Don’t-miss picks for December 20 through December 26, 2018
1 Cat Power, Willis Earl Beal
Rock:Chan Marshall could easily rest on her laurels and call it a career. Instead, she continues to push the rootsy, rollicking sound she’s produced under her Cat Power moniker — to all of our benefit. Boosting the bill is the hard-to-track-down, even-harder-to-pigeonhole Beal, a onetime Chicagoan who made a name for himself when music journalists stumbled across the fliers and CDs he left out in public places. His recent tunes retain the intimate, spooky vibe that gained him a cult following.
12/20 at 8:30 p.m. $35–$45. Thalia Hall. eventbrite.com
2 Handel Messiah
Classical:Several musical organizations in town perform Messiah faithfully every December, but the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has kept its hallelujahs in storage since 2015. The CSO’s Messiah — featuring the Symphony Chorus and Amanda Forsythe, Sasha Cooke, Nicholas Phan, and Joshua Hopkins as soloists — will rise again this year under the baton of the baroque specialist Matthew Halls.
12/20–23. $37–$262. Symphony Center. cso.org
3 Bonnie McFarlane
Comedy:The comedian and director of the documentary Women Aren’t Funny comes to town to present her singular take on being a wife and mother. McFarlane playfully grapples with contradictions in her life, like how she’s a vegan who eats eggs (because she’s pro-choice, of course) and a feminist who always expects the man to pay.
12/22 at 8 p.m. $20. @North Bar. liveatnorthbar.com
4 Into the Woods
Theater:Stephen Sondheim’s deconstruction of stories that end happily ever after has been performed countless times over the years in Chicago. If you’ve seen it hereabouts before, know this: You’ve heard it with an orchestra of maybe eight musicians, tops. It’s rarely been performed with the more-than-a-dozen-strong full live orchestra that Music Theater Works regularly deploys.
12/22–31. $34–$96. Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University. musictheaterworks.com
5 The Second City’s Nut-Cracking Holiday Revue
Comedy:Chicago’s comedy scions migrate from their Old Town theater to the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre for this suite of holiday shows, presenting their annual revelrous review. The show’s greatest achievement, year after year, is providing a sure-fire way to get your visiting in-laws out of the house for a few hours.
12/22–31. $30–$60. Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. secondcity.com
6 Magic Beyond Belief
Theater:Illusionist Jamie Allan bills himself as an “iMagician” — that is, a performer who uses Apple products, Twitter, and Facebook in his act, which includes up-close magic for both the tech-savvy set (pulling snow, roses, and leaves from digital images of same) and Luddites (card tricks). He also has a water tank escape act inspired by Houdini. He’s played London’s West End and performed on the BBC, but this appearance marks his first time in Chicago.
12/22–1/19. $50–$160. Harris Theater. harristheaterchicago.org
7 Shemekia Copeland
Blues:The personal gets political for this blues vocalist, who invited guest artists like Emmylou Harris and John Prine to help her craft America’s Child, released earlier this year. In a society that is often boldly divided by minuscule differences, Copeland frequently returns to the question of whether ideology trumps humanity.
12/26–27. $38–$52. City Winery. citywinery.com
Rock:For the uninitiated, this band straddles the gap between two of the Midwest’s most celebrated genres of songcraft: the alt-country of Angel Olsen and Uncle Tupelo and the jangly guitar emo pioneered in college towns across Illinois. That’s all to say that Ratboys rock. Expect a cathartic crowd at this hometown show.
12/28 at 9 p.m. $12–$15. Sleeping Village. sleeping-village.com
9 Ryley Walker, Ohmme, and Ben LaMar Gay
New Music:Walker is a virtuosic guitarist as welcome among Chicago’s jazz improvisers as DIY indie rockers. He’s also someone who told Vice that the music of Leonard Cohen made him feel “absolutely nothing” and in November put out, of all things, a full album of Dave Matthews Band covers. Expect a full-throated finale to a long and strange year at this holiday show, and not just from Walker. There are harmony-heavy local folksters Ohmme, and the uncategorizable Gay, a composer, cornetist, vocalist, and producer who’s never afraid to push boundaries.
12/28 at 9 p.m. $15–$18. Empty Bottle. eventbrite.com
10 Mucca Pazza New Year’s Eve Party
Experimental:Nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a 20-plus-member marching band — especially when it’s about to burst into surf rock, polka, Sousa, or Stravinsky. All signs point to Chicago’s favorite instrumental ensemble ringing in the new year with all the foot-stomping, stage-crowding energy it brought to its (particularly cramped) NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
12/31 at 10 p.m. $25–$30. Lincoln Hall. lh-st.com