This summer offers a couple of significant "first times since": It's the first time since the recession really hit, causing many to pull their belts taut, and the first since a new administration helped feed a renaissance in socially conscious, multicultural arts. Personal caution meets communal hope in many people's everyday lives now, and it affects our leisure choices along with everything else.
Yet the healing power of organized sound remains the same. All over the Southland, old favorites return and emerging sensations debut. New albums and late-career gems hit the Internet (and those remaining retail outlets). People will gather to dance and to sing along to their favorite artists. No one trend captures the mood of mid-2009, unless it's the bliss of having much from which to choose.
The following is a selection of some of the best bets for music-related entertainment in Southern California prior to Labor Day.
Redheads go Greek
A long line of women with fiery tresses and sharp minds has populated the imaginary seacoast of bohemia. Two who have made their mark in pop take the stage at the Greek Theatre this summer. Neko Case appears Friday, offering material from "Middle Cyclone," the sweeping, powerful spring release that took the indie favorite to a new level of fame. Tori Amos, the high priestess of mythopoetic pop, appears July 17 in support of her luscious new exploration of earthly pain and pleasure, "Abnormally Attracted to Sin."
And speaking of redheads, Willie Nelson has a new album coming out Aug. 25, "American Classic," a set of Tin Pan Alley tunes performed with the likes of Diana Krall and Norah Jones.
In midsummer swelter, there is no oasis like an air-conditioned theater. A slew of music documentaries and music-film happenings will keep Angelenos from breaking a sweat, even when they're tapping their feet in their seats.
From Thursday to June 21, the American Cinematheque will screen rare footage from "The Secret Policeman's Ball," a concert series dating to 1979, which was originally organized by Monty Python's John Cleese to benefit Amnesty International; featured artists include Bono, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel and Pete Townshend. "Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love," opening July 3, follows the Senegalese musician's hardships to promote a more tolerant side of Islam with his album "Egypt." And opening July 10, "Soul Power" documents the 1974 festival that brought together American R&B acts such as James Brown and the Spinners with other renowned artists, including Miriam Makeba, in Southern Africa.
The power of sisterhood
They played with Prince back in the day, but there's much more to the dynamic duo of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman -- a great discography of their own; studio work with luminaries such as Seal, Joni Mitchell and Madonna; film and television soundtracks, including that spooky-perfect one from "Heroes." Wendy & Lisa rarely play live, but they will do so Saturday at Largo, offering up wit, wisdom, laughs and probably some very special guests.
Is hard to do. But it's kinda fun to watch and can make for some intriguingly awkward music. This summer, the Jonas Brothers continue their bid for power pop legitimacy with a world tour supporting the trio's fourth album, "Lines, Vines, and Trying Times" -- a set inspired by the sexy Kings of Leon and guru-level hitmaster Neil Diamond and due out June 16. They'll have a friend in the now-brunet and (so she says) "edgier" Ashley Tisdale, who leaves behind "High School Musical" for a more rock-oriented sound on her second album, "Guilty Pleasure," set for release July 28.
Both Disney-related acts had better watch out for "American Idol" Jordin Sparks, though. At nearly 20, she's already leaping into maturity with "Battlefield," the Ryan Tedder-penned, Pat Benatar-inspired hit from her upcoming second album, out in July.
From the Windy City
Chicago's Wilco, on the occasion of its seventh studio effort, apparently has decided that trivialities like fancy album titles can be waved aside. The band's latest, a self-titled collection, isn't due for release until June 30 -- though it's already streaming online -- and it doesn't lead Jeff Tweedy and Co. down too many new roads. Still, "Wilco (the Song)," with its chorus of "Wilco will love ya, baby," offers a wink of assured humor. The group plays a stand at the Wiltern on June 22, 23 and 25. Italian beef sandwiches are optional.