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Friday 9

DAVID DONDERO David Dondero's new album, South of the South, came out in October on Team Love, a label co-owned by Conor Oberst, though it'd be a shame if Dondero got noticed solely for that connection. His brand of bleary, weary indie folk isn't radically new, but innovation isn't the point with this stuff. He's prone to self-mythologizing, and he can lay on the ramblin'-man routine a little thick, but his songwriting is usually razor sharp: his tunes are wordy but fluid and occasionally even entrancing. Nick Peraino & Blue Moon Risin' and Not on Mars open. 9:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

HERCULANEUM Since forming three years ago this local quintet's been working out the kinks in its jazz-indie rock hybrid, and it's arrived at a surprisingly agile and elegant sound. On an unreleased eight-song CD recorded over the past year the musicians are equally inventive as writers, arrangers, and improvisers, and they make excellent use of tight, varied horn charts to both propel and provide counterpoint to whoever's soloing. Drummer Dylan Ryan and bassist Greg Danek carve out loose, loping grooves and are flexible enough to turn on a dime or drop in sudden accents, but it's the front line that's most impressive. Trombonist Nick Broste and trumpeter Patrick Newbery (both regular collaborators with Head of Femur), along with saxophonist David McDonnell (who plays with Ryan in the arty electronic duo Michael Columbia), blend precise execution with relaxed phrasing, and their melodically rich improvisations move freely over the rhythms like they're bouncing on a trampoline. A few of their quiet pieces sound a bit flat, but on the up-tempo stuff they approach a Mingus-like ebullience. Hummingbiird (formerly Pedal Steel Transmission) headlines and the Astronomer, Charles Kim's latest band, plays second. 10 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $8. --Peter Margasak

SERENGETI Gasoline Rainbows, the third album from this oddball Chicago MC (and his first for New York indie Day by Day Entertainment), has been more than four years in the making--in fact he was working on it long before Dirty Flamingo and Noodle-Arm Whimsy came out. For most of that time Serengeti says he was miserable, but if that's so, it seems like he took the advice my mother always gave me and fought off his depression by staying busy. The diversity and fluidity of Gasoline Rainbows is nothing if not the product of a fevered mind, and the record avoids hip-hop cliches by the most convoluted routes possible. Serengeti says he spent ten grand on studio time getting it made, and half the backing tracks--which are alternately flavored with rock, ska, or jazz--were pieced together from original recordings of local musicians and singers. He also claims to have ten more albums of material already written, and he's so frantically prolix here that I can easily believe him. This is a record-release party; also on the bill are Tony Trimm, Haiku with DJ L-Train, Polyphonic, Brenmar Someday, the Aristacats, and DJ Pickle. 9:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door, 18+. --Monica Kendrick

Saturday 10

BEATALLICA Beatallica sounds like one of those scenarios people come up with while passing the dutchie: "Hey, what if there was a band that played Beatles songs . . . like Metallica!" In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that's how these guys came up with it. But on their two downloadable albums (available at beatallica.org) the Fab Four Horsemen squeeze more yuks from this gag than you'd think possible. (The MP3s are free, to avoid hefty licensing fees and cease-and-desist hassles from Sony/ATV, which publishes the Beatles' catalog.) Singer Jaymz Lennfield does a pretty decent Hetfield on tunes like "Got to Get You Trapped Under Ice" and "Everybody's Got a Ticket to Ride Except for Me and My Lightning." Guitarist Krk Hammetson also plays bass and drums on the recordings, though Kliff McBurtney handles the low end onstage, with Ringo Larz assuming the role of everybody's favorite tennis-playing Dane (who, in a rare act of graciousness, actually intervened to protect the band from Sony's lawyers). The Siderunners open. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $8 in advance, $10 at the door. --J. Niimi

EARLIES This bicontinental quartet--half its members are from England, half from Texas--creates a swirling, orchestral brand of psychedelia that owes no small debt to Mercury Rev, both in its expansive arrangements and in Brandon Carr's slightly whiny vocals. But on These Were the Earlies, a collection of singles and EPs released in England last year and stateside in October on Secretly Canadian, they show off a broader range: using Beach Boys-worthy vocal harmonies and a slew of guest musicians (on clarinet, violin, euphonium, trumpet, and more), they conjure up amorphous swells of sound that dance around slow rhythms--and, every once in a while, a tough rock groove. The Earlies have also moonlighted as Names on Records, working with Micah P. Hinson, Leona Naess, and others, but their flexibility isn't exactly an asset: drifting from country twang to chamber pop to symphonic trance, they sound like they can do anything except develop a genuine identity. Canasta and Dogme 95 open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. --Peter Margasak

FRIENDS OF DEAN MARTINEZ The Friends of Dean Martinez summon up some splendidly languid reveries on their latest album, Lost Horizon (Aero), but when leader Bill Elm swaps his steel guitar for electric keyboards, the band sounds a little too relaxed for its own good. On songs like "Somewhere Over the Waves," shiny synths ooze over Mike Semple's guitar leads and Andrew Gerfers's martial drumming like too much gooey sauce on Chinese takeout. Onstage they tend to kick things up, though: Elm and Semple's distorted guitars make fast tunes like "Chunder," from the band's debut LP, come off like the sound track to a biker flick set in Death Valley, and they fill slow burners like "Dusk" with enough bombast to make you want to hold your lighter aloft. Low Skies open. 10:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $12. --Bill Meyer

CHRIS KNIGHT Country singer Chris Knight is going soft: only three songs on his most recent album, 2003's The Jealous Kind (Dualtone), feature gun violence. But though there are fewer pistols and fistfights than there were on his previous record, 2001's A Pretty Good Guy, Knight still has little interest in generating artificial sunshine. His best songs draw on his own experiences growing up in small-town Slaughters, Kentucky, and lament the impossibility of staying afloat in an age of corporate farming and disintegrating families. There's fighting spirit in all of Knight's songs, but hardly any optimism--his characters plot desperate escapes to find work, languish in dysfunctional families, and sometimes just give up and go out in a blaze of suicidal glory. Knight, who has a thick, world-weary voice, struggles to add nuance to his muscular if slightly clunky melodies; his roots-rock sound makes me think of a pitch-challenged Robert Earl Keen singing the John Mellencamp songbook, with none of Mellencamp's feel-good vibe. A poignant bummer. 7:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. --Peter Margasak

Monday 12

GUITAR MADNESS Each December, John McLean literally frets over the plight of underprivileged kids; for the fifth straight year he's organized some of the city's most potent and recognizable jazz guitarists to blow the roof off the Green Mill at a benefit for Toys for Tots. McLean's painterly solos can glide or slash, with a tonal palette voluptuous enough to have pleased Caravaggio, and his playing neatly contrasts with both the gentler pointillism of Dave Onderdonk and the Romantic imagery that makes John Moulder such an effective soloist. Ernie Denov and Neal Alger, who make heavy use of rock idioms, round out the front line, and all the guitarists will pair up in different combinations throughout the night; bassist Larry Kohut and drummer Tom Radtke will provide the rhythmic glue. This year McLean started his Christmas planning early, corralling the crew to record an EP, Welcome Everything--all proceeds from which will be donated to Toys for Tots. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $6 or free with donation of a new toy. --Neil Tesser

DAVE REMPIS-TIM DAISY DUO Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy have played together so many times during the past eight years--both in ad hoc combos and in long-running bands like Triage and the Vandermark 5--that you might expect them to be all out of ideas. But they sound not just inspired but thrilled by each other's company on this year's Back to the Circle (Okka Disk), their first CD as a duo. On the title track Rempis, playing alto saxophone, positively sprints through Daisy's vibrant polyrhythmic matrix, as though he can't wait to see how the drummer's festive accents will transform his next melody. And on "Alexandria" the two men take their time and savor every gesture, building gradually from a melancholy tenor solo to a boiling climax. At this show the duo will play first, then join bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly for a set as the Rempis Percussion Quartet. 9 PM, Silvie's Lounge, 1902 W. Irving Park, 773-871-6239, $5 suggested donation. --Bill Meyer

ROCHES The Roches are particularly well suited for Christmas shows: sisters Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy honed their trademark harmonies by caroling on the streets of New York as kids in the early 60s. Maggie and Terre's 1975 album, Seductive Reasoning, was straight-ahead folk rock, but when the full trio began recording at the end of the decade Warner Brothers tried to market the Roches as a progressive pop act: two early records were produced by Robert Fripp (with performances from him and other members of King Crimson), and another featured punk luminaries like Television's Fred Smith and the Patti Smith Group's Jay Dee Daugherty. Their sound was always folk at its core, though, which gave them extra freedom to tackle religious music: 1982's Keep On Doing opens with a spine-tingling a cappella rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah, and 1990's We Three Kings is mostly traditional Christmas tunes. This show features songs from We Three Kings as well as original favorites, and the Roches will be joined by their brother, David, on vocals and Marlon Cherry on percussion. It's part of Steppenwolf's "Traffic Jam" series; see Theater in Section 2 for more info. 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, $35. All ages. --J. Niimi

Tuesday 13

DONOVAN Bitching about nostalgia isn't going to make it go away, and sometimes it's easier to lie back and think of England. That's definitely the case with Donovan--it's just not worth the trouble to get bent out of shape about the attention he continues to attract. In the past four months he's released an autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man (I guess Sunshine Superman would've been too self-aggrandizing), a three-CD-plus-one-DVD career-spanning box set, Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan (Sony), and a mild-mannered new album, Beat Cafe (Appleseed), which celebrates, unsurprisingly, the Beat Generation writers. Running through all of them is his earnest faith in the possibility of finding enlightenment through poetry and pretty folk songs, and while it's corny, it's also rather touching. I could kick the puppy, but I'm not going to: my soft spot for him remains. And I still think that scene in Don't Look Back makes Dylan look like a real jerk. Donovan will also read from and sign his autobiography at 12:30 PM at Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State; call 312-606-0750. 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212, $40. All ages. --Monica Kendrick

RENE MARIE QUARTET When Rene Marie appeared in Chicago last year, she surprised a lot of listeners by singing material from her then unreleased fourth album, Serene Renegade (Maxjazz). She'd previously scored success with her taut arrangements of standards and jazz classics, which were energized by her translucent voice and penchant for thrill-seeking improvisation. But Serene Renegade comprised mostly tunes Marie wrote herself, and suggested that her songwriting might earn her just as much recognition as her singing. In what's turned out to be the first stirrings of an unconventional song cycle, Marie displayed not only a gift for melody but also a defiant insistence on dealing with subjects not often tackled in jazz--broken homes, the culture war between the north and south, sexual empowerment, sexual victimization. She began her professional career a decade ago, when she was in her 40s, and she's moving fast, as if to make up for lost time--if you skip her shows you risk missing entire chapters of her fascinating story. See also Wednesday and Thursday; her run continues through Sunday, December 18. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20. --Neil Tesser

SEAN PAUL Sean Paul is one of the most successful Jamaican dancehall artists in the U.S., and he's not about to mess with a formula that works: he tweaks his sound only slightly on his most recent album, The Trinity (VP/Atlantic). The changes he does make seem designed to strengthen his ties to American hip-hop--he's turned up on tracks and remixes by Beyonce, Clipse, and Busta Rhymes--though he also made a point of recording the disc entirely in Jamaica. He has a knack for simple, catchy songs like the crowd-pleasing "We Be Burnin'"--a celebration of the joys of weed that features the Bubble Up riddim of Steven "Lenky" Marsden, the architect of his 2003 smash "Get Busy." The lyrics on The Trinity focus almost exclusively on bling, smoke, and women--the one exception is a tribute to a murdered friend, "Never Gonna Be the Same"--but Sean Paul has the agile, slaloming delivery and stuttering flow of the best dancehall singers, and the softness in his voice keeps him from falling into the hectoring tone of so many of his contemporaries. Ms. Triniti opens. a 7 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $36.50 in advance, $38 at the door. All ages. --Peter Margasask

Wednesday 14

RENE MARIE QUARTET See Tuesday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.

Thursday 15

DWELE Detroit neosoul man Dwele (aka Andwele Gardner) draws on more than a little of Marvin Gaye's style--when he uses his creamy falsetto to cry "holla!" it's a clear echo of "Inner City Blues." His second album, Some Kinda... (Virgin), is pure bedroom music, with Dwele singing over lean, D'Angelo-inspired grooves like he's caressing a woman tangled up in the sheets. But his songs rarely reach a fever pitch, in part because he often settles for prosaic lines that sound like they popped into his head as he went along. He played many of the instruments on the album (keyboards, trumpet, bass, and drums) and produced the lion's share of the tracks, but he'd benefit from inviting more outside songwriters to help out--even if that meant a few more silly tunes like Mike City's "I Think I Love U." "You're so beautiful, more than a man could ever want," Dwele croons. "Got me lookin' for Ashton to see if I'm being punked." 9 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, $20 in advance, $23 day of show. --Peter Margasak

KRUNCHIES Local coed trio the Krunchies play the sort of music my mom would say "sounds like someone getting beat up." Their six-song Interrobang EP (Criminal IQ) is unfiltered whiplash punk straight from the garage, mercilessly tuneless and abrasive in a totally fun way. Amanda Homeyer's vocals can switch from carefree shrieking to an unholy banshee wail, and they work even better live than on record: they're less assaultive, which makes the whole group come off more like a tuffy party band. The Krunchies are playing as part of a book-release celebration for local writer Brian Costello, whose debut novel, The Enchanters vs. Sprawlburg Springs, is due out any day now. (They're also the house band for Costello's live talk show, The Brian Costello Show With Brian Costello.) Human Eye headlines, the Mistreaters play second, and the Krunchies open; Costello, Elizabeth Crane, and Jonathan Messinger will all give readings. The Get Drunk DJs spin throughout the night, and the event will be hosted by Costello Show regular Rainbow Song Leaf. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $7. --Jessica Hopper

RENE MARIE QUARTET See Tuesday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.

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