It doesn't make sense to devote yourself to one musical genre in a city like Madison. Sure, some towns are built upon a particular style of tunes, but ours is defined by its mammoth menu of choices, especially during the winter months. Make a late New Year's resolution to add a new sound to your concert list.
Here are suggestions for exploring the realms of rock, pop, rap, soul, world, Americana, folk, jazz and the utterly unclassifiable between now and early April. New concerts are announced each week, so keep an ear to the ground for even more choices.
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Jan. 22, 8 pm
Angélique Kidjo has risen to the status of global icon thanks to her many charitable activities in Africa and her extremely diverse blend of musical influences, which includes Caribbean zouk, Congolese rumba, Afropop and gospel, all mixed and matched with jazzy, improvised lyrics and the vocal techniques of her homeland, Benin. The artist is quite the polyglot, speaking French, English, Fon and Yorùbá fluently. She's invented a language of her own, too, just because she can. Hear her sing in all of these tongues as she shares tunes from her Grammy-nominated 2010 release Õö, which even includes a Bollywood track.
Overture Hall, Jan. 27, 7:30 pm
It's been a long time since Ben Folds pumped out sweaty, scrappy, slightly angry ditties about failure, conflict and nerdiness. These days, he seems to spend most of his time sitting beside Pussycat Dolls sexpot Nicole Scherzinger, judging a cappella groups' performances on the NBC reality show The Sing-Off. But that's only the half of it. As it turns out, he's been sneaking around, creating a new album called Lonely Avenue with Nick Hornby, the clever, music-obsessed author of High Fidelity. Combining sharp words from Hornby with some slick, poppy melodies by Folds, the album's been well received by critics and fans alike. Come hear how it sounds live on one of the Overture Center's grand stages.
Kings Go Forth
Majestic Theatre, Jan. 29, 9 pm
Since Kings Go Forth are from Milwaukee, many Madison music fans don't consider the funky 10-piece soul group a national touring act. Well, it's time to change that mindset. Soul revival may be the trend of the moment, but this band is no fad. Led by DJ-to-the-stars Andy Noble, the group painstakingly re-creates a sultry 1970s vibe with vintage equipment and careful production. The results have been so dynamic that dozens of DJs and producers, from Tom Moulton to DJ Shadow, are lining up to remix them. Plus, since signing with David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and releasing their 2010 debut LP, The Outsiders Are Back, the Kings have received raves from Vanity Fair, Spin and about a dozen other heavy-hitting publications. Head downtown and ride this soul train before Gov. Walker drives it away. With JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound.
Fitz & the Tantrums
High Noon Saloon, Jan. 30, 8 pm
An old church organ was all it took for Los Angeles songwriter Michael Fitzpatrick to discover his muse. Internalizing the spirit of vintage soul goodies issued by legendary record labels Stax and Motown, he began collecting collaborators and crafting catchy neo-soul pop tunes at warp speed. It all culminated in a six-member band and a five-song EP, Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1, in 2009. A debut album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, a buzzed-about South by Southwest performance, a smattering of tour dates with Maroon 5 and a New Year's Eve gig with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings followed in 2010, making Fitz and the gang a top contender for a big breakthrough in 2011. With Herman Astro.
Orpheum Theatre, Feb. 1, 8 pm
The rapper who inspired so many teenage boys to attach "dogg" to their names in the mid-1990s brings his West Coast swagger to State Street. Come out to witness some super-smooth delivery, relive your first encounter with Doggystyle, Snoop's revered 1993 debut, or shout "fo' shizzle" at the top of your lungs with your craziest group of friends. Perhaps he'll inspire a new generation of hip-hop fans to identify as canine lovers when he releases Doggumentary Music in March.
Fete de Louisiane
Great Hall at Memorial Union, Feb. 11, 8 pm
Celebrate the culture-mingling tunes of Louisiana by two-stepping over to this dance party led by a pair of Grammy-nominated Cajun acts. Get your heart pumping to fiddling, squeezeboxing sensation Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole, whose gleeful zydeco is packed with polyrhythms and shaped by old soul, bayou blues and Mississippi Delta tunes from the 1920s and 1930s. Then tighten your laces and boogie the night away with Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, whose Grammy-nominated gems are sung in authentic Cajun French.
High Noon Saloon, Feb. 16, 8 pm
For more than 15 years, the avant-pop weirdoes of Deerhoof have been making strange, sugary candy out of 1950s and 1960s rock, garage and gutter sounds, classical music, noise and jazz-influenced improv. Nowadays, they're spawning tons of protégé bands, from Ponytail to Sleigh Bells to Dirty Projectors, spreading their oddball gospel across the world to a new generation of listeners. At this show, get up close and personal with Deerhoof vs. Evil, their 10th studio album, to find out who triumphs: the band or Beelzebub. With Ben Butler & Mousepad and Nervous Cop.
UW Memorial Union Rathskeller, Feb. 25, 9 pm
If bandwagons are your thing, then Baths is your man. The 21-year-old electronic artist's debut, Cerulean, appeared on the best-of-2010 lists of Stereogum, Pitchfork and The Onion's A.V. Club, and he's been lumped into the vaguely defined "chillwave" subgenre, which has imbued him with a certain air of mystery. Regardless of whether you care about these labels and accolades, you're likely to embrace his style if you're a fan of Björk, Toro Y Moi or forward-thinking glitch-hop. With Braids and Star Slinger.
Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea
Frequency, March 2, 9 pm
It's been several months since she played the Barrymore Theatre with the Avett Brothers and nearly a year since her successful Daytrotter session in Rock Island, Ill., and now pop-noir princess Nicole Atkins is finally visiting Madison for a show of her own. With vocals that recall Roy Orbison and an aesthetic inspired by filmmaker David Lynch, she's guaranteed to give you goose bumps, or at least unearth a misty memory or two. Check out this show and be one of the first to get acquainted with her new album, Mondo Amore, which finds the artist trading some of her lush, theatrical flourishes for a more lo-fi sound. With Cotton Jones.
Overture Hall, March 3, 7:30 pm
Emerald Isle superstars the Chieftains collect Grammys like others collect comic books or old coins. They've got six of them so far, plus tons of other awards for their trailblazing take on traditional Irish music. This concert will bring to life their romantic, Mexico-inspired 2010 offering, San Patricio, with a troupe of dancers, a Scottish pipe band, some top-secret special guests and at least a dozen stomping, whistling Celts. Can't make it to this show but need your Irish-music fix? Gaelic Storm, the world's leading minglers of traditional and contemporary Irish tunes, will jig through the Wisconsin Union Theater Feb. 19.
Girl Talk, Max Tundra
Orpheum Theatre, March 7, 9 pm
Broke music fans may want to spend their last few dollars thanking laptop mashup king Girl Talk for releasing his party-rockin' new mixtape, All Day, for free two months ago. Whether this set will fuse Toto's "Africa" with Foxy Brown's "Hot Spot" remains to be seen, but he's sure to put on a show that gets the crowd dancing, sweating and swooning from a case of nostalgia overload. Plus, Max Tundra will visit from London to uncork his bubbly, complex electronic collages for the masses. Get it while you can: He recently announced that his 2008 album, Parallax Error Beheads You, will be his last. With Junk Culture.
Murder By Death
Annex, March 17, 8:30 pm
Named after a wacky 1976 murder-mystery comedy, not an ancient sacrifice ritual, this Indiana quartet isn't a death-metal project but a rock band that leans alt-country one moment and post-punk the next, adding a goofy, gothic twist along the way. Their 2002 debut, Like the Exorcist, But More Breakdancing, isn't about expelling locking-and-popping demons but adding layers of keys and strings to a post-hardcore soundscape. If the band performs that album's epic single "Those Who Left," expect a few shrieks from the crowd as the Annex goes pitch-black. But most of the set will be performed in the spotlight to showcase their 2010 album, Good Morning, Magpie, which takes a different approach to creepiness. With these songs, the band lures the lost souls of its lyrics down dark, dramatic paths, even when the melodies are light and nimble.
Barrymore Theatre, April 1, 8 pm
These trailblazing Texans helped transform alt-country into a genre in its own right in the early 1990s, pairing honky-tonk heart and rock 'n' roll soul with a fetching front man, Rhett Miller. Their newest album, The Grand Theatre, Volume 1, may be their tightest and catchiest since 2004's Drag It Up, or perhaps even their 1999 standout, Fight Songs. Expect to hear lots of treats from Grand, plus a few from their second volume, which is slated to be released later this year. Stay for the encore and you're likely to get the best ear candy from their back catalog, such as "Murder (Or a Heart Attack)," which was named one of the best songs of all time by Blender magazine.
Stoughton Opera House, April 2, 7:30 pm
Country-folk songstress Iris DeMent is an expert at turning simple melodies, deeply felt memories and a bit of rebellion into sparkling sonic stories. Along with her crystal-clear voice, this recipe has earned her gigs alongside John Prine, Steve Earle and other outlaw icons, plus numerous appearances in Garrison Keillor's tongue-in-cheek tales on A Prairie Home Companion. Though longtime fans will gather to hear her reprise her spellbinding 1992 album Infamous Angel and its excellent 1994 follow-up My Life, new recruits may want to visit the Opera House to hear her play the closing music from the Coen brothers' 2010 remake of True Grit.