Monday, November 11
THE FONDA THEATRE
There have been many versions of Sparks over the decades, and all of them have been brilliant and just a little ahead of their time. In the early '70s, they were a merrily fey, glitter-rock band with such a unique guitar sound that they were a major influence on Queen. In the '80s, Sparks reinvented themselves as a synth-pop group and had a ton of KROQ hits. By the '90s and '00s, their electronic sound was even more propulsive and mixed with elements of classical music and theater. Throughout it all, the constants have always been the Mael brothers. Russell Mael is such a pretty-voiced singer that one doesn't immediately notice how clever and subversively unsettling his keyboardist-brother Ron's lyrics are. Take, for example, "Bon Voyage," a stirringly poignant ode from the point of view of the animals Noah left off the ark. Earlier this year, the brothers released their first live album, Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe, whose title reflects the stripped-down nature of recent tours, where they've been performing as a duo. --Falling James
Tuesday, November 12
"The room is a spaceship, and you are an undiscovered planet," Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf's Matthew Caws harmonize coolly on Get There, the debut album by their new project, Minor Alps. Working with Caws appears to have had a liberating effect on Hatfield, who seems more relaxed and rocks harder than she has since her early days in The Blake Babies. The combination of Hatfield's and Caws' surging, ringing guitars with their power-pop melodies is often exhilarating, elevating the wallflower sentiments of "I Don't Know What to Do With My Hands" into something alternately poetic and even inspiring. "Maybe I just don't know how to reach out," Hatfield confesses, but Caws' jangling guitar and consoling vocals deftly make that connection for her. --Falling James
From flipping the bird during the Super Bowl halftime show to trashing the journalists sent to write about her, Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., is the definition of a pop-world "bad girl." Claiming that her love for dance beats stems from growing up next to temples in her ancestral Sri Lanka, M.I.A. has been mixing dance, electronic, world music and hip-hop since before EDM spread like wildfire. The recent release of her fourth LP, Matangi, may have been a label-less effort, but it bears no loss of depth, passion or M.I.A.'s signature robust beats or brassy attitude. Inspired by the idea of celebrating life and the 10 goddesses of Hinduism M.I.A. studied in India, the LP is a self-described "parking lot" for all of her other albums. The dramatic ambiance of the Belasco Theater, paired with the singer's raw confidence and glitzy swagger, will have you on the edge of your seat all night. --Britt Witt
Wednesday, November 13
Oh yeah, kiddies, when dub veteran Mad Professor gets his crazy hands on the controls tonight, it is guaranteed to be one marvelously beat-mad musical safari. The Guyana-born, London-bred maestro has not only walked beside the idiom's giants (collaborating with such crucial figures as riddim twins Sly and Robbie, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Horace "Mr. Bassie" Andy), he also has expanded beyond reggae and dancehall via some striking crossover redos for the pop, trip-hop and electro likes of Sade, Massive Attack and The Orb. Having long since established his own impeccable credentials with the classic, loopy, magnificent 12-album Dub Me Crazy series in the 1980s, tonight the Professor will be spinning his tailor-made "Roots of Dubstep" set, a knock-'em-dead aural primer/roadshow that he's currently taking coast to coast. Talk about higher education. --Jonny Whiteside
Thursday, November 14
Dean Wareham, Papercuts
Shiveringly beautiful, subtly thought-provoking, deeply moving -- what else do you need? That's Dean Wareham's new mini-LP, Emancipated Hearts, out via Double Feature/Sonic Cathedral. The former Galaxie 500 and Luna mainman teamed with Papercuts' Jason Quever to create six tracks of slightly downcast tunes inspired by single lines or titles from poems, films or newspaper headlines, plus a palate-cleansing cover of The Incredible String Band's loopy "Air." Wareham is an unusually literate type of guy to be fronting a rock band -- his new tracks take cues from Bertolt Brecht, George Orwell, John Betjeman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder -- and he's an even better melodicist and arranger. For proof, check the evocative mix of hazy moods and heady offerings on the new EP. His band tonight includes his collaborator/wife, Britta Phillips, and Quever's co-billed Papercuts bring their own ineffable magic to the mix. --John Payne
Herbie Hancock has described jazz as something that can happen to any kind of music when one searches for new avenues of discovery within the particular aesthetic constructs of the music, regardless of style or genre. It sounds lofty, perhaps, but pianist Robert Glasper (along with album guests Brandy, Jill Scott, Macy Gray, Common and Snoop Dog) is doing precisely that with Black Radio 2, a sequel to his Grammy-winning, groundbreaking homage to soul, R&B and hip-hop. Those pillars of black American music are derivatives of jazz, and Glasper has come full circle in finding depth and innovation in these popular forms, making the genre relevant again in the ears of a youthful generation. Herbie did this once with his jazz/funk triumph Head Hunters; perhaps it's time for history to repeat itself. --Gary Fukushima
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