Six shows to get you through this second week of February.
SMZ (or whatever you want to call them) poses questions without necessarily answering them, even in the FAQ section of their website where they pose frequently asked questions about themselves, sans responses. So, too, does their music, which gallivants around various sonic worlds and soundscapes with no clear destination in mind. These are compositions rather than songs — ambitious, dark, occasionally wordless creations that can devastate the soul if you dare invest yourself. If it sounds vaguely of a piece with Godspeed! You Black Emperor, you've got good hearing. Bandleader Efrim Menuck splits time with the distinct yet overlapping G!YBE collective, as do violinist Sophie Trudeah and bassist Thierry Amar.
Young the Giant, Fillmore, Wednesday and Thursday
This music biz sure works in mysterious ways. Thousands of bands have released albums over the last two years, many of which probably sounded similar to Young the Giant's straightforward American indie-ish rock heard on their 2010 eponymous debut. But something made Young the Giant's vocal/guitar/bass/drum approach sticky. A coup of a gig at last year's Music Video Awards and plaudits from all over the mainstream press now have them booking two-night stints at places like The Fillmore. In truth, they do kick arse live. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia is a compelling presence: rugged looks and just the right amount of not-give-a-damn-yness. As an MTV rat would say, C4UrSLf.
Here's a few good reasons to see this show: 1) These guys are San Francisco legends; 2) Their Wikipedia description includes the term "quasi-pornography"; and 3) who doesn't enjoy the occasional ironic celebration of all things '80s? And that's not meant to be condescending. Hell, these guys were the kings of condescension when they made it big in the early '80s, by spoofing America's media, consumers and politicians and anything else ripe for parody. But they also made damn catchy music — "She's a Beauty" is embarrassingly good — the kind of funky, rockin' stuff you'd play over an Eddie Murphy montage. Just...wow:
Ruthie Foster, Great American Music Hall, Thursday
Veteran songcrafter Ruthie Foster makes a mean cocktail of blues, folk, R&B and gospel. She'll be focusing on one particular genre on this "Soul Salvation" tour. She's a Grammy-nominated artist, and her album The Truth According to Ruthie Foster is a must-listen for any soul junkie. Onstage, she sings toward the ceiling, but the heavens are her aim, rumbling with each note. And her team is strong: Tanya Richardson, on bass/backing vocals, and Samantha Banks, on drums/back vocals, are right there with her.
Lana Del Rey, Amoeba Music, Thursday (6 p.m.)
Just watch this YouTube clip of this NYC songstress' performance on Letterman last week and tell me you're not intrigued. This is your next great femme fatale America. Treat her kindly. She looks fragile.
It's easy to get lost in the mystery of this Londoner's aura and voice next-gen-Mary J. Blige-ness. But let's back up for a second: we all really know Estelle from her collaboration with Kanye West on "American Boy," enabling gold-excavators everywhere with lines like "take me on a trip I'd like to go someday...will you be my American boy?" Take another listen to that song and tell me who has the strongest impression. Now go see her in solo form.