Whether you’re looking to see local talent in an intimate club, experience a chart-topping pop star in an arena or dance at an outdoor festival, there are plenty of concerts to look forward to in the Bay Area this fall. KQED has you covered with 10 must-see shows.
And please remember, as joyous as it is to gather with strangers to see live music, the pandemic isn’t over, and artists are touring at great personal and financial risk. Be mindful and mask up, and spend your dollars at the merch booth if you can.
San Francisco Pride gets all the glory, but we get to celebrate LGBTQ+ identity all over again three months later across the Bay Bridge. The smaller but mighty Pridefest Oakland features some musical heavy hitters. This year’s headliner is the queen of New Orleans bounce music herself, Big Freedia. After grinding it out on the queer party circuit for years, she’s recently risen to mainstream prominence thanks to Beyoncé, who featured her on “Formation” and then again on this year’s song of the summer, “Break My Soul.” She’s joined by Crystal Waters, whose iconic ’90s house tracks “Gypsy Woman” and “100% Pure Love” continue to light up dance floors at queer parties worldwide. Percussionist, singer and electronic producer Madame Gandhi will perform her liberatory pop as well.
With Madison McFerrin
The Regency Ballroom
Sept. 17, doors: 7:30pm, show: 8:30pm
Hailing from France and drawing on their Afro-Cuban heritage, twin sisters Ibeyi make a deeply spiritual form of electronic pop that pays homage to the West African Yoruba faith they were raised in. Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz sing in French, Spanish, Yoruba and English about magic, healing, miracles, blood ties and spiritual bonds. At Regency Ballroom, they perform with Madison McFerrin, a graceful neo-soul vocalist and daughter of musical wizard and NEA Jazz Master Bobby McFerrin.
Pier 80, San Francisco
Sept. 24 and 25
Single day: $199.99+, weekend pass: $399.99+
The new music festival Portola brings together OG stars of electronic music with new chart-toppers and standout indie favorites. The Chemical Brothers and Flume are the headliners, and the rest of the bill features a well-curated, diverse lineup. There are ultra-hip house music DJs and producers like Peggy Gou, Kaytranada, Yaeji and Channel Tres; cult pop stars M.I.A., Caroline Polachek, Charlie XCX and PinkPantheress; genre-bending singer-songwriters Toro y Moi, Arca, James Blake and Yves Tumor; hip-hop innovator (and San Jose native) DJ Shadow and too many other artists to list. There’s no big, mainstream EDM at Portola—it celebrates the more alternative and experimental side of DJ and electronic music culture.
With Briana Marela
Sept. 25, doors: 6:30pm, show: 8pm
Japanese psych-rock band Kikagaku Moyo make perfect road trip music. Their guitar solos shimmer, chimes add a celestial glow and the occasion sitar or wah pedal swirls through the composition. Singing softly in Japanese, the group evokes a more amped-up version of the Beatles in their acid trip era, when George Harrison traveled to India to study transcendental meditation. Kikagaku Moyo’s profile has risen amid a psychedelic renaissance led Stateside by their Texan peers Khruangbin. Sadly, the group recently announced an amicable breakup as they go on to pursue other projects. Their show at the Warfield might be the last time they play San Francisco in this incarnation.
It’s always a treat to see Kehlani at a hometown show, where fans who’ve been following the singer's career since their days at Oakland School for the Arts sing along to every word. The Oakland-raised R&B star has spent the past few years maturing as a lyricist, and they’ve described their latest album, blue water road, as a return to making the kind of music they want to listen to instead of satisfying the demands of the market. The more honest approach works. With understated, moody production and an emphasis on Kehlani’s gently raspy voice, blue water road captivates with its vivid vignettes of “it’s complicated” situationships, queer desire, questionable decisions and budding romance. Even at a big arena show, Kehlani has a gift for connecting with their audience heart-to-heart.
The mainstream music world recently got acquainted with Bomba Estéreo’s glittering, neon-lit pop when they featured on Bad Bunny’s new album, Un Verano Sin Ti. The Colombian duo helped the Puerto Rican reggaeton star land a softer sound on “Ojitos Lindos,” but they’ve been combining indie pop with global rhythms since their debut in 2006. Their latest album, Deja, mixes elements of salsa, cumbia and folk music with bright synths and propulsive grooves. Their Greek Theatre show promises a tropical dance party under the Northern California redwoods.
The Ritz, San Jose
Oct. 19, 7pm
Superorganism’s songs bounce around with a hyperactive, childlike energy that unlocks listeners’ inner desire to play. (Case in point, their NPR Tiny Desk Concert from back in 2018 included a band member whose job it was to blow bubbles and make splashing sounds in a bucket of water.) On their newest album, World Wide Pop, the band takes on human unity in the face of alien invaders, space travel and more mundane topics like not fitting in with the latest trends. Their show at the Ritz should be a silly, good time that encourages us to expand our imaginations.
Mountain Theater, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley
Bay Area music fans are lucky to have so many gorgeous parks that double as venues for live music. One of the lesser-known destinations is the summit of Mount Tam, a uniquely gorgeous, lush oasis with epic views of the Pacific Ocean and the entire Bay Area. Once a year, Sound Summit invites fans to enjoy some mellow indie rock on the peak as part of a fundraiser for Roots & Branches Conservancy, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of natural gems like Mount Tam. This year’s headliners include The War On Drugs, alternative country singer Faye Webster, folk act Fruit Bats and Americana-soul sextet Wreckless Strangers.
With Travis Thompson
August Hall, San Francisco
Nov. 4, 7pm
After two years of pandemic living and too many national crises to count, everyone is tired of pretending to be OK. Ever the savvy songwriter, Rexx Life Raj gives voice to the many messy stages of grief on his latest album, The Blue Hour. The Berkeley-raised rap star penned it after he tragically lost both of his parents to health issues in 2021. As he began to open up about his grieving process, he received an outpouring of support from fans who also had something or someone to mourn—which, after the last two years, is a lot of us. The project illuminates one of Raj’s greatest strengths: finding life lessons in even the biggest difficulties and giving his listeners the motivation to keep pushing. His August Hall show is the last one of his Blue Hour tour, and it should be a cathartic homecoming.
Chase Center, San Francisco
Nov. 12, doors: 7pm
Hit play on Lizzo’s latest album, Special, (or any of her projects, really), and you’ll instantly feel like you’re a part of her fun, free-spirited girl squad, ready to take on the world. Her danceable, expansive pop brims with an infectious confidence, and champions female friendship rather than competition. Not to mention she puts on a killer show—few in entertainment can say they have the ability to twerk while playing the flute, or belt out soulful vocal runs while performing athletic choreography. Her Chase Center show should be a blast, and support from high-femme Atlanta rap star Latto will make it that much better.
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