March 16, 2017
Stephen Merritt, the singer-songwriter frontman of the Boston band The Magnetic Fields, has a career-long affinity for concept albums. But his latest, “50 Song Memoir,” is a particular triumph of will. As the title hints, Merritt has written a song for each year of his life, and not all of them are great. On the second of a two-night program at Union Transfer, Merritt trudges through the second half of the record—and his being—for a sit-down crowd.
Doors 7:30 p.m. / Show 8:30 p.m. | $35-50 | All ages
For the last decade, A Tribe Called Red, a trio of DJs out of Ottawa, have been blending their First Nations music with contemporary dance sounds. They—or at least music journalists—call the mashup “powwow-step,” and both inside and outside of their music the group has an impressive activist bent, crusading for the human rights of First Nations peoples, the environment, and more.
Doors 8 p.m. / Show 9 p.m. | $17 | 18 and over
Earlier this year, the Swedish guitar pop guru Jens Lekman wrote a blog post on his website warning fans of an impending change in his music. Because of his “hypochondria and anxiety,” he wrote, “I decided to not write about myself anymore, I was sick of Jens Lekman.” The resulting detour is on full display with, “Life Will See You Now,” a masterful pop record that finds Lekman at peace, looking outward for inspiration instead of dwelling in his own cramped psyche.
Doors 7:30 p.m. / Show 8:30 p.m. | With Lisa/Liza | $25 | All ages
Biz Markie is a national treasure. He might not have the name recognition of crossover rap-stars-turned-pop-icons like Ice Cube or Will Smith, but when it comes to bridging generations, nobody beats the Biz. An innovative emcee/producer in the ‘80s, Biz is now beatboxing for kids on “Yo Gabba Gabba!” when he’s not touring the country as a DJ. This weekend, Biz makes his way to Philly for his renowned Decades Collide party: a fun, nostalgic mashup of ‘80s and ‘90s music led by one of those decades’ very own stars.
Doors 8:30 p.m. / Show 9:30 p.m. | With Can’t Hardly Wait | $15 | 21 and over
Sunn O))), the experimental metal outfit from Seattle, demands patience. Their music itself requires perseverance, and longtime fans also know they’ll have to wait years for a new album. But the band always delivers. The core duo of Sunn O))), Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, have twisted their project into various forms: expanding the roster for an album here, collaborating with another band there. The group’s last record, 2015’s “Kannon,” sounds like a reset, in which Sunn O))) return to their origins for a heavy dose of droning metal.
Doors 7:30 p.m. / Show 8:30 p.m. | With BIG|BRAVE | $20 | All ages
What does it mean to be a jazz singer in the 21st century signed to a prestige label like Blue Note? José James has figured it out: it means you can do whatever you want. Jazz has always been a music unwilling to pin itself down, and James is a masterful practitioner in the art of flexibility. At 39, the singer is just as in tune with a younger generation of music as he is with the standards. On “Love In a Time of Madness,” his just-released fourth album, he flexes that generation gap with songs that are at once poppy—imbued with soul and hip-hop production—and classic. It’s a practiced balance that few artists have struck so confidently.
Doors 7 p.m. / Show 8 p.m. | With Nate Smith and Corey King | $20 | All ages