The List: April 29-May 5, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Quasi, Jason Collett, Skeletonwitch, Los Campesinos!, Harlem, the Gundecha Brothers, and more

Quasi

Quasi

John Clark

Thursday29

Jason Collett
Jeremy Pelt Quintet
Skeletonwitch
Yeasayer, Sleigh Bells

Friday30

Jason
Los Campesinos!
Jeremy Pelt Quintet

Saturday1

Barbez
Harlem, Jaill
Jeremy Pelt Quintet
Quasi

Sunday2

Barbez
Jason
Jeremy Pelt Quintet

Tuesday4

Awesome Color
Shelby Lynne

Wednesday5

Gundecha Brothers

thursday29

JASON COLLETT On his latest solo album, Rat a Tat Tat (Arts & Crafts), Jason Collett continues to indulge his singer-songwriter side, something he has a hard time doing as a charter member of the indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene. The spirit of Bob Dylan weighs heavily on the proceedings, but Collett is a composer of more modest means. He sticks almost exclusively to tunes about busted or bandaged love—though he likes to write about boozy debauchery, he's got a romantic streak a mile wide—and his candid, confessional, almost poetic approach would've been right at home in the 70s, before diffidence and emotional distance became quite so common in rock. In song after song his narrators pine for love, or just for a hookup, but it's rarely very clear what might actually help them. In "Lake Superior" the protagonist means to drown himself ("There is nothing so near / As being left behind"), but the water's beauty inspires him to reconsider; "Love Is a Chain" describes a couple's mutually destructive dance ("We fight and then we fuck / And then we fight all over again / It never ends"). It's familiar turf, but between Collett's appealingly slack-jawed delivery, the catchiness of his dusky melodies, and the sharp, rugged performances of his backing band (a Toronto group that also plays on its own as Zeus) the songs have plenty of personality. Zeus and Bahamas open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $15. —Peter Margasak

click to enlarge Jason Collett

JEREMY PELT QUINTET Over the past decade young trumpeter Jeremy Pelt has experimented with several approaches to jazz, from lushly orchestrated balladry to post-Bitches Brew funk, but he shines brightest when he plays hard bop—and his latest album, Men of Honor (HighNote), proves it again. He's cultivated a superb working band—J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and the wonderful Gerald Cleaver on drums—that shares his devotion to classic sounds from the 60s, and on this record Miles Davis's second great quintet, with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, is the clearest antecedent. Allen's gorgeous ballad "Brooklyn Bound" sounds like it belongs on E.S.P.—atop Grissett's sparse, chiming chords, the reedist unfurls his notes sumptuously and patiently, with a focus and intensity reminiscent of Shorter's improvisations—dramatically different from the more forceful approach he uses on trio records under his own name. Pelt's delicate Harmon mute work is uncannily like Davis's, but that's not the only obvious influence on his playing—his shape-shifting solos and clean, muscular tone blaze with the bravura of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. This quintet is one of the best exponents of mainstream jazz active today, and I expect some high-octane exploration onstage—the songs on the album average five or six minutes, but I figure these guys can stretch them out two or three times that long without missing a step or repeating themselves. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20, $15 students and musicians. —Peter Margasak

SKELETONWITCH For their third album, last fall's Breathing the Fire (Prosthetic), Ohio metal band Skeletonwitch hired engineer Jack Endino, a Sub Pop veteran who's recently worked with the likes of High on Fire and Valient Thorr, but the big-name production actually seems to have made them sound skankier and dirtier. The low, mean chugging in the guitars and the demonic cracks in Chance Garnette's voice both come out more on this record, and the extra coating of murk gives it a bit of the ominous feeling of an old blues 78. But the album doesn't feel as big as it could be—the total sound has more negative space in it than I expect out of a metal record, and the music has to be cranked up louder to fill a room. Thankfully Skeletonwitch write the kind of songs that make it easy to forget about such details. Their NWOBHM underpinnings give them an infectious momentum, like a stampeding army driven forward by classic Saxon or Celtic Frost—it sounds like they barged straight through later trends like thrash and death metal, picking up influences from them the way a horseman on a battlefield might get spattered with gore. Cannibal Corpse headlines; 1349, Skeletonwitch, and Lecherous Nocturne open. 5:15 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $23, $20.50 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

click to enlarge Yeasayer

YEASAYER, SLEIGH BELLS Given that I came of age musically in the 80s, I'm a bit shocked with myself for liking the new YEASAYER album, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian), since it draws so much of its inspiration from that most fallow of decades for mainstream pop. Yeasayer doesn't even feed on the great music that came out in the 80s (and there was plenty), but rather on simpering, overblown post-new wave—Depeche Mode, OMD, Tears for Fears, and many others I'm sure I've exorcised from my memory. With dense, clever, layered arrangements, though, this Brooklyn trio transcends its source material—old-school synth sounds, booming gated 80s drums, New Romantic singing with generous use of falsetto—and chips away at my resistance. Taken one at a time, the elements in Yeasayer's songs would be intolerable, but they're assembled into such a rich and meticulously crafted fabric that I've been won over. —Peter Margasak

The handful of songs Brooklyn duo SLEIGH BELLS released last year suggested an experiment to see exactly how much pop music—as in popular, actual current Top 40 stuff—they could work in and still be considered an underground art-rock band. Guitarist Derek Miller, a former member of hardcore legends Poison the Well, uses effects to warp his notes into klaxon-like wails, and vocalist Alexis Krauss favors cryptic lyrics delivered in an affectless monotone, but their songs also involve looped synth stabs, playgroundy sing-song choruses, trunk-rattling bass, and other elements you're more likely to hear on B96 than WLUW. They're also big on pastiche: "Crown on the Ground" reimagines the Cure's "Close to Me" as a RedOne production; "Ring Ring" adds booming low-end and a cutesy-pie vocal part to a sample of Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That," and ends up with an addictively buoyant jam that in a just world would be banging out of car windows on Western Avenue for the foreseeable future. The anticipation their upcoming debut full-length, Treats (Mom & Pop), has created is so strong that in order to avoid leaks not even their publicists have copies. —Miles Raymer

Yeasayer headlines; Sleigh Bells and Chandeliers open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, sold out, 18+.

friday30

JASON Sometimes when work lies neglected for, say, a couple centuries, there's a good reason. Francesco Cavalli's Jason ("Giasone") made its debut in Venice in 1649, became one of the most popular operas of the 17th century, and then fell into nearly complete obscurity. Chicago Opera Theater has resurrected this artifact from opera's infancy as the first installment in a three-year trilogy of works about the sorceress Medea, giving it a musically impeccable production, with great performances by the entire cast—most notably mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (Medea) and countertenor Franco Fagioli (Jason)—and accompaniment by Chicago's Baroque Band, an impressive ten-piece ensemble of period instruments conducted here by Christian Curnyn. But what they have to work with is a score that mostly ranges from pleasingly delicate to tedious and a piece-of-fluff libretto that's closer to commedia dell'arte than it is to the legend of the murderous momma and the golden fleece. The costumes, sets, and stage direction catapult the story into the 1960s, apparently aiming for James Bond but landing on Hairspray. That's unfortunate: time travel is a directorial cliche, and Jason is primarily interesting as a piece of Baroque history. It looks more desperate than hip dressed up as Pussy Galore. See also Sunday. 7:30 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, $30-$120. —Deanna Isaacs

click to enlarge Los Campesinos!

LOS CAMPESINOS! Whether or not you want the boys and girls in Los Campesinos! to grow up, they're on their way. The charmingly angsty Welsh septet ditched the training wheels after two great albums in 2008 (Hold on Now, Youngster . . . and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed), each slathered in a dentist appointment's worth of sugary indie-pop hooks that helped the bitter complaints in the lyrics of Gareth Campesinos! go down easy. On their third record, Romance Is Boring (Arts & Crafts), the cookie jar isn't exactly empty, but the songs tilt toward the brooding and noisy—it's like the music is going through adolescence. "I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me" and "Plan A" have an unmistakable punk bite, and distorted vocals and angular guitars abound. Though the band's calling-card choruses aren't as in-your-face catchy, Gareth's rarely rhyming diatribes are as gratifyingly biting as ever—the album's best song, "Straight in at 101," begins with the lines "I think we need more postcoital and less postrock / Feels like the build-up takes forever but you never get me off." Compared to the quick injections of euphoric hooks on earlier Los Campesinos! albums, the roughed-up tunes on Romance Is Boring take a while to digest—but the band hasn't lost a lick of its appeal. Cymbals Eat Guitars open. 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $20, $18 in advance. —Kevin Warwick

JEREMY PELT QUINTET See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

saturday1

BARBEZ At this performance Brooklyn art-rock combo Barbez will play material from Force of Light (Tzadik, 2007), an homage to Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan that's credited to the group's composer and guitarist, Dan Kaufman. Poet, performance artist, and playwright Fiona Templeton appears on a few tracks to read Celan's poetry, but the music conveys his delicate balance of dark tragedy and stubborn hope even without words: the pieces zigzag between sorrowful introspection, chamber-music delicacy, and rocklike intensity. Kaufman's warm, swirling arpeggios play beautifully against the elegant legato lines of theremin master Pamelia Kurstin and clarinetist Peter Hess, which they deliver singly or doubly, and the rhythm section—Danny Tunick on vibes and marimba, Dan Coates and Peter Lettre alternating on bass, and John Bollinger on drums—provides both solemn weight and prickly texture. The live lineup will be Kaufman, Kurstin, Hess, Bollinger, and bassist Andrew Jones; the concert will also include video projections by John Jesurun. See also Sunday, when Barbez will play a set of its more theatrical original material. 2 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak

HARLEM, JAILL Harlem's new debut full-length, Hippies (Matador), opens with the sweetly cooed lines, "Someday soon you'll be on fire / And you'll ask me for a glass of water / And I'll say no / You can just let that shit burn." It's a brutal sentiment for a introduction to a song with "effervescent summer jam" written all over it the way that "Someday Soon" does, but for this peripatetic trio, currently based in Austin, that perfectly calibrated balance of sweetness and snarl is almost as important as actual songwriting. "Friendly Ghost," "Gay Human Bones," and pretty much every other cut on the record are supremely catchy, but the shit-talking lyrics—whose spirit spills over into the band's entertaining Twitter feed—gives them a scuzzy frisson, sort of like finding a still-wrapped Hershey's miniature underneath the fridge.

I've seen Milwaukee's Jaill (not to be confused with their homophonic neighbors in the Sub Pop catalog, Jale) referred to as a garage band a number of times, which says less about their sound than it does the currently common habit of describing any non-metal, synth-free group of 15 or fewer musicians as a garage band. Their forthcoming That's How We Burn (due July 27 on Sub Pop) is a set of dark, twitchy rock that recalls the period during the 70s when a certain fusion of muscular riffs and cerebral musical structures flourished, which is to say that I bet Diamond Dogs, Johnny the Fox, and Here Come the Warm Jets all have places of honor in dudes' record collections.

Harlem headlines; Jaill and Call Me Lightning open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10, limited $5 tickets. —Miles Raymer

JEREMY PELT QUINTET See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

c QUASI Quasi's had a long career, and there's only so much of Sam Coomes tickling that overdriven Rocksichord that even a patient girl can take. I am not that patient girl, and checked out a few records back—but dang if American Gong (Kill Rock Stars) isn't a fresh and shiny lure. The first long player with bassist Joanna Bolme, who's been touring with the band for a few years, it's heavy on the American—riffing on themes like the recession, dead dreams, and materialism—and tries on big 70s southern dust-rock riffage ("Rockabilly Party"). Coomes favors guitar over keys this time around, so it's punchy power-trio mode most of the way through. If the group is made this much better by adding a third, here's hoping they get a fourth for the next one. Let's Wrestle opens. 10 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14, $12 in advance. —Jessica Hopper

sunday2

BARBEZ See Saturday. The Lonesome Organist headlines; Barbez and the Black Bear Combo open. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, $10 in advance.

JASON See Friday. 3 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, $30-$120.

JEREMY PELT QUINTET See Thursday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20, $15 students and musicians.

tuesday4

AWESOME COLOR On Awesome Color's third album, the skate-rock tag no longer sticks: the band is in the throes of some Detroit Rock City revivalism, with wah-wah guitar noise out of heavy grunge circa 1988. Their forthcoming Massa Hypno (Ecstatic Peace!) is their best and most cohesive record so far—the solos put some momentum behind their epic, hairwaving pummel-psych, and singing about making babies and eating human flesh in the same song is creepy enough to keep them from veering into Redd Kross territory. Hair Police open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Jessica Hopper

SHELBY LYNNE It used to be that when a major-label artist recorded for an indie, you'd see all kinds of reviews talking about a "return to roots" or how the new album was "all about the music." But the majors' rosters have shrunk radically in recent years, and nobody can even pretend it's a big deal that Shelby Lynne put out the new Tears, Lies, and Alibis on her own Everso label after more than two decades in the big leagues. Anyway, the album is hardly a low-budget indie production, and her band includes session heavies like keyboardist Spooner Oldham and drummer Kenny Malone. It's her strongest since 1999's I Am Shelby Lynne, thanks to the directness of her performances and her decision to settle into her post-Dusty Springfield comfort zone—ironically her previous record, the 2008 Dusty tribute Just a Little Lovin', was marred by the heavy hand of an outside producer. Some of the lyrics are a bit pedestrian—on "Something to Be Said (About Airstreams)" she can't seem to figure out if she wants to celebrate the nomadic life or sell you a travel trailer—but Lynne's mix of blue-eyed soul, folk pop, and Nashville twang is still the perfect setting for her malleable, slightly husky voice. And when her subject gets a little weightier, like on "Family Tree" ("This apple's done fall off the family tree"), her singing cuts like a knife. Findlay Brown opens. 8 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $27.50. —Peter Margasak

click to enlarge Gundecha Brothers
  • Gundecha Brothers

wednesday5

GUNDECHA BROTHERS For generations the Dagar family has been synonymous with the Indian vocal form called dhrupad, but for the past 15 years brothers Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha—former students of the Dagars—have been credible challengers to that throne. Dhrupad is the most austere style of Hindustani classical singing and the most ancient still practiced, with a history that stretches at least as far back as the 15th century, but to my ears it's the most exciting kind of Indian music, period—because of its slow, graceful development, its climaxes pack a tremendous punch. In a typical dhrupad performance the beatless introduction called the alap is the longest section, typically lasting 20 to 40 minutes: the singers begin with droning, resonant tones, dipping below or inching above the tonic of the raga (the mode of the piece, loosely speaking), sometimes in unison, sometimes just a fraction of a note apart. Gradually they shift to shorter notes, then percussive barrages, steadily ratcheting up the intensity until their patterns evolve into high-wire improvised melodic phrases—the Gundechas are brilliant at playing hot potato with them, trading lines and reshaping each sequence as they go. The pakhavaj, a mellow-sounding double-headed drum that predates the tabla, eventually kicks in, playing fixed cyclical rhythms, and the singers deliver the piece's full text, which can stretch across another 20 minutes. On the excellent 2008 album Temple Voices (Sense World Music) the Gundecha Brothers add the dolorous sound of the baritone sitar, or surbahar, to the traditional dhrupad ensemble, turning their meditative dialogue into an enthralling three-way conversation. For this performance they'll be joined by two tanpura players, who'll provide the background drone, and a third brother, Akhilesh Gundecha, on pakhavaj. 8:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $18, $16 members, $14 seniors and kids. —Peter Margasak

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