Streets of Your Town: This week's concerts, with Florence & The Machine, the Beach Boys, the Avett Brothers, and more.
"That's why God made the radio," goes the chorus the first new Beach Boys (May 8, Beacon Theatre) song in 20 years, and it wasn't too long ago that it seemed like it would have taken an act of the same to get the surviving members of the group to share an iced coffee, let alone a stage (Google the phrase "Beach Boys" and "miracle," and this reunion tour is the first thing that comes up). But there they were on the Grammys, Mike Love grinning and pointing like a creepy uncle, Brian Wilson looking petrified and remote. If early reports are to be believed, he hasn't gotten any more comfortable. But the set lists have been generous—a whopping 42 songs in Tuscon!—and the group on the whole seems to be in fine spirits and better voice. It will require some willing suspension of disbelief not to squirm a little when they sing "Do you love me, little surfer girl?" but the minute Brian Wilson hits the high note, everyone in the room will turn into a teenager.
The music Jason Pierce makes as Spiritualized (May 7, Terminal 5) seems to imagine the Beach Boys as the house band at a planetarium. On his masterpiece, 1997's Ladies & Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, he crafted woozy, multilayered songs that seemed to be seeking some kind of middle ground between gospel and garage, pitting hymnlike ballads featuring a million-member gospel choir and alabaster orchestration against acrid, tobacco-colored rock and roll. His latest album, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, is tighter and more immediate, but still boasts the kind of radiant harmonies and sparkling orchestration that would do Brian Wilson proud. Perhaps someone should slip it on his tour playlist—it might do his nerves good.
Wilson may also find unlikely allies in the Budos Band (May 12, The Bell House), a raucous collective from Staten Island who seem to apply his fondness for the grand flourish to Ethiopian jazz and funk. Their music is more percussive than both Wilson's and Pierce's—relying on backbeats that bubble like boiling water to guide the songs and allowing the layers of brass to serve as seasoning. The moment the horns unite to hit a single unsettling minor chord is like the reveal that comes at the end of a great murder mystery.
Rufus Wainwright (May 9, BAM) and Florence & the Machine (May 8, Radio City Music Hall) both also have a fondness for the dramatic flourish. In the case of the former, it almost sandbagged his career. After a string of promising early records, Wainwright indulged his passion for theatre and opera perhaps a bit too much, letting the orchestration rule his songs instead of the other way around. He's corrected the equation on the Mark Ronson-produced Out of the Game, which restores both his knack for laconic pop hooks and his sly sense of humor. "I'm out of the game/ I've been out for a long time now," he sings on the title track, which sounds like it could have been nicked from his father Loudon's FM-rock songbook. Who knew that getting out was actually the perfect way back in? Florence could, perhaps, learn a bit from Rufus's missteps. The British singer also does drama better than most, but the grandiosity threatened to capsize her on last year's Ceremonials. Fortunately, the record's strongest moments were still capable of raising some gooseflesh. Lead single "Shake it Out," with its never ending crescendos, is arguably the most thrilling and deeply affecting song of encouragement in the last five years, with Florence frantically exorcising demons of regret. It's the kind of subject that calls for a little grandiosity.
Florence opts for the grand gesture, but Doe Paoro (May 8, Cameo Gallery) scales her songs according to their content. In the trembling "Born Whole," her weird, witchy voice winds its way through barren piano, repeating the same lyrics over and over like it was a child's nursery rhyme. Her songs tread an unlikely middle ground between R&B and indie rock; "I'll Go Blind" sounds like a lost Mary J. Blige bedroom demo, but "Can't Leave You" is built on a plucked banjo and log cabin violin and the booming "Body Games" is tailor-made for Lykke Li. The one constant is Paoro's bright, brassy voice, beaming like a searchlight from the center.
Justin Ringle of the Portland band Horse Feathers (May 9, Bowery Ballroom) also provides a strong locus around which his tiny songs orbit. His music is more willowy and gentle than Paoro's—you'd never hear a thumping dance beat in a Horse Feathers song—but it also possesses the same kind of penetrating sadness. Ringle's soft voice and his unvarnished lyrics make his songs feel like secrets.
The Avett Brothers (May 9, Terminal 5) take that same combination of raw longing and rustic arrangements and write it in capital letters. Before arena-folk acts like Mumford & Sons made suspenders and off-mic singing safe for the mainstream, the Avetts were fusing the music of the 1890s with the problems of the '00s. It's been three years since their most recent record, the Rick Rubin-produced I and Love and Mine, and this early show suggests they're getting primed and ready to shoo the unplugged interlopers off their property.
If Horse Feathers and the Avetts engage folk full-on, Ane Brun (May 7, Bowery Ballroom) hovers mostly around its edges. Like Florence and Doe Paoro, she's got a quivering, fluttering voice, but her music feels sadder and more careworn than either. "When love pulls away again/ Can you get yourself together then?" she asks in "What's Happening With You and Him" as a piano shivers beside her. The sad response is implicit in the question.
There was a time when it seemed possible that Zola Jesus (May 10, Guggenheim Museum) might also fully retreat into sadness; as affecting as they were, the best moments on the pair of E.P.s she released in 2010 were slow and stark. But she bucked those assumptions, issuing a full-length that was more white witch than white whine—2011's bracing Conatus—and elevating her live show to the level of performance art. She'll continue that arc in this show at the Guggenheim by pairing with note experimentalist J.G. Thirwell, known largely for his work with snarling industrialists Foetus. Thirwell is arranging a series of Zola's songs for strings but, knowing the temperaments of both artists involved, it seems foolish to expect anything resembling a chamber piece.
And since she's in town, it's possible she'll make an appearance at the sold out M83 (May 10, Terminal 5) show. That's her singing "Carry on, Carry on!" on the magnificent "Intro," and both she and M83 main man Anthony Gonzalez share a fondness for grandeur. He delivered his vision in CinemaScope on his latest, Hurry Up We're Dreaming, moving past the confectionary New Order nods on previous outings toward the kind of expansive, synth-driven compositions that used to score '80s sci-fi films. That his audience has grown as his music has become less accessible—there are parts of Hurry Up's second disc that are just surging, wordless instrumentals—is Gonzalez's niftiest trick.
The music favored by the British producer Rusko (May 13, Terminal 5) is far more physical. Nominally dubstep—though what that means anymore is debatable—Rusko's songs kick like L.E.D. donkeys, crammed with sputtering drums and sharp synth darts and held together by soaring, passionate vocals. Rusko is musically insatiable—his songs swallow R&B and reggae whole, spitting them back out as something both familiar and alien and retaining their unique vocal patterns but roping them to hyperkinetic backing tracks.
The music showcased at the Undead Music Festival (May 9-12, Various Venues) is just as adventurous. A three-day event dedicated to presenting jazz and avant-garde music as serious, thriving, and vital (hence its somewhat tongue-in-cheek name), the festival defines itself by featuring music that is challenging without being cerebral. If anything, it's alarmingly physical—New York's Sex Mob rips apart popular pop and rock songs, Medeski, Martin & Wood spike angular jazz with smoky funk, So Percussion's compositions are noisy and clattering, and Stabbing Eastward, a side project of Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio, builds songs around snatches of vocals and low, expanding drones. Fittingly, the festival concludes with a masterpiece of gorgeous spontaneity: during an event dubbed "Round Robin Improvisations," a soloist will take the stage and improvise for five minutes, at which point he will be joined by another artist. After another five minutes, a third artist enters and the first leaves. The process continues until 17 artists have had the opportunity to perform. The resulting composition, however it may sound, is the perfect reflection of the festival's dedication to spontaneous musical epiphany.
For a more literal take on the notion of the "undead," there's the Decibel Magazine Tour (May 12, Irving Plaza), in which a coven of like-minded devil-worshippers will gather to pay tribute to their infernal lord. Fewer genres provoke more glib one-liners from uninvested onlookers than metal, but the bands on this bill, sponsored by the long-running, generally peerless Decibel Magazine, are no laughing matter. Watain fill the stage with animal carcasses during their performances and occasionally douse audience members in pig's blood; Behemoth, playing their first U.S. shows since frontman Nergal's recovery from leukemia, are known to perform surrounded by enormous inverted crosses. Their music comes in a blinding, angry streak—stampeding guitars, machine-gun percussion, and eerie, grunted vocals. It raises pure terror to high art. Take any skeptic to the show, and watch the sarcastic smile vanish from their face in seconds.