Friday 20

THE ATSRONOMER Multi-instrumentalist Charles Kim–the architect behind the deeply cinematic Pinetop Seven and Sinister Luck Ensemble–adds his vocals to the mix in his latest group, the Astronomer. But on the band’s eponymous self-released debut, his pedestrian singing lacks the supple, atmospheric quality of his guitar and pedal steel, diluting the effect of the spectral music: Kim played nearly everything on the record, and the songs have a gentle, hovering beauty, but on the whole they sound lifeless. Hopefully he’ll get a spark from the musicians joining him here: Steve Dorocke (pedal steel), Jason Toth (drums), John Abbey (upright bass), Jeff Frehling (accordion, guitar), and Tim Joyce (banjo). This show is a release party. The New Messengers of Happiness open. 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $8. –Peter Margasak

BOUND STEMS These tuneful local indie rockers recently released their second EP, The Logic of Building the Body Plan (Flameshovel), a teaser for the forthcoming full-length Appreciation Night. Which label will release the LP is still up in the air: as Bob Mehr reported back in November, the Bound Stems have attracted the interest of major indies like Domino and Barsuk. After hearing Body Plan, I understand why–its 26 minutes are chock-full of enthralling high-octane arrangements, left-field hooks, and superb musicianship (drummer Evan Sult used to play with Seattle cult favorites Harvey Danger, of “Flagpole Sitta” fame). Though the band seems certain to put its John Hancock on another label’s contract before too long, the new EP is still a feather in Flameshovel’s cap–and taken with the Chin Up Chin Up records, maybe even the start of a new Chicago “hard-pop” sound. This show doubles as a release party for the second issue of Make, which includes work by Reader contributor Adam Langer, among others; admission includes a copy of the magazine. I Need Sleep and Ramona Cordova open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. –J. Niimi

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE This local quintet, which features members of Rise Against, Shai Hulud, the Hope Conspiracy, the Killing Tree, etc, etc, is so posthardcore it’s like hardcore never happened. The chugging songs on last year’s Lost in Landscapes EP (HeWhoCorrupts Inc.) have an angular grandeur and an unpunk kind of priggishness–the music’s crisply recorded and almost coldly perfect–but front woman Emily Schambra defiantly commands the top of the mix with her humanizing wail. There are only a few wobbly moments where I thought I was listening to At the Drive-In fronted by Pat Benatar covering “Kashmir.” The band’s working on a full-length. Ryan’s Hope, the Skyriter, and 2*Sweet open. 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $9. All ages. –Monica Kendrick

PAPER AIRPLANE PILOTS These locals have been slow to grind out new material, but I don’t think it’s cost them: the ostentatiously flawless power pop on their 2003 debut, The History of Flying (Spade Kitty), produced such an eruption of glee among critics that the band could bounce on top of the geyser jets for a while. The songs on their just-released follow-up, Western Automatic Music (Spade Kitty), are supposed to sound boyishly exuberant, but each painstakingly designed layer is the product of an almost legalistic attention to every candied harmony and chinging guitar flourish. “Big Disappointment” sounds a bit like reconstituted Lloyd Cole, and on “Damn City Lights” they undercut the song’s anthemic, Bob Seger-esque chords by shifting into GBV mode. This show is a release party. Cracklin Moth and the Poison Control Center open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8. –Monica Kendrick

Saturday 21

CALIFONE It’s been almost a year since Califone played in Chicago, but the combo’s members have hardly been idle. Singer and bandleader Tim Rutili produced Freakwater’s Thinking of You, the whole band played on it, and drummer Joe Adamik joined Freakwater on the road. Multi-instrumentalist Jim Becker toured with the Dirty Three, Rutili worked in LA on sound tracks for films and cable TV shows, and percussionist Ben Massarella split his time between recording an Orso album and caring for his two young children. Califone also began making what Rutili calls a “really strange pop” record to follow 2004’s Heron King Blues (Thrill Jockey); Rutili says the band’s working with glitches, drones, throat singing, and fife-and-drum material, among other things. A finished record is still a ways off, but you can expect the band to play some new songs here for the first time, as well as numbers from Roomsound, Califone’s 2001 full-length debut, which Thrill Jockey will reissue next month. Wooden Robot and Falling Boy open. See also Sunday. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. –Bill Meyer

MARC COURTNEY JOHNSON & THE DAN CRAY TRIO Marc Courtney Johnson’s self-released, self-titled debut disc (available through his Web site, came out in 2004, though you probably haven’t heard of it, or of him: he’s pursuing vocal jazz as a sideline to a career in Web programming, so he’s had relatively few gigs and little exposure. That’s a shame, because Johnson has plenty of promise, both as a singer–his throaty tenor gets up into Aaron Neville range–and as a songwriter; the more seasoning he gets, the better he’ll sound. The album, like his stage work, has some valleys but some real peaks as well: he’ll sometimes bite off a bit more than he can comfortably chew in terms of phrasing, tempo, or intonation, but he gets kudos for stretching toward tougher material, and he has a sure sense of what the music should do and say. Also on the plus side, Johnson works with a marvelous trio led by pianist Dan Cray, and he picks some unexpected but welcome material, such as tunes by Bill Lee (Spike’s dad) and Luther Vandross. Well worth hearing. He opens for Marshall Vente’s Project 9, featuring singer Greta Pope and tenor titan Billy Harper, on the third night of this year’s Marshall Vente Jazz Festival. 9 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20. –Neil Tesser

THE LIVING BLUE There’s nothing overtly offensive about the Living Blue’s new Fire, Blood, Water (Minty Fresh), but there’s not much to get excited about either. This Champaign quartet puts me in mind of Julian Cope fronting a butchier version of the Mighty Lemon Drops–a sound that was already stale 15 years ago. What’s worse, the stolidly midtempo tunes are all but interchangeable both musically and lyrically, and the band executes an ordinarily bushy-tailed style–overheated 80s Britpop vocals, busy layered guitars, stomping drums–with all the joie de vivre of a guy mowing his lawn. It’s like somebody spiked the humidifier in their rehearsal space with Librium and saltpeter. The Paybacks headline, Miss Alex White & the Red Orchestra play third, the Living Blue plays second, and Willis P. Jenkins opens. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $10. –J. Niimi

CHRIS THILE & MIKE MARSHALL Chris Thile of Nickel Creek is the celebrity in this pair, but fellow mandolinist Mike Marshall is the veteran with the interesting backstory: since joining the David Grisman Quintet in 1979, his passion for acoustic music has taken him from Lincoln Center (in a chamber trio with Bela Fleck and bassist Edgar Meyer) to the backwoods of Brazil (where he studied choro, a rough equivalent to bluegrass). I’m more likely to enjoy his records on, say, Sugar Hill than his ones on, say, Windham Hill, but Marshall himself doesn’t seem to fuss much about genre distinctions. This duo tackled jazz, Bach, and bluegrass on 2003’s Into the Cauldron; the forthcoming Live Duets (both Sugar Hill) captures some of their blistering performances in support of that record. 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $25, $21 seniors & kids. The 7 PM show is sold out. All ages. –Monica Kendrick

Sunday 22

CALIFONE See Saturday. Grimble Grumble, Edith Frost, and Chris Mills open. This show is part of Sound Check; see page 24 for a complete schedule. a 8 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $20.

Monday 23

COLTRANE MOTION The notion that the computer-as-instrument would change the face of music resulted in tons of perfectly listenable 90s art-pop groups getting lost in a manifesto-induced fog. Well, the revolution won’t be bit-torrented or RSS’d either. Most of the pretentious digital zealots have toned it down in the past few years, leaving groups like local trio Coltrane Motion to jury-rig their own software, bash around on guitars, and make joyful noises free from the weight of such awesome cultural responsibility. Last year’s four-song EP, No OK Well Maybe Just a Little (Data Was Lost), hops and burbles and yearns like a defrosted New Order letting out a primal side no one knew they had. A Tundra and Aluminum Babe open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401. Free. –Monica Kendrick

Tuesday 24

KT TUNSTALL Eye to the Telescope (Virgin), the debut album by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, doesn’t come out here until March, but in the UK it’s already inspired typically gushing praise from the music press and nabbed a Mercury Prize nomination. Tunstall has connected with the public, too–the album’s sold more than a million copies–and it’s easy to hear why: her warmly melodic tunes are rooted in slick pop and folk rock, with a dash of soul and some subtle electronic textures. The songs do have a sturdy rhythmic backbone, and she’s a rung or two higher than the usual post-Lilith Fair mush merchants thanks to her appealing rasp and bluesy phrasing. But all that means is that she’s this generation’s Edie Brickell. Willy Mason opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, sold out. –Peter Margasak

Wednesday 25

PELICAN Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that Pelican was still Chicago’s little secret, our very own round-the-way instrumental epic-metal band. But now they’ve just finished their third trip to the UK and booked a string of dates on the Taste of Chaos package tour this spring–they’re blowing it out the frame in the aught-six. And with good reason: their latest, The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (Hydra Head), is a wholly consuming monster. The record’s across-the-board appeal is also one of the best demonstrations of the pluralism of the Chicago scene: its brutish pummeling satisfies metal and hardcore fans alike, its warm, enveloping drones reassure squeamish indie rockers, and its rococo song structures and nostalgic licks make it a shoo-in with music snobs and old scenesters. Pelican heads overseas again in February, so this will be the band’s last local show for a few months. The Russian Circles and Sweet Cobra open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. –Jessica Hopper

Thursday 26

SAY HI TO YOUR MOM It seems not that long ago that “one-man bedroom band” meant no-budget production values: crummy Radio Shack condenser mikes, pie-tin percussion, and reruns of Barney Miller faintly playing in the background. Now, thanks to cheap PC peripherals and great drum machines, bedroom bands are virtually indistinguishable from “real” bands. But Ferocious Mopes (Euphobia), the third and latest full-length by Brooklynite Eric Elbogen (aka Say Hi to Your Mom), still displays some of the genre’s timeless defining qualities: the insular, airless feel of the recordings; an instensely inward lyrical focus reminiscent of asocial entities like My Dad Is Dead and Sentridoh; and of course the self-released aesthetic (Euphobia is Elbogen’s home imprint). If you can get past the terminally flat singing, SHTYM has some fine tunes lurking amid the tangled mike cables and empty pizza boxes. Though he writes and records alone, Elbogen is accompanied by a full band on this tour; whether he drives to the shows by himself is another question. The Ladies and Gentlemen and Magnus open. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $8. –J. Niimi