Critics' Picks: Saul Williams, the Joy Formidable, and more

Critics' Picks: Saul Williams, the Joy Formidable, and more
courtesy of the artists
The Joy Formidable doing their best cactus poses

The Joy Formidable

Fine Line Music Cafe, Monday 3.19

On last year's The Big Roar, the Joy Formidable operate inside a lush, overcast (yet hopeful) world. At times, it resembles a dream from which you wish you would never wake. Arguably the buzziest of last year's buzz bands—even Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl could not say enough about them—they made a cannonball-like splash that was not purely blog-generated CGI. Guitars that operate at a soaring howl, cacophonous drums, and lead singer Ritzy Bryan's vocals, improbably resembling Björk's brittleness and Karen O's ferocity all at once, hit with all the subtlety of being snapped in the face with a wet towel. It's noisy, jolting, knife-in-the-outlet electrifying rock music with the potential to shift the landscape as a whole. With A Place to Bury Strangers and Exit Music. 18+, $15, 7 p.m. 318 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.338.8100.Pat O'Brien

The Mighty Diamonds

Cedar Cultural Center, Friday 3.16

One of the few intact groups from reggae's golden roots-rock era, the Mighty Diamonds emerged from Trenchtown in 1969 sporting deliciously sweet and soulful three-part vocal harmonies and synchronized moves inspired by Motown. Donald "Tabby" Shaw, Fitzroy "Bunny" Simpson, and Lloyd "Judge" Ferguson are still weaving those harmonies 43 years later, tying strong melodies to reggae's classic hitch and tapping righteous Rasta and social justice themes. The Diamonds' masterpiece is 1976's Right Time, which contained the classic title track along with "I Need a Roof" and "Africa." The group's newer material is consistently solid, and their harmonies are still marvelous. $20-$25, 8 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

Vishtèn

Cedar Cultural Center, Sunday 3.18

When the aching fiddle and guitar of the Canadian trio Vishtèn ease into the traditional tune "Joli Coeur," it sounds like maybe something out of the Appalachians. Then when things get a bit more sprightly, with an Irish whistle chiming in and step-dancer rhythms clattering away, the tune's Celtic connections are revealed. But when Pascal Miousse starts wailing in French while his fiddle soars, it becomes abundantly clear that Vishtèn plays Acadian music, so closely tied to its Cajun cousins down Louisiana way that it's impossible not to think of the Cajun national anthem, "Jolie Blonde." Vishtèn hails from Canada's Maritimes. Miousse is from Quebec's Magdalen Islands. Twin sisters Pastelle and Emmanuelle LeBlanc are from Prince Edward Island. French Acadian roots are still strong there, but so are Irish and Scots influences, all of which show up in Vishtèn's glorious sound, which has just enough contemporary zest to send the roots into a terrific spin. The driving rhythms come from the LeBlancs' feet (and Emanuelle's bodhran), while Pastelle's accordion solidifies the crawfish connection. The group's three-part vocal harmonies, meanwhile, add the final taste of French silk. $18-$20, 7:30 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —RIck Mason

Melanie

Dakota, Sunday 3.18 + Monday 3.19

The Dakota's unofficial '60s/'70s nostalgia series continues with this somewhat surprising resurfacing of folkie singer-songwriter and Woodstock nation survivor Melanie Safka. Some have called her the quintessential hippie chick, an image projected by her long, straight hair and the cosmic innocence of her vocal delivery and general aura, plus her heartfelt embrace of the era's peace, love, and understanding vibe in her outlook and lyrics. She had a certain charm as a naïf, but was also armed with a relatively strong and sophisticated voice lurking behind her childlike phrasing. Her biggest hits in the vicinity of 1970 were "Brand New Key," "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma," "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)," and "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)." The last was inspired by her Woodstock experience; the candles that flickered in the crowd during her set have been cited as the inspiration for subsequent generations of rock fans igniting flames during concerts. Melanie has never really gone away, although the ebbs and flows of her career have been seriously under the radar. Her voice has deepened somewhat, but is still instantly recognizable. The songs on her recent album, Ever Since You Never Heard of Me, suggest she remains loyal to her utopian ideals. She'll perform with her son, Beau-Jarred Schekeryk, a talented, flamenco-influenced guitarist. $40. 7 p.m. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.332.5299. —Rick Mason

Saul Williams

Triple Rock Social Club, Monday 3.19

Saul Williams is often pigeonholed as a slam poet, a rapper, or an "Afro-Punk" artist, but that does a disservice to his wide-ranging abilities as a performer. Though he hasn't abandoned rhythms and rhymes with his lyrics, his most recent album, Volcanic Sunlight, veers delightfully left of expectations: There are big helpings of moody singing set against a sonic backdrop woven from such disparate influences as Bollywood soundtracks and British goth. The album's pace is frenetic, and since Williams is known to crank it up several notches when he hits the stage, so expect a sweaty show. With CX Kidtronik 18+, $15, 8 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7399. —TamAra Palmer

Al Di Meola & Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Dakota, Tuesday 3.20 + Wednesday 3.21

This is an extraordinary pairing of eclectic, visionary virtuosi each known for the intellectual depth of his music, strong lyricism, and explosive firepower. Guitarist Al Di Meola leapt to prominence as a 19-year-old when Chick Corea recruited him for the pioneering jazz fusion band Return to Forever, a role he reprised recently on RTF's reunion tour. In the intervening decades, Di Meola reaffirmed his guitar mastery while mixing cutting-edge jazz with a wide swath of world music, particularly Latin. Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba blends his classical training with American jazz, trad Cuban music, and the Afro-Cuban hybrid to forge inventive, distinctly expressive music. Rubalcaba sat in with Di Meola's World Sinfonia on several tunes on last year's Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody. On "Destination Gonzalo" the guitar and piano kick up sparks as they nip and tuck at one another while flirting with an Afro-Cuban core, Rubalcaba dashing off a frenetic improv passage while Di Meola lashes meaty electric licks in all directions. Both sparkle on a gentler, soulful, and unique cover of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields," Di Meola evocatively bending strings while Rubalcaba's piano shimmers like diamonds. Expect a revelatory evening of fresh musical frontiers. $25-$40. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.332.5299. —Rick Mason

 
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