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The big shows: A fall 2011 Madison live music preview
Start your fall with a massive dose of live tunes
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For real music fans, there's no such thing as too many concerts. The problem is deciding how to see as many as possible. Consult this themed guide to maximize your dancing, head-banging and air-guitaring from now till Halloween.

Madison classics
If these artists didn't come to town this fall, Madison wouldn't quite feel like itself.

Ani DiFranco
Barrymore Theatre, Sept. 24
Described as "a folkie in punk's clothing" by AllMusic.com, DiFranco has penned soundtracks for legions of social justice crusaders, convinced tunesmiths galore to join the DIY movement, and inspired oodles of college girls to give feminism a try.

Wilco
Overture Hall, Oct. 5
Madison loves Wilco so much that the City Council declared them honorary residents last year. See if their forthcoming album - a rich blend of guitars, synths and Mellotron tentatively titled The Whole Love - can compete with 2002's beautiful and controversial Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Indie grab bag
Whether you like your music loud and sweaty or gentle and poppy, these indie acts will take you on a thrilling journey down the road less traveled.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 26
This fuzzy five-piece picks up where My Bloody Valentine left off, luring some Smiths fans along the way. Revel in melancholy themes and sugary pop hooks when they perform their latest release, Belong.

Balkans
UW Union South Sett, Sept. 30
If you're wondering what the phrase "angular guitars" means, this Atlanta quartet are happy to give you a lesson. The band's dynamic vocals and high-speed, punk-inspired riffage have grabbed the spotlight in Vice, Spin and The Fader, and their self-titled debut is already making a beeline for critics' best-of-2011 lists.

Girls
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 30
Nodding to legends past such as Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys, this jangly indie-pop band landed on Pitchfork's "Best 500 songs of the 2000s" list with their 2009 single "Hellhole Ratrace." See what you think of their sophomore album, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which drops just a few days before this concert.

The Head & the Heart
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 7
NPR predicts that this Seattle band's folk-inflected harmonies will catapult them to indie stardom by 2012, especially after some high-profile gigs with Vampire Weekend.

Dum Dum Girls
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 13
Iggy Pop inspired their name, but '60s-style pop is their game. The band's debut, I Will Be, landed on Stereogum's "Best of 2010" list, and their upcoming release, Only in Dreams, has been generating positive buzz among those who've scored an advance copy.

Phantogram
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 24
Named after a type of optical illusion, this street-beat-meets-psych-pop duo draw inspiration from J Dilla, the Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth. Their debut, Eyelid Movies, earned a thumbs-up from Spin. Their forthcoming sophomore EP should show what they're really made of.

Songs of the South
Whether exploring local traditions or re-creating Southern sounds from afar, these groups capture the spirit of New Orleans parades, Appalachian roads and other musical destinations below the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Sadies
Willy Street Fair, Sept. 18
Though they're from Toronto, the Sadies are experts at crafting surf-rock gems shaped by the country tradition of the American South - and, on occasion, the vocals of alt-country powerhouse Neko Case.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Barrymore Theatre, Oct. 20
Troy Andrews does what few musicians dare: blend a marching-band background with hip-hop listening habits. Jazz and funk make their way into the mix as well, spawning dynamic albums like the brand-new For True.

Carolina Chocolate Drops
Stoughton Opera House, Oct. 21
This old-time string band from Durham, N.C., blend banjos, fiddles and even a kazoo with the mesmerizing vocals of Rhiannon Giddens. Request their cover of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'em Up Style," and you'll be dancing till the cows come home.

Drive-By Truckers
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 23
Though the Truckers tend to infuse their rock 'n' roll with the country sounds of Alabama, their latest release, Go-Go Boots, explores Southern soul through sonic storytelling.

Blues influences
Whether they're playing old-fashioned American blues or the fiery African variety, these artists bring it when they hit the stage.

Taj Mahal
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 7
The self-taught blues legend has released 25 studio albums since the late 1960s, winning a Grammy for 1997's Señor Blues and a nomination for his latest effort, 2008's Maestro.

Vieux Farka Touré
UW Memorial Union Terrace, Sept. 10
The Malian singer and guitarist returns to Madison with a new album, The Secret, which has thrilled fans with its fluid phrasing and passionate blues-rock licks.

William Elliott Whitmore
Stoughton Opera House, Oct. 8
Whitmore's voice is often compared to a 1920s gospel preacher's, outfitting tales of sin and redemption with thick coats of blues and glimmering hints of folk. Celebrate his soulful new album, Field Songs, at this performance.

Dance it off
These acts will get you moving in ways you never dreamed possible.

The Waco Brothers
Frequency, Sept. 10
If tipsy two-steps are your dance of choice, this show is for you. Former Mekons Jon Langford and Steve Goulding team with members of Jesus Jones and KMFDM to meld alt-country melodies, punk-rock rhythms and humor blacker than Lady Gaga's eyeliner.

Tiësto
Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall, Sept. 15
Known for groundbreaking trance music, the globe-trekking In Search of Sunrise compilations and six-hour-long live sets, this Dutch DJ got a massive crowd to dance at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics.

Dikanda
Brink Lounge, Sept. 21
Transcend "Roll Out the Barrel" and "Ice Cubes and Beer" by dancing the night away with a folk band from Szczecin, Poland. The group plays traditional tunes from the region and original songs whose influences range from Polish fairy tales to Romanian party jams.

Kings Go Forth
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 14
Teeming with vintage funk and soul sounds, this 10-piece band from Milwaukee have become a national sensation since landing on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label. Catch them before they embark on a European tour in October.

The many faces of hip-hop
There's a hip-hop show for almost every kind of concertgoer this fall, from cool sets by classic MCs to goofy spazzouts from brainy funnymen.

RJD2
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 3
Despite drawing ire from critics during a recent journey into singer-songwriter land, RJD2 has created some of the most stunning instrumental hip-hop of the last decade. With luck, this show will reprise 2002's magical Deadringer, as well as his forthcoming project, a collaboration with the leader of Philly-based rock band the Mean.

Atmosphere
Orpheum Theatre, Sept. 13
Slug and Ant's latest studio album, The Family Sign, is arguably their most mature and their most personal. Guitarist Nate Collis and keys man Erick Anderson, longtime members of the group's live setup, get their day in the sun on this disc.

MC Chris & MC Lars
Inferno, Sept. 16
Whether they're rapping about Star Wars, DeLoreans, Legos or girls who wouldn't date them in high school, these nerdy-yet-lovable rappers will have you in stitches.

Das Racist
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 19
Many have dismissed these NYC rappers and Wonder Showzen junkies as comedians with laptops, but Rolling Stone finally got the punch line, naming the group's single "hahahaha jk?" one of the best of 2010. Their studio debut, Relax, hits stores Sept. 13.

Sweet sonic experiments
These groups defy categorization and constantly push the envelope when it comes to melody, rhythm and live performances.

Black Moth Super Rainbow
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 9
This reclusive psych-pop group fills clubs with electronic experimentation that breeds transcendent soundscapes and, among concertgoers, the occasional group hug.

Circa Survive
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 27
After cutting their teeth in hardcore and emo bands, these Philly-based prog-rockers have earned a reputation for being some of rock's most exciting rule-breakers. The band crashed the mainstream last year with their major-label debut, Blue Sky Noise.

Megafaun
High Noon Saloon, Sept. 29
Sporting folk-style guitar picking and the vocal harmonies of a jangle-pop band, this Wisconsin-bred trio thrive on experimentation. Sample tunes from their 2010 release, Heretofore, and perhaps a few new melodies they've been brewing in their North Carolina headquarters.

Japanese appetizers
Traditional sounds and space-age noise-rock converge on this list of acts born and raised in Japan.

Melt-Banana
High Noon Saloon, Oct. 14
These Tokyo natives give new meaning to the term "speed racer," ripping through punk-laced sets of noise-rock and electronica with guts, grace and mind-boggling tempos.

Boris
Majestic Theatre, Oct. 18
The musical shape-shifters of this Tokyo-based rock band explore drone, sludge and other noisy subgenres, then shock the crowd with an onslaught of pop sounds. No two concerts are the same. Prepare to be blown away.

Yamato
Wisconsin Union Theater, Oct. 27
UW-Madison's World Stage series welcomes a wild and whimsical ensemble of 17 Japanese drummers. Before the night's over, audience members will be tapping their toes and pummeling their knees to the beat of the Taiko tradition.

As seen on TV
Whether you've seen these acts on TV or heard their songs in the background of a favorite show, they're bound to impress onstage.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw
UW Union South Sett, Sept. 16
Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes shows off his accordion chops in this duo, which explore Turkish and Balkan music through an indie-folk lens. Preview the show by giving their soundtrack to the documentary Zizek! a spin, or by listening to Beirut's Gulag Orkestar, which features Barnes on drums and partner Heather Trost on violin.

Brett Dennen
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Oct. 12
This folk-pop songwriter's tunes seem to be everywhere, from episodes of Parenthood and Grey's Anatomy to the Rothbury and Telluride festival scenes. Enjoy his latest release, Loverboy, in the scenic Capitol Theater.

Madeleine Peyroux
Wisconsin Union Theater, Oct. 12
Peyroux's magical voice has drawn comparisons to Billie Holiday's and has been heard in ads for Dockers and Old Navy. Take in her new album, Standing on the Rooftop, at this Isthmus Jazz Series concert.

Matt Nathanson
Overture Center's Capitol Theater, Oct. 14
The musician's platinum-selling single "Come On Get Higher" has appeared on too many TV shows to count, including Scrubs, Big Shots and The Vampire Diaries. Ask him to perform his cover of the James hit "Laid" - a fan favorite from the American Wedding soundtrack - at this show.

Straight No Chaser
Overture Hall, Oct. 26
Before Glee, this a cappella group - graduates of an Indiana University ensemble of the same name - was all the rage on the Interwebs. Their YouTube video of "The 12 Days of Christmas" drew millions of viewers in 2006, leading to a five-album deal with Atlantic and prestigious gigs.

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