New York

8 concerts to catch in August

From l-r: Mavis Staples (Chris Strong); Ben Rice (Drew Reynolds); Jeff Lynne (By Egghead06/Wikimedia Commons); Beach House (Shawn Brackbill)

If you haven’t been overwhelmed by this summer’s music concert offerings yet, then August has plenty more in store for you. My picks for this month — indie rock, ’80s New Wave, R&B, classic rock country, dream pop — are a bit all over the place, but that’s what makes it so much fun.

For a slightly older crowd from a previous generation, the Lost ’80s Live! concert at the Amphitheater at Coney Island (August 3) is sure to bring back memories of big hair and shoulder pads. A who’s who of early MTV faves—among them A Flock of Seagulls, Naked Eyes, Wang Chung, Nu Shooz and Animotion —will perform all their classic predominantly-synthesizer-driven pop hits. As a Gen X-er who came of age during the ’80s, this show is my Woodstock and Lollapalooza all rolled into one!

Flash forward to this generation of young music fans, the second annual DeGraw Fest will take place at Brooklyn’s Littlefield Performance and Art Space (August 4). While it doesn’t sport the big-name stars at those larger, higher-priced music festivals, DeGraw Fest gathers local talent from the worlds of indie rock, pop, folk, and Americana—among those acts scheduled are Queue, Eighty Ninety, Elliot & the Ghost, Kevin Daniel, and Common Jack. The festival is the brainchild of Ben Rice, himself a musician and producer, as a showcase of artists who have recorded at his studio Degraw Sound, located in the Gowanus; there’s also a photo exhibit, beer specials, and a pop-up taco stand.

The long-running Lincoln Center Out of Doors rolls on through the month of August with free eclectic programming in music and dance.  The main highlights are the legendary Mavis Staples (August 11) and relative country music newcomer Margo Price (August 12).  Staples cemented her status a music treasure going back several decades first as a member of the Staple Singers and then later as a solo artist; well into her 70s, the icon is still preaching message of hope and empowerment. Since her 2016 debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Price has been touted as the next big thing in country music. You don’t want to miss two critically-acclaimed artists under the gorgeous setting of Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park.

Also in Manhattan, Jeff Lynne’s ELO is headlining Madison Square Garden for a two-night stand (August 21 and 22). Throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) was a staple of rock and pop radio with hits like “Mr. Blue Sky,” “Telephone Line,” “Living Thing,” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”—songs that still endure today; the brilliant Lynne not only found success as the brains behind ELO but also as a member of the Traveling Wilburys and a hit producer for the likes of George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. You would have to “turn to stone” if you never liked ELO’s catchy, Beatles-like rock hits.

Another veteran act of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Michael McDonald, visits the South Street Seaport (August 21), on the heels of his latest album Wide Open, his first release of new material since 2000. Having made a name for himself with the Doobie Brothers and later as a solo artist, the soulful McDonald has enjoyed a career renaissance with the successful Motown album, the hilarious Yacht Rock web series, and his guest appearance with friend Kenny Loggins on Thundercat’s “Show You the Way.” Expect McDonald to roll out the hits (“I Keep Forgettin’”, “What a Fool Believes”) and stuff from the new record with that signature husky, soulful voice of his.

The Baltimore indie dream-pop act Beach House is making a stop at Kings Theatre (August 23). Since the group’s debut self-titled album from 2007, the duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally has built a durable career that has spanned seven studio albums, including their latest, appropriately-titled 7. From early on, I always felt there was something special about Beach House when I first heard about them in 2007 from an NPR music online post; their shows are as mesmerizing as the music. “We came to realize that we had this amazing chemistry musically together,” Scally once told me in an interview a decade ago about him and Legrand forming the group. “We just started making songs and before we knew it…we were just really enjoying ourselves.” More than 10 years later, their fans are enjoying the music, too.

In what has now become a musical institution here in Brooklyn, Afropunk Fest returns to Commodore Barry Park (August 25 and 26) with always a stellar artist lineup and a sense of pride and activism. Headlining this years installment includes Erkyah Badu, Janelle Monae, Miguel, Fantastic Negrito, Kay Jaden Smith, Kaytranada, and Ibeyi. Especially in this current political and social climate where people of color continue to be marginalized and blatantly discriminated against, Afropunk Fest’s intentions aren’t just to entertain but to open people’s minds and empower them to action. The festival is sold out but passes are available on StubHub and Craigslist.

If you prefer to be outdoors and hear music at a cool and intimate performance space—not to mention for free—Union Pool delivers on all three things. This year it brings out another installment of Summer Thunder with Saturday afternoon shows along with DJs, drink specials, and delicious food courtesy of El Diablos Tacos. Performing this month are Miriam and Nobody’s Babies (August 4), Combo Chimbita (August 11), A. Savage + Ryley Walker and Bill McKay (August 18), and Joe Bataan (August 25).
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