If the future really brings $100-a-gallon gas, van and bus tours could get far less frequent up here in the North Country. But let's worry about that some other time. Right now, dozens of national and international acts are slated to make the fall concert season a smorgasbord of musical styles and approaches. As of this moment, salsa, jazz, indie-rock, power pop, metal, hip-hop, rockabilly, country, folk, blues and world music are all on the menu, and the concert calendar keeps expanding. Legends, whippersnappers and plenty of established acts are all scheduled, so young, old and in-between live-music fans all have reason to rejoice at this fall's sonic bounty.
An exhaustive list is impossible in this space, so what follows are a few highlights of the coming season.
The Pnuma Trio featuring Ryan Burnett
Sept. 6, High Noon Saloon
Like a lot of "jamtronica" acts, the Pnuma Trio borrow heavily from trip-hop, rare groove and breakbeat, hitching their gauzy jazz-rock progressions to the endless rhythm. Conservatory-trained keyboardist Ben Hazlegrove also improvises with gusto. (Signal Path guitarist Ryan Burnett augments the threesome on this tour.)
Sept. 7, The Annex
They really ought to give the former UW students in Rainer Maria the keys to the city or something. Eleven years on, Caithlin De Marrais keeps growing as a singer, and the entire band is unwilling to stick to the tried and true. The fact that they've long been household names in indie-dom should give hope to current and prospective English majors bashing away in basements and rehearsal spaces all over the city.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers The Dandy Warhols
Sept. 12, Alliant Energy Center Coliseum
Thirty years on, Petty & the Heartbreakers qualify as American rock 'n' roll royalty. Petty has a new solo disc out, but "Breakdown," "Refugee" and other tunes from his angry-young-man formative years are apt to make the set list. Openers the Dandy Warhols add luster ' and some humor ' to the bill.
Built to Spill
Sept. 14, Barrymore Theatre
Doug Martsch's ever-evolving pop-rock machine is a kind of workshop for guitar lyricism, with the most obvious touchstone being the electric Neil Young. Martsch's pinched, vaguely boyish vocals and unconventional pop melodies afford many pleasures too.
Sept. 15, Barrymore Theatre
The plainspoken country-folkie angered a number of local concertgoers three years ago when she announced to a stunned Barrymore audience that the start of the Iraq war had left her too distraught to perform. Her voice is as haunting as ever...and the war's still going on.
Sept. 19, Kohl Center
Although it's the largest arena in town and located right on campus, the Kohl Center books relatively few acts whose demographic skews younger than, say, 30. But weirdo singer Maynard James Keenan and his fellow travelers in Tool should suck in adolescent males by the thousands with their portentous progressive metal. Whether any of them will be college kids is another story.
Madison World Music Festival
Sept. 21-23, UW campus
So many exciting sounds from around the world, so little time. And all of them free! Highlights of this year's fest include the boisterous accordion- and triangle-driven music of northeastern Brazil played by Rob Curto's ForrÃ for All (Memorial Union Terrace, Sept. 21) and the ethereal Whirling Dervishes (Wisconsin Union Theater, Sept. 23) with a full Turkish band.
Mates of State/Starlight Mints
Sept. 22, Orpheum Theatre's Stage Door
Boy-girl duo sing the praises of love in both sunny pop tunes and more complex compositions. Sure, it's just vocals, drums and keyboards, but you'll be hugging strangers by the time they get to the middle of the set.
Sept. 25, Barrymore Theatre
The Scottish singer-songwriter's runaway success proves that there's always room for a rock-friendly folk artist who traffics in accessible melodies and strong emotions. She couldn't get any bigger in the U.K., and right now she's threatening world domination.
Heavy Trash, The Sadies
Sept. 25, High Noon Saloon
Heavy Trash partners Matt Verta-Ray and Jon "Blues Explosion" Spencer caper through greased-up rockabilly that sounds as if it were pumped out at Sun Studios while wolves were howling and ghost riders were on the prowl. This is the devil's music without censorship, so don't expect sexless songs about teenage romance. Canada's much-revered Sadies also act as Heavy Trash's backing band.
Sept. 26, High Noon Saloon
The Melvins inspired Kurt Cobain as well as a thousand sludgy stoner bands. Sometimes it's unclear whether or not they're kidding, but it's always fun to grind and grimace along with 'em. They now boast a burly two-drummer lineup.
Sept. 28, Club Majestic
Malo (The Mavericks/Los Super Seven) deftly tugs at the tear ducts on Only the Lonely, a collection of covers that borrows a page from high-lonesome superstar Roy Orbison. Strangely enough, he doesn't perform any of Orbison's songs, but he absolutely caresses tunes by the Bee Gees, the Everly Brothers and Ron Sexsmith.
Sept. 29, Barrymore Theatre
On the brand new 4:21...The Day After, the Wu-Tang Clan vet takes a break from the dope-smoke that threatened to define him to showcase the sharper edge of his wit. The title makes reference to life after the 24 hazy hours of national pot-smoking day, and it's plain the charismatic rapper intends to put rhyme and reason front and center for this tour.
Oct. 6, Wisconsin Union Theater
Tyner's bold work in the '60s with the revolutionary John Coltrane Quartet cemented his place in the history of jazz piano. Since then he's shown he can be as tough or tender as any player. Here's a chance for jazz fans to catch a true lion of the keyboard.
Magnolia Electric Co.
Oct. 19, High Noon Saloon
With Magnolia Electric Co., Jason Molina twangs some, brushes up against the blues and rides Crazy Horse-style simplicity through well-turned explorations of darkness and melancholia. He's one of a handful of indie songwriters who've put together a serious oeuvre.
Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters
Oct. 31, Kohl Center
With that anachronistic riverboat gambler look he's been sporting, Dylan may have the best costume of anyone at this marquee Halloween party. The Foo Fighters never stint on energy; they'll reprise their recent acoustic set for this portion of the folk-rock legend's tour.
Nov. 2, High Noon Saloon
The Pixies reunion garnered hosannas aplenty, but presumably the creative artist in Frank Black wants to have at material from Fast Man/Raider Man, his second Nashville-recorded foray into the world of topnotch session musicians. He plays here with a full band.
The Black Keys, Dr. Dog
Nov. 27, Club Majestic
Crudely expressive indie-blues-rock bands got much more attention after Ohio's Black Keys first showed their stuff. But it isn't just about their choice of genres; it's also about their passion for the music.
Dec. 2, Wisconsin Union Theater
A giant of salsa and Latin jazz, the Puerto Rico-born bandleader/pianist still explodes with ideas even as he pushes 70. His bands are always peopled by marvelous players who thoroughly understand his individualistic mix of bop and Latin sounds.