Don't despair. Spring will return to Wisconsin. It's just a matter of when. As for the spring concert season, despite the hillocks of gray snow piled up in local parking lots, it's already here. Granted, grumbling about digging out the car and shoveling the walk helps pass the time during our annual mini-Ice Age. But watching a favorite band do their bad thing at a local club or theater serves the same purpose. And it's a lot more fun.
As usual, a number of established and rising acts will tour the Midwest without stopping off in Madison (Springsteen, Jill Scott, the Hives, DJ Shadow and Bobby Blue Bland among them). If that makes you sink ever deeper into SAD, I understand. But if you crave some serious psychological sunshine, the following concert picks for the coming season offer a reliable antidote to cabin fever.
Feb. 21, Majestic Theatre
Galactic's New Orleans-inspired funk is always a good time, whether they're working with an MC or improvising on instrumentals. This show features Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, which counts for a lot in our own hip-hop-starved corner of the universe.
Feb. 22, Overture Center lobby
Saxophonist/composer/educator Archie Shepp has often gone his own way, and the jazz world's been better for it. Early work with John Coltrane was the stepping-off point for an intriguing career that has embraced everything from stirring Afro-centric jazz to potent political material to bop and hip-hop. Shepp headlines Freedom Fest 2008 with a group that includes Richard Davis on bass.
Nicole Atkins & the Sea
Feb. 23, Café Montmartre
On disc, Atkins' evocative mood pieces about her faded hometown on the Jersey Shore are supported by lush production that recalls the hit parades of the '50s and early '60s. If she can muster the same kind of aural atmospheres live, she'll be irresistible.
Feb. 28, the Annex
The Boston hard-rockers are very much a guilty pleasure. Derivative as they come and proud of it, the youthful quintet borrow liberally from AC/DC, Kiss and a half-dozen '80s hair bands - and have one helluva a good time doing it. At East Coast shows, as many as 20 vocalists often get up on stage to add oomph to the band's basic heavy-metal lyrics. Keep your fingers crossed that all those adenoidal screamers will pack into the van(s) for the trip west.
Feb. 29, UW Memorial Union Rathskeller
Black Lips' spirited garage rock and psychedelia are often just crude fun. But the withering rave-up "O Katrina" also qualifies as one of the best political rock songs of the past couple years. No wonder U.K. tastemakers can't get enough of the unbound Atlantans.
Ying Yang Twins
March 6, UW Memorial Union's Great Hall
Atlanta's crunk-fueled Ying Yang Twins ("The Whisper Song") have a boisterous, bawdy, butt-shaking vibe that'll transform the Great Hall into a sweat-soaked dance party. They just did that Dr. Phil about the nefarious relationship between baggy pants and hip-hop, so even your mom will know who they are.
March 8, Barrymore Theatre
The outspoken country/folk rebel spent a lot of time taking the Bush administration to task on his last couple albums, and God bless him for that. On the recent Washington Square Serenade, Earle also explores his personal journey from the wilds of Nashville to New York City, getting help from wife Allison Moorer along the way. His show here is billed as a solo acoustic affair, but the dulcet-voiced Moorer has been chipping in on a few songs during the European leg of the current tour.
The Gutter Twins
March 9, High Noon Saloon
Super groups usually don't turn out too well, but Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan's goth-leaning collaboration under the Gutter Twins moniker is the exception that proves the rule. Iggy Pop, Sisters of Mercy and Lanegan's underappreciated Screaming Trees all bubble up in their roiling sonic nostrums.
March 21, Barrymore Theatre
The air will be thick with punk nostalgia when the original lineup of the L.A. melody-makers takes the stage in celebration of the rerelease of Los Angeles, Wild Gift and Under the Big Black Sun, the three albums that cemented the band's legacy. No doubt John Doe and Exene's vocal harmonies will elicit plenty of misty-eyed sing-along action from fellow boomers.
March 28, Barrymore Theatre
Stars' swelling synths, deliberate rhythms and alternately sweet and theatrical boy/girl vocals might strike some as overwrought. But with a little suspension of disbelief, it's easy to get caught up in the Montreal-based quintet's whooshing pop explosion.
The New Pornographers
April 21, Orpheum Theatre
This time through, A.C. Newman and the rest of the canny Canadian pop-rockers are bringing along longtime collaborator Neko Case, which pretty much guarantees a sellout. Their latest CD, the rather stately, highly arranged Challengers, ended up on a lot of best-of lists in 2007.
April 23, Barrymore Theatre
On his own, the chief Decemberist has recorded the songs of Morrissey as well as traditional fare arranged by English folksinger Shirley Collins. Presumably he'll dip into some of that material at this solo show, but fans surely won't let Meloy take his leave without making musical reference to his primary gig. A word to the wise: If you want to hear those sea shanties, get your tickets early.
Tegan and Sara
May 6, Barrymore Theatre
The Con proved once again that there isn't a spunkier - or better - pop duo working today than identical twin sisters Tegan and Sara. Their chirpy, Munchkin-esque voices are beguiling, and their use of synthesizers is downright masterful. Sure, Pitchfork has cooled on them (apparently talking about actual feelings is way too icky for the grad-school set), but so what? Fact is, Tegan and Sara's brand of pop tang will never go out of style.