Free shows in New York are usually associated with summertime, but two events this week will buck the trend: Rhode Island radical punks Downtown Boys play a gratis set at Union Pool, and an daylong underground label showcase at House of Yes brings together a diverse group of artists for a festival-like event with none of the downsides of an actual festival (including a ticket price). Lest we forget, this is also the week of the Inauguration, so a few solid benefit shows promise to donate proceeds to worthy causes as we venture into an uncertain future.
Downtown Boys, Juicy, Nani Castle
8 p.m., free
Since the election, some people who have never really been interested in politics have grown radicalized, or at least become politically active. But Providence punks Downtown Boys didn’t need the spectre of Donald Trump to realize that our society is seriously fucked up and could use some major adjustments. Their 2015 album Full Communism bursts with righteous anger, screamed in Spanish and English over rich, ska-like horns. With the inauguration in sight, we can only imagine Downtown Boys are feeling more purposeful than ever—their show should be a lesson in maintaining anger and energy in the face of oppression. This show is free, so there are zero excuses to not attend.
Sharon Van Etten, Beirut, Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear), Kevin Morby, Hand Habits
Planned Parenthood/ACLU Benefit
Music Hall of Williamsburg
7 p.m., $40
There are quite a few benefit shows planned for this week, as artists and bookers do their part to fight back against the doom that awaits us all on January 20th. The brilliantly mournful singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten will headline the night alongside Balkan folk heroes Beirut and orchestral avant-pop star Daniel Rossen, of Grizzly Bear. This excellent line up will benefit Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, two organizations who desperately need aid in our current political climate. The line up with reconvene (minus Van Etten) at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade the next night. Tickets are sold out but available on the secondary market.
Muuy Biien, Bambara, Decorum, Rube
8 p.m., $10 – $12
Athens, Georgia rockers Muuy Biien began their nearly decade-long musical career playing an alternative take on hardcore. But their last album, 2016’s Age of Uncertainty, demonstrated a total transformation for the group. The LP showcased tightly written, chugging garage rock, riding energetic vocals and drums on top of bluesy darkness. They’ll play Shea Stadium alongside Brooklyn’s ominous noise rock trio Bambara.
D.R.A.M., River Tiber, Ari Lennox
Musica Hall of Williamsburg
8 p.m., $20 – $25
D.R.A.M.’s record with Lil Yachty, the funny, mischievous stoner anthem “Broccoli,” may have been the rapper’s break-out hit last year, but his album, Big Baby D.R.A.M., showed that the young artist has a lot more to offer than the gimmicky numbers that have put him in the public eye. Like Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, Big Baby D.R.A.M. redefines the possibilities for mainstream hip hop, and makes it look easy. The LP is a mix of pop culture references (“I choose you like a Pokemon”), inventive, soulful productions and a sing-song rap style that’s somewhere between Chance’s gymnastic rhymes and Young Thug’s “post-verbal” vocal melodies. Spending the night of the inauguration with this forward thinking-crew sounds like a decent plan to us.
Aesop Rock, Homeboy Sandman, Rob Sonic, DJ Zone
9 p.m., $20
Aesop Rock deserves more credit than he gets; among other things the rapper collaborated with El-P long before Run the Jewels made Jaime famous. El-P’s flow also owes a lot to Aesop Rock, whose tongue-twisting, wide ranging rhymes tackle all kinds of subject matter. His newest album, The Impossible Kid, deals with the existential crises of aging and grief, relatable subjects he handles with inventiveness and humor.
Images, Eaves (DJ), Night Doll, Straw
11:55 p.m, $10
The forward-thinking DJs and producers who will play this night at Williamsburg’s Sunnyvale might sound like the future, but within a year it’s likely that the abrasively up-tempo beats of Eaves, or Images’ hyperactive footwork, will be popping up in mainstream EDM productions. Go to this show to get in on the ground floor with some of the most interesting electronic artists in New York.
HEEMS, Warm Brew, Akinyemi
7 p.m., $15 – $18
Queens-based rapper Heems, formerly of the provocative rhymers Das Racist, released one of the most invigorating hip-hop albums of 2016 with U.K. rapper (and Rogue One star) Riz Ahmed as Swet Shop Boys. Though his style is often described as “joke rap,” Heems’s rhymes are frequently serious critiques of politics and race. As a first-generation son of immigrants from India, Heems’s is a crucial voice at this moment in American culture. His music represents an unabashed source of multiculturalism and brown pride.
Closed Circuit: Umwelt, Karl Meier, Heidi Sabertooth (Live), et. al.
10 p.m., $15–$20
The legendary French DJ Umwelt headlines a stacked bill at Closed Circuit, a warehouse party that champions underground and experimental electronic music. Umwelt made his name in the ‘90s as he played raves around Europe. His messy analog sounds and pumping beats are sure to work the dancefloor into a frenzy. Karl Meier, a Chicago DJ and devotee of early dance music, is the night’s other big draw.
Cold Cave, Drab Majesty
8 p.m., $20
It’s fair to say that the bicoastal coldwave band Cold Cave are melodramatic, at times even humorously so. But their surging drum machine beats and impassioned, over-the-top vocals are hard not to love. The band has been quiet since 2014, when they released their last full length, Full Cold Moon, a buzzy, synth-driven album about the desperation of aging. It felt intense and perhaps a bit much considering that leader Will Eisold was only 35 at the time of release; if the group releases new material this year, we can only presume it will be sludge-goth about nothing less than accepting the imminence of death.
Nothing: Underground Music Label Showcase
w/Earth Boys, VIA APP, Black Light Smoke, Lina Tullgren, and many more
House of Yes
11 a.m., free
An all-day showcase in Bushwick brings together artists from a wide selection of underground labels. Many of them play an alternative take on dance music, such as DJs VIA APP, MIN2 and Celestial Trax. But others, like the lo-fi singer-songwriter stylings of Captured Tracks signee Lina Tullgreen, provide a brief respite from repetitive beats. Overall, it’s a fascinating experiment in bringing together disparate artists for a showcase unbound by the constraints that make other eclectic festivals (like SXSW) difficult to enjoy.