems. Her latest album, this fall's The Fame Monster (Interscope), is not only stronger than her 2008 IPO, The Fame—originally intended to be bonus material in a reissue of The Fame, it became a stand-alone release, with deluxe editions that relegate the debut to bonus-disc status—but also the most interesting prospect pop has had since the 80s. Semi-Precious Weapons and Jason Derulo open. 7:30 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River, Rosemont, 847-671-5100, sold out. —Jessica Hopper

ROB MAZUREK Cornetist and former Chicagoan Rob Mazurek rarely plays here these days, so it's wonderful that he's gigging with three different high-profile projects on this visit: today and tomorrow he leads Exploding Star Orchestra at the Green Mill, on Wednesday at the Hideout he plays with the quintet from last year's Delmark album Sound Is, and on February 3 his long-running Chicago Underground Duo celebrates the release of Boca Negra (Thrill Jockey) at the Cultural Center. Exploding Star Orchestra, a modified big band, has been one of Mazurek's most fruitful projects; its early lineups brought together key players from the south-side Velvet Lounge scene and the north-side Umbrella Music scene who'd never worked together before, and a couple years ago it gained real traction with international audiences thanks to a collaboration with iconoclastic trumpeter Bill Dixon. Still, in many ways I prefer the orchestra on its own, so that its character can come through more strongly: the group delivers some serious rhythmic thunder, with driving ostinatos setting the stage for postminimalist horn riffing, cross-cutting grooves, and generous improvisations. Mazurek's long-form compositions shift gears frequently, both in terms of melody and density, always staying more engrossing than the typical "string of solos" format. This weekend a smaller version—trombonist Jeb Bishop, reedist Matt Bauder, flutist Nicole Mitchell, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Matt Lux, drummer John Herndon, and vocalist Damon Locks—will revisit material from the ensemble's 2007 debut, We Are All From Somewhere Else, and give the Chicago premiere of portions of Mazurek's new 63 Moons of Jupiter Suite. See also Saturday and Wednesday. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

saturday9

BALKANO The members of this local sextet (its name rhymes with "volcano") bring great joy and romance to their frenetic performances of Balkan dance music, but their renditions are also meticulous—listen closely and you can almost hear the footnotes. Balkano haven't come by their depth and smarts easily, though. Reedist Bryan Pardo, who's worked with everyone from Dee Alexander to Mucca Pazza, is on the music faculty at Northwestern; trumpeter James Davis teaches at Triton College in River Grove; vocalist Diana Lawrence is a member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus; guitarist Ari Seder has been a sideman to Von Freeman and Greg Ward; bassist Matthew Golombisky, who runs the Ears and Eyes label, plays with Zing! and the Lucky 7s; and drummer Joe Chellman has worked a dizzying number of gigs, perhaps most notably with popular folk-pop trio Girlyman. The band's self-titled album, available through CD Baby, features a charming diversity of traditional tunes with slightly avant-garde arrangements, audibly influenced by the Klezmatics and the downtown "new Jew" groups championed by the Tzadik label. There are also a handful of originals that fit in pretty neatly, even though their titles sometimes betray their provenance—nobody was playing "Chewbacca Wookie" back in the shtetls. Lamajamal and Sol Aranja open.  10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $10. —Monica Kendrick

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA See Thursday. 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $18-$199.

LADY GAGA See Friday. Semi-Precious Weapons and Jason Derulo open. 7:30 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River, Rosemont, 847-671-5100, sold out.

ROB MAZUREK See Friday. 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.

MIYUMI PROJECT Born in Tokyo with a geisha for a mother and a movie producer for a father, Chicago bassist and shamisen player Tatsu Aoki began his life on the border between traditional and contemporary culture, and with his Miyumi Project he's still mapping the fault lines where they overlap. Sporadically active for more than a decade now, Miyumi is sometimes a small group, sometimes a big band, but whatever the lineup it always combines the unbridled horn voicings of exploratory jazz with the stark rhythms of Japanese taiko drumming. The group's latest record, the 2008's Live in Poland (Asian Improv/Southport), improves on its previous releases by reconciling the rhythmic imperatives of jazz and taiko; not only are the beats big and ceremonial, they really swing. This "winter edition" of the band is the smallest Miyumi Project yet, with just Aoki, woodwind players Edward Wilkerson Jr., Toru Hironaka, and Mwata Bowden, and percussionists Amy Homma (taiko drums) and Avreeayl Ra (jazz drums). 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, $15. —Bill Meyer

click to enlarge Anvil
  • Anvil
  • Ross Halfin

sunday10

ANVIL When a bunch of reviewers all use more or less the same phrase when they talk about a particular band, book, or movie, it usually means that they're lazy and have independently stumbled upon something easy and obvious. But "a real-life Spinal Tap," the words most frequently used to describe the long-suffering Canadian heavy metal band at the center of the 2008 documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil, are so dead-on accurate they're practically inevitable. Like that fictitious band, the core members of Anvil—singer and guitarist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner—have spent decades toiling away in the shadows of the music industry, along the way influencing far more popular acts (Metallica, Guns n' Roses, Slayer) and coming tantalizingly close to breakout success. Anvil's music—like their self-released 2007 album, This Is Thirteen, recently reissued by VH1 Classics—is similarly evocative of Spinal Tap, with thunderously anthemic neanderthal riffage, highly theatrical vocals, and lyrics about such evergreen topics as ass-kicking-ness and metal. It might put a smile on your face—this kind of old-school stuff sounds pretty corny to a lot of people, may the Dark Lord forgive them—but it'll also get your fist in the air. Openers had not been announced at press time. 7 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $20, $18 in advance. —Miles Raymer

DAS BOTON Bill Dolan, a driving force in Five Style and Heroic Doses in the 90s, is one of Chicago's most unaccountably underrated guitar heroes. After a few years on the coasts in the early aughts he came back to Illinois—his native Rockford, to be exact—in late 2005, and this new trio, Das Boton, is the second group he's recorded with since. The lineup features bassist Karl Ropp and Euphone drummer Ryan Rapsys, who was also Dolan's bandmate in Heroic Doses. Das Boton's recent eight-song debut, Soda Drip (Sixgunlover), is a keeper: its jittery, vivid instrumental rock is exactly the kind of stuff Chicago needs more of. Dolan is an eloquent musician, with a down-to-the-bone lyricism that cuts through the caffeinated energy of his no-wave-inflected big-city soul. Whether he speeds his playing up or slows it down, he can always create a downright cinematic sense of suspense, just by forcing you to wonder what those fingers will do next. This is the last Sunday of a monthlong weekly Hideout residency, and Tortoise drummer John Herndon—an on-again, off-again comrade of Dolan's since the Five Style days—is filling in for Rapsys. The Lanterns and the Blasted Diplomats open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Monica Kendrick

LADY GAGA See Friday. Semi-Precious Weapons and Jason Derulo open. 7:30 PM, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River, Rosemont, 847-671-5100, sold out.

tuesday12

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA See Thursday.  7:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $18-$199.

wednesday13

CANCER BATS I'd like to see ironic cover songs go the way of the ironic trucker hat. Not only are they cheap jokes, as played out as yelling "Free Bird" at a concert, but they're disrespectful of their source material in a way I find unbearable. Much more interesting are covers that reveal an unlikely connection between the original performers and the cover band. On their recent self-titled tour-only EP, the Cancer Bats tackle Tegan and Sara's "So Jealous," and though the prospect of four largish, hirsute, angry-sounding dudes playing a pop song by two cute Canadian new-wave fans might understandably fill you with dread, it works: trading the synthy gloss of the original for a metal-flavored version of posthardcore swagger rock (a la the Murder City Devils and the Bronx), the Cancer Bats turn a song already loaded with self-loathing into a grinding barrage of almost nihilistic despair. Anti-Flag headlines; Aiden, the Cancer Bats, and the Menzingers open. 5 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $16. —Miles Raymer

click to enlarge Rob Mazurek
  • Rob Mazurek

ROB MAZUREK See Friday. Tonight Mazurek and the superb quintet with which he recorded last year's Delmark album Sound Is—vibist Jason Adasiewicz, electric bassist Matt Lux, drummer John Herndon, and double bassist Josh Abrams—perform in Chicago for the first time. In some ways this group is among the most jazz-oriented projects the cornetist has pursued in years—certain melodies, like the one on "The Earthquake Tree," carry a whiff of the postbop he began his career with—but the music's most interesting elements have barely a lick of swing to them. Though it's natural to focus your attention on Mazurek's wonderfully lyric solos, delivered with typical precision and extroversion, even more rewarding is the constant subtle morphing of the background parts, which move between dancing polyrhythms, textural low-end rustling, and the ringing, resonating glow of vibes, piano, and synthesizer (the latter two variously added by Mazurek, Abrams, and Herndon). John Corbett spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak

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