The List: December 2-8, 2010 | Soundboard | Chicago Reader

The List: December 2-8, 2010 

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: The Roots, Superchunk, Sonny Burgess, Doomtree, Chris Speed’s Endangered Blood, Talk Normal, and more

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The Roots

The Roots

Ben Watts

Thursday2

>Critic's Choice< Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Superchunk
Michael Thieke Canceled

Friday3

Sonny Burgess
>Critic's Choice< Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Doomtree

Saturday4

>Critic's Choice< Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
>Critic's Choice< Galactic Inmate
>Critic's Choice< Ed Herrmann, Jason Adasiewicz, Adam Vida, and Sam Hertz
LoVid
>Critic's Choice< Roots
Michael Thieke

Sunday5

>Critic's Choice< Chris Speed's Endangered Blood

Monday6

Jeffree Star
>Critic's Choice< Talk Normal

Tuesday7

>Critic's Choice< Dans les Arbres

thursday2

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS A sabbatical year devoted to composing hasn't kept CSO conductor emeritus Pierre Boulez away from Orchestra Hall's podium. Still going strong at 85, he pinch-hit for the ailing Riccardo Muti in October, and now crowns a two-week residency with performances of Janacek's indomitable Glagolitic Mass. The concert opens with Schoenberg's early and fervently romantic Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night"). Though written before the composer fled tonality, it was nonetheless more adventurous in its time than it sounds today, brimming with chromaticism and pointing the way forward even while looking back at Brahms and Wagner. Schoenberg's arrangement for string orchestra, heard here, lacks some of the immediacy of his original version for string sextet, but it should be stunning in the hands of the better-than-ever CSO strings. Janacek viewed his Glagolitic Mass—composed at the end of his life—as a secular oratorio, and it's more nationalistic than sacred. It's also a real challenge to perform, from its ninth-century Old Church Slavonic text to the composer's own peculiar but compelling musical language—which incorporates folk influences, sounds of nature, and the inflections of speech that Janacek called "speech melody." Boulez, known for great precision and clarity, has a firm grip on this awkward but fascinating score, and is well suited to its layered and relentless rhythmic complexity if not always its primitive vehemence. For these three concerts Christine Brewer (soprano), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-soprano), Lance Ryan (tenor), Mikhail Petrenko (bass), and organist Paul Jacobs join the CSO and its chorus. See also Friday and Saturday. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $24-$203. —Steve Langendorf

SUPERCHUNK Majesty Shredding (Merge) is the first new Superchunk album in nine years—a gap almost half as long as the Chapel Hill band's career—so it's not surprising that they'd spend part of the record looking back, half wondering where the time went: on "Fractures in Plaster" front man Mac McCaughan pleads, "When the past proves hard to resist / You'll keep a loose grip on my wrist, won't you?" In "My Gap Feels Weird" he discovers that the passing years have turned him into the sort of "old guy at the show" that his younger self dissed for not knowing what the kids were about; in the video for "Digging for Something" the band pokes fun at its own persistence, showing drummer Jon Wurster working for a dentist, bassist Laura Ballance selling pottery at a fair, guitarist Jim Wilbur meditating in a shack, and McCaughan leading a cringe-inducing "Superchunk 2.0" full of caricatured twentysomething hipsters. This self-awareness complements musical choices that recall the brashness and energy of the foursome's first few albums, with the exception of the superfluous keyboards that soften the arrangements. It's not exactly retro for the band to play like they used to, in part because their old sound has been kept alive by so many younger groups, but Majesty Shredding is the spunkiest, most aggressive Superchunk record since the early 90s. Times New Viking opens.  9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $21, 18+. —Peter Margasak

MICHAEL THIEKE Canceled. German reedist Michael Thieke impresses me as much with his nonchalant breadth and curiosity as he does with the actual music he plays; he's developed post-Jimmy Giuffre chamber jazz in Nickendes Perlgras, produced ephemeral art-pop with the Magic I.D., and played hard-driving postbop in Dok Wallach. Thieke is interested in the clarinet's potential to produce unorthodox sounds, but he's just as invested in its traditional tone, which he applies to improvisations of uncommon beauty and energy. Recently he and fellow clarinetist Kai Fagaschinksi, who perform together as the International Nothing, released their second album, Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything (Ftarri); its title is arguably appropriate to the duo's minimal instrumentation, but it's a somewhat self-deprecating description of their patient, painterly playing, where sublime intution guides the unfolding of undulating harmonies and upper-register multiphonics. Thieke will perform with percussionist Michael Zerang and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm; Keefe Jackson & Jeb Bishop open. See also Saturday. Update: Tonight's show is canceled due to a failed heating system at the venue. Thieke's Saturday show is still on. 10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, $8 suggested donation. —Peter Margasak

friday3

SONNY BURGESS There are two well-known recording artists named Sonny Burgess—the other one is a standard-issue Texas country dude, and no more needs to be said about him here. This Sonny Burgess, born in Arkansas in 1931 and drawn like a moth to the flame of Memphis's Sun Records in 1956, plays rowdy, swinging rockabilly in the classic style he helped define. Though he never reached the level of stardom he must have dreamed of, he and his band the Pacers consistently tore up the south, and songs like "Red Headed Woman" and "Tiger Rose" sound even fresher and sexier now that history has made it clear what a huge explosion they touched off. Burgess and his current group—now called the Legendary Pacers—still take to the road, playing casino gigs as well as the occasional high-profile festival in the U.S. and abroad, and Burgess hosts a weekly radio program called We Wanna Boogie back home in Arkansas. This is a rare opportunity to hear some of his legendary fire live. Mars Attacks and the Honeybees open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 866-468-3401, $15, $12 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS See Thursday. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $24-$203.

DOOMTREE It's a good time to be in a sprawling, prolific hip-hop group a la the Wu-Tang Clan. Much of the credit for this goes to LA's Odd Future crew, whose predilection for next-level beats and controversially droogy lyrics has earned them a considerable number of column inches recently. A more responsible alternative is the long-running Minneapolis-based Doomtree squad, made up of seven artists with distinctive voices who are linked as much by a willingness to challenge hip-hop conventions as they are by their apparent shared taste for darkness and drama. Among them: P.O.S, who incorporates both the positive-thinking philosophies of old-school hardcore and occasionally its guitar crunch; Dessa, who straddles the unlikely border that exists between underground hip-hop and radio-friendly R&B; and Lazerbeak, who applies hip-hop's recording methods to the production of lush indie soul. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $12, 17+. —Miles Raymer

saturday4

CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS See Thursday. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $24-$203.

GALACTIC INMATE Guitarist-vocalist Keith Herzik, drummer Brett Whitacre (also in the Legendary Shack Shakers) and bassist-vocalist Arman Mabry (formerly of the Hamicks and the Camaro Rouge, currently in Rabid Rabbit) play what you might call garage metalbilly in this fierce local trio. But they don't play it very often, and they're extremely laissez-faire about recording and promotion—as Mabry told me, "We kind of pride ourselves on playing the same set for five years." What a set it is, too—it's well worth coming out for whenever the band plays it, especially since that's only every year or so. Galactic Inmate will be tearing it up at the Inkbomb! 2010 Rock Poster Festival, a daylong event dedicated to the art of the gig poster, with limited-edition prints available from at least a dozen amazing artists—among them Herzik, Jim Ford, Matt Ginsberg, Dan Grzeca, Zach Hobbs, Garrett Karol, Rick Leech, Dan MacAdam, Cassidy Viser, Steve Walters, and Erin Page (also in Nones, who play today as well). Galactic Inmate headlines; Dark Fog, Hobo & Boxcar, the Blue Ribbon Glee Club, Coyote Camaro, the Columbines, and Nones open.  Noon-8 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $5. —Monica Kendrick

ED HERRMANN, JASON ADASIEWICZ, ADAM VIDA, AND SAM HERTZ California-based instrument designer Tom Nunn understands that improvisation doesn't necessarily begin and end with what you play; you can improvise the instrument itself. Since the mid-70s he's been making instruments out of such mundane materials as plywood boards, cardboard boxes, balloons, metal rods, and plastic combs, usually wiring them with contact mikes. Though his creations are made out of cheap stuff, they can sound surprisingly powerful or downright gorgeous. Nunn has some CDs out on Edgetone Records and is profiled alongside the likes of Harry Partch and Don Buchla in Bart Hopkin's 1996 survey of experimental instruments and their makers, Gravikords, Whirlies & Pyrophones (Ellipsis Arts), but he's never performed here. It has fallen to Ed Herrmann, an improvising musician and designer of audio tours (such as the one for the Chicago History Museum's Abraham Lincoln Transformed exhibit) as well as an associate of Nunn's for more than 20 years, to arrange the Chicago debut of Nunn creations like the T-Rodimba, Nailboard, and Sonoglyph—a kind of electroacoustic percussion board covered with strings, springs, metal rods, and rows of nails. Unpredictable and rarely tuned to anything like a standard scale, Nunn's instruments are made with improvisation in mind, and that's what you'll hear tonight. The musicians accompanying Herrmann—Jason Adasiewicz, Adam Vida, and Sam Hertz—have never performed on them before. 8 PM, Experimental Sound Studios, 5925 N. Ravenswood, 773-769-1069, $10, $7 students and members. —Bill Meyer

click to enlarge Chris Speed's Endangered Blood
  • Chris Speed's Endangered Blood

LOVID Analog and digital, audio and visual, hand-stitched and machine-made; whatever the duality, Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus want to be on both sides of it. Working together as LoVid, they take the phrase "mixed media" very seriously, incorporating music, video, electronics, textiles, and even gardening into their work, which explores the ways humans (and human creations) experience or respond to natural and manufactured stimulation. Tonight LoVid will put on a "live patching performance" using the Sync Armonica, a nine-foot audiovisual synthesizer the couple built in 2005; guest performers and audience members will help determine how LoVid configure the patch-cable connections between the Sync Armonica's modules, which form the basis for the machine's musical and visual output. 8 PM, Graham Foundation, Madlener House, 4 W. Burton Place, 312-787-4071, reservations required at lovid.eventbrite.com. —Bill Meyer

ROOTS The Roots don't sound nearly as bleak by the end of their latest album, How I Got Over (Def Jam), as they did on their two previous records. I expected them to lose some of their creative drive after they became the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon—it would've been easy for them to parlay that job into a series of crossover attempts with big-name stars—but instead they've regained their vitality and spark, breaking out of the rut they've been stuck in at least since 2006's Game Theory. How I Got Over is front-loaded with dark tracks where Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter's rhymes reflect the sinking mood of the country with their forceful descriptions of isolation, futility, and depression. On "Dear God 2.0" the group works a beautiful, harmony-rich snippet from Monsters of Folk's "Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)" into a list of crises and tragedies that becomes an elegy for faith ("Why is the world ugly when you made it in your image?"). The title track, named after a gospel standard by Clara Ward, is the album's turning point; a feeling of uncertainty remains, but determination, contemplation, and sobriety create glimmers of hope. ("You came to celebrate / I came to cerebrate," Black Thought intones on "The Fire.") Several fine MCs, among them Dice Raw, Peedi Peedi, and STS, contribute guest rhymes that forgo self-aggrandizement for self-awareness, and the album's indie-rock cameos and samples (M.O.F., Joanna Newsom, the female singers from Dirty Projectors) dissolve my usual cynicism about such maneuvers by working—on "Right On," for example, Newsom's harp arpeggios become a killer bass line. Of course, when the bedrock of your band's sound is the cracking drums of Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, you've got a head start when it comes to making things work. 7 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 866-448-7849, $50-$80, 17+. —Peter Margasak

MICHAEL THIEKE See Thursday. The German reedist performs with three locals: Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Jason Roebke (bass), and Aaron Zarzutski (no-output turntable). Banjoist Woody Sullender and harmonica player Seamus Cater and a duo of Jason Soliday and Ben Miller open. 10 PM, Enemy, 1550 N. Milwaukee, third floor, enemysound.com, donation requested.

sunday5

CHRIS SPEED's ENDANGERED BLOOD Saxophonist Chris Speed and drummer Jim Black have been collaborating consistently since they met in high school in Seattle in the early 80s. Speed luxuriates in flowing, harmonically prismatic melody lines and Black loves to disrupt his own perfect timekeeping with exuberant, thumping chaos, but the two of them have worked together in so many contexts since forming Human Feel in 1987 (with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and reedist Andrew D'Angelo) that they've developed a preternatural empathy despite their disparate approaches. And thanks to the diversity of these many projects (Pachora, Black's Alas Noaxis, Speed's Yeah No, Tim Berne's Bloodcount) they've created an amazing variety of music together, all the while retaining enough of their own styles to be quickly identifiable. Their latest group is Endangered Blood, a quartet with reedist Oscar Noriega (Slavic Soul Party!) and double bassist Trevor Dunn (Trio Convulsant, Mad Love, Mr. Bungle), and on its forthcoming self-titled debut for Skirl Records it creates an irresistible tension between rhythm and melody with postbop that swings between chunky and lithe. Speed wrote almost all the music (there's also a take on Monk's "Epistrophy"), and in his simple, elegant arrangements the two horns alternately slalom contrapuntally, play in loose unison, or refract each other; sometimes one will cajole the other gently during a solo or settle into a predetermined ostinato that provides a lively backdrop for improvisation. Behind them Black swings and grooves, dropping in disorienting asides, and Dunn shapes big, storming lines with a wonderful gut-punching tone. Of all the combos Speed and Black have played in together, Endangered Blood is the one where their contrasting styles flower most fully and fit together most organically—it's not so much oil and water as it is yin and yang.  10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

click to enlarge Talk Normal
  • Talk Normal

monday6

JEFFREE STAR Despite their many differences, largely class based, juggalos and scene kids are two sides of the same coin—they both belong to subcultures devoted to baroque ways of dressing like shit, and both subcultures amplify one of hip-hop's less savory qualities to a ridiculous degree. Juggalos took to rap's violent imagery; scene kids embraced its retrograde sexual politics, painting a furiously masturbatory picture of a world filled with interchangeable drunk sluts there for the no-strings-attached banging. Erstwhile MySpace celebrity and makeup artist Jeffree Star gets points for bringing a gay-slut-banger perspective to the table, but he immediately loses them for collaborating with the homophobic Hollywood Undead—and he's docked several million more for making pop music so flimsy and awful that by comparison even a Lindsey Lohan record feels like sweet sustenance. Abandon All Ships and It Boys! open.   6:30 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $13. —Miles Raymer

TALK NORMAL With their latest, last year's Sugarland (Rare Book Room), Brooklyn art-rockers Talk Normal have taken a step toward ferocious. Their 2008 EP Secret Cog was fun in spots, but the female drums-and-guitar duo were neither lively nor honed, sounding like a second-tier Portland band from five years ago. Sugarland, by contrast, focuses their calamitous din into pure tension, putting them in the same sonic league as their New York predecessors from the mid- to late 80s—back when Sonic Youth, Swans, and NY-to-London expats Ut were channeling the city's scabby vibe into dissonance. Drummer Andrya Ambro uses an unusual kit, with no cymbals except a busted hi-hat, and she plays a lot on her two toms, the rims of her drums, or sometimes a metal pan set atop of her snare—with all that clicking and bashing and low, driving locomotion, she recalls Big Black's drum machine, Roland. Guitarist Sarah Register makes up for the lack of a bassist, studding sparse rhythms with smeary, detuned growls and distortion-laden freak-outs. And they're at their aggressive best live. Buke & Gass headlines; Talk Normal and J+J+J open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Jessica Hopper

click to enlarge Dans les Arbres
  • Dans les Arbres

tuesday7

DANS LES ARBRES Much free improvisation is best experienced live, where one can both see and hear the interplay between musicians. French-Norwegian quartet Dans les Arbres is an exception to this rule, making slow-moving, intuitive music that's just as compelling on record as it is in person. On their self-titled debut, which was recorded in 2006, released in Europe in 2008, and recently issued in the U.S. by ECM, pianist Christian Wallumrod, clarinetist Xavier Charles (who played at last month's Umbrella Music Festival) percussionist Ingar Zach, and guitarist-banjoist Ivar Grydeland (both members of Huntsville, who performed in Millennium Park this summer) create exceptionally beautiful abstractions. They revel in kaleidoscopic ambience and texture, with a keen compositional logic that owes more to Morton Feldman than Derek Bailey. The eight pieces on the album drift, tangle, and dissipate organically as each musician tailors his sonic vocabulary to those of his bandmates and all four shepherd the development of a collective sound. Wallumrod sticks almost exclusively to prepared piano, Grydeland tends to bow or damp his strings, Zach uses an upturned bass drum as a resonator for the ringing and clanging of all sorts of objects spread out on its head, and Charles can be ominous, soothing, or abrasive with his terse chortles and exquisite long tones. This is the group's Chicago debut. 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak

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