Streets of Your Town: This week's live music with Lee Fields, Mavis Staples, Freddie Jackson, Dave Grohl and more
The way the documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells it, it took decades of speculation, exhaustive research and a primitive website before South African fans were able to track down their hero, '60s folk singer Sixto Rodriguez.
When Philip Lehman set out to track down forgotten soul singer Lee Fields (Feb. 15, Bowery Ballroom) to record a single for his label Desco in the late '90s, he only had to make a few phone calls. Since then, Desco has gone belly-up (though Gabriel Roth, who ran the label with Lehman, went on to found the Daptone label), but Fields' career has maintained a steady simmer. Though he hasn’t quite achieved the name recognition of peers like Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, his music is just as rich and twice as nervy.
His 2002 album Problems is full of tense, twitching funk, capturing the same clammy anxiety as Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, and last year's Faithful Man gave a similarly panicked treatment to tales of troubled romance. Songs like this are what Fields' voice is built for; raw and ragged, it barrels forward from within the smoky horn charts and grainy guitars, a bleeding heart in search of some relief.
Mavis Staples (Feb. 14, Lincoln Center) has been doing a similar thing for about as long. Her early work as part of The Staples Singers balanced clear-eyed views of social ills with jubilant songs of hope and redemption – an approach she maintained on last year's magnificent You Are Not Alone.
A clear predecessor to both R. Kelly and Frank Ocean, Freddie Jackson (Feb. 14, B.B. King's) keeps things slow and soothing, but in a way that is specifically designed for the boudoir. Jackson's mid '80s albums remain seductive R&B at its best.
The music of the Brazilian singer Luciana Souza, (Feb. 13, Jazz Standard) with its fluttering guitars and gliding vocal melodies, is like a gently babbling stream, a delicate fusion of boss nova and pop.
There's a squelching quality to the music of WHY?, (Feb. 13, Music Hall of Williamsburg) who ably blend laconic hip-hop with quavering vocal hooks and sputtering productions. U.S. Girls (Feb. 16, Death By Audio), the alias of Meghan Remy, is spookier; she delivers reconstituted girl group melodies with a smirk and a snarl, shrouding them in synths that loom like gothic castles. Teengirl Fantasy (Feb. 14, Le Poisson Rouge) are sleeker and less intimidating, creating high-gloss futuristic compositions that drift by, dreamlike. Chrissy Murderbot (Feb. 16, Cameo Gallery) is gutsier and randier. The Chicago D.J. builds giddy, percussive tracks over which a host of rappers contribute decidedly X-rated verses. M.O.P. (Feb. 17, Highline Ballroom) have no patience for such shenanigans. Since 1992, the duo have delivered bracingly physical hip-hop with imposing, requiem-like production.
The L.A. Studio Sound City is imposing in its own way. The site for the recording of such iconic records as Nirvana's Nevermind, Neil Young's After the Gold Rush and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, the studio closed in 2011 though its legend is stoked in a documentary bearing its name, directed by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. To celebrate the film's release, Grohl has convened an all-star cast of musicians dubbed The Sound City Players (Feb. 13, Hammerstein Ballroom), each of whom has a distinct connection to the studio. The lineup runs the gamut, from classic rock titans like Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty and Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen to Lee Ving, frontman of L.A. punk group Fear. The setlist, which consist of songs from the albums each performer recorded at the studio, reads like a brief history of '70s and '80s rock music; Grohl, ever the vocal fan, now makes for an expert curator.