BY JEFF LEVEN
It’s cold. Ridiculously cold. The type of cold that makes you stare longingly at your palm tree boxers and dream of Corona commercials and wonder what Boston ever did to offend the sun in such a way that it dare not cast its glow upon this heat-forsaken wasteland. It is very, very hard in the depths and pallor of such cold to convince yourself to go anywhere, but here are a month few of musical reasons to put on your mittens, pull your layers together, and give it a try:
Feb. 7: Jimmy Smith Quintet, House of Blues — Ever wonder where the Beastie Boys got all those limber bass-lines, funky organ breaks and gloriously syncopated drum bits on Ill Communication? Well, they didn’t name one of their harder grooves “Root Down” for nothing — it was, in fact, the name of the Jimmy Smith album from which they lifted most of Ill’s best grooves. Ranking alongside the Meters and James Brown, Jimmy Smith is one of the foremost godfathers of rhythm in American music, and his jazzy organ improvisations remain some of the most exciting music ever put on wax. Given the fact that almost all of today’s dirty-white-baseball cap jambands live in his shadow, to see him turn it on live will undoubtedly be a revelation.
Feb. 8: The Pretenders, Orpheum — After a series of triumphant opening performances for the Stones, The Pretenders return to Boston for what will undoubtedly be a deeper dig through their rich catalogue. Having switched to the indie label Artemis after over 20 years with Warner Brothers for their recent Loose Screw, The Pretenders seem intent on reclaiming their edgier roots. And why not? Almost thirty years into the game, Chryssie Hynde remains one of rock’s most captivating blue jean bombshells, playing adoring audiences like so many well-worn and well-loved guitars.
Feb. 9: Apples in Stereo, Middle East — After scoring a preteen hit on “The Powerpuff Girls” soundtrack with “Let’s Go,” the Apples in Stereo are taking their puffy poppy little ditties on the road. Count on lots of swirling fuzzy guitars, sing-along harmonies and sunny-day emo you can dance to.
Feb. 15: Steve Earle, Avalon — Never one to shy from politics or controversy, Earle is currently riding a wave of notoriety courtesy of “John Walker’s Blues,” his attempt to imagine the internal workings of the Taliban youth’s mind. And while his new album Jerusalem is perhaps more troubled and cynical than The Rising, Earle, like Springsteen and Dylan before him, has never been afraid to use his music as a lightning rod for the issues of the day. But tough issues of identity and belief aside, the real reason to see Steve Earle live is, quite simply, that he rocks with a passion and a grit that transcends his or your opinions on any matter in particular, and when he sings about a broken heart, he does so with such insight and earnesty that it can’t help but be universal.
Feb. 16: Grandmaster Flash, Rob Swift and Dalek, Middle East — I’m always trying to find more hip-hop for these calendars, but here in Beantown, you have to at least catch the classics when they come. Touring on the strength of new mix albums, Grandmaster Flash remains, particularly after the tragic demise of Run-DMC, one of the most important living lines to hip-hop’s early history and a vital reminder that in the best hip-hop, substance always prevails over form.
Feb. 17: Fastball, House of Blues — You gotta love it when a group that most people would derisively call a one-hit wonder sticks together and keeps on the road long after the venues have gotten smaller. Undoubtedly cursed from here to eternity by the sugary strains of their huge summer hit “The Way,” Fastball is, was, and always has been, a great pop band. Percolating with anthemic choruses and simmering quasi-Latin-rockabilly-and-surf guitar lines, Austin’s native sons refuse to stay down, and for that, they deserve two cheers and a trip to the HOB.
Feb. 20: Paul van Dyk/Biz Markie, Avalon — Okay, so I always recommend Paul van Dyk’s dazzling Teutonic trance work whenever he comes from town, but the Biz, well… what can I say? Let’s put it this way — I actually talked the Biz into playing my little college frat-house once, and after watching him bring a dangerously packed room to mirth by scratching records with his puffy ex-boxer lips, gigantic jewel-encrusted paws, and exceedingly ample stomach, I became a lifelong devotee. A few freestyle raps and a delicious mumbling of “Just A Friend” rounded out the package and, well, nobody beats the Biz!
Feb. 21: J. Mascis and the Fog, Middle East — Yep, it’s been a while since Dinosaur Jr. had its day in the grungy sun, but that doesn’t keep J. from soldiering on with disc after disc of beautifully-rendered dirt-caked guitar muck. While “the Fog” sometimes means two additional musicians and sometimes means a backing track, the chance to see J. peer through his mane and twist the frets is worth at least one evening of your time.
Feb. 22: Paul Weller, Orpheum — Far too few Americans have heard Paul Weller’s absolutely stunning work with the Jam and, later, the Style Council. Undoubtedly, far too few Americans will have heard his elegant new album Illumination. No, big deal, right? I mean, after all, he’s only one of England’s five greatest songwriters, one of the most literate and thoughtful translators of the punk ethos, and one of modern music’s most prolific voices. Thankfully, his loving sarcasm and thoroughly consistent social commentary comes off much better than my chagrin at his puzzling lack of celebrity on this side of the Pond….
Feb. 23: Sixpence None the Richer, Paradise Rock Club — Valentine’s Day comes a week late this year. More than just the band that sings the “Kiss Me” song, Sixpence often provides the soundtrack to that first date goodnight kiss that some WB sitcom will tenderly rehearse every now and then. And for good reason. Unrelentingly cute and dreamy in their tone and lyricism, Sixpence dolls up such pop treasures as the La’s “There She Goes,” and serves them up with a smirk and a paper heart. A soft and cuddly way to end the month.