Sounds of the City
Best concert bets for September
Yo La Tengo plays Asbury Hall on Sept. 13
Photo courtesy of the artist
PICK OF THE MONTH
Thursday, September 13
Look up “indie rock” in any imaginary dictionary and you will find a picture (and, one hopes, half a dozen audio clips) of YLT. The little trio from Hoboken virtually invented the genre back in the era when dinosaur rockers and their halfwit offspring, the hair metalists, still ruled the earth (aka the 1980s), and its fifteenth full-length album, this year’s There’s a Riot Going On, is getting some of the best reviews of its career—a feat that is virtually unparalleled in these days of trending-today-gone-tomorrow rock. As good as all the band’s recordings are, the live shows are even better, and equally prone to constant reinvention. Case in point: the last time I can remember seeing YTL in town, which must have been a decade ago, it provided lush, hushed accompaniment to undersea nature documentaries at Shea’s (presented by Hallwalls), and the time before that, way back in the last century, they blew the roof off a long-forgotten UB gym with twenty-minute-long feedback-drenched noise. My crystal ball tells me this visit will be somewhere between those two extremes, and every bit as extraordinary.
Sunday afternoons in August
Null Point Sound Garden events @ Artpark:
The folks behind Buffalo’s “experimental sound initiative” Null Point have cooked up a summer’s worth of potentially fascinating free site-specific, often participatory collaborations with other artists and audience members that may remind some visitors of the park’s glory days in the 1970s and ’80s. This month’s offerings involve hands-on workshops and collaborative performances using electronic instruments (August 12) and guitars (August 19) combined with the found sounds of the woods, plus an audience-inclusive performance of one portion of composer David Dunn’s outdoor epic Place (August 26).
Saturday, September 1
Explore the best in grassroots Buffalo culture in this Front Yard concert featuring Billie Essco, Chill Ali, Solomon Dixon, DJ ToneyBoi, Dev11n, and the one and only Bagel Jesus, whose spoken word poetry is even more striking than his rap name.
Thursday, September 6
In addition to releasing seventeen rock, folk, jazz, and spoken word albums, this Milwaukee-born musician has been a busker, a TED Talk-er, a guitar teacher, and the creator of the viral song-swap sensation “Take Down Your Flag,” a 2015 response to the shooting at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston.
Friday, September 7
The amphitheater may be packed with One Direction fans, but the smart money is on the seventies-channeling Irish pop star’s opening act and duet partner, singer-songwriter Morris. Call her a (brilliant) mainstream country act if you insist, although she’s currently best known for her guest vocals on yet another genre-exploding project, EDM DJ Zedd’s mega-selling earworm, “The Middle.” (Trust me, you’ve heard it.) Her own compositions, particularly the single “My Church,” are just as compelling.
If you're even a casual fan or student of contemporary dance, this one's worth dropping everything and making the forty-minute-drive to Brockport. (But act fast: A Thursday night performance is already sold out, and tickets for this one will surely be scarce by the time you see this.) Brown is easily one of the most important and influential choreographers of her generation, and this concert promises a rare chance to see some of her key works from the 1970s as well as more recent pieces.
Saturday, September 8
The acoustic and electric bass virtuoso and his band play two shows of fusion and straight-ahead jazz in an intimate setting. Be sure to arrive early enough to catch local legend Juini Booth performing solo bass (with loops)—a perfect pairing.
The grassroots media organization justly famous for its outside-the-box art-party fundraisers (Peepshow, Dysfunctional Holiday, and many more) debuts its latest—a media-savvy, family-friendly scavenger hunt.
Now in its third year, this Buffalo-born nationwide sensation brings young hip hop performers and visual artists together in breweries, warehouses, galleries, private houses, and other unexpected spaces. Check antivenuetour.com for info.
Sunday, September 9
This Ohio-based singer/songwriter generates no shortage of thoughtful, quotable lyrics (take a listen to “The Man I’m Trying to Be” on his 2014 album Strangers for a quick intro)—but, unlike many of his peers in that time-honored genre, he also knows how to craft memorable melodies and use instrumentation and production in intriguing ways. Assuming your tastes range anywhere on the scale from early James Taylor (whose voice Mayfield’s often recalls) to Mumford and Sons (with whom he has worked) to Wilco (whose fusion of indie rock, alt country, and experimentation he shares), odds are good you will find something to love here. Bonus points for recording a 2010 promotional video in an acoustically appealing public shower with a cast of a dozen or more (fully clothed) backing musicians and singers.
Find out what the latest generation of punk-inspired vaudevillians is up to, courtesy of this moonshine-infused troupe from Lexington, Kentucky.
Wednesday, September 12
If the year 2018 were to take human form, it would surely be this: an act with both punk and jam-band sensibilities literally "playing" a video game (in this case Mega Man II) live onstage as well as its accompanying soundtrack. Danimal Cannon, Protopilot, and the Finality Complex fill out the bill.
Friday, September 14
If there’s one thing Buffalo knows how to do better than most other cities (and there are plenty), it’s site-specific multimedia projects involving light shows, live music, and giant projections on the sides of big buildings. Check this one out on what is sure to be a beautiful fall evening so you will have something to remember when we’re all snowed in for days in a few short months. (Sorry, I had to remind you.)
Saturday, September 15
Maybe you’ve heard of this guy. If not, better catch up on his five-decade-long career fast, because he’s (allegedly) calling it quits after this three-year-long farewell tour. Expect a spectacle worthy of his supersized showmanship.
Thursday, September 20
The British standup, film actor, memoirist, and political activist brings his latest one-man show to town.
Thursday, September 20-Saturday, September 22
Now in its fifth year, this three-day multi-disciplinary exploration of a single central theme (this time it’s “Revolution”) is a great way to find out what the area’s academic community has to say about various global trends. Saturday is typically devoted to a full day of talks, screenings, and performances by locals (yet to be announced as we went to press), while Thursday brings the internationally recognized, Buffalo-born media scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan to the downtown library, and Friday night belongs to YA novelist Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give) at the Albright-Knox.
This year's three-day music fest includes a Thursday night look back at the long-lost sixties-era East Side venue the Bon Ton with cultural historian Chuck Mancuso and period music by pianist George Caldwell; a Friday night concert with Caldwell's trio and saxophonist Rob Dixon; a Saturday afternoon screening of rarely seen short films about Coltrane; and a multi-disciplinary Saturday evening performance featuring alto sax player Gary Bartz with the Curtis Lundy Trio, among others
Saturday, September 22-Sunday, September 23
The lineup for this two-day fest of “music, art, [and] craft” is pretty impressive in a low-key way. Eyecatching marquee names include Margo Price, Dr. Dog, both Sam Roberts and Sam Bush, and John Oates’s other, Hall-less group, The Good Road Band, while there’s also plenty of representation of Buffalo-based acts in the mix, like Folkfaces, the Observers, and Ten Cent Howl—among many others. The beer, food, and crafts are all locally sourced, and the venue is a beaut.
Sunday, September 23
I’m just gonna keep calling alt-country singer/songwriter/essayist Fulks a damn genius until the damn MacArthur Foundation finally listens to me. He’s hilarious, he’s heartbreaking, and he knows the history of his chosen genre inside and out—plus he’s the only man on Earth who can write a perfect Buck Owens pastiche, record death-metal and bluegrass covers of Michael Jackson, and host a combined tribute to Leonard Cohen and Lynyrd Skynyrd. His latest project is a collaboration with the only woman who has recorded with both Van Morrison and her rather well-known older brother, Jerry Lee.
Wednesday, September 26
The beloved alt/indie/whatever institution has been busy lately, collaborating with k.d. lang and Laura Viers on an album and tour, reuniting with the other members of the supergroup New Pornographers, and releasing her latest solo project, Hell-On. Opening the show is fellow singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen, taking a break from her day job fronting The Get Down Stay Down.
Friday, September 28
In what sounds like a largely unprecedented literary endeavor to me, a trio of nationally recognized writers and professors have produced a joint memoir of their grad school days at UB's convention-shattering English department in the early 1980s. (Full disclosure: I was a classmate of theirs.) Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration tells their collective story—a tale that sheds light on academia, friendship, coming out as young queer adults, and Buffalo itself—three decades later, from three different perspectives in three very different voices. You don't need to know any of the authors personally, or to have shared their specific experiences to be intrigued by both the form and the content of their project, which has already been dubbed "one of the great books about education."
Saturday, September 29
Yes, she’s the daughter of seventies singer-songwriter Libby Titus and the late, great Levon Helm who wowed audiences as a member of her dad’s touring band, but don’t make her lineage the sole reason you check out this powerhouse vocalist. A fine songwriter herself, the younger Helm also has great taste in covers by acts both old (Rod Stewart, Allen Toussaint) and new (Hiss Golden Messenger, the Milk Carton Kids).
Saturday–Sunday, September 29–30
Whether you know her from her mind-altering Netflix meta-sitcom Lady Dynamite, her reliably hilarious standup specials (one of which was performed in her actual parents’ actual house for an audience of two), her voice-over work on animated series for kids (Adventure Time, Word Girl) or adults (Bojack Horseman), her guest stint on the reborn Arrested Development, or even her high-velocity Target commercials, I’m going to hope you know Maria. And if you do know her, you’re going to be at this all-too-rare local show; you’ve got three chances to catch her up close and personal.
Ron Ehmke is a writer, performer, and media artist you can learn more about at everythingrondoes.com.