Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Punch Brothers, and more

Sufjan Stevens

Mill City Nights, Wednesday 12.12

Sufjan Stevens will never be faulted for lacking oddball ambition. After a series of ornate orchestral folk-rock albums made him indie-famous in the mid-2000s he abruptly pulled an artistic U-turn, releasing the scattershot but often brilliant Age of Adz in 2010 — a glow-stick friendly collection of frantic indie-pop, and basically the antithesis of his prior work. Stevens's subsequent tour in support of it found him bewildering longtime fans with oddly detached breakdancing and laser light-show antics. Improbably enough, tonight's performance could be even stranger. Billed as "The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice," the tour has, on prior stops, found Stevens and his merry band spinning a giant pie-wheel featuring holiday classics and leading the crowd through renditions of seasonal standbys like "Jingle Bells" (they're not kidding about the singing along either — lyric sheets are being issued to the audience). In between all the jovial cool-kid caroling, Stevens has also been making room to perform some of his original holiday-themed material such as "Mr. Frosty Man." With Sheila Saputo. 18+, $20, 7:30 p.m., 111 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis; 612.333.3422. —Rob Van Alstyne

Kool Keith

The Belmore/New Skyway Lounge, Wednesday 12.12

Kool Keith has always lurked on the fringes of respectable rap. First as a game-changing lyricist within the Bronx new-school pioneers Ultramagnetic MC's, Keith found novel ways to express his rhyme supremacy — often succeeding by completely confounding and cracking up the listener. By 1996, he was digging far deeper and darker as a solo artist. His Dr. Octagon persona was ruthless, destructive, and the perfect villain to root for. Dr. Octagonecologyst was a filthy — both in terms of quality and ribald medical subject matter — collaboration with prolific sample-chopper Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. Though psychedelic beats and horrific lyrics made Octagonecologyst one of the most thrilling hip-hop albums of that decade, Keith remained a prolific cult figure with records under rotating monikers in the ensuing years. This year's Love and Danger proves he hasn't lost his sense of humor. "Everything I hit is nonsense," he raps at one point. Still makes sense to us. With Marijuana Deathsquads. $20, 9 p.m. 25 N. Fourth St., Minneapolis; 239.300.6975. —Reed Fischer

Punch Brothers

First Avenue, Wednesday 12.12

Former Nickel Creek mandolin maestro and singer Chris Thile is the nominal face of Punch Brothers. But every member of the quintet is an integral component of the Bros' progressive bluegrass forays to the outer limits of pop. Although their grassy roots remain prominent (and acoustic), the band tackle nearly every song as if it were a carnival ride to pop nirvana, shifting tempos and moods, rushing off at oblique angles for sparkly instrumental runs, careening to the brink of jazz and classical, tossing up subtle delights at every turn. And they do it all while spinning delightfully twisted tales about love's uncertainties on their third album, Who's Feeling Young Now? Opening will be the Milk Carton Kids, a.k.a. the folk duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan. 18+, $25-$27, 7:30 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.338.8388. —Rick Mason

Tim Sparks

Guthrie Theater's Dowling Studio, Wednesday 12.12

Tim Sparks was the guitarist in Rio Nido, whose swinging classic jazz and pop material made them one of the Twin Cities' most popular bands of the '80s. He established himself as an incomparable finger-style picker and groundbreaking arranger, stretching from the country blues and gospel of his native North Carolina to a vast array of international genres. Finally, he created revolutionary versions of traditional Jewish music for John Zorn's Tzadik label. In 1992 a German label released Sparks's stunning solo guitar adaptation of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite, which he has just reissued (for the first time domestically) on his own ToneWood label. For this performance, Sparks will play The Nutcracker material as well as Balkan Dreams Suite (his adaptation of Balkans folk dances), which constitutes the second half of the album, plus some country blues, a smattering of Tzadik stuff, and maybe something from his ongoing project of adapting Russian composers Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky for guitar. Another outstanding and adventurous Minnesota guitarist, Dean Magraw, has been added to the show as a special guest. $25, 7:30 p.m. 818 Second St. S. Minneapolis; 612.377.2224. —Rick Mason

How to Dress Well

7th St. Entry, Thursday 12.13

It's a good time to be in the murky bedroom-R&B business. With introspective and hazy recordings from the likes of Frank Ocean and the Weeknd making surprisingly huge mainstream waves, don't be surprised if many more brokenhearted dudes with falsetto-friendly windpipes and Casios wind up on major-label rosters. Few of them will be as good as How to Dress Well, the nom de plume of Colorado's Tom Krell. A grad student research fellow who knows how to get down, Krell creates spectral electro-soul that sounds like Sade's lo-fi second cousin on his excellent sophomore album, Total Loss. A rare opportunity to spot hipsters slow-grinding in public. With Beacon, Seyah, Katy Morley. 18+, $10-$12, 8 p.m., 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Rob Van AlSTyne

Greg Grease's Cornbread, Pearl, and G album release

7th St. Entry, Friday 12.14

The best hip-hop albums don't settle in the mind easily. And Greg Grease's Cornbread, Pearl, and G kneads that stubborn gray matter into improbable new shapes on every track. Though the Minneapolis producer-turned-rapper directly recalls what his father played for him on Lizzo-assisted "I Still Love H.E.R." — Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, and Slum Village — this dense masterpiece never sounds like an imitation of any of them. Or Outkast, or the Roots, for that matter. Instead, it carries on these innovators' tradition of intra-album, heck, intra-song revamps. Don't get too hung up on one rhyme scheme or a particular beat, because Grease re-plots his course frequently, while never sounding lost. Be it the sun-kissed park imagery on "Summer Saturdays" or the rapid-fire flow of "Cliches" ("Conversation done changed up/Had to switch my game up/Not the same as these lame ones/Competition don't play much") or the confident head-nodder "C.R.E.A.M Dreams," it's hard to believe this guy ever rapped about being on the wrong side of a glass ceiling. Expect big things for Greg Grease in 2013. With Meta, Mike the Martyr, Bdotcroc, DJ Just Nine, and So Gold. 18+, $5-$7, 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Reed Fischer

Andrew Bird

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