We tend to get obsessed with originators in music. Who invented rock 'n' roll? Who invented jazz? Who invented hip-hop? No one really knows the answers to these tiresome questions, but there are clear pioneers who affected certain art forms in their early stages. This week's live music picks include two such acts -- Yo La Tengo and the Last Poets -- as well as artists from Mexico, Long Beach and Nashville known for innovating their respective fields.
Friday, Nov. 13: Amanda Miguel at the Wells Fargo Center. Born in Argentina and elevated to star status in Mexico, Amanda Miguel has enjoyed a nearly 30-year career thanks to the strength of hits like "Él Me Mintió" and "Mi Buen Corazón." In the North Bay, where a large Latino population provides back-breaking muscle for the wine industry this time each year for harvest, her strong voice and uplifting songs should provide a timely comfort. She appears with her husband Diego Verdaguer. Details here.
Friday–Sunday, Nov. 13-15: Mill Valley Philharmonic, 'Rain Dance: The Orchestra and the Drought.' Planning a classical concert to specifically address California's drought might seem audacious, but Mill Valley Philharmonic director Laurie Cohen has assembled a program that's musically cohesive as well. The program includes a recitation of Coast Miwok prayer songs; Virgil Thomson's Soil Erosion, Drought and Devastation; Debussy's Nuages (“Clouds”); and Brahms' Symphony No. 3, written during a retreat along the Rhine river. In its 16-year existence, the Mill Valley Philharmonic has managed to keep all concerts free, nobly presenting quality performances with no barrier to entry. Details here.
Saturday, Nov. 14: Yo La Tengo at the Masonic. There's a one-two succession of songs closing out Yo La Tengo's 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One that represents the Hoboken trio's dual nature perfectly. "We're an American Band" starts as a cyclical, eerie number before exploding into an intense, four-minute guitar freakout; afterward, a sweet, non-ironic cover of the Carpenters' "My Little Corner of the World" serves as an aural dinner mint. Live an onstage, the early developers of what we know as indie rock explore these extremes with adroit skill and between-song wit -- to say nothing of their huge catalog of wonderful songs and covers -- proving why they're such a beloved institution. Details here.
Saturday, Nov. 14: The Last Poets at the Phoenix Theater. The Sugarhill Gang may have had the genre's first hit record with "Rapper's Delight," but the true origins of hip-hop are murky at best (even Blowfly, the stag-party purveyor of funky filth sometimes credited with inventing the form, continually directs platitudes to country singer Tex Williams and his 1947 hit "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," a rapid talking blues). Yet nobody can deny the path pioneered by the Last Poets. In 1970, the group released its debut album of percussion, politics and spoken-word, laying a formidable foundation for hip-hop. Members have come and gone over the years, but key members Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole join Babatunde under the Last Poets name this week, capping a day of spoken-word workshops and documentary film in a benefit for radio station KWTF. Details here.
Sunday, Nov. 15: Vince Staples at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Have you ever gone to a show solely for the opening act? I surely have, and I know at least three people planning to leave this show early. A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator and Danny Brown may be higher on the bill, but all eyes are on Vince Staples, a Long Beach rapper whose recent full-length Summertime '06 continues to inspire. Staples found himself in hot water last month by questioning the world's ubiquitous reverence for 1990s hip-hop, and through his subsequent explanations of his comments, managed to come out of the mini-scandal as smarter and funnier than he'd been known for. Details here.
Wednesday, Nov. 18: Sturgill Simpson at the Fox Theater. "Three chords and the truth" means many things to many performers, but for Sturgill Simpson, it means mixing no-nonsense Nashville twang with a type of ethereal mysticism usually associated with New Age and/or the jam-band scene. Case in point: Simpson's minor hit "Turtles All the Way Down," a title which anyone with an interest in cosmology should recognize. "Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT," Simpson sings, "they all changed the way I see, but love's the only thing that ever saved my life." Live, Simpson is a dynamic force, beating the life out of an acoustic guitar with a crackerjack backing band. Those who complain about "new country" will find what they're looking for. Details here.