Mavis Staples

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Richie Hawtin


John Mellencamp
Trap Them


Syl Johnson
Bruno Mars
A Masked Ball
John Mellencamp
Mavis Staples


Blind Guardian


A Masked Ball


Diamond Rings
Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief & Mayhem


RICHIE HAWTIN As Plastikman, his best-known musical incarnation, Richie Hawtin uses a dancing alien logo that to Michiganders of a certain age is, like the Insane Clown Posse’s hatchet man, inextricably associated with guys who sold weed in high school parking lots—you’d unfailingly see a sticker of one or the other on the rear windows of their cars. Unlike his Detroit-area neighbors, however, Hawtin made music in the 90s that’s aged extremely well. His new Arkives (on his own Minus 100 label) is an ambitious collection available in several formats, from a massive digital download to a slipcase-packaged set of 11 CDs, six LPs, a DVD, and a book. It consists mostly of music from between 1993 and 2003, alongside commissioned remixes and live performances, but it would sound daringly next-level if it were being released today. Hawtin’s take on Detroit techno strips the already lean style down to the bone, leaving little more than steady, Kraftwerk-inspired beats, the acid burblings of a Roland TB-303, and the sparsest of synth lines, embellished with reverb and delay. The result recalls Philip Glass in its austerity, but ravers around the world know that when properly amplified it bangs like nothing else. Gaiser and Dino G open. 10 PM, Spy Bar, 646 N. Franklin, 312-337-2191, $20. —Miles Raymer

Richie HawtinCredit: Emre Guven


BLOODYMINDED “Bloodyminded” is an apt term for local power-electronics powerhouse Mark Solotroff, who’s been creating pummeling but oddly seductive sounds since founding noise outfit Intrinsic Action in the early 80s. (The first lineup of Bloodyminded was similar enough to the last lineup of IA to suggest that the old band split for symbolic reasons, not creative ones.) For the past decade and a half, he’s been running a label called BloodLust! and plying his trade with far-flung collaborators—like Xavier Laradji, head honcho of the small but hugely disturbing publishing house Timeless, who’s flying in from France for his first Chicago performance in many moons. These days Solotroff also plays in Anatomy of Habit and collaborates with drone-metal band Rabid Rabbit, who are also on tonight’s bill. This show celebrates the reissue of Bloodyminded’s 2006 milestone, Magnetism, which Solotroff has called his most personal work—it sounds like one of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields being systematically unraveled and then encased in carbonite. Yakuza headlines; the Che Arthur Three, Rabid Rabbit, and Bloodyminded open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, $5 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

JOHN MELLENCAMP John Mellencamp‘s latest, No Better Than This (Rounder), was recorded by T-Bone Burnett with a single microphone and a 55-year-old Ampex tape machine in three iconic locations: Sun Studios in Memphis, the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, and Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson cut his first sides. Sincere as it may be, the concept flirts with shtick, but by and large the material prevents that impression from sticking. Mellencamp’s songwriting touches on various stripes of Americana, and he nods to prewar conventions by mostly doing away with proper choruses in favor of refrains; distinctive players like guitarist Marc Ribot, fiddler Miriam Sturm, and percussionist Jay Bellerose bring the raw arrangements to life. Though his lyrics don’t peg the songs to any particular era, they still capture the brooding darkness of America’s present and recent past—and even better, they don’t try to balance it out with cornball heartland optimism. These shows will be preceded by screenings of the Kurt Markus documentary It’s About You, which chronicles a 2009 tour of minor-league baseball stadiums by Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson. See also Saturday.  6:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, $42.50-$125. —Peter Margasak

TRAP THEM Trap Them claim Entombed, Disfear, Tragedy, Swans, and Black Flag as influences—it must take a brain like Stephen Hawking’s to comprehend just how pissed-off these four guys are. Their eruption of grindcore, metal, and hardcore punk doesn’t just pound on your door and yell—it kicks the damn thing down and charges in. On the recent EP Filth Rations (Southern Lord), Trap Them pile on the grit and filth: if their 2008 album Seizures in Barren Praise was an agile, vicious beast, then the new one is armor-plated too, and big enough to block a four-lane road. Vocalist Ryan McKenney spits his lyrics—which often have a political charge—like a stream of roofing nails, and the band is just as relentless, pounding out one brutal riff after another. Even the occasional slow song is so dense there’s no space to gasp for air. Trap Them’s third full-length is due in early 2011 on Prosthetic; recorded at GodCity with their usual producer, Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, it’ll be their first with former Coliseum drummer Chris Maggio. If it continues the trajectory they’ve already set, they’ll soon go from supporting the likes of Napalm Death and Every Time I Die to headlining themselves. ETID headlines; Trap Them, Howl, and Downers (aka Downers of the World Unite) open. 6:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $15. —Kevin Warwick


SYL JOHNSON With the 2007 double-disc compilation Lunar Rotation and the recent box set Complete Mythology—which collects 81 tracks Syl Johnson recorded between 1959 and 1977—the local Numero Group label has made an invaluable contribution to the reputation of Chicago soul and R&B imprint Twinight Records. Johnson, the biggest hit maker on Twinight, was with the label from 1967 till ’71 (before that he was with Federal, and afterward he recorded for Hi in Memphis), but none of his music appears on Lunar Rotation—even though he’d signed some of the acts, written some of the songs, and produced many of the sides. (Johnson was involved in a lawsuit with Twinight founder Peter Wright over control of his masters, and the Numero Group waited to license his material till that was resolved.) The beautifully packaged Complete Mythology, which contains six LPs (and four CDs with the same material), corrects that omission and then some, persuasively demonstrating what a potent force Johnson was, particularly between the late 60s and his exodus to Memphis. He worked in the territory where hard soul, funk, and the blues overlapped, and he gave his all on every song—his inspiring intensity, easy confidence, and riotous exuberance make even a dud worth listening to more than once. In April 2009, when Johnson headlined an old-school soul revue presented by the Numero Group at Park West, he was backed by lean young revivalist combo JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, but for this concert he’s leading a big band anchored by soul veterans he’s worked with on and off for more than four decades, among them bassist Bernard Reed, drummer Morris Jennings, saxophonist Willie Henderson, and backing singer Jackie Ross. Their repertoire includes nearly a dozen tracks that Johnson hasn’t performed since he originally recorded them—which in at least one case was 51 years ago. Ross and fellow soul great Otis Clay will also sing a few tunes, as will Johnson’s daughter Syleena. For more on Johnson, see this week’s cover story on page 17. 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $28, $26 members, $24 seniors and children. —Peter Margasak

BRUNO MARS The best pop songs sound inevitable, as if they’d been floating around waiting for the right person to pluck them out of the air. Bruno Mars and his partners in the songwriting concern the Smeezingtons have an almost disconcerting talent for doing this, and this year it’s seemed as though their efforts—including Mars’s “Just the Way You Are,” Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You!,” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”—have owned every bit of the pop-music market share that Dr. Luke couldn’t claim. The songs on Mars’s generally excellent debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Atlantic), take after “Fuck You!”—with the notable exception of “Just the Way You Are,” a baldly manipulative piece of power schmaltz destined to live on as a favorite of bachelorette party sing-alongs. “Runaway Baby” is a hyperactive piece of R&B-tinged sugar punk, “Grenade” is a pop-soul take on Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak phase, and “Marry You” takes a melody that belongs in a girl-group classic and blows it up to an epic scale the Arcade Fire would have a hard time matching. 7 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, sold out. —Miles Raymer

A MASKED BALL Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, about a king in love with his best friend’s wife in a time of political unrest, is hardly dull at the level of plot, but what’s most rewarding about the opera isn’t the story but the music—and Lyric Opera’s current production delivers exceptional singing in abundance. On opening night, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky was incredible as Amelia, the king’s romantic interest—her tormented third-act aria “Morro, ma prima in grazia” was a high point. Frank Lopardo, who plays King Gustavo, has a clear, lyrical tenor, and he was at his most expressive in the king’s love duet with Amelia and during his final turn, when he absolves his assassin. Baritone Mark Delavan as Renato—the king’s friend and adviser and Amelia’s husband—got off to a weak start, but during act two, as his role became more involved, his performance improved. As the fortune-teller Ulrica, Stephanie Blythe had a powerful Lyric debut, her rich, voluminous mezzo-soprano bolstering her commanding presence. Kathleen Kim was also excellent as the young page Oscar; her crystalline coloratura soprano was always right on pitch, and she played her trouser role with charm and wit. Asher Fisch conducts through December 5; Philip Morehead takes the baton on closing night, December 10. See also Tuesday. 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $43-$217. —Barbara Yaross

JOHN MELLENCAMP See Friday.  6:30 PM, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State, 312-462-6300 or 866-448-7849, $42.50-$125.

SABERTOOTH Sabertooth have held down the Saturday-night graveyard shift at the Green Mill for 18 years, and it’s been eight years since the quartet had a lineup change. But in this case familiarity hasn’t bred contempt—it’s created a steady supply of energy, which powers tunes that are easy to like and hard to sleep through, no matter how long ago your bedtime was. Organist Pete Benson is playfully droll on the “Odd Couple” theme, and his adroit pedal work locks right into the fleet, hard-swinging groove of drummer Ted Sirota on the original “It’s Surely Gonna Flop If It Ain’t Got That Bop”; both appear on the combo’s most recent album, 2007’s Dr. Midnight (Delmark). But saxophonists Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger—whose two horns inspired Sabertooth’s name, suggesting as they do the eyeteeth of a big cat—are the ones who provide the band with its inexhaustible stream of ideas about how to meet the expectations of an after-hours jazz-party crowd without being slaves to convention. They can wail their way through the changes on a Horace Silver tune, then turn around and find the funk in a Grateful Dead song. Midnight, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $5 before 2 AM, free afterward. —Bill Meyer

MAVIS STAPLES For all the discussion about Jeff Tweedy of Wilco producing You Are Not Alone (Anti-), the new album by gospel-soul legend Mavis Staples, what’s most impressive to me is the lightness of his touch. In September, Tweedy told the New York Times that he used the classic sound of the Staple Singers—the family group where Mavis began her career six decades ago—”not as a crutch, but as a template.” Following that template, he rendered the instruments gauzy, almost ghostly, and the album’s hybrid of soul, gospel, and rock doubles as a subtle commentary on all the genres touched by the Staples sound over the years. A handful of the songs on Alone were written by Staple Singers patriarch and guitarist Pops Staples, and lead guitarist Rick Holmstrom does an excellent job channeling the sound of his vibrato-rich licks. Fittingly, though, the vocals reign supreme throughout, on the Staple Singers material as well as breezily arranged traditional tunes (such as the strummy “In Christ There Is No East or West”) and nongospel songs (Randy Newman’s “Losing You,” the Little Milton classic “We’re Gonna Make It”). Nora O’Connor and Kelly Hogan provide stunning harmonies, but Staples’s husky alto is the album’s unquestionable centerpiece. This show comes on the heels of a European tour, and the odds are good that Tweedy, Hogan, O’Connor, and some of the other locals who helped out on the record will sit in—especially since Hogan opens. For this special holiday concert, attendees are encouraged to bring a new or like-new toy or book, which will be donated to patients at Chicago-area children’s hospitals. 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959, $30, 18+. —Peter Margasak


BLIND GUARDIAN These German power-metal warriors seem so starry-eyed and earnest that it’s sometimes hard to believe they’re not making fun of their own genre: they employ a massive orchestra and choir to sell their blustery choruses, throw around their encyclopedic knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien, and profess a love of Queen that’s both unseemly and 100 percent sincere. Blind Guardian‘s willingness to go all-in is also evident in their live performances, which are so thoroughly, unironically fun that they can crack even the most jaded facade—I’ve seen it happen myself at a Metro show. Their first album in four years, this summer’s At the Edge of Time (Nuclear Blast), plays a little bit like Blind Guardian’s Greatest Hits. It has many familiar elements—string swells giving cover to throwbacky thrash, cast-of-thousands warrior ballads, fantasy-fiction homages (“Wheel of Time” turns a so-so series of books into a great song)—but unlike many of the band’s best records, there’s no overarching concept. So while it’s superficially effective, there’s a feeling that Blind Guardian are biding their time before something big. Remember the cautionary tale of Robert Jordan, guys—none of us is getting any younger. Holy Grail and Seven Kingdoms open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $25, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Diamond RingsCredit: Norman Wong


A MASKED BALL See Saturday.  7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, $43-$217.


DIAMOND RINGS There’s only so much multicolored eye makeup a musician can airbrush on his face before people start assuming that he’s probably only good at wearing eye makeup. John O’Regan, who performs as Diamond Rings and dresses like a combination of Boy George and a teenage girl into hip-hop, sometimes wears a lot more makeup than that, but it’s only skin deep. He’s no lightweight electro diva, though his latest album, Special Affections (Secret City), relies heavily on synthesizers and drum machines—he uses them to build impressively sophisticated pop songs that often carry a current of melancholy beneath their glossy sheen. Charlie Deets opens. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Miles Raymer

Jenny ScheinmanCredit: Michael Wilson

JENNY SCHEINMAN’S MISCHIEF & MAYHEM New York violinist and singer Jenny Scheinman has turned up in Chicago a lot this year—two weeks ago she played at SPACE in Evanston with guitarist Bill Frisell, and she’s joined Robbie Fulks for several of his regular Monday-night Hideout shows. If you’ve seen her with Fulks, you’d probably peg her as an Americana artist, but her roots are in jazz—and no matter what she plays, her sound is broad-minded and cosmopolitan. Her new jazz quartet, Mischief & Mayhem, makes music laced with rock, pop, and twang, and Scheinman’s partners in the group are just as comfortable straddling genres as she is: guitarist Nels Cline plays with Wilco, bassist Todd Sickafoose is in Ani DiFranco’s band, and drummer Jim Black powers the bracing postrock of Tyft. Black and Sickafoose are capable of subtle, springy rhythms, but on the four tracks I’ve heard from Mischief & Mayhem’s forthcoming debut they more often drive the ensemble with a backbeat (albeit a heady and sophisticated one). Scheinman and Cline create rich harmonies and detailed counterpoint, and Cline’s mastery of effects pedals gives his playing an impressive depth of character and color—he can leap from spectral to piercing or from glassy to jagged. Both are fiery improvisers, balancing the concision and catchiness of rock with the virtuosity and harmonic daring of jazz. Scheinman’s compositions for the group collide those elements with a daredevil’s confidence, and the pull each genre exerts on the music produces an irresistible tension. Nora O’Connor & Liam Davis open. 8 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, 847-492-8860, $30, $25 in advance. —Peter Margasak