Hundreds of fantastic touring acts will visit town this fall, but there's also a staggering amount of talent growing in our backyard. The local concert calendar is just beginning to fill out, so consider this list of over 25 must-sees a starting point. Check isthmus.com/theguide for the latest live-music info.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 5, Crystal Corner Bar, Sept. 27
Equal parts grit and glee, this garage band's new EP, Girl Trouble, is their best work yet. With driving drums, bliss-inducing guitars and super-soulful vocals, the single "Watch Out" is a wonderfully wild specimen and the perfect fall anthem for local rock fans.
Mickey's Tavern, Sept. 11
What does it sound like when a stoner and a bunch of warring androids walk into a Japanese gambling hall in the Upper Midwest? Bizarro rock supergroup the Garza, of course. Grab your earplugs for this one since Mickey's can get obscenely loud.
Mickey's Tavern, Sept. 15
This scrappy punk duo have been known to use a drum kit made of parts salvaged from the trash. Snappy tracks like "Salt" and "Apple Core" reflect the pair's playful personalities while showing off their enduring love of fuzz.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 18
This show is just five days after the psychedelic garage-punk duo's last concert supporting Nobunny in Australia and New Zealand. Let's hope that any jet lag has worn off and that the Foster's Beer hasn't caused them to go bluegrass.
Tyranny Is Tyranny
Mr. Robert's, Sept. 26
Looking for a less-than-obvious way to show your support for Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky? Flail about to Tyranny Is Tyranny's anarchic post-noise while meditating upon lyrics like "Our souls vacant and torn/Self-worth measured by progress.... Work, breathe, dream, die/Your saviors lie."
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 29
Propelled by Spirit Vision, their latest album of dark, keyboard-driven prog, Vanishing Kids are a can't-miss opener for Mike Watt and the epic rock songs of his band il sogno del marinaio.
The Al Gore Rhythm Method
Segredo, Sept. 12
Made up of Madison DJ PatrickAwesome and Milwaukee DJ Red's Life, this beats-obsessed pair build their tracks on a foundation of moombahton and trap, then spike them with house, glitch and world influences. The duo have been charting in various genres on beatport.com and are signed to Sex Cult, the record label founded by the popular EDM act Designer Drugs.
Tani Diakite & the Afrofunkstars
Overture Hall Lobby, Nov. 20
This group's music revolves around Diakite's charismatic personality and his kamele n'goni, a gourd-harp that's a staple of traditional Malian music. Intricate polyrhythms, provided by percussionists Paddy Cassidy, Mamadou Diallo and Djam Vivie, are another key element. Hear the group for free at Overture Center's November installment of MadCity Sessions, a series that also features local talent like folk rockers Beth Kille (Sept. 25) and the Mascot Theory (Oct. 23).
The Midwest Beat
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 5
The Midwest Beat share a Milwaukee and Madison lineage, so our home turf gets a release show for the upcoming full-length Free of Being. It'll be the first release -- aside from a singles comp and a scattering of 7-inches -- since 2011's party album Gone Not Lost. Treating the three-minute mark like an electric fence, the band trim all the fat from their nubile jangle pop and fill in the spaces with sugar, so it's a bit of a surprise to hear "High Life," a beer-blurred bar-time ballad that Johnny Paycheck would proudly play in the jukebox. But as the band pointed out to Urban Milwaukee, having Tim Schweiger on bass has made it easier for them to explore country and folk in addition to their typically hyperactive paisley pop. Openers Fire Retarded, Sugar Stems and Cowboy Winter should bring lots of energy to the show, too.
Mr. Robert's, Sept. 6, High Noon Saloon, Sept. 11
To kick off a tour that dips into Nashville, Heavy Looks play a local set at the Bubble Music Festival. Their catchy, guitar-driven power-pop, especially material from new album Senses Growing Dull, will make you want to dance and sing along.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 11
A consistently solid songwriter and tireless tourer, Vogelzang makes Madison proud year after year. She'll share catchy folk- and chamber-pop like "Canary," a yearning 2012 tune laced with cello and banjo, at the Bubble Music Festival.
Frequency, Sept. 22
Fronted by skillful singer Emily Massey -- daughter of Mike Massey, the composer of Madison Ballet's Dracula score -- this trio of high schoolers have tons of talent and the stage presence of a much more seasoned act, despite claiming that their favorite place to make music is the basement. Their debut album, Tunnels, was a hit on several college radio stations, and with good reason: Tracks like "Papercuts" teem with bright guitar solos, melodies fit for a Jenny Lewis record, and drums that invite hand claps from the audience.
Count This Penny
Live on King Street, Sept. 19
Veterans of public radio programs like A Prairie Home Companion, this local act have spot-on songwriting instincts, versatile voices and a knack for putting out slick recordings. Pitchman, their 2012 album of Americana and folk-pop, was one of the final projects Madison's Smart Studios completed before closing.
The Wells Division
Frequency, Oct. 26
Finely textured folk-rock is this band's specialty. To guitars and drums they add brass, keys and accordion, all topped off with Joan Herzing's lithe vocals. They'll open for Austin, Texas, alt-rockers Alpha Rev at this show.
Warm & Cozy
Oh, My Love
Mr. Robert's, Sept. 6, High Noon Saloon, Sept. 11, Frequency, Sept. 17
After playing the Bubble Music Festival on Sept. 11, this indie-pop group open for dark and lovely singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield on Sept. 17. Released in July, their album XXXXXXX brims with sparkling instrumentals and warm, clear vocals from Hannah Luree, who sounds a bit like Dia Frampton on the spritely yet soothing track "White Diamonds."
Building on Buildings
Frequency, Oct. 15
With a name that invokes the icy Berlin school of electronic music, Building on Buildings rebuke that cold imagery with a warm, dense sound. The voices of Erin Fuller and Connie Ward sleepily collide over layered guitars on "Wheel," the sumptuous first single off their upcoming full-length. The band have been hard at work finishing the record at Justin Vernon's April Base studio in Eau Claire. Fuller says they recently wrapped up final mixing and are readying the songs for mastering. In the meantime, fans will have to hit the band's live shows for a fix of that sweet slowcore dive into oblivion. Catch the band quick, as Fuller says they're feeling a bit "wanderlust-y."
Cool & Hypnotic
Elks Teeth & Rabbits Feet
Frequency, Sept. 4, Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, Sept. 6
This local project is a showcase for Leah Brooke's intoxicating voice, which lends a film-noir vibe to the haunting "Abalone Shells" and the bluesy "Sadhappy." Her songs should sound especially beautiful in cozy venues like the Frequency and Mother Fool's.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 14
This local band call their songs "post-carnival music." It's a fitting descriptor for the chilling tango-rock of "Leave Me Alone" and the menacing yet frolicsome harmonies of "Funeral March." Both tunes appear on the excellent 2014 album Atoms.
Lords of the Trident
Frequency, Sept. 20
On their website, this group claim they're "the most METAL band on Earth." We'd consider them the most fun metal band in town, or pretty darn close, since they consistently get the crowd to participate in their live show's antics. They're also Madison's representatives in the 2014 BandSwap music-exchange program, which takes them to Colorado to show how great our local scene is. Their Sept. 20 show is part of a BandSwap showcase featuring last year's reps, retro rock rebels Sexy Ester.
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 18
Don't step into a dark alleyway near the Majestic on Nov. 18. When you're near mask-wearing kleptomaniacs with lyrics like "I got a knife, it's a switchblade/I think it's time for me to get paid," you have to watch your back. Sure, these guys are pop-punk sweethearts, and you'll love the upbeat music that earned them a record deal with Fat Wreck Chords, but anything's possible when they open for over-the-top rockers Foxy Shazam.
DJ Wyatt Agard
Jolly Bob's, Tuesdays and Saturdays
Agard helms the Saturday-night House of Love party with DJ Lovecraft, exploring house music old and new with guest DJs, including legends like Jesse Saunders. He's also a creative curator of disco, downtempo and electro tunes, a masterful mixer and one of Madison's most knowledgeable electronic-music historians.
DJ Kayla Kush Annabel Lee Venus in Furs Fearless Meghan Rose DJ Pain 1 with Sole
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 10, Brink Lounge, Sept. 13, Dragonfly Lounge, Sept. 27, Oct. 4 and Nov. 1
The host of WSUM's popular "U DUB" program is also an award-winning reggae DJ. Though legends like Bob Marley have shaped her listening habits, she excels at introducing the masses to newer dub, reggae and fusion artists, and presenting choice cuts by talented touring acts like Groundation (Majestic Theatre, Sept. 6). Be sure to check out Mad Roots, her new monthly event at Dragonfly Lounge with DJ Vilas Park Sniper
Inferno, Sept. 20
The winner of numerous Madison Area Music Awards, this local singer is a force of nature on stage, belting out dance tunes like she's already an international star. Featuring synths and other electronics, ditties like "Pray" and "Supernova Girl" bear the mark of Madonna, Cathy Dennis and other pop artists of yore, as well as newer hitmakers like Florence & the Machine.
Crystal Corner Bar, Oct. 18
This band's fast-paced surf-punk is perfect for dancing, and their lyrics are both entertaining and socially conscious. Of course, there are some silly-fun ditties, too, like the lovable mall-retail tune "Macys Stacey."
Brink Lounge, Sept. 6
This singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and all-around hell-raiser recently launched a full-time music career after leaving the corporate world. You can find her in the bands Damsel Trash (Crystal Corner Bar, Sept. 6) and Little Red Wolf; making music for OUT!Cast Theatre and Are We Delicious? Ensemble Theatre; and coaching bands at Girls Rock Camp. Her solo sets contain some of her newest material, whose inspiration stems from bold musical theater numbers and rock groups led by other fearless females.
Frequency, Sept. 14
Local hip-hop DJ Pain 1 has produced for the likes of Gucci Mane and 50 Cent, and his star seems to be rising even farther. Recently he and Sole, the Denver-based rapper who founded Anticon Records, released a collaborative record titled Death Drive. It's a remarkable pairing of Pain 1's trap wizardry with Sole's ballsy political statements, two things that wouldn't typically go together. Tracks like "Baghdad Shake" will challenge you to pump your fists while shaking your ass.
Venus in Furs
DJ Pain 1 with Sole