Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Rodrigo y Gabriela, Refused, Joshua Redman, and more.
When the Swedish punk band Refused (Apr. 22, Terminal 5) splintered apart in the late '90s, they didn't leave behind scores of broken-hearted fans, nor did they bow out on the back of a final, triumphant farewell tour.
It would be more accurate to say Refused didn't break-up so much as collapse, playing a string of grueling, massively underattended shows for indifferent audiences before each going, disgustedly, their own ways. What they did leave behind, though, was a bona fide masterpiece—the kind of obstinate, difficult, forward-thinking record whose secrets don’t start revealing themselves until much, much later. That record, The Shape of Punk to Come—a violent, potent document that welded a free-jazz mentality to acerbic hard rock—went on to influence not only a whole clutch of underground hardcore bands, but also acts as disparate as arty arena rockers Muse and the neon-colored pop-punk outfit Paramore (who quote Refused's "Liberation Frequency" in their own "Born For This"). The group reunited earlier this year to play the kinds of shows they should have been playing 14 years ago—in large venues, to adoring fans who know every word by heart. The songs on Shape of Punk are still scorchers, tight clusters of sound that rain down as bright and blazing as comets.
The music of the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (Apr. 20, Radio City Music Hall) is bright and blazing, too. Where Refused meld hard rock with jazz, Rodrigo y Gabriela occupy an unlikely middle ground between heavy metal and flamenco. Think about it for a moment and it begins to make more sense—the fleet-fingered fret-hopping of Latin music isn’t too far off from metals' fierce riffing. That one genre favors nylon strings and limber rhythms where the other is amped and roaring seems only a minor quibble. On their latest album, Area 52, they revisit past classics with the brass band C.U.B.A., bringing even more brightness and heft to their dizzily spiraling songs.
Legendary hardcore group Bad Brains (Apr. 18, Music Hall of Williamsburg) also have a fondness for genre-splicing. Their first two records were full of split-second hardcore songs—most of which rarely clocked in at more than 2 minutes—that occasionally gave way to bobbing reggae asides. It must be said that reports from recent live shows are not always positive—with frontman H.R. said to seem detached and indifferent—but if even a few seconds of their former power flashes to life, it will be well worth the trip. It doesn't hurt that their sharing the bill with the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA, whose gift for egghead wordplay and incisive, professorial delivery hasn't dulled in the slightest since his mesmerizing 1995 solo debut Liquid Swords. If we're lucky, both acts will join one another on stage.
The Bay Area group Terry Malts (Apr. 21, Glasslands) may not be performing the same kind of genre surgery, but there's still something clever and winning—and so obvious it's hard to believe no one thought of it before—about the way they scatter shoegaze fuzz across their Ramones-inspired punk songs. A typical Terry Malts song consists of only a lyric or two, repeated again and again, but the choruses are pure top-down, beach-drive, instant-sing-along classics—the sound of the weather warming up and the sunny afternoons getting longer.
It took two decades for Refused to finally get their due—which is an appreciable length of time by any estimation, but at least it happened. Other bands are just as forward-thinking, obstinate, and uncompromising and their moment never comes around. To wit: Tronics (Apr. 21, Cake Shop) a primitive '70s band for whom the description "lo-fi" would be too generous. Their rickety songs are gleefully underdeveloped, ranging from scabrous would-be punk rock to shambling pub folk. They’re closest in spirit to the equally ramshackle Swell Maps and Television Personalities, but Tronics' pasted-together contraptions make those bands sound like REO Speedwagon. Their return is unlikely to spark a wave of appreciation for their proudly singular sound, but fans of the outer edges of indie rock will fall in love with their gleefully haphazard aesthetic.
UV Pop (Apr. 20, St. Vitus) and Gary Wilson (Apr. 20, Glasslands) share both Tronics' cockeyed artistic sensibilities and limited audience reach. The former, the product of an Englishman named John White, offer doomy, minimal coldwave—clacking drum machines, gothy minor chords, and tragically beautiful melodies. At their best and iciest moments, they sound like the kind of songs that would play at some strange medieval funeral. The venerable New York label Sacred Bones recently reissued the group's 1984 debut, and its spooky atmospherics is squarely in line with the label's other excellent offerings. Wilson, who released his oddball debut You Think You Really Know Me in 1977 only to fall into a full two-and-a-half decades of obscurity after that, has been working at a steady clip since re-dedicating himself to his art in 2002. His music is even stranger and more obtuse than Tronics or UV Pop; last year's My Eyes Are Closed ambled from surrealist lounge music to dollar-store R&B to bright, fizzy compositions that, with a bigger budget, could be considered synthpop. Big budgets aren't Wilson's style, though. His alien pop songs can be heard as a predecessor to bands like Beck and even Black Dice but, with his weird subject matters and atonal, rambling delivery, Wilson still comes off stranger than them all, in the best possible sense.
The curators of the Unsound Festival (Apr. 18–22, Various Venues) share Wilson's stubborn, experimental streak. The six-day event primarily showcases the best in the electronic avant-garde; stubborn noise merchants like Lustmord—who excels at creating unsettling drones and will be performing a specially-commissioned composition for the festival—share the bill with the spacey, vaguely synthpop Peaking Lights, the doomy coldwave of Maria Minerva, and Julia Holter's mystic neo-New Age. Even within its limited genre framework, the festival is so eclectic it's difficult to zero in on a single highlight; expert curation makes it a compelling draw for both fanatics and curious newcomers alike. Those put off by Unsound's adventurousness but still wanting to hear fizzy, synth-based music have a safer option in Washed Out (Apr. 22, Highline Ballroom). Though he started out making lazy, indifferent pop music, Ernest Greene—the principal personality behind Washed Out—expanded confidently on last year's Within and Without, giving his songs range and definition and concrete, well-crafted choruses. His live shows are surprisingly forcefull, fully clearing whatever haze remains in his songs in favor of a rowdy, bass-heavy dance party.
Washed Out is a more linear alternative to Unsound's wild, angular artiness in the same way that Joshua Redman (Apr. 17–22, Village Vanguard) incorporates elements of the jazz avant-garde into his bright, straightforward playing. The saxophonist clearly bears the imprint of forerunners like John Coltrane, but he evens the occasional darting flight of atonal fancy with winding melodic phrases that feel immediate and welcoming. Over the course of his nearly 20-year career, he's crafted a sturdy, respectable discography, and his shows—like his songs—pepper taut, peerless craftsmanship with flashes of untamed improvisation. That’s the same sort of balancing act taking place at The Stone this week, during a series of shows dubbed Chippy Fest, (Apr 17–22, The Stone) because of the fact that every performer has been hand-selected by the artist Chippy, who's perhaps best known for the album covers she created for the label Tzadik. The acts are, accordingly, flummoxing in range—there's the beguiling doom-psych of Amen Dunes, the knotty prog-metal of PAK and the full-on sonic assault of the cataclysmic and aptly-named Unstoppable Death Machines. The thread linking all of the acts is their fondness for both chaos and volume. The result is a showcase characterized by a dedication to giddy defiance.
After all that Sturm und Drang, you'll undoubtedly feel the need for a bit of peace and quiet, which is where the elegant music of Lambchop (Apr. 20, Le Poisson Rouge) comes in. Since 1994, Kurt Wagner—the band's chief architect—has been turning out records alternately described as "country-soul" and "chamber-folk," neither of which really do them any justice, mostly because the group reinvents itself with nearly every record. Their 2000 high-water mark Nixon imagined a Nashville country group performing a night of Curtis Mayfield covers, but this year's Mr. M is smaller and statelier, its songs twinkling like lightning bugs against the night sky in an open field. But Wagner's also got a surrealist's sense of humor, and any time things threaten to get too dignified, he'll croak a line like, "God made us rational/ Thought made you stereo/ I think of you today/ boy, what an a-hole." He delivers those lyrics not with a wink but a sigh, making the effect that much stranger—and that much more engaging.