Romantica, Mason Jennings, Hunting Club, and more

'70s rock revivalist Little Man headlines this week's benefit for Legal Aid
Darin Back


Blind Boys of Alabama

Orchestra Hall

It's been 70(!) years since a few students in their early teens at the Talladega Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Birmingham hit the road as the Happy Land Jubilee Singers. Decades later, as the Blind Boys of Alabama, they're an institution themselves, still singing gospel standards—and far more—as if their lives depended on it, raising up soul-stirring, gloriously rich harmonies. The group's Christmas show has become an institution, too, since the 2003 release of their holiday album, Go Tell It on the Mountain. And this year should be no exception, promising dynamic arrangements of Christmas hymns, carols, and poppier noel nuggets, reflecting the eclectic directions the Blind Boys have pursued in recent years. Numerous personnel changes over the years have left the current Blind Boys with a critical mix of wily vets and savvy younger members. Former Talladega student Jimmy Carter took over as leader a couple of years ago after longtime frontman Clarence Fountain departed due to health issues and apparently the dreaded creative differences. The Blind Boys' joyous noise should be doubly infectious at Yule time. $22-$45. 7:30 p.m. 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.371.5656. —Rick Mason


Trey Songz


If you went purely by his lyrics, you might guess that whenever Trey Songz isn't singing in that syrupy tenor he's either 1) constantly glued to his phone, or 2) under impossibly expensive sheets, fornicating in the freakiest manner possible (it doesn't really matter with whom). It's tough to find another dimension to Songz, since there doesn't seem to be one; you'd be hard-pressed to find one album cut that doesn't revolve around his sexual prowess. But ever since R. Kelly went off the deep end (correction: further off the deep end), the public has wanted a new silky-smooth loverman, one who doesn't have urine and Lip Smackers all over his couch. Aside from all that sexing, Trey and Kels have another common trait: soulful, take-it-to-the-rafters pipes that don't require even a bit of the now-hated Auto-Tune. So, whether you're looking for virtuoso vocals or you're just trying to get on the tour bus, you might get what you want at Epic. 18+. $25/$35 at the door. 110 N. Fifth St., Minneapolis; 612.332.3742. —Ian Traas

FRIDAY 12.18

Benefit for Legal Aid

7th St. Entry

'Tis the season for holiday charity shows, and leading the pack this year is a stellar lineup of local musicians rallying to raise money for Legal Aid. Since 1913, Minneapolis's Legal Aid offices have been providing free legal help to clients who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford representation, closing nearly 12,000 cases just last year that ranged from helping children with disabilities who need access to special education and technology to advocating for victims of domestic abuse to assisting families who have been illegally evicted from their homes. Help Legal Aid keep fighting the good fight by attending this benefit show with guitar wizard Little Man, hip-hop poets Kill the Vultures, keyboard player and singer-songwriter Alicia Wiley, and indie rockers Ada Jane and the Alpha Centauri. $7. 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Andrea Swensson

Jack Brass Band


"We will not forget about New Orleans," Obama told the city recently, though he could have fooled anyone hoping for a full-scale reversal of the manmade environmental, engineering, and economic degradations that made Katrina an American disaster. Minnesota's Jack Brass Band never forgot, and never will: Not only do they continue to help and maintain contacts with their friends in the funky, street-based NOLA brass-band world, but they give the music a foothold here, with enough freshness and trueness to bring their version to New Orleans itself, and have many guests from the scene sit in. This show celebrates 10 years of Jack with the release of the band's fourth independently issued CD, Fourth Movement, the best document yet of their giddy, blast-and-boom magnificence. With Cadillac Kolstad and the Flats. 18+. $6. 8:30 p.m. 917 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.6425. —Peter S. Scholtes

Trailer Trash's Trashy Little X-Mas Show

Lee's Liquor Lounge

There's two grand holiday traditions in downtown Minneapolis, and only one of them involves elbowing through skyway crowds as you gawk at garishly lit parade floats traipsing down Nicollet. The other one sits a few blocks down, in the looming shadows of Target Field's new edifice: It's Trailer Trash's Trashy Little X-Mas, a staple of Lee's Liquor Lounge since the early '90s. This irreverent but camaraderie-filled honky-tonk take on the holidays has weathered the ages for a reason, and even in these uncertain times—Trailer Trash has lamented elf layoffs and sub-prime defaults being on Santa's agenda—you can always count on the band members to provide shit-kicking, beer-drinking, stocking-stuffing good cheer. Expect a set list heavy on tweaks of traditional carols (including a Kinks-ed up revamp of "Do You Hear What I Hear?"), TV classics ("You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), and tear-in-your-nog originals ("All I Get for X-Mas Is Lonely"). Holidazzle's fine, but we'll take getting Holisozzled. 21+. $12. 9 p.m. 101 Glenwood Ave. N, Minneapolis; 612.338.9491. —Nate Patrin


Lightning and Thunder Vol. 2 CD-release party


Fine Line Music Café

The first Lightning and Thunder compilation was novel proof of a Caribbean and Latin American presence in our snowbound burg's hip-hop and pop scenes, a genre-indifferent tour of Twin Cities dancehall reggae, R&B reggaeton, and rap in Spanish. The new one is so good, references to "the Minneapp" could make you do a double-take at your iPod: Backup Plomo, Don Xaba, and Fredy Kruger have a would-be street hit in "Too Many Bosses" ("not enough soldiers"); Trama gets his Auto-Tune on in "You Neva Know"; Kanser's Unicus blends Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder on "Babydoll (What Do You Do?)"; and Prince Jabba adds his delicious singjay to a previously unreleased vocal track by the late Peter Nelson of local reggae legends Shangoya. Jabba's brother Lynval Jackson sings in memory of Nelson at this momentously talent-rich release party, which features all of the above plus the rest of the CD's cast and others, including St. Paul Slim, Maria Isa, Samahra of Black Blondie, M.anifest, the Kamillion, Pee Wee Dread, Yoni, Guante, Baraka, host Omaur Bliss, DJ Diamond Don, and producer-maestros the Goodfellas (trumpeter Highstylekyle and keyboardist Friendly Fred) leading the Lightning and Thunder band. 21+. $7/$10 at the door. 8 p.m. 318 First Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612.338.8100. —Peter S. Scholtes

Mason Jennings

First Avenue

Mason Jennings has "gone electric" with his latest album, Blood of Man (on Jack Johnson's Brushfire label), though you'd hardly notice from the local-radio hit "The Field," which has the lonely amplified strum and echo of early Billy Bragg, a Pennsylvania accent in place of an Essex one. The song is a political point made poignant in narrative, a trick Bragg never quite managed, sung from the point of view of someone who has lost a grown child fighting in Iraq ("Sometimes late at night/I go to the field/Is that where you are?/Are you a shooting star?"), her grief finally turning on the war itself: "I don't want no victory, I just want you back." Like any Minnesota artist popular enough to headline First Avenue more than once a season, Jennings has detractors, and you can imagine them resisting this tune's for-the-throat emotionalism, length, and repetitive catchiness (he found a wider audience 10 years ago doing something similar with "Rebecca Deville"), or the simplicity that divides the world into those who want victory and those who experience loss. Yet there is something undeniable in that equation, at the gut level where pop operates, and in Jennings himself. A less earnest or reflective new-Dylan could never have been so moving paying tribute to partnership ("Confidant"), the Wellstones ("Ballad of Paul and Sheila"), or unplanned parenthood ("Which Way Your Heart Will Go"—which deserved a better movie than Ghost Town). His latest live band might be his best ever. With the Pines. 21+. $20. 6 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Peter S. Scholtes

Hunting Club

Sauce Spirits and Soundbar

Listening to the first minute and 45 seconds of "Yours Truly" by locals Hunting Club, music snobs prone to making comparisons might have the band name Muse on the tips of their tongues. There are the ultra-dramatic guitar lines and swooning vocals that manage to capture the width of six notes in the space of one. Then come the Beach Boys-esque harmonies in the chorus. Quickly, the urge to categorize falls limp, because you notice Hunting Club are more than the sum of their inspirations or techniques. Within one song the band can doodle in sparse terrain, then erupt into a crowded, speaker-blowing intensity. They can bring you to the depths of sorrow, and then rescue you with tones of hope. Add it all up, and Hunting Club become a beautiful and complex animal, defying any stereotype, and you realize it's more enjoyable just to listen than to dissect. With Speed's the Name, These Modern Socks, and Kill Me Kare Bare. 21+. $5. 9:30 p.m. 3001 Lyndale Ave. S.; Minneapolis, 612.822.6000. —Erin Roof

SUNDAY 12.20


The Cedar

With Ben Kyle's rustic, impassioned vocals landing somewhere between Jeff Tweedy's wounded poetry and Ryan Adams's bad-boy cool, alt-country act Romantica alternately thrive on intimate, spare songs centered on Kyle's heartfelt singing and spritely, full-band arrangements colored by glistening steel-pedal guitar and occasional mariachi horns. For their new EP, the cleverly titled Control Alt Country Delete, the Minneapolis quartet puts the emphasis firmly on the freewheeling, full-band side, writing and recording all the songs in one day last spring while in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest. Capturing Kyle and company at their loosest and most spontaneous, Control is Romantica's most playful, rollicking effort to date, creating a ramshackle beauty as they work out arrangements at the spur of the moment. As they prepare to release the follow-up to the nationally acclaimed America next March, Romantica promise a lively show that should render all comparisons to their elders beside the point. All ages. $10/$12 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Jeff Gage

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