By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Best New Band
Although Exercise emerged directly from the dissolution of Berlin Whale — and Casiotone aficionado/vocalist Trevor Berkholtz led both bands — it's a mistake to conflate the two. Although the former band was all dance-punk knees and elbows flying everywhere, Exercise is much more sophisticated and nuanced. Tape manipulations, math-rock rhythms and abstract, early-'80s synths ensure that the trio is versatile enough to open for diverse acts, including Parts & Labor, El Ten Eleven and Yea Big + Kid Static. (AZ)
The Delmar Restaurant & Lounge, 10 p.m.
Glass Teeth's name fits its music, which is sharp, uncomfortable and potentially bloody. Still, the quintet takes more care and consideration when making its abrasive, bristling hardcore than most bands of its ilk: The precise stops and starts give the songs some definition, and Mark Early's synth lines likewise add distinction. Of course, it's all scene-setting for Jeff Robtoy's from-the-depths vocals, which combine elements from David Yow, Johnny Rotten and Jello Biafra into something fierce. (CS)
Halo Bar, 7 p.m.
A pop band with a love of rough-cornered garage rock, the Midtown Thieves burst onto the scene the old-fashioned way: by playing lots and lots of shows. Drummer Jason Potter (who's also in Left Arm) lends the band a little credence and creates rock-solid beats, but Rebecca Reardon's self-assured, playful vocals make the whole mish-mash gel so well. The quintet is planning on releasing an EP later this year, but until then scope it out at any number of south-city's tightly packed music clubs. (CS)
If you needed another reason to love Belleville, Illinois, consider the Mhurs. The quartet calls Belle-vegas home, but thankfully makes enough trips across the river to entertain audiences with its buzzy, fuzzy and hook-laden power pop. Jonny Maguire's joyfully overwrought vocals and Carter McKee's eardrum-filling guitars hearken back to a time when the phrase "alternative rock" meant something — and the band's fifteen-track, self-titled record is overstuffed with so many psych-pop riffs and impossible-to-parse lyrics that you gotta think that somewhere, Stephen Malkmus is smiling a knowing grin. (CS)
Vintage Vinyl, 9 p.m.
Honest acoustic music and harmonies never go out of style, which is why the Northwoods has so quickly earned gigs around town since relocating from Boston last year. Accordingly, the duo takes heavy cues from the Northeast's college-folk scene, rootsy bluegrass acts, and patron saints such as James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel. Watch for a Northwoods album at the end of June. (AZ)
Racanelli's Cucina, 8 p.m.
For a band that landed on the scene early last year, the Pragmatic has managed to slide into some classy local support slots, alongside indie elites such as the Faint and Dan Deacon. But Karl Kling's warm, Gibbard-ish lilts and Remix Artist Collective founder André Anjos' blend of bubbling synth leads, gooey portamento drips and heavenly pads — all served up over deep, muscular square waves and chopped-up drum loops — make the Pragmatic's tracks sound as classy as fine dining. (SK)
Best Pop Band
If the Blind Eyes' debut, Modernity, at first recalls the promise of the Strokes' debut, a closer listen to the LP suggests a band more in the thrall of pure, youthful pop — mono Kinks, Nuggets-era garage and pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys — than one concerned with its own image. Formed out of the vintage-obsessed Gentleman Callers, the band now sounds securely up-to-date: The guitars ring brightly and tensely, the vocals shift from a croon to a wail, and the tunes have a supple, catchy complexity. (RK)
Cicero's, 8 p.m.
Gentleman Auction House
To say that Gentleman Auction House had a busy 2008 is a vast understatement: The group released its debut full-length record (Alphabet Graveyard), a companion EP and a disc of original Christmas songs, and toured the United States. That same tireless work ethic inspired GAH to overhaul its mild-mannered folk-rock sound into a rhythm-driven, keyboard-addled pop explosion. For as danceable as its new songs are, Eric Enger's lyrics have become increasingly confident and refined. (CS)
Main Outdoor Stage, 4 p.m.
Grace Basement began as a solo recording project for Kevin Buckley, whose low-key vocals, melodic sensibilities and pop-friendly arrangements made his debut, New Sense, a must-hear. A full-time band now aids Buckley; loads of live gigs during the last year have helped the group coalesce, while giving a kick-start to older material. Grace Basement's sophomore record, Gunmetal Gray, will be released later this summer — and fans of the space between mellow folk and sunny pop will want to grab a copy. (CS)
Racanelli's Cucina, 6 p.m.
Jon Hardy & the Public
Nearly everyone who heard Working in Love, Jon Hardy & the Public's 2007 album, fell hard for the band's brand of rock & soul, as well as for Hardy's honest, direct songwriting. Most of the people who accompanied Hardy on that disc has left the band, but it's a testament to his vision as a songwriter and bandleader that the Public hasn't missed a step despite the shakeups. One of the most dependable live acts around, Hardy and his crew are likewise great on record; a free, download-only EP of Randy Newman covers dropped earlier this week. (CS)
Main Outdoor Stage, 2 p.m.