There’s More to Rocktober Than Rock in Your Complete Concert Calendar: Oct. 3-9
Pretty much all the live music you can catch in the Twin Cities this week.
3:30 PM CDT on October 3, 2023
Ah, Rocktober! Too narrow a word, actually, to take in the different kinds of great music you can experience live this week. Does Fatoumata Diawara rock? Does yeule? Do you? Yes, Racket reader, you surely do rock.
Tuesday, October 3
- The Handsome Family with Paul Fonfara @ Cedar Cultural Center—I’ll admit it—like a lot of musical acts I fell for 20-plus years back, I haven’t been keeping up with the husband-wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks much recently. I should have been! Their 2016 album Unseen is a bit doleful even by their melancholy standards, but tell me, exactly how lively were you that wonderful year, pal? For evidence that Rennie’s pen is as sharp as ever, check out this stanza from “Good Old Days”: “There was no time or space/When I was growing up/We had summer all winter/The moon rose with the sun/And music sounded better/We recorded on rings of ice/And as the songs turned to water/We couldn't help but cry.” And Brett’s stolid baritone hasn’t exorcized a single ghost that haunts it. The Sparkses’ 11th studio album, Hollow, out later this week, offers even more spectral but wittily grotesque Americana. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Handsomes, you might recognize “Far From Any Road,” which served as the theme song for True Detective. And if you don’t trust me, well, Phoebe Bridgers covered “So Much Wine” last Christmastime, and you think she’s pretty cool, right?
- Rodney Crowell with Laurel Lewis @ Parkway—Rodney Crowell was Americana before the marketers had a term for it, working in the craftsmanlike tradition of Texas forebears like Guy Clark and joining Emmylou Harris on the road. But he's no country outsider: He also spent his '80s learning to score with Nashville country-pop, both as Rosanne Cash's collaborator/husband and on his own, and in the years since he's written hits for Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. Now 73, he's out to prove he knows his way around a song on The Chicago Sessions, produced by (why not?) Jeff Tweedy. The album gathers up the committed heartbreak of "Loving You Is the Only Way to Fly" (originally written for the TV show Nashville), the gun shy "Lovers Out of Friends" (co-written with the great Ashley McBryde), and Townes Van Zandt's desperate "No Place to Fall." But maybe Crowell's greatest achievement on the new album is writing about a love that doesn't end badly: The source of the happiness expressed on "Lucky" may not literally be Claudia Church, his wife of 25 years, but "Oh Miss Claudia" certainly is.
Wednesday, October 4
Thursday, October 5
- Fatoumata Diawara @ Cedar Cultural Center—You've gotta be a real jerk not to get something out of the Wassoulou singing tradition. A West African musical style dominated by women with expansive voices grounded in strength, their upper registers honed to a keen edge that suggests pain kept in abeyance, Wassoulou music has spread through the world over the past 30 years, with the unrivaled Oumou Sangare its greatest champion. Born in Mali, based in France (a hardly unusual sitch for West African performers), Diawara has been the most prominent practitioner of the style on the touring circuit since she made a splash with Fatou in 2011. Her latest, London Ko disrupts her music's circular rhythms with some more linear urban beats and stocks up on mostly superfluous guests—nothing against Damon Albarn or Angie Stone, but I won't miss them at the Cedar. Live, she'll fill the room with a voice that'll make you proud to be a human.
Friday, October 6
- Margaret Glaspy with Tasha @ Fine Line—While Margaret Glaspy's songs are sharply crafted and recorded vocals up-front, like a regular singer-songwriter, her guitar work is what sells them, Her playing is quietly virtuosic without her ever merely showing off, with a fancy chord tossed in occasionally not to keep you on your toes so much as to gently inflect the melody. On her latest Echo the Diamond, she's stripped away the synths that sometimes marred Devotion, reverting back to the sparer sound of Emotions and Math. Highlights include the ecstatically infatuated "Act Natural" and its ingenious bent-string riff, the proud, angry, chugging "Female Brain," and "Irish Goodbye," about a woman who ducks out on a guy who falls for her way too fast.
- Ratboys with Free Range @ Turf Club—I was glad to see the glowing Pitchfork review of The Window, the just-released new Ratboys album, deployed the exact phrase that had been bouncing around my head: This is a level-up record. The twangy Chicago indie-rock band had already dropped four serviceable LPs, though this Chris Walla-produced effort unlocked something special. Vocally, singer-songwriter Julia Steiner is a dead ringer for Kerry Alexander of local group Bad Bad Hats, and she spends all 48 minutes of The Window bouncing between tender ache and melodious wail; her skillful, riffy, and increasingly muscular band is tighter than ever throughout.
Saturday, October 7
- Jonathan Richman @ Fitzgerald Theater—As Richman has aged from unlikely trailblazer to eternally boyish institution, you can forget how crucial an influence he's been. Oodles of indie rockers might never have thought to rip off the Velvet Underground without his example, and, not exactly paradoxically, he also made it cool (or at least "cool") for sensitive souls to bare their soft, twee underbellies. His setlist seems to flit about through his career these days, though mainstays like "That Summer Feeling" and "I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar" pop up regularly. He'll be joined by longtime collaborator Tommy Larkins on the drums.
- Wu Tang Clan, Nas, De La Soul @ Target Center—Why are arenas flooded with rock nostalgia tours while middle-aged rappers tend to get consigned to state fairs and clubs? You’d think fifty-somethings would have the disposable income to make tours like this an inevitability, but even when they do happen they’re not guaranteed attendance. Which is especially odd when you consider that tickets for this show start at $24, which is like three bucks a Wu member. While members have had their differences over the years, Staten Island’s finest kung fu rapper collective puts on a surprisingly un-chaotic live show when they’re in the mood. Nas will never quite recover from the misfortune of beginning his career with an all-time classic rap album, but on his King’s Disease and Magic series of albums, he’s demonstrated those qualities that rap cherishes in a veteran—he enjoys rapping and he rarely embarasses himself. (I contend that the sometimes clumsier and always more adventurous albums he released in the era that preceded his ascent to elder statesman are more interesting—and often better—but that’s a topic for another day.) Catching openers De La Soul will be bittersweet—our first time to see the Native Tongues crew since their music hit streaming services, but also the first since the death of Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeur in March.
- Stokley @ Uptown Theater—To quote Sean McPherson: "Mint Condition (RIP) and their individual members are an underappreciated part of the Minnesota music scene. Is a big part of this racism? Absolutely! We have a gold-selling R&B band that hails from St. Paul and is revered the world over for their live performances and songcraft. And besides a cover story (legit work from Peter Scholtes) I bet they were mentioned in City Pages 1/2 to 2/3 as often as many bands with vastly smaller fanbases and national profiles. Even to this day Stokley shows up on records with the likes of Robert Glasper, Nate Smith, and other rising stars in the world of forward-thinking Black music without getting the love he should be from local media."
Sunday, October 8
Monday, October 9
- yeule with SASAMI @ Fine Line—Saying someone's lyrics reflect their online experience seems a little redundant in 2023, like pointing out that they use electricity. Still, some do explore their cyber-consciousness more thoroughly than others, and "multiverse entity"/"dissociate self" yeule is among them. On their new album, Softscars, titles like "Sulky Baby," "Software Update," and "Cyber Meat" tell more than half the story, and the femme chirp in which yeule delivers imagery like "the rottеn flesh of my own carcass" tells you most of the rest. The internet has welshed on its promise to allow us to transcend the gross prisons of our material bodies, hence all the not-exactly-mixed metaphors about sex and wounds and lines like "God created man, motherboard, wires and/Blood, bones, flesh, breathing, suicide engineering." But there's some guitar to keep digital non-natives oriented—a little art-rock here, a little grunge there, a little (how could there not be) pop-punk too. And all in all, these are ultimately just catchy songs about being miserable, a form of expression that existed long before DARPAnet was a gleam in the military industrial complex's all-seeing eye.
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