The first few days of the semester have already paid witness to one of the most notable musical double headers in recent institutional memory, and tonight showcases another: Brooklyn’s Widowspeak takes Eclectic while rap legends Dead Prez take the stage two doors down at Psi U. This time you probably can’t attend both (though I encourage you to try), but weep not: the coming weeks feature one of the more diverse, thrilling, and confusingly erratic musical options in a while, ranging from waffle-obsessed rap zombies to a critically embraced laptop cult genius to Ian “Actually Ian MacKaye” MacKaye. (Lecturing, not screaming.) And that’s only the tip of the Usdan iceberg lettuce station.
As always, scope out Aural Wes for a continually updated resource for all things aural and beyond at Wellesleyan College. AW’s own concert calendar can be found here. The below list is by no means exhaustive; think of it as a small smattering of the shows on campus over the next handful of weeks. I’ll continue to add to it as additional shows are confirmed and/or bitched about in the comments section. (Full disclosure: As a committee member, I’m far from objective; I only had a direct hand in making the McKaye and Leaves of Green bookings happen, but took part in funding discussions for each of these.)
WIDOWSPEAK (with Treasure Island)
Tonight, Eclectic, free
- What is sounds like: Brooklyn quintet plays hazy, mid-tempo indie rock that contains a little bit of dreampop, a little bit of shoegaze, and smoky vocals that fall somewhere between Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Often downbeat and somber (see: “Limbs,” “Harsh Realm,”) they can also pull off head-nodding indie-pop on tracks like “Hard Times” and “Nightcrawlers.” Their self-titled debut was one of my favorite breakouts of 2011, and the brand new Almanic is said to be even better.
- Why you should go: Isn’t that, like, the platonic ideal of what a Saturday night concert at Eclectic is supposed to sound like? Plus, it’s free, unlike Dead Prez, which is sold out. And campus favorites Treasure Island are opening. They always have fun stage banter!
DEAD PREZ (with Umi, E. Oks, Izzy Coleman ’15, and David Stouck Open)
Tonight, Psi U, $5
- What it sounds like: Hard-hitting ’90s hip hop, with a fierce lyrical emphasis on social justice and Pan-Africanism. Which is fitting, since this performance is part of a two-part series on diversity and inclusion organized by Evan Okun ’13 (who’s opening as E-Oks), Chantaneice Kitt ’13, Manny Rivera ’14, and Mckenzii Webster ’13.
- Why you should go: Because top-tier hip hop should be available at Wesleyan more than just once a year as the Spring Fling headliner. And because last semester’s similarly themed diversity forum deserves a musical embodiment.
February 2, WestCo Cafe, free
- What it sounds like: Pretty much what you’d expect bands with names like “Gowl,” “Weald,” and “Misanthropic Noise” to sound like. Sludgy, dense, and punishing. If you check Gowl’s BandCamp, you’ll notice that tags include “grindcore noisegrind punk Connecticut.” And the definitive introduction to Misanthropic Nosie seems to be a two-minute EP titled “Grindcore Ruined My Life Demo.” Let it ruin yours.
- Why you should go: Admittedly I’m not versed in any of these artists; I’m just psyched that Jason Kilbourne ’14 has put together a Round Two for that epic Curmudgeon/Burrows/Bakshi/Let’s Party Hats! Hats! Hats! sludgefest in WestCo last semester. I can’t see a better way to support homegrown “grindcore noisegrind punk Connecticut.”
February 2, TBD, free
- What it sounds like: Funk-infused afrobeat pop from a Sudanese emigre named Ahmed Gallab. Full of propulsive drumming and electro-jazz throwbacks, this one smells like the seventies.
- Why you should go: Remember that time Superhuman Happiness soundtracked an impossibly funky Afrobeat party at Eclectic in 2011? No? Follow this link for pictures of A-Batte shirtless, then finish that thought yourself.
February 8, Psi U, free
- What it sounds like: A self-described “duo of undead rappers out of Brooklyn who would rather devour waffles than brains.” I hear menacing, delirious rhymes and drug-obsessed hooks.
- Why you should go: Because zombies and waffles go well together. This seems to tie in nicely with the mixtape-era weird-rap series that began with Mr. Mothafuckin’ eXquire and continued with Danny Brown.
LEAVES OF GREEN (with O. Presidente and Blackbird and the Cherry Tree)
February 16, Earth House, Free
- What it sounds like: Describing themselves as “a band with a penchant for falsetto,” Leaves of Green is a quartet of NYU students, two of whom went to high school with me and Ari Fishman ’13, who are organizing the show. They’re pretty good! “Caving In” is a pretty solid indicator of their sonic depth, which ranges from ethereal post-rock to driving indie-rock to a thick, dramatic climax. And yes, there’s a falsetto.
- Why you should go: Because nepotism. No, but really, they’re talented, they’ve wanted to come to Wes for a while, and according to NYU Local (motto: “The Wesleying of NYU”) (not really), they’re great live. Plus, O Presidente will be debuting material from their debut full-length, Clube de Futebol.
February 21, Eclectic (probably), free (probably)
- What it sounds like: Bouncy, sometimes instrumental, and always technically proficient guitar-pop from a dude named Steve who is appropriately signed to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, if that gives you a hint of his rhythmic sensibilities. As Pitchfork‘s Laura Snapes describes him, “[Steve] Marion is one of those rare guitarists whose instrument sings in the place of vocals.”
- Why you should go: Maybe it’s because Mammoth and I saw Delicate Steve open for Yeasayer in sweltering heat on Governor’s Island a few summers back, but this music feels like summer to me. Maybe it’ll help you pretend it’s not 15 degrees outside.
IAN MACKAYE (lecture)
February 27, CFA Hall, free and open to the public (with advance ticket pickup)
- What it sounds like: It’s a lecture, not a concert, but I’m more psyched for this than any performance on this or probably any other lineup. Ian MacKaye is the famously uncompromising former frontman of Fugazi and Minor Threat, current co-member (with his partner, Amy Farina) of The Evens, and the founder of DIY label Dischord Records. He comes to shed wisdom on Wesleyan just weeks after the release of The Evens’ latest—and shortly after the tenth anniversary of Fugazi’s hiatus. Instead of getting all fanboy in this post, I’ll just quote from MacKaye’s most recent email: “I usually speak for about two hours, and that’s hard on someone’s ass if they’re sitting on the ground the whole time.”
- Why you should go: A handful of WesKids (including myself) have been trying to make this one happen for quite a while, and now it’s a reality. If you have even the slightest interest in hardcore, 1990s American indie underground, or DYI music industry ethics, this one’s worth your while.
- Fun fact: Fugazi’s 1999 rockumentary, Instrument, was directed by a Wes alum, Jem Cohen ’84.
THE SOFT MOON
TBD, Eclectic, free
- What it sounds like: (The Soft Moon were all set to play last Halloween, but Hurricane Sandy got in the way. I’m copying my blurb from the last post.) Think grimy, electro-tinged post-punk, with lots of emphasis on dark, gloomy synths and insistent repetition. Fans of Joy Division, Silver Apples, and Suicide, take note—the “Circles” video is probably a good visual indicator of what to expect. (“When It’s Over,” by contrast, is a bit mellower, but no less eerie.) Their 2012 LP Zeros is worth a listen.
- Why you should go: I can’t remember the last time I saw music this gloomy and ugly at Wesleyan.
Considering this show is on Halloween, I’m positively psyched.Just kidding, it’s not on Halloween. We’ll let you know when they choose a date.
March 3, Russell House, free
- What it sounds like: Ensemble Pamplemousse is a 10-person experimental music troupe that has been described as “extremely forward looking” and “breathtakingly virtuosic.” According to their website, the group “weaves together shapes of resonance, clusters of glitch, skitters of hyper action, and masses of absurdity into impeccable structures of unified beauty.” No word on whether or not Werner Herzog actually wrote that sentence.
- Why you should go: Because you took Intro to Experimental Music as a freshman and still miss it. Or I’m assuming you did if you’ve read this far. (Thank the Experimental Music Group, the same students behind last semester’s Ben Klein, Tubatronixx, and Gino Robair performances, for this booking.)
ZAMMUTO (with Snowblink)
March 30, TBD, free for students
- What it sounds like: Zammuto is the solo project of guitarist/vocalist Nick Zammuto of the generally inimitable Books, who called it quits a year ago. Zammuto features that same glitchy, wildly inventive cut-and-paste aesthetic, but more vocal-oriented and less emphasis on bizarre spoken word samples. (If you don’t know The Books, stop what you’re doing and watch this video.)
- Why you should go: I have no clue how Zammuto pulls off this material live, and I’m curious to find out. Plus, people have been trying to get The Books at Wes for years to no avail—this is probably as close as we’re getting. (Note: this concert will be open to the public as part of WESU’s soon-to-be-announced concert series. More show announcements are on the way from WESU, so get psyched.)
SHABAZZ PALACES (with ThEESatisfaction, Young Fathers)
April 25, Eclectic, $5
- What it sounds like: Psychedelic, chilled out, and idiosyncratic hip hop featuring emcee Ishmael Butler, better known as Butterfly from Digable Planets. Woozy, minimalist beats meet a relaxed flow and dusty, “afro-eccentric” hooks. Try “Recollections of the Wraith” for a taste.
- Why you should go: Shabazz Palaces stars a hip hop personality from a past generation, but they don’t trade in ’90s nostalgia. 2011’s Black Up is one of the most effortlessly forward-thinking and purposefully mysterious hip hip albums I’ve heard in a while (and yes, I’ve heard good kid, m.A.A.d city).This’ll be a fun one.
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The Totally Inadequate Wesleying Guide to Fall Concerts
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