Dan Bern and Bill Mallonee
8 p.m. May 14 at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $20. (859) 259-2754. www.beetnik.com.
On God Said No, just one of the socially minded snapshots that make up Dan Bern's fine 2001 album, New American Language, a request is made of the Almighty to travel back in time to confront Kurt Cobain, Hitler and Jesus (in that order) to change the fate and effect of their histories. The title, of course, explains the reply.
All of which might lead one to think the Iowa-born singer-songwriter is a ruminative scribe questioning one's role within a larger, uneasy world. Then we come to a song like Tiger Woods — which, along with a revisited version of God Said No — winds up on Bern's fine new recording Live in Los Angeles. It's far nastier — a blast of boasting and self-absorption ("It ain't braggin' if it's true") with a perspective that has become unintentionally askew. It was first written and recorded for Bern's album Fifty Eggs, which came out in 1998, when public estimation of Woods was, well, less tarnished than it is today.
Such are the corners of fascination for Bern, who performs Friday night at Natasha's. He has a tone, song structure and, at times, singing voice indicative of the great folk stylists of the '60s. He also has a gift for lyrical gab that is as literate as it is conversational. And in the vein of such masterful songsmiths as John Prine, which his music otherwise resembles not a whit, he can outline stark, dark story lines along with sagas that are human and humorous. Sometimes political, often personal, his music should shine profoundly in an intimate listening environment like Natasha's.
If you're planning to attend, definitely be on time. Natasha's has managed to snag Bill Mallonee as an opening act. Mallonee was the founder and guiding force for the great Athens, Ga., band Vigilantes of Love in the '90s. Though the ensemble recently regrouped, he still favors solo performances and a highly prolific recording catalog to display songs with subtle spiritual inspiration and deep country-folk charm that almost purposely reference Harvest-era Neil Young.
Just about all of Mallonee's recordings come recommended. I keep going back to 2004's Dear Life, which is as loose and luminous a folk record as Mallonee has ever made. But he continues to record and to release new tunes independently on his Web site. Since his last Lexington outing, a double-bill show at The Dame with Guy Forsyth, he has issued three download discs in his Works (in) Progress Administration series. The newest, subtitled Eternal Dawn & Gloaming, was made available on his Web site, www.volsounds.com, in March.
In short, any Bern fan missing out on Mallonee is missing out big.
A sure sign of summer's arrival is the opening of Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. The complex, which now consists of two amphitheaters, was to have initiated its 2010 season this week with a performance by Willie Nelson at its smaller, 4,100-seat PNC Pavilion. Alas, the country star canceled his show, along with a string of other dates, due to a torn rotator cuff. That means another great pop elder, Tony Bennett, will get things rolling on the PNC stage Friday night. (8 p.m. $56.05-$104.25. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.)
Riverbend's larger, namesake stage, which accommodates more than 20,000 patrons, gets rocking Monday with its yearly visit from Jimmy Buffett. That performance is sold out, as has been the case with nearly all of Buffett's past Riverbend outings.
Highlights from the rest of Riverbend's 2010 schedule include the Dave Matthews Band with Robert Earl Keen, June 15; Jeff Beck with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, June 23 at PNC Pavilion; Eric Clapton with Roger Daltrey, June 30; Santana with Steve Winwood, July 6; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Drive-By Truckers, July 15; Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, July 20; and Kings of Leon with The Black Keys and The Whigs, Sept. 4.
Tickets for all Riverbend concerts are available through TicketMaster.
Need a good excuse to skip town on a weeknight? How about two excuses? The Southgate House, 24 East Third Street in Newport, has a pair of killer shows lined up. Each is worth a road trip.
Monday marks the regional return of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-bred ensemble that champions brassy late '60s/early '70s-style soul and R&B, even though Jones' vocal charge on the new album I Learned the Hard Way is full of modern-day urgency. The Heavy will open. (9 p.m. $17 in advance, $20 day of show. (859) 431-2201. www.southgatehouse.com)
Tuesday brings in Chapman Stick specialists Tony Levin and Michael Bernier with electric/acoustic drummer Pat Mastelotto in the form of an industrious, prog-rock-inspired trio called Stick Men. I will talk to Levin, a mainstay member of King Crimson (as is Mastelotto) and Peter Gabriel's band, in Sunday's Life + Arts section. (8 p.m. $20 advance, $25 day of show.)
The fun was to have continued into Wednesday with the Southgate House return of Grant Lee Phillips. That show, however, has been canceled.
The full Monte
Finally, it's Monte Montgomery time again. The acclaimed Austin, Texas, guitar stylist and pop songsmith, who has enjoyed an especially devout fan base in Lexington for more than a decade, will be back in town Thursday to play Natasha's. Chicago singer- songwriter Daphne Willis, touring behind an impressive Vanguard album titled What to Say, will open. (8 p.m. $15.)