Thursday, Aug. 13
Today's underground bands refer to “getting weird” like it's a badge of honor, still inhabiting that aging rock 'n' roll fantasy land where regularly ingesting handfuls of psychotropic drugs ensures instant credibility. However, few of these people are genuinely wigged-out, because if they were, they'd be too paranoid to promote their music on MySpace (“Rupert Murdoch is spying on me, man!”). In short, it's easier to idolize Syd Barrett or Roky Erickson than it is to be them. Drug use aside, a glance at the career of New Orleans R&B stalwart Dr. John reveals an idiosyncratic character that fully embraced all of the psychedelic era's weirdness, emerging on the other side with sanity intact. He may not attain the mythical status of certain notorious burnouts, but his debut, Gris-Gris, has stood the test of time as one of the most unique, wild albums of the late '60s. Revered blues harmonica player James Cotton opens with his “Superharp” Band at Belly Up Tavern ($40).
Friday, Aug. 14
This is how wide a net Depeche Mode has cast over the mainstream—one of my eighth-grade Pop Warner coaches used to blast Ultra in his truck when we were driving to games. Interpret as you see fit. Future one-hit-wonders Peter, Bjorn & John open this arena-rock blowout at Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre ($35.50).
What is it about San Diego that repels certain artists? Well, in the case of former resident The Gaslamp Killer, it was the lack of a vibrant beat scene. Due to his floor-clearing performances in the Gaslamp District as a burgeoning DJ, the man formerly known as Willow migrated to L.A., where he's gained serious attention as a key figure in the Dublab and Brainfeeder collectives. Anybody who comes this close to the dusted brilliance of DJ Shadow's '90s work gets an OK in my book, and TGK touches on splatter-movie ambiance and grimy rock 'n' roll for an altogether darker experience. He also loves dubstep, so this set with local DJs One Man Jazz, Edgartronic, Austin Speed and CRMNL will likely be less organic than some might prefer. You win some, you lose some. At Brick by Brick ($8).
Saturday, Aug. 15
By now, everyone knows the drill with The Flaming Lips. Lead singer Wayne Coyne has gone from an acid-munching Long John Silver's employee to become the music world's most lovable workaholic. Multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd composed some of the best pop music of the '90s while in the throes of a heroin addiction, which he eventually squashed. Bassist Michael Ivins stoically sits on a stool and plays along, trying to pretend he's not a total freak. The three developed the most celebratory live show in recent memory, with drummer Kliph Scurlock in tow. Possible occurrences at a Lips show include: Coyne climbing inside a giant synthetic bubble and walking atop the crowd; a stage inhabited by fans in giant animal costumes completely losing their shit; tears of joy. You gotta see 'em at least once, even if they've developed a detestable jam-band-like cult following. Show follows the last post at the Del Mar Racetrack.
It's always crucial to treasure a great metal band when one comes along. Surely, Oakland lifers High on Fire are at the top of the current pile—their Surrounded by Thieves sits alongside the first four Sabbath albums, Motorhead's Ace of Spades and Slayer's Reign in Blood as some of the all-time accessible-yet-punishing greats. To put it simply: They destroy, and you shall bow to their glory. Threshold-testing shredders Earthless and '80s throwback thrash combo Early Man open at The Casbah ($18).
Sunday, Aug. 16
I always thought Pantera's Phil Anselmo was the king of metal meatheads. How could a heroin addict find the time to shoot up black tar and 'roids? (Note: Anselmo's steroid use is conjecture; his heroin use isn't.) But Anselmo cleaned up his act in the last decade, committing the majority of his time to fronting doom-blues cult act Down, who thankfully lessen Pantera's unbridled rage in favor of southern nuances. Somehow, they're the headlining act on a bill with sludge legends Melvins, the unofficial inventors of grunge and contenders for the most influential avant-metal band in American history. North Carolina's Weedeater are also on hand to trudge through in-the-red dirges along the lines of Eyehategod, as are Danava, whose impressive prog-metal summons Rush and early Metallica. Top to bottom, one of the better heavy shows of the season. At House of Blues ($24).
Tuesday, Aug. 18
Two groups returning hip-hop to its minimal origins, Clipse and The Cool Kids employ that golden-age, 808-style boom-bap to very different effect. The former initiated the dubious “coke-rap” trend earlier in the decade, but armed with The Neptunes' gleaming-spaceship thump, the combination of forward-looking sonics and drug-slinging fantasies led to two of the better mainstream rap releases of the decade ('02s Lord Willin' and '06s Hell Hath No Fury). Chicago's Cool Kids specialize in hipster-hop throwbacks to the glory days of '88, even though they were still toddlers when Strictly Business came out. I wasn't impressed with the Bake Sale EP, but I'm starting to come around after hearing their latest mixtape, Gone Fishin', which slightly breaks from the convenient formula. Local hip-hop acts Vokab Kompany and Dom Kennedy open at 'Canes ($20).