A lot of people will tell you that Stop Making Sense, featuring the Talking Heads, is the greatest concert film ever made. But that would seem to presuppose that one is already a fan of the band’s music, no? Not necessarily. I watched my VHS copy of SMS so often that the label was already worn off long before I found it on DVD, and yet I’ve never once felt compelled to buy a Talking Heads album. For some, bands like the Heads and Oingo Boingo only matter onstage, it’s all about the show. The music is a soundtrack that, bereft of the visual element, is far less than one half of the whole. Onetime Talking Head frontman David Byrne seems fully aware of that fact, and thus promises elaborate theatrics for his first solo tour since 2009 when it pulls into San Diego Civic Theatre on April 17. Though he hasn’t revealed his backing band, Byrne did mention an upcoming album in a statement he released to the press announcing the tour. “I had an idea that everyone in the band might be mobile, so there would be no risers, drum platforms, or any of that stuff,” he says of the stage design. “The band and I will be testing all of this in front of a live audience during a small number of shows, beginning in March. We’ll be doing some new songs, and many others that will, I assume, be familiar…this is the most ambitious show I’ve done since the shows that were filmed for Stop Making Sense, so fingers crossed.”
It’s easy to mock a lot of music that came out of the 1980s, but one genre that held up surprisingly well is the mildly psychedelic Paisley Underground of Beatlesque pop aspirants like World Party, XTC, the Bangles, Tears for Fears, and L.A.’s Dream Syndicate, which melded the prototypal punk of Velvet Underground with “Strawberry Fields Forever” style Britpop. Though not exactly chart-toppers, the ’80s were good to Steve Wynn and company, with four well-received albums to their credit before they called it quits right around the dawn of the ’90s. Wynn resurfaced with a new Syndicate in 2012, mostly as a touring entity intended for the aging alt crowd. In 2017, they surprised many by releasing their first new studio album in 29 years, the aptly named How Did I Find Myself Here? It’s a surprisingly energetic and ambitious record, highlighted by a 35-year-old song from band practices that was resurrected for the release — “Like Mary,” a melancholy, gently strummed number that does indeed harken back to their earliest efforts. Though now minus two founding members, the support tour that hits the Casbah on April 21 will include Wynn backed by cofounding drummer Dennis “Duck” Mehaffey and longtime (since 1984) bassist Mark Walton, alongside Wynn’s guitarist from his band Miracle 3, Jason Victor.
As long as we’ve been talking about great concert films, honorable mention must surely go to The Last Waltz, featuring the all-star farewell performance of Bob Dylan’s onetime backing group, the Band. It turned out to not be farewell after all, as several players later regrouped sans Robertson, but now the only members remaining from The Last Waltz who haven’t passed away are Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson. Several players from latter-day incarnations of the Band have joined with musicians from various Band solo projects to form the Weight, which’ll play the Belly Up on April 29. Neither Hudson nor Robertson will be participating in the performance, mostly paying tribute to the Band’s back-catalog, but Robertson’s post-Waltz replacement Jim Weider (who played on three of the final Band albums) will be manning the guitar, alongside someone who often played with the late Band drummer Levon Helm in a dual-drum format, Randy Ciarlante. The Weight is rounded out by members of solo groups once fronted by Helm, Hudson, and late Band bassist Rick Danko: Brian Mitchell, Marty Grebb, Michael Bram, and Albert Rogers. Their debut album as the Weight, World Gone Mad, drops later this month.
Back when he first came straight outta Compton, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth originally wanted to be known as K-Dot, a teen rapper whose self-released mixtape got him signed with Top Dawg records, a big-deal indie label in the early aughts. As Kendrick Lamar, he entered the U.S. Top 40 in 2012 with hit records such as “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Poetic Justice,” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” He’ll be leaning heavily on his fourth studio album from last April, Damn, when he arrives at Mattress Firm Amphitheatre on May 13, which is welcome news, given that record’s wide array of sound explorations delving into funk, jazz, and soul, evincing even more confidence and clarity than on his somewhat more acclaimed previous release, To Pimp a Butterfly. The Damn album has been somewhat eclipsed over the past few weeks by a soundtrack record he just curated for Marvel’s Black Panther movie, and so it was probably as much an artistic instant replay as it was a blatant cash-grab a few weeks ago when, hoping to keep the record on people’s tongues and minds, he released a “Collector’s Edition” of Damn featuring the tracks in reverse order. The Chula Vista bill includes SZA (currently featured on a single from the Black Panther soundtrack, “All the Stars”), ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, SiR, and Lance Skiiiwalker.
For a little over 20 years, Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian has been racking up acclaim, if not album sales, thanks to touring and grassroots social networking that pretty much bypasses the usual starmaking machinery. That’s begun to change since signing to major labels in the U.K. and U.S., Rough Trade and Matador Records, which is probably why they’re headlining their first local appearance in three years at Observatory North Park on June 22. At this writing, they’ve released two of a three-EP series that began in December and wraps later this month, with the final installment of How to Solve Our Human Problems. It’s kind of a Radiohead-meets-Stevie-Nicks affair that offers lilting acoustic POVS as seen through the eyes of children who, over the course of the EPs, then become teens, who then become parents, who come to an end that inevitably recalls where it all began. Ambitious stuff for a band once written off as Cranberries-lite.