Red Pens, Danzig and more

THURSDAY 11.4

Greg Laswell

Turf Club

With a nearly obsessive tendency to ruminate about a succession of doomed relationships, matched with lush, minor-key melodies that billow and hover like the memory of a dream, Greg Laswell has regularly placed songs on small and big-screen soundtracks, ranging from Grey's Anatomy to CSI Miami. Although pervasively moody, Laswell's contemplations of heartache manage to skirt depression, sometimes stopping just short of the brink, but somehow finding an even keel. For instance, when a departing lover threatens to "take everything from me and more" on the lead track from his latest album, Take a Bow, his "I don't mind" refrain, crooned with a touch of moroseness, nevertheless seems perfectly true. Similarly, Laswell's prevailing atmospheric pop is as deeply layered as the psychological struggles built into his lyrics. A crescendo of portentous synths can suddenly cut to a sparse piano figure, as in "Around the Bend," or a mounting sense of dread is quickly leavened by an optimistic melody plucked on banjo. One exception is "Come Clean," in which quiet intensity spasms into a metallic stomp. Laswell played virtually everything on Bow himself while secluded in the Arizona desert. And although he often laments desertion, he's ultimately okay with that. With the Rescues and Harper Blynn. 21+. $12. 8 p.m. 1601 University Ave., St. Paul; 651.647.0486. —Rick Mason

Don Williams

Medina Ballroom

This is a relatively rare sighting of "Gentle Giant" Don Williams, whose laid-back baritone repeatedly carried him to the top of the country charts throughout the 1970s and '80s. Williams's twangy croon on a succession of ballads epitomized the crossover countrypolitan nature of the era, racking up hits like "I'm Just a Country Boy," "I Believe in You," and "Tulsa Time," the last covered later by Eric Clapton. At the height of his popularity Williams started acting as well, mostly in the films of buddy Burt Reynolds. Williams had apparently retired several times, in part due to lingering back problems. But he continues to resurface, here with a full band, undoubtedly to revisit his lengthy string of nuggets. With Trailer Trash. $29-$47. 7 p.m. 500 Hwy. 55, Hamel; 763.478.6661. —Rick Mason

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band

Cedar Cultural Center

Back in the dim recesses of the '60s, Peter Rowan moved from his native Massachusetts to Nashville and landed a coveted spot with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, playing guitar, blending his high-tenor voice into the Boys' close harmonies, and even writing future classics ("Walls of Time") with the father of bluegrass. Rowan's subsequent career roamed far afield. Along with Richard Greene and David Grisman he helped launch the progressive newgrass movement, dabbled in a variety of eclectic progressive-rock projects, rode with the cosmic cowboy revival (writing about the notorious "Panama Red"), and explored such rootsy tangents as Tex-Mex and reggae. But Rowan periodically always returned to pure bluegrass, and he's done so again with a fine new album—Legacy, produced by Alison Brown—and quartet featuring mandolinist Jody Stecher, banjoist Keith Little, and bassist Paul Knight. The picking is inspired, the harmonies transcendent, and all the tunes—mostly Rowan originals—solid, easily slipping into a classic bluegrass repertoire. There's a gospel streak in several of Rowan's songs, but he can't resist a progressive jab at fundamentalist fanatics in "Jailer Jailer" ("My god does the job your god is just odd"). And "Across the Rolling Hills" incorporates a swirling Eastern sensibility, nicely bookending "Jailer" with an espousal of freedom in the form of Tibetan Buddhist deity Padmasambhava (who rides up like one of Rowan's cowboys). With Boulder Acoustic Society. All ages. $22/$25 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

FRIDAY 11.5

Azure Ray

Cedar Cultural Center

With a sound balanced delicately between straight-up acoustic radio pop and a range of indie-rock sonics, from electronic beats to chamber music, the Birmingham-to-Los Angeles duo Azure Ray always keep a redeeming hint of twang in their dreaminess, which makes the harmonies more than the sum of their parts. The new Drawing Down the Moon, on Saddle Creek, marks a reunion after six years in two overlapping careers highlighted by collaborations with or in Now It's Overhead, Bright Eyes, Japancakes, and Moby. But they seem catchiest together. With Tim Fite and James Husband. All ages. $12/$14 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. Peter S. Scholtes

Brad Mehldau

Walker Auditorium

Probably today's most prominent under-50 jazz pianist, Brad Mehldau has worked most frequently in the trio format, mixing his sophisticated originals with a broad repertoire that includes Monk and Gershwin along with dorm-room favorites by Nick Drake and Radiohead. His most popular album to date, though, is 2002's Largo, an excellent neo-fusion collaboration with movie composer and pop producer Jon Brion. Mehldau reunited with Brion for last year's Highway Rider, a double album of complex, linked originals written for orchestra and a jazz band featuring tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman. Though he has one foot in the classical world, Mehldau has a pop sensibility too, and here his tunes often stick in one's head—sometimes, alas, by way of syrup, though not distressingly often, and the album as a whole successfully evokes a moody automotive picaresque. Redman and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will be on hand at Walker, making this a rare chance to hear the music given the full treatment in concert. All ages. $25. 8 p.m. 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.375.7600. Also Saturday Dylan Hicks

SATURDAY 11.6

Red Pens (EP-release)

7th St. Entry

There is really no other way to describe Red Pens' music other than as a deafening squall. Like the Pixies fed into a blender or My Bloody Valentine in a bad dream, Howard Hamilton and Laura Bennett whip up a sound so fierce it's almost comical that only two people are contributing to its creation. People stand in utter disbelief at their live shows, and those foolish enough to be without earplugs run to the bar for some cheapies or flee the scene altogether. The end result leaves people stunned and clamoring for more; part of the allure is the anticipation of what comes next. Red Pens hardly ever play first on a bill these days, but people show up early to make sure they're there at the outset of the destruction and not just in its wake, or worse, while it's happening. The safest place is at the eye of a storm, and since the Red Pens are at the center of it all, it's best that you follow their lead. They're celebrating the release of Limitations, a new six-song EP that promises more of the same chunky yet wiry (or Wire-y) punk rock in two- to three-minute lung-collapsing bursts of fury. With Zombie Season and Fauna. 18+. $7. 9 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. Pat O'Brien

The Richard Thompson Band

First Avenue

At this late date, some four decades after Richard Thompson started out with folk-rock pioneering Fairport Convention, it's tough to add to the barrage of superlatives regularly hurled in his direction. But what the hell. He has yet another great new album out, Dream Attic, this one recorded live with a superb quartet that will join him here in concert. Offering 13 fresh tunes from Thompson's often witty, frequently withering, usually caustic pen, it provides ample fresh evidence that he's among a handful of essential songwriters of his time. And since it's live, there's plenty of opportunity for Thompson to crank up his electric guitar, lashing his lacerating, Celtic-edged licks about with wicked abandon, as satisfying a sound as there is in the rock realm. As you might suspect, Thompson's Attic harbors more nightmares than dreams. "The Money Shuffle" lampoons the financial tricksters who hijacked the economy. The desperate protagonist in "Haul Me Up" is losing a life-threatening game with elusive rules. "Here Comes Geordie" portrays a talentless narcissist. "Crimescene" takes a brutal, forensic medical approach to aging. "Sidney Wells" is a tale of vicious murder. "A Brother Slips Away" is an elegy to lost friends. And those, as Thompson may deadpan, are the cheery songs. Never mind. Latch on to Thompson's splendid, scintillating guitar escapades and ride them out with all the thrills and chills of another Thompson classic, "Wall of Death." His first set is likely to be a complete run-through of the new album, followed by a set of vintage Thompson nuggets. 18+. $25. 6 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Rick Mason

MONDAY 11.8

Watain

Station 4

"The gigs are the most righteous manifestations of the forces behind Watain, and we will always see them as a kind of ritual, where the inner spiritual darkness is channeled. Everyone who attends a Watain gig must expect nothing but blood, fire, and blackest death!" That's Watain frontman—principal flagellant and master of rituals is more accurate, really—Erik Danielsson speaking to the gravity with which the band members approach their shows/rituals. Formed in the late 1990s in Uppsala, Sweden, Watain are one of the better examples of "true black metal": mercurially cultish, steadfastly incendiary, and sonically brutal. It's been four years since these northern sons of one dark lord or another have landed on North American soil (hide the children!), and it will undoubtedly be the most accurate expression of the genre you're likely to see this year or the next. With Goatwhore, Black Anvil, Nailed Shut, Under Eden, Australis, and Kidnapped by C Section. 16+. 6:30 p.m. 201 E. Fourth St., St. Paul; 651.298.0173. Andrew Flanagan

TUESDAY 11.9

Danzig

Cabooze

Just hearing the name probably immediately makes you want to start singing "Mother" like you were watching MTV in your basement in 1993, but Danzig are, fortunately, much more than that juggernaut (which was actually on their '88 debut). They have had to fight the "Black Sabbath rip-off" label their entire careers, but Glenn Danzig and company have soldiered on, making metal when it wasn't cool to be a metalhead or in a metal band (that ugly detour into industrial rock on Blackacidevil notwithstanding), and at the very least keeping things interesting. Things slowed down a bit on last year's Deth Red Saboath, but as the band ages, playing at lightning speed would just seem silly and a little sad, really. It still may not be clear what "Lucifuge" is or why teenage girls loved "Mother," but Danzig still put on a show worth checking out, for unlike many of their contemporaries, they seem to have no use for nostalgia. With Possessed, Marduk, Toxic Holocaust, and Withered. 18+. $25/$27 at the door. 6 p.m. 917 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.6425. —Pat O'Brien

Two Hours Traffic

400 Bar

With the long deep freeze of winter about to set in, the timing couldn't be better for Two Hours Traffic to bring their sunny and buoyant melodies to the Cities for the first time and help stave off any incipient seasonal affective disorder. The quartet of twentysomethings hails from Prince Edward Island, a surprisingly sleepy and frigid home base for a band defined by a warm and lively power-pop sound. Over the course of three albums they've gradually refined a winning formula that balances the adenoidal angst and power-chorded crunch of early Fountains of Wayne with overt nods to slick new wave masters like the Cars and the occasional pinch of Californian canyon-rock strumming. Their latest effort, Territory, finds the group still rife with instant-gratification hooks, but features a more varied tone and richer production value than its no-frills forebears. While widely acclaimed in their native Canada, the band remain under-the-radar stateside for now, perhaps because a blogosphere prone to look north for icy artiness and dour sonic drama is unable to wrap its head around a Canadian act whose tunes could provide the perfect soundtrack to a Fourth of July barbecue. 18+. $5. 8 p.m. 400 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.332.2903. Rob van Alstyne

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