MARAC/NEA Spring 2015: A Live Music-Lover’s Guide to Boston and Cambridge

For Boston, for Boston, we sing our proud refrain. For Boston, for Boston ’tis wisdom’s earthly fane. For here are all one, and our hearts are true, and the towers on the heights reach the heavens own blue. For Boston, for Boston ’til the echoes ring again.
                            – For Boston, Dropkick Murphys

Storrow Drive is pretty in the springtime; Storrow Drive is pretty in the fall.
You don’t have go home in a straight line; you don’t have to go back home at all.
        Massachusetts Avenue, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra

Let’s play a little music trivia. What do these bands have in common: The Pixies; Dropkick Murphys; Galaxie 500; Morphine; and, Amanda Palmer? How about James Taylor; Joan Baez; and, Aerosmith? Answer: They are all musicians who got their start (or made their home at one point) in the Boston/Cambridge area. The metro region itself has been fodder for countless songs, with Boston avenues and neighborhoods consistently name-dropped across genres (check out his nifty music map tracking Boston-lyrical references). Boston may not have the saturated music-industry vibe of New York or L.A., but America’s historic New England city has a rich musical culture, with output running the gamut from world-renowned music institutions that host national touring artists, to lesser-known haunts and programs, that tap into the diverse pool of local and emerging talent. Between Cambridge and Boston, attendees of the MARAC/NEA 2015 Joint Spring Meeting this month have a plethora of live music offerings at their disposal. Even when the weather is less than inviting, the city has something to offer every type of music-lover, nearly every night of the week.

Formed in 1881, few music organizations are held in as high esteem as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The BSO is counted among the Big Five, a list of the top five powerhouse symphonies in the United States; and, it touts the world’s most trafficked orchestral webpage, On March 19th, 20th and 21st, the orchestra will feature Mozart’s last three symphonies led by the distinguished conductor visiting from Germany, Christoph von Dohnányi. These final symphonies—which Mozart wrote in the span of a few weeks—mark the pinnacle of the Classical movement, in terms of compositional precision and motivic beauty. Tickets can be purchased in person, on the phone, or online—and, on Thursday evenings, a limited number of Rush Tickets at $9 each are made available at the BSO box office beginning at 5:00 PM!

Just a few blocks from the hallowed walls of Symphony Hall we find another Boston institution: Wally’s Café. This iconic jazz venue founded in 1947 by Joseph L. Walcott (aka “Wally”) was the first nightclub opened by an African American in New England.
(Image by kagsua sho, Flickr Creative Commons,
Located in what was Boston’s premiere jazz district during the 1950s, the Café was a favorite spot for serious jazz-heads. As the Big Band era waned, Wally’s began inviting students from nearby Berklee College of Music, the Boston Conservatory, and the New England Conservatory, smartly reframing its stature within the changing community. Today the club boasts live jazz 365 days a year (6pm-2am), with a mix of professional performers and up-and-coming musicians, and consistent dedication to supporting young, local jazz students.

If dance, rock, or roots are more your thing, Boston and Cambridge offer a variety of well-managed, mass transit-accessible music venues—ranging from small stages in the corners of bars, to huge concert halls hosting crowds in the thousands. Here are some top picks happening around town from March 18th through the 21st:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kindness at The Sinclair—Love to dance? Then head over to Harvard Square Wednesday night to arguably one of the area’s best venues, The Sinclair (owned and operated by the folks behind Bowery Ballroom and Bowery Presents in NYC). Kindness, aka Adam Banbridge, performs as a one-man indie disco-funk-R&B band well suited to the intimate, yet high-production setting at The Sinclair. Pulling from many influences, Kindness has collaborated with Robyn, worked to respectfully reinvent Herbie Hancock, and even makes references to Kate Bush. This eclectic, magnetizing performer is one not to miss.

Gil Aharon Trio at Lilypad—If instrumental, thought-provoking music is more your jam, head to über-hip Inman Square in Cambridge for an evening at Lilypad, a performance space and gallery where the Gil Aharon Trio perform their experimental jazz-rock every Wednesday. Established in 2006, Lilypad is a staple of the diverse, active Inman community, providing a space for music, lectures, yoga, workshops, theater, and other programming.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Quantic (aka Will Holland) at Brighton Music Hall—The top pick for music Thursday night keeps you on the Boston side of the river. Brighton Music Hall, in the heart of Allston (a neighborhood of Boston east of downtown that includes Boston University), hosts house/broken beat DJ and producer Quantic for what promises to be another chance to throw down and shake it with your archival cohorts.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Perfume Genius at the Sinclair—Seattle’s Mike Hadreas, who performs his revealing, piano-driven indie anthems as Perfume Genius, will grace the stage of The Sinclair March 20th. Touring on the heels of his hugely successful 2014 release Too Bright, which borrows from glam rock as much as confessional pop, Hadreas is sure to enrapture with his otherworldly invocations. Check out his revelatory performance on the David Letterman Show from last fall.

Galactic at the House of Blues—Harvard Square was home to the original, tiny House of Blues long before the organization exploded into the corporate behemoth that it is today. Now the franchise calls Boston’s Fenway district home, with an impressive, multi-tiered hall that boasts an enormous stage and top-notch production. Friday night the House of Blues welcomes New Orleans funk all-stars Galactic who have been performing and touring for nearly two decades behind the precision drumming of Stanton Moore. You may have noticed a pattern here, but this show will also make you dance. Guaranteed.

Club D’Elf at Lizard Lounge—Looking for something a little more underground? How about literally, underground? Just up from Harvard Square on Massachusetts Avenue, hidden beneath the bustling bar and restaurant, Cambridge Commons, the Lizard Lounge offers music lovers a wide sampling rock, jazz, and blues. Since the mid-90s, the club has established itself as a hub for Cambridge culture–with its unique lineups, respected residencies, and lively poetry slams. Club D’Elf has been a staple of the Lizard Lounge scene since the band’s inception in 1998. Less of a band than a rotating cast of jam-masters, Club D’Elf is the brainchild of esteemed bassist/composer Mike Rivard, who has preformed and recorded with Morphine, Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, G Love, and Jonathan Brooke, among others. The collective of diverse musicians he gathers represent a spectrum of styles and backgrounds, but maintain “an unspoken adhesion and fierce devotion to grooves that induce trance.”
Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sebadoh at Brighton Music Hall—The seminal lo-fi indie rock icons led by mastermind front man Lou Barlow (sometimes-bassist to Western Massachusetts’ Dinosaur Jr.) reunited in the studio after 14 years for the release of both an EP and a full-length record in 2013. Sebadoh’s catalog includes acoustically driven-sounds and experimental noise, and the band is known for live shows that pull from post-hardcore aesthetics as much as Barlow’s sensitive folk-rock leanings. Bring earplugs for a night of incendiary sounds.

Ghazal at the Berklee Performance CenterThis sure-to-be captivating Persian and Indian music program brings together Iran’s kamancheh (spiked fiddle) master Kayhan Kalhor and India’s sitar virtuoso Shujaat Husain Khan, with tabla player Sandeep Das. Advanced ticket purchase recommended.

Bach’s St. John’s Passion with soloist Bradford Gleim, baritone at Emmanuel ChurchEmmanuel Music celebrates Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday with this special performance of his beloved oratorio St. John’s Passion, featuring soloist Bradford Gleim, a highly respected Boston-based opera singer known for his riveting Baroque and Classical interpretations. The evening includes a pre-concert conversation at 7 PM with Artistic Director Ryan Turner, The Rev. Pamela L. Werntz, and Cantor Lynn Torgove. Discounted student tickets are available.

Exterior of Symphony Hall, photo by Rosemary Zhang, Flickr Creative Commons,

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