As summer fades (or drowns), it's time to turn our attention to the convoy of touring acts that'll be occupying local stages for the next few months. Judging from the variety and quality of the acts already booked into places like the High Noon Saloon, the Barrymore Theatre, the Annex and the soon-to-reopen Majestic Theatre, the high cost of gasoline and diesel has done nothing to discourage touring by van and bus this year. If anything, the slate of out-of-town acts is better than it has been in the recent past. Unsurprisingly, indie rock is well represented, but fans of hip-hop, jazz, country and singer-songwriter folk and pop will all have ample opportunities to attend concerts and club shows.
What follows is a sampling of a few that we think are especially worthy of attention. For a full list of every confirmed concert taking place in the Madison area, click on TheDailyPage.com.
SoCo Music Experience
Sept. 8, Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center
You have to be of drinking age to attend this free alfresco festival sponsored by Southern Comfort. But if you pass that prerequisite, you'll be treated to sets by ageless alt-rock oddballs the Flaming Lips, the piano-powered Cold War Kids and more. Plus, we hear there will be more than enough mind-altering SoCo available to get the assembled masses in the mood to par-tay till the Dairyland's most famous inhabitants come home.
Aesop Rock featuring Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz
Sept. 14, Barrymore Theatre
Long Island refugee Aesop Rock makes a play for indie hip-hop domination on None Shall Pass, his first full-length in years. It's a varied album that mines many moods. At times the A-list linguist works up tracks that move air like Zeppelin at their heaviest; at others, he floats like a silver-tongued butterfly. The P.A. better be topnotch to catch his dense rhymes.
Sept. 15, UW Memorial Union Terrace
This folkloric troupe from Rajasthan plays an ecstatic form of music that doesn't get much exposure here in the West, which is too bad since it's truly transformative. If the undulant vocal lines, droning snake charmer's flute, hand drums and jaw's harp don't get you, the Dhoad Gypsies' astounding dancers definitely will. The free show's part of the UW's World Music Festival (Sept. 13-15), which offers a panoply of compelling global sounds.
Sept. 23, Annex
With just one album under their belts, it's definitely early days for these U.K. rockers. But charismatic, full-voiced singer Shingai Shoniwa puts so much into the band's bumptious, indie-influenced takes on soul, jazz and blues-rock that the rising power trio have already assembled a sheaf of stellar reviews on a couple continents. The Noisettes don't fit in with any particular genre or movement, but that's one of their strengths.
Sept. 25, High Noon Saloon
By turns quirky, sweet and just plain effervescent, this buoyant husband-wife duo from New Zealand confirm that when it comes to hooky pop, Kiwis just do it better. If they can come close to re-creating the charming wall-of-sound production and snatches of paisley-patterned psychedelia that fill out their recordings, this club show should be magical. In any case, the enormous popularity of their MySpace site assures that it will be sold out before they hit the stage.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Oct. 6, Annex
It's impossible not to hear the influence of the Talking Heads, Pere Ubu and other New Wave and early post-punk weirdoes in most of what this band does. But that's not a criticism. Fey, slightly world-weary main mouth Alec Ounsworth is much more than a David Byrne imitator. His band farts, burps and jangles through music that's made stranger by the fact that it recalls the heady days when young people first tried (and failed) to kill off fatuous arena rock but also sounds very much of the moment. This year's Some Loud Thunder isn't as accessible as the band's extremely successful debut, but that, too, isn't a criticism.
Oct. 4, Majestic Theatre
The polished San Francisco-based singer-songwriter is no neophyte, but his current single, "Car Crash," may be the earnest, middle-of-the-road vehicle that takes the former Tori Amos and John Mayer tour-mate up to the level of his theater-packing old employers. Looking for some unadulterated "Hey, it'll be all right" uplift? Nathanson's your troubadour.
Oct. 20, Barrymore Theatre
Last spring, Drive-By Truckers promised to turn down a little and offer a folk-shaded take on their explorations of Muscle Shoals-style rock, country and soul. With longtime guitarist Jason Isbell opting for a solo career, the change made sense artistically, but you can bet that fans will be clamoring for some of the Truckers' more aggressive twang when they rumble into the Barrymore. Special bonus: They're joined by veteran songwriter and keyboardist Spooner Oldham ("Cry Like a Baby," "I'll Be Your Everything"), who's worked with a host of legends, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
Oct. 20, Orpheum Theatre's Stage Door
Custom-made for a left-leaning university town like Madison, State Radio proved on last year's Us Against the Crown that their up-tempo protest music still has plenty of potency. Much like the Clash, a band they at times resemble, the men of State Radio have a jones for reggae, which fits in well between their more pugnacious rockers.
Matthew Dear & Big Hands
Oct. 25, Café Montmartre
Not content to get up in front of the joint-poppers and dance-floor divas with nothing more than a song in his heart and a laptop at his fingertips, electronic shape-shifter Matthew Dear has signed on a full band for this excursion. He can piece out minimalist techno with the best of them, but he really blossomed on the fully realized tunes contained on his recent CD Asa Breed, a brainy affair that melds simple, insistent beats with stripped-down melodies and lowing, half-spoken vocals. Dear and company return to the States after playing to big crowds on the Euro festival circuit and should have no trouble captivating a tiny club audience.
Oct. 28, Overture Center's Overture Hall
Nickel Creek don't really need much of an introduction. Siblings Sara and Sean Watkins and their mandolin-wielding mate Chris Thile cultivated a large audience for their pop-friendly reimaginings of bluegrass and country years ago, and their drift into the mainstream has been covered ad nauseam by every major news source. But the hook for this tour is compelling: Once the final notes fade in the ether, the trio will go on hiatus indefinitely.