April is here, winter is over, and that tax refund is burning a hole in your pocket. Well, at least two of those things are true, right? Also true is that spring concert season is finally upon us. New releases and tours always coincide with the vernal thaw, and of course, Coachella will be dumping musical largesse on Bay Area concert halls as bands stop in for most of this month, before or after their desert assignation — just like every year. (This phenomenon we now know as Fauxchella.) With that in mind, here's a guide to the stuff you should probably go see during this season of sunshine and Cadbury Creme Eggs. As of press time, tickets were available to all the shows listed here.
9: OFF! @ Oakland Metro
9-11: Neutral Milk Hotel
@ Fox Oakland (Friday tickets still available)
12: Willie Nelson @ Greek Theatre, Berkeley
Willie Nelson, the prince of outlaw country, turns 81 this month. Unlike certain other living, aging legends (cough Bob Dylan cough), Willie can still do onstage what we love him for doing: plucking the strings of Trigger, his battered Martin guitar, and singing in a sweet voice about mammas, cowboys, Georgia, and the sublime joy of frequent overland travel. The man has the face of a granite cliffside and the pipes of a cherubic sage. Like Yellowstone, and maybe even Dylan, his live presence is a pleasure every American deserves to experience at least once.
14-15: MS MR @ The Fillmore
14: Bryan Ferry @ Fox Oakland
16: Foxygen @ The Chapel
17: Queens of the Stone Age
With Warpaint @ Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
17: Slick Rick @ Yoshi's SF
You know Slick Rick, even if you don't know you do. Any exposure to hip-hop at all has probably included either an original Slick Rick track or a riff off one. He's the golden-era Bronx rapper with the British accent, the hint of Caribbean patois, the effortless flow, and the eyepatch. One of the greatest rappers of all time, and maybe hip-hop's best storyteller. He made "La Di Da Di" and "Children's Story." Nothing else need be said.
18: Mogwai @ Regency Ballroom
With Graveyard @ the Warfield
19: Record Store Day
@ various record stores
19: Kelley Stoltz @ The Chapel
19-20: Rufus Wainwright
@ Palace of Fine Arts (Sunday tickets available)
21: The Men @ Rickshaw Stop
23: The Dillinger Escape Plan
With Trash Talk, Retox, Shining @ DNA Lounge
@ Great American Music Hall
24: The Jim Jones Revue @ The Chapel
Cross Jerry Lee Lewis with the Sex Pistols and you'd get something like the Jim Jones Review: either a throwback boogie-woogie rock 'n' roll band masquerading as a pack of hellraisers, or satan's spawn working evil deeds on Earth under the auspices of a rock outfit. Either way, a sweaty, devilish good time is guaranteed. If you somehow thought guitar music couldn't make people dance, these Brits will prove you dead wrong — all while blowing your eardrums out. Their once-every-year-or-so show in S.F. is unmissable.
24: Juana Molina
With Emily Jane White @ The Independent
26: Flamin' Groovies
@ Great American Music Hall
26: Lecherous Gaze
@ Bottom of the Hill
26-27: The National
With Portugal. The Man @ Greek Theatre, Berkeley (Sunday tickets available)
28: Franz Ferdinand
With Cate Le Bon @ Fox Oakland
28: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra
@ Great American Music Hall
29-30: Jason Isbell @ the Fillmore
In 2013, Isbell released Southeastern, the best album of the former Drive by Trucker's solo career and arguably the finest country album of the year. But by "country," we don't mean songs about pickup trucks with Nelly verses in the remix. We mean storytelling — lyrics filled with quivering specifics, awkward confessions, and, yes, rural imagery. Isbell, a recovering alcoholic, has plenty of regrets to moan about, plenty of missteps to beat himself up over, and he does it disturbingly well. But he isn't all bleak: In the rollicking "Super 8," Isbell recalls — with a double-shot of black humor — a night of recklessness that brought him close to death. You'll never think of Pedialyte the same way again.
29: Traditional Fools
With Bleeding Rainbow, Generation Loss, and Life Stinks @ Rickshaw Stop
With Gojira, Kvelertak @ Fox Oakland
With Chris Cohen @ Great American Music Hall
@ 1015 Folsom
6: Atomic Bomb: The Music of William Onyeabor performed by David Byrne and more @ The Warfield
Wiliam Onyeabor is one of the key figures of Nigerian synth-funk — a weirder, more subdued, less political rival to the great Fela Kuti. The eight albums Onyeabor released in the '70s and '80s are classics, with their alien keyboard melodies, irresistible grooves, and antiwar lyrics. One listen to the 10-minute "Body and Soul," or the much shorter "Atomic Bomb," is all you need to realize his talent. But in the mid-'80s, Onyeabor converted to Christianity, and now refuses to speak of his music — a fact that has not stopped the growth of his legend. David Byrne's world music label Luka Bop released a compilation last year called Who Is William Onyeabor?, and this concert is a tribute to his music featuring Byrne, Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor, LCD Soundsystem's Pat Mahoney, and many more.
6: GZA @ The New Parish
8: The Brian Jonestown Massacre
@ Fox Oakland
With Zombie Zombie @ Great American Music Hall
8-11: The Bad Plus @SFJAZZ Center
The Bad Plus made its name as a jazz trio that non-jazz heads could love — and with blazing covers of songs by Nirvana and Aphex Twin, including live drumming on a version of the turbocharged "Windowlicker," they did so with rare levels of musical virtuosity. Subsequent adventures included wild takes on Blondie and Queen tunes, complete with lots of improvisation. In 2012, the Bad Plus released an album of all-original music, but now, never content to do the expected, the trio has returned with an arrangement of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The original started a riot the night it was premiered, so there's no telling what could happen when these three wackos are done with it.
8-10: George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic @ Yoshi's SF
9: Nels Cline Singers @ The Chapel
10: Old 97's @ The Fillmore
12: Ms. Lauryn Hill @ The Warfield
15: Acoustic-4-A-Cure: UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital benefit with Sammy Hagar, James Hetfield, Billie Joe Armstrong, more
@ The Fillmore
15: Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaries
@ Regency Ballroom
19: Ben Folds with the S.F. Symphony @ Davies Symphony Hall
21: Baths @ The Independent
22: Black Flag
@ Brick and Mortar Music Hall
22-25: San Francisco Popfest
@ Various venues
23: PAPA @ The Independent
With Djemba Djemba @ 1015 Folsom
26: First Aid Kit
@ Great American Music Hall
27: Elbow @ Fox Oakland
29: Doe Eye @ Great American Music Hall
Doe Eye is San Francisco's own Maryam Qudus, who deals in lush, moody, heart-worn songwriting. Her last release, 2012's Hotel Fire, is a six-song EP recorded with John Vanderslice and members of the Magik*Magik Orchestra, and its title track bears all the sonic adventurism that you'd expect from those collaborators: distorted guitars dissolving into feedback before a string section builds the song into climax, a stuttering, strange rhythm, and, above it all, Qudus' smooth, effortless voice soaring through clouds of melancholy.
30-June 1: BottleRock Music Festival With Outkast, Eric Church, the Cure, and more
@ Napa Valley Expo
30: Hudson Mohawke
@ Rickshaw Stop
Hudson Mohawke is a young, pale Scottish dude. He's also a crafter of club bangers so arrogant and ominous that Kanye West bought one to use on Yeezus (and recruited Mohawke to help him produce the album). Also known as one-half of TNGHT (with Lunice), Mohawke's aesthetic is a cartoonish and often abrasive take on bass music, with pounding samples, dead-simple melodies, and drum hits EQ'd to sound like the speakers are blowing up. (Or maybe it's just that the speakers are always blowing up.) Fair warning: In the wrong mood you might find Mohawke's heavy-handed blasts of low-end terribly annoying. But catch them in the right mindset, and you'll be smiling wide as your body and eardrums shudder.
31: Papercuts @ The Chapel
1-2: The Faint
@ The Independent (Monday tickets available)
2: Tech N9ne
With Freddie Gibbs, Krizz Kaliko, Jarren Benton, Psych Ward Druggies @ Regency Ballroom
4: Trans Am
With Dirty Ghosts, Death Cheetah @ The Independent
6: tUnE-yArDs @ The Fillmore
Last time they released an album, Oakland art-pop outfit tUnE-yArDs won the Village Voice's annual critic's poll — and the derision of Chuck Klosterman. Nikki Nack, the latest effort from Merrill Garbus and Co., trades their trademark loop pedal and ukulele for drum machines and even denser arrangements. It's crazier than anything tUnE-yArDs has done before, and also more easily danceable. Will the crowds love it like they loved w h o k i l l? There's only one way to find out — but we'd bet yes.
6: The Detroit Cobras, Pujol
@ Bottom of the Hill
With Chelsea Wolfe (acoustic show) @ Palace of Fine Arts
12: Mt. Eerie @ The Chapel
14: The Notwist @ Regency Ballroom
14: The Rubinoos @ Great American Music Hall
Everyone knows Jonathan Richman, but most don't remember his Beserkley Records labelmates the Rubinoos — a fine 1970s power-pop band. Though the Rubinoos cracked the Top 40 in their heyday, and won acclaim from critics in New York and the U.K., you don't hear much talk about them anymore — which is too bad, because hit single "I Want to Be Your Boyfriend" is a delightful slice of guitar-driven ear candy. (And "Rock and Roll Is Dead," off the group's lauded debut, is a punk rock barn-burner.) Expect these and other classic Rubinoos songs when they headline the Music Hall for a rare show.
15: Dawn of Midi @ The Chapel
Somewhere between jazz, dance music, and avant-garde minimalism lies Brooklyn trio Dawn of Midi, which assembles driving, carefully layered rhythms out of acoustic bass, piano, and drums. The instrumental music is delightfully linear and entrancing, always deceptively simple but somehow never predictable. The group has received a lot of attention on the East Coast, and deservedly so: Its music is a testament to just how compelling minimalism with acoustic instruments can be.
29-30: Sharon Van Etten
@ The Independent
2: EMA @ The Independent
Erika M. Anderson grabbed eardrums around the world with her debut full-length as EMA — a slab of chewy, distorted grind with Anderson moaning and nearly rapping about such subjects as the inferiority of California. Her latest effort, The Future's Void, isn't much more cheerful, though it is more carefully orchestrated and certainly more pretty. Lead single "Satellites" is an opus of squawking noise and thundering drums, with Anderson howling operatically about the state of the surveillance nation and recalling, seemingly fondly, the relative simplicity of the Cold War. Onstage, Anderson is fascinatingly unpredictable and unhinged; you never know whether it's careless performance or deliberate sabotage.
5-6: Burger Boogaloo With Ronnie Spector, Milk 'N' Cookies, and more @ Mosswood Park, Oakland
7-8: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
@ The Warfield (Tuesday tickets available)
9: Mac DeMarco
With Calvin Love @ Great American Music Hall
11: New Order
With La Roux @ Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
19: Rakim @ Yoshi's S.F.