ERIC “GUITAR” DAVIS Most modern rock-styled “blooze” guitarists leave me cold, if not nauseated, but occasionally a hot-blooded pyrotechnician like Eric “Guitar” Davis manages to imbue the usual fusillades with genuine musical merit. Even at his most intense, Davis plays with a clear tone that reveals the logic behind his mercurial flights—he packs a dense cluster of notes into a bar or two, deepening the texture and raising the heat, then unravels them with a purposefulness that’s both assaultive and precise. His debut, 2007’s Here Comes Trouble (Young Blues), showcases his gift for plunging into chaos while keeping a steady hand on the rudder. The instrumental “Bill n’ Jean” borrows structural and harmonic ideas from Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” and its extended, chord-heavy solo owes a surprising debt to jazz stylists like Wes Montgomery even as it seethes and roils with Davis’s trademark fire. Despite an occasional overreliance on self-congratulatory “I’m a bluesman” proclamations, he’s equally admirable as a wordsmith: “I’ll Make Mincemeat Outa U” grafts hip-hop machismo onto a blues framework, and the witty “I Can’t Chance the Pain” transports vintage and modern blues tropes (the phrase “bad moon rising,” a night of passion set in a “Hideaway Hotel”) into a contemporary urban setting that’s particular to Davis. If the blues is to remain relevant, it’ll take artists like this to make it happen. Davis performs with his band, the Troublemakers. 9:30 PM, B.L.U.E.S., 2519 N. Halsted, 773-528-1012, $10. —David Whiteis
NOBUNNY When he puts on his scuzzy, sweat-bedraggled rabbit mask, Justin Champlin undergoes a transformation worthy of Bruce Banner—he becomes Nobunny, the demented bandleader at a modern-day bubblegum-punk sock hop, mooning all the Negative Nancys and Debbie Downers of the world. Chicago-born, Oakland-based Champlin has been throwing his insanely fun musical pizza parties since 2001, and Nobunny’s healthy discography includes a heap of seven-inches and cassettes as well as two proper albums, 2008’s spitball-shooting masterpiece Love Visions and this year’s First Blood (Goner). Calling a Nobunny record “mature” makes about as much sense as calling a mud-wrestling tournament in a VFW hall “classy,” but some of the lyrics on First Blood are almost (gasp) contemplative, and the production and performances are definitely better. The fuzz is less tinny and brittle, and the fumbles in the guitar work are gone—but Champlin’s squawky, chirpy drawl is still totally infectious. I’m going to take a not-so-daring leap and promise that Nobunny’s apparent journey out of adolescence will have little to no effect on the raucous pogo fests he whips up at his shows—which more often than not end with him stripped down to a pair of colored (and soon to be discolored) American Apparel briefs. Big Freedia & the Divas headline; Nobunny opens and DJs Rusty Lazer and Whatevs & Wildcard spin. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $25. —Kevin Warwick
IKE REILLY ASSASSINATION Ike Reilly‘s latest album, Hard Luck Stories (Rock Ridge Music), is full of tough-love compassion for his struggling midwestern characters—damaged war veterans, grieving fathers, people who can’t pay their electric bills. Reilly, who leavens his blues-tinged heartland rock with gruff wit, is apparently hoping to do for his native Libertyville something like what Springsteen did for his beloved Asbury Park; his lyrics give voice to its residents’ deepest nightmares and fondest dreams, and he even invited the Libertyville High School Choir to belt along with him on “Good Work.” He’s also bringing fans into the fold as 2010 flips into 2011; VIP packages available through his website extend this New Year’s celebration with preshow cocktails on the band’s bus and admission to a solo Reilly performance in Libertyville on New Year’s Day. Ode opens. 10 PM, House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 866-448-7849, $26, $24 in advance. —Monica Kendrick
CHUCK BERRY To see or not to see Chuck Berry? You might usually feel confident shelling out 30 clams to see one of the last surviving OG rock ‘n’ rollers who still gigs regularly, but the 84-year-old Berry has earned a reputation for live shows that do little to reaffirm the eternal incandescence of his music. He’s often used underrehearsed pickup bands who learn his material from recordings, which turns the sets into train wrecks when Berry starts songs in different keys. And he’s been spotted checking his watch onstage, presumably so he’d know when he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation and could call it a night. To be fair, though, for the past 13 years Berry has also been performing once a month at Blueberry Hill, a club in his hometown of Saint Louis, with a band that has lately included his son, his daughter, and longtime bassist Jim Marsala—and from what I can tell those shows have been solid. If you’re looking for a more powerful counterargument, well, here’s one: It’s Chuck fucking Berry. You know, “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Back in the U.S.A.”? I could go on here, people. Directly or indirectly, this man has given you more happiness than you probably deserve. Lord knows you’ve spent more money on far worse. If all Berry does is 50 verses of “My Ding-a-Ling,” I can live with that. 7 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-1235, $30. —Brian Costello
HOT MACHINES The great thing about this rarely convened supergroup of Chicago garage-rock heavies—Jered Gummere from the Ponys, Miss Alex White of White Mystery, and journeyman drummer Matt Williams, currently in Lover!—is how its music shears the familiar context from each player’s style and shows it off in a new way. Take “Microphone.” It’s a two-chord song, and the trick to pulling that off is to not make it obvious that it’s a two-chord song. It’s more difficult than people think, but Hot Machines have it down: Williams’s propulsive drive, White’s ability to find magic in frantically strummed rhythm guitar, and Gummere’s soaring, Tom Verlaine-at-78 RPM solos combine so that the C and F chords, played over and over again, reach a dizzying, howling fever pitch. Formed as a side project in 2003, when White was all of 17, Hot Machines have been active extremely sporadically, at times going two years between gigs when the Ponys were especially busy. But in 2010 they’ve played a few impromptu sets, when they happened to be in the same place at the same time and equipment was available for borrowing, and a Lincoln Hall date. It’s good to see these old friends getting back together to tear it apart again—and it’s even better to hear that they’re in the middle of recording their first full-length album at Gummere’s home studio, with plans for a summer release on In the Red. Tonight’s headliner is “secret,” though he may very well wear a dirty, dirty rabbit mask and have a Critic’s Choice in the Reader for his New Year’s Eve show; Hot Machines, Ramma Lamma, and the Spectras open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Brian Costello
CASTEVET Not to be confused with the New York experimental-metal act of the same name, this Castevet is a local emo band with an affection for the cathartic blend of epic hardcore and twinkly pop that characterizes the mid-90s Chicago sound. (They’re also changing their name to CSTVT, which should help clear things up.) Their music is hardly the hurricane of dissonance the other Castevet creates, but they do use postpunk cacophony to punctuate many of their best songs—their latest effort, this summer’s The Echo & the Light (Tiny Engines), blends glacial postrock guitar, posthardcore angularity, and an aggressive and dynamic melodic sensibility. As spirited as the album is, onstage Castevet turn up the heat on their pulsating, energetic punk rock—they cut their teeth playing in DIY spaces, and they’ve developed a knack for stirring up frenzied pits of pogoing fans. They focus on their harder, faster songs live, but front man Nick Wakim delivers his half-screamed lyrics with a smile. Bongripper headlines; Castevet, Stay Ahead of the Weather, and Coping open. 8 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $8, 17+. —Leor Galil
EYEGOUGER, JOHNNY VOMIT In the late 80s Chicago’s metal and hardcore scenes produced quite a few bands that preferred pulling faces to wearing the usual scowls. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see their goofiness as a liability—though the Internet now immortalizes every idiot who finishes a demo, most of these groups vanished so quickly and completely that not even the universe’s largest collection of music trivia reflects their existence. But a few soldier on to this day, playing for their friends in what you might charitably call “the underground,” almost completely unacknowledged by the media. Grindcore veterans EYEGOUGER, like fellow Chicagoans Macabre, are bigger overseas than in their own town, though that’s not saying much. They call their music “Pornus Grind,” and the adolescent gross-out lyrics to songs like “Chocolate Starfish” and “Transtesticle” make me grateful for the genre’s short, speedy songs and unintelligible growled vocals—the big sing-along chant in “Ass Attack” goes “Tongue my balls, eat my ass / Come on bitch, you got class.” These northwest-siders got started in 1988 and opened for their mentors the Mentors at Club Dreamerz in 1991, when Wicker Park was a bit less gentrified. (Fun fact: Dave Ingram, who played bass with Eyegouger in 1990, later joined Bolt Thrower.) In 1991 the band released the seven-inch EP “Ass Rotor” (Nuclear Blast/Mind Control), and in ’93 they started recording for a full-length to be called Ass Attack. The sessions ended when guitarist Nipple Cruncher, who owned most of the band’s gear, moved to take a new job so he could support his family, and since then Eyegouger has existed mostly during extremely intermittent reunions. Lately, though, they’ve put together a respectable string of gigs and returned to recording Ass Attack—which they’re still threatening to eventually release.
South-siders JOHNNY VOMIT play relatively straightfoward hardcore and focus on grossness of the projectile kind. Vocalist Johnny Vomit and guitarist Roman Around founded the group while they were in college in DeKalb in 1986, under the influence of Discharge and the Meatmen; they combined the names of their high school bands, John Doe and Vomit. Their lineup hasn’t changed in 15 years, and their style hasn’t changed in even longer—if you find something you like, you stick with it, I guess. Their most recent full-length is 2006’s Extreme Championship Drinking (NGS), and they’ve since released a 32-song compilation, Vomiting Sessions (Infest Productions), that collects odds and ends from 1989 through 2004.
Eyegouger headlines; local death-metal diehards Cardiac Arrest (who released their third full-length, Haven for the Insane, on Ibex Moon in June) and Johnny Vomit open. 7 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $3. —Vera Videnovich
EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS Pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach may have copped the name The Living Music for one of his records, but no jazz musicians better exemplify that weedlike refuse-to-die spirit than local quartet Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Jim Baker (piano, synthesizer), Steve Hunt (drums), Brian Sandstrom (double bass, electric guitar), and Mars Williams (saxophones) have held down a weekly gig for nearly six years, first on Tuesdays at Hotti Biscotti and now on Mondays at Beat Kitchen, and the connections between them stretch back to the late 70s, when Hunt, Sandstrom, and Williams played with Hal Russell. Their specialty is without-a-net improvisation, as loose as it comes both in what they play and who plays it. In the course of a set—as well as on their upcoming LP, Apocryphal Fire in the Warehouse, and Other Explanations (Harmonic Convergence)—they range from alien early-electronic timbres to scorching rock textures to lyrical melodies, driven by waves of rhythm that mutate organically from brisk walking swing to fields of silence punctuated with irregular metallic scrapes. Everyone in the band has other gigs, so sometimes a member won’t show up for a few weeks, and on other occasions guests sit in; the telepathic responsiveness the players have forged over time has been hammered to a fine edge by these challenges. This Monday a couple of EPD’s regulars return from holiday obligations and titanic Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love joins the combo. 8:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444. —Bill Meyer
THE MIKADO First performed at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1885, The Mikado has always been a mashup in the service of a send-up. Librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan used the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the vehicle for a satire of Victorian customs, bureaucracies, and foibles. They presented it—as others have done thousands of times since—in full Japanese regalia. Lyric Opera’s new production, directed by Chicago Shakespeare Theater associate artistic director Gary Griffin, moves the action to 1922 and gives it a decidedly British tilt, trading most of the fans and kimonos for bowlers and suits. I didn’t expect to like that, but Mark Thompson’s costumes and stunning sliding-panel sets prove to be a near perfect new look for Sullivan’s ebullient score and Gilbert’s irrepressible lyrics about a place where flirting is punishable by death. Angel-voiced English tenor Toby Spence, playing the Mikado’s son, Nanki-Poo, is saddled with the production’s only visual flaw—an outfit that makes him look more like Bello the clown than the story’s major heartthrob. Performances all around are “right as right can be,” but majestic mezzo Stephanie Blythe takes the role of Nanki-Poo’s dreaded, officially ordained bride-to-be, Katisha, and runs away with the show. The Lyric Opera chorus, much in evidence, looks and sounds great. Conductor Andrew Davis, leading the Lyric Opera orchestra, will be replaced by Philip Morehead beginning January 11. The show runs through January 21; there’s another performance Fri 1/7 at 7:30 PM. 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $43-$194. —Deanna Isaacs
WEASEL WALTER, MARY HALVORSON, AND PETER EVANS Bandmates like guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Peter Evans can make just about anyone sound better, but drummer Weasel Walter doesn’t need propping up—on Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear), his forthcoming album with these two young luminaries of New York’s improvised-music scene, he’s just as vital and distinctive as they are. Since leaving Chicago in 2003, the former Flying Luttenbacher has focused increasingly on improvised music, learning to balance his trademark ferocity with delicacy, space, and silence. It’s a challenge for any drummer to convey personality while competing for attention with Halvorson’s knotty pitch-bending tricks and post-Deerhoof freakouts, to say nothing of Evans’s superhuman technique and extravagantly broad sonic vocabulary—but Walter pushes and pulls his partners as much as he responds to them. He shuttles confidently between post-Tony Oxley falling-down-stairs clatter and turbocharged motorik chug, while Evans shifts gears from deconstructed postbop to pure abstraction and Halvorson favors relatively fluid through lines. The music is fresh and surprising, consistently renewing itself—just about the only thing it never does is settle into stasis. A trio of reedist Mars Williams, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love headlines; Joshua Abrams and Nilssen-Love spin records between sets. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak