The List: January 20-26, 2011 

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Algebro, Lauryn Hill, Mondo Drag, Zelienople, Jason & Alison of Verbow, Dylan LeBlanc, Moonstone Continuum, Tony Conrad, Arnold Steinhardt, Estrogen Highs, Afrika Bambaataa, Nightlands

Thursday20

Algebro
>Critic's Choice< Lauryn Hill

Friday21

>Critic's Choice< Mondo Drag
>Critic's Choice< Zelienople

Saturday22

Jason & Alison of Verbow
Dylan LeBlanc
>Critic's Choice< Moonstone Continuum

Sunday23

>Critic's Choice< Tony Conrad
>Critic's Choice< Arnold Steinhardt

Tuesday25

Estrogen Highs

Wednesday26

>Critic's Choice< Canceled Afrika Bambaataa
Nightlands

thursday20

ALGEBRO It must be said: Algebro has one of the worst, punniest band names I've ever seen. Judging a band by its name is usually far safer than judging a book by its cover—you won't miss much, for example, if you avoid every group whose name includes the word "funk"—but this is one instance where such a snap decision would lead you astray. Algebro's mastermind, singer-songwriter Thom Cathcart, is a subtly clever lyricist who knows exactly how much humor he can inject into a song—like the sad-sack drinking ode "Meddling Italian Neighbors," from last year's self-released The Algebro Record—without turning it into a joke. And the fardled indie folk he spins to back up his words—an odd hybrid of the Mountain Goats and Ween—could easily stand on its own. Eddie Dixon & the Embassy headline; Baby Teeth and Algebro open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 877-435-9849, $8. —Miles Raymer

LAURYN HILL Even though Lauryn Hill had already won a Grammy and earned several platinum awards with the Fugees when The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill came out in 1998, it was still a bit of a surprise to see it become a huge hit and a massive influence on the next decade or so of R&B—it was such an organic-feeling, quirkily intimate work of art, coming along at a time when pop music was so proudly plastic and impersonal. Obviously Hill wasn't quite prepared for its success either, and she's spent most of her time since then refining a hermit-genius persona, complete with rumors of a cultish spiritual adviser and vast troves of unreleased music—some of which leaked online last year as the grab-bag collection Khulami Phase. Over the past decade she's performed only sporadically, but now she's embarked on a proper tour. Advance word suggests that she's gone Wiggy Pop Auteur in the classical mode, showing up late and delivering onstage rants between reworked renditions of her old material that, depending on the listener, can seem puzzling, self-indulgent, or transcendent. 11 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 866-448-7849, sold out, 17+. —Miles Raymer

friday21

MONDO DRAG It's easy to want to root for a thick and nasty psychedelic rock band coming out of somewhere like Davenport, Iowa, just because it seems so improbable. But Mondo Drag have a lot more to offer than an underdog backstory—they've got a tendency to sound like they're streaming live via satellite from the DayGlo cosmic spacescape of a Dr. Strange black-light poster. Last year's New Rituals (Alive) is a pileup of tricks and techniques pilfered from the halls of psych-rock history: the quintet has Blue Cheer's sonic heft, Hawkwind's disregard for radio-friendly running times, the Stooges' way of exploding a three-chord garage stomp into a howling lysergic freak-out, and Spacemen 3's ability to push guitar tones right up to the edge of pure noise. The fact that it sounds like the whole mess is held together by nothing but hair grease and pot resin is one of the things I like most about it. This show is part of Welcome 2 the Void: Chicago Psych Fest 2. Catacombz, the Great Society Mind Destroyers, Plastic Crimewave Sound, Dead Luke, and El Is a Sound of Joy open. 8 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 877-435-9849, $10, $15 two-day festival pass. —Miles Raymer

ZELIENOPLE For most of its ten-year run, Zelienople has been a trio: singer-guitarist Matt Christensen, multi-instrumentalist Brian Harding, and percussionist Mike Weis. But many of the local combo's best shows, like last summer's eerily atmospheric collaboration with John Twells of Xela, have involved a fourth musician—which may be why the band has just added a new member, harmonium and keyboard player Dan Mohr. Mohr's role in improvisational drone collective DRMWPN (and its successor, Gleaming) bodes well for Zelienople's forays into uncharted space, and you can always count on them not to box themselves into any one sound. Just listen to their two most recent albums: Give It Up (Type) is full of moody, echo-laden songs about trying to live with failings and hardships you can't overcome, and Hollywood (Under the Spire) is a completely instrumental, mostly electronic set that sounds like Jon Hassell getting down with John Carpenter to soundtrack a ghost movie. Chris Connelly, Locrian, and Implodes open.  8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 866-468-3401, $12, $10 in advance. —Bill Meyer

saturday22

JASON & ALISON OF VERBOW Guitarist Jason Narducy and cellist Alison Chesley performed as a duo in the early 90s before they became the driving forces behind local alt-folk group Verbow. That band lost its heart when Chesley left in 2001, then split up in 2003; last May, Narducy and Chesley organized a one-off Verbow reunion and released Live at Schubas, a compilation of songs recorded at the club in 1998 and 2001. Since the band's breakup Narducy has been touring as a sideman for the likes of Liz Phair, Bob Mould, and Robert Pollard, while Chesley has struck gold as Helen Money, using her cello to build a wall of sound right on the line between experimental music and metal. At this concert—her first acoustic performance with Narducy in ten years—she'll show a more gently nostalgic side. Jeremy David Miller opens. 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15, 18+. —Monica Kendrick

DYLAN LEBLANC A number of stories I've read about Dylan LeBlanc cast him as a man who's packed a lot of living into his 20 years, grappling with drugs, alcohol, and a busted family. On his impressive debut album, Paupers Field (Rough Trade), he does his best to come across as an old soul—the son of a Muscle Shoals country songwriter, he sings in a voice that recalls the charming croak of Neil Young. But in every one of the album's first four songs, he's lamenting a woman who's either slamming the door in his face or running away from him—it's soon clear that his experience has its limitations. What Paupers Field lacks in profundity, though, it makes up for with beauty: LeBlanc uses eloquent pedal steel to punctuate strummy folk rock, and his gentle, melancholy melodies arrive in wave after wave. Reviews of his live show suggest that he's still learning how to translate his charisma to the stage, but on disc his fragile elocution and mumbly delivery artfully obscure his lyrics, giving his performances an elusive electricity. Lissie headlines. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, sold out, 18+. —Peter Margasak

MOONSTONE CONTINUUM Lunarianism, the religion embraced by Minneapolis prog-psych sextet Moonstone Continuum, is supposedly an ancient belief system subject to cruel persecution for centuries and driven underground—its energies can only be summoned by alert, responsive audiences and a whole lot of swirling guitar effects. The band's leader and spokesman, the Reverend Micah Mackert, riles up the crowds and harangues them with sermons; his scripture is bundled with the band's debut, NR:4;3.1-3 (Totally Gross National Product), and his infrequently updated blog offers a sampling of his deliriously skewed starry wisdom. Musically, Moonstone Continuum play dazzling, complex old-school space-rock that brings to mind a a young, American version of French prog institution Magma. This show is part of Welcome 2 the Void: Chicago Psych Fest 2. Thunderbolt Pagoda, Sadhu Sadhu, Dark Fog, Black Wyrm Seed, and Verma open. 7:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 877-435-9849, $10, $15 two-day pass. —Monica Kendrick

sunday23

TONY CONRAD For this rare appearance—his first in Chicago since a mind-melting duet with Keiji Haino at the Empty Bottle in April 2009—violinist, composer, filmmaker, and cultural theorist Tony Conrad visits the Renaissance Society in conjunction with an installation by Irish multimedia artist Gerard Byrne, A Thing Is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not, which runs through the end of February. Byrne's multichannel film project concerns itself with famous moments in the history of minimalism, of which Conrad has personally lived quite a few (though they aren't the ones depicted in the installation). He's arguably still living several: he's played an important part in the ongoing minimalist renaissance that began in the mid-90s, and he has yet to resolve his dispute with former collaborator La Monte Young about the recordings they made in the mid-60s as part of Young's Theatre of Eternal Music. (Young insists he composed the music, and refuses to release it until the other surviving members acknowledge him as its author; Conrad says it was collaboratively improvised, and will do no such thing.) Because much of Conrad's musical output is so similar to the Theatre of Eternal Music's otherworldly, overwhelming drones—one of the grandest expressions of minimalism—Renaissance Society curator Hamza Walker found him a natural match for Byrne's installation. Now, all this history might have you expecting something dry, but what Conrad does is anything but that. Especially when he performs behind a curtain in backlit silhouette, as he will here, his supercharged violin droning—undulating with the odd intervals of just-intonation tuning, thickened with delay and distortion, and brain-extinguishingly loud—is among the most mesmerizing sounds ever created by a human. This concert is free, but seating is first come, first served.  8 PM, Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis, Bergman Gallery, Cobb Hall 418, 773-702-8670. —Monica Kendrick

ARNOLD STEINHARDT On December 1, 2009, violinist Arnold Steinhardt posted the following on his blog, Fiddler's Beat: "Violinist in recently retired string quartet looking for work. . . . Proficient in chamber music. Works best with people willing to overlook occasional lapses in intonation, phrasing, and tone." Steinhardt's good-natured sense of humor, so appealing in his excellent memoir, Indivisible by Four, surely helped him survive as first violinist for all 45 grueling years of the Guarneri String Quartet's history. Would he have been as successful in a solo career? Possibly—he is a formidable instrumentalist—but his unpretentious, music-first style seems better suited to chamber music. Pianist Alan Chow accompanies him here in three works for violin and piano. First is Mozart's sunny Sonata in G Major, K. 301, from the composer's first group of mature sonatas, where an expanded role for the violin sparks lively dialogue between instruments. Next is Janacek's restless Violin Sonata, written in the shadow of World War I and by turns bruising and uplifting; it's followed by Schumann's gently ardent Intermezzo, from the F.A.E. Sonata he wrote with Brahms and Schumann's student Albert Dietrich. The concert closes with ubiquitous pianist Andrea Swan joining Steinhardt, violinist Blair Milton, violist Yukiko Ogura, and cellist Stephen Balderston for Dvorak's irresistible Piano Quintet in A Major, op. 81, a piece characterized by soaring melodies, rhythmic vitality, and incredible elasticity of phrase and mood. 7:30 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 50 Arts Circle, Evanston, 847-491-5441, $24, $22 seniors, $12 students. —Steve Langendorf

tuesday25

ESTROGEN HIGHS Connecticut quartet Estrogen Highs play a kind of post-60s jangle that's rooted as firmly in the arty econo-strum of the Urinals as it is in Loaded-era Velvet Underground pop cool. In some ways they're the epitome of the sound that's taken over their genre in the past few years, as the garage has given way to the bedroom—but even in a crowd of bands all making cheap, reverb-heavy home recordings, Estrogen Highs stand out. Their vocals have a "softer side of Sonic Youth" feel, and songs like "Logical Doctor" and "They Told Me I Was Everything" use tension-and-release freak-out hooks worthy of the Who. It might be that 2011 will be the high-water mark for bands that sound like this—the world has to be reaching its saturation point—but Estrogen Highs have obviously studied what makes songs work, so they ought to be fine even after the trend crashes. Vee Dee, whose third album is coming out next month on new local label BLVD Records, headline; Estrogen Highs and Mannequin Men side project Thee Hardy Mums open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600, $8, free with RSVP to rsvp@emptybottle.com. —Brian Costello

wednesday26

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA Canceled. Hip-hop is old enough that its history is taught at major universities, and a National Museum of Hip-Hop is in the works in New York. It's also young enough that you can still see one of its founding fathers in the flesh, spinning records like he did when he was honing his skills DJing at block parties in the 70s, back before he was a legend. Of course, Afrika Bambaataa has done a lot more than DJ. Any rapper who uses electronic sounds owes him a debt of gratitude for marrying hip-hop and synthesized funk with "Planet Rock," which has influenced everything from Miami bass to sissy bounce. The way Bambaataa reinvented the figure of the Zulu as a symbol of black power and pride has provided a blueprint for a generation of ambitious pop artists hoping to entwine their own images with the currents of sociopolitical progress. He was instrumental in spreading the gospel of the four elements of hip-hop—graffiti, break dancing, DJing, and rapping—and he's widely credited with adding the fifth element, knowledge. But DJing was where he made his name, and even in 2011 there's no doubt Bambaataa can still spin with the best of them. Maker, Intel, Trew, and Shred One open. Canceled due to illness. 10 PM, the Mid, 306 N. Halsted, 312-265-3990, $12. —Leor Galil

NIGHTLANDS Late last year Philadelphia's Dave Hartley—a member of the War on Drugs, among other groups—released Forget the Mantra (Secretly Canadian), the debut full-length by his solo project, Nightlands. He says that many of the musical ideas on the album came to him in dreams, and that he logged them on a tape recorder kept by his bed. From the sound of it, a few of those dreams must've involved Brian Wilson: Nightlands' surfeit of overdubbed vocal harmonies owes a clear debt to the Beach Boys, and Hartley even includes a Beach Boys cover, "'Til I Die," with damped guitar licks and tack-piano parts that could've been swiped from Pet Sounds. Of course, indie rock is hardly suffering from a shortage of acts that emphasize elaborate harmony vocals, from Panda Bear to Fleet Foxes, and Nightlands will never be confused with the Beach Boys—Hartley's pop confections are trippier, spacier, and way more lo-fi. There wouldn't be much worth remarking upon in his dense swirl of choral singing, acoustic guitar, tinny keyboard, rickety drum machine, and spacious percussion if his carefully structured, multipartite tunes weren't so catchy. Yawn headlines; Nightlands and Houses open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, $3 in advance. —Peter Margasak

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