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The Best Things to Do in Chicago in January

Jan. 3
Experimental Music

William Basinski

The composer became a cult figure with his surprise hit (at least, in the world of avant-garde music) The Disintegration Loops, a series of haunting ambient recordings made in 2001 from decades-old tapes decaying in real time. On his latest record, 2019’s On Time Out of Time — which he’ll be performing in full — Basinski reaches deeper into the past, sampling deep-space recordings from the gravitational waves of a collision of black holes 1.3 billion years ago. (If that sounds a bit heady, he’s described the work as “what happens when two black holes fuck.”)

Details:Empty Bottle. Ukrainian Village. 9 p.m. $20–$25. eventbrite.com

Jan. 3–4


For Steppenwolf’s LookOut series, choreographer J’Sun Howard repurposes an Art Institute–commissioned 2018 work (a companion to the museum’s extraordinary Charles White retrospective) into an evening-length concert. Like White, a muralist and painter, Howard often draws connections between the labor, kinship, identity, and spirituality of black Chicagoans. Howard’s approach is largely rooted in disparaging stereotypes about black masculinity and creating solos and duets that physicalize the intimacy, vulnerability, and beauty of relationships between black men.

Details:Steppenwolf Theatre. Lincoln Park. $20. steppenwolf.org

Flosstradamus Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Coachella
Jan. 4


The biggest success story in local dance music this decade, Flosstradamus went from throwing weeknight parties in dive bars to playing Soldier Field. The former DJ and production duo parted ways in 2016 and is now the solo project of Curt Cameruci, but you can still expect the set to be as eclectic as ever, the kind of genre-hopping madness that’s united Chicago punks, hip-hop heads, and ravers since the mid-2000s.

Details:Metro. Wrigleyville. 9 p.m. $35–$40. etix.com

Jan. 4


The original Blade Runner is set in November 2019, so we’re officially in a world where the film’s bleak future is no longer the future. Chicago’s shadowy cold-wave trio Replicant provides the ideal soundtrack for that timeline — halfway between the moody synths of Vangelis and the goth melodies of New Order. The group described its latest album, last year’s A Taste of Midnight, as “the soundtrack to our dystopian present.”

Details:Empty Bottle. Ukrainian Village. 8:30 p.m. $8–$10. eventbrite.com

Jan. 7, 9

Toby Appel, Drew Petersen

The Avery Fisher Career Grant is one of the more prestigious endowments in classical music, its beneficiaries including such notable figures as pianist Jeremy Denk, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, and cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Unlike those mainstays of major halls, Petersen, a pianist who won the grant in 2018, still plays intimate spaces, including the newish, 60-seat, third-floor Loop venue where this concert takes place. Petersen plans to trot out waltzes by Enrique Granados, a roster of Liszt, and Schubert’s difficult “Wanderer” Fantasy; two days later, he’s joined by Appel, a violist and Juilliard professor.

Details:Guarneri Hall. Loop. $10–$40. guarnerihall.org

‘Dream Logic’ and ‘The Fool and the World’
Dream Logic Photo: Courtesy of Aura Curiatlas
Jan. 9–11

Dream Logic and The Fool and the World

Aura CuriAtlas is known for its unique, family-friendly blend of acrobatics, dance, and physical theater, all on display in this showcase of two pieces. Dream Logic is a tableau of short-form works following lovable characters — three aspirational monkeys, two bus passengers squeezed into a too-tight space, and a crayon who never gets picked. The Fool and the World, a premiere, is inspired by tarot cards, with company members performing as some of the occult figures.

Details:Steppenwolf Theatre. Lincoln Park. $25. steppenwolf.org

Jan. 9–19

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival

This annual funny fest remains one of the most ambitious comedy events of the year, with local and national troupes performing more than 120 shows over 11 days. Highlights this year include Asperger’s Are Us, an all-autistic group of comics that were the subject of a 2016 Duplass brothers documentary.

Details:Stage 773. Lake View. $15–$16 per event; $38–$275 festival pass. stage773.com/sketchfest

Jan. 10

The NPR Politics Podcast Live

This podcast is an essential resource for policy wonks and anyone else trying to sift through the spin and swirl of the daily news cycle. As part of WBEZ’s Podcast Passport series, the hosts of The NPR Politics Podcast — Asma Khalid, Susan Davis, Ron Elving, and Ayesha Rascoe — will take the stage for a discussion and to answer audience questions about the increasingly chaotic 2020 election.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. 7:30 p.m. $40–$75. harristheaterchicago.org

Jan. 10–26

Winter Chamber Music Festival

Putting the “oven” in “Beethoven,” violinist James Ehnes heats up the composer’s 250th birthday, filling two of the fest’s six concerts with Beethoven’s violin sonatas, concluding a traversal of all of them, which began at last year’s festival. Also keep an eye on the Aizuri Quartet, a young string quartet that pulled a Grammy nom last year.

Details:Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University. Evanston. $10–$30 per concert; $27–$126 festival pass. music.northwestern.edu

Jan. 10–Feb. 15

Whisper House

Known in the ’90s as a sensitive singer-songwriter type, Duncan Sheik has become an accomplished musical theater writer — he won a Tony in 2007 for the slightly emo score of Spring Awakening. This 2010 follow-up pairs him with playwright Kyle Jarrow for the moody tale of a boy sent to live with his aunt in a haunted lighthouse during World War II. Black Button Eyes Productions stages the Chicago premiere.

Details:Athenaeum Theatre. Lake View. $32. athenaeumtheatre.org

Jan. 10–Feb. 22

Female Trouble

Four women explore and expand the trope of the female nude with their works advocating body positivity, female sexuality, and unapologetic self-indulgence. Look out for Lilli Carré’s earthenware sculptures, inspired by ancient erotic pottery, and Frances Waite’s graphite drawings, which depict uninhibited lovers in a postapocalyptic world.

Details:Western Exhibitions. West Town. Free. westernexhibitions.com

Jan. 10–Feb. 22

Christopher Meerdo

This artist based in northern Texas is concerned with the power of machine learning and has previously used enormous caches of data — like 50,000 face scans produced by biometric surveillance technology, or the digital library from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound — as source material for startling work. Following research into dark web whistle-blowing archives, he shows a new body of videos and sculptures that examine the wayward internet.

Details:Document. West Town. Free. documentspace.com

Jan. 11

Chicago Ale Fest

The craft beer scene can be intimidating when you don’t know your hops from your malts and your pale ales from your IPAs. But this twice-a-year bash featuring more than 100 craft brews welcomes you into the community without piling on the jargon. Local favorites this time around include Argus, Dovetail, Cruz Blanca, Goose Island, and Right Bee Cider.

Details:Navy Pier. Near North Side. 2 p.m. $50–$60. chicagoalefest.com

Jan. 11

The Mozart Effect: Live!

This concert’s title is trademarked, showing a little more of a profit-maximization mindset than classical music fans can usually stomach. Yet the splashy lighting and effects won’t interfere with the accomplished playing from the Chicago Philharmonic, a steady ensemble that also gigs for the likes of the Joffrey Ballet.

Details:Harris Theater. Loop. 8 p.m. $55–$120. harristheaterchicago.org

Jan. 11–12

PBR Unleash the Beast: Chicago Invitational

Take off your winter knit cap and toss on a cowboy hat to catch the top rodeo rock stars of the Professional Bull Riders circuit trying to stay atop rambunctious animals. Though it’s a touring event, the stakes are high: The outcome affects national rankings, and up to $118,000 is available in prize money (with $30,000 going to the ultimate winner).

Details:Allstate Arena. Rosemont. $20–$350. ticketmaster.com

Jan. 14


You probably wouldn’t expect one of the most promising voices in contemporary Americana to hail from a small seaside town in England. Then again, the singer born Yolanda Quartey and raised on her mother’s Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris records is all about defying expectations. Her 2019 debut record, Walk Through Fire channels roots music at its best.

Details:Thalia Hall. Pilsen. 8 p.m. $20. eventbrite.com

Jan. 15

Caroline Polachek

It’s impossible to pin down this singer-songwriter’s bold, shapeshifting pop — it ranges from her work in synth-pop band Chairlift and various solo aliases to collaborations with Beyoncé and Charli XCX. On last year’s Pang, her first album under her real name, Polachek balances baroque, operatic melodies with cyborg synths and dramatic Auto-Tune. Her opening-night performance is the highlight of the five-day Tomorrow Never Knows festival.

Details:Lincoln Hall. Lincoln Park. 9 p.m. $20. lh-st.com

Jan. 16

Lala Lala, Nnamdi, Sen Morimoto

With her Lala Lala project, Lillie West has established herself as one of the coolest voices in the local indie-rock scene. Sharing the stage: Nnamdi, whose bonkers fusion of hip-hop, rock, and Nigerian music defies classification, and Sen Morimoto, the Kyoto-born multi-instrumentalist whose vibey jazz-rap has made him a hip-hop favorite. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better showcase of what Chicago DIY sounds like right now.

Details:Sleeping Village. Avondale. 9 p.m. $16–$18. etix.com

Jan. 16–Feb. 2

The Mousetrap

Agatha Christie’s carefully plotted murder mystery has the distinction of being the longest-running play on London’s West End, where it’s been produced continuously since 1952. Director Sean Graney’s playful sensibility promises to add some surprises to Christie’s collection of red herrings and reversals.

Details:Court Theatre. Hyde Park. $38–$84. courttheatre.org

Jan. 16–Mar. 8


Musician Jason Narducy has released two albums as Split Single and toured with Bob Mould and Superchunk. But he started out playing guitar as a preteen in the Evanston punk band Verböten. Narducy teams with local playwright Brett Neveu and the House Theatre of Chicago for this new rock musical about those glory days when booking a gig at the Cubby Bear felt like the holy grail.

Details:Chopin Theatre. Noble Square. $20–$50. thehousetheatre.com

Jan. 16–Mar. 29

In Real Life

While the human eye deteriorates over time, computer vision, a machine’s ability to recognize images, is only sharpening. This group exhibition investigates the ramifications of this fast-evolving technology, from Maija Tammi’s photographs of robots to Stephanie Dinkins’s video conversations with an animatronic bust.

Details:Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago. South Loop. Free. mocp.org

Jan. 17–18


This velvet-voiced singer-songwriter went from uploading homemade pop songs on MySpace from her hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to collaborating with household names like Pharrell Williams and Usher. On last year’s dreamy, romantic Rouge, she drifts further into neo-soul territory, but not without some curveballs, from a guest verse by Tyler, the Creator to a form of Malay poetry known as syair.

Details:City Winery. West Loop. $30–$50. citywinery.com

Jan. 18


When Will Miller isn’t backing local indie-rock darlings Whitney as a touring member, he’s orchestrating this uncategorizable outfit, which swirls jazz, funk, hip-hop, and experimental music into a vibrant style that somehow generates a feathery sound despite sidewalk-slamming rhythms. Its self-titled debut, released last year, could work for chilling out late at night or as a head-nodding driving soundtrack.

Details:Lincoln Hall. Lincoln Park. 8 p.m. $15. lh-st.com

Jan. 18

Chicago Rosé Fest

Pink wine has reached a cultural saturation point where musicians like John Legend and Sting are slinging their own brands at concerts. But that doesn’t mean rosé is just watered-down wine — it has a lot of nuance, which you can taste for yourself at this four-hour fest, with more than a dozen variants, hosted by one of the city’s only year-round rooftop bars.

Details:IO Godfrey Rooftop Lounge. River North. 1 p.m. $20–$30. eventbrite.com

Jan. 18

Three Busy Debras

In this biting satire of suburban America, no issue is too controversial for our Debras — three virtually identical housewives who speak in robotic tones about murder, misogyny, and 9/11 from their estates in fictional Lemoncurd, Connecticut. The absurdist comedy trio behind the production (Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari, and Alyssa Stonoha) formed in 2015 and already has an Adult Swim show (greenlighted by Amy Poehler) set to air later this year.

Details:Hideout. West Town. 9 p.m. $15. hideoutchicago.com

Jan. 18–Feb. 23


While legislators and activists in many states are still trying to upend Roe v. Wade nearly half a century after that Supreme Court decision legalized abortion across the United States, Lisa Loomer’s new play steps back to focus on the two young women at the heart of the 1973 case: attorney Sarah Weddington and plaintiff Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. “Jane Roe.” Vanessa Stalling directs the Goodman’s Chicago premiere.

Details:Goodman Theatre. Loop. $20–$65. goodmantheatre.org

Jan. 19–20

MLK Tribute Concert

The Chicago Sinfonietta commits to diversity, evident in its ranks, audience, and programming, putting the overlooked, rediscovered, and up-and-coming cheek by jowl with the classical canon. For its annual celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the orchestra plans to showcase the arranging and conducting talents of college senior Jherrard Hardeman, a heavy new work about police killings called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, and the final movement of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, a barnburner for large orchestra and chorus.

Details:Jan. 19: Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College. Naperville. Jan. 20: Symphony Center. Loop. $10–$62. chicagosinfonietta.org

Jan. 19–Feb. 29

Anne Harris: 39 Eyelids

The local painter’s portraits of women are nearly hallucinatory, with strange effects enhanced by gossamer brushstrokes. For this solo show, Harris presents small works that evolved from self-portraiture, inspired by the visceral, amorphous nature of eyelids.

Details:Goldfinch. East Garfield Park. Free. goldfinchgallery.org

Jan. 19–27
New Music

Peter Ablinger

Gray Sound, a new series of experimental music run by the University of Chicago, hatches with the week-plus visit of this Austrian composer, a sound artist who scrambles categories of music/noise, voice/not-voice (check out his “talking” player piano), and instrument/not-instrument (instrumentations on his catalog call for trees and the rain).

Details:Various locations. Free–$15 per concert. graycenter.uchicago.edu

Jan. 21–Feb. 2

Once on This Island

One of the earliest collaborations by the songwriting team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime, Seussical), this 1990 musical set in the Caribbean follows a peasant girl who falls for a boy outside her social class. The touring production is based on the Tony-winning 2017 Broadway revival.

Details:Cadillac Palace Theatre. Loop. $25–$158. broadwayinchicago.com

Jan. 21–Apr. 5

Modernism: Iranian, Turkish, and Indian Highlights from the Grey Collection

In the 1960s and ’70s, art patron Abby Weed Grey traveled extensively in the Middle East and Asia, where she acquired hundreds of postwar pieces by local artists. The unparalleled trove of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper ended up at her namesake gallery in New York, but this exhibition marks the first time these objects have been shown together. Its journey to Chicago is a rare opportunity to expand one’s understanding of the modernist canon.

Details:Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. Evanston. Free. blockmuseum.northwestern.edu

Jan. 23


The native New York City producer has been behind the boards of some of the most essential underground rap of the past two decades, from Aesop Rock’s 2001 opus Labor Days to the knotty, meditative raps of Billy Woods. But Blockhead’s solo work is just as impressive: His 2004 debut, Music by Cavelight, is a stone-cold classic in the realm of instrumental hip-hop.

Details:Lincoln Hall. Lincoln Park. 8:30 p.m. $15–$20. lh-st.com

Jan. 23–Feb. 29

How a Boy Falls

In this suspenseful new drama, an au pair stumbles into a mystery when the child in her charge goes missing and each of the parents seems to have their own agenda. Director Halena Kays stages the world premiere by Steven Dietz, one of the country’s most prolific (and widely produced) playwrights.

Details:Northlight Theatre. Skokie. $30–$73. northlight.org

Jan. 23–Mar. 8


A decade or so before August: Osage County took the Steppenwolf stage, Tracy Letts authored this grubbier Oklahoma story, a claustrophobic, conspiracy-minded thriller about a couple going off the deep end in a low-rent motel room. This new production is helmed by Tony winner David Cromer, with a cast led by Carrie Coon (who also happens to be Letts’s wife) and rising Steppenwolf star Namir Smallwood.

Details:Steppenwolf Theatre. Lincoln Park. $20–$122. steppenwolf.org

Jan. 23–Mar. 15

Do You Feel Anger?

Office sexism is taken to absurdist lengths in this 2018 comedy by Mara Nelson-Greenberg, which follows a female “empathy coach” assigned to work with the oblivious male employees of a debt collection agency. That two of said employees will be played by A Red Orchid’s Lawrence Grimm and Levi Holloway is reason enough to pay attention.

Details:A Red Orchid Theatre. Old Town. $15–$40. aredorchidtheatre.org

Jan. 24

Ian Bostridge and Xuefei Yang

An intelligent tenor beloved in Europe, Bostridge hasn’t visited Chicago in nearly a decade. Since his last sojourn, he and Yang, a classical guitarist, have recorded an album called Songs From Our Ancestors, juxtaposing and fusing Western and Eastern art songs, pieces of which they will perform here.

Details:Edman Chapel, Wheaton College. Wheaton. 7:30 p.m. $10–$45. wheaton.edu/artistseries

Jan. 24–25

Stories of Chicago

Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble presents locally focused works as part of an ongoing series highlighting queer, minority, and women’s voices through dance and art installations. South Chicago Dance Theatre’s Kia Smith offers a personal view of her family’s journey to Chicago during the Great Migration, and ReDance revives The Biggest Wail From the Bottom of My Heart, which interrogates how a collective of mostly white dancers contributes to conversations on racism and white privilege.

Details:Ebenezer Lutheran Church. Andersonville. Free–$25. brownpapertickets.com

Jan. 24–Feb. 8

Chicago Restaurant Week

Ordering an appetizer, entrée, and dessert is all fun and games until the bill comes — an elaborate multicourse meal can easily run you three figures — so it’s no wonder this annual prix fixe ploy was stretched beyond a week. More than 300 restaurants will participate.

Details:Various locations and prices. eatitupchicago.com

Jan. 24–Feb. 23

How to Defend Yourself

A group of college students comes together for DIY self-defense training after a classmate is raped on campus in Lily Padilla’s acclaimed new play, awarded the 2019 Yale Drama Series Prize. Victory Gardens’ staging is a coproduction with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, where it received strong reviews last spring; Marti Lyons (Cambodian Rock Band) reprises her directing duties.

Details:Victory Gardens Theater. Lincoln Park. $25–$65. victorygardens.org

Jan. 24–Mar. 8

Harold Mendez: The Years Now

The local artist is interested in how rituals and memorial objects can be extensions of the body — he once imprinted the image of a pre-Columbian death mask onto a sterling silver container to mimic a human face. Here he presents newly commissioned works, including a sound piece and sculptures, some of which emerge from a collaboration with the Field Museum and its Peruvian artifacts.

Details:Logan Center, University of Chicago. Woodlawn. Free. arts.uchicago.edu

Jan. 24–Mar. 31

Jun Fujita: American Visionary

The early 1900s were not a safe or friendly time for immigrants to the United States — but that didn’t stop Fujita, Chicago’s first Japanese American photojournalist, from covering events that would make their way into local history textbooks. This exhibition, jointly produced by the Newberry Library and Poetry Foundation (Fujita was also a prolific poet) will showcase his work, which includes documentation of the 1919 race riot, the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and the 1915 Eastland disaster.

Details:Newberry Library. Near North Side. Free. newberry.org

Jan. 25

Mac & Cheese Crawl

Steel yourself against the chill of winter with heaping plates of cheesy pasta — the good stuff, not the blue Kraft boxes of your college years. This sojourn through River North’s restaurant scene promises artisanal varieties at neighborhood favorites like Moe’s Cantina and Old Crow Smokehouse.

Details:Various locations. 11 a.m. From $10. eventbrite.com

Jan. 25–26

Alison Balsom

Music of the Baroque presents one of its occasional chronological aberrations, playing music of classical-era (i.e., not baroque) composers Haydn and Mozart. It’s worth bending the rules to book this swan-like trumpeter to solo in Haydn’s Concerto for Trumpet. Music director Jane Glover, an expert Mozart interpreter, takes the baton for his Symphonies Nos. 36 (“Linz”) and 38 (“Prague”).

Details:Jan. 25: Harris Theater. Loop. Jan. 26: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Skokie. $10–$85. baroque.org

‘National Geographic’ Live: On the Trail of Big Cats
National Geographic Live: On the Trail of Big Cats Photo: Steve Winter
Jan. 26

National Geographic Live: On the Trail of Big Cats

Behind every breathtaking wildlife photo-graph is a person with a camera crouching in the distance waiting for the perfect moment. This National Geographic event stars Steve Winter, a New Jersey–based photojournalist who will share tales of survival and conservation from his career chasing snow leopards, American cougars, and other big cats around the world.

Details:Auditorium Theatre. Loop. 3 p.m. $42–$54. auditoriumtheatre.org

Jan. 30–Feb. 1

I Hunger for You

Kimberly Bartosik’s latest is a frenetic exploration of the spontaneous physicality of charismatic Christianity, Pentecostalism, and other ritualistic faiths. The New York–based choreographer’s chaotic and guttural aesthetic is the opposite of what she learned as a Merce Cunningham dancer: Cunningham wasn’t inclined to foray into spiritual themes. But you’ll still see traces of his values — abstraction, chance, line, and form.

Details:Dance Center, Columbia College Chicago. South Loop. $10–$30. dance.colum.edu

Ligia Lewis: Water Will (in Melody)
Ligia Lewis: Water Will (in Melody) Photo: Maria Baranova
Jan. 30–Feb. 1
Performance Art

Ligia Lewis: Water Will (in Melody)

This Dominican American choreographer’s ostentatious productions are idiosyncratically discordant and disturbing. In this hourlong work — the final chapter of a trilogy — four performers enact nightmarish scenarios on a dark, watery stage. It’s part dystopian science fiction, part gothic melodrama.

Details:Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Streeterville. $10–$30. mcachicago.org

Jan. 30–Feb. 4

Lewis Plays Beethoven

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, back from a tour of Asia, kicks off the year of Beethoven’s 250th birthday with two of his piano concertos played by the penetrating Paul Lewis. No. 1 and No. 4 alternate with works by the genial British composer Michael Tippett, under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis, more often seen on the other side of the Loop in his gig as music director of the Lyric Opera.

Details:Symphony Center. Loop. $38–$254. cso.org

Jan. 31

Danish String Quartet

Musicologists divide Beethoven’s career into early, middle, and late periods, and performing one string quartet from each adds up to a full-length concert. The Danish String Quartet, a bearded tetrad who first met at summer camp more than 20 years ago, will play the early Op. 18, No. 3; the middle Op. 59, No. 3, the last of the Razumovsky quartets; and the late Op. 135, Ludwig’s final major work.

Details:Mandel Hall, University of Chicago. Hyde Park. 7:30 p.m. Free–$38. chicagopresents.uchicago.edu

Jan. 31

Makaya McCraven: In These Times

This local drummer is famous for taking his live and studio recordings and manipulating them through digital software into a mellifluous cut-up that collapses genre boundaries, so don’t be surprised if the show you witness ends up just as shrapnel. Typically seen in a club setting, McCraven heads to a more rarefied venue and recruits a few notable figures from the local jazz scene (including bassist Junius Paul and harpist Brandee Younger) for a concert inspired by the local progressive magazine In These Times.

Details:Symphony Center. Loop. 8 p.m. $24–$76. cso.org


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