Sure, we could complain about bands skipping Columbus for Cleveland or Cincinnati, but there's still a boatload of shows to look forward to in our own town this year. Here's a sampling of 20.
The concert season tends to begin with more of a whimper than a bang (seriously, take a look at the meager scattering of shows booked in town this week). With that in mind, we decided to take a look at some of the upcoming concerts that we're most excited to see.
Skully's Music-Diner, Jan. 16
For nearly two decades, the California hip-hop stalwarts have married rapper the Gift of Gab's wordy, tongue-twisting rhymes to inventive beats courtesy of DJ/producer Chief Xcel. The pair's latest, Imani Vol. 1, from 2015, continues the trend, packing in songs celebrating the duo's cultural heritage (on “Blacka,” Gab dubs himself “blacka than Marcus Garvey,” which, damn) with songs that could only be written by seasoned vets. “You'll never relive yesterday/You can't rewind this tape,” raps Gab as he watches sand slide through “The Hour Glass.” Best enjoy the ride while we're here.
Ace of Cups, Jan. 25 & 26
The last full-length release from Saintseneca came in 2015 with Such Things (Anti-), an album that further cemented Zac Little as a Columbus songwriting treasure. A new album hasn't been announced, but the band released captivating single “Moon Barks at the Dog” in November (opening line: “All we ate today was cake/I pray the Lord our teeth to break”). Hopefully the song portends more new music to come in 2018. Regardless, Ace of Cups will host Saintseneca for two nights in January; recent Band to Watch DANA joins Little and Co. for a sold-out show on Thursday, Jan. 25 and fellow Columbus treasure Counterfeit Madison rounds out the bill on Friday, Jan. 26.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Express Live, Feb. 10
You could argue that Noel Gallagher's interviews are more entertaining than his music, but that's only because the former Oasis songwriter is maybe the most hilarious and entertaining musician making rock music today. Even without his ex-Oasis bandmate and brother Liam (who likes to refer to Noel as a potato), Gallagher still makes music worth listening to, and on 2017 release Who Built the Moon? he takes his songs in an increasingly experimental direction. While some Oasis fans have taken to peeling potatoes at Liam's gigs, maybe don't bring potato paraphernalia to this show.
Kacey Musgraves (opening for Little Big Town)
The Schottenstein Center, Feb. 15
Little Big Town has the top spot on the marquee, but opener Kacey Musgraves might be the best reason to venture out to the Schott in mid-February. Over the course of two albums — Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material, released in 2013 and 2015, respectively — the Texas-born musician has established herself as a sharp, sensitive songwriter capable of injecting humor (“Pageant Material”) and heart (“Somebody to Love”) into songs that paint a detailed portrait of small-town life and the shared joys and aches that bind humankind.
Davidson Theatre, Feb. 22
A shapeshifter who namedrops both Dolly Parton and Tina Turner, Memphis singer-songwriter Valerie June is tough to pin down, drawing on her Southern roots and her time as a street musician to craft bluesy folk songs. June's 2017 album, The Order of Time, grew her fan base enough that she's embarking on a “soft-seater” theater tour, stopping in Columbus at the Jo Ann Davidson Theatre (formerly the Capitol Theatre) in the Riffe Center Downtown.
Spacebar, Feb. 24
“My nails ain't manicured,” drawls Shame singer Charlie Steen on “One Rizla,” eventually adding, “I'm not much to look at.” The South London five-piece is easy on the ears, however, combining Steen's bratty, pugnacious, oft-sarcastic vocals with musical backdrops that veer from slow-burning turns such as “Angie” (a darkly romantic track that suggests Nick Cave) to melodic punk outbursts such as the Fall-esque “Concrete.” “I hope that you're hearing me,” Steen sneers on the latter. Loud and clear, my friend.
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Rumba Cafe, Feb. 28
Jessica Lea Mayfield was due to play the Rumba Cafe back in October, but she had to cancel the tour due to injuries she sustained in a car accident. Meanwhile, the Ohio-raised songwriter was still recovering from injuries related to domestic violence incidents, including a broken shoulder that required surgery. Last fall, Mayfield opened up to Alive about the abusive relationship she endured and the songs she wrote while still in the midst of it, several of which ended up on her most recent album, Sorry is Gone. “I'm going to speak up for myself and for other people. … Things need to change, and I want to yell from the rooftops until it does,” she said. In February, Columbus will finally get the chance to hear Mayfield do just that.
Ace of Cups, Feb. 28
Indie rock musician Ezra Furman has never shied from tackling difficult subject matter, writing songs about the outcast and overlooked while simultaneously exploring issues of gender fluidity and advocating for the queer community in the pages of major publications such as British newspaper The Guardian. The video for “Driving Down to L.A.,” the cathartic first single off the forthcoming Transangelic Exodus, is no exception, incorporating Nazi imagery informed by what Furman sees as a societal rise in the white nationalist movement. “I intend this song, video and entire career as a protest against those attitudes,” the musician said in a press statement accompanying the video's release.
Big Room Bar, March 8
Joe Mulherin, recording as nothing, nowhere, exudes little of the typical hip-hop bravado on Reaper, from 2017. “I'm too far gone, don't try to save me/I hate myself more than any man could ever hate me,” he slurs on the overcast, album-opening “Houdini,” sounding like a man more apt to disappear into the cold earth than to set the club afire. Mulherin's music can be alternately anguished and unflinching, bridging the worlds of hip-hop and emo so effectively that he can incorporate guest turns from both teenage Delaware rapper Lil West and emo vet Dashboard Confessional and somehow have both sound entirely at home.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
The Columbus Athenaeum, March 15
The long-running (and curiously! punctuated) instrumental Canadian ensemble called to mind images of a great, fiery horror with the title of its most-recent long player, Luciferian Towers. A set of demands accompanying news of the album's 2017 release, which included “the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex” and “healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right,” added to the overall sense of urgency. The music, however, walks a decidedly more patient course. Throughout, the bandmates craft rich, melodic epics awash in a glimmering beauty that suggest the world the players wish they could inhabit rather than the one foisted upon them.
Palace Theatre, March 23
John Prine's set at the Nelsonville Music Festival in 2013 is probably in Joel's top 10 live music experiences. Prine's wit is as sharp as it was in his younger days, and even with his aw-shucks demeanor, the man's stage presence is magnetic. Not to mention he's a songwriting legend, and at 71, the former mailman and cancer survivor's coarse voice complements songs like “Hello in There” and “Angel from Montgomery” even better now than it did in his youth.
Lorde with Run the Jewels and Mitski
The Schottenstein Center, March 31
This massive show would have made the list solely on the strength of Melodrama, the latest from the critically revered U.K. pop singer. Then Lorde had to go and add can't-miss openers Mitski and Run the Jewels, the two artists behind Andy's top albums from 2014 (Run the Jewels 2) and 2016 (Mitski's Puberty 2). It's not a stretch to call this the year's most-anticipated concert.
Ace of Cups, April 2
The Canadian post-punk quartet, which debuted in 2014 with the tense, turbulent More than Any Other Day, reconvenes following a year that saw the release of singer Tim Darcy's solo debut, Saturday Night. Judging by “These 3 Things,” the first song teased off the forthcoming Room Inside the World, the band's third LP (and first for Merge Records), the modest time away has allowed unexpected new wave-indebted musical shades to emerge.
Newport Music Hall, April 6
There are worse marketing strategies than forever linking your band to David Lynch, but Chicago garage-pop act Twin Peaks is more than a gimmick. With sing-along choruses for days, the smooth tones of vocalists Cadien Lake James and Jack Dolan (think Kurt Vile meets Nada Surf) are offset by the scratchy rasp of Mick Jagger devotee Clay Frankel. While 2016's Down in Heaven showed the longtime friends maturing in sound (but not too much), Twin Peaks also released a dozen songs last year as part of a singles series; the band will compile all 12 singles on an LP in February.
The Basement, April 8
Lucy Dacus came up in the DIY scene of Richmond, Virginia, honing her talents at house shows. But after Matador Records re-released her debut album, No Burden, Dacus' music spread to corners far and wide, even earning a recommendation from former Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine. “We're all looking for something to adore and how to survive the bending and breaking,” she sings on No Burden track “Map on a Wall” with a world-weary voice that belies her 22 years. Check out Dacus at the Basement on April 8; she may just be that something you adore.
The Basement, April 13
Bridgers' most recent album, Stranger in the Alps, worked its way into Joel's top 10 records of 2017, so you've probably already heard us talk about the Los Angeles folk/indie-pop songwriter in these pages. But maybe you didn't know she supposedly wrote Alps track “Motion Sickness” about Ryan Adams, who recorded Bridgers' debut EP, Killer. “You said when you met me you were bored/You were in a band when I was born,” she sings, which sounds about right.
Skully's Music-Diner, April 22
Turnover, which could alternately be referred to as DeShone Kizer by bitter Cleveland Browns fans, emits an upbeat glow on its aptly titled 2017 album, Good Nature. According to a press release, singer Austin Getz relocated from Virginia to California wine country with his girlfriend prior to recording sessions, and that region's gorgeous weather and smooth, rolling hills inform similarly pleasant songs such as “Sunshine Type” and the flitting “Butterfly Dream.” This concert should make for a fitting soundtrack to an early spring in Columbus, one would hope.
Ace of Cups, April 24
Kevin Morby falls into that category of musicians that listeners either passionately love or don't give a rip about (see the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile). While some may find Morby's deadpan delivery and sepia-toned psych-rock worthy of a nap, fans of the aforementioned artists will likely dig his Dylan-evoking songwriting and breezy, hypnotic tones, which sound simultaneously lush and crisp on Morby's Richard Swift-produced 2017 album, City Music.
Ace of Cups, April 26
Over the course of two albums, the Nashville band, led by singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno, has conjured visions of the 1990s grunge era, turning out rollicking guitar jams that practically arrive decked out in flannel shirts and Doc Martens boots. Less polished than its predecessor, Losing, from 2017, plays like the In Utero to Feels Like's more mainstream Nevermind, all coiled guitar scrawl and sandpaper yelps courtesy of Bognanno. “Have I lost my voice completely?” she asks on the album-closing “Hate and Control,” an impossibility for a youthful musician and songwriter already so fully in charge of her instrument.
Ohio Stadium, July 7
Maybe you've heard of this up-and-comer Taylor Swift? After playing two nights at Nationwide Arena on the 1989 tour in the fall of 2015, Swift returns to Columbus this summer for a one-night stand at Ohio Stadium. Though Reputation, the pop star's vindictive follow-up to smash-hit 1989, has met a lukewarm critical reception, at best, the album has already gone triple platinum in the U.S. since its November release. And Swift will undoubtedly pull out all the stops for this stadium show.