It’s been a notably brutal winter in the Midsouth, but the time to despair has passed! Spring is upon us, leafy green is quickly replacing chilly gray, and an abundant season of stellar musical performances is in the offing for every Memphian to rejoice in. Here’s ten of our picks for the best of the upcoming bunch.
7PM, Thursday, April 6th
The Green Room At Crosstown Arts
$20 advance, $25 day of the show
If you’re a fan of experimental music and unfamiliar with Ami Dang, you should change that immediately. A multitalented South Asian-American from Baltimore, Ms. Dang’s work draws on a wealth of traditions both timeless and contemporary – North Indian classical music, noise, ambient, and electronica are just a few of the genre shades she paints with, to hallucinatory and stunning effect. Sitar and ragas meet sampling and dance-floor beats with mesmerizing abandon, past and present intermingling to create music both strikingly fresh and profoundly alluring. Dang’s collaborated with likeminded luminaries such as Animal Collective and Thor Harris, but she glows just as brightly weaving her own irreplaceable magic. Simply put, you’ll want to be there to catch the sonic spells that Dang is sure to cast in person.
Squirrel Nut Zippers
7:30PM, Thursday, April 6th
Overton Park Shell
Outside of their native Chapel Hill, the Squirrel Nut Zippers may be most fondly remembered for their crossover 1996 hit “Hell”, which saw them (somewhat unfairly) lumped in with a wave of swing revival outfits dotting the charts of the era. Make no mistake, the Zippers are indeed swing and jazz revivalists, but their work is much more compelling and multifaceted than their ‘one hit wonder’ status might indicate. Throughout their long history they’ve successfully incorporated elements of klezmer, Delta blues, rockabilly, and Dixieland into their heady brew of unapologetic retro pomp. And the Shell Yeah! benefit series funds the Shell’s beloved free programming, so it’s all in service to a more than worthy cause.
Laura Jane Grace
7PM, Saturday, April 8th
To a nostalgic listener of a certain age, the name ‘Laura Jane Grace’ means Against Me!, the legendary Florida folk-punk outfit she’s piloted to widespread acclaim since the late 90s, their crowned jewel being their 2014 masterwork, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Though the band’s been on official hiatus since 2020, Grace has nonetheless kept busy, releasing a stellar COVID-19 lockdown album with Stay Alive back in 2020. Her solo work certainly offers the same insightful, charming songwriting of her full-time band’s best songs, presented in a stripped-down and mostly acoustic collection where anthemic refrains meet harrowing lyricism – just as fans have come to expect. Grace remains an irreplaceable figure in the contemporary American music landscape, and we’re more than lucky to still be invited to listen in.
7PM, Wednesday, April 12th
The Green Room At Crosstown Arts
Jamie Stewart’s long-running work under the name Xiu Xiu is nothing if not confrontational. Tender and haunting hooks rub up against screeching noise and clamor, and the lyrics are often as vicious and unvarnished as they are reliable and nakedly vulnerable. As Xiu Xiu’s music has always dwelled in the space where transgressive pop meets folk intimacy, it’s no surprise that their stage show is the stuff of legends, a clawing space of desperation and soul-bearing that few other performers dare to step a foot in, let alone inhabit. After twenty-plus years, the greatest compliment one can give to Xiu Xiu is to note that, still, no one else out there makes music quite like this, with this sort of inimitable energy and dedication. This is music that is life-changing without being melodramatic, emotional without the ‘emo’ tropes. With Xiu Xiu you’re either on board or not, but if you’re in, revelatory experiences await you.
7PM, Wednesday, April 19th
Orville Peck’s ‘schtick’, as it were, might overwhelm his music if said music weren’t so compelling. Donning a fringed mask and cowboy attire at all times, you’d expect a sense of irony to prevail in his body of work, but what you’ll find instead is an enchanting advancement of country and pop traditions. Peck (real name Daniel Pitout, also the drummer for the killer Canadian punk outfit Nu Sensae) isn’t interested in 90s-style wink and nudge so much as reinterpreting familiar tropes in an intriguing, relevant manner. Think Glen Campbell and outlaw country filtered through a queer lens and you’re close to what Peck’s getting at with the theatrics and stylish trappings, with a touch of Roy Orbison’s melancholy drama and David Lynch’s flair for the eerie and uncanny to lend these songs their resonance, Whether you’re an avowed country fan or a hater of all things Nashville, there’s a chance you’ll be able to get on Peck’s wavelength and enjoy the spoils. Gimmickry doesn’t wear thin when the art is revelatory and fun.
8PM, Monday, April 24th & Tuesday, April 25th
What a career John Mellencamp has had, one reflective of the archetypal American experience that he so often draws from in his lyrics and music. A staggering run of radio hits in the 80s and early 90s cemented the Indiana native’s legacy, with songs ranging from wiry Americana and protest fables to hard-luck folk and deeply catchy power-pop. Though times have certainly changed, his best work endures by remaining truly timeless. His co-founding of the annual small farmer’s benefit concert Farm Aid alongside Willie Nelson and Neil Young underlines just how much he’s come to inhabit the same annals as those two living legends in the American musical mythos. Mellencamp remains a key voice in the chorus of this country’s sonic past and present, an artist who’s transcended pop culture idol status and continues to craft perceptive and boundary-pushing work today. A chance to spend two nights with a songwriter of this depth and magnitude at the Orpheum is a rare one, so be sure not to miss out.
7:30PM, Wednesday, April 26th
$203 – $528
Its been twenty-three years since the release of Jill Scott’s towering debut, Who Is Jill Scott?: Words And Sounds, Vol. 1, and it remains as breathtaking an opening statement as it was back in 2001, deeply of a piece with the masterful Black music radiating from Philadelphia at that time. ‘Neo soul’ has been a genre term that’s meant many disparate things over the years since, but few could argue that whatever ‘neo soul’ really means, Scott is an unequivocal icon of the form. Rarely has a beguiling soprano like hers been paired with such frank and absorbing expressions of love, longing, and physical intimacy. Her Philly funk is smooth and pleasurable, her balladry heart-rending and evocative; passion just pours from every corner of these songs. And over two decades later, there remains a specific neighborhood of sound that Ms. Scott more or less owns; what a jubilant neighborhood that is, one that’s well worth celebrating.
Crocodiles w/ General Labor, Trash Goblin
8PM, Monday, May 8th
The Hi Tone (Big Room)
Crocodiles emerged from San Diego at the tail end of the 2000s post-punk revival, but their cavernous throwback intrigue has pulled in elements of psych and noise-rock from the start, sorting them far from the well-dressed urban pinnacle of the Interpol/Strokes salad days. Few bands since have nailed that fabled blend of feedback-laced JAMC fuzz and Spectorian Wall of Sound pop, and as other notables of their era have fallen by the wayside, Crocodiles remain. What’s more, they make it look both easy and really, really cool, offering effortless variations on their core sound without slowing for a second. What’s more, two incredible Memphis outfits join them for this match made in heaven at the Hi Tone – beloved Bluff City post-punk/new wavers General Labor and the hallucinogenic ‘acid goth’ churnings of the singular Trash Goblin. This night offers an evolution of musical forms that renders stale ‘genres’ to dust.
7PM, Wednesday, May 10th
It’s hard to believe, but Brooklyn’s treasured hip-hop institution Digable Planets have been together since 1987. At least, that is, until you remember that they’d pretty much single-handedly built the framework of ‘alternative’ hip-hop from the ground up, and were amongst early innovators in incorporating jazz inflections with their raps. “Rebirth Of Slick” might be the early 90s crossover hit that remains a solid-gold banger, but its their politically-feisty and experimental follow-up Blowout Comb that’s the staggering magnum opus. The trio’s reunited a few different times since their mid-90s heyday, and with each round of shows they seem to come back stronger, more viscerally-dedicated than before. They don’t sound like old heads coasting on nostalgia, they sound as fierce and charged as they did thirty years ago, and who else can you say that about in hip-hop (or any genre, really) in 2023? Folks, special isn’t the word.
The Veldt, The Current Situation, J. Robot, Mudshow
8PM, Friday, May 12th
The Hi-Tone (Small Room)
The twin brothers Chavis, founding members of Raleigh band The Veldt, were so far ahead of the pack upon their mid-80s formation that the pack wasn’t even visible over the horizon yet. Born of the same fertile scene that produced North Carolina indie heroes like Archers Of Loaf, Polvo, and Superchunk, the Chavises were laying the groundwork for the woozy atmospherics and kaleidoscopic noise that would become shoegaze long before Kevin Shields began to bankrupt Creation Records. It would take 1994’s stone-cold classic Afrodisiac to solidify their soul-infused take on the genre; thankfully they’ve recently returned to working under their original name, and are more than worth checking out in any setting. Opening this evening are a trio of well-chosen Memphian acts – caffeinated Hernando indie-rockers The Current Situation, the eerie horrorcore beatwork of Mudshow, and cherished Memphis synth-wave institution Jack Alberson under his alias J. Robot. What else is there to say? Awesomeness all around.