Concert announcements rain down on Madison this time of year, like colorful leaves making their descent to the earth. Isthmus has raked through the pile and chosen more than 50 essential shows that haven't sold out yet, all of which take place between now and mid-December. The live music calendar gets even fuller as the season goes on; visit isthmus.com/theguide for an up-to-date listing of concerts, festivals and other events.
An explosion of electronics and electric guitars
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 12-13
Sexytronica, anyone? This lustful Tennessee duo are evidence that Nashville is much more than a country music capital. Vice says their electro-pop turns concert halls into "disco-fueled brothels," so expect their two-night engagement to be a celebration of excess fueled by '70s-inspired funk vibes, club-style dance beats and a come-hither stage presence Prince would adore.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 18
It'll be hard to choose between a Segredo appearance by bass-music sensation 12th Planet and a Majestic show by English DJ Bonobo on Sept. 18. If pressed, we'll choose the underdog, who returns to Madison to drum up excitement for The North Borders Tour: Live, a DVD and live album recorded over the last year and a half. Intricate bass lines are his specialty, so don't be surprised if both your brain and your ears get a workout as he ventures through downtempo, acid jazz and glo-fi territory. For more electronic music in a somewhat similar vein, catch ODESZA and their addictive track "Say My Name" at the Majestic on Oct. 11.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 18
Legend has it that blood, urine and saliva have found their way into numerous Black Lips shows over the years. Maybe even some nudity. But bodily-fluids geysers don't bring in crowds as consistently as the Lips' inventive, invigorating garage rock, which was shined up by the Black Keys' Patrick Carney on the LP Underneath the Rainbow. Perhaps even more chaotic is the King Khan & BBQ Show's marriage of doo-wop and punk.
Orpheum Theatre, Sept. 18
Consistency isn't flashy, but it wins championships. Take Spoon, for example. The Austin, Texas, outfit rarely slam-dunk their music in anyone's face. Instead they win over naysayers by never, ever putting out a clunker. Four years after Transference came this year's excellent They Want My Soul, a record as impeccable, accomplished and confident as anything the band has done. "Do You" and minimal stomper "Knock Knock Knock" ought to sound fantastic live. EMA will open with nuanced noise-rock from her excellent new album, The Future's Void.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 20
Melancholy chooglers the War on Drugs channeled doubt and sadness into their deeply satisfying 2014 album Lost in the Dream. Adam Granduciel's croon can get quite mournful, but it always bubbles up through syncopated rippers like "An Ocean in Between the Waves" and "Red Eyes." Judging by the astounding performance of the latter the band gave on The Late Show with David Letterman, the new music's atmosphere and pounding rhythms should translate fully in live shows. Califone are along for the ride, supporting their 2013 album, Stitches.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 23
Though this band take their name from a Minneapolis street brimming with scruffy bars, they met in Boston while attending the New England Conservatory of Music. Beatlemania is evident in the bandmates' modern melange of pop, soul and jazz, which took top honors in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest several years ago, yet their impressive showmanship suggests that they're equally obsessed with '60s Motown stars. At this gig the group will dive into their recent Bad Self Portraits, which highlights their ample skills on piano, guitar and brass while showing off frontwoman Rachael Price's mighty pipes.
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 24
Named after the legendary Townes Van Zandt and sired by outlaw country hero Steve Earle, this artist has some big boots to fill. He's done a remarkable job so far, using music by Woody Guthrie and Kurt Cobain to work through the aftermath of a long and torturous drug addiction. Heart-wrenching songs like "Someday You'll Be Forgiven for This" illustrate his gift for writing simple yet powerful lyrics.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 25
Though this English producer is usually described as a trance and house artist, his punk roots sometimes poke through in his DJ sets, which have landed him on DJ Magazine's top-100 list for the past five years. This tour shines the spotlight on his second studio album, Drive, but might also include "Concrete," a super-popular 2012 single recorded with fellow DJ Christina Novelli.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 26
A founding member of hip-hop group Black Hippy -- along with Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q -- this rapper swings by Madison to support his latest solo release, These Days..., most of which was recorded in Mac Miller's home studio.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 26
This Swedish group have been mixing live hip-hop with big-band horns and a gradually increasing amount of EDM for the past seven years. Bonus: The O'My's, an excellent rock 'n' soul group from Chicago, open the show.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 27
Animal Collective's Noah Lennox has built an enviable solo career through this act, in which his experimental tendencies take the form of dub, psych-pop and ambient music. His 2007 album, Person Pitch, landed on numerous critics' best-of-the-2000s lists, but he gave much of the credit to more than 100 other acts who've inspired him, including Ghostface Killah and Cyndi Lauper. Though this concert will likely focus on an in-the-works album tentatively titled Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, it would be a travesty for him to skip "Bro's," the 2007 track that said a million words with just a few, including "Hey man, what's your problem?/Don't you know that I don't belong to you?" It picked up where Weezer's 1994 classic "Undone (The Sweater Song)" left off, giving the nerds-versus-bros battle new vitality -- and adorable owl hoots -- in the 21st century.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 28
These musicians know how to entertain a huge crowd, and that's good since they're bound to draw one. Indie rock, reggae and bluegrass mingle in their sound, which also features Celtic fiddling and a smattering of hip-hop beats. Jam band fans will find plenty to like here, as will roots music enthusiasts and anyone who appreciates the collective punch of five talented multi-instrumentalists.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 28
The electric guitar isn't just for wailing and shredding; it's also a tool for making listeners dance like maniacs. The instrument joins saxophones, trombones and a Moog synthesizer in this band, whose body-moving grooves range from trippy to hyper to downright weird.
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 29
Punk legend Watt cut his teeth in the Minutemen and fIREHOSE throughout the '80s and early '90s. More recently, he's been playing bass in the reunited Stooges and working on il sogno del marinaio, a collaboration with Italian friends Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia. The concert should be a night of sprawling rock songs with a heavy dose of bass guitar and a bit of spoken word. It'll make you wonder if Watt's the same guy who recorded terse punk tracks like "Piss-Bottle Man."
Frequency, Sept. 29
This act's debut LP, Love's Crushing Diamond, explores the transcendent side of modern folk with orchestral instruments and hypnotic vocal harmonies. It should sound stellar in the Frequency's intimate performance space.
Smells like '90s spirit
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 1
Joey Bada$$ scanned as a gifted MC and a '90s hip-hop archivist on his terrific 2012 mixtape, 1999. East Coast rap disciples found lots to like thanks to Chuck Stranger's production and beats culled from visionaries like J Dilla and MF DOOM. In the time since, Bada$$ has seen the tragic death of friend and collaborator Capital STEEZ, and he's been toiling on a long-awaited debut album, B4.DA.$$. He's touring in support of this album, which should drop before the end of the year, so he'll have a ton of new material for his high-energy live show. Folks interested in the hip-hop movement Bada$$ helped launch should go see Flatbush Zombies and the Underachievers at the Majestic Theatre on Oct. 18, while those seeking other rappers with blinged-out names should check out Ty Dolla $ign at the High Noon Saloon on Nov. 11.
Segredo, Oct. 2
England's duke of dubstep visits Madison for a bass-blasting bash that'll draw EDM enthusiasts, headbangers with a soft spot for dance music, and ravers looking for any kind of high they can muster. Get ready to cuss up a storm if he plays "Cockney Thug," and feel free to share nearly any type of joyful noise during the ever-popular "Woo Boost." Consider carbo-loading before the show, because you may be in motion all night long.
Overture Hall, Oct. 3
Overture Hall's seats are pretty comfy, but you're not likely to sit in them for long at this ass-kicking Americana show, which should turn the Madison Symphony Orchestra's home stage into the site of a down-and-dirty hootenanny. The band attack their banjos, basses and fiddles with a combination of aggression and adrenaline, bringing to mind the hard-rocking '90s acts they cite as influences, including Guns N' Roses. For even more old-time string-band fun, see the deliciously talented Carolina Chocolate Drops at Stoughton Opera House on Sept. 25 or 26.
UW Union South Sett, Oct. 3
This trio merge rock 'n' roll with hip-hop, but not in a Kid Rock sort of way. Instead they use Californian music traditions, from hippie folk to beach-ready reggae, as the glue. But that's just the beginning of the Cali connection. In addition to meeting at the University of California-Berkeley, the bandmates chose Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty to direct the video for their recent single "Pure."
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 4
Even if you're more of a dance-club hoedown fan -- think Pitbull and Kesha's megahit "Timber," complete with rapped-out square-dance calls -- you may find something to love at a concert featuring this country a cappella group. They won NBC's The Sing-Off thanks to support from two '90s stars: Jewel and Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman. The beatboxing in their "Ring of Fire" cover hints at hip-hop-worthy rhythmic skills, and their vocal harmonies sizzle.
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 5
Influenced by Kinks-style psychedelic pop, as well as Afrobeat, glam rock and the works of Talking Heads, this band found just the right formula to join R.E.M. as eternal rulers of the Athens, Ga., scene. Though their songs often push the envelope stylistically, they usually incorporate melodies that beg for audience sing-alongs. This tactic has made them the stuff of legends at festivals and events like the Majestic's big Halloween bash.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 5
This husband-and-wife duo put an especially likable spin on folk and country, funneling their feelings for each other into foot-stomping twang-rock and shimmering ballads. That love seems to be contagious, sending the pair to a bigger venue every few times they visit Madison. See if their new album, Swimmin' Time, makes a splash live.
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 8
This hip-hop duo started building a fan base in the Bay Area in 1996. Featuring boom-bap rhythms that recall early '90s innovators like KRS-One, much of their material has evolved nicely with the times, and their album Shadowboxing landed on one of SF Weekly's best-of-2012 lists. At this show, they're likely to focus on a new EP, Libations.
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 10
With long gray locks and a disarming smile (his father was a dentist, after all), the singer and songwriter from '90s noise-rock band Dinosaur Jr. is an unmistakable presence. His guitar playing has been mentioned on SPIN's best-of-the-best list, and his use of feedback and distortion had a huge impact on the alt-rock scene two decades ago. The High Noon's Sept. 25 Sebadoh show featuring Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow is also a must-see event for fans of '90s lo-fi.
UW Union South Sett, Oct. 10
The breakout act of the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon, Surfer Blood have made waves with their surfy indie rock over the past four years. In addition to playing songs from their well-charting sophomore album, Pythons, they may throw in a cover of a song by former tourmates the Pixies (Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 12), such as the rendition of "Gigantic" they performed for The Onion's "AV Undercover" series. They'll be joined by We Are Scientists, whose latest release, TV en Français, features an appealing amalgam of pop, post-punk and shoegaze.
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 12
Seattle-based rapper Grieves sounds a bit like Atmosphere and is signed to Rhymesayers, the Twin Cities label cofounded by Atmosphere member Slug. His bouncy, backpack-y emo rap features flows that would've fit right in on a Lyricist Lounge record. San Francisco-based rapper K.Flay, dubbed an "Honorary Beastie Girl" by Rolling Stone, has opened for Snoop Dogg and worked with the Prodigy's Liam Howlett.
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 12
Blasting "Monkey Gone to Heaven" in dorm rooms was a rite of passage among '90s indie kids. This moody anthem about environmental destruction is just one reason the band's album Doolittle is an all-time favorite among critics. The band's current lineup doesn't include bassist Kim Deal of Breeders fame, but their 2014 reunion tour revolves around a new record whose title track, "Indie Cindy," is almost as explosive as classics like "There Goes My Gun."
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 13
Timeflies' singer and producer got acquainted in a funk band at Tufts University, then began adding elements of electro and dubstep when they formed a duo. In addition to scoring hits with tracks like 2013's "I Choose U," they're known for their popular Timeflies Tuesday YouTube series, which has featured remixes of Lorde's "Royals" and "Let it Go" from Disney's Frozen.
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 15
Beats Antique don't just give concerts; they stage multifaceted happenings that incorporate tribal dance and performance art, as well as performances of electronic world music. Middle Eastern bellydance melodies and hip-hop beats often flavor the band's sonic stew, which is especially fresh on the new album A Thousand Faces: Act II.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 15
This quintet create folk-laced rock that's pretty timeless; plus, it's easy to imagine them sharing a stage with '90s alt-country stars like Whiskeytown. At this show, they'll play material from Into the Wide, an album that drops on Sept. 9.
Frequency, Oct. 16
This Aussie rock group found their groove when they unveiled a more rhythmic, dance-friendly sound a few years ago. Translucent stage outfits and steamy vocals -- especially those in the 2013 single "Is This How You Feel?" -- give them as much sex appeal as C+C Music Factory had in 1991. As that band advised in "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," "Let the music take control, let the rhythm move you."
Segredo, Oct. 16
The artist responsible for "Harlem Shake," the 2012 song that spawned one of the most contagious Internet memes of 2013, brings his bangin' bass tracks to downtown Madison. See if newer singles like "Higher" are poised to be viral sensations. He'll be joined by German EDM producer Boys Noize, who's known for techno and electro-house remixes of songs by Depeche Mode, the Faint and '90s club kings the Chemical Brothers.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 17
Yes, DiFranco's a perennial favorite among college feminists and folks who still can't stop talking about Lilith Fair, but she has something to offer the rest of us as well. Seeing such an empowered female performer challenge the establishment and tear it up on stage is an inspiration, and something we ought to see more of in the music industry. Help her celebrate the release of her 18th solo studio album, Allergic to Water.
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 19
This California DJ trio makes an accessible brand of EDM that often features female guest vocalists delivering giant hooks. The music is reminiscent of Big Beat (think '90s trailblazers the Crystal Method) if the Ecstasy driving the original sound were soaked in epinephrine before being dropped. We hope the Orpheum's recent renovations can hold up to this electronic bass assault.
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 19
See how much French you can remember from high school while shaking your derriere to the electronic dance pop of Yelle. The European band crafts soundtracks for completely crazy nights of partying, such as the appropriately titled "Completement Fou" and the 2006 earworm "Je Veux Te Voir."
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 22
Armed with acoustic guitars and dazzling technical skills, this Mexican duo often record classical works but rip into heavy metal and nuevo flamenco during live shows. Their new album, 9 Dead Alive, is more of a rock record than their previous efforts, and each track is dedicated to someone who has passed away but whose work or ideals still resonate in the present day. For more acoustic-duo awesomeness, head to a folk-blues concert by sibling group Angus & Julia Stone at the Majestic on Oct. 17.
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 22
Nirvana and Pavement cited Meat Puppets' ever-changing blend of punk, country and acid rock as an influence the '90s, and brothers Curt and Cris Kirkwood (two-thirds of Meat Puppets' original lineup) performed at Nirvana's legendary 1993 MTV Unplugged concert. See what their new record, Rat Farm, sounds like live. McCombs, a noteworthy rock songwriter in his own right, joins the Puppets for songs from a new 7-inch split.
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 23
This L.A.-based act pulled a coup by getting Richard Gottehrer to produce their first album, 2010's I Will Be. Having cowritten '60s hits like "My Boyfriend's Back," he understood the girl-group sound they sought, and having worked with Blondie and the Go-Go's, he appreciated their desire to play with conventions, for instance by wrapping sweet pop hooks in vaguely menacing fuzz. He Gets Me High, their 2011 EP of lo-fi dreampop, captures the warm and hazy feeling of infatuation on opening track "Wrong Feels Right" and closes with a haunting cover of the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." The band's 2014 album, Too True, is equally lovely but considerably creepier, earning comparisons to Siouxsie & the Banshees.
Orpheum Theatre, Oct. 23
Mastodon have metal riffs so massive that every other review of their latest record, Once More 'Round the Sun, uses the cringe-worthy descriptor "mammoth." But a mammoth is only 1/20th the weight of a blue whale, and these are definitely blue-whale-size riffs.
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 25
This group blends ska-punk, an ultimate '90s fad, with Sublime-style reggae-rock and ultramodern hip-hop beats. Their new album, Sounds of Change, broke into the Billboard top 10 in July, but their set should also include off-the-beaten-path material like their cover of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida."
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 25
Two groups of Scottish rockers visit Madison together, bolstered by testimonials from Frightened Rabbit, a more famous group of tuneful Scotsmen. Jetpacks' music sometimes reads as emo, while the Twilight Sad use post-punk guitar to pierce dense walls of feedback that sound like the ones shoegazers built in the '90s. For more beautiful, angular post-punk guitar, be sure to catch Drowners' Sept. 28 show at the Frequency, where they'll give listeners a taste of their self-titled debut.
Giving thanks for rhyme slingers and folk singers
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 3
Born in Portugal and based in Portland, Ore., this producer fuses appealing elements of West Coast indie pop and the European dance-music tradition. He's turned rock songs by Tokyo Police Club (Majestic Theatre, Nov. 5) into lush soundscapes and made charming tunes like the Shins' "Sleeping Lessons" even dreamier. This show's a chance to experience the magic of his original compositions.
Segredo, Nov. 8
This DJ and producer hopped on the road to prog-house stardom early, interning at a German record label while he was still in grade school. His recent remix of Icona Pop's "Just Another Night" has a Robyn-esque quality, and the key progressions in "Against the World," a collaboration with Michael S., are definitely rave-worthy.
High Noon Saloon, Nov. 13
Rhymesayers artist Brother Ali makes hip-hop in the Public Enemy tradition: pull-no-punches political discussion with driving beats. By naming his tour "Home Away from Home," the Madison-born, Minneapolis-based rapper should draw locals eager to remind him that Mad City is his true stomping grounds.
Barrymore Theatre, Nov. 16
After becoming a slam-poetry champ in the Bay Area, this artist transformed himself into a successful rapper and YouTube sensation. With mind-boggling rhymes and mile-a-minute delivery, he's a joy to watch no matter what he calls his craft, and he's got tons of great material to draw from, including his chart-climbing 2014 album All You Can Do. In addition to throwing shade at Miley Cyrus, the record has tracks ranging from the hilarious "My First Stalker" to the introspective "Tears to Diamonds," which examines his own struggles with mental illness while questioning the amount of power Big Pharma wields.
Barrymore Theatre, Nov. 17
A living legend of the ukulele, this nimble-fingered Hawaiian puts amateurs like Zooey Deschanel to shame. His cover of the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was one of YouTube's first viral sensations back in 2006, and his version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" is simply breathtaking. He's also a master of Hawaiian folk and surf music, which he shows off on the soundtrack to the Japanese film Hula Girls.
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 19
This producer's combination of trap and bass music is a force to be reckoned with in the L.A. EDM scene. His EP with rising rapper Problem set iTunes' dance and hip-hop charts on fire recently.
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 21
Rappers El-P and Killer Mike team up once again for a tour, this time to promote the forthcoming album Run the Jewels 2. El-P says it will be a darker record than its predecessor, but expect huge beats, powerful delivery and all sorts of crazy flourishes.
High Noon Saloon, Nov. 30
Har Mar Superstar won't rest until he's sweated out every last R&B demon haunting his stout, frequently semi-nude body. He's recorded five albums and toured with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes and Sia. Now he can add Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) from Home Alone to his list of colleagues. If it seems weird that Culkin is fronting a pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band -- and a bit inconsiderate considering Lou Reed's recent death -- just consider the pivotal role plain cheese pizza played in his most enduring film.
High Noon Saloon, Dec. 5
Actor turned musician Alejandro Rose-Garcia studied one-man band Bob Log III as he readied this solo act, which combines gritty vocals with impressive guitar chops and the pulse of a kick drum made from a suitcase. Log seems like the inspiration for many of his clever shifts between fast and slow, but Jeff Buckley comes to mind when Rose-Garcia lowers his voice to a whisper while exploring his upper registers, then swoops into a deep croon or pierces hearts with a shout. It's a wild, emotional ride worth experiencing in person.
Orpheum Theatre, Dec. 9
This master of moombahton -- a hybrid of house and reggaeton -- gets crowds to sing and dance like there's no tomorrow. The L.A.-based DJ packed the Majestic a little while back, and now he's got a bigger venue for his explosive live show, which tends to feature provocative visual projections, lots of f-bombs and frenzied booty shaking. Though he's been releasing EPs and attracting celeb DJs like Diplo for several years, 2014 marks the release of his first LP, Money Sucks, Friends Rule. Now that's cause for celebration.