Sounds of the City

Best bets for May 2017

Jody Watley with Shalamar Reloaded is at the Bear's Den on May 26


May tends to be a relatively quiet month on the WNY concert front, as the college crowd heads out and most of the area's outdoor venues (other than the early birds at Larkinville) holding off till after Memorial Day to start their annual barrage of events. But fear not: There's still plenty to hear and see this month, as the following highly selective list suggests.


Monday, May 1

Welcome to Night Vale @ Babeville: The cast of the podcast phenomenon returns to Asbury Hall. For the general vibe, think Lake Woebegone crossed with Twin Peaks: Spooky/surreal doings in a colorful small town populated with wacky characters. On this tour, the delightful singer-songwriter Erin McKeown delivers weather reports, while the band Disparition provides live music.  The Night Vale ensemble's last appearance in this venue sold out right away, so grab your tickets ASAP.


Denny Laine @ Sportsmen's Tavern: The third-best-known member of Wings—and the best-known one whose last name wasn't McCartney—performs the Band on the Run album and other numbers from his tenure with that band and the Moody Blues.


Tuesday, May 2

The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band @ the Tralf: If you love raunchy blues, eccentric roots rock, or just plain good times generated by phenomenally talented performers, do not miss these tubthumpers. What makes the band so damn "big"—and it is indeed enormous—is not the number of players (they're a trio), but the sound they evoke from guitar, washboard, and drums. Their last local appearance, also at the Tralf, was one of the best and most energetic shows I've seen in that venue in the last thirty years, which is saying a hell of a lot.


Contemporary Color @ the North Park: The fine folks at Cultivate Cinema present a single screening of a brand-new documentary about David Byrne's dementedly ambitious project that brought together hundreds of drum corps performers with a wildly unlikely assortment of hipster-friendly collaborators (including Nelly Furtado, Saint Vincent, Blood Orange, Adam Horowitz of the Beastie Boys, and, oddest of all, Ira Glass).


Thursday, May 4-Saturday, May 6

Steve-O @ Helium: Travel back to the carefree days of self-torture with one of the breakout stars from the original late-90s run of MTV's Jackass! He's performing five shows in three nights, a torturous feat all by itself.


Friday, May 5-Thursday, May 11

Chasing Trane @ the Screening Room: Catch the highly anticipated new documentary about John Coltrane from director John Scheinfeld, whose earlier docs about John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were both excellent, either here or for a single screening at Hallwalls on Tuesday, May 23.


Monday, May 8

Mike Watt @ Mohawk Place: From his days as bassist, songwriter, and second lead vocalist with the Minutemen in the heyday of California punk to his subsequent decades as an in-demand sideman for other greats of that era and later, this legendary figure has remained as humble and down-to-earth as any fan could want.


Wednesday, May 10

Todd Rundgren @ the Riviera Theatre: Ever the innovator, this frequent visitor to WNY has a new album coming out soon; it's called White Knight, it's packed with heavyweight collaborators from all over the musical spectrum (including Trent Reznor, Robyn, Daryl Hall, Donald Fagen, Bettye Levett, and Joe Satriani, among many others), and pre-release sneak peeks suggest it may be one of his most interesting projects in years. The guest stars won't be on board, of course, but here's hoping he unveils some of that work amidst his many hits.


Thursday, May 11

Lauren Belfer @ the Burchfield Penney Art Center: The author of the much-cherished bestseller City of Light and two subsequent historical novels returns to her hometown to discuss the craft of transforming real events into popular fiction in a special lecture tailored to Buffalo.


Tuesday, May 16

Brian Castner and Matti Friedman @ the Burchfield Penney: Two soldier-authors reflect on their harrowing adventures on the battlefront in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as back at home. Castner is a longtime Spree contributor with two acclaimed books to his name, while Toronto-born, Jerusalem-based Friedman is best known for his memoir/military history volume Pumpkinflowers. Their reading and conversation will be moderated by Just Buffalo director Barbara Cole, whose similar role for Babel events has established her as the best interviewer in town.


Wednesday, May 17

Pierre Bensusan @ the Burchfield Penney: The French-Algerian world-music composer, instrumentalist, and vocalist sometimes dubbed "the Mozart of guitar" makes a rare local appearance.


Peter Stephens @ Hallwalls: The latest speaker in this terrific more-or-less-monthly series of artist's talks is no stranger to Buffalo's galleries and museums. He'll discuss his long career and tell the stories behind some of his paintings.


Thursday, May 18—Saturday, May 20

Kyle Kinane @ Helium: A staple of late-night TV these days, the Drunk History and @Midnight regular brings his standup act to the Cobblestone District for five shows. Check out his Twitter feed for a taste.


Thursday, May 18

Shannon @ the Pulse Arena, Seneca Niagara Casino: Let the music play! The casino's series of "Throwback Thursday" free concerts continues with another dash of lovable R&B pop from back in the day.


Friday, May 26

Jody Watley with Shalamar Reloaded @ the Bear's Den, Seneca Niagara Casino:  True, the trio "Shalamar Reloaded" bears only one member in common with the band that recorded bouncy disco-soul hits like "Take That to the Bank" in the late 70s and early 80s—but that member happens to be Watley, one of the finest R&B singers of the era, whose solo hits like "Looking for a New Love" were even better. And bear in mind that the original Shalamar was a bunch of anonymous studio musicians anyway; when they hit the big time, their producers grabbed some Soul Train regulars and sent them out on the road. Watley now owns the rights to the name, and more power to her.


Saturday, May 27

Siouxsie's Sixtieth Birthday @ Dreamland: Aging Goth alert! Spend an evening listening to (presumably morbid) tunes in honor of the First Lady of Darkness and Gloom. The press release clarifies that this is "not a tribute show, just a few bands [Rotten UK, Night Slaves, and Grain Assault] playing, with DJ sets [by Dan O and DJ MK Ultra] before/after/between bands … and maybe a cake with her face on it." OK, kids, but you realize that's gonna require a LOT of black icing.


Tuesday and Wednesday, May 30 and 31

The 1975 @ the Rapids Theatre: Booking this white-hot, hook-filled British quartet—who, despite their name, are far more enamored of 80s pop than 70s rock—was a major coup for a venue the size of the Rapids in a town the size of Niagara Falls. To no one's surprise, both shows sold out instantly, but don't let that stop you from creating your own imaginary concert by cranking their 2016 epic double-CD album, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It.


Ron Ehmke is a writer, performer, and media artist who is followable on Facebook; he also tweets, tumbls, instagrams, and google-plusses (@RonEhmke), and does other enjoyable things you can find out about at


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