cANDREW BIRD Musically gifted as he is, sometimes I wish Andrew Bird would just take it down a notch. He has a tendency to revel in his own cleverness–take “Scythian Empires,” a tune from the brand-new Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum). “Their Halliburton attache cases are useless,” he sings, “while Scotchgard Macintoshes shall be carbonized.” Give me a break. Fortunately, his phrasing complements the other musical gears whirring behind his richly detailed tunes, so you can focus on the sound of his words rather than the meaning. Armchair is louder than anything he’s done before, with guitar further nudging his old violin out of the way, but the lattice of interlocking riffs remains as elaborate as ever. Bird is touring with a band for the first time in several years–not a bad idea when you’re playing venues as big as this one. Apostle of Hustle opens. a 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, $21.50. A –Peter Margasak

c JJ Grey & mofro On their latest, Country Ghetto (Alligator Records), Floridian JJ Grey and his band Mofro call up an image of the south that’s defined not by geography but by a state of mind. Grey’s scarred, churchy vocals summon spirits like Hank Williams, James Carr, and Janis Joplin–all of whom are nearly as famous for their troubled lives as they are for their music–over a blend of Tony Joe White swamp funk and willfully brain-dead blooze rock seasoned with fatback horns. The songs’ hardened heroes don’t cry into their beer: they cozy up inside their prisons-, be they physical, social, or psychic. Take the drug-crazed protagonist of the gritty blues number “Tragic,” who continues to hustle his family and few remaining friends even as he sinks resolutely into oblivion. There’s no heaven here, just a cul-de-sac at the dark end of the street. New Monsoon and Backyard Tire Fire open. a 8:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $18.50-$20.50, 18+. –David Whiteis

c Mono, World’s end girlfriend MONO made their last two albums with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio, so this Chicago gig isn’t quite the once-in-a-blue-moon treat it might be if they’d recorded at home in Japan. All the same, it’s great to have another chance to exper-ience this foursome’s instrumental rock experiments live. The swelling guitar strains of last year’s You Are There (Temporary Residence Limited) sound lush enough on disc, but watching the band so casually create such terrifyingly loud levels of distortion kicks the pleasure up to a whole new level.

Mono is touring with sound artist Katsuhiko Maeda, who goes by the name WORLD’S END GIRLFRIEND (or World’s End Boyfriend, or Wonderland Falling Yesterday). His brand-new Hurtbreak Wonderland (Noble) is quixotic and mysterious, following its own labyrinthine logic through manipulated field recordings, walls of distortion, and eerie desertlike stretches of electronic minimalism. On Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain, Maeda’s 2005 collaboration with Mono, the band’s emo-leaning instrumental drama combines with the chill of his weird-science ways to create a haunting tension.

The Drift opens, World’s End Girlfriend plays second, and Mono headlines. a 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12. –Monica Kendrick

NAS At the age of 33, Nas is becoming an old man. Always one to insist loudly on the importance of hip-hop fundamentals, he’s never seemed as reactionary and cranky as he does on the new Hip-Hop Is Dead (Def Jam); at one point he takes a petty dig at MCs who can’t quote Big Daddy Kane. Though he’s not moaning the entire time–there are plenty of his typically gritty urban narratives–Nas keeps returning to what he sees as hip-hop’s descent from untainted street art form to moneymaking racket. Fortunately his flow is still strong: even though the tracks are weighed down with comically played-out samples from the Incredible Bongo Band (the title cut) and James Brown (“Where Are They Now”), he somehow keeps them sounding vital. a 8 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $31, 18+. –Peter Margasak

cJEFF NEWELL’S NEW-TRAD OCTET It took two decades for reedist Jeff Newell to finally release an album by New-Trad Octet, the inventive band he assembled to revisit trad-jazz classics and recast mainstream jazz tunes with a New Orleans marching band sensibility. But anyone expecting to hear the group tackle Armstrong, Ellington, Mingus, and Parker on the just-released Brownstone (Blujazz) is in for a surprise–Newell and his merry misfits don’t cover any jazz at all. They adhere to the New Orleans sound, but the material is much older: three Sousa marches and a six-part suite called Hymn Pan Alley, the movements of which are based on melodies by little-known early-20th-century composers from Newell’s adopted neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. With the suite, Newell proves himself to be as much a musical archaeologist and iconoclastic composer as he is an innovative arranger, neatly and effectively combining two contemporaneous bygone idioms without resorting to campy high jinks or tongue-in-cheek send-ups. His onstage band will include Orbert Davis on trumpet, John McLean on guitar, and Steve Million on organ. In addition to his two-night Green Mill gig with the octet (see also Saturday), Newell will play a free trio show at 12:15 PM today in the Randolph Cafe of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; call 312-744-6630 for more info. a 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. -Neil Tesser

cRJD2 Top-flight turntablist and producer Rjd2 made his name as a hip-hop sampler virtuoso a la DJ Shadow, so it’s no surprise he’s taking heat from press and fans alike for moving from Def Jux to XL and from beats to pop on his latest, The Third Hand. And honestly, he’s not doing himself any favors by trying to explain the new sound: “You know how guys break down once a year, and tell their friends that they love them, but they do it hella manly like?” he says in his press kit. “It’s like that.” But while he may not be the natural at the console that he is behind the steel wheels, The Third Hand–written, sung, played, and produced by Rj alone–is a pretty impressive effort from a fledgling pop-rock auteur. “Laws of the Gods” benefits from a jaunty Odessey and Oracle vibe, “Have Mercy” throws down some hooky soulfulness in a Phoenix vein, and “Someday” has a Lennonesque acoustic quietude that’s a surprise even in such a free-ranging context. For this tour he’s bringing a set of decks plus a four-piece band; Busdriver and Happy Chichester open. a 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $21, 18+. –J. Niimi

cTHE THING This Scandinavian improvising trio, led by reedist Mats Gustafsson, sets its originals next to tunes by free-jazz icons (Ornette Coleman, Yosuke Yamashita) and primal rock bands (the White Stripes, Lightning Bolt), but novelty isn’t the point. The repertoire choices seem guided solely by a hunger for intensity and beauty–occasionally an either/or proposition but more often mutually reinforcing. Driven hard by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten and guided by a raw emotional intuition, the group carries the music to one extreme dynamic position after another, from demolitions-grade explosive power to featherlight nuance. A couple years ago the Thing made what looked to be a one-off EP with Norwegian rock band Cato Salsa Experience, but the collaboration proved to have legs: on the brilliant new full-length follow-up, Two Bands and a Legend (Smalltown Superjazzz), the blended group essays both “Louie Louie” and a gorgeously meditative ballad by Blue Notes trumpeter Mongezi Feza, again joined by free-jazz immortal and regular Thing collaborator Joe McPhee. For these shows, celebrating the first anniversary of Ken Vandermark’s Immediate Sound series, the Thing will play two sets a night, with McPhee sitting in on the latter. See also Saturday. a 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12. –Peter Margasak


cBrother ali After several years of seemingly nonstop touring, Minneapolis MC Brother Ali is starting to reap the benefits—his fans are all over the brand-new The Undisputed Truth (Rhymesayers Entertainment), and he’s slated to play Coachella. His latest record launches from the same gut-wrenching place as 2004’s unfuckwithable Champion EP. Guided by the Koran and an allegiance to the Funky 4+1, Ali alternates rap-game chest beating with impassioned survival screeds about trying to hold a family together, and his flow is a blustering gospel fury that makes it all potent and personal. Producer Ant, on loan from Atmosphere, throws his slurry drawl atop warm reggae chops and forceful 70s rock leads. Ali hasn’t lost any of his tense melancholy, but now he’s effortlessly confident—and he should be. Psalm One, BK-One, Trama, and Toki Wright open. a 7 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $12. A –Jessica Hopper

cJEFF NEWELL’S NEW-TRAD OCTET See Friday. a 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12.

cTHE THING See Friday. Ken Vandermark joins the band for both sets tonight; the second set also features Joe McPhee. a 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $12.


GREG ASHLEY’S MEDICINE FUCK DREAM I’d say we’ve already got enough trippy folk that sounds like it was made by some Donovan wannabe who went on a bender 40 years ago and woke up in a vat of pink cotton candy wearing nothing but body paint and a Viking helmet. But hey, if Greg Ashley thinks he can come up with a new twist, who am I to stand in his way? At least he seems more inspired on his new solo album, the lush ‘n’ dreamy Painted Garden (Birdman), than he did on the last Gris Gris album. His backing band, Medicine Fuck Dream, features Alan Harrison, Brad Dunn, and Brian Jonestown Massacre survivor Brian Glaze, who’ll also be performing songs from his 2006 Birdman debut, Let’s Go to the Sea. The Gnomes and Conor Redig open. a 8 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $8, 18+. –Monica Kendrick

JANA HUNTER Jana Hunter’s 2005 debut was an insular affair, thick with tape hiss, but on the new There’s No Home (Gnomonsong) she takes a different tack. She’s cleaned up the production, refined her arrangements, and brought in bandmates (though the instrumentation remains lean). Somewhat counterintuitively, these changes actually expose the narrowness of her range and the dryness of her tone: even at her most spirited, Hunter sounds narcotized, like she’s drifting in a pleasant early-morning haze. Listening to someone who constantly seems bored does lose its appeal after a while, but Hunter’s strong melodies make up for her lack of affect. She opens for Peter & the Wolf and Will Johnson. a 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. –Peter Margasak


BRIGHT EYES I’ve never been initiated into the cult of Conor Oberst and his much gazed-upon navel, but I’m edging closer to the compound with each album: the new Cassadaga (Saddle Creek) almost had me at the packaging, which doesn’t look like much at first but turns out to be the cleverest and most elegant I’ve seen this year. Oberst is getting more grandiose as he gets older (like many before him), and his apocalyptic imagery here is so weighty and baroque that a particularly sturdy armature is needed to hold it up. Fortunately the all-star cast behind him (including Gillian Welch, M. Ward, and Ben Kweller, among others) provides one; waiting for things to fall apart is like waiting for an eschatological event that never comes. Oakley Hall and McCarthy Trenching open. See also Tuesday. a 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, $26.50. A –Monica Kendrick

DAVID DIARREAH Local one-man band David Diarreah reminds me of reading Hit Parader in sixth grade, when I thought the lead singer of Ratt was hott ’cause he had better hair than I did. That is, I think he’s good, but not necessarily because he’s good. On his no-budget recordings he shreds aimlessly on electric guitar, thumbs thwunky bass lines, and whines often unintelligible lyrics. When there’s percussion, it’s a thrift-store drum machine or a cheap hand drum played so unsteadily it’s essentially rhythmless. He occasionally settles into buttery-sunlight acoustic strumming, but he’s really got a boner for four-track doomsday boy metal and stripped-bare punk–and his odd approximations of them are more interesting than spot-on imitations would be. In the end, he just wants to be a rock star so bad that, in a certain sense, he is one. Diarreah performs as part of the Version festival’s Bridgeport Pub Crawl, opening for the Lay All Over Its and Civilized Man. For more on Version>07, see Section 2 or a 8 PM, Bernice’s Place, 3238 S. Halsted, 773-837-0145. F –Liz Armstrong

GHOSTLAND OBSERVATORY On their second full-length, last year’s Paparazzi Lightning (TrashyMoped), this Austin-based keyboard-and-guitar duo continued to crank out simple, infectious, primordial pop, with hooks that were much stronger than on their 2005 debut. Their minimal electro sound has earned some not-unwarranted comparisons to Daft Punk, while front man Aaron Behrens has been likened to everyone from Prince to Freddie Mercury. I’d add Question Mark and Ric Ocasek to the list–and when they tap into their elusive dark side, rendering cheeseball rockisms all pomo and eerie, there’s a little Alan Vega in there too. Popstatic opens. a 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2


BRIGHT EYES See Monday. Oakley Hall and McCarthy Trenching open. a 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212, $26.50. A

cIngrid fliter In 2006, at age 32, Ingrid Fliter won the Gilmore award, given every four years by a panel that travels the world incognito judging pianists in concert. The prize is $300,000, and the prestige can transform careers, as it has for past recipients Leif Ove Andsnes and Piotr Anderszewski. At the recommendation of pianist Martha Argerich, Fliter left her native Argentina in 1992 to study in Europe, where she went on to win a silver medal in the 2000 International Chopin Competition–not surprising given the affinity for the composer revealed by her two CDs, both recorded live at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. She captures Chopin’s style with a passion backed by a powerful technique that’s informed by taste and tremendous musicality; the naturalness of her interpretations is infused with a superbly balanced lyricism and a just-right, never idiosyncratic rubato. Her 2006 CD includes a gripping performance of Beethoven’s Sonata no. 7 in D Major (which she’ll perform here) that nails the boldness of the first movement’s presto and the emotional weight of the second movement’s sorrowful largo. This Chicago debut recital also includes Beethoven’s 32 Variations, along with Chopin’s Barcarole and Sonata no. 3 in B Minor. a 7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th, 773-702-8068, $10. –Barbara Yaross

cKONONO NO. 1 Though this Kinshasa-based ensemble has released an album called Congotronics (Crammed Discs), its link to electronic music is tenuous at best. Konono No. 1’s songs are as good as any techno for nonstop dancing, but they’re rooted in Bazombo tribal tradition. The band, formed nearly 30 years ago, shouts call-and-response chants over galloping rhythms played on drums, hubcaps, handheld percussion, and three thumb pianos locally called likembes. Only the Hendrixian distortion on the likembes–the by-product of a homemade amplification system that incorporates salvaged car parts–sounds at all electronic. Apparently that’s enough for Bjork, who knows a thing or two about cutting-edge dance music: she recruited the group to play on her upcoming Volta. Unfortunately, until next month you can only hear the collaboration in tiny online snippets of questionable provenance–but tonight you can see Konono No. 1 up close and personal. Unlike the ballroom where they made their Chicago debut a year and a half ago, the Empty Bottle’s cozier performance space should intensify the gloriously in-the-red blare of the old bullhorn loudspeakers they carry to all their shows. a 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $20. –Bill Meyer

cRICHARD SWIFT On his new Dressed Up for the Letdown (Secretly Canadian), pop throwback Richard Swift continues to curdle Brill Building sweetness with the cynicism, if not the substance, of Randy Newman. In fairness, he may suspect that his lyrics aren’t all they could be–the CD booklet provides only fragments of them, often crossed out or otherwise obscured–but he does get in some good lines, often at his own expense (“I played your heart, but I broke two strings”; “Sorry, Mr. Swift, but you’re much too fat / And could I persuade you just to wear a cap”). And his gifts as a musician have never been better displayed. Though Swift still plays nearly everything himself, the new record has a bigger sound than earlier, lo-fi efforts; his multipart melodies get the perfect lift from lilting piano-driven arrangements, which are judiciously fleshed out with harmony vocals, strings, and Bacharach-worthy brass lines. Swift’s songwriting models may be decades old, but hooks this strong are timeless. White Rabbits and All Smiles open. a 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. –Peter Margasak


Haale Haale, a New Yorker of Iranian descent, released a pair of EPs earlier this year combining languid folk rock and searing psychedelic drone. She plays electric guitar and Persian setar, and a slew of excellent players fluent in Middle Eastern forms (including violist Eyvind Kang and percussionists Raz Mesinai and Shane Shanahan) worked on the sessions. The music, given a pop-minded sheen by producer Dougie Bowne (the ex-Lounge Lizards drummer), is neither overly traditional nor a glib cultural mash-up–Haale’s got a warm, supple voice that moves easily between East and West, whether she’s laying down original English lyrics or Rumi poetry. This is her Chicago debut. a 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $12, $10 in advance. –Peter Margasak


SILVER DAGGERS This LA junk-punk outfit has built a sort of Sisyphean futility into its music–the songs always melt down as soon as they hit critical mass. On New High & Ord (Load) they compress all kinds of flavors–mad-scientist analog keyboard, Kegel-flex bass, rattle-clatter drums, cheerleader vocals, Gypsy-caravan sax–into a bouillon cube of hyperventilating disco terror, but then conjure up a pregnant brown rain cloud of shitty noise that washes it all out into a diluted mess. Thankfully they have enough energy to start over, over and over again: they’re a bared-teeth party band that can plow through fatigue, past exhaustion, and end up on the other side, tired-wired bleary in a nauseated walking swoon. Opening are KK Rampage, Oakeater (featuring former Coughs percussionist Seth Sher), and Bret Gand Is Dead. a 9 PM, Mr. City, e-mail or call 773-354-4286 for address, $5 suggested donation. A –Liz Armstrong