Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
The music calendar's heating up ahead of the weather. Lots of tough decisions to make in the coming weeks, as some nights feature multiple shows that deserve your attention and attendance. Thankfully, the most authentic sounding neo-funk/soul artist around -- Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings -- is playing two nights, so you can catch her Saturday and check out John Doe and the Sadies or local groups Gist and Gaslight Society on Friday.
Boyz II Men, Tuesday at the Birchmere ... Motown Philly's back again. Doing a little Birchmere swing. I'm biased toward my home town. But $60! Really?
Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra, Wednesday at the Birchmere ... Guitarist Ottmar Liebert is a sort of flamenco savior, at least in the States, and his best work has always been done with Luna Negra offering support. The music isn't classic flamenco by any means, and Liebert is not a technically superior guitarist, but the way he plays makes him one of the best guitarists around. His sound captures the warmth and romance of flamenco while his music has always included a fusion of jazz, rock and pop sounds.
Flex Mathews, Wednesday at DC9 ... Local hip-hop is tough to find in any city other than New York, so I love local MC Flex Mathews. He came to us from South Dakota, which seems an unlikely place to find an MC so talented. His flow deserves recognition, as do his old school beats, keen sampling and intelligent lyrics. His following may not be large outside the industry, but plenty of promoters and artists have recognized his talents and taken him on tour. With Maverick, Ardamus, DJ Second Amendment, ProVerb, Disturb Individuals and Peace Justice Universal.
Big Business and Tweak Bird, Thursday at the Rock and Roll Hotel … Among the various rock duos in abundance these days, Big Business is the heaviest. Death From Above 1979 was right there with them, but they had more dance steps in their repertoire, and they died, anyway. Big Business is pure stoner metal -- a bottom-heavy version of the sludge -- fashioned by a couple of hardcore vets: bassist Jared Warren of indie-metal legends Karp, who makes you forget about the lack of guitars, and creative, powerhouse drummer Coady Willis of the terrific, gone-too-soon goth-punk group The Murder City Devils. When the duo was folded into the latest version of the Melvins, it gave that legendary band a two-drummer attack, and the fact that the relatively young Willis is able to keep up with Dale Crover makes Big Business all the more enticing. Tweak Bird is the duo of Bird brothers Caleb and Ashton. Stoner metal is in the mix here, too, but not as forward as it is with Big Business. There's more prog, psychedelia and experimentation and more worship of '60s and '70s hard rock.
Peter Brötzmann, Thursday at Velvet Lounge … Among the legions of Albert Ayler inspired free jazz saxophonists bleeting emotional, energetic and untrained white noise, Peter Brötzmann's the best of the few who create such improvisational pieces with premeditation and power. No matter how difficult his direction may be to perceive, it's always there, just buried beneath layers of spontaneity. The incredibly prolific Brötzmann also is a terrific soloist and he's played with just about every player in free jazz over the past four decades. This show is billed as a lecture, solo performance and collaboration with Chromatic Mysteries, a Philly-based ensemble featuring members of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Bardo Pond and Kohoutek, among others.
Illinois, Thursday at DC9 … Illinois -- from far-suburban Philadelphia -- plays an intriguing blend of roots, pop and alternative. An eclectic folk-rock band at heart, the quartet starts with British Invasion roots rocking and adds some tricks from mid-'90s alternative. It's at once spacey and earthy, as well as incredibly catchy. And they've got a banjo. With Kenan Bell.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Friday and Saturday at Nightclub 9:30 … For a neo but still authentic funk-soul show, head to 9:30 Club this weekend. Had she been born a decade or two earlier, Sharon Jones would have been a backup singer for James Brown. That's how good she is. That's how authentic she is. For fans of yesteryear-sounding funky soul, this is an act not to miss. It's a retro sound but not the least bit contrived. And Jones' voice pulls all the right strings of soul music, the aches and pains, the sadness and loneliness. She got a relatively late start as a solo artist. A backup singer in the '70s, authentic funk and soul lost its legs in the '80s, but Jones was rediscovered in the '90s and has cut three LPs with the Dap-Kings, the house band for Daptone Records. Stepping into this show is like stepping at least 30 years back in time.
John Doe and the Sadies, Friday at Iota … Aside from being the bassist and singer of X, one of the greatest bands from L.A.'s late-'70s punk scene, John Doe is an accomplished solo performer and not a bad actor, either. As X progressed, the band leaned more and more toward country and rockabilly. But it was on Doe's 1990 album, "Meet John Doe," where he fully embraced country for the first time. Over the past 20 years, several acts have proven how well country and punk fit together. With Canadian roots band the Sadies, Doe released an album of country classics and originals in April. Iota is about as perfect a venue to see Doe as any.
Teena Marie and the Whispers, Friday at DAR Constitution Hall ... Teena Marie is one of the best white women ever to take on R&B. Her big, black-sounding vocals were first brought to the fore by Rick James when they met at Motown in the late-'70s. It was an astounding contrast to her cute, petite appearance. But she may have been recording in the wrong time -- much like Sharon Jones. The '80s wasn't the decade for soul, funk and R&B, and early R&B chart success flirted with pop stardom before she faded away. The Whispers, though, are a classic R&B act from the '60s. Their string of hits defied the scenes that ignored Teena Marie, and they maintained strong sales into the mid-'80s.
Gist and Gaslight Society, Friday at the Red and the Black … Gist has earned a local following with a sound falling somewhere between art-punk and post-punk. The angular sounds are reminiscent of mid-'90s Dischord, but Gist's rock chops are more classic in nature. Singer Nayan Bhula's vocals might be perfect for an emo band if it weren't for that terrific David Thomas (Pere Ubu) warble. On their latest album for Red Stapler Records, "Conversations, Expectations," the band opts for more alt-pop hooks, making it a more accessible record. Local punky blues rockers Gaslight Society have more than accomplished their stated goal of being "just as comfortable playing the Clash as Muddy Waters." Singer Janet Pinkham is a CBGBs-style frontwoman with the power and soul of Bessie Smith. She carries on the tradition of vocalists like Debbie Harry -- minus the sweetness -- and Chrissie Hynde -- with added punk angst. Meanwhile, the band behind her amps blues riffs to perfect garage pitch above swamp bottom and driving rhythms. The garage-blues revival thing has been done to death, but nobody 'round here is doing it this well, and Pinkham's vocals and the band's classic blues rock style give it a refreshing twist.
Ghost, Sunday at Velvet Lounge ... When it comes to noisy, psychedelic freak rock, Japan's the place to be and Ghost is the act to beat. Led by guitarist Masaki Batoh, this commune of a band has been making the trippiest noise rock around for more than two decades. Ghost owes as much to the heavier side of '60s California psychedelia as it does to the Krautrock of bands like Can. And for noise, they can blow your ears with theirs or give you a soundtrack for a good and creepy nightmare. The group also features acclaimed hired gun Michio Kurihara on guitar.