Streets of Your Town: this week's concerts, with Solange, Rick Ross, the Rolling Stones, and more
Few roles in popular culture can be as demoralizing as being related to someone famous—especially if you're both pursuing a career in the same field. There are not enough action films in the world to turn Donnie Wahlberg into Mark or enough Christian cash cows to make an Alec of Stephen Baldwin. Even at the height of his group's success in the late mid '90s, Jakob Dylan never really managed to fully dodge questions about his dad. Which makes the space occupied by Solange Knowles (Dec. 11, Bowery Ballroom) that much more fascinating. While her sister Beyoncé's fame easily dwarfs hers, Solange is credited with giving her sibling something much harder to attain: the aura of eclecticism. Indiedom took notice of the younger Knowles when she released a smoky cover of the Dirty Projectors' "Stillness is the Move," and grew increasingly intrigued as she began to tweet enthusiastically about bands like Grizzly Bear and of Montreal. When Beyonce turned up at a Brooklyn Grizzly Bear show a few months later, it was widely believed that it was because of Solange's influence. Her latest solo record, True, will likely only bolster that reputation. Released on Terrible Records, a label started by Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor, it situates Knowles' lithe voice in mercifully minimal production—most songs depend on just a few elegant synth washes and a throbbing, insistent rhythm. It’s a gentle throwback to the r&b records of the '80s, full of lightness and charm where tunes burrow in subliminally instead of crashing through the windows, guns blazing. Andrew Bird (Dec. 10, Riverside Church) also keeps things simple. His rustic folk songs feel like the result of communal jamming rather than meticulous plotting. For more robust sounds, there's Grandaddy's Jason Lytle (Dec. 10, Union Hall), whose grand songs have the majesty and sweep of prime ELO. Heathered Pearls (Dec. 11, Glasslands) share's Lytle's knack for scope, but their songs are moodier and more opaque—gently twinkling electronic compositions that feel like the kind of songs designed to soundtrack early morning on the moon. Grooms (Dec. 13, Shea Stadium) are just as ethereal, bleary bands of synthesizers swaddling creaky, high-pitched vocals. As their name implies, Gasoline Heart (Dec. 10, Knitting Factory) are rugged and grubby, a roaring, no-frills take on bar rock. Jazz bassist Christian McBride (Dec. 11, Village Vanguard) also has no time for frills. His grounded, precise playing has allowed him to slide in nicely alongside a host of widely-varied collaborators, from Chick Corea to the Roots.
When he began recording in 2006, versatility and flexibility were not words people would have used to describe the rapper Rick Ross (Dec. 16, Roseland Ballroom). His blunt, unimaginative rhymes and clunky sense of rhythm infuriated longtime die-hard hip-hop fans, and his name became synonymous with everything that was wrong with the genre in its present state. But a funny thing happened over the few years that followed: Ross started to find himself. He developed an outsize, godfather-type persona that bordered on knowing caricature, grew more comfortable with his big, booming voice, and figured out a way to make his plainspoken, metaphor-free rhyming style feel almost Hemingway-esque in its curtness. Accordingly, listeners grew more endeared to him. He no longer seemed like hip-hop's homewrecker, but the big, bearish uncle who shows up late in the flashy sports car and tells deliberately-bad jokes. His songs may be as artless as ever, but he's somehow managed to make that the very point. Those looking for something more challenging would do well to investigate Blue Scholars (Dec. 13, Bowery Ballroom). The Seattle hip-hop duo blend an affection for the genre's golden age of nimble wordplay with sleek, futuristic production. Some of which calls to mind the music of James Blake (Dec. 11, Music Hall of Williamsburg), whose debut was a study in contradictions: tiny vocals nestled atop boulder-sized beats. In his heyday, D.J. Shadow (Dec. 11, Brooklyn Bowl) operated between both poles. His affection for classic hip-hop resulted in the dank, dusty-fingered masterpiece Endtroducing, but his fondness for future shock gave his later works the sleekness of a spacecraft. Antibalas (Dec. 14, Brooklyn Masonic Temple) also create a bridge between the past and present. Their music borrows liberally from the Afrobeat invented by Fela Kuti (it's no coincidence they were tapped to play the house band in the musical Fela!), but they update it with a modern canniness. And the black metal band Von (Dec. 11, St. Vitus) also offers a bit of musical time-travelling. They were one of the first American practitioners of the genre, but they disbanded in the early '90s before netting anything more than a cult following. Their return now, when black metal is finding unprecedented favor, feels like a well-earned cashing of backdated checks.
The Rolling Stones (Dec. 13, Prudential Center) have been cashing checks for decades now and, from the look of the ticket prices for this latest round of shows, they still have more than a few sizeable ones in their future. The Stones occupy an unenviable place in rock history: their catalog is crammed with perfectly-crafted, lesser-known chestnuts, beloved by millions of rock aficionados, that they'll basically never get to play. There can never be a "Rolling Stones play Beggars Banquet start-to-finish" tour, nor will there be setlists strewn with odd but intriguing curios. There's a level of obligation that comes with reaching the level of success the group has, and once there you can either compensate by stretching out set times to epic lengths, as Bruce Springsteen does, or you can stay the course and shuffle the jukebox of hits different ways each night, stopping off at familiar points in slightly different sequences. The latter appears to be the option the Stones have selected: the kickoff show at London's O2 arena boasted a healthy offering of popular favorites arranged for maximum payoff. The omission of "Satisfaction" was the evening's only contrary decision. The Smashing Pumpkins, (Dec. 10, Barclay's Center) however, are all contrary decisions. For this show, rescheduled after the original date was interrupted by Hurricane Sandy, the group will play their new record, Oceania, in its entirety, saving recognizable hits for the show's second half. The Killers (Dec. 14, Madison Square Garden) can't be bothered with delayed gratification. Four albums into their career, they've generated enough gems that their shows now feel like one euphoric high point. The same can be said of !!!, (Dec. 13, Music Hall of Williamsburg) whose shows forego song breaks in favor of working a single, long, dizzying groove.