Three Must-See Acts This Week

Talib Kweli, four nights of John Zorn, and Sheer Mag.


Talib Kweli

2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1, at The Midway. $25;

If you were to ask your favorite rapper who their favorite rapper is, there is a good chance Talib Kweli would be one of the names discussed. Jay-Z said it best on The Black Album’s “Moment of Clarity,” proclaiming, “If skills sold, truth be told / I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli.” Although never a chart-topper, Kweli has earned his spot within hip-hop with socially conscious lyricism and intelligent wordplay. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Kweli developed a literary talent throughout his childhood, bonding this skill with a newfound love for hip-hop in high school after hanging out with Dante Smith, better known as Mos Def. Along with producer and friend DJ Hi-Tek the pair released their self-titled debut album in 1998 under the moniker Black Star, to unanimous critical acclaim. Black Star saw glowing enthusiasm from what was, at the time, a subdued hip-hop community still recovering from the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. Despite the success, Black Star was short-lived, but Kweli moved forward and released his excellent 2002 debut solo album, Quality, and reached new commercial heights thanks to the single “Get By,” which was produced by a then-unknown Kanye West. Staying true to his independent spirit that has defined his career, Kweli created Javotti Media in 2011, a label he defined as “a platform for independent thinkers and doers.” 


John Zorn. Photo by Nick Ruechel

Avant jazz

John Zorn

8 p.m., Saturday-Tuesday, Sept. 1-4, at The Chapel. $50;

Legendary avant-garde musician John Zorn has had an expansive, dynamic career in the four decades he has been recording music. From punk-infused noise rock to free jazz, and nearly everything in between, Zorn’s prolific career has seen the release of more than 100 recordings under his own name, and astronomically more credits on works he performed on or composed. Now on the cusp of 65, Zorn celebrates his birthday with an exclusive four-night run at The Chapel, performing music from his three Masada books, the book of Bagatelles, and new classical concert music, most of which has yet to be performed on the West Coast. Joining the excitement is an impressive batch of guest musicians, including renowned jazz pianist John Medeski, cellist Erik Friedlander, and musical-chameleon Mike Patton. The Saturday through Tuesday retrospective-series consists of six shows, each with a different ensemble performing a unique piece each night, all conducted by Zorn himself. 



Sheer Mag

9 p.m., Friday, Aug. 31, at The Independent. $15;

Gleefully inspired by 1970s rock bands, Sheer Mag takes sweet power-pop hooks built around bold riffs and a punk mindset, something that made the Philadelphia band instant underground favorites upon its explosion on the scene in 2014. The quartet connected with each other during their time studying art at the State University of New York, Purchase, and made the move back to Philadelphia after graduation, living in the same three-story house where Sheer Mag was soon born. The newly formed group recorded a series of three independently released EPs over the next couple years, all of which made their rounds through the online music world, causing a storm with their thunderous appeal. After completing the three EPs, Sheer Mag centered its attention on recording a full-fledged album, which led to their 2017 debut studio album Need to Feel Your Love, which has a cleaner sound than the group’s previous output, although it’s still rife with shout-along choruses anchored by Tina Halladay’s powerful vocals. At its best, Need to Feel Your Love is a true rock-’n’-roll album with an actual fire under itself, an instant classic even on its first listen.


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