• December 03, 2015

    Weekend Ideas

    Weekend Ideas by Paul Robicheau
    Joanna Newsom makes a welcome return behind Divers. Photo by Annabel Mehran.

    Lots of wow this weekend, from seminal jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette and post-punk experimentalists Parquet Courts to harp-playing eccentric Joanna Newsom and provocateur Miley Cyrus' psychedelic Dead Petz outfit… More>

  • Stage Review: Boston Ballet's Nutcracker Tinkers and Twinkles with Youthful Joy by Paul Robicheau
    Snowflakes dance and sparkle in Boston Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

    One can usually count on Boston Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker for a number of things: Elaborate, shifting sets. Full-size toys topped by a frisky, leaping bear. A beaming Clara (played on Friday’s opening night with childish wonder by Delia Wada-Gill), who falls asleep on Christmas Eve to a dream-like adventure… More>

  • November 27, 2015

    Weekend Ideas

    Weekend Ideas by Paul Robicheau
    Barrence Whitfield heads a Funk Fest at the Cabot Theatre. Photo by Drew Reynolds.

    It's Almost Dead this Thanksgiving weekend, as that Joe Russo-driven outfit hits the Paradise, while other weekend options include Reeves Gabrels with Club d'elf, Arturo Sandoval, Ed Kowalczyk and Barrence Whitfield… More>

  • Live Review: My Morning Jacket Masters Broad Zone at the Orpheum by Paul Robicheau
    My Morning Jacket's Jim James appeases the flock at the cozy Orpheum Theatre on Saturday. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

    You never know exactly what you’ll get from My Morning Jacket in concert. But under the right conditions, such as Saturday’s finale to a two-night stand at the Orpheum, the Kentucky-born band wallops as a cross-genre monster… More>

  • November 20, 2015

    Weekend Ideas

    Weekend Ideas by Paul Robicheau
    David Sanborn brings his seasoned sax tones to Scullers Jazz Club.

    A robust weekend starts with a tiny club show by the hot Lake Street Dive and bridges double-night stands by My Morning Jacket and David Sanborn before the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra tackles a Coltrane classic… More>

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Rayland Baxter's smile shines on the Brighton Music Hall with his band on Saturday.


The band Chicago’s finally headed to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, an honor that’s long overdue even if the group’s short on original members and hasn’t been vital in the rock ‘n’ roll sense for decades. Its early albums -- especially the edgy 1969 debut Chicago Transit Authority -- were landmarks, and Chicago still has its trademark original horn section and singer/keyboardist/guitarist Robert Lamm to help deliver the classics when the band stops at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium on Friday en route to April’s induction ceremony in New York.

Friday’s also a busy night at House of Blues with electronic jam-band Lotus’ trippy sounds, at the Sinclair with Seattle chamber-pop favorites Hey Marseilles, and at the Regattabar with broadly tasteful pianist Donal Fox and his “In the Pursuit of Beauty” trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Dafnis Prieto. Saturday brings the passionate, atmospheric songcraft of Nashville singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter and his band to the Brighton Music Hall behind his deftly dramatic Imaginary Man.

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Live Review: Wilco Shows its Strengths at the Orpheum

Nels Cline and Mikael Jorgensen widen Wilco's palette at the Orpheum on Friday. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


New England’s blessed to have the Chicago band Wilco headline its diverse Solid Sound festival in the Berkshires every other year, though that means outdoor sets on a large field. With no Solid Sound in 2016, however, Wilco greeted the new year with a tour of small theaters that included a return to the Orpheum -- and the band’s subtleties and intensity was magnified in Friday’s first of two nights in that cozier setting.

After 12 of its 22 years with the same lineup, Wilco remains underappreciated for its musical prowess and eclecticism, again on display in a stunning three-part show that consumed two hours with nary a pause.  It began with a performance of Wilco’s entire new album Star Wars, quietly released last summer as a free download, a galaxy away from the level of attention given to the return of that movie franchise.

Nonetheless, within that 35-minute opening sequence, Wilco vigorously displayed its range as a taut, cerebral ensemble, from the jaunty riff-rock of “Random Name Generator” to singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy’s Lou Reed-y lope through “The Satellite,” while lights twinkled like stars on a curtained backdrop. Lead guitarist Nels Cline wasted no time in confirming his role as the group’s virtuoso wild card, building that song to a furiously strummed solo that made it hard to believe he could top it later.

But of course Cline did, as the relatively short entirety of Star Wars (compared to, say, Bruce Springsteen’s current wade through double album The River) left time for another hour and a half of old favorites. Cline could play with anyone – and play anything, as he variously suggested noise-metal, free jazz, garage-punk, alt-country (when he shifted to lap steel) and even electronica, as he swooped feedback through “Art of Almost,” which rode drumming savant Glenn Kotche’s tribal cross-rhythms into a thrash-rock freakout. Even in more relaxed, plaintive lopes like “Handshake Drugs” and “Via Chicago,” Wilco elevated around Cline's sonic outbursts. Maybe he could have held back a bit, but even when he shot for the stratosphere, his volume and tone didn’t overwhelm the rest of the band.

Finally, for a palate-cleanser, Wilco served a five-song acoustic encore, with even-keeled leader Tweedy and co-founding bass partner John Stirratt singing at one microphone while Cline focused on his lap playing, Kotche manned a smaller kit and orchestral specialists Mikael Jorgensen and Pat Sansone respectively added melodica and xylophone icing. Cline and Kotche still goosed “Misunderstood” into a chaotic burst before the sextet wound down with gems like “War on War” and “California Stars” (from Wilco’s 1998 Billy Bragg-assisted Mermaid Avenue take on Woody Guthrie lyrics). Tweedy tipped his creamy cowboy hat to the crowd. His face was hidden from the lights for much of the night, and that’s probably the way he liked it, letting the whole band shine.

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Weekend Ideas

Perhaps the most surprisingly under-the-radar “Star Wars” tie-in came last summer in a new album of that name from Wilco, released for free before the latest movie awakened. Assembled by band members separately after leader Jeff Tweedy laid down basic tracks in the studio, it’s now the focus of rare theater-size shows like the ones Wilco plays on Friday and Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre. Meanwhile, over at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday, Greensky Bluegrass shares its jam-grass with a young, growing audience, while singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw joins forces that night with the rootsy Bottle Rockets at the Center for Arts in Natick.

Electric-bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, best known for his work with Bela Fleck’s Flecktones, delivers his own double-header in a duo with drummer J.D. Blair at the Regattabar on both Friday and Saturday. And with the absence of T.T. the Bear’s Place, Shaun Wolf Wortis moves his annual Mardi Gras Ball to the ONCE Ballroom at Somerville’s Cuisine en Locale, where the singer/guitarist and his Legendary Vudu Krewe honor the late Allen Toussaint with guests Jed Parish, Merrie Amsterberg, Carla Ryder and Chris Cote. And it’s a benefit for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.

And on Sunday, World Music/CRASHarts presents a meeting of the spirits with ’60s-bred winds master Charles Lloyd (pictured) & the Marvels at the Berklee Performance Center. In that new group, Lloyd pairs his usual bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland with guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, whose textural twang lends its own cosmic icing as well on the Marvels' contemplative new album I Long to See You, exploring the American Songbook. A taste of that chemistry came in past collaborative concerts including Wilco's 2015 Solid Sound fest.

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Weekend Ideas

Grown in Boston when its members were Berklee students, Lettuce (above) has been bringing the funk for more than two decades. During that time, the guys have kept busy with other projects, from guitarist Eric Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans’ groovy organ trio Soulive to drummer Adam Deitch’s jazz chops with John Scofield and bassist Erick Coomes’ anchoring work with Dr. Dre. But Lettuce – which also includes guitarist Adam Smirnoff and horn players Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom – will be back in town on Friday, laying the grooves at House of Blues behind its latest album Crush, which stretches from hip-hop to psychedelia.

Singer/guitarists Mackenzie Scott and Ellen Kempner both churn melancholy, pointed lyrics in songs that surge with six-string eruptions in their respective indie-rock outfits Torres and (Boston’s own) Palehound, and they’ll team for a formidable double bill at Great Scott on Friday. Here’s a jump to my recent interview with Scott, along with a live clip of her performing as Torres.

Saturday offers country-blues from the veteran guitarist Paul Rishell and harmonica foil Annie Raines singing songs at Club Passim -- alas, the Del McCoury Band has cancelled its Sanders Theatre show due to travel issues with the winter storm. And on Sunday (after the Patriots game), World Music/CRASHarts presents an eclectic indoor festival at House of Blues. CRASHfest will feature 10 bands on three stages, including Afro-pop dynamo Angelique Kidjo, experimental violinist Kishi Bashi, the percussive Dhol Foundation and even local stalwarts like the Ethiopian soul-pop ensemble Debo Band (below) and rootsy song-swappers Session Americana. More about the CRASHfest lineup here

Photo by Pete Lee.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Guster (above) once bounced around town with acoustic guitars, bongos and a lightness of being. But the Tufts University-born pop combo has since broadened its sound with moody sophistication (along with some actual drums, keyboards, etc.) that culminated in last year’s textural gem Evermotion, produced by Richard Swift (the Shins, the Black Keys). Nonetheless, one can usually count on Guster for frisky, crowd-pleasing charisma, and plenty of diehards should thrive on that at Friday and Saturday’s homecoming dates at House of Blues. Better yet, folk-rockers the David Wax Museum -- another evolving, locally grown combo -- opens the shows.

Soon-to-close Johnny D’s Uptown also hosts a banner triple bill in its Friday local-legends series with a farewell performance by New Wave-era rockers Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, whose set will be followed by drummer Tim Jackson’s documentary film "When Things Go Wrong," named after one of their hits. But a special pair of opening solo performers balance the night, with returning scene veteran Laurie Sargent (Orchestra Morphine, Twinemen) and red-hot upstart Ruby Rose Fox, who’ll bring along backup vocals from the Steinhems.

Folky jam-rock veterans Strangefolk’s reunion a few years ago has extended into occasional shows and one of them will grace the Paradise Rock Club on Saturday. The same night brings emotive R&B standout Bettye LaVette to Scullers and New Orleans’ savvy Dirty Dozen Brass Band to the Sinclair, while the Boston Bluegrass Union presents singer/fiddler Laurie Lewis and her Friends (expected to include partner Tom Rozum, fiddler Darol Anger and banjoist Greg Litzt) at Lexington’s Scottish Rite Masonic (formerly National Heritage) Museum.

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Concert Outlook Warms Up

Swedish pop singer Robyn joins the broad lineup at Boston Calling on Memorial Day weekend.


It’s feeling like winter outside, but the summer season’s already on the horizon with the word that Billy Joel, Florence + the Machine, and Boston Calling entries Sia, Janelle Monae, Courtney Barnett and Charles Bradley will be among the artists to catch in the great outdoors.

Boston Calling just announced its lineup for Memorial Day weekend and it’s pleasingly diverse and international, particularly when it comes to female artists. The mysterious Australian pop star Sia, Swedish synth-pop siren Robyn and the Grammy-nominated electronic brother duo Disclosure will headline, followed by flamboyant R&B rebel Janelle Monae, the melancholy Sufjan Stevens, Grammy-nominated Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett (who made my favorite 2015 album), electro-pop combo Miike Snow, rising rapper Vince Staples, pop-rock sister team Haim and transcendent soul veteran Charles Bradley. Three-day tickets for the May 27-29 festival at City Hall Plaza go on sale tomorrow at 10 a.m. (with a 24-hour discount). In addition to the festival’s 23 acts (also sporting local upstarts Palehound and Michael Christmas), a third stage that includes comedy will be announced later. Bostoncalling.com

Vaulted piano man Billy Joel becomes the first act to mark three consecutive summers at Fenway Park, bringing his hits to the ball yard on Aug. 18 (tickets on sale next week), following the return of favorite son James Taylor on Aug. 3.  The Xfinity Center’s bubbling up dates as well. That Mansfield shed just announced Florence + the Machine with Monsters and Men on June 7 and a Hall of Fame bill with Heart, Cheap Trick and Joan Jett on July 24, while Duran Duran teams with a Chic reunion (featuring the late David Bowie’s Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers) on July 17 and Black Sabbath (with the core of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler) bids farewell on Aug. 25.

As far as Newport goes, that Rhode Island destination’s a hard-to-snag ticket for “folk” fans as the 2016 Newport Folk Festival quickly sold out except for its Friday July 22 first day, even though no artists have been announced yet. That’s what you get when the previous year included Rogers Waters (backed by My Morning Jacket), Hozier, Leon Bridges and a James Taylor cameo. But the Newport Jazz Festival has announced the first artist for its July 29-31 lineup with saxophonist Kamasi Washington, an accomplice on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly who released his own mind-blowing 2015 opus The Epic. For one more week, Newport Jazz even offers a great-deal Flex Ticket that’s valid for any day of the festival, so you can narrow down a later decision. Chick Corea and Gregory Porter also play Newport's International Tennis Hall of Fame as part of the jazz festival on July 29. Newportfolk.org, newportjazzfest.org

Sound Ideas

David Bowie's Class Act

David Bowie at the Hartford Civic Center on his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. Photo by Paul Robicheau.


“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” David Bowie sings, shaking in a hospital bed, his head wrapped in bandages with buttons over his eyes. “I’ve got scars that can’t be seen. I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen. Everybody knows me now.”

That mind-blowing vision opens his prescient video to “Lazarus,” released on Friday for Bowie’s 69th birthday along with new album Blackstar, inventive as ever with brooding jazz textures and shifting backbeats to match its foreboding lyrics. Two days later, Bowie was dead. Rock’s foremost innovator – who balanced theater and music, the avant-garde and mainstream, gender-bending fashion and dapper-suit suavity – had scripted his devestating last act, his final performance piece, with impeccable timing.

Few had seen his scars, a reported 18-month battle with liver cancer, but his drama could not be stolen. He was revered by many as one of rock’s most recognizable figures over four decades. But everybody knows him this week.

Of course fans knew him across several musical phases and characters – the glam-rock avatar Ziggy Stardust, Philly soul-shaker the Thin White Duke, the ambient Berlin experimentalist and the vaudevillian Let’s Dance populist. Yet beyond those sonic and sartorial trimmings, Bowie reguarly struck an emotive chord. His silken voice even resonated in duets with such diverse mates as Bing Crosby, Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger.

Better yet, of the countless tributes pouring in, many who met Bowie spoke of his sense of grace and graciousness, even to those he would casually encounter. He was certainly gracious the one time that I met him at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge, where I did a short one-on-one interview with Bowie in April 1997, before he and his guitarist Reeves Gabrels performed an acoustic set for WBCN.

But I oddly felt more of a personal connection (however oblique) when Bowie played two nights at the Orpheum Theatre that fall. I loved his new jungle-and-electronica-inspired Earthling, which made my Top 10 albums that year. But when I reviewed his first Orpheum concert for the Globe, I disliked several things (distracting visuals and stobe lights, lack of balance in song presentation) and actually came close to panning the show. I went again the second night just for fun, and that’s when I encountered another trait of Bowie’s, his wicked sense of humor. He made reference to my review onstage, telling the crowd something like “I don’t usually read the papers, but I have to take issue with what was said… they wrote that I have a crack band, and I’ll have you know that nobody in my band does crack!” That was it. The funny thing was that he tweaked his set in ways that dispelled my main complaints from the night before. Did the great Bowie mischievously adapt to a bit of constructive criticism? I don’t know about that, but the guy was so sharp, an amazing performer ever-natural in his whims.

After hearing Blackstar last week, I immediately knew the album would figure in my Top 10 considerations this year, but of course now I’ll be in so much company on that count. It’s still surely too dark and off-kilter for people who only love Bowie for hits like “Space Oddity,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Young Americans,” “Let's Dance,”  or “Modern Love,” yet even such accessible classics as “Heroes,” “Fame” and “Golden Years” shared strange sensibilities.

In any case, Bowie’s sweeping legacy remains secure. There’s never been anyone quite like him, and those who come the closest admit they nicked what they do from him. He was an original artist to the end. “Oh, I’ll be free, just like that bluebird,” Bowie sings at the end of “Lazarus.” “Oh, I’ll be free. Ain’t that just like me.”

Here are some notable Bowie performances, in videos and onstage:

“Space Oddity”

 TVC15 and Boys Keep Swinging on Saturday Night Live

“Ashes to Ashes”

“Heroes” at Live Aid

 “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby 

“Under Pressure” with Freddie Mercury/Queen performance mix from Wembley Stadium

“The Last Thing You Should Do” with Robert Smith at Bowie’s 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden


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Weekend Ideas

To start the new year, Johnny D’s Uptown’s gearing up for the Somerville club’s final couple of months with “One Last Time at Johnny D’s,” a Friday-night series with “legendary” Boston bands. This Friday offers the Stompers, those dawn-of-the-’80s heroes from East Boston who crossed into national exposure with songs like “Never Tell an Angel” and “American Fun.” Over at the Lizard Lounge, outre slide-guitar virtuoso Dave Tronzo helps fuel groove collective Club d’Elf. And Friday also marks the Regent Theatre's local film premiere of "Little Girl Blue," a documentary on Janis Joplin, with a live appearance by Kate Russo, who has sung with Joplin's original band Big Brother and the Holding Company. 

Saturday’s Hot Stove Cool Music show at the Paradise Rock Club introduces the new outfit BOTO (or Band of Their Own), which sports Tanya Donelly and Gail Greenwood (Belly), Chris Toppin and Hilken Mancini (Fuzzy), Jen Trynin, Freda Love Smith (Blake Babies) and Jenny Dee, known for fronting the Deelinquents. Now that’s a female supergroup with local connections! Add a reunion of the Gigolo Aunts, plus other musicians and pro baseball players (and some who do both), at Cubs GM Theo Epstein and sportswriter Peter Gammons’ annual event and look for a hit to benefit Theo and Paul Epstein’s Foundation to Be Named Later. Also on Saturday, Nirvana-esque rock reigns at the Sinclair with a potent bill led by the noisy, melodic wallop of Toronto trio Metz (above) as well as Nashville’s likewise ’90s-styled Bully, led by turmoil-chewing frontwoman Alicia Bognanno.

Another one of Boston’s standout underground bands from several years ago, with a sound that evoked the Jeff Buckley Band with an edgy dream-pop sprawl, Magic Magic returns to action on Sunday to launch its weekly January residency at Great Scott. 

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Weekend Ideas

Happy New Year, as 2016 slowly kicks into gear. The weekend's biggest concert arrives at House of Blues on Saturday with the legendary Roots crew. The Roots have been busy serving as house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, but they make a point of getting up to these parts around the holidays, and with the hip-hop pioneers' lengthy track record and show-band flair, they're always good for a free-wheeling set. Maybe the Roots will even cover "Sweet Child O' Mine" like they do in this recent clip, given heightened rumors that Axl Rose and Slash will rekindle the original Guns N' Roses in the new year. After the House of Blues show, Roots drummer Questlove also takes things a step further with a DJ after-set at the Sinclair on a bill with Frank White.

On Sunday, the DC hardcore band Scream -- also legendary in particular for being a pre-Nirvana vehicle for Dave Grohl -- bang into Great Scott on Sunday, even if they don't have Grohl on drums as in this 1988 live clip.

Sound Ideas

Weekend/NYE Ideas

This post-Christmas weekend seems light on the concert front, though ska-punk veterans the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (above) rev up House of Blues with their annual Hometown Throwdown on Saturday (with fellow local icons the Neighborhoods and the Upper Crust), Sunday (with the Real Kids and the Queers) and Monday, with the Outlets and Stranglehold. There's also a Saturday reunion of soul-funk group SuperHoney at Johnny D's.

However, New Year’s Eve also looms just around the corner on Thursday night with several diverse live-music highlights. Professional party animal Andrew W.K. throws down at the Paradise Rock Club, performing his 2001 debut I Get Wet in its entirety, with top-shelf local openers Tigerman WOAH and Vundabar. Cuisine en Locale’s Once Lounge also hosts a sweeping New Year’s Eve celebration with Eastern European punk-funk ensemble the Somerville Symphony Orkestar plus notable guests Ruby Rose Fox, Cask Mouse and Cactus Attack.

Roots-reggae stalwarts John Brown’s Body stir it up at the Sinclair, or add some accordion to the mix when roots-rockers the Felice Brothers play the Brighton Music Hall. Evocative indie-pop outfit Hallelujah the Hills animates Great Scott with garage-rockers Barbazons, while venerable singer-songwriter Ellis Paul hosts his annual New Year’s Eve stand at folk bastion Club Passim. Out of town, rising jam-rockers Dopapod groove at the Palladium in Worcester, Roomful of Blues keep the blues alive at the Bull Run in Shirley, and the country-rooted Girls, Guns and Glory toast Hank Williams at the Riverwalk Roasters Café up in Nashua, N.H. 

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Weekend Ideas

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon assembled a little big band dubbed the Either/Orchestra, a 10-piece group that reflected Ellington, Mingus and Sun Ra, pop and prog-rock, and in recent years, Ethiopian music. In fact, the Either/Orchestra will perform its three-part Ethiopian Suite as part of its 30th anniversary concert at Johnny D’s Uptown on Friday, the exact date of the band’s first gig at the Cambridge Public Library. Over the years, Gershon nabbed a Grammy nomination for one of his arrangements, and the group boasts many noted alumni (John Medeski, Matt Wilson, Miguel Zenon) and some of them (such as drummer Jerome Deupree and guitarist John Dirac) will join Gershon and regulars like baritone saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, co-founding trumpeter Tom Halter and congas player Vicente Lebron at Friday’s early show.

Another Either/Orchestra alumnus, bassist Mike Rivard, revs up his experimental groove collective Club d’elf with guest guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, keyboardist Alain Mallet and Either/Orchestra’s Lebron later Friday night at the Lizard Lounge, then joins the reggae-steeped Dub Apocalypse at the same club on Saturday. Johnny D’s shifts gears as well on Saturday with veteran Americana singer/songwriter James McMurtry touring behind his latest album, Complicated Game. Or the song remains the same if you want classic rock, when drummer Jason Bonham brings his Led Zeppelin Experience to House of Blues on Saturday with ho, ho lotta love.

Two hot multi-night stands pop up on this close-to-holiday weekend. The Boston-born Street Dogs , fronted by ex-Dropkick Murphys singer Mike McColgan, bring their spirited punk-rock to the Brighton Music Hall for “Wreck the Halls” shows Friday through Sunday. And singer/songwriter Lori McKenna, who’s gone from Stoughton housewife to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, makes her annual pilgrimage to Club Passim with band shows on Saturday and solo shows on Sunday as a sweet aside from shopping. 

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Weekend Ideas

On the heels of Speedy Ortiz's huge Boston Music Awards showing, the next indie-rockers out of Northampton who are poised to bend ears in the new year would be And the Kids, plying Hannah Mohan's distinctive voice against shifty rhythms and quirky colorations at Great Scott on Friday. The Robert Glasper Trio hits Scullers Jazz Club both Friday and Saturday with the acclaimed pianist’s hip-hop-informed jazz with bassist Vincente Archer and drummer Damion Reid. And the Security Project (anchored by ex-Peter Gabriel drummer Jerry Marotta and King Crimson touch-guitar virtuoso Trey Gunn) continues an area swing to recast classic Gabriel material at Fall Rivers’ Narrows Center for the Arts on Friday and Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, N.H., on Sunday. Boston art-pop vocalist Casey Desmond opens both Security Project dates and lends a dynamic duet in Kate Bush mode.

Saturday brings married soul-folk duo Johnnyswim to Royale, as Abner Ramirez and Donna Summer’s daughter Amanda Sudaro share “A Johnnyswim Christmas” and other favorites. Here’s a Johnnyswim live clip and here’s a jump to my recent interview. Mother-son folk duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear share their charms at the Brighton Music Hall. And the weekend rounds out with a rare seasonal appearance by Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love (above), the vocal legend who helped forge Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, sang “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s late show for 30 years, and centered the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” Love will reign Sunday at Beverly’s historic Cabot Theatre with a full band and backup singers.


A First Look at TORUK - The First Flight

Cirque du Soleil gives James Cameron's Avatar the prequel treatment.


Before making its official world premiere in Montreal on Dec. 21, Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring production, TORUK – The First Flight, is coming to Worcester’s DCU Center for a preview on Dec. 11-13. Inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest-grossing film of all time, Cirque’s sprawling arena show is a departure for the Montreal-based circus.

“Generally, they do not hire puppeteers. Traditionally, they hire acrobats, dancers, singers... This was something very new for them,” says Joe Darke, a 26-year-old actor, choreographer and composer from London who cut his teeth as a puppeteer in the National Theatre’s UK and South African tours of War Horse (which itself spawned a popular 2011 film directed by Steven Spielberg).

Set two centuries before the events of Cameron’s 2009 film and focusing on Toruk, the red and orange dragon that rules the planet Pandora’s sky, the show utilizes Darke as part of a team that brings the mighty predator to life. “There are seven of us total, with six of us performing onstage,” Darke says. “It’s a big challenge, since we have to have one brain going between the seven of us.”

The titular dragon isn’t the only puppet in the production. Says Darke, “We also introduce lots of exciting new creatures on Pandora that people have never seen before,” including the Direhorse, the Austrapede, the Turtapede and a Viperwolf. “It’s a very impressive spectacle.”

Darke, who’s been acting since the age of 10, sees puppeteering as an extension of his craft. “This is just another acting challenge; you’re always acting with your body, and this is just an extension of that,” he says, noting that “there’s also some real teamwork involved to try to project what the puppets are thinking and feeling. There is this emotional space that we are trying to project through the puppets to make them really come alive. As an actor, this is what I do anyway—and I’ve been doing this for six or seven years now. I learned a lot on War Horse, but I’m learning quite a bit here on TORUK.”

Music is a big part of every Cirque du Soleil show, and TORUK is no different. The score is composed by Cirque veterans and musical directors Bob & Bill, aka Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard. Although the duo doesn’t use any of the late James Horner’s Oscar-nominated music from Avatar, Darke tells me that the score for TORUK “has a very cinematic quality that’s enhanced by live video. It really sounds incredible.”

It promises to look incredible, too, since that live video is just a part of the multimedia production’s immersive design that’s been conjured by innovative writers and directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon.

As in Cameron’s film, Pandora’s natural environments come alive onstage with lots of vivid colors. “We’ve got all sorts of phosphorescence involved in the paint and costumes on the Na’Vi characters and creatures, and with the video projection,” Darke confirms. “We really try and re-create the world of Pandora from the film, and we really tried to bring a lot of the movie’s emotion to the production. I think we nailed it.”

But does Cameron think so? The writer/director was consulted during the scripting phase, hashing out the story, which is set into motion when a natural catastrophe threatens to destroy the sacred Tree of Souls, but his active involvement ended there.

“He finally saw the show a couple of weeks ago,” Darke says, adding that the notoriously hard-to-please filmmaker was “very happy with it.”

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Speedy Ortiz win big at Boston Music Awards

Indie-rockers Speedy Ortiz (above) virtually swept the 2015 Boston Music Awards, taking home table-radio trophies for Artist of the Year, Album/EP of the Year (Foil Deer) and Song of the Year (“Raising the Skate”). Speedy also won for Best Charitable Effort for their work with Girls Rock Camp Foundation, coming to Wednesday’s ceremony from a Girls Rock benefit show at the Middle East.

Other multiple winners announced at the Sinclair -- voted Best Live Music Venue in a public online poll -- included Ruby Rose Fox (for Pop Artist and Female Vocalist) and the Ballroom Thieves, for both Americana and Folk Artist. The Boston Music Awards close out Thursday night with a public show featuring Hall of Fame winner Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, These Wild Plains and New Artist of the Year winner Palehound.

Here's a list of all the winners:

 2015 HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE / Evan Dando


ALBUM/EP OF THE YEAR / Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

SONG OF THE YEAR / Speedy Ortiz – “Raising The Skate”




HIP-HOP ARTIST OF THE YEAR / Michael Christmas




BLUES ARTIST OF THE YEAR / Barrence Whitfield & The Savages



FOLK ARTIST OF THE YEAR / The Ballroom Thieves









VIDEO OF THE YEAR / Petty Morals – “Just A Game”

BEST DANCE NIGHT / Soulelujah at Zuzu




BEST LOCAL PROMOTER / Bowery Presents Boston


BEST BRAND COLLABORATION / Dirty Bangs / Wrangler Television Spot

BEST CHARITABLE EFFORT / Speedy Ortiz / Girls Rock Camp Foundation

UNSUNG HERO AWARD / Chip Rives (former Boston Music Awards owner)


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Live Review: Miley Cyrus Freaks Out with Flaming Lips at House of Blues

The idea of pop provocateur Miley Cyrus teaming up with psych-rock pioneers the Flaming Lips for her surprise album Miley Cyrus & the Dead Petz and an eight-city tour that hit House of Blues on Sunday seemed like a path for the proud pothead to go all psychedelic on us. But while Cyrus expanded her risqué playground into a realm that welcomes weirdness, the show gave it a largely empty, mainstream spin. She didn’t exude psychedelia; she mostly used its vibrant, pulsing colors as an entertaining backdrop.

If the 23-year-old Cyrus has taken anything from the Flaming Lips, it’s how to throw a crazier party. Bedlam broke out as soon as the singer hit the House of Blues stage to throw down “Dooo It!” and “Love Money Party” (one of the two-hour show’s only songs not drawn from the Dead Petz album) amid a dense, dizzying blizzard of confetti and huge inflatable balls that engulfed the floor crowd. And the props extended to people, including a full-figured Amazon in a rainbow afro, white tights, and little in between but a dollar-sign necklace and pasties. Shades of Parliament-Funkadelic as well as the Lips’ encore-weight maximum mayhem from the start.

Of course Cyrus threw in nods to sex (from talking about body parts to donning fake boobs and a horn-like prosthetic penis) and drugs, even sharing a toke on a spliff with fans up front. But she addressed ecology in “I Sun,” singing “Can’t you see the Earth is crying?” and let her vocals soar in “The Floyd Song (Sunrise)” and “Something about Space Dude.” However, a succession of her low-budget costumes -- from a sun to a moon to a butter stick to a cereal bowl -- undercut the production with an air of a cheap school play, not a presumed joke.

In turn, when Cyrus took to a solo piano with a gigantic mirror ball on top to talk and sing about her sadly departed pet blowfish Pablow, the fact that she seemed more heartfelt than parody-minded made the whole thing a bit mawkish. Even in (musically) stripped-down guise, the song served just another form of overkill in a show that proved overlong and ultimately numbing to watch, based on both young and old faces in the soldout crowd. After a while, Cyrus’ ballads settled into dirge, as the Lips were stuck in a backing-band role where Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd, Michael Ivins and company focused on mood-defining, often keyboard-heavy grooves.

The confetti exploded again for a final pop-hit splash of “We Can’t Stop,” flashing back to Cyrus’ 2013 Bangerz album and breaking the Dead Petz spell just in time to call it a night. In her still-young career, Cyrus has swung from Hannah Montana to pop exhibitionist to psychedelia wannabe. What’s left for her to overexpose?

Miley Cyrus gets crazy at House of Blues with a crew including the Flaming Lips. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

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Weekend Ideas

As cozy Johnny D’s Uptown winds into its final months, the Davis Square landmark has become a favorite stop for Martha Davis and the Motels to share early ’80s hits like “Total Control,” “Only the Lonely” and “Suddenly Last Summer.” Last time through town, Davis and her crew helped mentor opener Ruby Rose Fox, and on Friday, they’re back with another great local pop opener, Eddie Japan, at Johnny D's.  At the Berklee Performance Center the same night, World Music/CRASHarts presents pioneering jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, centering a trio with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and electric bassist Matt Garrison, whose fathers both played in the John Coltrane Quartet. Here’s a live clip of the band and here’s a jump to my recent interview with DeJohnette.

Also on Friday, Colorado-based “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” jammers Leftover Salmon – who formed in 1989 – still kick it at the Paradise Rock Club, and the best of punk evolutionists old and new also surface on Friday. HR, who mixed hardcore punk and reggae as singer of the legendary Bad Brains, play Union Square’s new club Thunder Road. And New York’s combustible indie-rockers Parquet Courts fire up the Middle East Downstairs behind new EP Monastic Living, which downshifts into new terrain as noisy experimentalists, or -- as Spin Magazine, which named them 2014’s Band of the Year, puts it in a new review -- “avant Krautrockers.”

Sunday presents two eccentric pop personalities at different ends of the spectrum. Miley Cyrus gets risqué (she’s good at that) and psychedelic with Wayne Coyne and his Flaming Lips comrades in her Dead Petz band at House of Blues. And orchestral harp-playing siren Joanna Newsom (above) starts her first American tour in four years in another World Music/CRASHarts show at the Orpheum Theatre. Her acclaimed new album Divers may be more controlled than psychedelic, but it’s rich in literate layers and musical mysteries.

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Stage Review: Boston Ballet's Nutcracker Tinkers and Twinkles with Youthful Joy

One can usually count on Boston Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker for a number of things: Elaborate, shifting sets. Full-size toys topped by a frisky, leaping bear. A beaming Clara (played on Friday’s opening night with childish wonder by Delia Wada-Gill), who falls asleep on Christmas Eve to a dream-like adventure.

Audiences share that adventure in Boston Ballet’s premier version of the holiday classic, which keeps the Opera House busy with performances through New Year’s Eve. Yet even since the company revamped The Nutcracker in 2012 with new sets and costuming by Robert Perdziola, one can also count on little things being tweaked each year, via Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen’s choreography or individual dancers’ personal touches. On Friday, the party scene featured graceful dancing by performers both old and young (more than 200 Boston Ballet School students have parts) and this year’s production particularly favors streamlined strokes to engage the kids.

Mice froze in playful poses as they popped into view, one sticking out his rear end. And the battle scene was less menacing than in past  versions, with the Mouse King taking an obvious turn in his death dance to reveal that the Nutcracker’s sword was merely stuck under his arm. And the sets literally had a fresh glow thanks to award-winning Finnish lighting designer Mikki Kunttu, including a birch forest where the snowflakes even sparkled like fireflies, although there was so much magic snow on Friday that it started to obscure the dancers.

This year’s Nutcracker actually slides by rather effortlessly in about two hours (including intermission), quickly moving to the second act where the major dances take place, usually to the delight of adults more than children. Those dances in the Nutcracker Prince's Kingdom include some ethnically stereotyped characters – and recurring veterans on Friday in the muscular Petra Conti (with the thin, supple Sabi Varga as his standout Arabian partner) and Isaac Akiba centering the Russian dancers with extra air in his straddle splits. Marcus Romeo also played a flirtatious Mother Ginger with a fierce sway under the cabin-size dress that yields her mischievous children.

Lia Cirio tempered her usual wattage in a more ensemble-based part as Dew Drop in “Waltz of the Flowers” on Friday, and Misa Kuranaga swept through arcing pirouettes as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Grand Pas de Deux with Paulo Arrais as a solid Nutcracker Prince. And under it all, the Boston Ballet Orchestra provided a typically rich rendition of the Tchaikovsky score under the baton of Jonathan McPhee, who’s preparing to step down from his conductor’s role after 27 years. If this is indeed McPhee’s final Nutcracker run, it’s another reason to bask in a proven favorite -- and one that's ever-evolving with little details and delights.

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Weekend Ideas

Surviving members of the Grateful Dead have been busy this year regrouping for some big concerts, but there’re not the only ones swimming in that repertoire. Drummer Joe Russo, who played in Furthur with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, drives one of the most improvisational outfits in Almost Dead with fellow aces such as keyboardist Marco Benevento and guitarist Tom Hamilton. And Joe Russo’s Almost Dead will be shaking off the turkey dinner at the Paradise Rock Club both Friday and Saturday, with different sets each night. Meanwhile, on Friday at the Lizard Lounge, bassist Mike Rivard welcomes back guitarist Reeves Gabrels – the former David Bowie virtuoso who’s gracing the Cure these days – to join a Club d’elf crew that includes keyboardist Paul Schultheis, turntablist Mister Rourke and drummer Dean Johnson.

Arturo Sandoval has seemingly done it all. The Cuban-born trumpeter has won 10 Grammy Awards as well as an Emmy and had Andy Garcia play him in a biographic movie for HBO. In 2013, President Obama tapped Sandoval for the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- and the 66-year-old trumpeter keeps busy, playing Friday through Sunday at Scullers Jazz Club. Also on Saturday, singer Ed Kowalczyk hits the Brighton Music Hall to satiate fans of his ’90s alt-rock band Live. And up at Beverly’s Cabot Theatre that same night, soul shouter Barrence Whitfield (above) leads his Grits & Groceries Orchestra in the rocking second annual Funk Fest sponsored by the Salem Jazz & Soul Festival, with Henley Douglas (ex-Heavy Metal Horns) and Qwill rounding out the bill.

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Live Review: My Morning Jacket Masters Broad Zone at the Orpheum

You never know exactly what you’ll get from My Morning Jacket in concert. But under the right conditions, such as Saturday’s finale to a two-night stand at the cozy Orpheum Theatre, the Kentucky-born band wallops as a cross-genre monster.

MMJ can wear what it wants -- and wear it well, shifting from folk-rock to prog-rock to jam-rock to funk-soul, and manage to appeal to both headbangers and rave kids in the process. And the smoothly schizophrenic band has been changing it up from night to night. Friday’s set drew heavily from MMJ’s recent The Waterfall (much like at Boston Calling and the Newport Folk Festival) as well as the band’s alt-country-shaded first two albums and 2005’s spacier Z. Yet Saturday’s completely different two-hour show dug deeper into another side of the weird and wooly, as the rockers split a dozen songs from 2008’s funkier Evil Urges and 2003’s classic It Still Moves.

Jim James remains a curious frontman, playing the mysterious shaman in his ever-present shades, a getup that can seem as pretentious if the quintet’s not clicking but another entertaining facet when MMJ’s in the zone as it was on Saturday. The black-cloaked James reminded a bit of Bono even before he wandered the stage edge to touch fingertips with fans or broke his silence to dedicate all of the night’s music to “peace, love and unity” -- a seeming response to the Paris attack on a similar hall. And the band's colorful wash of backlighting illuminated the Orpheum's inner decor and included fans in the experience rather than simply blind and isolate them. 

James also donned electric guitars to lurch into Crazy Horse-like riffs with six-string foil Carl Broemel and bassist Tom Blakenship on the otherwise loopy “Off the Record” and a later snippet of “Run Thru,” where the howling guitars hung in dynamic catharsis. It’s rare to catch a band that can seamlessly evoke a band as heavy as Soundgarden (witness MMJ's recently resurrected “Remnants”) only to get slinky like Prince, riding a pseudo-disco groove in “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 2.” Bo Koster harmonized with electronic keyboard textures throughout and drummer Patrick Hallahan pounded it all home. James even drew from his recent solo work to build “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” into a Beck-like jam that he capped with a screaming cluster of guitar notes.

At the other end of the spectrum, James donned an acoustic guitar to lead the group in the Laurel Canyon-styled haze of the new “Like a River” and follow-up nugget “Golden,” where Broemel imitated vocal harmonies on pedal steel over Hallahan's brush-spun shuffle. Yet the encores wound to a climactic punchline: James’ voice raised in affirmation over the stomping, anthemic release of “One Big Holiday.” For Bostonian fans who had to settle for recent festival visits, My Morning Jacket gave them that size holiday for a weekend.

 Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Wynton Marsalis floats "A Love Supreme" with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Photo by Frank Stewart.


An advance taste of Lake Street Dive’s next album, Side Pony, due in February on major imprint Nonesuch, suggests the ex-New England Conservatory friends are ready to go down smooth with more modern production for their jazzy soul-pop. But the foursome fronted by singer Rachael Price returned to its roots this week and follows two shows at Club Passim with one Friday at the Lizard Lounge, where Lake Street Dive cut its teeth like this in many a residency. This Memory Lane Tour’s a sold-out warmup for a March 23 date at House of Blues.

Another Boston-born outfit, Kingsley Flood promises a blend of charismatic, Clash-like rock and spry Americana in its return to the Sinclair on Friday, standing up for The Good Fight, its third in a series of notable recent EPs. Jazz fans keep busy too. The same night, Wayne Shorter's all-star backup of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade fly on their own as Children of the Light at Sanders Theatre with 12-year-old piano phenom Joey Alexander opening, while spirited Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza fronts a quintet that includes guitarist Lionel Loueke and harp virtuoso Gregoire Maret at the Regattabar. And on both Friday and Saturday, Scullers Jazz Club hosts sax great David Sanborn, who’s graced countless albums with his smooth yet pungent tones as a session musician (that's his sax you hear on David Bowie's "Young Americans"). It’s also action time for electro-pop sirens at the Paradise Rock Club with Grimes on Friday and Lights on Saturday.

But the weekend’s biggest shows come Friday and Saturday with My Morning Jacket slipping into the Orpheum Theatre for two shows expected to sport deeply different setlists based on the Kentucky-bred band’s current tour. My Morning Jacket was fabulous this past summer at the Newport Folk Festival, where they backed Pink Floyd icon Roger Waters, yet the group seemed a bit off its game when it rocked Boston Calling in May. However, the Orpheum's more cozy atmosphere and acoustics should perfectly fit the jammy, soaring threads of orchestral folk-rock and space-prog that the clarion-voiced Jim James' crew conjures behind recent album The Waterfall.  

Sunday’s a whole other experience when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a big-band arrangement of John Coltrane’s landmark suite A Love Supreme in a 5 p.m. Celebrity Series show at Symphony Hall. And singer/guitarist Christian McNeil resurrects a version of his excellent former rock band Hybrasil with J. Geils Band drummer Tom Arey and guests stepping forward in a benefit for drummer Jeff Berlin (who has suffered a series of strokes) at in the back room of Somerville Irish bar the Burren. Also on that Sunday evening bill are Vapors of Morphine, Club d'Elf (with Duke Levine), Jimmy Ryan and Bow Thayer.

Sound Ideas

Boston Music Awards Announce 2015 Performers

Lots of familiar folks are lined up to perform at the 2015 Boston Music Awards, which will be held at the Sinclair for two nights next month.

The event will kick off Dec. 9 with an invite-only bash that includes performances by Dirty Bangs, Dutch ReBelle, Nemes, Oh Malo, Ruby Rose Fox, Tigerman WOAH and Vundabar (all of whom were featured in the Improper music issue either this year or last) as well as our Boston’s Best winner Will Dailey, Louie Bello, Party Bois, Radclyffe Hall, Soul-le-lu-jah, Worshipper and DJ Frank White.

The Dec. 10 show will be open to the public and honor this year’s Hall of Fame inductee Evan Dando (from the Lemonheads), who will perform along with These Wild Plains and special guests. Plus they’ll be a set by the winner of the Best New Artist award, who might be Palehound – otherwise, either Oh Malo, Party Bois, Vundabar or Worshipper land the chance to perform both nights!

Longtime Boston Music Awards owner Chip Reeves has also handed the reins to new owners Jake Brennan of Thunders 8 Watts and Paul Armstrong of Redefined.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

How fitting for Friday the 13th: John Zorn should be on hand at the Institute of Contemporary Art to introduce Simulacrum, an extreme organ trio that features John Medeski, guitarist Matt Hollenbeck and drummer Kenny Grohwoski, tackling Zorn’s style-bending compositions like a jazz fusion band gone a bit metal/mental. And then, just maybe, Medeski could wander over to the Lizard Lounge and sit in with his friends in Club d'Elf.

Also on Friday, wily Texas roots-rocker Shakey Graves (above) completes a two-night stand at Royale, while Connecticut singer-songwriter Stephen Kellogg bridges indie-rock, pop and Americana at the Sinclair behind his new album South, West, North, East, recorded around the country to try to reflect different regional vibes. Boston’s underappreciated orchestral indie-rockers Hallelujah the Hills celebrate their 10th anniversary on Friday at Cuisine en Locale’s ONCE Ballroom, followed there on Saturday by hard-rocking 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble winners the Goddamn Draculas.

Fans of ’70s prog-rock may find the AndersonPonty Band – the union of fusion violinist Jean Luc Ponty (plus his old bandmates) and founding Yes vocalist Jon Anderson -- worth catching at the Berklee Peformance Center on Saturday. And West Coast soul-blues veteran Boz Scaggs shuffles to Lynn Memorial Auditorium the same night to prove he’s still got the chops after his own 40-plus-year career. On Sunday, EL VY -- a partnership between the National's Matt Berninger and producer Brent Knopf -- hits the Sinclair. And Art Garfunkel – honing his voice back into touring shape and likely dropping zingers at Paul Simon’s expense – holds court at the Wilbur Theatre. 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: John Mayer Helps Dead & Company Rise in Worcester

John Mayer aligns with the Dead's Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


Did you hear the one about John Mayer playing with the Grateful Dead gang? It’s no joke – particularly in light of the jam-iced envelopment of Dead & Company’s assured Tuesday show at Worcester’s sold-out DCU Center.

When all four survivors of the Grateful Dead regrouped to mark the band’s 50th anniversary with Fare Thee Well concerts in Chicago this past July, the choice of Phish’s Trey Anastasio to tackle the high-pressure Jerry Garcia role seemed smart in terms of both the music and marketing. After all, Phish was the jam-band that took the Dead aesthetic to new heights of popularity and improvisational aplomb.

But beyond Chicago’s farewell assemblage, when guitarist/singer Bob Weir and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart decided to take the show on the road without tour-wary bassist Phil Lesh, many fans shuddered at the news that pop dilettante John Mayer would succeed Anastasio in that fraught lead-guitar spot.

Of course, somewhere between singing “Your Body is a Wonderland” and dating Katy Perry, Mayer dug into gritty blues playing with Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton. And low and behold, the Berklee-schooled guy did his homework and fits right in with the so-called Dead & Company. Not only does he nail the guitar tone and phrasing to cover those Garcia parts, but Mayer’s a more solid lead singer than Weir or Anastasio or especially Lesh, so the new band can roll through the songbook without technical glitches.

Also, whether it’s a matter of more rehearsal or chemistry, Dead & Company proved more crisp and confident in Worcester than the uneven Fare Thee Well crew, with Hart stepping up to balance the double-drums tandem.

After Mayer went toe-to-toe with Weir on a spiraling “Cassidy” opener, however, Tuesday’s first set slid into a dull run of down-tempo tunes. Mayer stirred “Row Jimmy” with his slow blues licks, but didn’t need a chicken-neck head bop to kick into “Ramble On Rose,” and after a slightly peppier “Big River,” the set dipped further with “Peggy-O” before Mayer hit the stock throttle to build “Sugaree.”

But like many a Dead (or Phish) concert, a song-based first set usually leads to a more inspired, segue-heavy second set. And Tuesday’s proved the saving grace, with Mayer soon morphing into an elastic string of “Uncle John’s Band,” “Estimated Prophet” and a sublime “Terrapin Station” capped by percussive crescendos.

Yet it was bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks Band) who emerged as Dead & Company’s secret weapon, holding down Lesh’s spot while Fare Thee Well carryover Jeff Chimenti covered the keyboards. Burbridge’s percolating notes jazzed up the band’s interplay of spidery string work, and he animated the reggae-tinged “Estimated Prophet” when he pointed and laughed at a man in the far balcony who was costumed as a stick figure in glow sticks. While Mayer and Weir traded lead vocals, Oteil also sang high harmonies. And during the drummers’ Rhythm Devils spotlight, the bassist dealt the night’s biggest surprise, taking a turn behind Kruetzmann’s kit to power a jamtronica-flavored jam while the percussionists pounded kettle-sized drums.

Dead shows could peter out post-drums, but that didn't happen Tuesday, thanks to a pair of perfect covers that were part of the Jerry Garcia Band’s repertoire. A brief space jam (where Mayer showed that he can noodle with the best of them) drifted into the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” done proud by Weir on lead vocals before Mayer sang the groovy boogie “Get Out of My Life, Woman” in apparent honor of its New Orleans author Allen Toussaint, who just died on tour in Spain at age 77. From there, a chugging “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and the celebratory encore “Ripple” (with Mayer on acoustic) sent the grateful crowd home after three-plus hours.

Other bands are out recreating and recasting the Dead catalog, including the Dark Star Orchestra (which plays House of Blues on Nov. 18) and Further drummer Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, which plays the Paradise Rock Club on Nov. 27-28. But with John Mayer acting like a pro who could handle the demands of any tribute band, Dead & Company quickly and effectively have that covered at the arena level, the only group that still boasts three actual members from the Grateful Dead.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It's a relatively slow and rather warm weekend to kick off November, but not without a few enticing shows. STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9) unleashes its trance-y, percussive grooves at House of Blues on Friday, while the multi-instrumentalists of Colorado's Elephant Revival take over the Sinclair the same night with their gypsy-flavored Americana, which incorporates everything from fiddle and banjo to djembe and washboard.

On Saturday, gospel legend Mavis Staples gets into the spirit with disciple Joan Osborne when the Celebrity Series presents Solid Soul at the Berklee Performance Center. Here’s a jump to my recent interviews with both Staples and Osborne. Beirut, the brainchild of Santa Fe singer/flugelhornist Zach Condon, delivers its Balkan-influenced twist on orchestral indie-rock in two Boston shows, appearing both on Saturday at House of Blues and Sunday at the Paradise Rock Club. And on Sunday, earthy, beguiling singer Natalie Prass (above), who recorded her self-titled debut with country-soul studio wiz Matthew E. White, hits the Sinclair.

Sound Ideas

Lake Street Dive to Revisit Cozy Origins

It’s been a breakthrough couple of years for Lake Street Dive, as the jazz-soul quartet formed at New England Conservatory flew to national recognition and recently signed to Nonesuch Records to make its next album, due in early 2016.

Now the group -- comprised of lead singer Rachael Price, trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Callabrese – is going back to where it all began, the folky dives of Cambridge for its Memory Lane Tour.

Announced today, the tour will get started at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall and Northampton’s Parlor Room before landing Nov. 18-19 at Club Passim and Nov. 20 at the Lizard Lounge, where Lake Street Dive honed its chops in cozy residencies. Tickets for all of those shows go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m., and part of the proceeds will benefit Oxfam America’s Syrian refugee program.

“We’re coming back to some of our fave small venues on the East Coast so we can play for you right in your face, up close and personal!” Lake Street Dive said in a statement. “The number of fans coming to our shows has skyrocketed and we are SO GRATEFUL for that, but we are also, forever and always, a ‘dive bar’ band, and it’s important for us to get back into these intimate venues from time to time and remember how good it feels!”

This is apparently one of those times, and tickets will surely vanish very quickly.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Grace Potter Stretches Out at Orpheum

Some old fans of Grace Potter cringed this year when she released Midnight, an album that not only shed her of longtime, blues-infused band the Nocturnals but delved into full-on, disco-fied pop. Yet the supposed Vermont hippie chick always made it clear that she grew up loving the Pointer Sisters and wanted to try different, more commercial fare. She signed to Disney’s Hollywood Records and sang with country-pop star Kenny Chesney. 

So how did this all shake out at Friday’s first of two shows at the Orpheum Theater, where Potter told the three-quarters-full crowd that she'd attended concerts there in her youth and dreamed of being on that stage? It was a mixed bag of growing pains while showing the singer as an ever-fearless, inspired performer on the move.

Potter, 32, strove to marry her past and present grooves. Nocturnals favorites like a streamlined “Oh, Mary,” rock rave-up “Stop the Bus” and the brash “Medicine” (where she threw aside her high-heeled boots for a “dance party”) fit next to the disco beats of the funky “Met Your Girl” and “Delirious,” topped by her spacey howls.  

The main problem, especially early on, was a new seven-piece band that added a second percussionist and third guitarist (Potter still rocked her electric Flying V as well as an acoustic guitar) but muddied up both sound and style, making it seem like the hyperactive singer was trying too hard to have it all. This proved especially true in the contrast when Potter cut to a duet of “Low Road” with Nocturnals guitarist Benny Yurco that reached a gospel-tinged vocal peak. Likewise, the singer turned up her guitar for a scorched-earth blast of “Nothing but the Water” backed only by drummer Matt Musty (capably subbing for her husband Matt Barr) as Potter lit into jaw-dropping screams within a flashy, criss-crossing spray of lights.

The sound mix seemed clearer when the full band returned, from the rousing new “Instigators” to a “Paris (Ooh La La)” finale that expanded on its usual full-band percussion breakdown where Potter whacked the bass drum. She remains the powerful center of a style-churning storm, even if she’s a self-defined work in progress.

Extra credit to Potter for giving well-deserved props to opener Charles Bradley, the 66-year-old Screaming Eagle of Soul who fronted his more subtle soul revue the Extraordinaires. Bradley’s raspy vocals exuded the feeling and experience of a man who survived years of scrapping by -- as a James Brown impersonator -- and even the shooting death of his brother, only to embrace a second life as a bonafide artist who knows the power of love. 

Charles Bradley projects hard-won soul and love in his songs at the Orpheum. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Nikki Lane brings her smart outlaw brand of country to the Sinclair on Sunday. Photo by Glynis Carpenter.


Halloween weekend scares up some great shows, whether or not they particularly fit the costume-y holiday. Vermont-born rocker Grace Potter, who sang "Gimme Shelter" with the Rolling Stones in Minneapolis this year, channels her inner pop star in support of her non-Nocturnals album Midnight at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday and Saturday. Better yet, Potter brings dynamic, heartfelt R&B survivor Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires along to kicks things off. On the more psychedelic side, if you’re not indulging in Boston’s jazz/dub/world collective Club d’elf’s Halloween-themed Friday show at the Lizard Lounge, you might absorb the electronic ambience of Youth Lagoon -- the chamber-pop project of Trevor Powers -- that night at the Paradise Rock Club.

Guitar fans might need to rock on Halloween as Saturday boasts two temptations. An underrated singer with a gritty bite on guitar, Gary Clark Jr. takes Texas blues-rock in an eclectic, soulful direction at House of Blues. And fusion guitarist Al Di Meola toasts his 1977 breakthrough solo album Elegant Gypsy (and more) at the Berklee Performance Center with a typically sharp band that lets violin find Evan Garr go toe-to-toe with Di Meola. And Atwood's Tavern taps the holiday spirit with Vapors of Morphine hosting a vintage "Sesame Street" Halloween.

Flamboyant British hard-rockers the Darkness (led by high-voiced Justin Hawkins and boasting new drummer Rufus Taylor, son of Queen drummer Roger) arrives a day late for Halloween with a Sunday concert at House of Blues. And South Carolina-bred country singer Nikki Lane, whose All or Nothin' was one of last year's best albums, graces the Sinclair on Sunday. And ahead to Monday, Chicago band the Orwells (fronted by rough-and-tumble Mario Cuomo) headline a Converse Rubber Tracks show at the Sinclair with compatible locals Nice Guys.

Off The Bench

Celtics Season Preview

Marcus Smart is poised for a breakthrough season. (Photo by Boston Celtics)

The Celtics tip off their season tonight, and visions of 50-win seasons are dancing in the heads of many prognosticators. Here are 10 things to keep in mind before tonight’s game against Philadelphia.

1. While Plan A (Kevin Love) or Plan B (Boogie Cousins) has hardly ever panned out in the roster-building phase of this rebuild, general manager Danny Ainge hit on his Plan A with the coach. Brad Stevens has delivered as much as could have been expected in his first two seasons, and all the optimism surrounding this year stems from knowing Stevens will be moving the chess pieces around. If Randy Wittman were coaching this same roster, this team would be favored to miss the playoffs. Instead, home-court advantage in the first round is a realistic goal.

2. Celtics fans that are dying for a top-3 pick (when will they ever learn?) won’t have to begrudge the current team’s success. The Brooklyn Nets will not be good this year, and the Celtics own their unprotected pick. So all those pro-tank fans can get their jollies off by watching the Nets lose. There’s a decent chance the Celtics will also get Dallas’ first-round pick (Top 7 protected) and an unlikely chance they’ll get Minnesota’s (Top 12 protected). So, you know who to root for/against all season.

3. This team is so deep that it’s a bit frustrating, which is why you hear fans concocting trade scenarios for James Young, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger. But be patient. In an 82-game season, that depth is advantageous. Not only will one guard get hurt, but two or even three will be sidelined at the same point this season. Same for the big men. It’s nice when you can go from your 7th guy to your 12th guy and not expect a drop in quality. The ability to rest guys along the way will help come March and April.

4. As opposed to the past two seasons, when Ainge was just collecting straight assets regardless of the on-court fit, a lot of the current players complement each other well on the court. The primary three guards—Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart—all fit together when two of them are on the floor together. Bradley and Thomas can stretch the floor; Smart and Bradley are great on defense; and Smart and Thomas can penetrate off the dribble. Any combination of the two on the floor together should be a positive.

5. The same positive groupings hold for the big men. David Lee complements Tyler Zeller, and both complement Amir Johnson, who complements Kelly Olynyk, who complements Zeller. And on and on…

6. The one player who complements everyone? Jae Crowder. The 25-year-old re-signed with the Celtics this offseason (for a soon-to-be-a-bargain $7 million per year) and will be a part of many funky positional groupings this season. Sure, a lot of attention has been paid to the NBA revolution of small ball, and the Celtics have shown they can adapt to that by putting Crowder at power forward. But how about going the other way? The Celtics can wreck havoc defensively with their length and spread the floor offensively with a lineup of Smart-Crowder-Jonas Jerebko-Olynyk-Johnson.

7. Let’s talk about the rookies. On the court, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and R.J. Hunter have all shown flashes of promise, which is common for all rookies. If they didn’t have flashes of promise, they wouldn’t have gotten drafted. Now comes the hard part. Can they break into a regular rotation that is full of proven veterans? And once in the rotation, can they improve and remain a consistent contributor? If Rozier or Hunter is able to do that, consider it a successful year. They both seem to have skills that will translate right away: Hunter’s shooting and Rozier’s defense. That should be enough to get them some court time during the season, and then it’s up to them to show they can be two-way players.

8. Speaking of newcomers, Lee and Johnson are the veteran newbies who can both shore up the frontcourt, which was the team’s biggest problem last season. Neither are any great shakes as rebounders, but both excel in the pick and roll, which is a key for partnering with Smart and Thomas. Johnson’s other major strength is his defense, which will give Boston much-needed interior defense (although Tyler Zeller’s advanced stats show he’s not bad in this area).

9. There’s a lot of guys with something to prove for the Celtics this season—a point we so artfully made earlier this month. But the player whose development is most important is Marcus Smart. Players, scouts and advanced stats are nearly unanimous that he has the highest ceiling on Boston right now. His defense will keep him a starter, but his offense could make him an All-Star franchise player. If he stays healthy and continues the progress he’s made on offense since being drafted, he’ll make a sophomore leap. All the hopes of the past few years will have been satisfied without any lottery luck, any major trade and any big free-agent coup.

10. That’s not to say those above possibilities won’t be available. In every Celtics’ fan’s dream, Boston will go into this offseason as a 50-win team that made the second round of the playoffs, has a Top 3 pick (from Brooklyn) and another pick in the lottery (Dallas). Oh, and nearly $50 million in cap space. The future is certainly bright in Boston. But before that time, there’s 82 games—and perhaps some extra ones come spring.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Halsey Bonds, Vintage Trouble Burns

“Next time I come to Boston, I’ll be playing in an arena,” Halsey told the camera-phone sea of fervent fans at her sold-out Saturday show at House of Blues. And if the New Jersey pop singer’s comment seemed a bit cocky, it was also matter-of-fact on the heels of a just-announced 2016 date for New York’s Madison Square Garden, as the 21-year-old upstart marveled at her fortune – and connection with fans.

“I don’t know why you picked me, but thank you very much,” Halsey (real name Ashley Frangipane) told the throngs of tween and teen girls who proceeded on cue to carry an entire verse of her breakthrough single “Ghost” as the lights came up. That mid-set exchange offered a more extroverted boost that Halsey -- who possesses an effective but not especially dynamic voice -- will need if she’s going to conquer big arenas behind her quickly hot debut Badlands. The black-clad singer spent the first half of her hour-long set building a mystery, stalking the stage in dim, oblique lighting, though she clearly connected with her fans, who sang along from the first lines of opener “Gasoline,” piping back “Are you insane like me? Been in pain like me?”

That bond served her well. Halsey’s dark, ethereal electro-pop songs -- backed by a keyboardist and drummer -- began to blur over the set, though the lights grew brighter and she grew engaging, stripping back her shroud to strike dramatic poses on stage-edge risers. A few other songs stood out both lyrically and melodically, namely “Hold Me Down,” “Roman Holiday” and the more anthemic “New Americana,” which closed with a blast of confetti as she sang, “We are the new Americana, high on legal marijuana, raised on Biggie and Nirvana” -- though it’s unlikely that many in the crowd were raised on Biggie and Nirvana or old enough to smoke weed.

But the devotion of Halsey’s fans (girls up front gained their spots by lining up outside at 7 a.m., leaving sidewalk debris in their wake) could prove to be the overnight sensation’s saving grace in projecting to larger audiences.

Across town on Saturday -- and across a totally different style and demographic – another new major-label act proved more arena-ready. Vintage Trouble has built a fearsome reputation on club stages over the past few years and just opened for AC/DC in stadiums, but the So-Cal rockers turned a sold-out Brighton Music Hall into an intimate powder keg. The seasoned quartet riffed on both R&B showbands and classic rock, as guitarist Nalle Colt teased bluesy Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin licks within Vintage Trouble's seamless, smoking tunes.

Vintage Trouble's Nalle Colt and Ty Taylor rock the Brighton Music Hall. Photos by Paul Robicheau.

But the real star of the show was James Brown-esque frontman Ty Taylor, who spun in place like a cyclone, only to grab the mic or drop into a leg split. He crooned, he screamed, and during a locomotive “Run Like the River,” he waded across the packed floor, climbed atop the bar, got everyone to raise their hands, then crowd-surfed back to the stage. Vintage Trouble ranks as one of today’s most dynamic live rock acts -- certainly one not to miss the next time the band storms into town, likely on a larger stage as well.

Improper Now

A Room of Her Own

A Q&A with "Room" author and screenwriter Emma Donoghue

Dublin-born novelist Emma Donoghue recently passed through Boston on a promotional stop for director Lenny Abrahamson’s exceptionally powerful film, Room. Donoghue did a wonderful job adapting the screenplay from her own novel, and she was blessed to have two tremendously talented actors bring her characters to life: 26-year-old Brie Larson as Ma and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay as her son, Jack. Both are expected to be in Oscar contention for their tear-inducing performances; if so, Tremblay will tie with Jackie Cooper (who was also 9 when he starred in 1931’s Skippy) as the youngest actor to be nominated for an Academy Award. During my chat with Donoghue at the Eliot Hotel, we discussed what inspired her to write about a 5-year-old boy who’s spent his entire life locked in a windowless room with his loving mom, the difficulties of translating a book to the screen and how she values intelligent people—including our local populace.

BRETT MICHEL: You have two children of your own?

EMMA DONOGHUE: Yes, they’re 8 and 11. The 11-year-old inspired Room when he was 4 and a half. I mean, just the fact that I had a child that young around. I followed him around and studied him.

BM: Presumably, you didn’t lock him in any rooms?

ED: No, but I did roll him up in a rug. When I was writing the novel I wanted to test out the scene when the child is rolled up in a rug, so I bribed my son to do it—and it’s really hard to get out of the rug! So, I had to rewrite the scene.

BM: How close did the film come to how you’d envisioned it when you wrote it as a novel?

ED: It’s hard to remember how I thought of the book before the film—the visual images in the film are so memorable, they sort of supplant everything. I certainly never had a detailed idea of what the characters looked like. I didn’t so much care what they looked like; I cared what they felt like.

BM: Well, considering the 5-year-old voice you employed as the book’s narrator, that that makes sense.

ED: Exactly! A 5-year-old doesn’t exactly care what his mother looks like. Or, for instance, the way he describes the room—when I stepped into the set the first day, I thought to myself, “Oh, how small and how ugly this is!” because the camera is way more objective.

BM: It’s incredibly rare that an author is able to adapt their own book. Did you write the script on your own and then shop it to a producers?

ED: I did! I knew that was an odd way to proceed, but I wanted to be able to say, “Look, here's my script. Can we work together? Do we have the same vision of it?” I didn’t want to try to make them hire me without credentials, so it just seemed more honest to say, “Here’s the script.” So yeah, I wrote it after selling the novel, but before publication.

BM: You’re from Ireland but live in Canada—and although the movie is set in the US, the film was also produced in Canada. Did it shoot very far from where you live?

ED: Yes, they shot in Toronto! Until quite late, they weren’t sure where they would film, and they said, “Oh, it might be Spokane, Washington,” and I thought, “Oh, I can’t leave my kids that often!” So, I thought I’d only get to set once, you know? But, when they settled on Toronto, I was so happy, because I got to go up about once a week. I got to sample all the locations, for instance, and see a little bit of how they do a scene with a speeding truck, and how they do scenes in the wardrobe, and I sort of interviewed everybody about what their jobs were—because it’s a new world to me!

BM: How did Lenny Abrahamson become involved?

ED: He wrote me this extraordinary letter! He’d read the book and he thought, “Oh, I’ll never get this,” because it’s a big bestseller and, it’s funny, he had this idea that I—as an Irish person who had made good North America—would despise the idea of working with an Irish company. In fact, I wasn’t specifically looking for an Irish company, because the film is set in America, but I was open to genius wherever it came from—and his letter just blew me away. It was so smart, just thoroughly intelligent and passionate and eloquent; he saw right through the crime story to the much more universal story that I was trying to tell. He was personally passionate, as well, because he’s got two small kids, so he was writing as a father who is fascinated by his children. He was just bringing all his intellect and warmth to it, and he had a great confidence about how he would film it. Lenny could already see it in his mind, so he wasn’t approaching it like, “Oh, you’ve got a lot of problems that I need to fix.” It was more like, “Ooh, how do we take this novel—which works this kind of magic trick with the child’s perspective—and how do we do that in cinema?” Really, he was approaching it very similarly to how I had approached it in my script, so it was like puzzle pieces clicking together.

BM: Was it tough fitting those pieces together when adapting your book into the screenplay?

ED: It’s funny. Everybody would have assumed that the first half was difficult because you’re in the room, but I sort of trusted that the camerawork would be smart enough to keep that interesting and varied. So, story-wise, the difficult part is in the second half. In fact, there’s one sequence that Lenny got me to rewrite over and over again. I had to do a lot of carving away. They filmed an entire scene in a shopping mall and ended up cutting it out—and there was quite a long sequence in the police station, and that got dropped before filming. So, there was a lot of shedding of layers of the onion. But it certainly didn’t feel like “Oh, this is an impossible book to adapt!” In many ways, the camera can show you a child’s perspective on the world beautifully. And so there are those moments when the camera tilts up at the skylight or something, and you think, “Oh yeah, this is just how the child is seeing it!”

BM: What was your reaction when you finally saw the completed film?

ED: I saw rough cut of the whole thing last March, when I saw it with the people from A24 [the film’s distribution company]. Afterward, one of them said, “Well, how did you like it?” and I burst into tears. And then I suddenly thought, “Oh no, he’s going to think I’m distressed because I hated it!” So I was like, “Good tears, good tears!”

BM: And audience response has clearly been very positive.

ED: I’ve been amazed! I thought people would like it, but I didn’t realize it would be taken quite so seriously—it’s an overwhelming experience. And you know, I’ve not had a stupid question from anyone in Boston so far… I hate to generalize about cities, but the standard of smart here is very high.

BM: I can be remarkably stupid during the day, I can assure you! I come alive at night, when most people are fast asleep.

ED: Well, I appreciate that you crawled out of your coffin for this!

BM: Well, kudos to you. You wrote a wonderful book, and penned an exceptional film!

ED: Thank you! This was lovely! Next time, we’ll do the interview at midnight!

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The Bad Plus do smart addition with Joshua Redman at Berklee. Photo courtesy of World Music/CRASHarts.


If you want to see a live Beatle these days, you can either see Sir Paul ply the hits in a stadium setting or watch Ringo Starr take a more modest, fun approach at a more intimate hall like the Citi Wang Theatre, where the drummer/singer plays  Friday. Besides his Beatles favorites, you’ll get a complementary catalog sampling from his All-Starr Band members, including the wondrous Todd Rundgren, Toto’s Steve Lukather and early Santana’s Gregg Rolie. Also on Friday, Beverly-born post-rock heroes Caspian pack in the faithful at the Sinclair, while sexually frank electro-clash performer Peaches brings her latest show to the Paradise Rock Club.

The next-big-thing at age 21, (she just announced a headlining date at Madison Square Garden for next year), electro-pop singer Halsey strikes a balance between the spunk of Miley Cyrus and the brooding of Sinead O’Connor for a loving horde at House of Blues on Saturday. The same night, the David Wax Museum gives its Mexican-inspired folk more of an indie-pop snap at the Sinclair, Canadian singer/harpist Loreena McKennitt’s trio shares her Celtic folk at the Citi Shubert Theatre, and the 38th annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert presents “Ornette ’n ’Trane” at the Northeastern Center for the Arts, featuring an all-star local cast that adds pianist Laszlo Gardony and his steady cohorts Stan Strickland, John Lockwood and Yoron Israel.

But Saturday’s most electrifying option looms in Vintage Trouble, the California R&B-rockers who hit the Brighton Music Hall after opening for AC/DC in stadiums. Vintage frontman Ty Taylor crosses James Brown moves with a dash of Bruce Springsteen's savvy for crowd contact. Then on Sunday, World Music/CRASHarts offers a totally cool jazz supergroup at the Berklee Performance Center with slyly subversive piano trio the Bad Plus and Joshua Redman lending a rich fourth voice on saxophone, while John Doe (co-singer of X) steps out on his own that night at cozy Atwood’s Tavern.


Sound Ideas

Boston Music Awards Announce 2015 Nominations and Event

Improper faves Ruby Rose Fox (cover of August music issue), the Ballroom Thieves (also featured in that issue) and Speedy Ortiz (band choice for Boston’s Best) lead the 2015 Boston Music Award nominations with four categories each. All three vie for Artist of the Year honors, along with Bad Rabbits and Michael Christmas.

The Boston Music Awards event moves to the Sinclair this year, on Dec. 9 and 10. The first night is billed as a half ceremony/half rock show, free to nominees. The second, ticketed night will feature the pending 2015 Hall of Fame inductee, with an opening set by the winner of the New Artist of the Year category, noted below.

Public voting has begun on the BMA website, and here are all the nominees:



Bad Rabbits

Michael Christmas

Ruby Rose Fox

Speedy Ortiz

The Ballroom Thieves


Cousin Stizz – “Suffolk County”

Krill – “A Distant Fist Unclenching”

Session Americana – “Pack Up The Circus”

Sidewalk Driver – “My Face”

Speedy Ortiz – “Foil Deer”


Dirty Bangs – “I’m In Love With The Summertime”

Ruby Rose Fox – “Golden Boy”

Sidewalk Driver – “Everybody Loves My Face”

Speedy Ortiz – “Raising The Skate”

The Ballroom Thieves – “Archers”


Oh Malô


Party Bois




Dirty Bangs


Party Bois

Tigerman WOAH

Zip-Tie Handcuffs


Dirty Bangs

Hallelujah The Hills

Speedy Ortiz




Cousin Stizz

Dutch ReBelle

Michael Christmas




Meghan Trainor


Ruby Rose Fox

Shea Rose

Will Dailey


Bad Rabbits

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Jesse Dee

Sebastian Mikael

Shea Rose


Grey Season


Session Americana

The Ballroom Thieves

These Wild Plains


Barrence Whitfield & The Savages

Gracie Curran & The High Falutin’

Peter Parcek

Toni Lynn Washington

Willie J. Laws Band


DJ Knife

Frank White



Statik Selektah



Let’s Wait

Radclyffe Hall

St. Nothing

Skinny Bones


Dan Blakeslee

Grey Season


Ian Fitzgerald

The Ballroom Thieves


Debo Band

Dub Apocalypse


Roberto Morbioli

Shun Ng


Alison Keslow

Esperanza Spalding

Grace Kelly

La Vie en Rose

Lake Street Dive




Protean Collective




Raw Blow

The Hotelier

The Warning Shots

Trophy Lungs

Zip-Tie Handcuffs


Abbie Barrett

Danielle Miraglia

Lori McKenna

Ruby Rose Fox

Will Dailey


Abbie Barrett

Ellen Kempner

Lyndsey Gunnulfsen

Marissa Nadler

Ruby Rose Fox


Barrence Whitfield

Evan Kenney

Louie Bello

Peter Wolf

Will Daley


Benny Grotto

Brian Charles

Dave Minehan

Ed Valauskas

Paul Q. Kolderie


Eldridge Rodriguez – “Giving Myself Over To Boston”

Fran-P Ft REKS, SPNDA & Moe Pope – “Hypertension”

Hallelujah the Hills – “We Are What We Say We Are”

Petty Morals – “Just A Game”

Tigerman Woah – “Koopa”


Don’t Ask Don’t tell at Great Scott

Heroes with DJ Chris Ewen

PVRPLE at Good Life

Soulelujah at Zuzu

XMortis at The Middle East


Brighton Music Hall

Great Scott

Lizard Lounge

The Middle East

The Sinclair


Dadrock with Lyle Brewer & Co at Atwood’s

Dennis Brennan at Lizard Lounge

Louie Bello at Abbey Lane

The Blue Ribbons at TOAD

Tim Gearan Band at Atwood’s


Allston Pudding

Boston Hassle

Daykamp Music

Guestlisted Jed Gottlieb



Bowery Presents Boston

Crossroads Presents

Good & Nice

Illegally Blind

Randi Ellen Millman


Ben Stas

Johnny Anguish

Matthew Shelter

Michael Sparks Keegan

Michael Spencer


If You Go: Head of the Charles

What: 51st Head of the Charles Regatta

When: Oct. 17-18, 8 am-5 pm

Who: There's more than 11,000 competitors and most local universities have teams entered. 

Where to Watch: A lot of the bridges across the Charles River provide good spectating spots, as do some spots along the banks. 

Where to Get Free Stuff: The Weld Boathouse (Cambridge side) between the Weeks and Lars Anderson Bridges

Where to Get Good Food: Reunion Village (Boston side) between the Weeks and Lars Anderson Bridges ($10/day, $15/weekend, kids under 12 are free)

Where to Get Really Good Food: Eliot Bridge Enclosure, just upstream of the Eliot Bridge ($90/day, $150/weekend, 21+)

How to Get Prepped: Browse through this website of amazing photos of the regatta.

Other Cool Stuff: Proving the Head of the Charles stands alongside the Boston Marathon as Hub traditions, New Balance released a limited-edition 990v3 sneaker with the HOCR logo on many places (the heel, lace and insole) much as they released a special edition sneaker to mark the marathon last year. 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The weather’s about to cool down, but not the concerts. Welch quartet Catfish and the Bottlemen, led by flop-topped frontman Van McCann, hit Royale on Friday with guitar-driven Brit rock that’s not super original, but tuneful and lively to be sure. Meanwhile, at Scullers Jazz Club both Friday and Saturday, violinist Regina Carter explores the folk music of the South with her Southern Comfort ensemble, which touches everything from gospel to Cajun/zydeco.

Andra Day’s a major-label star in the making, a jazzy R&B singer (pictured above) with a vibrant, aching voice that nods to both Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse, but you might boast that you saw her when by catching her Saturday date at Berklee’s cozy Café 939. Joe Walsh takes a breather from the Eagles to cover his own storied ground at the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday as well. And the Word – a gospel-jam supergroup featuring pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph, organ ace John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars – stirs up the Paradise Rock Club later that night in a rare Boston date.

For a lot of people, Sunday night means the Patriots/Colts’ long-awaited, post-Deflategate showdown, but there are also two compelling concerts. World Music/CRASHarts presents legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his fine jazz group Ekaya in a truly rare stop at the Berklee Performance Center. And charming gospel-soul upstart Leon Bridges packs Royale, his suave voice reminding of Sam Cooke while his band kicks in with roadhouse R&B that shows his Texas roots. For a sure sign of how rapidly Bridges’ star is rising, consider that his next Boston concert just went on sale for March 5 at the Citi Wang Theatre across the street. To think that it was only this past May that Bridges made his own humble stop at Café 939.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s a holiday weekend not without rocking concerts for those staying close to home, and the veteran jam-band moe. will rock for hours at House of Blues, where the Buffalo-born quintet (above) plays both Friday and Saturday. Expect entirely different shows with two sets each night, mixing the contrasting guitars of Chuck Garvey (think more Steely Dan) and Al Schnier (more Allman Brothers) around fluid Maine-based bassist Rob Derhak. With 25 years of forged chemistry, moe. ranks close to Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee and of course Phish, with consistently levitating flights that blend meat ‘n’ potatoes with clever turns.

Columbus Day weekend also means the colorful annual HONK! Festival, where activist street bands like this one roll into Johnny D’s Uptown on Friday before hitting the pavement of Davis Square on Saturday and Harvard Square on Sunday. Here's the schedule and honk if you love free-roaming, horn-driven revelry – for free. Other concerts to consider on Friday including country-punks Lucero at Royale and Mark Knopfler at the Orpheum Theatre, where he’ll be bound to resurrect this Dire Straits tune.

On Saturday, the Orpheum turns to Brandi Carlile, who proved she’s just as dynamic in a stripped-down acoustic trio when she hit this year’s Newport Folk fest. And Luna, fronted by ex-Galaxie 500 singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, plays the Paradise Rock Club. On Saturday, Carolina bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers play the Eastham Elks Club down the Cape before holding court at the Brighton Music Hall on Sunday, while alt-country singer Chuck Prophet (who led California rockers Green on Red back in the ’80s) plays Club Passim on Sunday. And Monday circles back to another group from Buffalo, alt-rockers Mercury Rev, who are likely to bring this seasonal offering to the Brighton Music Hall, closing out the holiday weekend with a bit of atmosphere.

Sound Ideas

Stage Review: Courtney Love Settles into "Kansas City Choir Boy" at Oberon

Todd Almond backs a subdued Courtney Love in "Kansas City Choir Boy" at Oberon. Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva.     -----------------------

Once upon a time, Courtney Love would hit town with her grunge-pop band Hole and turn a large rock venue into an exhibition(ist) hall, making moments intimate through antagonistic exchanges with the crowd. This was mostly back in the ’90s, before and after the death of husband Kurt Cobain, a time marked by drug abuse and tabloid fodder, before she turned to acting and eventually cleaned herself up. 

But Love’s stage debut in “Kansas City Choir Boy” casts a very different experience in the intimate cabaret-style space of Harvard Square’s Oberon. Here the singer was truly close to the audience – and sometimes even in the audience, along with co-lead Todd Almond, six dancing chorus “sirens” and a mobile string quartet. But she remained immersed in her theatrical zone.

Almond’s really the central character in “Kansas City Choir Boy,” which continues through Oct. 10 at the American Repertory Theater’s second stage. He wrote the music and lyrics and spends the most time onstage in the 55-minute production, unspooled as a flashback from a TV report that the girl he loved was found dead.

Still, all eyes focus on Love, from the moment she appears (classically) from a balcony as the character Athena and swoops into Almond’s life onstage. Their initial fondling seemed a bit stiff as the couple navigated around Almond’s keyboard during Friday’s press opening, but their chemistry quickly grew more evident – and Love displayed an alluring sparkle in her eyes, pulling her into the role.

From there, it’s a fairly straightforward boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl story, if all largely implied with songs rather than dialogue. Love was never a great singer, but she settled into a slightly flat drawl a bit like Marianne Faithfull, conveying the right emotion and annunciation. And Almond projected his own winsome charm in singing as well as playing guitar, keyboard and a DJ-style laptop, as part of the score comes in lite electro to match pulsing LED lights that creep up the ceiling strip and backing wall of the tiny center-T stage.

Much of the appeal of “Kansas City Choir Boy” comes from the positioning of the cast on and around that Oberon stage under director Kevin Newbury and choreographer Sam Pinkleton. The surrounding audience is split into two tiers of seats to each side, leaving aisles and mezzanine steps for the cast to roam and serenade. Love chews some scenery when she strips to a bra for a disrobing early love scene and later appears in a black Zac Posen gown, but the Oberon’s small runway fits a production that’s modest yet engaging.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Kraftwerk Immerses Wang Theatre in 3-D Visions

The men of Kraftwerk man the machines for an audio-visual travelogue at the Wang. Photo by Paul Robicheau.  -------------------------

It’s not enough that electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk influenced everything from synth-pop to EDM, leading to Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and the Cars, whose keyboardist Greg Hawkes was among those who filled the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday to soak in the rare spectacle of a Kraftwerk concert.

Kraftwerk went beyond Nine Inch Nails’ multi-layered video effects to present an immersive 3-D experience (via distributed cardboard glasses) that more closely evoked the sound and vision of ’70s contemporaries Pink Floyd when that group played theaters back in the day. An exquisite surround-sound mix was perfectly synched to big-screen visuals as stunning as virtual spacecraft and skyscraper beams that hovered into the crowd much as Pink Floyd used plane and pig props. Kraftwerk even depicted a flying saucer landing outside the Wang marquee.

Granted, the onstage action seemed pretty static with the four band members (all wearing Tron-grid bodysuits that complemented onscreen line animations) poking away at podiums that suggested a high-tech game show. Kraftwerk even poked fun at the question over how much was being physically performed when mechanized-mannequin doppelgangers appeared at the podiums to recorded music and vocals for 1978 blip “The Robots.”

Otherwise, vocals were handled live by Kraftwerk’s remaining co-founder Ralf Hutter, bridging vocoder cool and Bryan Ferry-esque savoir faire. And for the most part, Hutter and his comrades busily synchronized the whole shebang from keyboards, samplers and computers, much of it indeed involving human hands. This was most evident when the players each soloed, bowed, and left one-by-one at the end. The last to leave was Hutter, who put his hand to his heart, then gestured thanks to the machines in lieu of any remaining humans onstage.

The machines certainly did their jobs as Kraftwerk clearly took advantage of advancements in digital equipment. The players forged rich synthesizer textures and hypnotic beats that climaxed in prog-rock swells rather than EDM drops when the group set the controls for the heart of the reactor in 1975’s “Radioactivity.”

For those who’d never seen Kraftwerk, which was probably most of the audience, the program worked near-seamlessly as a balanced catalog retrospective, with appropriate visuals also produced at the group’s secretive Kling Klang studio. That entailed the throbbing numbers in songs from 1981’s Computer World, the highway glide of extended 1974 highpoint “Autobahn” (with white lines also going the other way in a rearview mirror), archival bicycle-race footage for 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks (more wheels and motion from a band of avid bicyclists), and ghostly bullet trains in 1977’s “Trans-Europe Express,” with animated sequences tightly meshed to the musical rhythms.

Credit the precision of German engineering to coin a phrase from automobile ad copy (the Volkswagen Bug and Mercedes-Benz sedan depicted for “Autobahn” indeed suggested a car ad). Two hours had already passed, along with the best video tricks, by the time Kraftwerk flashed terms like “Electro” (in “Planet of Visions”) and “Techno Pop” (in the song of that name) during a second encore. It seemed both obvious and unnecessary commentary on the band’s influence by that point.

Sure, the program might have been edited a bit, so not to drone on like the travel machines, but the musicians kept the proceedings percolating from their posts. And the whole production proved that Kraftwerk not only stands as a band that was ahead of its time, but one that remains largely ahead of our time.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Kurt Vile heightened his profile with the slow-burning glide of Wakin on a Pretty Daze, one of 2013’s best albums. On followup b’lieve I’m goin down, the laconic singer/guitarist strips back the textural guitar rock to muse a bit more on the folky side with banjo and piano. But one might still expect Vile and his band the Violators to stretch out on the guitars at the Paradise Rock Club on Friday.

Friday’s busy as well, starting with the surprisingly sympathetic pop collaboration of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks in the band FFS, which launches a U.S. tour at the Orpheum Theatre. If you’re not familiar with the cheeky humor of FFS, you can “Piss Off” with this live clip or click here to jump to my recent interviews with the band’s dual singers. House of Blues kicks in the same night with the rootsy Railroad Earth, who just toured with Warren Haynes (who brings his own new Ashes & Dust band with drummer Jeff Sipe and ChessBoxer to the Orpheum on Tuesday). Other Friday picks would be Maine-bred Americana singer/songwriter Patty Griffin at the Somerville Theatre, Dispatch’s Pete Francis with the fiddle-powered Nemes at new Union Square club Thunder Road, or poll-topping jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant recasting vintage nuggets at Scullers Jazz Club.

Back to Union Square on Saturday, Bull McCabe’s hosts its 5th annual Roots to Reggae Outdoor Music Festival in its parking lot from 3 to 9:45 p.m. with groups including regulars Dub Apocalypse, the Silks and the Tim Gearan Band. Saturday night’s main event comes in the rare return of Kraftwerk, the ’70s-born German electronic music pioneers, who perform a 3-D concert at the Citi Wang Theatre. That means techie, eye-popping visuals on a large screen behind the four men (including sole remaining co-founder Ralf Hutter) at their synthesizer posts. Next door at the Wilbur Theatre the same night, veteran indie-rockers Yo La Tengo (pictured above) support their new album Stuff Like That There, sort of sequel to 1990’s Fakebook that features covers performed in a largely acoustic four-piece format.  Shoegaze trendsetters Ride also rev up their guitars at the Paradise while rapper Talib Kweli rocks the Middle East Downstairs to top a busy Saturday night.

Sunday sports another seminal rock outfit with guitars in Television. New York’s CGBG’s-era band, featuring guitarists Tom Verlaine and newcomer Jimmy Rip as well as original drummer Billy Ficca and bassist Fred Smith, will showcase its 1977 debut Marquee Moon. Chameleons Vox, fronted by Chameleons UK singer/bassist Mark Burgess, also rolls into the Middle East Downstairs that night to play the UK group’s entire 1983 debut Script of the Bridge on a purported farewell tour. Burgess is a showman with a great voice, but I’d personally prefer the whole original band performing Chameleons UK’s 1986 gem Strange Times

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Alabama Shakes Match Lunar Eclipse at Boston Calling

The cosmic conjunction of Alabama Shakes howling to Sunday’s supermoon eclipse to cap the fall edition of Boston Calling not only set up the festival’s highpoint. It forged the kind of moment that’ll live in the memories of those present long after many of the weekend’s bands fade into rock footnotes.

Yet as a last sliver of light rimmed the dark, reddish sphere over City Hall Plaza, the Shakes’ own force-of-nature seemed to be letting the eclipse pass without comment. Singer/guitarist Brittany Howard commanded her own zone, from her raspy, Janis Joplin-esque exortations of “I know, I know!” in “Miss You” to soulful coos about dreaming in “The Feeling,” as she slapped the strings of her Gibson SG.

Finally, Howard stopped. “We got ourselves a blood moon and a lunar eclipse,” the singer told the crowd. “That means it’s time to get weird.”

With that, the Shakes briefly dropped into spacey noodling as the light show on City Hall’s stone ediface rippled into slow oscillation under the eclipse (above, center) and the band slipped into “Gemini,” amid Howard’s ghostly vocal echoes and psych-fuzz guitar beams.

That song lends perhaps the most lunar-esque diversion from classic soul-rock on Alabama Shakes’ eclectic sophomore album Sound & Color. But Howard, who hit Coachella and Bonnaroo in a bleach-tipped coif, returned to earth in fighting trim with short-cropped hair and a print dress, to pump her fist as she took the stage to the PA sounds of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” And she still percolated with old-school soul, evoking the Chi-Lites on “Guess Who,” while “The Greatest” lent a Strokes-like punk rush with doo-wop edges (the band skipped its first hit “Hold On,” despite it resurfacing at recent Canadian dates).

God knows the Alabama-bred long shot deserves to rule the music world, and you could say the same for Hozier (below), the nice Irish guy-done-great who impressed in his preceding Boston Calling slot on Sunday. The lanky singer/guitarist with the hair bun stirred up sing-alongs, from the gushing “From Eden” to gospel-ish closer “Take Me to Church.” Like the Shakes, Hozier boosted his sound with backup singers, but his deep tenor stood out the most, making the best of the breezy “Someone New” and giving new import to the Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

Still, Hozier’s palette covered similar soul-blues-rock ground, much like Ben Howard’s set blurred at times as his band built epic, backlit atmosphere around the English singer’s ghostly finger-picking. But especially after just-enjoyable pop from Nate Ruess, who leaned on hits from his band Fun as well as Prince and Elton John, the final night of Boston Calling took a deeper turn towards music with roots and emotion. And in that realm, the Shakes tested the boundaries, found the moon, and held their own. Brittany Howard proved equally unforgettable.

Photos (c) 2015 by Paul Robicheau

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s not all about Boston Calling this weekend, though that makes up the bulk of local concert action. There’s even a Gillette Stadium show on Friday with English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, charming his largely age 15-25 demographic with his brave solo tour-de-force that incorporates vocal and guitar looping.  Not so unusual, but certainly so for a stadium setting. Madonna hits the opposite end of the spectrum, as the matured Material Girl (above) brings her army of nattily attired dancers and musicians to TD Garden on Saturday. Her lavish Rebel Heart tour includes a cross-shaped ramp on the floor, a fair share of pole dancing, 2.5 million Swarovski crystals on Madonna’s costumes alone, and a mix of hits and rarities.

Boston Calling nonetheless kicks in on City Hall Plaza with beautiful fall weather, starting Friday night with a pleasant pairing of Icelandic folk-pop band Of Monsters and Men and spirited folk-rockers the Avett Brothers.  Saturday looks most interesting during the late afternoon with a stretch of ironic jammer Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks (who also play the Sinclair on Friday), smooth country outlaw Sturgill Simpson and sardonic folk-rock chameleon Father John Misty (who just covered Ryan Adams’ take on Taylor Swift’s 1989, but in the style of the Velvet Underground). Saturday night gets more electronic with Chromeo and Chvrches before alt-J faces the sprawling plaza. I like alt-J’s oblique trip-pop on record but have found their shows a bit underwhelming. Still, it won’t hurt to expand the British band’s light show to the kaleidoscopic designs that grace the face of City Hall to make Boston Calling a cool experience at night. Along those lines, Boston Calling finally closes with a bang on Sunday thanks to the last trifecta of folky English dark horse Ben Howard, Irish folk-rock darling Hozier and soulful rockers Alabama Shakes, fronted by the dynamic Brittany Howard. Again, that alone stands as a great concert bill. You can jump to my recent chat with Shakes drummer Steve Johnson. And here are BC set times.

If jazz is more your style, there’s also the Beantown Jazz Festival, making a free multi-stage street fair out of Columbus Avenue on Saturday afternoon, with a range of acts including R&B singer Ledisi, saxophonist Javon Jackson with drummer Jimmy Cobb (who played on Miles Davis’ iconic Kind of Blue) and the Mosaic Project led by Grammy-winning drummer and Beantown artistic director Teri Lyne Carrington. Here's the Beantown Jazz schedule. And up in Newbury, Buffalo Tom also caps Saturday afternoon at the American Music and Harvest Festival at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm. On the folk singer-songwriter side, Greg Brown plays Somerville’s Arts at the Armory on Saturday, while Peter Mulvey returns to his old stomping grounds on Sunday with a free 12-hour concert on the street outside Club Passim in Harvard Square, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a 15-minute break every hour. And Canadian post-rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor gets darkly cinematic on Sunday at the Paradise Rock Club.

Looking ahead into next week, my top picks would be soul-folk vocalist Lianne La Havas at Royale on Monday and textural guitar-rockers Built to Spill at Brighton Music Hall for a three-night stand starting Tuesday.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Diana Ross Shines at Citi Wang Theatre

Diana Ross summons memories of classic Motown hits with the Supremes, glamorous outfits, and her iconic persona as one of pop music’s premier divas. But the 71-year-old Ross certainly didn’t bring any diva’s attitude to the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday. On the contrary, the beaming singer -- who looked and sounded fabulous, regardless of age -- proved warm and generous to both the audience and her sublime backing musicians.

“I love when they turn the house lights up and I see your faces,” Ross told her diverse fans. “You have no idea what that means to me.” And she genuinely came across as a seasoned stage professional who’s also happy and thankful for her long, successful career.

Sure, the spotlight was on Ross, who went through several costume changes of sequins, feathers and ruffles -- in a few colors, with matching hand-fans to cool herself down in style. Yet the show wasn’t all about her, as lights shined into a sea of people dancing, singing along, and capturing the moment on camera phones.

From opening pride anthem “I’m Coming Out” to a rousing finale of the Gloria Gaynor standard “I Will Survive” (with standout solo turns across her tightly arranged five-man band and three backup singers), Ross threw an inclusive, hit-filled party.

She kicked in early with a stretch of the Supremes' ’60s gems (“My World is Empty Without You,” “Baby Love,” “Stop, in the Name of Love” and “Love Child”). She dipped into jazzy blues phrasing for Billie Holiday nugget “Don’t Explain” (without vocal backups, which she never relied on anyway). When an audience member hopped onstage to dance to “Upside Down,” Ross not only rolled with it, she hugged him, then invited a guy up from the other side to test his moves. She heightened the sing-alongs with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and she got all hands swaying to “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) to complete the communal love-in.

The night’s only downside was how quickly it all happened. Like clockwork, Ross hit the stage within moments of the show’s 8 p.m. starting time and in less than 80 minutes, it was all over. Some fans might have preferred more of her early hits instead of “Ease on Down the Road” (from musical The Wiz) or covers like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Yet there was really no wasted time and no going through the motions. The Boston crowd was summarily thrilled and fulfilled, as Diana Ross came and conquered -- with heart, soul and precision.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s not a holiday weekend per past tradition, but New Jersey jangle-pop pioneers the Feelies (pictured above) head north for their annual Boston visit by bringing their taut, rhythmic, Velvets Underground-inspired rock to the Sinclair. Expect two sets there on Friday, the first more mellow/folky and the second more driving, capped by an encore with classic covers. Harvard Square’s booming with two other events the same night. Golden-touch guitarist John Scofield and tenor-sax favorite Joe Lovano revive their co-led jazz quartet (also including fine drummer Bill Stewart) at the Regattabar. And Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney joins former New England Conservatory accomplice Benjamin Lazer Davis at Club Passim on Friday to celebrate the release of their EP Bawa, recorded in the African country of Ghana and inspired by its Bawa music.

The Brighton Music Hall’s also cooking across the spectrum, with Eagles of Death Metal (co-led by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Hommes on drums) on Friday, electronic ambient-house duo the Orb on Saturday and bluesy singer and guitarist Jackie Greene, best known for his stints with the Black Crowes and Phil Lesh. Rootsy garage-rockers the Heartless Bastards, another great live act graced by Erika Wennerstrom, hits the Paradise Rock Club on Friday. And soul-jazz singer Gregory Porter charms the Berklee Performance Center on Saturday.

MixFest 2015 takes over the DCR Hatch Shell on the Esplanade on Saturday afternoon with a free lineup that includes Rob Thomas, Third Eye Blind, Andy Grammer and Vance Joy. And if you want to take a last seasonal road-trip, consider the three-day FreshGrass festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, featuring Dwight Yoakam, the Punch Brothers, the Del McCoury Band, Boston’s own Ballroom Thieves and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure’s Touristes project with Berklee-bred guest vocalist Julia Easterlin, also both poised to mesmerize here Sunday in a World Music show at Johnny D’s Uptown.

However, the biggest names hitting town – in dates seemingly a tad under the radar – are Diana Ross, bringing her Supreme hits, outfits and diva-esque presence to the Citi Wang Theatre on Saturday, and ex-Led Zeppelin golden god Robert Plant, settling into a cross-cultural zone with his Sensational Space Shifters at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Sunday, though they still love to reshape Led Zep nuggets. On Sunday afternoon, you can also catch modern country-outlaw Jamey Johnson at Webster’s Indian Ranch, while guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. (best known as a member of the Strokes) thickens up his solo sound with his band at the Sinclair that night. Fans of live music must find something enticing this mid-September weekend.

Going Out

Welcome to the Thunder Dome

Somerville's Thunder Road is now open for business

It’s been over a year since longtime local promoter Dan Millen of Rock On! Concerts and Charlie Abel, managing owner of the former Harpers Ferry, announced they’d be opening Thunder Road, a new music venue in the shuttered Radio space in Somerville. After some fits and starts—the opening has been pushed back several times—the club enjoyed a grand opening on Sept. 8 that kicks off a billing of already-slated shows including Jesse Malin on Oct. 8 and the Stone Foxes on Nov. 5. We tapped Millen for some deets about the new venue—as well as some insight into Boston’s ever-changing music scene.

My partner, Charlie Abel, who was the managing owner of Harpers Ferry for 18 years, and I were looking to form a live music club together. We’d worked closely for five years at Harpers prior to him selling his half of the club in 2004 and we really developed a shared bond for presenting live music. Charlie was and still is a mentor to me, so working with him now as a partner is a joy. Owning a club had been a personal dream of mine. I’ve worked in the Boston scene as a promoter for over 15 years and packed other people’s clubs full of thirsty revelers, I figured it was time to pack my own club, so I’ve saved up every nickel I’ve made for years to make it happen.

We have always intended Thunder Road to be a great space for fans of live music to enjoy, and bands to “strut their stuff” in a clean, friendly and fun environment. And, of course, now that there are so many other live music clubs closing [T.T the Bear's Place, Johnny D's, the recently announced closing of Church's music venue], as much as we are saddened about that, we are just glad that we are opening to fill some of the void left in the scene. 

Absolutely. We didn’t plan it that way, we thought we would be a great addition to a thriving music community, but now more than ever it seems like we will be needed.  Our philosophy has always been one of the “rising tide lifts all boats” and that the more places in town that feature live music, the more bands can develop and build fan bases. We don’t want to look at this as a good thing, though it will wind up being good for us and the bands that are losing places to play, to fill that void and, for want of a better phrase, to “carry the torch.”

I think the best one, off the top of my head, is presenting a relatively unknown band called Maroon 5 in the middle of a snowstorm in February of 2003, I think. About half the people who bought advance tickets wound up showing up for the show, it wound up being a relatively packed house, and the band just blew us all away.  Shortly thereafter they wound up on the radio, playing humungous domes, and the rest is history for them, but we get to say “we knew them when.” 

Spiritual Rez on a boat this past summer.  No BS —I’ve never seen a band with more of a command of the audience, so many great songs, and people going crazy!  They’re another band from Boston that it's been a joy to help grow.

Aerosmith or the Joe Perry Project. I got my start in the business booking Aerosmith’s old club Mama Kin on Lansdowne Street and have been fortunate enough to produce several smaller club “sneak a shows” with them. They’re my all-time favorite rock band. Gents, if you’re reading this, come play!


Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Boston’s veteran R&B-shouter Barrence Whitfield and his Savages remain on a roll with the garage-rocking momentum of new album Under the Savage Sky, but the best place to bask in the revitalized group’s prowess remains the stage. And there are two shots to catch the action this weekend, with the singer and his gritty gang (pictured above) invading the Columbus Theatre in Providence, R.I., on Friday, then holding court on Saturday at the Brighton Music Hall, where Whitfield pulled off an Egyptian royal entrance on his last visit.

Other Friday options include the return of Mike Peters to Johnny D’s, where he’s bound to stir up fans with solo versions of favorites from his ’80s rock outfit the Alarm. The same night, Death Cab for Cutie floats atmospheric pop introspection at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, though show-goers may want to arrive early for the cinematic post-rock guitar symphonies of Explosions in the Sky. The same venue flips on Saturday to the energized rock 'n' rap antics of 21 Pilots, who are likely to breach the crowd in the process (though not sure they'll want to launch a drum set across those rows of seats). Saturday also brings the JP Music Festival to Pinebank Field on Jamaica Pond with a lineup that includes the Upper Crust, Love Love, Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers, Cask Mouse and Rick Berlin. That night, soulful gospel-jazz singer Lizz Wright rides a fresh surge of deserved acclaim into the Berklee Performance Center. And Sunday brings soul-blues rocker ZZ Ward – whose charisma on harmonica matches her vocal charms -- to Royale.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Got room in the tank for one more cool festival on an awesome-weather Labor Day weekend, maybe even with a side trip to the beach? Head to coastal Rhode Island for the annual Rhythm & Roots soiree at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. It all starts Friday night with a Signature Sounds 20th anniversary celebration headlined by the popular Lake Street Dive, peaks on Saturday with a lively lineup that sports country eccentrics the Mavericks, roots-rockers Los Lobos, Louisiana piano queen Marcia Ball and bluegrass upstarts Della Mae (pictured above) with Jim Lauderdale, and closes out Sunday with crossover troubadour Keb Mo. Plus there are accordion workshops, kids’ Mardi Gras parades, and Cajun and zydeco dance parties with Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and Corey Ledet & his Zydeco Band. Here’s the full schedule and rundown.

Other great takes to the South include the J. Geils Band (who just kicked ass in Boston) at India Point Park on the Providence waterfront on Saturday and punk-funk pioneers Fishbone the same night at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet down the Cape. To the north, Della Mae also hits Rockport's smartly designed Shalin Liu Performance Center on Friday, indie-folk combo the David Wax Museum holds court at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, N.H., on Saturday, and the Mavericks move on to Hampton Beach’s Casino Ballroom on Sunday. Finally, back around Boston, you can catch country-rockers Little Big Town at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Friday, a bill of great local bands -- Parlour Bells, Band Without Hands, the Static Dynamic and the Rationales -- at Cuisine en Locale's ONCE Ballroom the same night, and veteran shoegaze rockers Swervedriver at the Sinclair on Sunday.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: J. Geils Band Back in Vintage Form

Peter Wolf cues Magic Dick and Duke Levine with the J. Geils Band on Thursday. Photo by Paul Robicheau


J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf defies his 69 years as a wondrous dervish on a good night -- and that’s what a sold-out crowd certainly got at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Thursday. In strong voice, the ever-skinny frontman rarely stopped moving through a 100-minute lesson in rock ‘n’ roll showmanship, shuffling, high-stepping, spinning in place, and exhorting both the crowd and his bandmates.

Mates they were, as the classic Boston band has now truly congealed since its 2012 break from namesake guitarist John Geils, who reportedly wanted less stage-rocking and more trademark residuals. Lead guitarist Duke Levine, his backup foil Kevin Barry and drummer Tom Arey shared equal spotlight with the veterans, as Wolf even urged Worcester journeyman Levine to join him more at the front of the stage for solos.

Better yet, the bonds between the singer and his original mates only seemed heightened. Wolf was out to share his great mood, not only catching Flying V-pumping bassist Danny Klein with a false fist-pump in “Detroit Breakdown” but smiling at keyboardist Seth Justman as he tried to get him to swig from his wine bottle. And harmonica ace Magic Dick got plenty of high-profile mileage, capped by his showpiece “Whammer Jammer.”

The fun and appreciation was contagious for the audience as well. “Thanks for your many, many years of loyal support,” Wolf made the point to the packed-fair-and-square crowd before an encore of the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” And he looked touched when a young woman who won a contest through radio sponsor WZLX (celebrating its 30th anniversary) effectively mimicked his jive-taking intro to “Musta Got Lost.”

From a revved-up “Hard Drivin’ Man,” through blues nugget “Homework” and the funky breakdown of “Give It To Me,” to the confetti-blasted “(Ain’t Nothing But a) House Party,” the J. Geils Band hit all the bases in vintage form. Calling for one last song, Wolf still had the gas to toss a falsetto turn into “First I Look at the Purse.”

A stage introduction injected the sense of humor to trumpet the group as a multiple “nominee” for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when a night like this only reminded how much the J. Geils Band deserves enshrinement.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Lake Street Dive continue to branch out in popularity, as the bubbly New England Conservatory-bred quartet plays Lowell’s Summer Music series at Boarding House Park on Friday and headlines the Amourasaurus! festival at the Pines Theater in Northampton on Sunday. Yet the weirdest coup for the jazz-pop group comes next month when its powerhouse singer Rachael Price steps into the Grace Slick role in a Hot Tuna-led Jefferson Airplane tribute at Virginia’s Lockn' Festival. Speaking of striking singers, this Friday as well, the Sinclair hosts four distinctive local bands in the glammy Sidewalk Driver, the soulful Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, recent Improper cover star Ruby Rose Fox and rock outfit the Lights Out (who now ironically string LED-light chains on their instruments). And you can also watch all of those groups joining for this video of “Chain of Fools.”

Melissa Etheridge moves into Boarding House Park with her charismatic rock on Saturday and Northampton’s feisty, rising indie-rockers Speedy Ortiz change things up in playing Sunday afternoon aboard the Provincetown II’s Rock and Blues Concert Cruise on Boston Harbor, leaving from the Seaport World Trade Center.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Phish Plunge into Magnaball Madness

Fans cheer Phish's post-midnight secret jam behind a drive-in screen at Magnaball. Photos by Paul Robicheau.


In 1996, six years before the birth of Bonnaroo, Phish hatched similar campout festivals packed with audio-visual goodies. Ten festivals later, some things haven’t changed, evidenced by this past weekend’s Magnaball in Watkins Glen, N.Y. A load of people show up in a remote location, party down, and revel in tons of music by Phish and only Phish, which performed more than 11 hours of music in eight sets across the weekend.

Granted, the 70,000-strong crowds that showed up in the ’90s (when I covered Phish festivals for the Boston Globe and Rolling Stone) have dissipated, settling into a relatively more comfy 30,000 sellout at Watkins Glen International. That’s a hell of a lot more manageable than the record-setting 600,000 that showed up at the racetrack for 1973's historic Summer Jam with the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead and the Band.

In turn, Phish erects a skyscraping stage for lighting director Chris Kuroda to spin matrix-like magic, campsites are awarded thematic names (this year after defunct rock venues from the Wetlands to Boston Garden) and the grounds are filled with installations designed by Phish’s visual-art friends. This year’s oddities included a castle-like “laboratory” filled with sideshow-like oddities and assorted sculptures, like a field of green ears.

But the big surprise, even if it's not much of a surprise these days, was an unannounced Phish set on the grounds beyond the main stage -- in this case, a mock drive-in movie screen that sprawled across the bleachers under an illuminated Magnaball sign -- complete with some old cars lined up at the bottom. After midnight on Saturday, Phish slipped onto a tiny stage behind that partially opaque screen to improvise a dark, 50-minute ambient soundscape while fractal visuals floated upon the scrim, eventually teasing glimpses of the live band (in turn, too bad the group didn't activate standard screens for fans on the outskirts to view the weekend's main-stage action). That late-night music also didn’t seem so novel after Phish had slipped into similarly abstract space during a few jams that emerged within three previous regular sets that long day alone. Still, exhaustion breeds the surreal.

That said, Phish has been on fire this summer, consistently jamming at a sophisticated level, fueled by guitarist Trey Anastasio’s experience playing “Fare Thee Well” stadium shows with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Sure, Phish took staples like “Chalkdust Torture” and “Down with Disease” for extended rides, but songs like “Bathtub Gin” and even the largely pokey “Prince Caspian” surged upon waves of inspired improv, hovering near the 20-minute mark. Even new songs like the funky “No Men in No Man’s Land” and bassist Mike Gordon’s apt “How Many People Are You?” rocked the field with a surprising edge and energy. Fans responded in kind, not only tossing glowsticks during a “Harry Hood” jam per '90s tradition, but almost any moment they thought was appropriate, at times making the field look like it was under attack from swarms of neon grasshoppers.

Phish served a couple of favorite jams from the band’s Halloween 2014 twist on the sound effects album Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House as well as such rarities as the sing-songy “Buffalo Bill,” Gordon’s “Mock Song” and the Jewish prayer “Avenu Malkenu,” wrapped in Anastasio instrumental “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” the theme from his senior thesis at Vermont’s Goddard College. Bluegrass was essentially omitted and covers were limited to five (most notably a soaring take on Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”) as Phish amazingly played 70 songs without repeats across the weekend while skipping such warhorses as “Piper” and “Fluffhead.”

The band seemingly tried to round out its final set with as many touchstones as possible, serving “Mike’s Song,” "Fuego," “Twist,” “Weekapaug Groove” and a torrid encore of “You Enjoy Myself” -- complete with trampoline bouncing and an a cappella jam to an extensive fireworks display. Keyboardist Page McConnell had the last word – and drew a last laugh from Anastasio – as the music came to an end and he cut through the fireworks with a Halloween sample that blurted “You thought there was going to be a huge explosion, didn't you?”

Earlier, Anastasio practically choked up when he thanked members of the band’s crew while standout drummer Jon Fishman “sucked love” on a vacuum-cleaner hose for comic sonic effect in “I Didn’t Know.” But even though Phish has staged only three festivals since the band’s 2009 return after a five-year breakup, the success of Magnaball gave the impression that this one probably won’t be the last.

All photos (c) 2015 by Paul Robicheau

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

You can celebrate the anniversary of Woodstock with the Workingman’s Band at Somerville’s Arts at the Armory on Friday or snatch a bit of that spirit throughout the weekend with Phish at its three-day Magnaball festival in Watkins Glen, N.Y., the band’s only Northeast appearance – and site of another historic show with bands including the Grateful Dead. Trey Anastasio and his Phish mates have been on fire this summer in the wake of his role in the Dead survivors’ Fare Thee Well stadium shows – and the Vermont group’s campouts always offer historic delights when it comes to both over-the-top music and art installations. Magnaball’s sold out as well as far away, but Phish’s also selling a live video webcast of the whole shebang in addition to its weekend-long free streaming (including the band's several live sets) on temporary radio station the Bunny, both linked here.

If you’re ready for a stadium experience at another extreme, rock yourself silly with the return of AC/DC (above) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, alas without the group's co-founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young (retired with dementia) and drummer Phil Rudd (retired at least temporarily on drug charges). At least the band has activated able replacements in nephew Stevie Young on second guitar and the imposing Chris Slade on drums, and it’s really all about Angus Young’s lead guitar shenanigans. The formula may be simple and repetitive, and the guys are getting older, but no band rocks like AC/DC.

Friday night also rocks with the hip-hop of mercurial rapper Earl Sweatshirt at the Paradise Rock Club and gender-blurring performance artist/rapper Mykki Blanco on the ICA’s outdoor deck. On Saturday afternoon, the annual Starlabfest hits Union Square with bands including Zip-Tie Handcuffs and the Novel Ideas, and if you're Cape-bound, rock with the Sheila Divine and Dirty Bangs at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet that night. Country icon Loretta Lynn also makes a rare live appearance at Cohasset's South Shore Music Circus on Saturday night, while blues legend Buddy Guy lets rip on his guitar at Webster’s Indian Ranch on Sunday afternoon.

From the Top

Team Player

The Patriots’ quest for a fifth Super Bowl title began almost immediately after the fourth was won, which means Bill Belichick only had about a month to unwind this summer. But during his vacation on Nantucket, the famously private coach took a break from perfecting his golf game and graciously made time for our photo shoot—even helping us lug camera equipment and offering recommendations for sandwich spots on the island. It’s a side of Belichick that might surprise those who’ve only seen his game face, and one Matt Martinelli gets to know in our cover story. Elsewhere, Noah Davis heads to the Boston HQ of DraftKings for a look at their fight to rule daily fantasy sports, an industry that didn’t exist a decade ago but now has billions of dollars in play. Meanwhile, Jonathan Soroff chats with wide receiver Julian Edelman about his gameday routine and teammates’ hidden talents, and Ezra Dyer offers his Patriots prognostications for the season ahead. Game on.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Conceptually and musically, you’d be hard pressed to find a more enchanting indie-pop combo than Lucius (above). Fronted by co-lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who sport identical hair and outfits, the Berklee-schooled, Brooklyn-based band recasts girl-group vocals with sparse, fuzzy guitars and tribal percussion. After a couple of unexpected recent appearances at the Boston Calling and Newport Folk festivals, Lucius returns on its own terms – and in the best setting, alongside the harbor outside the Institute of Contemporary Art as part of the museum's Friday night Wavelength series. Lucius has been working on new material for a followup to 2013's standout Wildewoman,  so expect a bit of a preview. Aaron Dessner and Lisa Hannigan are no longer on the bill, but Heather Woods Broderick will make a compatible opener on the deck outside the ICA.

Also on Friday, rambunctious roots-rockers Delta Spirit cap a two-night stand at the Sinclair with expected friends like Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken, Deer Tick’s Ian O’Neil and the Parkington Sisters. And over at the Lizard Lounge the same night, outside-the-box virtuosos Dave Tronzo (slide guitar) and Mat Maneri (electric viola) sit in with jazz/world/groove collective Club d'elf. With all the buzz about Phish's Trey Anastasio taking the Jerry Garcia role in the recent “Fare Thee Well” stadium shows with Grateful Dead survivors, it’s easy to overlook the role that Bruce Hornsby played on piano and vocals. But now Hornsby’s likely to weave some Dead tunes into his own band the Noisemakers’ Friday set at Boarding House Park as part of the Lowell Summer Music Series. On Saturday, guitarist/singer Warren Haynes – another star journeyman who’s done time with the Dead, Allman Brothers and his own Gov’t Mule – plays that park. And when it comes to surf-rock legends, Dick Dale is the first name that comes to mind; the 78-year-old, Quincy-bred guitar king returns to town despite health issues (gotta pay those medical bills) to fire up the stage at the Middle East Downstairs for an early show on Saturday night.

On the jazz front, there’s the Rockport Music Festival at the state-of-the-art Shalin Liu Performance Center, highlighted by a trio featuring 12-year-old piano prodigy Joey Alexander on Saturday and guitarist Julian Lage’s trio on Sunday, both in afternoon shows, while the festival closes with poll-winning clarinetist Anat Cohen’s quartet on Sunday night. Here’s the whole Rockport Jazz schedule. Also, not quite as far north, the Salem Jazz & Soul Festival takes over the Salem Willows with programming on Saturday and Sunday, closing out with Barrence Whitfield and the Grits & Groceries Orchestra. And here’s the rundown on Salem’s annual event.

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Weekend Ideas

It’ll be a triple-play for the Zac Brown Band, as that country-rock jukebox returns to Fenway Park this Friday through Sunday, bringing a fancy, three-tiered stage with hi-tech video effects. Lyle Lovett and his Large Band also hit the open air this weekend, with Lovett sharing his wry flair on Friday for the Lowell Summer Music series at Boarding House Park and on Saturday at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. And Mansfield’s Xfinity Center rocks on Friday with Incubus and the Deftones.

Otherwise, the most interesting takes are indoors. Radiohead drummer Philip Selway fronts his fine solo project at the Sinclair on Friday, showing an affinity for picking a great drummer and floating moods and vocals akin to his main band. New York’s funky, mostly female post-punk group the Bush Tetras resurface at the Sinclair on Saturday with A Band Called E (Thalia Zedek), Gene Dante & the Future Starlets, and a DJ set from Hugo Burnham, the former drummer for Gang of Four, who mined similar ground to the Tetras in the early '80s.

And the Middle East rocks into the weekend with Fuzzstival, stacking the Boston scene’s many psych/fuzz/surf rock standouts, including the New Highway Hymnal and Barbazons on Friday upstairs and Creaturos, Drug Rug, Quilt, Vundabar and Zip-Tie Handcuffs as part of a downstairs two-stage extravaganza on Saturday. Here’s the whole Fuzzstival lineup and you can read about a few of the bands from our recent music issue.

Remember the Canadian rock trio Triumph?  Its singer/guitarist Rik Emmett rolls into Club Passim for acoustic duo shows on Saturday and Sunday. And Australian country-rock chanteuse Kasey Chambers (pictured above) returns to these shores behind her brooding new album Bittersweet at the Sinclair on Sunday.

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Weekend Ideas

It’s clearly a hot and beautiful weekend for outdoor concerts. For starters, it’s the second of two nights with the hefty double bill of perennial favorites Steely Dan and Elvis Costello with his Imposters at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. Saturday serves up the return of Van Halen down at Mansfield’s Xfinity Center -- hopefully with David Lee Roth keeping shtick and singing in balance with rock guitar star Eddie Van Halen’s family crew. At age 76, Gordon Lightfoot will resurrect his own hits the same night at the Lowell Summer Music series at Boarding House Park. And Sunday, Boy George plays the karma chameleon with his '80s-founded band Culture Club at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion (and get there early for an opening set from Boston's own fine Parlour Bells).

For those seeking a broad view of jazz, there’s no better destination than lovely waterside Fort Adams State Park in Rhode Island for the Newport Jazz Festival. Friday warms up with the likes of Snarky Puppy, Christian McBride and Ambrose Akinmusire, while Saturday soars with Cassandra Wilson, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, Hiromi, Lisa Fischer (pictured) with her band Grand Baton, Maria Schneider Orchestra and Jack DeJohnette’s Made in Chicago band. And Sunday serves another busy slate that includes Jamie Cullum, the Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band, Dr. John, Bill Frisell and Fred Hersch. Here's the entire Newport Jazz lineup. To the north, there's also the Tweed River Music Festival in Waitsfield, Vt., on Friday through Sunday, featuring Lydia Loveless as well as New England-born talent like Bow Thayer, Laurie Sargent (who also plays locally at Club Passim on Friday), Joe Fletcher, Jesse Dee, Tim Gearhan and OldJack. Here's the whole Tweed River schedule.

For those who prefer live music a bit more intimate and indoors, there are a few shows to note as well. Boston-bred, Nashville-based music journalist and guitarist/singer Ted Drozdowski leads his psyche-blues Scissormen into Johnny D’s Uptown for an early Friday show. Guitar alchemist Thurston Moore cranks up his latest band that include his ex-Sonic Youth mate Steve Shelley on drums at the Sinclair on Sunday. And the same night, if you didn’t catch her at Newport (or even if you did!), you won’t find a better room than Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center to bask in the dynamic vocal palette of Lisa Fischer, who’s best known for going toe-to-toe with Mick Jagger as a backup singer with the Rolling Stones. Here's a jump to my recent interview.

Improper Now

Live Review: Converse Rubber Tracks present Future Islands at the Sinclair

Pants were ripped.

It ain't a party until you dance your pants off. That was the sentiment at this past Thursday night's Future Islands show at the Sinclair—the latest in Converse Rubber Tracks' new series of killer free shows, most announced a week or two before—where frontman Samuel T. Herring made good on his promise to dance until he ripped his skinny jeans open. 

A video posted by Jess Groho (@jessgroho) on Jul 24, 2015 at 5:33am PDT

There was a already a line of anxious young people snaking its way down Church Street and around the coner before opener Bad Rabbits, bringing the funk as usual, took the stage. T beauty and the beautiful agony of Rubber Tracks' free show programming is that they offer a limited amount of spots (via an online RSVP), in order to keep the shows intimate, and an RSVP doesn't necessarily guarantee admittance—so it behooves atendees to get there early. 

Those who did so Thursday night were rewarded for their efforts. To underestimate Herring, who more closely remsembles a middle-aged accountant than a rock star, would be a grave mistake. Gifted with an inimitable, singularly strange and hypnotic set of pipes that alternate between throaty crooning to guttural howls that border on animalistic, Herring is a captivating frontman. His unassuming style belies an inner freak—in a good way—one who reveals himself in his onstage moves: Unfettered, uninhibited thrusting and jiving like a man possessed. All the better to rip one's pants open, my dear.

A video posted by Jess Groho (@jessgroho) on Jul 24, 2015 at 6:45am PDT

The Baltimore outfit gave the fans what they wanted, running through hits like "Balance" and "Seasons (Waiting on You)" to the roaring delight of a crowd whose herky-jerk dance moves sought to imitate Herring's. [Side note: Who knew so many Bahston bros were Future Island fans? A collective of flat-brimmed baseball hat wearing 20-something dudes hollered between songs, fists pumping their approval.]

Dripping with the sweat he'd flung out to the crowd as he jazzercized with abandon through a roughly two-hour set, Herring and company treated an amped-up crowd to not one but two encores. Running high on adrenaline and good vibes, and reluctant to leave, many showgoers paused to take advantage of the ever-present Rubber Tracks photo booth (this one outfitted with a tripy whale backdrop) before pouring out into the night. 

Here's looking forward to the next installment of what's shaping up to be some excellent free programming from Bowery Boston and the Converse Rubber Tracks team. 

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Newport Folk Only Adds to Its Prominence

(Abigail Washington, Bela Fleck, the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, Brandi Carlile and Newport Folk producer Jay Sweet watch James Taylor perform from the side of the stage on Saturday. Photos by Paul Robicheau)

Just when other New England music fests were starting to grab some limelight, the Newport Folk Festival raised the bar to another level over the weekend, with previously unannounced guests joining in its collaborative spirit.

Even before Sunday’s finale saluted the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan going electric at Newport in 1965 with Al Kooper, Dawes, Robyn Hitchcock, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings leading the charge through Dylan covers, Newport delivered a front-loaded bang with surprise sets by My Morning Jacket and James Taylor.

After a rich turn heavy on its prog-ish new album The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket served as Roger Waters’ band on Friday (below), giving textural muscle to Pink Floyd classics “Mother,” “Wish You Were Here” and Dark Side of the Moon climax “Brain Damage/Eclipse,” particularly sublime with Lucius on backing vocals. “And the sun is eclipsed by the moon,” Waters sang to loving lunatics on the grass, and the moon parted rain clouds.

Those who found the Floyd mastermind’s one-off appearance out of place may have been surprised, however, by warm tributes to John Prine, Levon Helm (with daughter Amy Helm also singing on “Wide River to Cross”) and Dylan, whose “Forever Young” found Waters, 71, heartily relishing the chorus. Then, a classy move, Waters introduced each and every member of his ad-hoc band, which also including guitarist G.E. Smith.

That provided the climax for Friday, which also included the Sam Cooke-smooth vocals of Texas upstart Leon Bridges (above), the cathartic indie-folk of the Lone Bellow, the mariachi-tinged desert rock of Calexico, the rousing Strand of Oaks (below, partly evoking early My Morning Jacket), and crisp outfit the Tallest Man on Earth, featuring Dylan-influenced Swedish folk-rocker Kristian Matsson.

Saturday’s buzz was all about James Taylor, who got beyond sound glitches with sweet chestnuts like “Sweet Baby James” and “Carolina on My Mind.” He also introduced Newport founder George Wein as “the man who made this all happen” by inviting the Berkshires resident to the festival. Otherwise, credit for the fest’s recent booking clout goes to producer Jay Sweet, who stood with many of the day’s artists to watch Taylor's set.

Other Saturday highlights included laidback wordsmith Courtney Barnett (above, who flew in from Australia just for Newport and gained steam with her finger-brushed guitar leads), the likewise raucous Langhorne Slim, sassy songstress Nikki Lane, velvety-voiced country crooner Sturgill Simpson and sensitive indie-pop colorist Sufjan Stevens before the Decemberists wrapped things up with a guest-aided take on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

Tommy Stinson (above) arrived late Saturday to storm the stage where North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson (whose dad Jim produced Stinson’s Replacements) and Puss ‘n’ Boots bassist Catherine Popper had been killing time, dropping dollars out of his pocket as he foraged for a guitar pick before grabbing one off Dickinson’s amp. And Brandi Carlile (below) suggested she may be most potent as an all-acoustic act with flanking twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth, lighting up the stage with her beaming energy and clarion voice.

By the time Sunday rolled around with stars like Hozier, First Aid Kit, Lord Huron and Laura Marling, everything was gravy, with further nods to Newport’s historic track record -- and the power of plugging in as a way to diversify the folk tradition. The festival has has reestablished itself as an international draw and near-instant sellout, at least for its long-held Saturday and Sunday lineups. But this year, even without unannounced stars adding to the glimmer, Newport Folk made Friday as essential as any day.

This weekend, the Newport Jazz Festival takes over beautiful Fort Adams State Park for another three days, though Saturday and Sunday still promise the most star power with Cassandra Wilson, Jack DeJohnette, Lisa Fischer, Jamie Cullum, Dr. John, and an encore appearance by Jon Batiste & Stay Human, whose future Stephen Colbert late-night bandleader also played Newport Folk. Still, you never know exactly what will happen, beyond this weekend's nod to the 60th anniversary of Miles Davis. Alas, unlike Dylan, who passed on the Newport Folk tribute, there’s no chance of the late trumpeter showing up – again, beyond profound influence.

All photos (c) by Paul Robicheau

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Weekend Ideas

If you’re a fan of live music, you must be busy this weekend, given the choice of four festivals (three of them free) as well as the final two nights of the Central Square landmark T.T. the Bear’s Place and other great concerts around town.

It’s been a glorious week of bands revisiting T.T.’s for the last time. On Tuesday alone, Evan Dando reconnected onstage with old Lemonheads mate Ben Deily, while the Thalia Zedek Band was joined by her Come guitar foil Chris Brokaw. Now that we’re getting down to the final two nights of the farewell blowout, however, it’s really starting to sink in how much the scene will miss this club. The Dogmatics and the Neighborhoods lead the honors on Friday, while Saturday closes down with Willie Alexander, Randy Black, O Positive and, finally, Scruffy the Cat and guests.

On the heels of the T.T.’s closing comes the likewise-sad word that Johnny D’s Uptown will close early next year. But on Friday, that homey Davis Square club presents Steeleye Span, the venerable English folk-rock group fronted by Maddy Prior, amazingly back after cycles of personnel changes since 1969. And as seen in this Johnny D’s clip, Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller holds court solo on Friday at Atwood’s Tavern. Another veteran British band (subject of the 2014 documentary Revenge of the Mekons), the spirited roots-punk group the Mekons (pictured) close a rare U.S. tour at the Middle East Upstairs on Saturday with a full crew of principals, including singer/guitarists Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalgh, singer Sally Timms, violinist Susie Honeyman, strings ace Lu Edmonds and drummer Steve Goulding. Downstairs at the Middle East the same night, you can also catch a rare show by the locally sewn hip-hop supertrio Czarface (7L, Esoteric and Wu Tang’s Inspectah Deck), seen here at their last Middle East show, or jump to my recent interview.

But most of the weekend’s “folk” action will take place at festivals. Long sold out, Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival carries the biggest profile, with a Friday bill sporting Pink Floyd guiding force Roger Waters as well as the Lone Bellow, Angel Olsen and Calexico, a Saturday throwdown with the Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens and Courtney Barnett, and a Sunday wrapup with Hozier, First Aid Kit, Lord Huron and a '65 Revisted finale (in keeping with an earlier presentation by Elijah Wald, author of the new Dylan Goes Electric). Here's the full Newport schedule. To the north, there’s the free downtown Lowell Folk Festival and its plate of ethnic folk variations, this year with Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners, gospel group the Fairfield Four and Malian lute player Bassekou Kouyate. Here's the full schedule for Lowell. And in Boston, there’s the free Summer Arts Weekend in Copley Square Park, which offers country-steeped duo Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, R&B survivor Bettye LaVette and New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band on Saturday as well as angelic Big Easy singer Aaron Neville and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster. Here's the full schedule for Summer Arts Weekend.

Prefer jazz? If all that doesn’t fill your schedule, on Sunday, drop by the University Park Commons on Sydney Street for the free Cambridge Jazz Festival with soulful vocalist Nneena Freelon, pianists Laszlo Gardony and JoAnne Brackeen, and Grammy Award-winning Latin percussionist Eguie Castrillo. Here's the full lineup for Cambridge Jazz. And over at Club Passim, Throwing Muses songstress Kristin Hersh performs on Sunday night.

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Concert Review: Foo Fighters Rock Fenway, Bosstones pull double-duty at T.T.'s

Three punk-inspired bands – the Foo Fighters, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mission of Burma – found glory at Fenway Park on Saturday with intersecting story lines, carrying on to T.T. the Bear’s Place for at least one of the groups.

The headlining Foos, who put the Fenway bill together, played the beat-adversity card, with singer/guitarist Dave Grohl rocking out on a custom-made throne for his band’s first U.S. stadium swing after breaking his leg last month in Sweden. “We’re trying to make this stadium feel like the sweaty f---ing club down the street!” Grohl told fans who seemed to surprise him by howling back “Foooo!!”

That sweaty club would be T.T. the Bear’s Place, which Grohl name-checked and provided the Bosstones with their second stop of the night, letting frontman Dicky Barrett get in the face of a fervent crowd to heat up that rock haven’s final week.

For its part, Mission of Burma came the closest to Grohl’s former band Nirvana as a bare-bones trio that laid out angular, textural post-punk, seemingly out of place to the slow-arriving stadium crowd. “One of the bands that made me want to play music in the first place,” Grohl later gushed of Burma in thanking his opening acts (the Foos leader set a different guest plate Sunday with the Dropkick Murphys).

Grohl sure didn’t let a loss of mobility temper his passion or energy as the Foo Fighters roared through more than two and a half hours of loud, tightly honed originals plus covers that included Queen’s “Under Pressure” (a vocal showcase for whiplash drummer Taylor Hawkins) and a climactic rampage through AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock.” Nonetheless, at one point, Grohl asked the crowd whether it wanted classic rock or Foo Fighters material and a “Foooo!” chant made the choice clear; the group responded with a dynamics-wrung detonation of “All My Life.”

Grohl’s throne, encrusted with guitar necks and a ring of swiveling lights around the Foo Fighters’ emblem, did slide up a runway to part the middle of the crowd. But the singer also hobbled out there on crutches for acoustic versions of “There Goes My Hero” and “Times Like These,” waving his crutches like battle shields. He also slid down the ramp on his throne for an indulgent solo of scrapping guitar strings across his boot cast in “Outside,” a gambit that wore out its welcome, much like the long set exposed the Foos’ rather same-sounding sonic palette.

Barrett was the first to stalk that runway, however, during a Bosstones set that included a walk-on by legendary oddball Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee and dropped favorites like “Where’d You Go?” and “Don’t Worry, Desmond Dekker,” though horns got lost in stadium acoustics except for Chris Rhodes’ beefy trombone.  

Those tunes were reprised at T.T.’s, where the ska-punk combo’s longer, sweltering throwdown found Barrett and dancer Ben Carr shedding their military-styled suits. Grohl never showed up at T.T.’s as rumored, but he didn’t need to. The night closed with a manic “Lights Out,” a cover of punk band the Angry Samoans that even inspired a couple of stage-divers and provided a fitting nod to a Central Square landmark that Barrett hailed for serving as “A great place to hang around.”

Dicky Barrett entertains the crowd that packed T.T.'s for the Bosstones. Photo by Paul Robicheau.

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Concert Review: Billy Joel Takes '80s Turn at Fenway Park

Billy Joel gets help from Mark Rivera, Carl Fischer and Crystal Taliefero at Fenway. Photo by Paul Robicheau.

“Feels like I was here just a couple of days ago,” Billy Joel told the sold-out faithful returning to Fenway Park for a concert on a picture-perfect Thursday night. “Hell of a year.”

It’s been just over a year since Joel, 66, last played Fenway. And the Long Island pop icon, who hasn't released one of his classic albums in years, has been busy on his own terms, scattering shows in his record-breaking Madison Square Garden residency, playing Bonnaroo and, only two weeks ago, getting married again. The pregnant Alexis Roderick, 33, took the stage for a kiss Thursday after a perfunctory “Piano Man,” a song so expected and hallowed that fans didn’t so much erupt at its first notes as hush and whip out camera-phones.

Luckily, everything wasn’t quite so rehashed in Joel’s Fenway reprise, as the singer dropped eight different songs than last summer’s ballpark soiree. They included “Vienna,” “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” the rarity “All for Leyna” and a stirring “Goodnight Saigon,” with a choir of Air Force officers joining the “We will all go down together” chorus – and Joel shaking everyone's hands at the end. That song, along with the “Downeaster ‘Alexa’” (about commercial fishermen) and “Allentown,” nodded to his recognition of Americans in tough-job situations.

Alas, Joel got stuck in the ’80s though, though late-innings songs that included “An Innocent Man,” “My Life” (where Joel brushed off critics, saying “If I listened to you, I’d still be washing dishes at Nick’s Luncheonette”) and a Caribbean-tinged “Keeping the Faith.” The main clunker came in a stiff, dinky-sounding “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” when whoever was in charge of impressive big-screen visuals froze images of lyric-matching characters until the singer caught up from a lapsed line. Indeed, a misstep is rare for Joel and his professional crew. His tight eight-piece band, spiced by the veterans Mark Rivera (sax) and Crystal Taliefero (percussion, sax), actually sounded studio-punchy on “Sometimes a Fantasy” and pulled off the backing harmonies to “The Longest Time” like a well-honed a cappella group.

One could still marvel at Joel’s impeccable songwriting flair with “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and even “She’s Always a Woman.” Well, “Uptown Girl,” not so much. But for his age, Joel still knows how to deliver a show, even twirling and tossing his mic stand during “It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me.” And you couldn't argue with a more-fitting final encore than the winking “Only the Good Die Young.”

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Weekend Ideas

The free Outside the Box Festival has taken over Boston Common this week -- without the sweltering weather of its 2013 debut. And it’s finishing strong with country upstart Kacey Musgraves headlining on Friday, Boston boys-done-good Guster on Saturday (much warmer than on the band’s tribute day in January, when Guster busked outside an Allston donut shot) and a Sunday rich with local notables like Ruby Rose Fox, Air Traffic Controller, Will Dailey and Bad Rabbits. And that’s not including all the other bands, dance and theater offered at this multi-stage fest. Here’s the full OTB schedule, and may I remind you, it’s free!

There’s also free live music by great local acts to absorb at Somerville’s ArtBeat Festival, capped on Friday night by Club d’elf with Duke Levine, while Saturday afternoon offers the Soft Pyramids, Eternals and Mount Peru. Here’s the whole ArtBeat schedule.

Other shows on Friday include the eclectic, swinging roots ensemble Dustbowl Revival at the Regattabar and Chris Robinson Band spreading the jam at lovely Boarding House Park for the Lowell Summer Music series north of town (after the CRB hit the South Shore last weekend for Levitate). If you’re on Cape Cod, you could check out the groovy bluesman G. Love on Friday or lively ska veterans Bim Skala Bim on Saturday at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. And jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall getting interpretive at the South Shore Music Circus on Saturday and the Cape Cod Melody Tent on Sunday.

But the weekend’s two biggest shows come at Fenway Park with the Foo Fighters, who hit the ballpark with leader Dave Grohl performing from a crazy throne while his broken leg heals after a fall from a stage in Sweden. Here’s a clip from a recent concert where Grohl explains his escapade in a song intro. He and the Foos are showing love to Boston musicians at Fenway with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mission of Burma opening on Saturday and the Dropkick Murphys joining Royal Blood on Sunday.

That T.T.’s swan song also continues on Friday with the Upper Crust, (the aptly named) Last Stand, the Bristols and Reid Paley, Saturday with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (a hot ticket coming from Fenway), and Sunday with the Daily Pravda, Bearstronaut, Spirit Kid and the Sterns among the bands lining up to pay respects to that venerable Central Square club.

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Live Review: U2 Divide and Conquer TD Garden

U2's Larry Mullen Jr., the Edge and Bono make a splash at TD Garden. Photo by Paul Robicheau.

Signs leading into U2’s current iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour weren’t promising. First there was the public blowback over the Irish supergroup’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence popping up in people’s iTunes accounts like a free but unsolicited serving of processed food. Then came frontman Bono’s slow recovery from a serious November bicycle spill that left him unable to play guitar, although guitarist the Edge fared better two months ago when he blindly stepped off a ramp into a security pit at the tour’s first stop in Vancouver.

So what a pleasant surprise that U2’s return to town showed the quartet revitalized -- physically, musically and technologically – in Friday’s first of four shows at TD Garden. U2 proved once again that its charismatic connection with fans and its ability to revolutionize stage design remain unparalleled at the arena level. The thematically cohesive, two-and-a-half-hour concert provided both an intimate rebound from 2009’s overscaled 360° tour at Gillette Stadium and the band’s most satisfying program since the Elevation tour in 2001.

This was Boston, after all, a hotbed for U2 since the group opened a show at the Paradise Rock Club in 1980. “You weren’t all there,” Bono chided Friday's soldout crowd, designating the Garden a “hometown show.” Not only did a person on the floor hoist a sign for rare oldie “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” but another sign called for “Snippet of Acrobat,” begging for even a piece of a never-performed tune.

U2 wasted no time in reaffirming its prowess. Bono confidently strode the runway up the center of the arena floor to launch “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” the Songs of Innocence opener coming off stronger live with fans joining its “Whoa!” chant before Bono sent a large hanging lightbulb swinging over the main stage as his bandmates kicked in. The whiplash jolt of “The Electric Co.” (from U2’s 1980 debut Boy, with the “Send in the Clowns” serenade that Bono once famously served in at the Orpheum Theatre after climbing into an upper box to fetch a fan's white flag) and the 2004 raveup “Vertigo” made sure that U2 began with a career-bridging knockout. After those three punches, the singer hopped in place, adopting the stance of a cocky boxer.

That’s when U2 began to unveil the breadth of its staging. The group has always been a unifying force in concert, conveyed Friday in later sing-alongs as the anti-violence “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (the four members stretched along the ramp behind Larry Mullen Jr.’s marching drum to cry “We can be as one tonight!” over a reggae pulse) and “One,” when fans even carried the verses. So how novel for U2 to split the crowd with a massive two-sided LED wall that stretched over the floor-spanning walkway and contained an upper catwalk that let band members climb inside images flashed to separate sides of the arena.  The see-through wall still drew the focus of fans from either side, while speakers suspended from the arena ceiling better distributed the sound. In turn, there wasn't really a bad seat in the house (at least on the lower level) to watch the ever-mobile band, though dead-center bowl seats negated the impact of the screens.

An early Songs of Innocence sequence that tracked the band growing up in Dublin provided the first wow when Bono virtually walked down an animated street in “Cedarwood Road” (even disappearing behind opaque cars), while an animated version of the younger rocker wandered out of a bedroom sporting posters of the Clash and Kraftwerk during “Song for Someone.” His bandmates' cyclical shuffle, however, paled next to later nugget “Bad,” where Bono rode a similar rhythmic motif to an emotive, full-throated climax.

Perhaps the coolest effect came in the apocalyptic “Until the End of the World.” The Edge soloed inside the screens while Bono precisely positioned himself in front of a camera on the satellite stage to project his giant image spitting a stream of water on his lilliputian guitar foil, even holding him in his palm. Amusingly, for all the technology, when Bono handed a presumed iPhone to a woman from the crowd to live-stream a stripped-down yet rousing “Elevation” on the second stage via a Meerkat app, reception cut out to audio only. So much for that.

U2 loves to contrast conflict and redemption in its music and kept toggling that tension in concert. Bono held his microphone stand like a spear opposite the Edge’s scorching slide solo in “Bullet the Blue Sky” before he strode the ramp with a megaphone to gasp, “I’m an American. I can’t breathe.” That segued into the MLK tribute “Pride (In the Name of Love),” which Bono dubbed “A song for the peacemakers” as he rattled off the names of recent racial hotspots Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston, then recognized Boston Marathon bombing survivors.

The frontman wandered a bit in a spiel to touch on activist causes that U2 has supported, including Amnesty International and the (RED) campaign to wipe out AIDS (with a shoutout to supporter Tom Brady before a snippet of Paul Simon's “Mother and Child Reunion”), but this remained one triumphant night. 

“Thanks for standing by us,” Bono said. And Friday's concert ended like many classic U2 shows, with the Edge and bassist Adam Clayton switching their instruments for “40,” a hymn-like lullaby dedicated to U2’s recently deceased tour manager Dennis Sheehan, the crowd chanting “How long to sing this song” as the band members waved goodbye one by one. As usual, Mullen extended the beat and departed last. But as he exited the runway, the drummer stopped to accept a flower from a fan to his right and hand it to another on his left, bringing those ingenuously split sides together with a symbolic final gesture.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Who will Bono invite onstage for a song during U2’s first pair of four TD Garden shows on its Innocence + Experience tour? A U2 tribute band even matched riffs with its Irish rock heroes in Toronto. We’ll find out on Friday and Saturday; U2 has been serving fairly consistent sets with a few rotating nuggets from its early albums and several songs from last fall’s Songs of Innocence and high-tech video walls that even stretch along the floor-spanning catwalk to a second stage. Other Friday shows to consider include Club d’elf with guitarist Van Martin and ex-Zappa percussionist Ed Mann (both seen in this clip) at the Lizard Lounge and feisty scion siren Martha Wainwright at the ICA as part of its Wavelength outdoor shows on the waterfront. There's also an outstanding Saturday night hip-hop festival at the Middle East with local stars EDO.G, Slaine, Rite Hook, Dutch ReBelle, Termanology, Acrobatik, Reks, STL GLD and Latrell James.

But two festivals also grace this summer's first seasonably hot weekend. West of Boston, the Green River Festival takes over the grounds of Greenfield Community College, primarily on Saturday and Sunday, boasting an eclectic lineup that includes Milk Carton Kids, Punch Brothers, Rubblebucket, tUnE-yArDs (pictured), Red Baraat and Steve Earle (who moves on to his own Tuesday show at the Wilbur Theatre). Here’s the full schedule. But don’t forget to catch Green River’s signature experience: hot-air balloons that hover at one end of the field around sunset while the bands play at the other end. South of Boston, there’s also the Levitate Music & Arts Festival, a Saturday soiree at the Marshfield Fairgrounds that sports Big Easy favorites Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Galactic plus Dr. Dog and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, whose Neal Casal made the intermission music for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well simulcasts last weekend. Here’s a jump to my recent Robinson interview.

On Sunday afternoon, in a different outdoor context, locally born rock sensations Kingsley Flood and Americana band Parsonsfield play the Rock and Blues Concert Cruise aboard the Provincetown II that leaves from the World Trade Center pier. And Sunday night, the venerable punk band Stiff Little Fingers plays the Sinclair, a rousing end to the weekend, especially if you need an alternate jolt of Irish rock.  

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The July 4 weekend’s usually pretty dead (pun to follow) on the live music scene, though there are a few things to consider. Boston’s early ’90s shoegaze pioneers the Swirlies reunite at Great Scott with Kudgel on Friday, part of a tour that’s the Swirlies’ first with guitarist/singer Seana Carmody since 2001. Earlier in the night, Ruby Rose Fox gives a rare solo performance at the Institute of Contemporary Art on the Seaport waterfront as part of the museum’s First Fridays series.

Sadly, Friday also marks 16 years since local icon Mark Sandman died of a heart attack onstage in Italy with Morphine, an event sure to lend extra resonance to Vapors of Morphine’s usual Saturday residence at Atwood’s Tavern with Dana Colley and Jerome Deupree. Of course, there's also the Boston Pops at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade on Saturday (with Friday warmup). And on Sunday up in Rockport, blues-swing revivalist Pokey LaFarge leads his group at the beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center.

For many folks, however, this weekend means the final joint concerts by Grateful Dead survivors Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (with Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti) in Chicago. For those without the time/inclination/cash/luck to attend the “Fare Thee Well” shows in person at Soldier’s Field, there are local options to catch a live video feed via home webcast, limited movie theaters and, perhaps best of all, simulcasts at the Sinclair for only $5 a night. It’s been 50 years for the Grateful Dead (though Jerry Garcia died in 1995) and 30 years since Anastasio played Dead covers with Phish in Vermont bars; now he’s channeling Garcia licks on a stadium stage with the Dead clan. Here's a taste of that “Fare Thee Well” band from last weekend's two-show tune-up in Santa Clara, Calif.

Sound Ideas

Converse Rubber Tracks Opens Free Boston Studio

Studio manager Evan Kenney shows the recording console of Boston's new Converse Rubber Tracks facility (photo by Paul Robicheau)

Boston bands can apply for a free day with an engineer in a professional recording studio starting today with the opening of a permanent Converse Rubber Tracks studio next to that sneaker giant’s new world headquarters at Lovejoy Wharf.

That shiny new studio between the TD Garden and the Charlestown Bridge will host daily eight-hour sessions. Bands will typically either record and mix one song, live-track several songs (possibly to film), or use the facility to mix existing tracks, says Brad Worrell, manager of Converse Rubber Tracks’ similar studio in Brooklyn.

Best of all, the bands retain all rights to the music they make at Converse Rubber Tracks, which the company presents as its way to give back to a music community that’s been supportive of the brand. This follows pop-up sessions held since December 2013 at Q Division in Somerville, where Converse Rubber Tracks has hosted such groups as Mellow Bravo, Barricades and Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion!

The 1,100-square-foot studio at Lovejoy Wharf boasts a 32-input Neves Design recording console, plus microphones, amplifiers, guitars, keyboards and drums that bands have the option of using in the space with windows overlooking the Zakim Bridge. Musicians also can tap into Converse Rubber Track’s extensive free sample library.

The studio complements the Converse Rubber Tracks Live in Boston series, which climaxed with a dazzling five-night April run at the Sinclair that was headlined by the Replacements, Passion Pit, Slayer, Chance the Rapper and Descendents, with opening sets by bands that have recorded at the company studios. Last week, Matt & Kim headlined another free Sinclair show to celebrate the studio opening.

Bands can apply for free time at the Converse Rubber Tracks facility at Lovejoy Wharf via this link.

Off The Bench

NBA Free Agency: Celtics Preview

Danny Ainge's goal should be to sign as many players as possible.

When the clock strikes midnight this evening, the smartest move the Celtics can make is the most straightforward: Sign talented free agents.

It doesn’t need to be Kevin Love (although he’d be nice) or Greg Monroe—both talented big men in their mid-20s who would immediately be the alpha dog on this team. If the Celtics walk away with a couple of guys who are ranked —oh, say 25 and 38 on top free-agent lists—it’s a good thing regardless of the contract amount or the contract years.

Despite being a playoff team, the Celtics only had two players who would’ve been in an eight-man rotation on a championship team: Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. It’s likely that Marcus Smart’s improvement will make that three next season, but they’re still five guys short. Sure, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller have shown sparks at times, Evan Turner can hit some big shots, and Jae Crowder can energize the entire arena with his defense—but none of them are rotational players on a title team. And that’s OK because the Celtics can be patient enough to see if any of them will take the next step. But aside from developing their own players—which coach Brad Stevens and his staff been great at during the past 24 months—this team just needs talent. 

Two years into the rebuild, the Celtics have no other way to get better in the foreseeable future than signing free agents, regardless of whether they’re max-contract guys. They’ve been down the other roads, and none of them led to surefire talent. In Year 1 of the rebuild, they tried “tanking,” only to have the lottery balls bounce against them once again. With two years under his belt as an NBA coach, it’s now inconceivable to envision a Stevens-led team winning fewer than 30 games in a season. So we can officially shut the door on the tanking path.

Last week, the Celtics went another route in the rebuild—try to package as many of your picks as possible for the best available asset. After two years of hoarding picks, they offered six picks to Charlotte for Frank Freaking Kaminsky (well, actually to pick Justise Winslow). After Charlotte said no, those picks are officially worth less than the ninth pick in the draft. So, the idea that the Celtics might be able to later trade these picks for something of value seems farfetched.

The other route is to lure a big free agent to Boston, but LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan seemingly have no interest in playing for the Celtics, while LeBron James, Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard and Love (yes, even Boston vacationer Kevin Love) are rumored to stay with their current teams. So the Celtics must settle for the next tier of players, many of who are restricted: Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green. All these guys likely will sign for the mini-max contract (4 years, $60 million) and will have that contract matched by their teams. But all of them would instantly be the best player on the Celtics. Two other players closely linked to the Celtics in rumors are Robin Lopez, the rim protector the Celtics need, and Tobias Harris, the scoring swingman the Celtics need. Even at about $15 million per year for each of them, they still represent the Celtics’ best chance for improvement as a team and organization.

A lot of the reasonableness of those deals has to do with the skyrocketing salary cap, whereby a $15 million contract in two years will look like a $7.5 million contract from 2013. But it also has to do with the basic concept of talent. In the worst-case scenario, those guys—and about 30 others like them—are free agents who give the Celtics more assets for trade talks this season or next. If you’re the Sacramento Kings looking to trade away DeMarcus Cousins next offseason, what’s a better haul: Tobias Harris, Marcus Smart and the 2016 Brooklyn pick or Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and the 2016 Brooklyn pick. In the best-case scenario, this guy is right about Harris, and neither player is traded.

It’s simple: the Celtics can’t afford to be picky in free agency. They need to get as much talent as possible. For an asset accumulator such as Danny Ainge, that shouldn’t be too hard to understand. Forget about what tier the free agents are in, there’s dozens of free agents who can upgrade the Celtics roster. There’s no reason to shy away from them.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Solid Sound Skews Broader, Younger

If poor weather presents a potential damper on any summer festival, Solid Sound put everything into perspective this past weekend at North Adams’ MASS MoCA. The fourth year of the Wilco-curated Berkshires festival faced a few hiccups in the forecast and cancellations by King Sunny Ade and Taj Mahal. Yet the event served surprises as pleasant as better-than-expected weather, furthering a mix of artistic disciplines and appealing to younger fans with rockers like Mac DeMarco and Parquet Courts.

“Who was here in the second year?” Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy asked a crowd of close to 9,000 that stuck through Saturday night’s building waves of drizzle to hear glorious renditions of “Art of Almost,” “Impossible Germany” and “Ashes of American Flags,” with its emotive Nels Cline guitar coda. “This is child’s play.”

In turn, Wilco enjoyed perfect conditions in also headlining Friday’s opening night with its first-ever, all-acoustic set. Tweedy and co-founder John Stirratt (above) shared a center microphone with clear vocals, though the music’s tonal palette was more limited with only acoustic guitars, dobro, banjo, piano and drums. Nonetheless, Wilco dipped into two-plus hours of favorites that included “Misunderstood,” “Hummingbird,” “She’s a Jar,” Uncle Tupelo’s “New Madrid,” “Passenger Side,” the Billy Bragg/Mermaid Avenue collaboration “Airline to Heaven” and “I’m a Wheel.”

Friday also flipped to multi-media contrast. Dreamy pop-rockers Real Estate delivered a late-night set in a courtyard ringed by giant screens of artist Clifford Ross’ 3D-ish geometric animations, while guitarist Bill Frisell’s bluesy, atmospheric jazz quartet with cornetist Ron Miles accompanied Bill Morrison’s film The Great Flood (above). That black-and-white (in more than one unsettling way) archival footage of people dealing with the historic Mississippi River flood of 1927 made an ironic entrance to a weekend with comparatively trivial weather concerns.

Frisell seemingly kept pace with Wilco’s Nels Cline in terms of busy scheduling at Solid Sound, playing in a rootsy duo with Sam Amidon, doing a pop-up solo set in one of the museum galleries, and joining saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet for a spiritually emotive courtyard performance (above) as light rain continued Sunday.

For his part, Cline dove into gonzo-style guitar with wife Yoko Honda’s art-punk rockers Cibo Matto (above) and defined the extremes of Solid Sound’s cross-discipline approach with the project Stained Radiance. In that abstract, improvised matchup, Cline tinkered with pedals, delays and effects (including howling into his guitar pickups) while live painter Norton Wisdom morphed haunting figure drawings on an illuminated plastic canvas projected to a larger screen (below). As David Letterman would say, that was something, even if it didn’t seem much in sync beyond pantomime-styled dancers who made sweeping motions in time with Cline’s sonic swipes.

Other Wilco members took advantage of Solid Sound for side projects, from Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco-like side project Tweedy to drummer Glenn Kotche’s gallery duets with cellist Jeffrey Ziegler -- including an orchestral piece that gave about 50 pre-registered audience members a role in playing color-coded snare parts (below).

However, while MASS MoCA’s sprawling galleries offered many artistic diversions, most of the musical action took place on outdoor stages. Shabazz Palaces’ lively electro-hip-hop and Ryley Walker’s jazzy full-band psychedelia both fared better on the small courtyard stage than the hushed, melancholy folk of Jessica Pratt (below), lost amid the crowd chatter by that entrance to museum grounds.

The main field stage eventually gave way to damp grass – and earlier set times to dodge heavier rain. But it yielded sure-fire sets by folk-rocker Richard Thompson (below), whose electric trio kicked butt while its leader mimicked predecessors in “Guitar Heroes” from his Tweedy-produced Still, and DeMarco, at least until his psych-pop turned into a shambolic jam of Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years.”

The best sets, however, split the middle on the larger courtyard stage, from folk duo Luluc and rollicking roots-rockers NRBQ to Cibo Matto and Lloyd. But the best of the bunch were Parquet Courts, the young Texas-gone-Brooklyn punks who balanced taut drive with noisy, careening guitars and attitude-spiked vocals.

“You guys gonna stick around for Wilco tonight?” Austin Brown, one of Parquet Courts’ twin singer/guitarists, asked fans in a playfully snide tone. “Sometimes people change their minds.” Thankfully, most people stuck it out through a little rain to bask in child’s play at New England’s most broadly unique music fest, set to return again in two summers.

All photos (c) 2015 by Paul Robicheau

The Making of Boston's Best

The 2015 Boston’s Best Judging Dinner ǁ Held at Post 390

FRONT ROW: Betsi Graves, director of Urbanity Dance; Dean Bragonier, founder of NoticeAbility; Aman Advani, president of Ministry of Supply; Sofi Madison, owner of Olives & Grace; Tara Foley, president of Follain

SECOND ROW: Allyce Najimy, CEO of the Foundation to Be Named Later; Stacy Cogswell, sous-chef at Liquid Art House; Tiffany Ortiz, board member at the David Ortiz Children’s Fund; Sally Taylor, president of CONSENSES; JC Monahan, news anchor at WCVB-TV (Ch. 5); Jonathan Soroff, feature writer/social columnist at The Improper; Bill Eppich, general manager at The Improper; Wendy Semonian Eppich, publisher at The Improper; David Wade, news anchor at WBZ-TV (Ch. 4); Jacqueline Houton, editor at The Improper

THIRD ROW: Joseph Heroun, design director at The Improper; John Spooner, contributing editor at The Improper; Tina Burgos, owner and creative director of Covet + Lou; Janet Goff, director of special events at New England Conservatory; Emiley Lockhart, general counsel and policy director at the office of state Sen. Eileen Donoghue; Evan Saunders, CEO of Attract China; Asia Mei, chef/owner of Moonshine 152; Laura Sceppa, CFO/VP of administration at The Improper

Kurt Steinberg, acting president of Massachusetts College of Art and Design; Merinda Pattullo Salsky, production director at The Improper; Meghan Kavanaugh, assistant editor at The Improper; Mitch DeRosa, co-founder of Living Proof

BACK ROW: TJ Douglas, co-owner of the Urban Grape; Hadley Douglas, co-owner of the Urban Grape; Jesse Brackenbury, executive director of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway; Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs; Andrew Rimas, executive writer at Northeastern University; Nina MacLaughlin, carpenter and author of Hammer Head; Nicole Popma, photo director at The Improper; Todd Maul, co-founder of Cafe ArtScience; Matt Martinelli, managing editor at 

The Improper; Rhonda Kallman, founder and CEO of Boston Harbor Distillery; Stacey Shane, director of marketing/public relations at The Improper; Lee Nguyen, soccer player for the New England Revolution; Alexandra Cavallo, deputy managing editor at The Improper

Not Pictured: Jackson Blue, DJ at HOT-FM (96.9); Jeanne Johnson, store manager at Bottega Veneta; Shawn LaCount, artistic director at Company One

“Best” is a small word that makes a big claim. How do we decide on the top pop-up restaurant, theater troupe or purveyor of party dresses in a town with so many excellent options? We start by gathering a panel of judges of intimidating talent and diverse expertise: academics and artists, fashion and media mavens, kitchen and bar stars, nonprofit pros and entrepreneurs (including one, we discovered mid-cocktail, who passionately blogs about club sandwiches on the side—hence that new award category). Taking over the second floor of Post 390 on a fine spring night, we sipped, supped, table-hopped and, most importantly, fiercely debated. From there, we tabulated their ballots, added nominations from staff, contributors and readers like you, and got to work vetting the finalists—the doughnut category alone probably added 10 pounds to the editorial team. Tough work, but someone’s got to do it.

The end result features standouts old and new, from a bar that’s been welcoming patrons for centuries to a haberdashery that’s been open just a few months. There are booming businesses that are expanding their local empires along with tiny indies that work magic in a few hundred square feet. And there are both hidden gems and familiar favorites that may have made the cut for unexpected reasons (you knew the bivalves were top-notch at Row 34, but what about that beer program?). Each has helped make our 24th annual Boston’s Best issue the best yet—and, we hope, your field guide for urban adventuring in the year ahead. 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s a big weekend for Wilco’s eclectic Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams, but there are also options closer to town, both indoors and out, starting with locally rooted act on Friday. Deb Talan plied her trade as a singer-songwriter around Boston for years before she met kindred spirit Steve Tallen at Club Passim. They launched the folk-pop duo the Weepies, married and relocated to California, so their Friday show at the Wilbur Theatre is like a local victory lap in the wake of Talan beating breast cancer last year. Sudbury native Mike Gordon’s best known as the quirky bassist for Phish, the monster jam-band that plays its only Northeast summer date at its August Magnaball festival in Watkins Glen, N.Y., but Gordon also leads his sympathetic solo band at Lowell’s Boarding House Park on Friday. Buffalo Tom never really went away, though shows are rarer these days for the alt-rock trio, which plays the Sinclair on Friday and Saturday, with a complete reading of the group’s 1992 landmark album Let Me Come Over that second night.

Saturday’s nearby options include singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band at the South Shore Music Circus, while the funky Bad Rabbits rock the Paradise Rock Club. And Sunday offers jazz-pop chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux (who began her career busking on the streets of Paris) at the Berklee Performance Center, while country-pop favorite Dwight Yoakum hits Webster’s Indian Ranch.

But really, for the intrepid music fan, it’s all about Solid Sound at the other end of the state, starting Friday with an all-acoustic headlining set by host band Wilco, but also offering Real Estate, Mac DeMarco, the Richard Thompson Trio, Jessica Pratt, NRBQ, Parquet Courts and the Charles Lloyd Quartet across the weekend. King Sunny Ade has unfortunately cancelled his Sunday appearance (along with the rest of his tour because of State Department computer problems with visas) and the forecast appears to be growing rainy the second half of the weekend. But Solid Sound has the advantage of MASS MoCA’s courtyards and indoor galleries and theater spaces that can offer refuge in a downpour as well as performances by Bill Frisell’s group and Wilco lead guitarist Nel Cline’s Stained Radiance improvisations with maverick painter Norton Wisdom among many Wilco side projects. Here's the Solid Sound website for more info.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Rush Digs Deep at TD Garden

Rush just graced the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, an honor that follows the Canadian power trio’s 2013 induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. So if the band’s current 40th anniversary tour turns out to be its last full campaign as hinted (in the wake of personal preferences and health limitations), Rush might be going out with a bang.

Rush fans were surely hoping to get bang for the buck Tuesday at the TD Garden, the tour’s sole New England date, completely packed despite pricey tickets. And hopefully the trio will not retire from the stage after its members showed that, given rehearsal, they can still execute their prog-rock fusion with skill and finesse.

It doesn’t hurt that Rush conjured a vintage dream set for the second half of its near-three-hour retrospective, which began with recent material and wove back in time. Not that the first set was lackluster, with songs from 2012’s surprisingly vital Clockwork Angels, rarity “How It Is” -- driven by singer Geddy Lee’s knotty bass curls, which evoked Chris Squire from prog icons Yes (who are yet to make the Rock Hall) -- and “Subdivisions,” which proved the men of Rush have aged better than that synth-laced song’s original video about high-school outcasts.

Rush embraced its own geeky image with intermission videos that showed the trio in goofy skits, cameos by actors such as Paul Rudd and Eugene Levy, and a South Park countdown that led into “Tom Sawyer” – Rush’s most popular song -- to open the second set. Second quick hit “The Spirit of Radio” bridged the longer, moodier pieces “The Camera Eye” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” with its spray of lasers. But the gags wore thin when stage hands in red jumpsuits randomly adjusted fake '70s-style amplifier stacks during drummer Neil Peart’s cascading fills on the second set’s like-period kit (complete with chimes, cowbells and an impossibly high rack of upper toms). The revered Peart made good use of it all during an astounding solo in “Cygnus X-1,” a dark, two-part sci-fi concept piece surrounded by other late '70s nuggets, including the textural fantasy “Xanadu” (with Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson riffing on their old double-neck instruments) and a 13-minute take on the “2112” suite.

That’s when Rush truly abandoned raw, Zeppelin-esque rock for higher ambitions, lyrically and musically. So an encore of simpler early tunes (down to single amps perched on chairs) seemed anti-climactic. Nonetheless, the finale of “Working Man” pointed up the band’s ethic for a job well done, built across 40 years of evolution.

Sound Ideas

Live Review: Pixies Honor T.T. the Bear's in Surprise Show

The singalongs were certainly more vociferous than the last time that the Pixies played T.T. the Bear’s Place in the ’80s. The Boston-bred band’s surprise show on Thursday at that soon-to-close Cambridge rock club (announced earlier in the day and quickly sold out after a long line at the Orpheum for tickets) lived up to its hype -- in a sense, befitting a tiny club show for a major act. It brought to mind the Replacements’ recent Converse Rubber Tracks show at the Sinclair as well as Aerosmith’s 1994 set for the opening of its Lansdowne Street club Mama Kin.

Of course T.T.’s is smaller than both of those rooms with a capacity of about 300. And the Pixies played it up-close-and-personal like back in the day -- no security pit, stripped down equipment, and the T.T.’s-monogrammed cityscape mural behind the band instead of the mirror wall from May’s Boston Calling, the Pixies’ largest-ever local audience since breaking from the clubs and opening for U2 at the Garden in 1992. Personal is also a relative term for the Pixies, who took the stage with their typical laissez-faire attitude and played for an hour and 45 minutes with nary a word about T.T.’s or anything else and eschewing eye contact except for (Kim Deal replacement) bassist Paz Lenchantin, who took it all in with a beaming gaze and sported a red flower atop her bass in contrast to the band’s mostly black outfits.

In turn, the Pixies casually opened with a few lesser-known songs from their 1987 debut Come On Pilgrim, including the expletive-spiked “Nimrod’s Son,” like any alt-rock garage band playing T.T.’s on a Thursday night. But the energy began to rise with “Break My Body,” its lessened arena-show dynamics replaced by fans chanting the “Hold my bones” chorus. The buildup continued with a loping, extra-slow “Wave of Mutilation,” sing-along “Here Comes Your Man” (with fans drowning out Lenchantin’s “So long, so long” chorus) and the woozy blues “Mr. Grieves,” all from 1989’s landmark Doolittle. Frontman Black Francis even broke into smiles, first at his bandmates, then at the microphone to a sustained ovation. Finally, 45 minutes into the group’s career-spanning set, Francis switched from acoustic to electric guitar to unleash the night’s double-barreled highpoint in “Gouge Away” (with lead guitarist Joey Santiago lending bent-string cries and drummer Dave Lovering crashing into cymbal fills) and “UMass,” a nod to the two guitarists’ Amherst roots with the full-bore chorus “It’s educational!” And the pace picked up with punk intensity in tunes like “Something Against You” (no surprise there that Nirvana cited the Pixies as inspirational) and “Tame,” as Francis got his full scream on, offset by more melodic nuggets “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Caribou” and “Debaser.”

The Pixies whipped up an aptly named “Planet of Sound” to close the set, the band members finally looked the roaring crowd in the eyes -- with Francis even standing on the monitors – and waved. But an encore that began promisingly with Lovering adding a lead vocal on a well-placed “La La Love You,” plus a “Where is My Mind?” that had the room reverberating with the crowd's adoption of the song’s “Woooo!” chant, things unraveled when the Pixies dove into “Vamos.” Santiago seemed frustrated that his feedback showpiece of tapping his thumb on his unhooked guitar plug didn’t carry anywhere near the sonic oomph of a sound system the size of Boston Calling. So after a half-hearted solo of waving his guitar through the air and rubbing its strings on his chest, Santiago packed it in early and the group sputtered to an unexpectedly anticlimactic finish. Not that it mattered on a triumphant night that was surely miles better than in the Pixies’ fledgling days at T.T’s.

The Central Square club promises a week-long farewell blowout to its 30 years of rock before closing on July 25, as owner Bonney Bouley couldn't come to lease terms with new building owners at the Middle East. And while it’s doubtful that any other bands will come forward on the level of the Pixies (only a final-night appearance by Scruffy the Cat has been announced thus far), it’s looking like a sad but glorious home stretch. Tomorrow offers a flea market of T.T.’s memorabilia from 1 to 6 p.m. Not sure they'll be anything quite as special as Thursday's rapidly sold-out comemorative T-shirts with the Pixies' logo over T.T.'s trademark bear paw.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

A rocking weekend for shows, indoors and out. Gogol Bordello ranks among the world’s most robust, eclectic rock bands, which means the gypsy punks led by the charismatic Eugene Hutz deserve better than a co-headlining turn with the more pedestrian Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. But a good time should be had by all when the two groups team up at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Friday. The atmospheric Wisconsin indie-pop group Phox hits the Brighton Music Hall the same night to make up for a snowed-out February date. Here’s Phox live and here’s a jump to my interview with singer Monica Martin.

Actually, it’s a real girls’ night out Friday with Miss Tess & the Talkbacks at Johnny D’s Uptown and the second of three nights of Girls in the Garage – Boston! at the Lizard Lounge (including Petty Morals, the Charms and the Dents on Friday, then Saturday sports the Downbeat Five, Andrea Gillis Band, Axemunkee and Cujo with Jen Trynin).

Saturday’s even stronger. Local rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef celebrates his 80th birthday with a bill including Gillis and Marc Pinansky at Johnny D’s. British folk-rock pioneer Richard Thompson holds court with his electric trio at the Wilbur Theatre behind his Jeff Tweedy-produced new album Still before joining Wilco the following weekend at the Solid Sound Festival at North Adams’ MASS MoCA.  Up at Lowell’s Boarding House Park, Ani DiFranco dazzles with her own pointed songcraft and acoustic guitar sparks, while the eccentric country-soul band the Mavericks return mid-state to Indian Ranch on the lake in Webster. Perhaps Saturday's best road-trip catch, however, will be orchestral indie-rockers San Fermin (which recently sold out the Sinclair) with Aussie indie-folk duo Luluc at the Cape Cinema, a cozy movie-seat theater in Dennis with stars on its curved ceiling. It last hosted great concerts a few years back with the likes of Bon Iver and Dirty Projectors. Here's my recent San Fermin interview with the group's locally raised leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

If you prefer to cruise the Boston Harbor on Saturday evening, roots reggae stalwarts John Brown’s Body team with the local Ethiopian-rooted Debo Band to kick off the Rock and Blues Concert Cruises, setting out from the World Trade Center pier in the Seaport. Jazz pianist Bill Charlap charms fans with his trio at the Regattabar the same night as well. And if you’re road-tripping near Portsmouth, N.H., on Sunday, you can catch California songstress Jessica Pratt at that quaint city’s new 3S Artspace before she hits Great Scott on Tuesday and Solid Sound the next weekend. You can jump to my interview with Pratt here. Mission of Burma also plays the 3S Artspace next Wednesday as a tuneup to its opening slot with the Foo Fighters at Fenway Park next month.

Sound Ideas

Pixies Return to T.T. the Bear's TONIGHT

The Pixies will play T.T. the Bear's Place tonight to bid goodbye to that club before it closes next month, going from the band's largest-ever local crowd at Boston Calling in May to its smallest since breaking out of town in the late '80s. Tickets go on sale today at 2 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre with a two-ticket limit ($55 each) and a wristband system for entry into the 18+ show (both parties must be present to get wristbands at purchase).

"T.T. the Bear's is one of the clubs that broke us," Pixies lead guitarist Joey Santiago said in a statement, "and we played there many, many times.  And all the great bands that we saw there, we have a lot of wonderful memories of the place."

The 300-capacity club, which has rocked Central Square for 30 years and hosted other rising bands from Jane's Addiction to the Strokes, will feature a week-long farewell blowout capped by a closing night set by Scruffy the Cat on July 25.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Amy Black knows how to reach down to the soul and change course to what feels right. She didn’t really try her luck as a singer/songwriter until the start of this decade in her mid-30s. Now Black’s putting aside her career in marketing, leaving Boston for Nashville, and hitting the road this summer. And she’s touring behind The Muscle Shoals Sessions, a third album that trades her country-folk style for the kind of earthy soul made back in the day at Muscle Shoals’ FAME Studios. That’s where Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett recorded (right near Black's own family stomping grounds) and she did the same with legendary keyboardist Spooner Oldman. She mixed classics like Sam Cooke’s “Bring it Back Home,” Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and the spiritual “You Gotta Move” (which the Rolling Stones cut for Sticky Fingers) with a few kindred originals, and she’ll perform them all in a going-away party of sorts at Johnny D’s Uptown on both Friday and Saturday nights, backed by Sarah Borges and a Berklee-rooted band.

Friday’s also busy at the Paradise Rock Club with Best Coast, the LA pop duo of singer Beth Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno, who add a psychedelic glaze to their garage/surf/girl group grounding on third album California Nights. And the Avett Brothers bring their rootsy roadshow to Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion on Lake Winnipesaukee in Guilford, N.H., before hitting Boston Calling in September.

Saturday’s the really big night though. The Dave Matthews Band plays an acoustic opening as part of the two-set format that DMB launched last summer when the group hits Mansfield’s Xfinity Center, possibly with a special guest (Warren Haynes and Branford Marsalis respectively made recent dates).  And while Boyd Tinsley fiddles with DMB, dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling mixes classical and dubstep (you can jump here to my recent interview) when she grabs the spotlight at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion with Boston pop duo Karmin. British rock veteran Paul Weller also continues to shake expectations on his sonically diverse new album Saturns Patterns, though he’s liable to pull out a chestnut from his past bands the Jam or the Style Council as well at the Paradise. And Ex Hex, the power trio led by Mary Timony (Wild Flag, Helium), returns to play the Sinclair on Saturday, while Boston's treasured soul shouter Barrence Whitfield celebrates his 60th birthday at Arlington's Regent Theatre with a bunch of friends including James Montgomery and Charlie Farren.

Sunday offers two different options in post-Britpop rockers Starsailor, returning from a long hiatus to perform at the Sinclair, while the Vermont folk collagist and multi-instrumentalist Sam Amidon plays Somerville’s Arts at the Armory with Berklee-bred Celtic harp player Maeve Gilchrist (Amidon then appears with Bill Frisell at the Solid Sound Festival in North Adams on June 27).

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s an especially intriguing Friday night to catch local music – or even vaudeville in the process. That’s what Doom Lover – a great rock band that boasts three singers (and even a theremin) – offers at the Middle East Upstairs; the night includes a contortionist, a comedian and fellow eclectic music acts Cordelia & the Buffalo and Matthew Connor, while Tad McKitterick from Sidewalk Driver emcees the odd festivities.  Meanwhile, over at the Lizard Lounge, Peter Moore and Sarah Rabdau sing with their art-rock outfits Count Zero and Self-Employed Assassins as well as in an opening duo set "A Thing Like That," likely to include this Beck cover. Friday’s also a great night to settle in at Atwood’s Tavern for guitar ace Lyle Brewer, while the Tweed River Music Festival presents a birthday bash show for Dan Nicklin, featuring his roosty soul band OldJack and Vermont's Bow Thayer, founder of the Tweed River fest and a 2012 Rumble winner, at Cuisine en Locale in Somerville.

Friday also cooks with other great cross-genre offerings from out of town. Folk-rocker Conor Oberst can be counted on for his personal, passionate songs, which he’ll bring to House of Blues. Jazz organist Larry Goldings leads a sharp trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart at the Regattabar, and blues harp icon James Cotton plays Scullers Jazz Club. And for a real change-of-pace, the new-music group So Percussion plays chordsticks (a freshly invented instrument) on “Music for Wood and Strings,” a piece by guitarist Bryce Dessner of the National, at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Remis Auditorium on Friday night.

Saturday starts off with a great showcase for local arts at the Cambridge River Festival, starting about noon around Central Square, including numerous rock groups such as Dirty Bangs and Ruby Rose Fox as well as jazz vocalist Meli Bermejo. Here’s the whole rundown. Speaking of local roots, Della Mae (pictured above) may have moved its base to Nashville, but the bluegrass/pop group salutes “Boston Town” on its fine eponymous third album, which builds on its wonderful This World Oft Can Be, suggesting a promising night at the Sinclair on Saturday (Della Mae also plays Newburyport's Belleville Church on Friday). Meanwhile, Michael Franti and Spearhead share good vibes at House of Blues on Saturday. And while Oasis reunions come and go, its crusty guitarist/songwriter gathers no moss as Noel Gallagher brings his High Flying Birds to the Opera House the same night. On Sunday, blues legend Buddy Guy nicely rounds out the weekend at the Wilbur Theatre and the enticing French/Finish indie-pop group the Do plays the Brighton Music Hall.


Being Alyssa Naeher

Q&A with Boston Breakers and U.S. national team goalie

Boston Breakers goalie Alyssa Naeher will fulfill a lifelong dream this month, when she joins the U.S. women’s national team June 6-July 5 for the Women’s World Cup in Canada. She chatted with The Improper about that magical 1999 team, playing her twin sister and getting ready for the world stage.

Matt Martinelli: What was going through your mind when you found out you made the national team?
Alyssa Naeher: I was just really excited. The past year-and-a-half has been a lot of training and a lot of evaluation. So to finally hear, “Congratulations, you’ve made the team.’ Just put a huge smile on my face. I was really, really excited to get that phone call. And I’m starting to get excited now for getting to Canada.

Were there any points during the process where you had your doubts about making it?
Yeah. It’s been a very long process, so obviously there were ups and downs. I never take anything for granted. Nothing’s guaranteed, so it was definitely a long year-and-a half of different challenges. I also at the same time, was confident. You just never really know until you actually hear them say you’ve made it.

What’s changed for you since you found out you made it?
To be honest, not a lot has. It’s been kind of the same routine. There’s a bit of an atmosphere now, where we’re getting into camps and during these past two weeks in California for these past two sendoff games. There’s more buzz about it now that it’s getting closer. People are more excited about it around the country. But outside of that, not a whole lot has really changed.

Was this always a goal of yours growing up?
Yeah, I’d say so. I was in the stands of the Meadowlands when I was 11 years old for the opening game of the 1999 World Cup. Since then, it’s kind of always in the back of your head. Like, this is really cool and maybe someday I can be doing this too. So it’s kind of cool to realize that it all has come true. 

Did that 1999 World Cup motivate you any further?
I was young, but that World Cup in general ignited the nation in some ways. The following that the women’s team got and the publicity and the attention really was a huge step for the women’s game. Myself and many of other girls at the time were really inspired by that group and wanted to be in their shoes and doing what they were doing.

Which teammate on the national team are you most excited to play with?
There are a few. I’ve played with Lauren (Holiday). She’s a good friend who played in Boston as well. It’s been fun to play again with her. Players like Tobin Heath, Kelley O’Hara, Meghan Klingenberg. We’ve kind of all been playing together since we were 14, 15, 16 years old. To be able to play at this level with players like that who you grew up playing with, as well as Heather O’Reilly, who I played with in Boston. And Ali Krieger who I went to college with. To experience this with players like that will be really fun.

What’s your mindset going into the World Cup as a backup?
It’s about staying focused and being sharp. You never really know what’s going to happen. If I’m needed, I want to make sure that I am 100 percent ready to go, so I can step in. Outside of that, it’s keeping a good training environment with me, Hope, Ash and Graham as the coach. And making sure our unit is clicking and doing well. Just being a good group.

Will your family be there for the tournament?
My twin sister will be there for the first game along with my parents. My little sister is pregnant and due in that time period, so she can’t travel.

Does your twin sister still play?
She does. She plays in Charlotte with the Charlotte Eagles.

Do you go head to head with each other?
We definitely grew up doing that. Every once in a while when we’re in the same place we kick it around a bit. Unfortunately, that’s few and far between these days.

What’s the highlight of your career to date?
I would say winning the 2008 under-20 World Cup was one of the best experiences of my life. It was really, really fun. Also being named to the roster for this World Cup is way, way up there.

Is there anything that you still want to achieve in soccer?
I think being named to the roster was a goal, and now I’d want to bring home the gold medal. Next summer, with the Olympics, it’s a goal to make the Olympic team and win a gold there. I just want to keep playing as long as I still love it and am able to. I just want to stay at this level for as long as I can.

What’s your routine on offdays?
I usually just like to relax and hang out with friends. Or just do my own thing, grab a coffee, go for the walk. When it’s nice weather I like to read a book or do a crossword outside. 

What do you like most about playing in Boston?
I just think it’s real cool to play in the epitome of a sports city. I think since I’ve lived in Boston every one of the four major teams have won a championship. So it’s a really fun sports town. To be able to play soccer in this city is really fun.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to once you return to the Breakers?
I think it will be fun to just play with my teammates. The team has been off to a pretty good start this season. I expect that they’ll continue to play well in the next few weeks before I get back. It will be nice to get back in the mix.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

May closes out with a full plate of live music. Seinabo Sey has already made waves in her native Sweden, where she was Best New Artist at her country’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards and performed at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. But now the Gambian-bred soul singer is ready to tackle the U.S. with her resolute voice and electronics-rooted delivery, playing the Brighton Music Hall on Friday. The same night, congas ace Poncho Sanchez brings his seasoned Latin jazz grooves to Scullers Jazz Club. And gonzo slide-guitar virtuoso Dave Tronzo graces the Lizard Lounge with a solo set sure to tap his tackle box of odd slide implements before he joins adventurous local institution Club d’Elf for a late set of Moroccan/dub/jazz fusion grooves.

Saturday yields the Awesome Day Festival, a celebration of Allston “Rock City” with 27 bands at four venues, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble winners Zip Tie Handcuffs and Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys at Great Scott, Kudgel and Guillermo Sexo at O’Briens Pub, Freezepop and Petty Morals at Wonder Bar and even a Model Café matinee with Sarah Borges and Dan Nicklin. Here’s the full, awesome lowdown. Saturday also offers the cinematic spell of Montreal’s experimental cabaret-pop singer/band Patrick Watson (pictured above) on a cool double bill with the Low Anthem at the Sinclair, savvy jazz-blues chanteuse Catherine Russell at Scullers, and raw-and-rowdy LA punks Fidlar at the Paradise Rock Club (before they attack Boston Calling in September). And on Sunday, Detroit’s Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas stir up Great Scott with their sultry, sizzling amalgam of rock, R&B, gospel, psych, garage and Latin music.

Sound Ideas

Boston Calling Goes Big, Broad and Balmy

Pixies triumphantly blasted the biggest Boston crowd they’d ever drawn. Tove Lo seductively lifted her top for a quick flash. Jack Black’s Tenacious D spoofed rock with surprising passion and precision. And bands spanned a scattershot spectrum from Americana to dance-pop, psych-rock and hip-hop, giving the near-50,000 people who invaded City Hall Plaza over the three-day weekend a full potpourri of Boston Calling.

“That’s the most psychedelic City Hall I’ve ever seen,” Beck said as kaleidoscopic lights sprayed that concrete edifice on Friday’s opening night. “That’s the way it should be.” And Beck matched the mood with a masterful mashup, eschewing his Grammy-winning Morning Phase in favor of a greatest-hits festival set, from the grungy “Devil’s Haircut” to the falsetto-soul of “Sexx Laws” and a “Where It’s At” spiced with classic-rock teases. He even reinserted sitar into “Loser.” So kill me, baby, but Beck slayed with a show that wasn't topped all weekend.

Not that the 22 other acts were short of trying though, starting with space-rockers Tame Impala that first night. Good weather got ever better as the weekend wore on, and Boston Calling shuffled the deck to satisfy various tribes with a favorite band/style one set, only to introduce them to something entirely different next.

Saturday afternoon wove a dance-pop vibe with female-fronted acts like Tove Lo and Marina & the Diamonds, who built momentum sealed by the pumping “How to Be a Heartbreaker.” Yet those sets were contrasted by the topical, double-barreled raps of Killer Mike and El-P of the fun and fiery Run the Jewels (pictured above) and the fashionably bratty alt-pop of Gerard Way. St. Vincent’s Annie Clark (pictured below) cranked up her lead guitar to serve notice that she was the day’s most impressive shredder -- as well as a coolly enigmatic vocalist who broke her façade to jump into the crowd. That’s not to take away from singer/guitarist Ben Harper’s incendiary lap steel, used sparingly in a more somber, melodic set with his revived Innocent Criminals, sparked by Roxbury percussionist Leon Mobley. Or the dual guitar textures of My Morning Jacket, its unusually insular set weighted toward its adventurous new album The Waterfall before the Kentucky rockers finished with the wound-up stomp of “One Big Holiday” – a fitting selection for Memorial Day weekend.

Southeastern-bred Americana instead surfaced as Sunday’s afternoon center, with two past and pending Newport Folk favorites. The Lone Bellow (pictured below) served emotive three-way vocals and guitar riffing – well, two guitars and one mandolin -- and Jason Isbell's country-shaded songcraft shared his skill for earthy observation and slide-fueled guitars in new and old material.

In turn, Lucius – replacing Chet Faker before returning to play the harbor-side ICA on Aug. 14 – delivered a gospel-esque new song between its art-pop fare. Jess Wolfe also feted her Lucius vocal partner Holly Laessig with a cake for her 30th birthday – 11 years since they started out here at Berklee. Aussie troubadour Vance Joy (pictured below) shared pleasant shuffles capped by earworm hit “Riptide” on his way to charm Taylor Swift’s stadium crowd in Foxboro on July 24-25, before sonically fidgety alt-rockers TV on the Radio finally provided a welcome, chaotic jolt in a tour-capping set that peaked with “Wolf Like Me.”

“I love the energy of this – it’s a nice thing to have,” TV on the Radio’s hyperactive frontman Tunde Adebimpe told the City Hall Plaza crowd. Even the Pixies seemed to get that, lining up at the stage edge to wave at the hometown masses both before the band crunched into “Bone Machine” and after Joey Santiago’s noise-guitar acrobatics in set-closer “Vamos.” Yeah, they miss original bassist/singer Kim Deal’s voice and personality, but with Paz Lenchantin assuming those chores on tour, the Pixies have tightened up in a different way, seemingly sounding better than ever.

Before the Pixies struck a note, Boston Calling was already looking ahead, with the on-site announcement of its Sept. 25-27 edition, headed by the Avett Brothers, alt-J, Alabama Shakes, Hozier and Of Monsters and Men. Here’s that full lineup.

All photos by Paul Robicheau (c) 2015

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Prog-rock is alive and well in the hands of Steven Wilson, who plays the Berklee Performance Center on Friday in support of new album Hand. Cannot. Erase. Opening his U.S. tour at the Worcester Palladium on Tuesday, the British singer/guitarist unspooled dynamic, lushly layered songs that mulled loss and regret to backing films and animation, a darkly atmospheric package that evoked Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis and Tool. Wilson lent his own winsome voice and melodic sensibility with a robust band that included guitarist David Kilminster, last seen atop The Wall with Roger Waters. Elsewhere on Friday, on a contemporary jazz note, the Chicago-bred pianist Ramsey Lewis rolls into Scullers Jazz Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his album The In Crowd!

Otherwise, the weekend’s all about the heavyweight rock fest Boston Calling, which opens Friday evening with a triple bill of Beck, Tame Impala and Sharon Van Etten on City Hall Plaza. I particularly love Boston Calling at night, when the sun and wind disappear to offer less distraction and improved acoustics, and light shows dot the face of City Hall. However, there’s plenty to see the rest of the weekend, with near-continuous music from two alternating stages starting about 1 p.m. – and the ability to skip a band or two for a break. Saturday highlights include Boston’s own skewed rockers Krill, hip-hop shakers Run the Jewels, coolly efficient art-rocker St. Vincent and heady rock headliners My Morning Jacket, while Sunday offers the Lone Bellow (jump here for my recent interview), Lucius (filling in for the ill Chet Faker before the band returns to play the ICA in August), alt-rockers TV on the Radio and Boston’s own triumphant Pixies. Here’s the full lineup with set times.

Speaking of a break from Boston Calling, Sunday also offers a nearby diversion at Ned Devine’s in Faneuil Hall with Listen Local, a free program of great local bands that was formerly given the playful tag Boston Clawing. Among the bands working the stages at the Irish pub between 5:30 p.m. and closing will be Tigerman WOAH (a Boston Calling alumnus), Le Roxy Pro, Feints, Reverse, Band Without Hands and Rumble finalist the Static Dynamic. Memorial Day will be a day of rest -- except for the end to the traditional four-day Campfire Festival (with dozens of performers including Rose Polenzani, Dietrich Strause and the Novel Ideas) at Club Passim.

Oh, and if you can’t wait until an Oct. 29 TD Garden date, the Who brings its greatest-hits farewell tour to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on Sunday. Just don’t blow marijuana smoke near Roger Daltrey’s sensitive voice – he just stopped a show on Long Island over that.

Sound Ideas

Rock Institution T.T. the Bear's Plans Closing

Jane’s Addiction, PJ Harvey (pictured), the Strokes – those were just a few of the rising rockers I first saw at T.T. the Bear’s Place (still kicking myself for missing the Arcade Fire there). Plus all the great local bands, many of them showcased in recent years at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble, at that Cambridge nightspot.

The announcement that the Central Square club plans to close July 25 -- made by owner Bonney Bouley on the club’s Facebook page -- is sad news, bringing to mind the closure of likewise-foremost Boston rock institutions the Rat and the Channel. Bouley says she could not agree on a lease arrangement with the owners of next-door club the Middle East who recently bought the building housing both venues.

No matter the eventual fate of the space, it’s the end of an era for a rock club that over 30 years -- in addition to Bouley – has been run by such scene mainstays as standout booker Randi Millman (now at Atwood’s Tavern) and the late, great bartender Jeanne Connolly as well as current general manager Kevin Patey.

Patey just reported that Stephen Stills of CSNY fame dropped by T.T.'s last night to see his daughter perform; Stills won’t be the only one dropping by over the next couple of months to pay last respects to the club.

Improper Now

Somer Lovin'

Local flavors at the 17th annual Taste of Somerville

In case you missed it: Somerville has been quietly but steadily establishing itself as a powerhouse dining and drinking destination over the past few years. With relative newcomers like La Brasa, River Bar and Aeronaut Brewing Company bolstering an already eclectic scene, Somerville has officially put area foodies on notice.

So, we’re stoked about Taste of Somerville, now in its 17th year and taking over a lot in Davis Square on June 3 for an evening of tasty eats and drinks from the aforementioned spots as well as Bergamot, Bronwyn, Highland Kitchen, Somerville Brewing and more than 30 other purveyors. Proceeds benefit elderly support nonprofit the Somerville Home, so grab your tix while they last.  

Taste of Somerville runs from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on June 3 at 50 Holland St., Somerville. $50; $75 VIP. tasteofsomerville.com.

Sound Ideas

Boston Ballet Broadly Entertains with "Thrill of Contact"

The Boston Ballet has a spring in its step – and a mischievous penchant for stylistic juxtapositions in dancing, costuming and music – in recent programs. And that’s especially true in “Thrill of Contact,” which closes the season in crowd-pleasing fashion this Thursday through Sunday.

The company had already kicked into May with “Edge of Vision,” a program with music spanning Ravi Shankar, Bach and the Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney, whose Uilleann pipes flavored “The Celts,” a lively piece that Boston Ballet turned into its own vision of “Riverdance.” It was proof that these professional ballet dancers seemingly have the skills to pull off just about anything.

How about comedy as well to balance the drama? “Thrill of Contact” dashes what the average person might expect from a ballet program, potentially to entertain a wider audience -- yet with a challenge to absorb the extremes.

Sure, “Thrill of Contact” begins with the traditional delights of the George Balanchine-choreographed “Theme and Variations,” a classical ballet where dancers elegantly weave in cyclical lines to the music of Tchaikovsky. But then “fremd,” choreographed by company dancer Jeffrey Cirio, takes a fractured modern turn. Starkly dressed dancers mix sweeping contortions and slow-motion movements (with flicked fingers lending subtle details) while the contrasting soundtrack spookily alternates electronic music (led by the sparse twitching of Aphex Twin) and solo classical piano to the largely detached visions.

However, after William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” (visually bright with dancers in contrasting yellow and purple outfits to the brisk sounds of Schubert), the program closes with the Broadway-esque farce of the Jerome Robbins-choreographed “The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody).”

There’s some great dancing amid visual props, including a somberly beautiful passage that involves people raising and lowering umbrellas. But nearly every sequence of the Chopin-scored “The Concert” is sweetly timed to comic effect, from onstage solo accompanist Freda Locker dusting her piano keys to a group of ballerinas falling out of sync to a running, gag-laced storyline with a Groucho Marx-ist husband lured by a free-spirited dancer, before everyone turns into butterflies.

If audiences have open minds to stretch from the traditional to the contemporary, plus humor for good measure, “Thrill of Contact” provides theater-goers with a broad slice of entertainment.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding embraces a restless creativity, having shifted from small-combo Brazilian samba and string-stoked chamber jazz to big-band electric funk and jamming with Prince since she won a Grammy for Best New Artist over Mumford & Sons, Florence + the Machine, Drake and Justin Bieber. Spalding’s not about to stop, slipping into the Paradise Rock Club on Saturday with her latest project, Emily’s D+Evolution, where she’s made herself over with glasses and braids and incorporated poetry and movement into her new band. And there’s more jazz in store on Friday with great pianists commanding each of the city’s main jazz clubs. Berklee-trained Yoko Miwa gets elegant and fluid with her trio at the Regattabar while the venerable Donal Fox brings his classical/jazz blend to Scullers with his Inventions Quartet featuring vibraphonist Warren Wolf.

UK rock fans get a double dose as well this weekend with energetic crowd-pleasers Kaiser Chiefs at the Paradise on Friday and the Bobby Gillespie-fronted Primal Scream at Royale in support of its first album in five years, More Light. On the local-band front, HarpoonFest takes over the seaport Harpoon Brewery both Friday and Saturday with a sweet lineup including Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, Nemes, the Rationales, Sidewalk Driver and Bearstronaut. Here’s the full music lineup for HarpoonFest. And Mastodon pumps its ambitious metal roots at House of Blues on Sunday.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The weather’s getting warmer, but the shows are still inside -- with a few hot ones to consider this weekend. On Friday, the Icelandic pop ensemble Of Monsters and Men, best known for casting its co-ed charms in “Little Talks,” plays the Orpheum Theatre behind its new album Beneath the Skin. The same night, chamber-pop group San Fermin plays the Sinclair (with local duo You Won’t replacing Natalie Prass as opener). Here’s a taste of San Fermin live and here’s a jump to my recent chat with its locally raised keyboardist-composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Saturday brings Boston-launched soul-folk troubadour Martin Sexton to House of Blues while Sunday brings young jazz guitar hotshot Julian Lage to acoustic roots at Club Passim and Lo-Fang – the pop stage project of classically trained strings player and singer Matthew Jordan Hermerlin -- to Brighton Music Hall.

Improper Now

Mary Pawpins

Entitled Cat Boston provides luxury cat-sitting services in your home

Cat owners go to great lengths to keep their feline masters (er, friends) happy. That explains the success of Entitled Cat Boston, a new luxury cat-sitting service that opened late February, but is already racking up some rave online reviews from some satisfied kitty owners. Owner, sitter and self-proclaimed cat lady Katherine Bergeron—who also co-owns alternative art space Torrent Engine 18—attributes that to her service’s special attention to detail and care.

“There are a lot of people whose cats are like their kids,” she says. “It’s not just, ‘oh, you know, we’ll dump food in a bowl and she’ll probably be fine.’

 Entitled Cat’s sitting services extend far beyond dumping food in a bowl. For the price of $39 per half hour visit—though Bergeron says she almost always ends up staying with the cat for far longer because “I want to be there, because I actually enjoy their company!”—Bergeron will come to your home and make sure your cat is taken care of from nose to tail.

 That care includes nail clipping, grooming, one-on-one playtime (she’s been known to make a play “kitty tunnel” out of paper bags to keep her charge stimulated and engaged if the owners are gone for more than a few days), feeding and even some less pleasant jobs.

“I don’t really put this in my literature, but I actually wash out the cat box, which almost nobody does,” she says. “I mean, I’m almost wondering if maybe I should tell that to some people, because they hardly ever do even if they get dumped out regularly.”

It’s a dirty job, but Bergeron says she’s more than happy to do it. She’ll also administer medications (free of charge if it’s a simple matter of giving a cat a pill with its food, for a reasonable extra charge if it’s a more complicated process) and accommodate special requests. Bergeron makes a personalized house call before accepting any job, to meet both the cat and their owner and to deliver a questionnaire outlining any needs or wants.

“I had one client who asked that I have a fresh Brita water in a regular ceramic cup for her cat because her cat thought of herself of a person,” she laughs. “She was an only cat so she drank out of a regular water bowl, but she also liked to drink out of a ceramic cup. She would just hop up on the table and drink out of her ceramic cup because she thought she was a person!”

Bergeron tends to think of her four-legged clients as little people as well. And, she says, she’s never met a cat she hasn’t liked.

“I like all cats. I’m good with very shy cats, [but] I’m good with more gregarious cats. I am fairly adapted to a lot of the personalities of different cats,” she explains. “There are cats that will bounce right up to you and meow at you and are ready to get pet. And there are some cats who will hide under the couch. Either one is fine with me. I think that’s all part of their owner’s personality. If they really care about the cat, they’ve probably raised it long enough that they’re able to give it a personality so they trust people. Something a lot of people don’t know about cats is that you actually have to raise them to trust people, they’re not like dogs where they’re automatically trusting.”

With so many positive reviews just a few months in business, Bergeron hopes Entitled Cat will continue to grow, but, no matter how big it gets, she plans to remain just as hands-on.

“I really like doing it. It’s a passion project, because I really do love cats,” says Bergeron, who doesn’t own a cat of her own, because her partner is allergic. “When I was in junior high, we would have a classroom show where we would have a format where people would read the news at the front of the class. I had an animal show and I answered questions about animals. I was a pretty dorky kid. I brought my cat in for show and tell!”

For more info about Entitled Cat Boston visit entitledcatboston.com.

Sound Ideas

Zip-Tie Handcuffs Wrap Up Rumble

Zip-Tie Handcuffs accented their punk side in rightly winning the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble at T.T the Bear’s Place on Friday.  The power trio narrowly edged out Nemes – an Americana-shaded band delivering its own genre-smashing energy flavored by fiddler Dave Anthony – and the Static Dynamic, its bombastic enthusiasm topped by flame-haired vocalist Jess Collins.

On the surface, Zie-Tie Handcuffs evoked Nirvana with shambolic combustion, navigating tight changes with oddly punctual harmonies just when its loud, bass-heavy songs were about to fall apart. Bassist Ian Grinold (pictured) and guitarist Matt Ford even tossed/swapped their instruments for one equally effective song and later added a cover of “Rain,” a Beatles surprise coincidently played on occasion by Boston avant-punks Mission of Burma (though Burma didn’t throw in that hardcore-tempo shift in the middle).

Grinold accepted a sparkly winners’ crown adorned with antlers and feathers on a champagne-sprayed stage after a guest set by the Gravel Pit. The annual Rumble, coordinated by WZLX “Boston Emissions” host Anngelle Wood, began with 24 of the area’s best bands.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

The first weekend of May explodes with live music – and good weather to follow! Boston’s best local bands highlight Friday night. Dark chamber-pop group Jaggery performs a song cycle inspired by Leonardo da Vinci at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Remis Auditorium, while glam-rockers Sidewalk Driver get theatrical at Emerson’s Black Box Theatre, upstairs from the Paramount Theater downtown. And while judges tally their votes in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble, the Gravel Pit rocks T.T. the Bear’s Place at 11:45 following finals sets by the bombastic Static Dynamic (9:30), folk-fusion animators Nemes (10:15) and grunge detonators Zip Tie Handcuffs (11 p.m.). Should be a wild and wooly battle; I’ll go with the Handcuffs. Friday night also brings the lively, eclectic Australian multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd & the United Nations to the Paradise Rock Club.

Electric bebop guitarist Mike Stern leads an all-star band at the Regattabar both Friday and Saturday with trumpeter Randy Brecker, bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Dennis Chambers, a lineup that should even rock more than this one with Stern and Brecker. Also on Saturday, Western-shaded folk-rockers Lord Huron hold court at the Paradise, the impressionistic indie-folk Great Lake Swimmers settle into the Sinclair and the Dave Wakeling-led ska-rockers the English Beat return to Johnny D’s Uptown. And for a difference experience, Morphine-associated saxman Dana Colley joins percussionist/clarinetist Ken Winokur (Alloy Orchestra) and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan LaMaster (ex-Cul de Sac) to convene their Psychedelic Cinema Orchestra and improvise a live soundtrack to Ken Brown's '60s film work at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Saturday.

Sunday, the 32nd annual MayFair takes over Harvard Square with multiple stages that include sets by local rockers the Sheila Divine, Freezepop, Bent Shapes, Air Traffic Controller, Parks and Hallelujah the Hills. And the weekend rounds out that night with Canadian folk trio the Wailin’ Jennys (pictured) at the Somerville Theatre, gonzo funk-rock veterans Fishbone at Royale and ambitious the prog-pop icon Todd Rundgren, winding up his latest multi-media presentation at the Wilbur Theatre.

Sound Ideas

Replacements Rock Sinclair's Converse Series

Monday’s line outside the Sinclair foretold a rocking hot-ticket event like Harvard Square hasn’t seen since Dan Ackroyd called his buddies to the 1992 opening of the original House of Blues a few blocks away. For this night, the first in a diverse five-night music series presented by Converse Rubber Tracks Live, former Sinclair headliners Dinosaur Jr. was merely an opener act for the Replacements, the iconic ’80s Minneapolis garage-punks whose reunion trek has been mostly festival-size.

Yes, on the one hand, this should have been a bigger venue. Free tickets for the series (which continues with synth-pop headliners Passion Pit on Tuesday, speed-metal kings Slayer on Wednesday, Chance the Rapper on Thursday and the punk Descendants on Friday) were distributed by lottery, which left many fans empty-handed. Dozens of late-arriving winners with wristbands were even left on the sidewalk, waiting for people to leave to make room in the 525-capacity club.

Inside, the Sinclair was packed more than usual, partly to accommodate an extra soundboard and a security/photo pit. But once Dinosaur Jr. followed local band Young Leaves, with J. Mascis stoking his scuzzy guitar leads through the arc of three Marshall amp stacks behind him, the anticipation built for a special night.

Then the Replacements hit the small stage like Lone Rangers in black eyemasks and proceeded to blow off steam with scrappy rock ‘n’ roll made for rooms like the Sinclair. There were a few sloppy moments like an aborted song launch while singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg fumbled to light a cigarette. At another point, bassist Tommy Stinson, the band’s other original member, piped, “Finally got that one down. Thanks for shopping.” And the middle of the quartet’s 85-minute set wandered into blues that goofed on Whole Foods and a T. Rex cover spot where the ever-youthful David Minehan (from Boston’s own Neighborhoods) got to sing “20th Century Boy” with aplomb while he and Westerberg ripped away on their guitars.

But mostly, the Replacements – now anchored by drummer Josh Freese -- were tighter and more professional in their duties than during their famously drunken heyday. Westerberg was focused and intense in the chorus to “Anywhere’s Better than Here.” And the homestretch – with fans on the floor hopping with fists in the air to anthems “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Bastards of the Young” and “Alex Chilton” – delivered a transcendent payoff.  “Are you satisfied?” Westerberg sang in an encore of “Unsatisfied,” and for the crowd, that answer had to be affirmative.

Just make sure if you’re going to another one of these Converse Rubber Tracks Live Boston shows (promoting Converse’s new global headquarters on the city’s waterfront), get in line early to ensure you don't miss out.


Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Wild Flag existed – sadly – for only one great 2011 album. But we can consider ourselves blessed that while Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss revived Sleater-Kinney, singer/guitarist Mary Timony hatched her own spunky all-woman power trio Ex Hex, which plays Great Scott on Friday (as well as the Sinclair on June 13).  Also Friday, fiery Welch alt-rockers the Manic Street Preachers make their highly anticipated return at the Sinclair, while Boston’s long-excellent jazz/groove/world collective Club d’elf brings back original drummer Erik Kerr as well as violist Mat Maneri for an old-school night at the Lizard Lounge.  Psych-prog rockers Ghosts of Jupiter (now with the Ryan Montbleau Band's Jason Cohen on second keyboard) retool at the Davis Square Theatre in advance of a new album. And here’s the lineup for the Rock and Roll Rumble semifinals, which conclude Friday at T.T. the Bear’s Place.

On Saturday, Johnny D’s Uptown rumbles with the invigorating Afro-Cuban grooves of New York’s renowned Pedrito Martinez Group, led by the conga virtuoso of the same name, presented by World Music/CRASHarts. And Boston-bred acoustic guitar/cello trio Tall Heights charms with an early show at Brighton Music Hall.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Spring’s in the air with a hodgepodge of diverse shows that includes a Boston-bred jamband that’s rising above the radar. Dopapod has both the heady grooves and gall to spend the whole weekend at the Sinclair, and has already sold out its three-night ticket package toward that end. Nice openers too, with Soule Monde (featuring keyboardist Paczkowski and Salem-rooted drummer Russ Lawton from Trey Anastasio’s band) on Friday and the slinky reggae jammers Dub Apocalypse on Saturday.  Another local veteran fringing the jamband scene, Ryan Montbleau brings his soulful rock to the Paradise Rock Club both Friday and Saturday night. On Friday and Saturday, the Rock 'n' Roll Rumble preliminaries also round out at T.T. the Bear's Place. Here's the schedule.

On Saturday, eclectic roots singer Rhiannon Giddens steps out from string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Somerville Theatre in support of her aptly named, T Bone Burnett-produced solo debut Tomorrow is My Turn. In turn, the opera-trained Giddens was drafted for Burnett’s new “Basement Tapes” project with Elvis Costello, Jim James and Marcus Mumford. On Sunday, local nylon-string guitarist Juanito Pascual leads his fluid New Flamenco Trio in afternoon shows at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Juliana Hatfield Three returns to rock Cuisine en Locale, and English guitar legend Jeff Beck holds court with his instrumental band at the Orpheum Theatre. When it comes to six-string masters, especially how he coaxes vibrato cries from his Stratocaster, there’s no one that sounds like Beck.

Improper Now

Converse and Bowery Present Killer Lineup of Free Shows

Slayer, Passion Pit, The Replacements, Chance the Rapper and more...

Holy crap, you guys. Just when you thought Boston Calling was the biggest music event of the year, Coverse and Bowery Boston dropped this on us: A killer five-night lineup of shows, kicking off April 27, that includes—wait for it—Cambrdge-bred Passion Pit, Slayer, The Replacements, Chance the Rapper, Dinosaur Jr. and more. And it's all totally free.

We'll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor.

Good? Tickets will be doled out through a lottery (we're guessing competition is going to be a little fierce) through an online registration process starting this Monday at noon. Registrants cant sign up for a chance to win two tickets for the show of their choice. The hardest part, as we see it, is going to be choosing which night to play for.

Peep the full lineup and register here. And godspeed. 

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Nothing like a true rebirth of spring to mark the return of the Sonics, the seminal garage-rockers from Tacoma, Wash.  Long before Nirvana -- or even Jimi Hendrix -- broke out of the Northwest, the Sonics delivered hard, raw and highly influential rock. Now the band has released This is the Sonics, its vital-sounding first album since the ’60s – in fact, 50 years since its debut – and plays an early show at the Brighton Music Hall on Friday with Boston’s compatible, incendiary soul-rocker Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, plus Muck & the Mires. And with Gerry Roslie (lead vocals, keyboards), Larry Parypa (guitar) and Rob Lind (sax) still in place five decades later, the Sonics appear poised to shake up the place. Speaking of resurgence, ’70s-bred British folk-rocker Joan Armatrading  will perform solo with love and affection on guitar and piano for her last major tour at the Berklee Performance Center on Friday, while the hypnotic Tal National – the most popular live group in the African country of Niger – debut locally at Johnny D’s Uptown, with both shows presented by World Music/CRASHarts. The Soft Moon unleashes its psychedelic rush at Great Scott, and the hootenanny-happy Spirit Family Reunion – steeped in Hank Williams and Bob Dylan – holds court at the Sinclair to help round out a hopping Friday night.

Polymath jazz pianist/composer and Harvard professor Vijay Iyer brings his virtuoso trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore to the Regattabar both Friday and Saturday, likely to mix reconfigured standards with material from acclaimed recent album Break Stuff – boundaries likely included.  Also, when it comes to malleable jazz on Saturday, vocalist Cassandra Wilson dips into the Billie Holiday songbook at Berklee to celebrate Lady Day’s 100th birthday. Back to another seminal group along more unusual lines, the French progressive rock group Magma gets choral with its own invented language in its 45th anniversary tour stop at Brighton Music Hall. And Swedish indie-folk singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez floats back into the spotlight, bringing his feathery acoustic touch to the Paradise Rock Club on Saturday.

Sunday explodes with the boisterous fun of married keyboards/drum duo Matt & Kim at House of Blues, promising a mix of piano pop, EDM dance moves and frisky crowd interaction.  On the more sophisticated side at Symphony Hall, jazz giants Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock go face-to-face on dual pianos in a Celebrity Series concert. Dweezil Zappa recreates his father Frank’s 1975 album One Size Fits All with his repertory group Zappa Plays Zappa at Berklee, and the Icelandic electronic band GusGus invades the Sinclair on Sunday. Not to mention that Sunday marks the opening night of the 2015 Rock 'n' Rumble preliminaries, which take place the entire week (except for Wednesday) at T.T. the Bear's Place with 24 great area bands. Support local rock!

If Fish Steps Aside, Boston 2024 Should Look to the Red Sox

Larry Lucchino would be a perfect fit as the face of the bid.

The hits just keep on coming for John Fish, the chair of Boston 2024. The past week has seen Mayor Marty Walsh’s support of him questioned, his previous anti-Olympics criticism dredged up, and Fish once again going after anyone who dares to question the Olympic bid.

The appearance of a construction magnate such as Fish heading up the bid—even with Suffolk Construction’s recusal from the project—will simply be too much for the voting public to swallow come November 2016. If the proposal to host the games wants any chance to be passed, it’s going to need a new face behind it. Richard Davey, who has valuable experience as transportation secretary and previously at the MBTA, was a smart pick to lead the charge as the CEO, but there needs to be someone as the face of the bid who’s able to add excitement and project a vision for the 2024 Olympic Games. And it needs to be someone other than Fish.

As I’ve called for on multiple occasions dating back to last spring, Fish needs to step aside. Even if Suffolk stays away from any projects, his company would certainly benefit from any increase in construction and development. A bigger and bolder Boston is only a good thing for John Fish. And while we might think a bigger and bolder Boston is in everyone’s best interests, is it really going to help a middle-class couple in Hyde Park that simply wants a good education for their kids and safe streets at night? What do they get out of the Olympics? And that’s the hitch in the entire argument, right? But it’s one that Fish fails to acknowledge.

But who should fill Fish’s shoes? There’s one answer that initially seemed farfetched when I pitched it early this year, but it seems like an idea that could have some legs. Larry Lucchino should head the Boston 2024 campaign.

Lucchino can certainly take a lot of criticism, but he’s done a masterful job with the Red Sox on the business side of things. His biggest fault in the eyes of some might be middling with the roster, rest assured that he won’t be picking the fourth member of Team USA’s 4x100 relay, and I don’t think Coach K (or maybe coach Stevens by then) will ask him who should be the 12th man for the U.S. basketball team. He will be in charge of the business side of things, and there’s simply no debating the job he’s done with the Red Sox, turning what was mostly a potential goldmine into something very close to an actual goldmine. He hired Janet Marie Smith to oversee Fenway Park’s renovations, and having connections to such a renowned stadium architect, who built such gems as Petco Park and Camden Yards, is only a plus in the Olympic process. Sign me up for a Janet Marie Smith-designed Olympic stadium. I might not even want that to be temporary.

His ability to sell every square inch of stadium space to sponsors and advertisers would be a plus for the Olympics, as would his ability to monetize the Olympic experience. How much would you pay for a replica torch? Or a brick on the torch runway? The Yale-educated lawyer would likely find out.

Lucchino’s availability is certainly in doubt, but coming on the heels of a spring training report (that was since debunked) that he’s less involved in the Red Sox organization than in the past, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he take an indefinite leave from the Sox to head up the Boston 2024 bid. If it fails at the polls in November 2016 or is shot down by the IOC in 2017, then it’s back to the Sox. But if it succeeds, then he can move forward, cementing a legacy akin to what Peter Ueberroth left with the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A.

Maybe Fish knows he’ll need to step aside and he’s waiting till closer to the referendum to do so. If he waits till next spring to hand the reins over to a new chairperson, they can sell the voters on the promise of transparency and the hope for change in an Olympic process that has so far been a sour experience for most of the city’s residents. Lucchino turned the Sox history of 86 years of heartbreak into a cash cow and a franchise that is admired across the country. Surely, he can help lead a turnaround of Boston 2024 after a bunch of rough months.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s a Good Friday to catch a show, starting with Twin Shadow – aka onetime Bostonian rocker George Lewis Jr. – cranking up the more anthemic/synthetic moods of his debut major-label effort Eclipse at the Paradise Rock Club. The Decemberists (pictured) share their spare-to-ornate, folk-to-rock range on What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, a worthy complement to the group’s older catalog at House of Blues both Friday and Saturday. Brazilian pianist Elaine Elias also does the same two-night stand at Scullers Jazz Club.

On Saturday, a one-night supergroup that includes Gov’t Mule/Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes, Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke, Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson and Extreme singer Gary Cherone and bassist Pat Badger pays tribute to rock greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse who lost their lives to substance abuse at age 27. Proceeds from that show at the Berklee Performance Center go to local recovery program Right Turn, which has roots in the music community. The same night, singer/guitarist Benjamin Booker, whose self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2014, brings his sparse but adrenalized garage-blues to the Sinclair.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic, delightful talent than Lisa Fischer, the Grammy-winning R&B soloist who’s become an A-list backup singer from the Rolling Stones to Nine Inch Nails, leading her band Grand Baton at the Wilbur Theater on Sunday. Here’s her stunning take on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” which I reference in a recent interview that you can jump to here. And later on Sunday night, vintage soul-influenced producer-turned-performer Matthew E. White brings his band to Great Scott behind his fine new album Fresh Blood. Here’s another jump to my interview with that Virginia-based singer/guitarist.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Thirty years strong, its evolving ranks still fronted by horn veterans Tom Halter, Charlie Kohlhase and leader Russ Gershon, local treasure the Either/Orchestra makes a rare stop at the Regattabar on Friday for a night spanning modern jazz originals, an Ethiopian traditional song and a cameo by singer Gabrielle Agachiko. The same night, Blackberry Smoke brings its jamming blues and country-tinged brand of classic rock to House of Blues, while the Nile Project brings musicians from 11 African countries together for a hypnotic mash of instruments and cultures at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center, presented by World Music/CRASHarts.

Free-jazz enthusiastists have a treat in store Friday through Sunday at the first Brandeis Improv Festival, which takes over that Waltham campus with interesting programs that are free and open to the public, including performances by drummer Milford Graves, pianist Tim Ray, guitarist Dave Tronzo and the collective Club d'elf. Here's the full rundown.On Saturday, in another World Music/CRASHarts show, the nine-piece Heritage Blues Orchestra bridges blues, jazz and gospel from the country to the urban landscape at the Somerville Theatre. Shoegaze rockers Swervedriver crank up the guitars once again at the Sinclair. But Saturday’s most eye-catching bill pairs the gritty, impressionistic Texas singer/songwriter Shakey Graves (pictured) and sassy, eclectic country singer Nikki Lane -- whose All or Nothin’ remains one of my favorite 2014 albums – in an early show at Royale.

Sunday, however, may offer the most potential for surprise. The coy, charming Texas chanteuse Kat Edmonson shares her unique voice at Scullers Jazz Club, for a 4 p.m. matinee as well as an evening show. Tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain brings his Celtic Connections ensemble to the Somerville Theatre in a third program by World Music/CRASHarts. And the under-the-radar indie supergroup Diamond Rugs, including Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, stokes its swinging party tunes at the Sinclair to cap the weekend.




Sound Ideas

Boston Ballet Finds Contrast in "Shades of Sound"

Boston Ballet’s current program “Shades of Sound” is all about striking contrasts, from minimalist white-to-black stage sets to music that ranges from Tchaikovsky to the White Stripes. There’s no other way you’d hear the melody of Jack White’s “The Hardest Button to Button” played on tuned cowbells in a percussion section spread through the side boxes of the Opera House, heightening a sense of stereo in opening piece “Chroma” as part of the Boston Ballet’s largest-ever orchestra.

Of course the music by Jody Talbot and White -- iced by that satellite menagerie of drums and mallet instruments – complements the facile, fluid movement of the dancers, briskly stretching and dipping in graceful contortions choreographed by Wayne McGregor and staged within a white box. George Balanchine’s “Episodes,” evolving to a grey backdrop for dancers in black-and-white, came off more static (by comparison) yet playful in a pas de deux by Dusty Button and Lasha Khozashvili in the Saturday matinee of the program’s first weekend.

Finally, in its Boston Ballet debut, the closing Hans van Manen-choreographed “Black Box” cast its title’s shade in both its backdrop and costuming. The women sported party dresses with high heels rather than pointe shoes and paired off in frisky ballroom and tango steps to a range of classical pieces. Later, with champagne flutes in hand, the couples devolved into movements of drunken frivolity, complete with staggering toward a waiter for hopeful refills – and a toast to the audience. A dash of humor to top off the occasionally rocking attitude and music of a ballet program well suited to a general audience with spring in its step.

“Shades of Sound” closes out with performances this Thursday through Sunday.  Tickets at Boston Ballet.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

Spring arrives with a slew of concert options. Perfume Genius highlights Friday’s palette at the Sinclair, as frontman Mike Hadreas sings and plays piano with an atmospheric and lyrical tension that draws power from his perspective as an out gay man. Perfume Genius’ third album Too Bright ranked among 2014’s best pop albums. The same night offers the New Orleans funk-fusion of Galactic at House of Blues and the ’80s-bred power pop of the Smithereens at Johnny D’s Uptown.  

Saturday’s the busiest night. Lou Barlow's band Sebadoh returns to action at the Brighton Music Hall, passionate indie-rockers Cold War Kids hit House of Blues and the socially rooted folk-punk group Andrew Jackson Jihad roll into Royale. Roots-rock enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a chance to catch the spirited ex-Blasters brothers’ team of Dave & Phil Alvin with the Guilty Men at the Sinclair. On the jazz side, guitarist John Abercrombie leans to lyrical ballads with his quartet of pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and frisky drummer Joey Baron at the Regattabar. And if you’re up for a Saturday road trip to the other end of the state to toast spring, Goyte (yes, the “Somebody That I Used to Know” guy) joins kindred indie-pop experimentalists Zammuto at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center in North Adams.

On Sunday at Club Passim, tough and tender singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier shares tales of heartbreak from her recent album Trouble & Love with fellow country-shaded artist Allison Moorer, who sorted through her own personal struggles (including her divorce from Steve Earle) on her own Down to Believing. And across Harvard Square at the Sinclair the same night, singer Georgia Nott and her multi-instrumental brother Caleb of the New Zealand electro-pop group Broods seal their introduction.

Sound Ideas

Rumble-Ready Lineup 2015

It’s about time for another 24 local bands to square off in the annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble at T.T. the Bear’s Place. Rumble organizer and WZLX “Boston Emissions” host Anngelle Wood has announced the nightly lineups for the event’s six preliminaries in mid-April.  

Long run by WBCN, the Rumble has served as a rite of passage (win or lose, because nobody really loses) for decades of Boston bands, from the Neighborhoods and ’Til Tuesday to the Dresden Dolls and last year’s winning Goddamn Draculas -- or the Drax for short. After the week of preliminaries (including a traditional Wednesday off for rest), the semi-finals kick in on Thursday and Friday, April 23-24, followed by the finals on Friday, May 1. Here’s the preliminaries schedule, with nightly set times for each band:

Preliminary Night #1
9:00 – Mister Vertigo
9:45 – The Rare Occasions
10:30 – Band Without Hands
11:15 – Nemes

Preliminary Night #2
9:00 – Drab
9:45 – Eternals 
10:30 – Raw Blow
11:15 – Duck & Cover

Preliminary Night #3
9:00 – Le Roxy Pro
9:45 – Salita
10:30 – The Static Dynamic
11:15 – Psychic Dog

Preliminary Night #4
9:30 – Mercury on Mars
10:15 – Dan Webb and the Spiders
11:00 – Dirty Bangs
11:45 – Protean Collective

Preliminary Night #5
9:30 – Nate Leavitt Band
10:15 – The Dirty Looks
11:00 – Murcielago
11:45 – Zip-Tie Handcuffs

Preliminary Night #6
9:30 – New City Ghost
10:15 – Yale, Massachusetts
11:00 – Soft Pyramids
11:45 – The Warning Shots

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, so it must be time for the Dropkick Murphys to take over House of Blues. This year, Boston’s Celtic-punk favorites will actually spend the holiday performing in Ireland, but the band will still pack House of Blues this Thursday through Sunday. It’s been three decades since jazz guitarist Pat Martino suffered an aneurysm that took away his memory and ability to play, but at age 70, he’s seemingly on an upswing with his fluid, spidery, post-bebop facility and back at the Regattabar with his organ trio on Friday. Willie Nile settles in over at Club Passim the same night. He’s best known as a veteran rock ‘n’ roll songwriter (who’s joined onstage by Bruce Springsteen on occasion), but he’s also trading guitar for piano to sing some of his newer material this tour. And speaking of guitar, Singapore-bred and Boston-based acoustic virtuoso Shun Ng pops into Club Passim for a 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon show that promises special guests (J. Geils harmonica ace Magic Dick being likely for starters). Check out Ng’s recent solo cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that drew online praise from Queen’s Brian May.

When Saturday night rolls around, the annual Reykjavik Calling concert at the Middle East Downstairs presents the rising Icelandic bands Kaleo and Beebee & the Bluebirds opposite Boston-based outfits Love in Stockholm and George Knight with Pablo Palooza for some cross-cultural collaboration. It’s free but with an RSVP through www.eventbrite.com). Over at the Brighton Music Hall the same night, Scott Weiland (of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver fame) fronts his new band the Wildabouts. And the Airborne Toxic Event commands the Paradise Rock Club both Saturday and Sunday, performing its more experimental, synth-based recent album Dope Machines as well as old hits led by “Somewhere Around Midnight” in a relatively intimate space for that LA band. And Sunday offers two fine sax encounters, in the jazz realm with Either Orchestra leader Russ Gershon leading a trio at Somerville’s new space the Green Room, while ex-James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic alto king Maceo Parker gets funky up at Rockport’s intimate Shalin Liu Performance Center.

Seriously Funny

Mary Lynn Rajskub may be best known for her signature scowl, which she donned on television thriller 24 as Chloe O’Brian, the right-hand woman to Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. However, Rajskub’s certain set of skills includes bringing the laughs on shows like 2 Broke Girls and the recent revival of Arrested Development. She sets her sights on Laugh Boston for a series of stand-up shows on March 12-14. / Hannah Landers

Tell me about your Boston shows. What can audiences can expect to see?

Well, it’s stand-up comedy. [Laughs] It’s a lot of me talking and being ridiculous and not too dirty—a nice amount. And it’s a live show so anything can happen. Most of my material is personal.… Also a lot of people recognize me from 24 so that creates quite a bit of material, usually up top at the show. Sometimes people look at me not knowing what to expect because a majority of people know me from a very serious show, so that’s always fun.

That actually goes into what I was going to ask about. A lot of people know you best from 24, a serious drama. Do you think your stand-up side surprises people?

Absolutely, and it took me a while to understand that.… I see myself as always doing more comedy, but I get so many people that don’t know what to expect. There’s always the couple that’s like, “See? I told you she was funny!” “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never saw her smile.” The way I finally started to understand it is if I went to a comedy club and Walter White came out and was standing in front of the microphone.

You mentioned a lot of your comedy is autobiographical. Do you have a topic or subject you like to touch on during every stand-up show?

I talk a lot about my family. I have a husband and a kid. And… we actually got pregnant three months into dating. So usually at the top of my show, depending on who’s in the audience and how much I feel like they’re into 24 or not, I will address that because sometimes people just really want to talk about that. And then I kind of segue into this stuff that is very candid and comes from living life by the seat of your pants type of situations.

You’ve been a part of so many ensemble casts on shows like Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Modern Family. Who would be in your dream ensemble cast?

Oh my gosh, that is a really tough question. I hate questions like that, where they’re like, “What is your favorite all-time whatever?” And you’re like, “I don’t know! Don’t put me on the spot!”
We can come back to it if you need some time to think about it.

Yeah, that might be some homework for me.… There’s certainly tons of funny women right now, which I love. It seems like every year there’s somebody new and unique.… Like that Ghostbusters cast that they announced? I’d love to work with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy or Amy Schumer or Maya Rudolph. I’d love to do something with a bunch of funny ladies.

Which role has been the most fun for you to identify with?

I really like Gail the Snail [from Always Sunny] because she’s disgusting and I like that I was forced to identify with that. I had to dig deep inside of me and find the grossest version of me that I could possibly be and that was very liberating.

Have you always known that you wanted to be a performer?

No, not at all. I went to school for painting and I didn’t like the critiques that people were giving me so I just started speaking and doing live performance. Although I did do acting when I was a kid and in high school, but I never thought it was anything that I could go into. I just did it because I enjoyed it.

How did you initially become interested in painting?

Looking back—and even now—I would be in trouble if I had to anything other than something artistic.… My parents signed me up for a watercolor class. It was all older women and I was like 15 and we just recreated greeting cards. So you’d take a greeting card and you’d take your piece of paper and recreate the flowers from the greeting card. And I just loved it. And then when it was time to go to college… I just kind of looked up and I was like, “Oh, I don’t really want to go to school and I don’t want to get a job. I’ll go to art school!”

Between painting, stand-up and acting, what would you say is your favorite creative outlet?

I like to be able to go back and forth. Painting is definitely more solitary and more inward. I think stand-up has been a really good training ground because you have to be aggressive and I’m not really an aggressive person. So learning how to do that has been really, really, really good for me.… You have to learn how to command the stage and be really clear about what you’re talking about. And also have a good time because if you’re not having a good time, everybody else isn’t having a good time. So stand-up is tough but it’s also kind of a party. It’s gotten me out of my own head.… And acting would probably be the in-between of both of those worlds.

What would your dream role be?

My dream role would be to… almost be in a comedy where I’m a mom who’s just a regular person and then by the end becomes a crazy vigilante warrior fighter. That would be my dream, is to be able to kind of do a little bit of everything. Maybe have something that seems like a totally normal situation that ends up in a fight for life or some kind of spy situation or some kind of showdown.… So at the beginning you see me making breakfast and everything’s okay but everything’s not what it seems and then I gotta throw down. Like some movie cuts on my face and a metal bikini by the end.… That would be the dream role.

Sound Ideas

Weekend Ideas

It’s feast or famine with live music, and this weekend offers one those ridiculously rich spreads. Let’s start with Friday. Roxbury-bred drummer Roy Haynes reigns as one of the jazz greats, having served with John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughn, and the 89-year-old icon brings his Fountain of Youth band into Scullers Jazz Club for the first of two nights. Chris Thile returns from his Nickel Creek reunion to front the Punch Brothers’ inventive contemporary bluegrass at House of Blues. Joan Osborne takes a break from new band Trigger Hippy to float solo hits like “One of Us” and this one in an acoustic duo at Johnny D’s Uptown. Guitarist Andy Gill remains the only (though most crucial) original member of the great Gang of Four when that British post-punk band hits the Paradise Rock Club. Cross-cultural party band Red Baraat celebrates the Hindu holiday of Holi with its Festival of Colors at the Sinclair; here’s a snatch of a recent show and a jump to my recent interview. And Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler (brother of that band’s frontman Win) brings his solo project to the Middle East Downstairs.

Atmospheric rock returns to the intimate Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre at Emerson’s downtown Paramount Center with a spirited double bill of Hallelujah the Hills and psych-rock terrors New Hymnal Highway on Friday and a night of more somber, elegant folk-tinged music with Marissa Nadler, Damon & Naomi (ex-Galaxie 500, Luna) and Glenn Jones on Saturday. Looking at the rest of Saturday’s options, beginning down the street at the Wilbur Theatre, Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford hits the road with his ‘80s pop alternative Mike & the Mechanics. Alloy Orchestra performs one its live soundtracks to the film The Son of the Sheik at the Somerville Theatre and G. Love & (his original) Special Sauce return to rock House of Blues with their rappy blues. Over in Harvard Square, Rockport’s own Paula Cole surfaces at cozy Club Passim to revisit her catalog, likely to include this old hit from back when Katie Holmes was a TV teenager on “Dawson’s Creek.” And around the corner at the Sinclair, Maine native Aly Spaltro returns as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, delving into more open-hearted material from her new album After, a shift in tone from her brilliant if sometimes harshly passionate past fare. And Great Scott rocks on Saturday with the psychedelic sounds of Moon Duo.

Sound Ideas

Solid Sound Broadens Summer Outlook

Solid Sound has announced a typically diverse lineup for its June 26-28 music and arts festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams. In addition to two nights with host band Wilco (plus its side projects), Solid Sound vies to lure young indie-rock fans with Parquet Courts (SPIN magazine’s 2014 Band of the Year), Mac DeMarco and Real Estate, expand its jazz pedigree with sax veteran Charles Lloyd’s quartet and guitarist Bill Frisell, and solidify its folk/roots audience with Taj Mahal, the Richard Thompson Trio, NRBQ, the Felice Brothers and enchanting newcomer Jessica Pratt. Eclectic pop group Cibo Matto will join in, while Shabazz Palaces add experimental hip-hop. And as a most promising wild-card booking, 68-year-old Nigerian pioneer King Sunny Ade & his African Beats should get the grounds jumping with their hypnotic big-band juju grooves.

No word yet on whether Wilco will resurrect its all-covers request night from 2013. John Hodgman will return to anchor a comedy revue, this time with Tig Notaro, Paul F. Tompkins and The Daily Show’s Jessica Williams, and storytelling troupe the Story Pirates and Vermont’s Circus Smirkus should entertain the kids. Solid Sound takes over the main field, courtyards and auditorium of MASS MoCA every two years, with festival-goers free to roam the Berkshires contemporary art museum’s sprawling galleries. More information on the lineup and tickets can be found here at its website.

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