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The List: November 4-10, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Richard Thompson, Junip and Sharon Van Etten, the Devin Townsend Project, Watain, Marnie Stern, and more

Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten

Kristianna Smith

Thursday4

>Critic's Choice< Squish

Friday5

>Critic's Choice< Ani Aznavoorian & Lera Auerbach
Squish
>Critic's Choice< Richard Thompson Band

Saturday6

Masaki Batoh
>Critic's Choice< George Jones
>Critic's Choice< Junip, Sharon Van Etten
Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica
>Critic's Choice< Gert-Jan Prins & Bas Van Koolwijk

Sunday7

>Critic's Choice< Devin Townsend Project
>Critic's Choice< Watain
Withered

Monday8

>Critic's Choice< Nile

Wednesday10

Moondoggies
Marnie Stern

thursday4

SQUISH Squish's glorious caterwauling collision of garage pop and art-punk is equal parts Urinals, Teddy & the Frat Girls, the Raincoats, and the Stains, charged with the wonderful je ne sais quois of learning to play as you go. This all-lady local four-piece cut its six-song demo with Mark McKenzie, aka Mac Blackout (Daily Void, Mickey), and though he's clearly infected the recording with his eccentricities—like the bursts of keyboard skronk in just the right places—nobody can simply twiddle knobs to get the atonal soul-shriek that lead singer Weird Alison brings to "Meeting in the Ladies Room." Over and over she howls, "Got a meeting in the ladies' room / I'll be back real soon" (lines from the Klymaxx song of the same name), and then on the chorus she repeats, "Don't slap me! / I'm not in the mood." The songs—including a cover of Agony Bag's 1979 joke-punk classic "Rabies Is a Killer"—lurch and bounce like a feral child wearing diapers for the first time. I love music like this more than anything. Tyler Jon Tyler headline, and this show is a release party for their self-titled debut LP, on new local label Slow Fizz; Maximum Wage and Squish open. See also Friday. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8 or free with RSVP to rsvp@emptybottle.com. —Brian Costello

friday5

Ani Aznavoorian & Lera Auerbach Russian-born Lera Auerbach is an accomplished composer, pianist, and poet. She began to read and write music at age four, and started composing the moment she touched the piano. As she told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year, "It was a very organic process. I would create stories at the piano. . . . I was able to write out my musical thoughts as quickly as writing words." While on a U.S. concert tour at age 17, she spontaneously defected just months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, eventually landing at Juilliard. Today, many awards, commissions, and composer's residencies later, she's still creating stories, though her polystylistic music—accessible, urgently communicative, and with great surface appeal—may ruffle some academic feathers. Joining Auerbach is hometown cellist Ani Aznavoorian, a friend and collaborator since their Juilliard days; she has an affinity for chamber music and a significant and growing international career. First on the program is Shostakovich's early Cello Sonata in D Minor, op. 40, a perfect introduction to the composer's language and style. Next come ten of Shostakovich's succinct and somewhat underripe Preludes for Piano, op. 34, given a welcome expansion via Auerbach's arrangement for cello and piano. The three sets of 24 preludes that Auerbach wrote in 1999 are some of her best music, and the third set (for cello and piano, op. 47), premiered by these artists when choreographed for the Hamburg Ballet, is an enthralling work of great invention and power; it closes the concert tonight.  7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th, 773-702-8068, $35, $5 for students. —Steve Langendorf

SQUISH See Thursday. Ratattack headlines; the Ovens, Squish, and the Pleats open. 8 PM, Pancho's Bar, 2200 N. California, 773-772-7811, $5, 18+.

RICHARD THOMPSON BAND Folk-rock legend Richard Thompson may or may not have realized that many of the records he's put out over the past couple of decades suffer from studio-born fussiness, but either way his decision to cut the superb new Dream Attic (Shout Factory) in front of live audiences was a smart one. When he skewers the financial industry ("The Money Shuffle") or the sanctimony of Sting ("Here Comes Geordie," which is full of lines like "Good old Geordie, righteous as can be / Cut down the forest just to save a tree") he seems charged with extra vitriol, and narrative songs like "Crimescene" and "Sidney Wells" are cinematic and genuinely suspenseful. A few tunes draw on his deep roots in British folk, but as good as those tracks are, they still make me wish Joel Zifkin weren't playing an electric violin and that Pete Zorn would trade in his saxophones for a shawm. The best thing about the album is how much guitar playing Thompson does; of the British rock guitarists who emerged in the late 60s, he's my favorite, and here his biting, focused improvisations teem with tightly coiled, magically gnarled phrases. 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449 or 866-448-7849, $32.50. —Peter Margasak

saturday6

MASAKI BATOH Masaki Batoh, the singer at the center of Japanese psychedelic combo Ghost, has always seemed like a mystical troubadour—and now he's making like one. Even though he hasn't recorded a solo album in 14 years, Batoh is touring the U.S. sans band, bringing just his guitar, maybe a hurdy-gurdy, and the songs he's written over the past quarter century. Given the solemn authority of his vocal turns on a pair of recent albums with cellist Helena Espvall, that should be more than enough. Batoh plays second tonight, after Kohoutek, an improvising ensemble from Washington, D.C.; the duo Mountains, whose Koen Holtkamp is about to release a solo album based on recordings of bees, plays third; and English guitarist James Blackshaw (whose new LP, All Is Falling, is his first electric recording) headlines.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Bill Meyer

GEORGE JONES It's easy to let the mythology of George Jones overshadow his music. Few mortal men, when faced with an empty booze cabinet, an eight-mile drive to the closest liquor store, and his car keys hidden by a worried wife, would make the trip by riding mower. Fewer still would do it again. But it's worth reminding yourself that Jones is one of the all-time great male country vocalists, possibly second only to Hank Sr. He can make a song bleed emotion, and on his classic records he delivers notes that tumble out of your speakers like gold bars. He's now 79, and though his voice isn't what it once was, his pipes have stood up well to 60-plus years of professional singing—not to mention a lot of bourbon and other corrosive substances. Even at his advanced age, the wily Possum delivers more don't-give-a-fuck per minute than the average rebellious teenager could hope to pack into a lifetime. 8 PM, Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago, Joliet, 815-726-6600, $35-$75. —Miles Raymer

JUNIP, SHARON VAN ETTEN Swedish singer and guitarist Jose Gonzalez formed JUNIP in the late 90s in his native Gothenburg, but the trio only finally released its debut album, Fields (Mute), this year. Junip were inactive for much of that time—during which Gonzalez became a successful solo artist—and the record's distinctive sound suggests they benefited from its long gestation period. Here as on his own, Gonzalez sings softly, the gentleness of his modest melodies complementing the intimate warmth of his nylon-string guitar arpeggios; behind him drummer Elias Araya metes out rigid post-Krautrock grooves and Tobias Winterkorn layers on electric piano and spacey analog synth. The full band sounds like Bread jamming with Klaus Dinger—and the funny thing is, it works.

On her wonderfully austere debut album, Because I Was in Love (Language of Stone), SHARON VAN ETTEN made a virtue of her inexperience as a performer by embracing restraint: her songs rarely relied on more than an acoustic guitar and her folky voice, and both on record and at her Chicago debut last year at the Empty Bottle, she sang so quietly I found myself leaning in to hear. She's a lot more forceful on her follow-up, Epic (Ba Da Bing), delivering bigger melodies atop full-band arrangements in a voice that makes the hushed coo on her debut seem downright anemic. For an artist who built a reputation on sonic smallness it's a risky transition, but Van Etten nails it—she keeps the elegant, transparently personal lyrics, haunting melodies, and judiciously ornamented singing that made her great and adds angelic harmony vocals, simpatico harmonium drones, and woozy pedal steel. She's touring with a rhythm section and backup singer Cat Martino, and she'll double on guitar and harmonium.

Junip headlines and Van Etten opens. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15. —Peter Margasak

GIDON KREMER & KREMERATA BALTICA Born in Latvia and based in Germany, violinist Gidon Kremer formed his chamber orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica, in 1997, assembling two dozen or so young players from the Baltic states. The group presents relatively new works, often in clever contexts designed to make pieces from outside the classical repertoire accessible to classical audiences—for their 2000 album Eight Seasons, they interspersed the movements of Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons Suite into the Vivaldi masterpiece that inspired it. The Kremerata's beautiful new De Profundis (Nonesuch) shares its title with a 1998 piece that young Lithuanian composer Raminta Serksnyte named after the first line of Psalm 130 ("Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord"), and in the liner notes Kremer explains that the subtext for the dozen works on the album is devotion to an ideal in a corrupt, self-serving world—but the orchestra's warm, full sound and sweeping, loosely Romantic performances don't need that subtext to succeed. De Profundis mixes Sibelius, Schubert, and Shostakovich with new pieces by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer and Lera Auerbach, among others, and tonight's program will feature several selections from the album—works by Auerbach, Serksnyte, Arvo Pärt, Michael Nyman, and Georgs Pelecis—as well as the violin version of Schumann's Cello Concerto (with Kremer as the soloist) and Bartok's Divertimento. 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, $25-$55. —Peter Margasak

GERT-JAN PRINS & BAS VAN KOOLWIJK As a kid Dutch sound artist Gert-Jan Prins built radio transmitters and receivers from scratch, a hobby that still informs his work—though he was first active as a free-jazz percussionist, for more than two decades he's been creating abstract noise with homemade gear that incorporates radio technology. Though his palette is fairly narrow—thumps, hisses, hums, clicks, squeals—his improvisations are both nuanced and visceral and develop according to a keen compositional logic. He's collaborated with iconoclasts in electronic music (Pita, Fennesz, Marcus Schmickler) and free improv (Anne La Berge, Peter van Bergen, Cor Fuhler), and the new RI 1.5442 (Cavity) is a duet with Swiss guitarist and electronicist Tomas Korber. He doesn't stray from his usual simmering crackles, gut-shaking rumbles, pulsing interference patterns, and lacerating static, and Korber's sounds—rarely even remotely guitarlike—blend right in. But the dazzling focus with which they shape these minimal materials turns the album's 74 minutes into an engrossing journey across ever-shifting topography. Lately Prins has been working with Dutch video artist Bas van Koolwijk, and tonight's performance will employ a device they designed in 2006 called the Synchronator, which translates audio signals into abstract video. They've made a DVD of Synchronator visuals produced by Prins's audio output, and two arresting clips are posted online—one consists of flickering bursts of black-and-white horizontal action, the other of scrolling, morphing spasms of repeated shapes that look like single-celled algae in red or green. Part of the fun is trying to deduce which elements in the sound are affecting the video, and in which ways. 8 PM, Graham Foundation, Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Pl., 312-787-4071, RSVP required at synchronator.eventbrite.com. —Peter Margasak

sunday7

DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT Singer and guitarist Devin Townsend, mastermind of the late lamented extreme-metal band Strapping Young Lad, got off the bus in 2006—he quit touring, dissolved both his working groups, got sober, and started a family. At first he lamented that he found it hard to write music without pot and alcohol, but that turned out to be a fleeting problem—with the Devin Townsend Project albums Ki and Addicted (HevyDevy), which both came out last year, he's tapped a gusher, and if Strapping Young Lad is all you've heard, you'll be surprised at the directions it flows. Ki is spiritual and almost serene, full of tension-and-release cycles, and Addicted is so exuberantly loud, cheesy, and poppy that you'll wonder how anybody ever decided this kind of pleasure was "guilty." The other two parts of the DTP tetralogy Townsend has planned—Ghost and Deconstruction, which are supposed to be eerily ambient and ferociously complex, respectively—were originally scheduled to be finished in time for this tour, but they've grown into double albums and won't be out till next year. He keeps fans updated on his progress with studio videos that provide considerable insight into his painterly, meticulous production style, an attention to detail he maintains whether he's addressing his personal journey with sleek, proggy metal or plotting a sequel to the toweringly nerdy Ziltoid the Omniscient, a 2007 concept album that tells the story of a contemptuous, caffeine-addicted alien (which he just adapted for Rock Band Network). Tonight's set will include DTP material and songs from throughout Townsend's career. Tesseract opens. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $15. —Monica Kendrick

WATAIN Black-metal bands seem to take pride in obfuscation: devising incomprehensible logos, concealing their faces with corpsepaint, releasing tiny-edition cassette tapes you can't find even in the most obscurity-worshipping record shops. In a more strictly musical sense that means that you rarely find black-metal bands that play like Watain—heavy and dense but crisply defined. These scarily earnest Swedes summon a convincingly menacing thunder that doesn't blur out of focus, and their knack for melody and dynamics occasionally recalls the New Wave of British Heavy Metal instead of the full-bore onslaught of, say, Mayhem. Not that Watain is a pop band or anything; like their already-classic 2007 album Sworn to the Dark, the recent Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist) is a trip to very bad places, led by ghoulish guys with a thing for satanism, fake blood, and animal carcasses. Goatwhore, Black Anvil, and the Muzzler open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $20, $17 in advance. —Miles Raymer

WITHERED Heavy-metal musicians like to play with extremes, especially when it comes to tempos. Many play their instruments so fast it looks like they're trying to test the body's natural limits; others play glacially slowly, evoking either deep meditation or the geological movements of some Chthulhu-type entity. Atlanta quartet Withered tries to have it both ways, whipping through a song at a death-metal clip before switching to a sickeningly heavy slow-motion doom that seems particular to their southern metal peers. It works, though, and much of their new Dualitas (Prosthetic) feels like a high-speed car chase that dead-ends in a swamp, leaving the listener facedown and beyond brutalized. Danzig headlines; Possessed, Marduk, Toxic Holocaust, and Withered open. 6 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-1235, $24, 17+. —Miles Raymer

monday8

NILE South Carolina's greatest (OK, only) practitioners of "ithyphallic" death metal haven't dropped a new album since they last blew through town like a desert wind, but last year's Those Whom the Gods Detest (Nuclear Blast) is holding up remarkably well—it's still in my regular rotation, and keeps getting richer with time. There is some news from the Nile camp, though. For one, they've added touring bassist Chris Lollis to their full-time roster—I'm guessing the band's employee health plan involves linen, resin, and canopic jars, but who can afford to sneeze at that nowadays? Second, songwriter and bandleader Karl Sanders is offering guitar lessons the day of their show. This isn't the first time he's done this, but it is the first time he's offered one-on-one classes. Fifty bones for a half-hour alone with such an eminent shredder isn't a bad deal by any stretch, but I wonder if he could also teach you the way to make your heart lighter than a feather? E-mail nileguitarlessons@gmail.com for details. Ex Deo, Psycroptic, Keep of Kalessin, and Pathology open. 5 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $27, $24 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

wednesday10

MOONDOGGIES On its second album, Tidelands (Hardly Art), this shaggy Seattle quartet wears its heart on its sleeve: the Moondoggies' strummy, organ-stoked rock is clearly inspired by earnest 70s songwriters like Neil Young and John Fogerty, and singer-guitarist Kevin Murphy sounds like he's channeling Tom Petty at his most prosaic. What makes these guys memorable (aside from their unfortunate name) are the sweet, precisely arranged vocal harmonies, which turn their music into more than just mildly rootsy, meat-and-potatoes retro rock—they've got more in common with contemporaries like Animal Collective or Fleet Foxes. Miles Nielsen and Tacoma Narrows open.  8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $8 in advance. —Peter Margasak

MARNIE STERN Despite its appealingly hyperactive energy, Marnie Stern's music has sometimes sounded a little dry and schematic—as exciting as her playing can be, it's often been hard to hear the heart in it. But on her third album, the recent Marnie Stern (Kill Rock Stars), she lays her feelings bare. The opening track, "For Ash," is a moving response to the suicide of a former lover, and "Female Guitar Players Are the New Black" pushes past the irony in its title to Stern's real frustration with being treated as a mere novelty because she's a woman who plays hammer-ons (on this album she dials back the flashy technique that earned her the "shredder" tag in the first place). Here and there she replaces her usual excited chants with stabs at melodic singing, and remarkable drummer Zach Hill helps shape her songs with his manic rhythms. Hill isn't on this tour, though; Stern is backed by bassist Nithin Kalvakota, drummer Vincent Rogers, and guitarist Joseph Tirabassi. Heavy Cream and Electric Hawk open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12, limited $5 tickets. —Peter Margasak

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