The new year is well underway, with many resolutions already abandoned or forgotten in its wake. Live music, however, is a bit slower on the uptake — this is still touring musicians’ mud season, the season of festival lineup announcements, not the events themselves.
Nevertheless, the Bay Area is inordinately blessed with both mild winters and a healthy winter concert schedule. And this season brings our strange region a particularly exciting pair of musical eccentrics, aesthetically divergent but remarkably alike in their commitment to their uncompromising, proudly left-of-center musical visions.
The first of the two is Charlotte Adigéry, set to make her Bay Area debut at Rickshaw Stop on Feb. 13. Born in France and raised in Belgium by her Martinique-born mother (to whom Adigéry credits her sense of both musicianship and humor), Adigéry began her career under the moniker WWWater with stripped-bare electropop that situated her crystalline voice firmly and beautifully at the center.
2020 Winter Arts Preview
- Books — A critique of tech culture tops our list this year.
- Art Exhibits — A career retrospective featuring photos of imagined Underground Railroad routes.
- Film — Check out this rainy Chinese noir with creative visuals.
- Theater — A prominent Latinx playwright has a new project.
That said, Adigéry has made the biggest waves thus far under her own name, and with a little help from Stephen and David Dewaele of Soulwax and 2manydjs. The brothers initially booked Adigéry for an acting gig, which abruptly stopped being an acting gig once the Dewaeles heard the sound of Adigéry’s actual voice. She’s now signed to their label.
Unsurprisingly, the Dewaele brothers co-produced Adigéry’s most recent EP (and second under her given name), the well-received and thoroughly irresistible Zandoli, a dizzying collection of globe-trotting, high-octane dance music drawing heavily on Caribbean musical traditions and language. Opening track “Paténipat” creates a mantra out of the Creole mnemonic zandoli pa té ni pat, which translates to “the gecko has no legs.”
This early in her career, it’s already apparent that Adigéry’s artistry is mutable, rarely affixing itself to a single concept or sound. Following the release of Zandoli she dropped “Yin Yang Self-Meditation,” a 17-and-a-half minute, ASMR-inspired cut that begins like a meditation tape but devolves into a meandering (and anxiety-inducing) interior monologue ruminating on Adigéry’s childhood, her “hybrid Flemish-American accent,” her relationship with her father, dieting and gaining weight, her experiences with racism, and maintaining her own personal space (among many other subjects and observations).
Performing at Bottom of the Hill mere days later on Feb. 19, but operating with a completely different approach to just about everything, is Sydney, Australia-based pop songwriter Donny Benét. The son of celebrated Italian disco accordionist Antonio Giacomelli Benét (who reportedly took it personally when his son chose the synthesizer over the accordion as his instrument of choice), Benét cut his teeth playing Tom Jones covers and disco classics at a hotel ballroom in Las Vegas. Yes, seriously.
Upon returning to Sydney, Benét emerged as a shockingly sincere one-man post-disco revivalist. At first, Benét’s work seems like an elaborate joke: the schlocky synths, the Miami Vice color palette (in full force on the cover of his 2018 album The Don), the songs about Santorini and Rome, the porn star mustache, the touring band he dubbed The Donny Benét Show Band. It’s all steeped in retro sleaze, suspended between the last days of the 8-track and the dawn of MTV.
But here’s the catch: Benét isn’t committed to the bit, however elaborate, because there is no bit. It’s not a joke. Benét is overwhelmingly sincere in his admiration of early ’80s synthpop, and that’s his entire motivation as a songwriter. Such sincerity is initially suspect, then it’s disarming, and then it’s charming. (If you like what you hear, you’ll find a kindred retro synthpop spirit in Part Time, playing The Chapel on Feb. 17.)
In other words, what mud season?
Five Other Musical Acts We’re Excited About
Friday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 8, The Independent
There’s no shortage of multi-night performances this season — Wilco, Patti Smith, Dashboard Confessional, Violent Femmes, and Dr. Dog are all making repeat appearances this winter — but we’re particularly excited about Luna’s double-header at the Indy (with support from fantastic local acts Madeline Kenney and Everyone is Dirty). Formed by frontman Dean Wareham in 1991, Luna laid the foundation for every dream-pop act working today with a solid stream of intricate, measured indie rock records (including 1995’s Penthouse, set to be played in full on night two). Fair warning: night one is already sold out. Plan accordingly.
Y La Bamba
Friday, Feb. 28, Slim’s
It’s tempting to highlight the bigger ticket shows coming this season: shows like Tame Impala at Chase Center or Best Coast in Berkeley. But it would do a disservice to the influx of smaller talent flooding our foggy shores, including Y La Bamba, the bilingual folk songwriting project led by Luz Elena Mendoza. Rooted in both Mexican and American folk music traditions and rhythms, Y La Bamba’s approach is personal in its emotionality but era- and culture-spanning in its delivery. And Mendoza is only getting more adventurous: Recent EP Entre Los Dos flits from ’60s-style love song sweetness to disjointed, atonal post-punk without losing a beat.
Tuesday, March 3, The Chapel
At 66, Robyn Hitchcock has finally achieved cult figure status. First as the frontman of The Soft Boys (“I Wanna Destroy You,” from 1980’s Underwater Moonlight must be approaching immortality by now) and then as a prolific solo artist, Hitchcock has amassed a catalog of quintessentially British rock music chock-full of surreal imagery and made collaborators out of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, and Gillian Welch. During his Bay Area appearance, Hitchcock will play his fantastic 1990 album Eye from start to finish and celebrate his 67th birthday. Many happy returns, et cetera.
Friday, March 13, Slim’s
In addition to being a gifted country artist in her own right, Nashville songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires is overwhelmingly generous with her talent. She has collaborated with country legend (and national treasure) John Prine, she’s a regular in The 400 Unit (a.k.a. Jason Isbell’s backing band), and she’s one-quarter of The Highwomen (the all-women supergroup also featuring Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, and Natalie Hemby responsible for one of 2019’s finest country records). Amidst the ongoing upending of Nashville and the notoriously stodgy country music industry, Shires is a guiding light pointing toward what country in this century can — and should — be.
Saturday, March 21, The Warfield
It’s easy to have a soft spot for The Growlers, the scrappy Costa Mesa upstarts who found its garage-meets-surf rock sound early and became demi-gods for an entire cohort of disaffected teenagers with subculture-defining records Hung at Heart and Chinese Fountain. Last year the band released Natural Affair, a not-altogether confident or focused callback to their earlier sound after 2016’s excellent and ABBA-influenced City Club. All the same, The Growlers are a blast live (as evidenced by the band’s sold-out four-night residency at the Independent in 2017), and we would be remiss to suggest otherwise.