First Avenue

There's no denying the wealth of talented hip-hop purveyors here in the Twin Cities, but Atmosphere's status at the top of the food chain is equally undeniable. Slug and Ant have enough influence and respect to rival a mafia don, though the duo would obviously rather be loved than feared. Slug's trump card has always been his relatability, blowing up the details of everyday life and imperfect relationships to a widescreen view instead of focusing on impossible levels of wealth or bravado, while Ant's productions revel mostly in the summery warmth of gospel, soul, and blues. Their popularity revolves around this unflinching realness, and they have scores of followers across the globe that are sick to death of rap's fixation on the synthetic, whether in terms of sound or sentiments. But, even though Atmosphere is one of the most recognizable names in independent hip hop, they love their hometown, and their annual two-night stint at First Avenue is nothing if not an appreciative nod to their ever-faithful legion of local fans. With special guests. All ages. $20. 6 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. Also Sunday —Ian Traas

SUNDAY 11.28

Mavis Staples

Cedar Cultural Center

When she was 11 years old, Mavis Staples was singing lead for her family gospel/soul/pop group the Staple Singers, whose music not only provided support and inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement but later ascended the charts with nuggets like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." Sixty years later, Staples is still going strong, her marvelous, power-packed voice a wonder of growls, cries, and whispers that stir up a lifetime of emotions. After initially struggling to find a solo contemporary niche, Staples returned to her strengths—gospel roots and civil rights standards—and her revived career has soared. This fall's You Are Not Alone, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, even more specifically returns to the Staple Singers' legacy of spare, sharply focused arrangements of material that blur the lines between gospel, soul, R&B, and pop. Two Tweedy originals—the laid-back but emotionally charged title track and the bluesy, politically charged "Only the Lord Knows"—along with distinctive covers of Randy Newman, Allen Toussaint, and John Fogerty are matched with a handful of trad gospel tunes and a few written by the Staples' late patriarch Pops. Mavis rolls through it all with stylish assurance, her raw energy and uplifting spirit rumbling out of her rich lower register. And she saves perhaps the best for last: a splendid a capella run through the gospel standard "Wonderful Savior" with two backup singers, plus Pops's "All the Way to Heaven," sparked by Rick Holmstrom's Delta blues guitar, celestial harmonies, and gritty call-and-response vocals, Mavis's voice a glowing, resonant force of nature. With Roma di Luna. All ages. $35/$40 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

MONDAY 11.29

Leo Kottke

Guthrie Theater

If turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberries are dominating every menu in sight, it must be time for Leo Kottke's annual ramble into town for his Thanksgiving week concert, for years his sole concession to hometown fans. Kottke, of course, is an internationally renowned fingerstyle guitarist, long ago a protégé of John Fahey, well established as an eccentric fretboard genius. Mostly instrumental, mostly solo, Kottke's material deftly embraces folk, classical, jazz, and pop, combining with his supreme facility on the instrument and occasional dazzling bursts of speed to create a style that can only be called Kottke-esque. He's even been caught singing from time to time, in a decent baritone that he nonetheless often disparages. And he's notorious for a deadpan, fundamentally surrealist sense of humor frequently illustrated with a reference to waterfowl flatulence, which he's undoubtedly sorely sick of at this late date. Kottke's once prolific recording career has lagged in recent years, but he's also gotten more creative in assembling these turkey toots. This year's guest will be Robert Barto, a master lute player raised in California, long based in Germany, and an expert on Baroque composers, and lutenists Silvius Leopold Weiss and Joachim Bernhard Hagen. Esoteric? Sure, marvelously so. And also great for helping digest yams and dressing. All ages. $38-$43. 7:30 p.m. 818 S. Second Ave., Minneapolis; 612.377.2224. —Rick Mason

TUESDAY 11.30

Christmas with the Aaron Neville Quintet

Dakota Jazz Club

Aaron Neville ranks right up there among the myriad singular phenomena of New Orleans music. Taking just one facet of his many talents, Neville is a spectacular soul and gospel singer, his utterly unique fluttery delivery and impossibly airy, soaring falsetto both instantly recognizable and impossible for anyone else to even approximate. Then there's always the stark contrast between the gossamer delicacy of Neville's voice and his bulging muscles and the knife tattoo on his cheek. At New Orleans's annual Jazz Fest, Aaron's other band, the equally iconic Neville Brothers, typically close out the entire affair on one of the main stages. But, usually unannounced, Aaron invariably shows up at the Gospel Tent to sing with friends like the Zion Harmonizers. And it's gospel that's the focus of his wondrous new album, I Know I've Been Changed: a dozen standards kicked off by Sam Cooke's "Stand By Me," produced by studio ace Joe Henry and featuring piano from fellow NOLA icon Allen Toussaint, who produced Aaron's first recording session in 1960. A few of those tunes might make it into the Dakota set, as well as Aaron's solo nugget "Tell It Like It Is," but the emphasis will be on Christmas, which Aaron has done up superbly on a couple of holiday discs, running the gamut from pop to spiritual. And the band should be great too, led by brother Charles Neville and his sinuous jazz sax. $55-$90. 7 p.m. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.332.1010. Also Wednesday —Rick Mason

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