Arts & Events » Music

Sound Decisions

From classical and jazz to pop and rock, our critics weigh in on fall's most anticipated concerts.



Albert Camus once described autumn as a “second spring when every leaf is a flower” — romantic words from a writer known for dwelling on the absurdity of the human condition. It's also a good season to check the National's Web site and more often. Vacations are done and schools are back in session. To help make the transition toward the dying of the light easier, there are plenty of noteworthy musical events on the entertainment calendar.

Alice Cooper (the National, Sept. 29) The singer of rock classics “School's Out,” “I'm Eighteen” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” introduced to new generations through the Wiley Wiggins beating scene in “Dazed and Confused.” Cooper's still around — he's now the host of a syndicated classic rock radio show — although he's about as shocking today as a diet Slurpee. Bust out your '70s duds. Or maybe golfing attire.

Maxwell with Chrisette Michele and Common (Richmond Coliseum, Sept. 30) Pretty sure this is the hottest R&B and hip-hop show of the fall, as all three musicians get much respect among the so-called “urban” market. That's technical code for fewer white people than usual.

U2 (Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Oct. 1) Irish rockers U2 have been popular forever and have an easy-to-mock singer named Bono and an overrated guitarist named the Edge. They do what they can for global causes such as hunger and AIDS and recently defended the carbon footprint of the island-sized stage they're toting around on tour. How else are they supposed to charge hundreds for tickets if they can't top the spectacle of the Stones? 

>Monotonix (Plaza Bowl, Oct. 14) Featuring a mad Israeli frontman in short shorts and a drummer who plays while crowd surfing, Monotonix is, to say the least, known for a chaotic live show. Its music doesn't improve much on the old MC5 formula, but manic crowd participation should be interesting with all those duckpins around.

Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III (the Paramount in Charlottesville, Oct. 16) Two veteran singer-songwriters and one damn good guitarist (Thompson) will undoubtedly deliver an intimate evening of mature songs and droll banter. You have to give props to Thompson, a Brit who released a 2-CD set in 2003 called “1000 Years of Popular Music” that included him covering Britney Spears' “Ooops! … I Did It Again.”

Metallica and Lamb of God (John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Oct. 17) Local metal heavyweight Lamb of God is gonna make some paper on this tour. Have you heard how much Metallica pulls in on merchandising alone? Rolling Stone reported that its 2005 North American tour earned $43.1 million, and tickets have only gone up since then. Good for the Lamb of God guys. Their live show looks exhausting, plus they'll likely have to endure the same preening egomaniacs featured in the Metallica documentary, “Some Kind of Monster,” the “Spinal Tap” of adult diaper movies.

Gwar (the National, Oct. 23) Great night to pop your cherry if you've never been showered in fake bodily fluids while ugly sci-fi monsters play thrash metal — considering this is the 25th anniversary tour for our world-renowned, home-grown scum dogs.

Gogol Bordello (the National, Oct. 28) Want to see a crazy show that will grab the packed room from start to finish? It's tough to beat these high-energy gypsy rockers from the Lower East Side, who last time around burned Toad's Place to the ground for two hours and still performed late night on the Canal Walk for free. Truly inspired stuff.

Thievery Corporation and Ancient Astronauts (Charlottesville Pavilion, Oct. 29) The Washington production and DJ team of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton lace their acidic dub and lounge with global flavors and aren't afraid to get political, drawing from their hometown's rich musical subcultures. Chances are you've heard them in the background at some cocktail party or restaurant. Live, they get the spotlight. — Brent Baldwin

This may be the only time you see the names Jonathan Vassar and Lady Gaga paired on a page. Before you wet your knickers and think some kind of bizarro duet has transpired, fear not. The only thing these musical acts have in common, we hope, is that they're among the handful of must-see shows in or around the River City this fall.

Vandaveer (Gallery 5, Sept. 18) The just-one-guy-but-tours-as-a-group project, Vandaveer brings a host of instruments and folkie-noir musings to an old firehouse. Perfect.

Jolie Holland (the Southern CafAc & Music Hall in Charlottesville, Sept. 20)The old-time sounds of a sorely underrated singer and songwriter are made for quaint listening rooms like this one. Jolie Holland returns to the former Gravity Lounge for another round of heartbreak and foot stompers.

The Sounds (the Norva in Norfolk, Sept. 22) The greatest thing to come out of Sweden since IKEA is this stylish clan of electro-indie rockers. Front woman Maja Ivarsson has been known to spit, drink, swear and occasionally fall off stage while delivering a ferocious performance.  And folks, she's hands-down the hottest lady in rock 'n' roll today.

Lucinda Williams (the Charlottesville Pavilion, Sept. 26) You don't get any more tried and true than Lucinda. With a voice as raw as her words, she's one of America's most revered songwriters and a powerhouse on stage.  Make it a night to celebrate breakups and breakthroughs with a cold one.

Lady Gaga (Landmark Theater, Sept. 28) A lot's changed since Lady Gaga was originally slated to play Toad's Place early this year. Two venue changes, a cancellation and a quick shot to superstardom later, Gaga brings her boom boom to the Landmark Theater. We're still not sure where the dancing will take place.

Grizzly Bear (the Norva in Norfolk, Oct. 6) “Veckatimest” reigns supreme as one of the year's finest discs and anyone who's ever seen the Grizzlies live knows to expect that same greatness on stage: a tight set of highs and lows, smattered with strums and gorgeous flourishes. 

Lucero (the National, Oct. 14) Beware of flying beer cans! No, really. Lucero fans can get a little rowdy, which always makes for a surly, Memphis-drenched good time.

>Jonathan Vassar (the Camel, Oct. 17) Local twanger Jonathan Vassar celebrates the release of his latest CD with a show that's sure to be as exquisite as usual.

Social Distortion (the National, Oct. 20) Years of hard partying might be to blame for Mike Ness' frequent use of crib notes to get through a set, but nonetheless Social D. remains one of those great rock 'n' roll bands that's a must see while you still have the chance. — Hilary Langford


Start with the double feature on Tuesday: John Conley's melodic guitar gig at Davis and Main chased with the D.J. Williams Projekt R&B workout at CafAc Diem. Wednesdays at Cous Cous alternates between alternative jazz masters Fight the Big Bull and Ombak. On Thursday Roger Carrol and Chez Roue rule Bogart's. Fridays feature perhaps the longest-running jazz gig in the country — Doc Branch's a.m. sessions at Emilio's. Saturday unwinds with the Russ Hanchin-Joe Sarver Brazilian duo at Richbrau, and Sunday is a day-long chill-out starting with Skip Gailes at the Jefferson in the morning and ending with Butterbean at Bottoms Up Pizza. All the city needs is someone to relaunch a Monday night big band (like the late, lamented Devil's Workshop) and the calendar would be full. 

These steady gigs are complemented by a wealth of ad hoc options such as Margaux LeSourd and Bungalo 6 (SinAc, Sept. 11), Glows in the Dark (Commercial Taphouse, Sept. 27) the ubiquitous No BS Brass Band (anytime, anywhere) and the constant flux of improvisational ensembles forming, reforming and performing.

The Richmond Folk Festival (Oct. 9-11) visits jazz territory with Bob French's Original Tuxedo Band, a century-old New Orleans band, and acoustic blues with Corey Harris and Phil Wiggins. Less traditional territory is covered by Musicircus, organized by premier Richmond percussionist Brian Jones, an hour-long, brilliantly cacophonous salute to John Cage featuring a host of bands playing simultaneously Oct. 22 at the Visual Arts Center. The Jazz Beyond Festival, held Sept. 25 at the Camel, brings in avant-garde multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel, Philadelphia experimentalists Chromatic Mysteries, the Brian Jones Percussion Ensemble and festival organizers and Richmond free jazz trio New Loft. 

At the University of Richmond's Modlin Center, still the area's premium venue for national artists, area favorites Bela Fleck and Edgar Myer return, this time accompanied by master Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain on Oct. 4.

With all this going on there are inevitable scheduling collisions. The Richmond Jazz Society, which is closing out an exceptional year at the Capital Ale House with appearances by Miles Davis drummer Al Foster Oct. 13 and Norfolk drummer and NPR radio host Jae Sinnett Nov. 10, are on the same nights, the third Tuesday of the month,  as the Brian Jones' new series at the Camel. And Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Quintet plays the Modlin Center Oct. 30, the night baritone sax virtuoso, ex-Richmonder Glenn Wilson, makes a rare homecoming appearance at the Camel. Choices are good, coordinated calendars even better. — Peter McElhinney


Leaderless but no longer homeless, the Richmond Symphony takes up residence at CenterStage with a rousing opening gala concert Sept. 12, conducted by its associate conductor, Erin Freeman. The final three of nine contestants will compete for the open slot of music director in Altria Masterworks concerts Sept. 26, Oct. 17 and Nov. 10. The Pops Orchestra features the music of Alfred Hitchcock — by which they mean Bernard Herrmann — Oct. 10. In the macabre spirit of Halloween, the child-friendly LolliPops ensemble presents a musical murder mystery on Oct. 31. Its title — “The Composer is Dead” — which ironically applies to all of the artists whose works are performed by the symphony this fall, except for this one.

New music ensemble Eighth Blackbird continues its residence at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center with “Spam,” an eclectic program that references the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and canned meat. Blackbird violinist Matt Albert appears in duet with Chicago violinist Andrew McCann Oct. 5, and the former UR residents Shanghai Quartet appear with cello virtuoso Lynn Harrell Oct. 19.

For those willing to brave Fan parking, Virginia Commonwealth University offers some great music, including the Chestnut Brass Company (Oct. 10), Flamenco guitarist Torcuato Zamora with flamenco dancer Maria (Oct. 25) and the Pacifica Quartet (Nov. 7). Check the online calendar for faculty recitals — like Suzanna Klein's violin duets with pianist Dmitri Shteinberg (Oct. 4); often free, never expensive, frequently delightful, they're the best value in the area.

Virginia Opera's fall program (also at CenterStage) is “La Boheme,” Puccini's 1896 beloved remake of 1996's “Rent.”  — Peter McElhinney

(Note: Our print version incorrectly lists the date of the Jazz Beyond Festival. This story reflects the correction.)

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