When Stereogum writers Timothy and Elizabeth Bracy were introducing their list of the top 10 Bob Dylan songs, they described it as “the Iraq invasion of long-form rock journalism, uncalled for and utterly unwinnable.” In that same spirit, your humble writer is going to try to catalog some of the best concerts Birmingham will host through March of 2014, a quixotic errand made even sillier by a Dec. 20 filing date, with many calendars still unfilled.
Hemming and hawing over with, here goes nothing:
Following up on a tremendous first full year of shows, Iron City has one of the city’s most ambitious schedules in early 2014, one that stands out even among a really strong crop. Phish frontman Trey Anastasio’s solo show and an evening with next-generation Rockapella Pentatonix have both sold out already, but there’s still plenty to write home about.
Legendary keyboardist and guitarist Gregg Allman’s Jan. 15 show somehow hasn’t sold out yet. Incendiary bluesman Black Joe Lewis will be smuggling some wry social commentary into classic soul and rock ‘n roll on Feb. 13. The Dropkick Murphys mix Celtic music with punk just as well as Lucero mix Southern music with punk, and the combination makes for an unbelievably potent double bill on March 5.
The real jewel in the crown, though, is the great Neko Case, who was formerly the driving force of Canadian supergroup the New Pornographers. Case, who will be performing with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down on Jan. 28, has one of the few voices in modern rock music with inimitable character. Because of the emotional range and truth in her performance, the mournful undertones of her alt-country music are somehow just as believable as the snide rebelliousness and wit in her work with the New Pornographers and on her new radio-friendly record, The Worse Things Get…
Around the block, WorkPlay is more than pulling its weight. Reggae legends the Wailers will play the venue on Jan. 15, with local jam/prog/funk hybrid CBDB opening for them (and likely having some dreams come true). The WorkPlay folks are keeping their Cask & Drum connections strong, too, as energetic folkies Shovels and Rope and the lonesome, lovely pastoralia of Lord Huron make their respective returns to Birmingham in February.
And it’s only appropriate that the venue which hosts a monthly singer-songwriter night – the Writer’s Share, coming back on Jan. 14 and Feb. 11 – will be bringing in some of the best lyricism in indie music with Okkervil River, who are playing WorkPlay March 24.
Not unlike WorkPlay’s appeals to a certain kind of Buzzfeed nostalgia last year – viz. acts like Blackstreet and the Wallflowers – the Bottletree appears to be trying to capitalize on warm memories of the golden age of ‘90s indie. On Feb. 10, lo-fi legends Sebadoh will be bringing their fuzzy, effortlessly inspiring melodies to Avondale. They’ll find a counterpart on March 5 with Pavement founder Stephen Malkmus, who still has one of the best ears for a riff in rock music. There’s a lot to get excited about here, nostalgia be damned.
In addition to those indie titans, Bottletree’s early 2014 schedule is characteristically strong. Native son and endearing weirdo Dan Sartain will be playing his strange brew of indie rock, rockabilly and pure camp on Jan. 17. Courtney Haden-approved singer-songwriters Maria Taylor and Joe Pug will be performing on Jan. 25 and Feb. 4, respectively. Man Man, coming off one of the most compulsively listenable records of 2013, will play on Feb. 6.
Your humble writer, however, is most excited about the return of the Dum Dum Girls on March 10. Begun as a straightforward punk act in 2008, they’ve evolved their sound beyond slick girl-group packaging or Ramones-style aggression, opting for something as deeply personal and resonant as the early work of the Smiths. The Girls were nothing short of transcendent in their October 2012 performance, and it’s well past time that they made another visit to the Magic City.
Although they haven’t completely filled out their calendars, the Nick, Zydeco and other venues have plenty to offer. Second-line virtuosos, party demigods and Nick regulars the Rebirth Brass Band will be making the trip up from New Orleans for a Jan. 16 performance at Birmingham’s favorite dive. Beitthemeans, one of the most consistently badass rock groups in the South, will play Zydeco on Jan. 18. And one of the funniest songwriters alive, “dad country” pioneer Jonny Fritz, will play Good People on Jan. 15.
Excited yet? It’s not a comprehensive list by any means, and some of these things are bound to change with the vagaries of fate, but there’s only one thing to conclude: Birmingham is ready to top the high standard set by 2013.