REGINA CARTER After winning a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, violinist Regina Carter headed to New York’s World Music Institute to do research, and the results are all over the new self-titled album by her nimble jazz combo Reverse Thread (E1 Entertainment). The record is a jaunty exploration of African music, particularly the contemporary iterations of West African stars like Habib Koité, Amadou & Mariam, and Bassekou Kouyate; Carter and a slew of arrangers have reshaped African songs both traditional and contemporary (there are also a couple of originals), adding harmonies where there were none, incorporating rhythmic schemes that draw on funk and reggae, and placing more emphasis on melody. Carter has clearly lit a creative fire in herself with her study of African music, and Reverse Thread—which includes Malian kora player Yacouba Sissoko, accordionist Will Holshouser, drummer Alvester Garnett, and bassist Chris Lightcap—repurposes its circular grooves and hypnotizing licks deftly and imaginatively. Esperanza Spalding opens. 8 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000, $21-$32. —Peter Margasak
THE FLAT FIVE Earlier this year this five-piece group was chosen by the Reader as the Best Cover Band That Only Plays One Gig a Year, and there’s a surprisingly large amount of competition for that spot. The Five are Scott Ligon (principal arranger), Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Gerald Dowd, and K.C. McDonough—all connected to Chicago’s healthy alt-country scene—and at their annual shows they turn their powerful but creamily blended voices loose on a wide variety of pop, country, and folk from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, spiced with the occasional relatively contemporary number. The surprise of the set list is part of the fun, so don’t expect me to get specific here—I will say, however, that in past years they’ve done tunes by Dolly Parton, Asleep at the Wheel, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, the Staple Singers (a gimme, considering Hogan’s work with Mavis Staples), Tom Paxton, the Dukes of Stratosphear, the Beach Boys, the Zombies, Roy Orbison, and (unforgettably) the Magnetic Fields. No matter what the material turns out to be, you’ll be getting beautiful singing in a fun version of a wintry wassail, Hideout style. The Flat Five’s loose, almost improvised-sounding approach and often startling arrangements sometimes make it seem like they’re taking a great song apart to see what makes it tick—and they never fail to put it back together in perfect working order. 7:30 and 10:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12. —Monica Kendrick
KILLING JOKE You can’t write a respectable history of postpunk or industrial music without prostrating yourself at least briefly before the 80s output of Killing Joke. This inimitable English band straddled punk, metal, new wave, and industrial, and if they’d never existed, everyone from Shellac to Rammstein would probably sound quite different. Since their glory days, they’ve made records in fits and starts, often with only two founding members, vocalist Jeremy “Jaz” Coleman and guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker—but the 2007 funeral of former bassist Paul Raven (who’d gone on to play in Prong, Pigface, and Ministry) brought Coleman and Walker together with the other two members of the original lineup, drummer Paul Ferguson and bassist Martin “Youth” Glover. The passionately committed reunion that resulted from that sad meeting produced this year’s Absolute Dissent (Spinefarm), the first album these four guys have recorded together since the early 80s—in 1982 Glover was replaced by Raven after he bailed on the band’s attempt to wait out the apocalypse in Iceland—and frankly it’s the best thing any Killing Joke lineup has done since that turbulent decade. I’m dumbstruck by how good it is, in fact—its roiling, ever-changing landscape of political rage, elegiac sorrow, and wry utopian yearning contains as many bustling intersections, diverse neighborhoods, and strange forms of life as any huge city. Bloodiest opens; see also Saturday. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $20. —Monica Kendrick
TENNIS Alaina Moore, front woman of Denver duo Tennis, has a pure and innocent voice, and her lyrics can seem innocent too—though it’s hard to tell if lines like “When I feel the bow pushing past the waves / There’s no other motion that can pass the day / Ay-yay-yay” are straightforward descriptions or coy innuendo. The husband-and-wife band’s forthcoming debut album, Cape Dory (Fat Possum), is a breezy salute to the motion of the ocean inspired by the eight months Moore and partner Patrick Riley spent living on a sailboat. Which means it’s bona fide yacht rock—though given Moore’s sweet, Petula Clark-like vocals and the music’s shameless, joyful nostalgia for squeaky-clean 80s twee and lite 60s fare, perhaps “yacht pop” is more accurate. Family Portrait opens. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10, $8 in advance, 18+. —Jessica Hopper
BLACK TUSK The south can be a mighty creepy place, and not only for the reasons most northerners imagine. Ever wonder why so much great death metal has come from sunny Florida, or why so much great doom and experimental metal has come from Georgia? It might be the heavy yoke of a bloody history, it might be the miasmal swamps, or it might just be that famous southern passive-aggressiveness—like the sweet little old lady who says “Bless your heart” when she really means “Eat shit and die.” Whatever the cause, it’s created a huge appetite for honest-to-goodness aggressive-aggressiveness, and Black Tusk, from scenic Savannah, Georgia, are here to burn your garden club down (possibly by carelessly dropping a smoldering roach). This spring’s Taste the Sin (Relapse), the band’s second full-length, is stripped-down and heavy-hitting, and comes on like a truck driver who’s lost his brakes in the mountains—it’s not real generous about breathing room or dynamic range, but it’s got the relentless hammering of overheated tires on miles of bad blacktop and a little whiff of sudden death in an overgrown roadside ditch. Crowbar headline, touring to push the forthcoming Sever the Wicked Hand (E1/Housecore), their first album in six years; Black Tusk and Rue open. 11 PM, Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $17, $14 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick
CLARE BURSON To create the beautifully austere folk-rock songs on her recent Silver and Ash (Rounder), Clare Burson spent several years traveling—Lithuania, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine—and talking to anyone she could find who was even remotely connected to her family. The album was inspired by the life story of her maternal grandmother, who fled Germany the morning of Kristallnacht in 1938, but according to a recent profile in the New Yorker, Burson also used her trips abroad to research the provenance of a piece of cheese that had been in her family since the early 1890s. Her paternal great-grandfather received it as a farewell gift when he left Lithuania to work in South Africa, but he never ate it, and it became an heirloom that Burson inherited when her paternal grandmother died in 2009. That devotion to piecing together complex human stories serves Burson well in her songs: though the album booklet includes three old, grainy black-and-white photos of family members from Europe, her lyrics evoke interpersonal relationships and private histories sharply enough to hit home without an anchor in any specific place or time. The setting of “The World Turns on a Dime” is never described more precisely than “a big city,” and Burson’s vignettes of people suddenly forced to abandon their cherished plans make no mention of fleeing the Holocaust—like so many of her consistently inventive songs, it works because it turns historical events into something that listeners in other situations and eras can effortlessly inhabit. Her pretty melodies, which sound no more dated than her lyrics, are backed by gentle acoustic guitar parts embroidered by Mark Spencer’s tasteful electric leads; Burson’s touring band is Spencer, bassist Andy Cotton, and drummer Kristin Mueller. Dinosaur Feathers open. 7 PM, Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago, 312-226-8828, $5, free with RSVP to chicagoRSVP@
thebeautybar.com. —Peter Margasak
THE HIDEOUT HOLIDAY BALL In the late 90s and early 00s, the Butcher Shop was a focal point for Chicago music and art. It was also the venue for some truly staggering holiday parties, culminating in a 2001 debacle involving too many people and too few toilets. For ’02 and ’03 the Holiday Ball went legit—the organizers got permits, rented out alternate spaces, and sold tickets—but then the hassle of that process, abetted by shifty promoters, killed the tradition. Since then the Butcher Shop itself has effectively shut down, but this year the Holiday Ball is back, hosted by the Hideout and organized by the Mistletones—the seasonal nom de guerre of Butcher Shop stalwarts Rob Sullivan, Dan Sullivan, and Joe Kaplan, all of the band Arriver, and Jim Grabowski of John Roeser Avenue. Fronted by traditional Holiday Ball crooner Dave LaCrone, a former Chicagoan who now works as a librarian in Kansas City, they plan to bash out the holiday cheer for two hours plus. Attendees are requested to wear “festive attire,” which can mean anything from a tuxedo to plaid pants with Rudolph sewed on the back pocket. Former Butcher Shop regulars Descendro Allegro open with a brief reunion set, and Dave LaCrone & the Mistletones headline; afterward Velcro Lewis DJs the regular Hideout dance party, which has its own $5 cover charge. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, sold out. —Noah Berlatsky
KILLING JOKE See Friday. Beak opens. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600, sold out.
PUNCH BROTHERS With their latest album, Antifogmatic (Nonesuch), the Punch Brothers—a quintet led by Nickel Creek singer and mandolinist Chris Thile—have made just about every previous notion of “progressive bluegrass” seem quaint. They haven’t totally abandoned explicit connections to their bluegrass roots—they still use the traditional combo of banjo, bass, acoustic guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, for instance—but Thile’s increasingly ambitious songs blend elements of the genre (including the occasional mountain breakdown) with folk-pop melody, chamber-music polyphony, and experimental dissonance. At first his writing seemed a bit schematic, and I got the impression that all he was doing was trying to challenge his bandmates—but after a couple of listens the sturdiness and inventiveness of his tunes convinced me otherwise. This is a deep, dizzying band that’s only started to achieve its vast potential. See also Sunday. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $25, $22 in advance. —Peter Margasak
QUEERS Babies born in 1993, the year of the Queers’ high-water mark, Love Songs for the Retarded, are turning 17 years old, which means that some of them—bratty teen rebels, raiders of parental liquor cabinets, fans of sneering, sugar-high pop-punk—are just now becoming the band’s ideal audience. Even though front man and sole permanent member Joe Queer is God knows how old and has on occasion proven himself capable of considerable musical sophistication and subtlety, the Queers’ music remains at its heart a jolt of electricity for an adolescent’s three-chord-riot lizard brain. And the lyrics (favored themes: beer, farts, naughty bits) tend to follow suit. I haven’t followed the band since Don’t Back Down, a 1996 album with a bit of early Beach Boys flavor, but when I revisited Retarded recently it seemed to me that its hooks, if not its words, had aged unexpectedly well. “Can’t Stop Farting” may never entirely win over listeners who like to pretend to be mature adults, but the disarmingly gorgeous “Debra Jean” deserves a spot in the pop pantheon. Kepi Ghoulie, the Riptides, and the Old Comiskeys open. 6 PM, Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $13. —Miles Raymer
LATIMORE Benny Latimore’s career-defining 1974 hit, “Let’s Straighten It Out,” established him as a tenderhearted sensualist—flawed yet penitent, fortified with hard-won wisdom, and ready to do anything necessary to redeem himself to his lady. Latimore’s now in his 70s and hasn’t hit the charts in years, but his aphorism-heavy blend of romance and self-deprecation continues to melt hearts along the dwindling but still-potent chitlin circuit. On his 2009 release All About the Rhythm and the Blues (LatStone), the self-styled Miami Sex Machine rounds out his usual mix of sensitive-guy anthems and good-natured gettin’-it-on songs with “Obama and the Fat Man,” which encourages the president to stand up to right-wing media attacks; “City Life,” which chronicles the grim urban realities confronted by a good-hearted country boy; and the title song, which celebrates the music and living culture of the blues—a gauntlet thrown down, given that even many southern African-American artists now treat the “b-word” as an epithet. Mr. Lee, Chicago’s ageless dancer, emcee, and comedian, will oversee the festivities. Vance Kelly and Nellie “Tiger” Travis open. 6 and 9 PM, the Zone, 16300 Dixie Highway, Markham, 708-369-0998, $35, $25 in advance. —David Whiteis
PUNCH BROTHERS See Saturday. 7 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $25, $22 in advance.
THE SWORD Some conspiracy theorists in the metal community maintain that the Sword is a false-metal joke band; they consider the group’s popularity, along with its penchant for swords-and-sorcery lyrics and broad Sabbath-isms, to be proof. If the Sword’s recent third album, Warp Riders (Kemado), is any indication, what these guys are really aiming for is the platonic ideal of music for listening to while ripping bong hits in a shag wagon. On the outside there’s space-opera-style cover art worthy of the side of a custom van; on the inside there’s a resiny conglomerate of thrash, doom, prog, classic guitar boogie, and Kyuss’s mind-altering desert rock. Let’s just go ahead and say pot brownies are pretty much a must here. This is the Sword’s second attempt to bring the Warp Riders Tour to Chicago—the first was canceled when original drummer Trivett Wingo bailed midtour, but the band has since recruited Kevin Fender, a veteran of Austin hardcore act Employer Employee, for what’s officially been christened the Warp Riders Tour Mk. II. Karma to Burn and Mount Carmel open. 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $18, $16 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer
NICK MAZZARELLA TRIO As strong as Chicago’s jazz and improvised-music scene is, its ranks are depleted by occasional defections as well as by artists who take to touring so constantly that they rarely play here—even in the short term, its continued vitality depends on new blood. Alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella has been around for much of the decade—the 26-year-old was born in Woodridge, moved into the city to attend DePaul in 2002, and built up a busy gigging schedule beginning a couple years ago—but 2010 was the year he really started to make his voice heard. Last month he performed at the Umbrella Music Festival in an ensemble led by reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist and followed a typically astounding solo by the Swede with a knockout punch of his own—he played with a ferocity not always apparent in his own projects, carefully building in intensity so that he didn’t run out of ideas before he was through. (Though he’s not on Ljungkvist’s level, there’s no shame in that—very few are.) This show is a release party for Mazzarella’s impressive debut album, Aviary (Thought to Sound), cut by his nimble, briskly swinging working trio with bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly. His bright tone and exuberant melodies are still a bit too much in thrall to Ornette Coleman, but he proves himself a crafty improviser and a respectable composer, and he’s already displaying more confidence than he did at some of the first shows I saw him play. I like that Aviary is a modest recording, concise and direct. The performances are shorter than this spunky group’s usual live renditions of the same material, so that the album runs a satisfying 30 minutes—and throughout you can hear Mazzarella’s burning drive to convey the essence of his music simply, with no bells or whistles. See also Wednesday. 9 PM, Morseland, 1218 W. Morse, 773-764-8900. —Peter Margasak
ANDREW BIRD Violinist, vocalist, and whistler Andrew Bird doesn’t need much introduction in his hometown, but his latest album, Useless Creatures (Fat Possum), might benefit from some explanation. It was originally released last year as a bonus disc with the deluxe edition of Noble Beast, and its self-deprecating title suggests it was never meant to stand alone. And yet it does, as an all-instrumental, rather experimental meander through the back roads of Bird’s surrealist soundscapes. Percussionist Glenn Kotche (drummer for Wilco) and bassist Todd Sickafoose (best known as a member of Ani DiFranco’s band) provide some touchstones and signposts, falling in line brilliantly on the mesmerizing “Carrion Suite” and staying out of the way on some of the more abstract pieces. At these relatively cozy church concerts, the hall will play a big role—the vaulted ceiling, towering stone arches, and ornate stained glass will complement Bird’s somewhat anachronistic fussiness as well as the vaguely antique look of his flowerlike Specimen horn speakers. He performs twice more at the same venue, Thursday and Friday, December 16 and 17; Jeff Parker opens all three shows, and they’re all sold out. 8 PM, Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, 312-787-4570, sold out. —Monica Kendrick
NICK MAZZARELLA TRIO See Monday. Marc Riordan spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $7.
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE After My Chemical Romance released the concept-heavy Black Parade in 2006, front man and mastermind Gerard Way published a well-regarded comic-book miniseries, The Umbrella Academy—which helps explain why the band’s brand-new Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Reprise) feels less like another concept album and more like a graphic novel put to music. The story of near-future freedom fighters pitted against a nefarious megacorporation is told with fist-pumping hooks, impressionistic lyrics about stealing cars and staying optimistic and rebellious in the face of cruel conformity, and voice-overs by a pirate-radio DJ character; in the accompanying videos, directed by Way, the band plays the titular neon-hued sci-fi punks, while neo-shamanistic comics guru Grant Morrison appears as Korse, an “exterminator” for Better Living Industries. Though none of the tracks on Danger Days matches the highs of its impeccable major-label predecessors, the album’s collision of MCR’s trademark wide-screen pop-punk and synth-heavy, J-poppy new wave occasionally hits a sweet spot. Greek Fire and Middle Class Rut open. 8:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 866-448-7849, $38, $33 in advance, 17+. —Miles Raymer