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Friday 21

GRUPO CHA CHA Some Latin jazz groups emphasize improvisation and hard swing, aiming primarily at audiences that want to sit and listen; others focus on getting people up to dance. Chicago's Grupo Cha Cha, led by the classically trained flutist Lise Gilly, split the difference, a strategy that may limit their appeal: stone jazz fans find the music a little tame, while those in search of a traditional merengue, bossa nova, or tango are put off by all that soloing. But most everyone else should appreciate how they swing with a deceptively light beat while recalling the formal dance bands of midcentury Cuba. The group kicks off a Latin jazz bill--featuring a quartet led by saxist-for-all-seasons Steve Eisen and Marshall Vente's Tropicale--on the second night of the 12th annual Marshall Vente Jazz Festival; weekend highlights include tenor titan Billy Harper (Saturday night) and Chicago vocalist Janice Borla (Sunday afternoon). 8:30 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 630-968-3339 or 312-670-2473, $25. --Neil Tesser

HEM Dan Messe, the leader of this New York octet, has professed his admiration for countrypolitan, a sound designed in 60s Nashville to put a more urbane pop veneer on country music via heavy string parts and soft-focus background vocals. And only a few weeks ago the New York Times discussed Hem, along with Lambchop and Mike Ireland, in a piece about the new breed of countrypolitan acts. But while the production on Hem's recent second album, Eveningland (Waveland/Rounder), has the style's requisite thickness--with arrangements recorded in Bratislava by the Slovak National Radio Orchestra--the semiaudible pedal steel, mandolin, and banjo don't provide enough country to keep it from sounding like Judy Collins with the Boston Pops. OK, the down-tempo originals are darker than that, and Sally Ellyson's restrained vocals put her closer to Norah than to Judy; still, Eveningland is about as effete and dull as music gets. Hem also plays Thursday, January 20, at the same time and venue; David Meade and Dawn Landes open both shows. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. --Peter Margasak

THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES I've rapped bands on the virtual knuckles before for taking their sweet time between releases (and thus tours), but I'm inclined to cut a little slack for those who put so damn much into each one. In devising its hazy, Stonesy, keyboard-jeweled prog pop, the Swedish group the Soundtrack of Our Lives melds the cerebral and the sensual with such nerdy glee that it's nearly as pleasurable to imagine the elves at work in their secret lab as it is to actually see them. Their latest, Origin Vol. I, comes out in the States March 15. Inouk opens. 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $15. --Monica Kendrick

WEBB WILDER & THE NASHVEGANS An obsessive cataloger of rockabilly, classic R & B, and British Invasion singles since the mid-80s, Nashville cult artist Webb Wilder has been determined to put compact tunefulness back in its rightful place as a criterion for greatness. (Wilder regularly makes his case by DJing on satellite radio, where he spins country as it's most loosely defined.) A new Webb Wilder album is forthcoming from Landslide Records in the spring. 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $15. --Monica Kendrick

Saturday 22

HOLMES BROTHERS The eclecticism and emotion that have long defined the Holmes Brothers remain undiminished on Simple Truths (Alligator), the most recent album from the New York roots trio. Wendell Holmes half sings, half narrates the ballad "We Meet, We Part, We Remember" in a wounded growl as the band's rich harmonies interweave with shimmering faux-classical guitar patterns and plangent pop-soul chords; his brother, Sherman, intones Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You" as if from a hymnal, exquisitely blending worldly and spiritual longing. "Hey Baby," a cover of Bruce Channel's 1962 hit, is shot through with adolescent exuberance and amiably clueless machismo, while on "Run Myself Out of Town" and "You Won't Be Livin' Here Anymore," they leaven Dixie-fried blooze crunch with Memphis-tinged blues-billy sass. 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn, 708-788-2118 or 312-559-1212, $12. --David Whiteis

KOFFIN KATS Like tattoos and songs about demons but just can't get with the metal? Dig chicks worth their weight in eyeliner but can't stomach the goth? The Koffin Kats are three Detroit psychobilly purists--note the upright bass--determined to move their pointy boots down the same swamp trail the Cramps first sloshed through all those years ago. Their self-titled debut came out last spring on the HairBall8 label, which also released a pair of fine psychobilly compilations that featured, among a gazillion others, Demented Are Go! and locals Three Blue Teardrops. Gravetones, Massacres, Forgotten Four, and DJ Kevin Massacre open. 9 PM, Silvie's Lounge, 1902 W. Irving Park, 773-871-6239, $5. --Monica Kendrick

METAL PORPOISE For years now, the poor gentle nerds of the hilarious local duo Herc. have endured stalking, insult songs, and harassment from a surly, menacing grindcore band called Metal Porpoise. They reliably hijack Herc. shows to bang out an invective-crammed mini set ("Fuck you in the face!") with a dinky drum kit and overdriven guitar. The fact that both bands are actually the same people only seems to make Metal Porpoise madder. There are those who think the interruption is the best part of a Herc. set--and at this gig, part of Rory Lake's Battle of the Bands, they won't have to wait for it. Metal Porpoise will go blowhole-to-blowhole with the Arrivals, Sweet Cobra, and Manaconda. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, 773-975-0505 or 800-594-8499, $8. --Monica Kendrick

Sunday 23

ERIC BIBB Though he's often billed as an acoustic-blues revivalist, Eric Bibb is more cosmopolitan than such typecasting suggests--on his most recent album, the guest-laden Friends (Telarc), he's willing to tackle anything. His propulsive strumming and pugnacious vocals evoke Bukka White on the self-reliance anthem "99 1/2 Won't Do," while on "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes" Bibb's supple picking and Dylan-esque drawl are complemented by the kora playing of Malian musician Mamadou Diabate; with Taj Mahal, he recasts St. Louis Jimmy Oden's doleful blues classic "Goin' Down Slow" as an old-timey string-band lament. His vocals cover a wide swath of emotional territory: on Guy Clark's inspirational fable "The Cape," his creaky baritone sounds hoarse and wounded in the upper registers and sadly resigned on the descents; on Tom Phillips's ballad "Ribbons and Bows," Bibb confronts the dark side of intimacy with rare courage and insight. 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $20, $16 seniors and kids. All ages. --David Whiteis

Wednesday 26

ANTONIO PITINGO See Thursday. A flamenco dance and music performance precedes this jam session, which includes Pitingo and his band. 8:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $5 suggested donation. All ages.

Thursday 27

ANTONIO PITINGO A year ago Spanish singer Antonio Alvarez, aka Antonio Pitingo, made his international debut here, performing with the veteran flamenco guitarist Gerardo Nunez. His performance at the Chicago Cultural Center knocked out the crowd, and he's returning to kick off the Flamenco 2005 festival with a headlining gig. The 24-year-old Pitingo hasn't issued an album yet, but on a live recording I've heard, his slightly feminine cry drips with pathos and joy; he eschews gruffness in favor of sinuous movement and a sweet, soaring vibrato. Pitingo will be joined by guitarist Luis Miguel Valle Manzano and dancer Fernando Soto Valencia. He also performs Fri 1/28 at Hothouse; see listings for more. 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. See also Wednesday. Free. All ages. --Peter Margasak

QUEENSRYCHE The timing of Queensryche's decision to revive their 1988 concept album, Operation: Mindcrime--a sort of Wagner-meets-Orwell-by-way-of-The Manchurian Candidate rock opera--couldn't be freakier, now that the most paranoid president since Nixon is beginning the second term of his own, er, reich. Back then the album reflected the neuroses of the Reagan era, but many of the behind-the-scenes players from that administration are still around, so nothing's dated about its theme or aesthetic: sinister Speerian architectures of spiky prog-metal guitars provide a Blade Runner-ish backdrop for the tormented, manipulated, and manifesto-spouting characters, who rush about killing each other like rats. Queensryche is set to record a sequel, so clearly they know how well the album captures the zeitgeist. They also play Fri 1/28 and Sat 1/29, but if you want to go, better find a scalper. 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, sold out, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

TED SIROTA'S REBEL SOULS With trombonist Jeb Bishop taking a yearlong break from music and guitarist Jeff Parker busy with Tortoise, drummer Ted Sirota has once more been forced to reshuffle the lineup of his superb, long-running Rebel Souls. Flexible group vet Geof Bradfield has been joined on reeds by Velvet Lounge mainstay Greg Ward; Juilliard grad Hyosub Kim, a recent transplant to Chicago, plays bass; and Dave Miller, a student at NIU, plays guitar. Sirota notes, however, that Parker will continue to play in the band as time permits. A trio featuring pianist Jim Baker, bassist Kent Kessler, and the explosive but rarely heard drummer Steve Hunt plays an opening set. 9:30 PM, 3030, 3030 W. Cortland, 773-862-3616, $5-$10 suggested donation. All ages. --Peter Margasak

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