The festival season is upon us, and the remedy for all those stinky train rides, sweat stains, and electric bill spikes is a slew of free concerts — and in this city there’s a bountiful selection. The usual organizations are represented, from Celebrate Brooklyn to SummerStage, each booking eclectic artists of various persuasions.
Know of any P-Funk–worshipping disciples? They’re in luck, for not one but two George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic shows will go down mid-July where the only price you have to pay is your right to stand still without falling victim to the rhythm — and that’s only the tip of the gratis groove iceberg, which embraces all genres from now through Labor Day. Summer in New York is already an adult playground, and now there’s a soundtrack to match.
Any band that proudly opens an album with the phrase “Once upon a time…in Connecticut” before seeping into a jazz-lounge-ready number that would make Donald Fagen crack a smile is a band you can trust. The Stepkids make soul that would have scorched the scene if released 30 years ago, but we’re lucky to have them around today. They’re signed to the sacred label Stones Throw Records, and their 2013 LP Troubadour is an achievement for its vintage, velvet-smooth production that marries soul and funk in a modern holy union.
We should be so lucky to have three impressive rock bands at our disposal for a casual Thursday evening. Waxahatchee is the rock ‘n’ roll vehicle for Katie Crutchfield, who spins tales of twentysomething heartbreak and anxieties into guitar-driven success stories. Sliding in as the show’s middle child are the foursome Speedy Ortiz, whose puzzling guitar structures act as clever punctuation for singer Sadie Dupuis’s twisted lyrics detailing law school rejects or halfhearted apologies for “that time I made out with all your friends,” as heard in the delectable deep cut “Bigger Party.” And rounding out the evening is Weyes Blood, whose soaring voice belongs in a museum. Late nights such as these are why we made summer Fridays into half-days.
An instrument like the mandolin is one that sounds fairly casual until you watch a prodigy like Chris Thile strum and pluck it. Once you’ve heard its potential fully reached, the mandolin quickly becomes a beacon of beauty, and the band that best exhibits this feat today is the Thile-fronted Punch Brothers. Fans of the early Aughts folk revivalist Nickel Creek will surely recognize Thile’s birdlike vocals, but don’t judge this group as some shadow act. Their record The Phosphorescent Blues was released earlier this year, but the blossoming of summer during this Celebrate Brooklyn event is a more ideal setting to bask in its grace.
The New Pornographers
Don’t judge a band by its cover — or its name, for that matter. The only thing perverted about British Columbia’s seven-piece New Pornographers is the fact that a concerned citizen in Salt Lake City almost had their 2010 show canceled solely due to their double-take-inspiring name. This is a band about as controversial as the red hair on its leader, A.C. Newman’s, head. Sonically, they’re in the same boat as contemporaries the Shins, the Decemberists, and Arcade Fire. When she’s not dominating on her own successful solo endeavor, Neko Case provides vocals and some bashing tambourine to this already killer lineup.
Frankie Rose is one half of the Brooklyn indie pop-rock duo Beverly, and her résumé includes stints in the Crystal Slits, Vivian Girls, and Dum Dum Girls. Whatever she touches turns into guitar-laced gold. Alongside Drew Citron, Rose tosses together chord progressions in a garage-meets-surf combination where catchy backing harmonies are in a seller’s market. Their debut, Careers, dropped last summer, and a free show near Jamaica Bay might be the best time to catch them before Rose embarks on yet another musical adventure.
This is the only date currently scheduled for Caveman this summer and it’s a treat for the home base. Hailing from Brooklyn, this indie-pop five-piece keeps it easy with mid-tempo songs layered on top of their vocal melodies. The band’s secret weapon? Bass player Jeff Berrall and his consistent, underlying groove that gives this sprawling music an anchor during escalating, orbital jams. Their self-titled sophomore effort was released in 2013, so expect this show to be grounds for testing new material.
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
The Mothership will land in Queens. Fitting, for George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic are funk royalty, and five decades of their regal sound calls for a party in the park. After a tumultuous time period enduring drug addiction and financial woes, George Clinton today is as sharp and stunning as ever, choosing to don crisp suits in lieu of his classic intergalactic apparel. This show will be the first of two free P-Funk delights in one week (the other is on 7/16 at the MetroTech Commons), so revel in the fact that by the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you.
The Mount Rushmore of golden Nineties hip-hop is the cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s iconic 1993 album Midnight Marauders, and featured amid the polka-dotted faces is none other than Harlem’s Large Professor. With a voice that’s reminiscent of Nas (a fellow Queens-born MC), Large Professor distances himself from the hip-hop status quo during his 1996 hit “Ijustwannachill,” wherein he boasts “I don’t wanna ill/I just wanna chill/And keep my hand around a hundred-dollar bill.” More sage than braggart, Large Professor is set to drop a new album, RE: Living Legend, this fall. So far, he’s given us a taste with the Nas-inspired track “In the Scrolls,” in which he confirms that the Queensbridge is where stars are born.
Since the late Nineties, Wolf Eyes have been simultaneously satisfying and terrifying listeners with their ominous and industrial vibrations. Similar to the city of Detroit (the trio’s home base) with their dismal-yet-oozing-with-potential vibe, Wolf Eyes have remained consistent, earning the title “the kings of U.S. Noise” from U.K. publication The Wire in 2013. This might not be the type of music typically found on a summer soundtrack, but Wolf Eyes’ menace calls for exploration.
Jon Batiste and Stay Human
“Love Riots” is the term Jon Batiste uses to define the stripped-down, intimate shows he and his band Stay Human have perfected. They were trained at the Juilliard School but credit New York’s streets and subway chambers for shaping their delightful sound. Batiste tends to lead by sitting down at his piano and following the tight coordination of saxophone, tuba, drums, and bass. In July of 2014 Batiste and Stay Human performed their cut “Express Yourself” on The Colbert Report (where they ended the song by literally taking it to the streets), and this inspired moment may have been why they were chosen as the house band for the upcoming Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
The Guatemala City–born singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno can switch between English and Spanish in little more than a silky downbeat. The same can be said for how she bleeds r&b, jazz, and soul into a stew of her own cooking. While her name might not ring a bell, she helped write the Emmy-nominated theme song for the much-beloved Parks and Recreation. She’s toured alongside Tracy Chapman and recorded covers with actor Hugh Laurie, but Moreno has been a star in her own right all along.
The Nigerian guitarist Bombino developed his guitar inspiration through watching clips of Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, and the way those two virtuosos slid up and down the neck of the guitar has been passed on to Bombino. It’s earned him fans, and famous ones, like Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced his breakthrough album, Nomad, in 2013. Joining him in Central Park is the Scottish trio Young Fathers, whose album White Men Are Black Men Too from earlier this year proves catchy pop songs can also have a depth and soul.
Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are the duo behind North Carolina–based electro/indie outfit Sylvan Esso. Meath’s smoky vocals fill the gaps left behind in the minimal electronic production, and their 2014 self-titled debut has been garnering new fans with each stream of the single “Coffee.” Serving as this Celebrate Brooklyn event’s opener is the New York City freak-folk group Porches, led by the enigmatic Frankie Cosmos, the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, whose 2014 breakthrough Zentropy brought her out of the shadow of her famous parents.
Sea of Bees
Sea of Bees represents the charming side of Sacramento, the Californian capital that’s generally a landlocked black hole for music. With her falsetto vocals backed by a coffeehouse-ready music accompaniment, Julie Ann Baenziger needs only a few verses to be able to commandeer your attention. The adorable track “Willis” from her 2010 album, Songs for the Ravens, begins with Baenziger exuding an exasperated groan before launching into a John Hughes movie moment.
The eyes that follow Southern rap have already begun shifting over to Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T., whose redoubtable flow, supported by a heavy bass-riddled production, confirms his status as one of hip-hop’s current comets. His bonus track “Mt. Olympus,” off his 2014 major-label sophomore effort Cadillactica, is a direct response to that infamous Kendrick Lamar verse on “Control” where the L.A. MC challenged fellow rappers to step it up. K.R.I.T. (which stands for King Remembered in Time) gives his rebuttal, but it’s up to listeners to decide if it’s a worthy comeback.
Dr. John and the Night Trippers
It’s a feat to be known as a prominent voice in, or for, New Orleans — the Big Easy, after all, is loud. Over the past six decades, Dr. John has been a proud representative of the NOLA, and he’s done his part well. His 1973 single “Right Place Wrong Time” may be his calling card due to multiple soundtrack appearances, but he’s recently made a commercial return with the 2012 record Locked Down (yet another project overseen by the Black Keys’ Auerbach). New Orleans can keep its Creole-influenced jazz, because for one summer afternoon, New York gets Dr. John all to ourselves.
Ratking + Bishop Nehru
The mythical 8:1 rats:human ratio in NYC has been debunked, but the city’s very own aggressive hip-hop trio Ratking deserves to be the regent of all those rodents for their braggadocious lyrical flow — a manner befitting the subway trenches. Ratking are a product of the city, and their youth has them going off in a rush-hour sprint. Fellow New York young-gun MC Bishop Nehru is hot off the heels of a successful Governors Ball appearance, and together both acts sound as if they’re ready to claim the town as their own.
Dither + Lee Ranaldo + Yo La Tengo + Mark Stewart + Matmos
The true party for this show will take place in the guitar tech and roadie section of backstage, because all five acts are notorious for their unique approaches to the guitar — either in the way they reinvented the noise that can be transmitted via six strings (like Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo) or mastered the instrument via deep experimentation, as heard in the quartet Dither. The ax is the headliner for the night and will be celebrated through multiple interpretations that reveal its multifaceted beauty. New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo anchor the set.
Last year’s Our Love was what it took to position Canada’s Caribou as one of today’s more vibrant electronic producers. Matching lovely harmonies to a heavy beat-driven arrangement, Caribou’s Dan Snaith sounds his most matured over Our Love’s ten-song sprawl. Both hip-hop and r&b influences shine through here, and their glowing combination is a feat earned by Snaith’s expert experimentation. Sinkane will open the show — the London producer’s the perfect foil, as he also challenges the genre to expand and progress.
U.S. Girls + Yuck
U.S. Girls (or Meg Remy) likes to toy around with her music, and we’re lucky enough to get to hear the outcome. This Toronto-based/American-born artist has been releasing a string of lo-fi creations since 2009. Her last release, 2012’s GEM, has her sounding her most realized and confident. The English Nineties revivalists Yuck kick off the jams with their attack on fuzzy drones. Their most recent release was 2014’s Southern Skies EP, whose title track is an aural beauty with a tasty looped guitar riff.
Denitia and Sene.
Brooklyn’s Denitia and Sene. is an electronic r&b collaboration between the former rapper Sene and singer-songwriter Denitia. Neither of them began making music in the genre they’re currently invigorating, but that novel perspective is what gives them their edge. “Runnin,” off the EP Side fx., released a few months ago, gives the xx a run for their money and showcases Denitia’s warm vocals juxtaposed with Denitia’s earworm production. Sene is a New York City native and Denitia moved here from Texas, but both credit the city with shaping their direction and success.
Fiona Apple + Justin Townes Earle + the Watkins Family Hour + Don Heffington + Sebastian Steinberg
When Bob Dylan’s landmark 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited was released, it transformed two genres simultaneously. No longer was rock ‘n’ roll an entity separate from folk; together they could function as one incredible sound. To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, a cast of dazzling songwriters and expert musicians will take to the Lincoln Center/Damrosch Park Bandshell to commemorate the album’s significance. Fiona Apple tore through the late Nineties with her stunning lyrics, while Justin Townes Earle is the product of multiple Bob Dylan–influenced generations. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a lineup that’ll do more justice to this pivotal album south of the Newport Folk Festival, which will have celebrated Dylan in its own way just two weeks prior.
New England native Merrill Garbus — or tUnE-yArDs — makes eclectic pop that bounces to the rhythm of Afrobeat while maintaining a code of indie cool, similar to that funky waft emitted by the likes of David Byrne and St. Vincent. Her recent Nikki Nack picked up right where her breakthrough, 2011’s Whokill, left off, and does so in style. (Whokill was the first album by a woman to win the Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics poll since Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road in 1998.) In this Celebrate Brooklyn setting she’s a goddess of loops and drums, stringing them together in jagged design akin to the spelling of her outré stage name.
Lyle Lovett (and His Large Band)
You know him as either the actor, the early-Nineties hubby of America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts, or the soft-country-rock star, but the point is you’re familiar with Lyle Lovett no matter how you recognize the name. With his voice, which recalls the Sunday-morning intimacy of Jackson Browne, and songwriting that spins tales of a Wild West gentleman, Lovett stands tall next to contemporaries like Sam Bush and Rickie Lee Jones. His last record, 2012’s Release Me, had Lovett at his most matured and confident, singing about his life in the West.
Reverberating their way out of Oxford is the English foursome Glass Animals, who offer jungle rhythms, falsetto vocals, and deep r&b melodies. Their standout track, “Gooey,” has singer Dave Bayley detailing “peanut butter vibes” atop rich, silky-smooth production that all but demands head-nodding. For their debut record, 2014’s Zaba, Glass Animals worked with heavyweight British producer Paul Epworth (whose previous collaborators include Adele and U2, among many more), and their union couldn’t have sounded better. Glass Animals will hit Terminal 5 in October; this Sunday show should satisfy until their return.
Rakim + DJ Tedsmooth
After a decade-long absence, New York’s Rakim returned with The Seventh Seal in 2009. The influential MC is always topping hip-hop rankings, either through his solo capabilities or alongside Eighties partner Eric B. (their 1987 magnum opus Paid in Full is a staple of the golden age of hip-hop), so with a six-year gap between Seventh Seal and today, it begs the question: Can we expect new material with this summer night show? He’ll be teaming up with “The Remix King,” Harlem’s DJ Tedsmooth, and with or without dipping into classic cuts like “I Ain’t No Joke” or “Eric B. Is President,” Rakim will be able to dazzle and impress.
Ricky Eat Acid
The Maryland producer Ricky Eat Acid experiments with dance and ambient music to create angelic sounds, which he (a/k/a Sam Ray) describes on his Facebook as “music that sounds like it’s reaching upwards to God and falling short, over and over.” We’re fortunate he keeps missing that heavenly mark, because in return it means more of these beautiful, electronic soundscapes can be recorded and released. In June he put out a mixtape through his Bandcamp showing more live-instrumentation efforts — and proving that Ricky Eat Acid isn’t confined to the size of his bedroom studio.
“Welcome to hell, bitches, this is Mykki Blanco/New World Order motherfucker, follow pronto,” demands Mykki Blanco at the start of the bizarrely entertaining track “Wavvy.” The track’s music video has the Harlem MC rapping from the back of a U-Haul truck, riding through town, brandishing his colorful persona. Earlier this summer, and recently with the Voice, Blanco revealed he has been HIV-positive since 2011 but doesn’t let this affect his ability to perform. “Fuck stigma and hiding in the dark, this is my real life,” he said in his announcement. “I’m healthy. I’ve toured the world three times but I’ve been living in the dark, it’s time to actually be as punk as I say I am.” Both through his courage to live openly and in his demanding-to-be-heard lyrics, Blanco is achieving this goal.
The Grateful Dead have fared well, and sneaking in to take their psychedelic-blues place is the Brooklyn-based Steve Gunn. A former member of Kurt Vile’s band the Violators, Gunn recently broke away from the group to man this solo adventure, but is doing so without sacrificing any of Vile’s calm, hazy charm. The 2014 beauty Way Out Weather showcases Gunn’s ability to orchestrate sprawling guitar-based tunes that blossom with every chord change. Need some extra convincing? Give the album highlight “Milly’s Garden” a listen and notice how he blends Bob Weir’s strumming with math-rock guitar structures almost seamlessly.
Lake Street Dive
The final stretch of summer before the leaves fall down in a golden deluge offers one more gratuitous event. Lake Street Dive is a Brooklyn-via-Boston indie foursome that keeps one leg in jazz while the other is dipping into blue-eyed soul. Led by the powerful vocals of Rachael Price (the band’s name was inspired by a dive-bar-infested area in her hometown of Minneapolis), Lake Street Dive play with conviction as they perform “Bad Self Portraits,” the opening track off their recent record of the same name. This summer may be through, but let’s have this swan song ring loud until the next.