Streets of Your Town: this week's concerts, with Leonard Cohen, Sufjan Stevens, T.I., and more
This week, the entire world will find out at once whether or not there's anything to this whole Mayan Apocalypse theory after all. According to consistently-disputed lore, the fact that the Mayan calendar expires on December 21 is iron-clad proof that we will, as well—news that's sure to come as a relief to those who tend to put off holiday shopping until the last minute. The end of the world has been turning up in the songs of Leonard Cohen (Dec. 18, Madison Square Garden) for a while now, but never so vividly as on his 1992 album The Future, which often felt like a musical version of the Book of Revelations. He's also written about more personal doomsdays—disintegrating relationships, loss of faith, and dissolved dreams. Lately, his mood has lightened—this year's Old Ideas emphasized both spiritual rapture and Cohen's wry sense of humor—but shadows still lurk behind every verse. Sufjan Stevens (Dec. 21, Bowery Ballroom) also skillfully balances darkness and light. His feathery folk songs contain both woe and wonder, speaking about serial killers and absentee parents in similarly hushed tones. That his latest album is a collection of Christmas songs is a welcome reprieve from the angst. Melanie Fiona's (Dec. 22, Gramercy Theatre) music is brighter and stronger—springing r&b that contains messages of personal strength.
The band Fucked Up (Dec. 21, Warsaw) also sing of perseverance and personal strength. Their most recent record, the sprawling David Comes to Life, was an ambitious double-album that involved a lightulb factory worker, his doomed romance, and a bomb plot. Though its overall length was ambitious, its songs remained brutish and compact, lead vocalist Damien "Pink Eyes" Abraham charging and hollering up the center as big boulders of guitar thunder down around him. The album drew immediate comparisons to Hüsker Dü, but where that band thrived solely on raw kinetic energy, David feels powered by genuine heart. Even the music feels achingly desperate—wanting the best for its protagonists in the face of unreasonable odds. The Everymen (Dec. 18, Mercury Lounge) also offer an unconvential take on hardcore, balancing their rugged songs with elements of blue-collar bar rock. Low Cut Connie (Dec. 19, Tammany Hall) take a similarly irreverent approach to country and rockabilly, scuffing up the edges and bending the corners to make it feel looser and more dangerous. And King Tuff (Dec. 19, Music Hall of Williamsburg) ventures even further into the red; his guitar pyrotechnics are the sole nod to conventional rock in his otherwise revved-up distortion workouts.
The early albums by the Atlanta rapper T.I. (Dec. 18, Best Buy Theater) were also characterized by their determination and drive. On his 2006 album King, he was a man dead set on proving his own indomitability. Over doomy, requiem-like synth stabs, he asserted his own supremacy with a blinding, rapid-fire flow, julienning syllables and scattering them across the beats with abandon. It was the very level of skill and dexterity with which he made his point that ended up proving it. His perspective has shifted some as his success has increased. On his 2010 song “How Life Changed, he flashed back to his early days dealing drugs on the streets of Atlanta before arriving at a chorus, sung by Mitchelle'l, that contrasted his current triumphs with his early woes. If he sounds especially jubilant, it's because the victory was hard-won. Ghostface Killah (Dec, 19, Webster Hall) also has a knack for crime narratives, though his songs feel more like noir novels, taking place under streetlights, in the dead of night. The darkness in the music of Black Anvil (Dec. 21, St. Vitus) is more visceral, wrought through hammering riffs pounding like pistons in an engine.