HAPTIC Haptic is a spin-off of the Dropp Ensemble, whose 2003 CD, The Empire Builders, is the best piece of drone music to come out of Chicago since Jim O’Rourke left town. Both groups feature Joseph Mills and Adam Sonderberg playing electronic and acoustic instruments with percussionist Steven Hess, and both groups make layered, richly textured music that evolves at a glacial pace. But while the Dropp Ensemble is generally studio-bound, relying on material mailed to them by contributors and heavy postproduction, Haptic is a live unit. They’ve played five concerts in just over a year, and even their recordings–a track on the Two Million Tongues compilation and a forthcoming album, The Medium–are drawn from live performances. Haptic recruits a different guest musician for each show; Greg Hamilton, who has played with numerous local classical, free-improv, and rock combos, joins the group here, testing out his Morton Feldman chops on piano. A duo featuring cellist Sarah Biber and bassoonist Katherine Young, both of the chamber music collective Till by Turning, opens. 9:30 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, 773-862-3616, $7 suggested donation. All ages. –Bill Meyer

HEM Hem is seemingly the only band to come out of Brooklyn in the last few years whose songs aren’t made for the dance floor–unless we’re talking about a gentle waltz around a barn. Fronted by Sally Ellyson, whose clarion voice is cotton simple and fine, the group sort of sounds like the Cowboy Junkies by way of Calexico, using mandolin, pedal steel, and brushed drums to create a dusty prairie hush that’s grand and ornate around the edges. The music is lazy sweet, but there’s a bit of fire beneath the countrypolitan perfection. Their latest, No Word From Tom (Waveland/Nettwerk), is a collection of rarities, demos, live tracks, and well-chosen covers, including “Rainy Night in Georgia” and R.E.M’s “South Central Rain.” For most bands “rarities and outtakes” is a euphemism for “bad ideas and utter crap,” but Hem’s lost songs are as potent as their best known. Josh Ritter headlines. 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-3160 or 312-559-1212, sold out. –Jessica Hopper

Saturday 22

BOWED PIANO ENSEMBLE Colorado-based composer Stephen Scott takes a strikingly original approach to piano music, elaborating on extended techniques developed by John Cage, Henry Cowell, and Conlon Nancarrow. In 1977 he founded his Bowed Piano Ensemble, a ten-member group that huddles over the innards of a single grand piano and uses a host of tools–including nylon fishing line, horsehair-covered tongue depressors, guitar picks, fingernails, percussion mallets, and custom-made mutes–to sculpt dazzling orchestral sounds that are rich with rippling counterpoint, subtle rhythms, and harmonic splendor. Scott’s long-form compositions are often inspired by specific locales: 1996’s Vikings of the Sunrise is about the exploration of the South Pacific, and his latest recording, 2004’s Paisajes Audibles/Sounding Landscapes (Albany), combines original music and texts by Plato, Federico Garcia Lorca, and others to pay tribute to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. Soprano Victoria Hansen’s singing blunts the power of the group, but the music and text are well integrated; she’ll join the group for this rare Chicago show, which features a performance of The Deep Spaces, a song cycle about Italy’s Lake Como. It should be fun to watch the group navigate the piano–they rehearse their movements nearly as much as they do their playing. a 1 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Free. All ages. –Peter Margasak

THE GRIS GRIS Stylistic innovation in garage rock tends to come in infrequent, fractional steps, so when this Bay Area band appeared on the scene it was a refreshing kind of shock. Most folks on the psychedelic end of the spectrum just rehash Electric Prunes-style acid-rock signifiers–buy a flanger, crank the reverb, turn on a strobe light–but the Gris Gris explore some genuinely trippy turf within the genre’s formulaic framework. On the recent For the Season (Birdman) and in their stunning live shows, they do to white-boy blues what a couple hits of dirty acid do to a teenage mind: take it to places that can be gorgeous and scary at the same time, sometimes deconstructing it so thoroughly you can’t imagine how you’ll ever get back. Black Sunday, Vee Dee, and Brian Glaze open. 10 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 800-594-8499, $10. –Miles Raymer

K.K. RAMPAGE For months, these attention-starved twerps have been pulling stunts to get me to write about them–they mailed me a cat fetus, for instance, and then two dozen roses. Now that they’ve named one side of their new Sides E & F seven-inch (Rococo) after me, I’m officially caving. (The other side’s named after Jon Ziemba of the Coughs, but I don’t know what they’re trying to get out of him.) K.K. Rampage pride themselves on their juvenile, anal-expulsive sense of humor: they like getting naked and wrasslin’ onstage, they yell at each other in fake Down syndrome voices (when they’re not doing a whiny mosquito screech a la Eric Paul from Arab on Radar), and their minute-long snatches of seizure rock have tasteful titles like “Dick Wielding Devil” and “Fork in Your Pussy.” Despite its dirty, speaker-damaging sound and feverish energy, though, the music’s all jerk ‘n’ tug–it never blows its load. There’s something these guys desperately need, but I can’t tell if it’s a good shag or just a hug. They headline this show, which is part of the opening party for the Version>06 exhibit “Urban Gardening and Exterior Decorating”; for a complete festival schedule, see the sidebar in Section 2. The rest of the bill, from the top down: LXSS (a solo project from Alexis Gideon of Princess), Amerika’z Meth Problem II (a Terry Plumming jam-band freak-out), Soft Serve (aka Chicago expat Eleanor Balson), Lazer Mountain, Aspic Tines, Typewriter (creepy puppets and performance art plus wicked drums), I Am the Liquor, and DJ Hunter Husar. 9 PM, Iron Studios, 3636 S. Iron (2nd floor), 773-837-0145, $10, $5 for students. All ages. –Liz Armstrong

LOTUS Nobody ever finessed a date into bed with a Hanatarash album. (Well, I sorta did, but that was back when my taste in music was even less sexy than I was. Plus I only dated psychotics.) Even noise nuts keep something else handy for that special moment, though I think the live dance music on Lotus’s latest album, The Strength of Weak Ties (Harmonized), would do the trick more effectively than that Lionel Richie LP. I don’t mean to say that’s Lotus’s sole virtue: their understated musicianship and stylistic fluency is astounding, and I’m not sexist/tedious/dickless enough to claim it’s guaranteed sonic Spanish fly. (That would be side two of Led Zeppelin IV.) The Philly quintet play their techno-prog-funk-postrock-jazz butts off, but despite the aggressive eclecticism of the music, it’s not ostentatious–nothing on the album grabs you by the hair and screams, This is the coolest fucking song you’ve ever heard! DJ Harry opens. See also Sunday. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $10 in advance, $12 at the door, 18+. –J. Niimi

THE WINTER BLANKET Like Low, with whom they’ve long been connected, hush-core band the Winter Blanket is slowly but surely loudening up. For their 2000 debut, Hopeless Lullaby (recorded by Low’s Alan Sparhawk), singer Stephanie Davila kept her voice like a secret, whispering confessional lyrics over minimal guitar strumming. But on their last two full-lengths, 2002’s Actors and Actresses (released on Sparhawk’s Chairkicker’s Music imprint) and 2004’s Prescription Perils (Fractured Discs), multi-instrumentalist Nathan Tensen-Woolery has opened up their sound by adding banjo, cello, and piano flourishes to the group’s autumnal hymns and breezy lullabies. At their most rocking they still barely eclipse the mellow intensity of, say, On the Beach-era Neil Young, but they’ve definitely moved beyond their twee roots. Shelley Short headlines, Lindsay Anderson plays second, and the Winter Blanket opens. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. –Jessica Hopper

Sunday 23

LOTUS See Saturday. 3 PM, Tower Records, 2301 N. Clark, 773-477-5994. Free. All ages.

VAN MORRISON Van Morrison’s voice has long been in a class of its own, but for much of the past two decades he might as well have been singing the yellow pages. He’s worked in several genres of late–traditional Irish tunes, trad-leaning jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll, and various reclamations of his pioneering Celtic soul–but all those stylistic hats have just seemed decorative. His new album, Pay the Devil (Lost Highway), is yet another genre exercise, featuring covers of country classics like “There Stands the Glass” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” complete with countrypolitan strings and backing vocals and twang-kissed R & B takes on tunes like Clarence Williams’s immortal “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and the Chuck Willis hit “What Am I Living For?” The record’s a smart move in theory–Morrison can tweak a phrase as well as anybody in Music City–but though he’s clearly summoning the spirit of George Jones, he sounds oddly detached. Many of these numbers are part of his musical DNA, which might be part of the problem; he knows these songs so well that he seems oblivious to what he’s actually singing about. Jones, even at his laziest, can make a banal phrase sting by raising his pitch at the right moment, but Morrison’s too in thrall with what he can do as a singer to focus on the words. It’s a listenable record, and Morrison’s talent is beyond question, but after a couple spins it’s obvious he’s phoning it in. a 7:30 PM, United Center, 1901 W. Madison, 312-455-4500 or 312-559-1212, $49.50-$150. All ages. –Peter Margasak

T-PAIN It’s been months since T-Pain’s “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” entered near constant rotation on hip-hop, R & B, and pop radio, yet even the most fickle novelty-seeking fad-heads are only mildly burned out on it. Maybe the tune’s enjoying this longevity because Americans are so grateful to finally hear their deep-seated romantic feelings for exotic dancers expressed in song. Or maybe it’s the mega-catchy hook, which has managed to spread and adapt like a flu virus. There are two official remixes already, with cameos by virtually every hot rapper from the past six months–including about half of Houston–but unofficially, on mix tapes and the Internet, “Stripper” has been reworked by countless busy hands. Slow jam, Dirty South, house, and trance versions have all turned up, and I can’t help but imagine the song being remixed to infinity, incorporating every musical style that’s ever been played. When was the last time an R & B singer made you think of Borges? Chris Brown headlines and Megan Rochelle opens. 6:45 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, sold out. All ages. –Miles Raymer

Tuesday 25

KATHLEEN EDWARDS I fell in love with this Ottawa-born songwriter the moment I heard her Neil Young-ish voice on Failer, her 2003 debut. I’m not a huge fan of alt-country singers, but I was struck by Edwards’s complex ambivalence–she sings with a sweet, quivering hoarseness that’s simultaneously vulnerable and defiant, grabbing hold of you but not giving up everything about the song (or herself) too quickly. That helps turn “One More Song the Radio Won’t Like” into a poignant meditation instead of another spoiled-entertainer gripe a la Ryan Adams (and this despite the fact that she claims Whiskeytown as an influence). On the title track of her latest, last year’s Back to Me (Zoe), she presents a litany of ominous enticements to a wayward lover, and when she gets to the refrain–“I’ve got ways to make you come / Back to me”–the breath between the two lines is just subtle enough to transform the hackneyed setup into a sexy, longing ache. Kate York opens. 8 PM, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $15. –J. Niimi

ILL EASE Elizabeth Sharp drummed for New Radiant Storm King and played bass for Skinner Pilot, but for years she’s been performing her minimal, idiosyncratic indie rock as the one-woman band Ill Ease. She switches between guitar and drums, sometimes bringing a collaborator onstage to handle the instrument she’s not playing, and sings in a sweet, gentle voice–like a young Moe Tucker–that belies the darkness of her lyrics. Her sound is pretty consistently low-key, but on tracks like “You Look Like Hell Tonight” and “You Know You Make Me Wanna Hate You” (both from the 2004 Too Pure release The Exorcist, her most recent full-length), the melodies are half slick and half sliced raw. When I saw Sharp play in New York in 2003, she was charming yet sloppy–her amp failed, her strings broke, her kick drum was sliding around–but in Paris last year she was a commanding presence, moving between instruments with fluid ease. It’s hard to tell if she got better gear or just improved her playing–maybe neither is true, and she simply enjoys tripping along the line between brilliance and disaster. Coltrane Motion and Dorian Minor open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. –Mia Lily Clarke

Thursday 27

AUDIBLE Philadelphia drummer Mike Kennedy laid the groundwork for Audible on his four-track in 2000, but construction stalled for a couple of years after he and guitarist Jim Kehoe joined the tour-intensive Matt Pond PA. Since 2003 the two have been rebuilding the band, bringing in new personnel and a locker full of viable songwriting ideas. Polyvinyl released their full-length debut, Sky Signal, last year, but things really click on the new Weekend EP (Plot Twist); some of MPPA’s contours are still evident, but Kennedy and company don’t share that band’s habit of burrowing into sadness and extending its dimensions from the inside. Audible keeps the music lithe enough to explore a wider swath of moods, and the songs have pleasing details: vocals jangle like guitars on “Wildwood,” a distant ominous cyclone of feedback momentarily threatens the sunny fifth-gear ride of “Five Pirates,” and the warm harmonies of the minimal “Moor’s Landing” envelop the slap slap slap of a tape played backward. Jackseven and S.T. Monroe open. 8 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $6 in advance, $8 at the door, 18+. –J. Niimi

GROODIES These locals honor two well-worn traditions: college bands named after slang from A Clockwork Orange and all-girl bands named after slang for the female anatomy (groodies = tits). On their self-released second EP, Hands Off, singer Meghan MacDuff still growls like a cross between Glenn Danzig and Brody Dalle from the Distillers, but the production quality and songwriting are noticeably better. The band’s roughshod hardcore riffage is studded with power chords, half-time breakdowns, and screamy whoa-oh-ohs–a tough street-punk sound you’d never expect from a band this clean-cut. Mexican Cheerleader headlines; the Groodies, Starlike Collision, the Matics, and Youth Dekay open. 9 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $7. –Jessica Hopper

POWERHOUSE SOUND With the Crown Royals, Spaceways Incorporated, and the Sound in Action Trio all missing in action, it’s been a while since Ken Vandermark has had a band devoted to the more rhythmic side of his playing. Powerhouse Sound not only allows him to express that proclivity, it’s also less history minded than those other combos, giving him a relatively contemporary-sounding forum to do it in. The group has played only one show, at the Oslo Jazz Festival last summer, but it already has a studio album in the can. Vandermark, sticking to tenor sax, adroitly darts in and out of the lumbering yet poised grooves created by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassists Nate McBride and Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, who both play fuzz-toned electrics; electronicist Lasse Marhaug blitzes the rhythms with pixelated vocal and shortwave radio samples. None of the Norwegians will make this gig; instead John Herndon (percussion, electronics) and Jeff Parker (guitar, electronics) will join McBride and Vandermark. 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12. –Bill Meyer