The The produced some of the 1980s’ most pointed music, rhythmically and texturally engaging and revolving around Matt Johnson’s dark socio-political musings. But after dropping out of the industry to work as a radio host and community activist against real estate development, Johnson has returned to launch his British outfit’s first U.S. tour in 18 years at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday. In addition to a taste of new material (“We Can’t Stop What’s Coming” seems like an apt title), the singer/songwriter’s rearranging his catalog without samplers and synthesizers, aided by musicians from past tours: bassist James Eller, keyboardist DC Collard, drummer Earl Harvin and (recommended by onetime associate Johnny Marr) new guitarist Barrie Cadogan.
But that’s just one show in the month’s busiest weekend (including a spate of small festivals). Also on Friday, Ed Sheeran pulls his stadium troubadour trick at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, while LA’s FIDLAR brings its raucous skate-punk aesthetic to the Paradise Rock Club. Iconic folk singer and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Baez brings her farewell tour to the Boch Wang Theatre (before losing all those glorious high notes) both Friday and Saturday, while the impressionistic guitar ace Bill Frisell plays solo the same nights at the Regattabar.
Festivals also rule this weekend. Freshgrass takes over the MASS MoCA complex in the Berkshires from Friday to Sunday with such artists as Bela Fleck, Rhiannon Giddens, Indigo Girls (who also play Symphony Hall on Friday), Yonder Mountain String Band I’m With Her. Here’s that schedule. In addition to Freegrass, Trampled by Turtles will play the Festival at the Farm, a Saturday/Sunday soiree at Prowse Farm in nearby Canton that also sports Amos Lee, Dawes, Joseph, Martin Sexton, Will Dailey and other local favorites. Like the Life is Good festivals that once used that site, they’ll be a kid’s stage as well. Here’s the Festival at the Farm rundown.
Meanwhile, Boston’s soul-funk ambassadors Ripe balance their Saturday between the Cape Cod Roots & Blues Festival at Orleans’ Nauset Beach (headed by G. Love and Special Sauce and a solo Citizen Cope) and the second day of the Rhode Island Music & Arts Festival at Providence’s India Point Park, with the Ryan Montbleau Band, Adam Ezra Group, Hayley Jane & the Primates and Yes Darling in support. Jump here to my interviews with Ripe and Hayley Jane & the Primates for this year’s Music issue.
Saturday also offers intriguing concerts with Holly Bowling bring her own creative spin to Grateful Dead and Phish classics on solo piano at City Winery (jump here to my recent interview), beyond-jazz saxophonist and ex-David Bowie accomplice Donny McCaslin’s band teaming with Kneebody again at the Sinclair, and the haunting Canadian singer/songwriter Matt Holubowski at Café 939.
Somerville’s Once Ballroom reopens after a month’s hiatus with a free daylong Sunday celebration that includes a street party, rock photo exhibit and a nighttime show honoring retiring music promoter Bob Colby, with short sets from such local artists as Carissa Johnson and Steph Curran, Chris Brokaw, Classic Ruins, the Corin Ashley Combo, Justine and the Unclean, Mary Lou Lord and Annabelle Lord-Patey, and Psychic Dog. Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke fulfill afternoon duties at Webster’s Indian Ranch the same day, while local indie-folk luminaries Darlingside bring their evocative strings-lifted harmonies to Somerville Theatre that night.