The List: January 21-27, 2010 | Soundboard | Chicago Reader

The List: January 21-27, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Nile, the Great Society Mind Destroyers at Psychfest, Freedy Johnston, Between the Buried and Me, Frode Gjerstad, Behemoth, and more

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Behemoth

Behemoth

Thursday21

Nile

Friday22

Great Society Mind Destroyers
Hoyle Brothers
Joan of Arc Don't Mind Control Variety Show
Freedy Johnston
Tommie Sunshine

Saturday23

The Assembly
Hoyle Brothers
Tenement

Sunday24

Between the Buried and Me, Devin Townsend Project
Frode Gjerstad

Monday25

Rempis Percussion Quartet

Tuesday26

Behemoth

Wednesday27

Raise the Red Lantern
Rempis Percussion Quartet

thursday21

NILE Oh, I've been looking forward to this one. This South Carolina outfit, led by lyricist and front man Karl Sanders, is pretty much everything an antiquities geek could ask for in a death-metal band. Anything in the history or mythology of the ancient Middle East (especially Egypt) that's scary, cosmic, sexual, scatological, violent, or any combination of the above (and that's a lot) is fodder for Sanders's glorious obsession, and he spices the real-world stuff with Cthulhu lore for good measure. In metal Christianity catches a lot of flak, but Sanders is an equal-opportunity heretic, holding monotheism at large in contempt—on Nile's sixth full-length, Those Whom the Gods Detest (Nuclear Blast), he incorporates the Muslim declaration of faith into the lyrics of "Kafir" ("There is no God but God"), then truncates it into a nihilistic potshot ("There is no God"). All the songs are deliciously rich and savage, thrumming with the tension between their majestic, haunting riffs and George Kollias's inhumanly fast blastbeats; the mesmerizing instrumental "Yezd Desert Ghul Ritual in the Abandoned Towers of Silence" even manages to use this template to celebrate the beauty of traditional Persian music. Sanders's growled blasphemies sound deadly serious, but once you've read his delightful liner notes—where he comments wryly on religion, politics, and his own high-octane nerdiness—it's hard not to find humor in the same places he does. OK, so "Hittite Dung Incantation" is pretty funny even if all you know is its title, but it gets better if you imagine crazy old priestesses smearing sick believers with poop—and then imagine, as Sanders does, that the priestesses were just fucking with people. Immolation, Krisiun, and Dreaming Dead open. 6 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $27.50, $25 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

friday22

GREAT SOCIETY MIND DESTROYERS Since time immemorial (or at least since 1965) the squares of the world have accused the heads of lacking ambition and drive. But it takes a lot of both to maintain a thriving subterranean scene of loft, basement, and backyard shows, especially in the face of city-government busybodies apparently hell-bent on destroying it. The Great Society Mind Destroyers sprang from the local psych undergound, and to help keep it healthy they've formed something called the Chicago Metaphysical Circus, whose stated aim is to recapture "the intensity of united psychedelic events like the heady late 60s, Germany's 70s kosmische scene, the 80s paisley underground, and the 90s shoegaze scene." Tonight's Psychfest at the Hideout, curated by the GSMD, offers an all-too-rare aboveground glimpse of the current Chicago psych community, with a lineup of upstarts and veteran bands that proves just how much life the music still has in it—a skeptic might imagine an ersatz Exploding Plastic Inevitable dressed up with go-go boots and colored oil projections, but in fact psych is a wellspring of innovation, producing much more interesting sounds than a lot of younger idioms. The Great Society Mind Destroyers themselves whip up a kind of 13th Floor Charlatans Jonestown Massacre UK frenzy, and songs like "Divinorum" and "Now Riot!" are strong evidence that the band can hear the broader continuum in psych—they're very much aware that the music didn't live and die with LBJ's presidency. Dark Fog headline; Plastic Crimewave Sound, Sadhu Sadhu, Vee Dee, the Great Society Mind Destroyers, and Black Wyrm Seed open. Velcro Lewis spins. 8 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Brian Costello

HOYLE BROTHERS Though an open-ended weekly gig is good steady work, it makes it easy for audiences to take a band for granted. Chicago's Hoyle Brothers have been slinging no-nonsense old-school honky-tonk 52 times a year (or close to it) since 2002—first at the Hideout and then at the Empty Bottle, where for a spell they played not just every Friday but every Sunday—but sometimes I wish it were harder to see them, if only so more people might treat them like something special. Last spring they put out their third self-released album, Don't Leave Yet, a collection of sturdy original tunes (and a cover of Waylon Jennings's "Anita, You're Dreaming") whose crisp, twangy grooves are embellished by liquid pedal steel and woozy Dobro. Their sound reminds me a bit of the early output of Nashville's BR549, from before their headlong lunge at the mainstream, and though the Hoyles' own material would be DOA in Music City, it does just fine as the soundtrack for a happy hour at the end of the work week. See also Saturday.  5:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Peter Margasak

JOAN OF ARC DON'T MIND CONTROL VARIETY SHOW Tim Kinsella is well into his second decade as master and commander of Joan of Arc, which was born a band but grew into an art-rock enigma—one that goes from celebrated to reviled seemingly from one release to the next. While many of Kinsella's old friends and peers from his Cap'n Jazz days in the early 90s went the way of the emo cash grab, he released a torrent of uneven but brilliant albums brimming with fuck-you conceptual-art gestures that seemed meant to be misunderstood. All the while Joan of Arc's membership has been in constant rotation, creating quite a sizable community of alumni, and Don't Mind Control (Polyvinyl), the latest release under the JOA banner, compiles tracks from the current projects of almost everyone who's ever done time in the band—among them Disappears, Owen, the Cairo Gang, Euphone, and a lot of folks you'd recognize from the Rainbo calendar. Tonight's 14-act bill likewise includes Disappears and Owen, plus a whole bunch more of those alumni: Kinsella, of course, as well as Josh Abrams, A Tundra, Birthmark, Jeremy Boyle, Litesalive, Pillars & Tongues, the Zoo Wheel, Vacations, Slick Conditions, and Matt Clark of White/Light (who's also my fiance). Each will play at most 15 minutes; some will re-create their contributions to Don't Mind Control, some will do cover songs, and some will roll out one-off collaborations with other artists on the roster. They'll be grouped into sets of three, separated by short breaks during which Danny's regular Naomi Walker will DJ. The identity of the "surprise special guests" referred to on the Bottle's schedule is being kept tightly under wraps, but my guess is that this show will be the public consummation of the rumored Cap'n Jazz reunion. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Jessica Hopper

click to enlarge Freedy Johnston

FREEDY JOHNSTON Freedy Johnston's previous album of new material—the last thing he released before parting ways with Elektra Records—came out nine long years ago, and since then he's weathered a painful breakup, what he tactfully calls "issues with the IRS," and a period of semi-itinerancy when he spent time in New York, Austin, Madison, and Nashville. But he's back with the brand-new Rain on the City (Bar/None), and though his lyrics have grown more economical, his elegant melodies are as ingratiating as ever. Likewise Johnston's insights into faltering relationships and private suffering remain almost painfully sharp. In "Central Station" he sings as a man waiting for a train home after his father's death, unsure if he'll ever be back, and in "Lonely Penny" he has an imaginary conversation with a coin found on the street, turning it into a wrenching meditation on depression and rootlessness—something not too many songwriters could pull off ("Hey penny we are the same," he sings, "Are we both just waiting to be taken away?"). Johnston's reedy voice remains a big part of his charm: he handles it with exquisite care, allowing his high notes on songs like "Venus Is Her Name" to develop a vulnerable quiver that gives them a potent emotional sting. And in his songwriting he's more than just a meat-and-potatoes strummer, drawing on the sprightly melodic style of Buddy Holly for "It's Gonna Come Back to You" and even borrowing a bossa groove for "The Kind of Love We're In," one of his most sophisticated tunes. Johnston is backed by the Know-It-All Boyfriends, whose lineup includes Garbage bassist Duke Erikson. 7:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. —Peter Margasak

TOMMIE SUNSHINE Once-local DJ Tommie Sunshine has come a long way from his humble beginnings at cornfield raves. Since the new year began he's launched a label (Brooklyn Fire), lit up the blogosphere with his remix of the Dead's "Shakedown Street" (worked into a fine clubbed-up boogie), and toured the Pacific Rim (not a euphemism). Fortunately not much about his style has changed since his epic days (or dawns, rather) on Chicago's late-90s loft-party scene: he's as ecumenical as ever, mixing new music with strange oldies and big tracky bits of Euro-trash with forgotten techno treasures, all in one long set of glittery feel-goodness. Traxx and Greg Corner open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, $15, $10 before midnight or in advance. —Jessica Hopper

saturday23

THE ASSEMBLY The best dark synth pop of the past ten years has overwhelmingly come from Europe, particularly Germany, and the bands don't tour the States too often—so I was pretty chuffed to discover a sterling example of the genre right here in town. The Assembly (not to be confused with Vince Clarke's short-lived early-80s project) balance Nathan Suh's complex, soulful keyboard work with nimble but crunchy alt-rock guitar, and they've also got the element most vital to successful synth pop: a gorgeous voice, in this case belonging to Dave Suh. He delivers his angsty lyrics in a swooping, sensual baritone that would sound almost languid if he didn't have such great lungs. Dave is also the band's main guitarist, and part of me wants him to pack up the ax and turn the front line over to the synths, since it's obvious Nathan could handle it. But the Assembly's mix of rock and dance-pop instrumentation gives them lots of ways to change up the arrangements of the slower songs and keep them entertaining—on many keyboard- or sequencer-driven synth-pop records, the tracks can get so repetitive that you wonder if the whole band didn't just leave their gear playing loops and go out for clove cigarettes. Meqqa, Villain vs. Villain, and Heart-Set Self-Destruct open. 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160. —Ann Sterzinger

HOYLE BROTHERS See Friday.  10 PM, California Clipper, 1002 N. California, 773-384-2547.

TENEMENT It warms my heart to see that kids in Bumfuck, Wisconsin, are still turning to punk rock to convince them there's some meaning in their frostbitten, crud-job lives—I know that if I'd stayed there, I might've followed in the footsteps of that thirtysomething nudist burnout with the ill-kempt mohawk who kept retelling the story about the time he met Devo. The guys in Tenement live in Neenah and Appleton, and they're exactly the kind of band you'd expect to open for Chuck Taylor-wearing midwestern Ramones clones the Riverdales. These crazy-eyed acolytes take Ben Weasel's poppy tunes and snotty-voiced shtick and rough 'em up till you forget how tired you'd gotten of the whole package, howling lyrics like "I can't believe that you can still put up with me"—sometimes so loud it overloads the mike—over nervous guitars and bashed-to-hell drums. Tenement's first LP, Napalm Dream (on Mandible, 608 Kisses, or BFG, depending on format), is either still forthcoming or so new it's not in any online catalogs; grab it at the show if you can. The Riverdales headline; Tenement and Sugar Stems open. 7 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $15, 17+. —Ann Sterzinger

Devin Townsend Project

sunday24

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT North Carolina's BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME specialize in channeling the force of metal and hardcore through tortuous progressive structures, and their latest, The Great Misdirect (Victory), is actually put together a lot like an essay. No, really, bear with me—you've got your opening paragraph ("Mirrors," which neatly summarizes what the band's all about), your devil's advocate argument ("Obfuscation," whose fusiony interludes give it a back-and-forth rhythm, almost like a debate), and your long-winded but impressive conclusion (the 18-minute "Swim to the Moon," which strings together pieces of everything that's come before). Of course the analogy breaks down past a certain point—much of the rest of the album consists of digressions as vivid as indigestion dreams. What's really impressive about The Great Misdirect is that, despite its constant self-referencing and reprisal of motifs, by some perverse alchemy it manages to feel spontaneous.

Canadian guitarist, vocalist, and producer Devin Townsend is best known for masterminding the omni-metal wall of sound that was Strapping Young Lad, but his wildly varied output could fill three musicians' resumés. Though his 2007 concept album, Ziltoid the Omniscient, is nominally about an alien searching for the ultimate cup of coffee, it might as well be about Townsend himself—he's so restlessly productive that he seems to have access to a kind of caffeine unknown on earth. He dissolved his old bands before the birth of his first son in 2006 and has since reinvented himself yet again, shaving off his famous skullet and getting clean and sober. He's always approached metal warily—his heavier stuff oftens feels like a love letter and a lurid parody at once—and with the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT he's making his ambivalence about it more explicit than ever. He's halfway through four albums with the DTP, all on his own HevyDevy label, and so far he's flouted the unwritten laws of underground metal with detours into quiet beauty and cheesy Euro-pop bombast; last spring's Ki (taut, meditative) and this fall's Addicted (stomping, stupid-fun) will form a tetralogy with the forthcoming Deconstruction (dark, chaotic) and Ghost (eerie, ambient). The final two records are scheduled to drop in May, at which point all four will be available as a set.

Between the Buried and Me headline; Cynic, the Devin Townsend Project, and Scale the Summit open. 5:30 PM, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $18, $15 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

FRODE GJERSTAD Norwegian reedist Frode Gjerstad was an odd man out in the 80s and early 90s, when the pastel-hued, ECM-endorsed stylings of folks like Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, and Terje Rypdal dominated his homeland's jazz scene. As a fire-breathing disciple of free jazz, Gjerstad had to look abroad to find people to play with, and during that period his primary collaborators included English drummer John Stevens, South African bassist Johnny Dyani, and Los Angeles trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Since the mid-90s, however, healthy numbers of young Norwegian musicians equally committed to ferocious improvisation have been coming through the door Gjerstad opened, and many of them have passed through his long-running big band, Circulasione Totale Orchestra. The group's recent three-CD set of live recordings, Bandwidth (Rune Grammofon), features guitarist Anders Hana, noise maven Lasse Marhaug, bassists Per Zanussi and Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, and drummer Morten Johan Olsen, among other rising stars. But the orchestra isn't just a training ensemble, and also includes veterans like Bradford, reedist Sabir Mateen, vibist Kevin Norton, and drummers Louis Moholo-Moholo and Hamid Drake (there are usually at least two drummers and two bassists at any given time). The dense, thorny music churns in waves that rise and fall, a tangle of styles ranging from paint-peeling postfree solos that cut through the din to interludes of contemplative, lyrical postbop that give everybody, band and audience alike, a few moments to collect themselves. For tonight's gig Gjerstad is joined by two players from Bandwidth, brilliant Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (who's lately been the reedist's most steadfast colleague) and British bassist Nick Stephens. Locals Jeb Bishop (trombone) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) will sit in, first one at a time and then both at once. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

monday25

REMPIS PERCUSSION QUARTET Last year's The Disappointment of Parsley (Not Two), recorded in April 2008, is the best document yet of the Rempis Percussion Quartet's thrilling combination of fiery melodies, churning polyrhythms, and dynamic leaps between detail-rich quietude and full-on walls of sound. But bandleader Dave Rempis, who plays alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, isn't afraid to mess with success if it'll keep the music evolving. Concerned that certain patterns were recurring too frequently in the combo's improvisations, in spring 2009 he decided to replace its fulcrum, selflessly solid bassist Anton Hatwich. So far I've only heard new bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten play with the RPQ in a video posted to Rempis's Web site, where he's so undermiked that it's impossible to tell what he's doing, even when drummers Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly lay out. But based on years of seeing him and Rempis in other ensembles I'm willing to bet that his style—more aggressive than Hatwich's—will make the mercurial relationship between the quartet's one-man front line and its sizable rhythm section even more volatile. These gigs are part of a brief tour, after which the RPQ will enter the studio to record their first album with Haaker Flaten. See also Wednesday. 9 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $7 suggested donation. —Bill Meyer

tuesday26

BEHEMOTH Poland's leading exporters of blackened death metal just released their ninth album, Evangelion (it's their first on Metal Blade, which seems to be helping their American profile), and the first thing I noticed about it is how pretty it is. Yeah, yeah, it's brutal too—totally, apocalyptically brutal—but the cover art, which looks like an occult medieval engraving, is starkly lovely, and the trills and fills that flicker like arabesques among the massive riffs and frenzied blastbeats are seductive, sometimes downright sexy. I can see why front man and guitarist Adam "Nergal" Darski (the only member remaining from the original 1991 lineup) considers this Behemoth's best yet—of course, bands always say that, but in this case I think he's right. Though the album is an embarrassment of riches, it's also masterfully economical, with a place for everything and everything in its place. The satanic lushness of the music perfectly balances its furious violence—listening to it is like lying in an opium den, too blissed-out to care that there's a ball-peen hammer planted in your forehead. Evangelion hit number one on the album charts in Poland, but Behemoth's notoriety has had its costs—they've attracted the attention of morality cops, who just last week persuaded the courts to reopen a criminal case against Nergal in connection with a 2007 incident in which he destroyed a Bible onstage. The group making the most trouble, I have to point out, bears the unfortunate name of the All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects. Septicflesh, Lightning Swords of Death, and Kommandant open. 5:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $18, $15 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

wednesday27

RAISE THE RED LANTERN It takes some balls to start an album with a seven-and-a-half-minute saga that constantly shifts gears from attacks of galloping guitar riffage to interludes of stoned psychedelia. That dynamic opener, "Ritual," establishes a template for Raise the Red Lantern's sophomore effort, a self-titled album for At a Loss Recordings: this local four-piece goes all kinds of places inside a single song, apparently unconcerned with pointing the whole thing toward any particular destination (the tense two-minute carousel of fretboard tapping in "Ritual" is a prime example of the band's talent for tangents). Vocalist-guitarist Kris Milkent is judicious about when to sing, often leaving center stage to the guitars as they intertwine like ivy creeping up the shady side of a dilapidated house; when he does open his mouth, his rasping screams complement the prismatic variety of each winding song. It's easy to compare Raise the Red Lantern to Baroness or Mastodon, but it'd be a mistake to dismiss them as imitators—they're on track to bloom into something unique, and if you care at all about Chicago metal you're gonna want to be paying attention when that happens. Chord, Battlefields, and City of Ships open. 8:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Kevin Warwick

REMPIS PERCUSSION QUARTET See Monday. Mitch Cocanig spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7.

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