Each January, Madison's live-music scene succumbs to the winter doldrums, lying listless for weeks as temperatures dip into frostbite territory. But then, around the time UW-Madison classes start, concert promoters stage an intervention, filling clubs with musicians and their fans. Here are 29 cold-weather shows to fuel the transformation.
Paul Collins' Beat
Frequency, Thursday, Jan. 26, 9 pm
Bubbling with red-hot hooks and a burning desire to help up-and-coming bands succeed without selling out, Paul Collins is a hero among power-pop fans and folks who disdain the music industry. At this show, he'll applaud his Milwaukee-based protégés Jaill and Sugar Stems and share selections from his latest solo album, King of Power Pop.
Parenthetical Girls, Los Campesinos!
UW Union South's Sett, Saturday, Jan. 28, 9 pm
The Parenthetical Girls' sugary experimental pop joins the dark-yet-cheerful tunes of Los Campesinos! for an evening of emotional riddles and genre-bending fun. The Girls will raise spirits with songs from eight recently released EPs, while the Campesinos will ponder melancholy themes with songs from their 2011 LP, Hello Sadness.
Overture Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 7:30 pm
Broadway babies, rejoice. Singer and actress LuPone, who nabbed Tonys for her performances in Evita and Gypsy, hits the big stage with a show that looks back at her long, fabulous career.
Majestic Theatre, Friday, Feb. 3, 9 pm
The sounds of dulcimers and vibraphones make this indie-folk band sparkle on disc and onstage, earning them slots on NPR's First Listen series and the soundtrack to Chuck. This show will revolve around their sophomore album, We Are the Tide, which scored a top-100 berth on the Billboard charts.
Deleted Scenes, A Lull
UW Union South's Sett, Saturday, Feb. 4, 9 pm
Washington, D.C.'s Deleted Scenes dissect rock and pop structures as they write their tunes, splicing in bits of surf rock, dark funk and R&B to create a sound that's both experimental and accessible. Chicago's A Lull binds synthesized melodies with layers of primal percussion, building an ambiance that's as organic as it is futuristic.
Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra
Wisconsin Union Theater, Saturday, Feb. 4, 8 pm
Formerly known as the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, this ensemble takes its current moniker from one of New York City's most venerable jazz establishments. The group began in 1966, when a handful of A-list studio musicians convened to perform their own arrangements and original compositions, and has evolved into a Grammy-winning act that's traveled as far as Tokyo to spread the jazz gospel.
Redamte Coffee House, Friday, Feb. 10, 8 pm
This Berklee-trained composer specializes in works for Hammond organs and Wurlitzer electric pianos, which he performs as a solo act and in a number of ensembles. Many shows feature effects pedals and circuit-bent gadgets that twist his notes into wonderfully warped shapes and sounds.
UW Memorial Union's Rathskeller, Friday, Feb. 10, 9:30 pm
Filled with spooky melodies and eerie hints of 1960s folk harmonies, this band's latest single, "Afraid of Summer," made a splash on Rolling Stone's website earlier this month. Get to know the rest of the quartet's debut, DRRT, which was produced by former Menomena member Brent Knopf. With Paper Thick Walls.
High Noon Saloon, Saturday, Feb. 11, 9:30 pm
Though this Cincinnati-based quartet gets mentioned in discussions of blues-inflected garage bands like the Black Keys, they have something their genre-mates don't: Erika Wennerstrom's earthy, emotive and utterly distinctive voice. At this show, fans can savor the group's newest album, Arrow, moments before its Valentine's Day release. With Hacienda.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe with Anders Osborne
Majestic Theatre, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 8 pm
Following an opening set drawn from his critically acclaimed 2010 album, American Patchwork, guitar master Anders Osborne joins Karl Denson's Tiny Universe to perform the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
High Noon Saloon, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 8 pm
After spending much of his childhood on the streets of Brooklyn, Charles Bradley found his calling while watching James Brown perform at the Apollo in 1962. Bradley spent decades honing his act while struggling to make ends meet, then connected with Daptone Records in 2002. Since then, he's been setting tales of strife and survival to Southern-soul melodies for albums like 2011's instant classic No Time for Dreaming. With Little Barrie.
Barrymore Theatre, Thursday, Feb. 16, 7:30 pm
The Jayhawks' harmony-laden folk-pop is so catchy and timeless that it's easily mistaken for early Neil Young or a collaboration between the Byrds and the Beach Boys. Though this visit will focus on the stellar new album Mockingbird Time, the set list will likely include beauties like "Blue," the dreamy ditty from 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass.
Cate Le Bon
Frequency, Thursday, Feb. 16, 9 pm
This Wales native's haunting voice has been likened to Nico's, and the overall texture of her sophomore release, Cyrk, has earned comparisons to Faust. Filled with dark lyrics that are often sung in Welsh, these tunes landed her a guest spot on Neon Neon's album Stainless Style and a supporting slot on the solo tour of Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys. With Pioneer.
High Noon Saloon, Thursday, Feb. 16, 9 pm
A champion among both hip-hop emcees and slam poets, Sage Francis explores politics and philosophical quandaries with brains, guts and heart. His 2010 album, Li(f)e, traverses indie-rock terrain with guest appearances by Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla and Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. With Kristoff Krane and Metermaids.
Wisconsin Union Theater, Friday, Feb. 17, 8 pm
Though they're based in California, this lively five-piece scour the Emerald Isle for inspiration when crafting original Celtic rock tunes and new takes on traditional Irish music. Expect a hearty serving of songs from their 2010 release, Cabbage, which teems with whistles, accordions and a rollicking cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia."
Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials
Harmony Bar, Friday, Feb. 17, 9:45 pm
Slide guitarist Lil' Ed Williams, nephew of Chicago blues great J.B. Hutto, has been performing the Windy City's signature music since the 1970s, and his ferocious playing and raspy singing do the city, and his uncle, proud.
Brink Lounge, Saturday, Feb. 18, 7 pm
Winner of three Juno Awards in the past 10 years, this Canadian singer-songwriter infuses his folk songs with memories from his working-class upbringing and odes to the Great White North's scenic landscapes. This performance will most likely revolve around Late Edition, which hit stores last year.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Stoughton Opera House, Saturday, Feb. 18, 7:30 pm
Born in the French Quarter's celebrated music venue, this New Orleans jazz combo has, over the past 50 years, entertained Carnegie Hall patrons and the king of Thailand. The current lineup includes Oberlin-trained tuba virtuoso Ben Jaffe and trumpeter Mark Braud, who has collaborated with both Henry Butler and Harry Connick Jr.
Orpheum Theatre, Saturday, Feb. 25, 9 pm
This English producer's obsession with dubstep has lured A-list collaborators to his doorstep, including M.I.A., whose 2010 album, Maya, was shaped by his aesthetic. As a DJ, he's earned high marks for eclecticism, remixing songs by soul-pop songstress Adele and rap diva Kid Sister. With Eliot Lipp.
Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
Wisconsin Union Theater, Thursday, March 1, 8 pm
One of the world's most sought-after banjo players, Béla Fleck has garnered Grammy nominations in numerous categories, including folk, pop and classical. Rocket Science, his latest release with the Flecktones, teams jazz and rock with world music and progressive bluegrass to make toes tap and heads spin.
Yonder Mountain String Band
Orpheum Theatre, Saturday, March 3, 8:30 pm
Though their sound falls squarely in the neo-bluegrass camp, this quartet's approach to their craft is more metal than folk. As the musicians shred the strings of their banjos and mandolins, fans' country jigs may morph into mosh pits of out-and-out slam dancing.
UW Union South's Sett, Friday, March 9, 9 pm
Made up of five emcees, including P.O.S. and Dessa, as well as well-regarded DJs Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, this Minneapolis collective is a favorite among urban poets, rap-loving punks and nearly anyone who craves robust beats with a side of thoughtful rhymes.
Stoughton Opera House, Saturday, March 10, 7:30 pm
Fans of country and rock flock to Junior Brown's shows to watch him summon fiery licks from his custom-made "guit-steel," a double-necked hybrid of a six-string guitar and its lap-steel cousin.
Overture Hall, Thursday, March 15, 7:30 pm
The composer behind the melon-themed jazz classics "Cantaloupe Island" and "Watermelon Man" shares highlights from his Grammy-studded career, which includes tickling the ivories in Miles Davis' band, penning the score to Michelangelo Antonioni's groundbreaking film Blow-Up and co-producing a track on Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak.
The Joy Formidable
Majestic Theatre, Tuesday, March 20, 8:30 pm
Dubbed "darkly joyous soft-loud racket" by The Guardian, this London-based trio whip noisy post-punk and fuzzy wisps of shoegaze into a sonic frenzy at live shows and on their 2011 release, The Big Roar. With A Place to Bury Strangers and Exitmusic.
Stoughton Opera House, Friday, March 23, 7:30 pm
If Madison could adopt an out-of-town folksinger, Dar Williams would be a top contender. Finely etched details transform her tunes into filmic explorations of themes that range from classic to postmodern, and her warm stage presence makes concerts feel like a gathering of friends.
UW Memorial Union's Great Hall, Friday, March 23, 8 pm
The brainchild of Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, creator of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club, this band exists to popularize son music, which took root in eastern Cuba in the 1920s. Though Gonzalez has moved on to other projects, the group carries on the tradition.
High Noon Saloon, Friday, March 23, 9:30 pm
The most famous psych-folk band to emerge from Eau Claire, Megafaun showcase their latest beards and their new, self-titled album, which earned high marks from Pitchfork in September.
High Noon Saloon, Saturday, March 24, 9 pm
Cursive have molded indie-rock and post-hardcore into unique sonic shapes since 1995, with a short hiatus after their 2004 tour with the Cure. This show will acquaint fans with I Am Gemini, the forthcoming follow-up to 2009's Mama, I'm Swollen, which earned a thumbs-up from Blender and Slant. With Cymbals Eat Guitars and Conduits.
Stoughton Opera House, Saturday, March 24, 7:30 pm
A two-time veteran of the New York Guitar Festival's "Silent Films, Live Guitars" series, guitarist Alex Degrassi pairs his latest composition with A Story of Floating Weeds, Yasujiro Ozu's silent movie about actors set adrift by forces beyond their control. Built upon a pentatonic blues motif, Degrassi's poetic score nods to the sounds of the Japanese koto as the 78-year-old film explores themes of fate, identity and vengeance.