Fighting off the urge to enter hibernation this winter? Live music might do the trick, and there’s no shortage of performances to look forward to around Boston, from hip-hop and pop to rock and jazz. Here are 10 of our top picks, all worth braving the cold over the next few months. (No judgment if you show up in snow boots.)
Ezra Furman's 'Intimacy' Residency
Jan. 7, 14, 21, 28
Ezra Furman’s take on rock 'n' roll careens through decades of musical influences, repurposing elements from retro pop, doo-wop and classic rock for modern self-expression. Last August’s “Twelve Nudes,” is a furious, frayed-at-the-edges punk record; 2018’s “Transangelic Exodus” was a concept album about running from the law with an angel accomplice/lover; before that, she released a covers EP that took on the works of everyone from Jackie Wilson to LCD Soundsystem. In other words, there’s no telling what Furman might draw from with her stripped-back “Intimacy” residency, which promises pared-back acoustic performances of old favorites alongside new, unreleased material.
O’Brien’s Pub, Allston
Devin McKnight, former guitarist of Speedy Ortiz and Grass is Green, bumps his noise-rock tendencies up a few notches while taking center stage with his own project, Maneka. Inventive guitar squeals and grungy arrangements keep songs jostling along unpredictably, balanced by McKnight’s steady, drawling vocals, which address his experiences navigating the indie-rock world as a person of color. Locals Lady Pills and Rata open the show with art- and psych-rock in English and Spanish.
Brighton Music Hall
In her post-Chairlift solo venture, Caroline Polachek doesn’t deviate too far from the pop sound she became known for, but this time she’s outfitted it with some flashy cyborg parts. “Pang,” her first album released under her own name, uses a bit of PC Music mischief to punch up an ‘80s pop glow: glitchy transitions and AutoTune-glazed snippets heighten the tension on songs about love, longing, and all the little anguished moments in between. Her vocals are bursting with feeling, but there’s still a smirk behind some of the best moments, audible in tracks like the brilliantly-named “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings.”
Big Night Live, Boston's West End
Kamasi Washington is a jazz saxophonist, but these days, he’s surrounded by an aura of pop celebrity. It’s partially fueled by his high-profile collaborations — he’s responsible for much of the jazz inflection throughout Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and featured on tracks by Run The Jewels and St. Vincent — but just as much by his work refurbishing jazz traditions with modern flourishes and funk grooves. His improvisational style is accessible while exciting, fueled by powerful crescendos and an ensemble of longtime friends that all work on the same wavelength.
Charles Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Science
Dutch ReBelle first became known around Boston as a hip-hop artist, but in more recent years she’s drawn elements from dancehall, R&B and reggae (among other influences) to build a sound that’s not so easily contained. She’s quick with a rhyme and a punchline, but her club-ready tracks give way to more contemplative moments, too. With almost a decade’s worth of material behind her now, she’ll have plenty of options to curate a unique night at the museum.
Great Scott, Allston
Ella O’Connor Williams has held a growing presence in the Boston indie scene for years; she started kicking song ideas around at local shows when she was just 14 and has been making warm, reverberant folk-rock under the Squirrel Flower moniker since 2015. Her Polyvinyl debut, “I Was Born Swimming,” comes out on Jan. 31, with the official hometown release show in March, when she stops at Great Scott after wrapping up a tour of Europe.
The Paradise, Boston
In one night, a convenient sampler platter of emo revival up-and-comers: Headliner Oso Oso’s introvert-with-an-amplifier stylings and sincere attempts at optimism add up to a mellower, more mature sound than the genre’s usually brought to mind in recent years. But while the openers aren’t all equally chill, that’s not a bad thing — especially when it comes to Prince Daddy and the Hyena, whose explosive live performances are exactly as ridiculous as their band name. Earlier openers Just Friends bring brass into the equation without becoming quite ska-adjacent, while Sincere Engineer’s steely vocals and raw storytelling recall acts like Cayetana and Camp Cope. It’s a lot to take in, but as lineups go, this one is pure chaotic-good.
Boston's TD Garden
Billie Eilish’s 2019 debut, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” offers an odd, imaginative foundation for a different kind of pop, layering raised-on-SoundCloud beats with whispery vocals and moments of satisfying brashness. At the same time, it manages to be both playfully goth-y and legitimately dark, sarcastic and sincere. The music alone points to interesting ideas about where pop music might go next, but paired with a defined visual aesthetic that mashes together Gen-Z trendiness and horror movie gags, it promises to turn a stadium performance into a memorable spectacle.
Lady Lamb: An Evening With Strings
City Winery, Boston
Not every show is best experienced while seated quietly, but Lady Lamb’s intricate lyricism deserves a close listen, whether she’s detailing personal moments on her latest releases or revisiting the playful observations of her earlier material. In the past, she’s built performances around a simple guitar-and-banjo setup, sometimes backed by a rock band for extra electric snarl, but in this case, she’s also accompanied by a full string section, adding another dimension with a touch of drama.
Sampa the Great
The Sinclair, Cambridge
Zambian-Australian songwriter and rapper Sampa the Great honed her sound in jazz and hop-hop freestyle sessions in Sydney, which all clicks into place with a single listen to 2019’s “The Return” or 2018’s “Energy.” Both are dense with ideas and textures, but she brings it all together while zipping from hip-hop and playful pop to soul. Over chillhop beats and horn flourishes, she takes on topics both worldly and personal, from the meaning of “home” to her experiences carving out her own artistic identity.