Each week, Front Row Boston’s staff gives you our Short List: the bands and musicians in and around town we think you should hear.
It’s the 57th year of perhaps the most celebrated folk festival in the US. It seems Newport no longer traffics in iconic “Bob goes electric” moments, but it still programs one of the most wickedly affecting lineups of any festival in the country. This year’s iteration draws headliners like Flight of the Conchords (see below), Patti Smith, and Alabama Shakes. One of the most common complaints is that Newport Folk is no longer about Folk, but I suppose that complaint has been roiling for a solid fifty years. It’s time to give up that ghost and live with the fact that the best rock and Americana festival in the US happens this weekend a short drive south of our fair city. Watch Front Row for our coverage by contributors Tori Bedford and Jason Turesky this weekend.
It’s been longer than it might seem since the Flight of the Conchords wrapped up the second season of their acclaimed HBO show and left us wondering when we might hear from the Kiwi pair again. Bret McKenzie spent his time writing an Oscar-winning song for the Muppets, while Jemaine Clement starred in a number of films, from a vampire comedy to a poignant single parent dramedy. This weekend they’ll have a couple of feature performances in New England, with the Blue Hills show coming a day after their Newport Folk Festival appearance. We’re curious to see the material they trot out alongside classics like “Business Time.” Eugene Mirman — who starred as their landlord in the HBO series — opens with some of his quirky standup.
In 2012, the sisters Wilson stole the show at the Kennedy Center honors, when their take on “Stairway to Heaven” as a tribute to honorees Led Zeppelin proved that age had done done little to diminish their ability to rock. Even the band’s power ballad turn in the late 80s was anchored by Ann Wilson’s abiding, resonant alto. It remains one of the most explosive voices in rock. On Sunday, Heart will be joined by Joan Jett and Cheap Trick rounding out a 70s/80s weekend for those of us eager to remember.
Fela Kuti‘s eldest son, Femi Kuti, has maintained the pioneering work of his father’s Afrobeat into the twenty-first century. But part of that adaptation has been a rejection of part of his father’s worldview, and an aesthetic focus that makes Femi’s music a bit more radio-friendly than his dad. Whereas his father’s conflicting politics subjugated women while making a call for an independent post-colonial Africa, Femi embraces a universalism that appeals to the broadest possible audience. He’s also spent nearly thirty years fronting his backing band, The Positive Force, and with a new album on the way at the end of the year, Femi comes through town in the top musical shape of his life. Worldbeat fusioneers The Brighton Beat will support alongside acts Adam Gibbons, and DJ Carbo.
In the 90s, when the hip hop world seemed to be focus on the coasts, a hip undercurrent started to bubble in the upper midwest, and we’re seeing the flowering of that today with a slew of killer Chicago MCs. Vic Mensa is among the best of them. The young rapper grew up in the shadows of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, and his political orientation reflects a man from Barack Obama’s ‘hood. His latest EP, There’s a Lot Going On, is a profound commentary on the #blacklivesmatter era, and the political divisiveness of the current presidential cycle. Along with frequent collaborator Chance the Rapper, Mensa demonstrates the thinking man’s dimension of Chicago’s current hip hop scene. Fellow Chicago artist Joey Purp supports.