Sunshine, Lollipops

The future's so bright, we've got to wear shades to this week's assortment of great shows

Three weekends ago a friend named Nate hosted a barbecue at his house. It was a bold move: As you'll recall, three weeks ago it was raining like a sonofabitch, and had been for what felt like 40 days and 40 nights. But Nate is an optimistic fellow (he once wrote a musical, and you know how those people are), so he decided that he was going to do this thing at his backyard-equipped house in Bernal Heights, rain or shine. The invite he sent out -- on a day that would have made a Seattle umbrella shop jealous -- included an earnest poem about summer days. Nate, it seemed, had gone mad.

On the Friday before the party, the sky was as dull as tarnished silver, the streets full of puddles, the sidewalks wet and slippery. When I awoke on Saturday it was gloomy but not raining, which suited me fine, because that, in my opinion, is the perfect weather for sleeping in. It didn't last. At some point in the late morning the clouds burned off and the day became incandescent. The sun shone in the park. People walked their dogs. I called Nate and congratulated him. Later my ladyfriend and I showed up with veggie dogs and 24 bottles of MGD. We listened to the Talking Heads and we ate barbecue and we talked about poker. It was the first week in March, but it felt like the first day of summer.

I don't know about you, but my world for the past six months has been filled with bummers, with breakups and injuries and untimely deaths. Yet the day on which you're reading this will be longer than the one before it. We've still got April showers to cope with, sure, but lately it's felt like the worst is behind us, like there's reason to expect sunshine soon. Further proof that the future's so bright lies in the assortment of amazing shows we have to look forward to this week. It's gonna be like an unofficial Noise Pop -- if Mötley Crüe played Noise Pop, that is.

On Thursday, March 24, M. Ward comes to the Great American Music Hall, and for the first time in at least two years, he's bringing a full band with him. The Portland, Ore.-based Ward is oftentimes thrown in with the whole new-folk thing, but he's hardly as twee as any of those moppets. Bob Dylan is another lazy reference, and thankfully Ward's erstwhile tourmate Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, is the critic's choice for those bullets. What Ward is is simply one of the finest songwriters walking the Earth at the moment. His last record, Transfiguration of Vincent, mourned the loss of the songwriter's best friend, yet it sounded like a celebration, full of reeling guitars and rowdy crooning; it also contained the most romantic rendering of David Bowie's "Let's Dance" ever committed to tape.

Ward's latest, Transistor Radio, released last month, doesn't quite reach the heights of Vincent, but it doesn't miss them by much. Dedicated to the few independent radio stations left in the country, the record sounds like an in-studio performance broadcasted from a dusty Midwestern shack with four wooden walls and an antenna on top. It's a gentle, jaunty album made of acoustic guitars and brushed drums, as charming as it is melancholy. When Ward tells us he's "got lonesome fuel for fire," our hearts go gooey, but later, as he fingerpicks the crystalline instrumental "Well-Tempered Clavier" (a nod to Bach), we realize he's kind of fibbing: He's got this sweet, sweet music to keep him company.

Another album hitting shelves this week to coincide with a local show is the much-anticipated debut from England's Bloc Party, Silent Alarm. Bloc Party is headlining Bottom of the Hill on Wednesday, March 23, although unfortunately the show is impossibly sold out. Still, if you buy one album by a trendy new-wave fashion band this year, make it Silent Alarm. Here's why: 1) Before it got picked up by Vice Recordings (which is owned by Atlantic, which is owned by ... oh, you get the point), Bloc Party was on Dim Mak, arguably the coolest DIY label in the whole wide world. (If you have the means, pick up the Dim Mak-released Bloc Party single "Tulips" -- so good.) 2) Bloc Party isn't just a bunch of lame hedonists. "The price of gas keeps on rising/ Nothing comes for free," intones "Price of Gas." It may not be Noam Chomsky but it's better than "Somebody told me/ You had a boyfriend/ Who looks like a girlfriend/ That I had in February of last year." 3) Bloc Party just plain doesn't suck. The group sounds like it's carrying on the danceable new-wave traditions of its forebears, not aping them. Plus, none of the band members wears eyeliner.

If pop and folk ain't your thing -- but mind-boggling hardcore-metal-jazz with saxophones is -- then you simply must see Oakland's The Mass on Wednesday, March 23, at the Elbo Room. Thanks to the official U.S. release of the act's City of Dis back in January, the quartet has been picking up steam and is setting out on an extensive tour in April, which is why you need to catch this show. The Mass is one of those bands that's beyond words. The musicians treat time signatures as if they were orders straight from George W. himself, brutalizing musical conventions with equal parts grace and gusto. Trying to follow along is akin to predicting the patterns a butterfly might fly, and just as beautiful.

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