It's one of the most heartbreaking realities of the digital music era: When the newest crop of rising indie rock stars gear up for a tour of small clubs, it's often a "one and done" affair. Bands graduate to the mid-size theaters or opening slots on arena tours at the speed of a cable Internet connection these days, and if college students want to catch the best bands for minimum cash in an intimate setting, they've simply got to stay on top of upstart new acts and their web-propelled debuts from minute to minute.
In order to give Money College readers the edge and share my passion for the best rising acts in indie music, I've decided to start offering a round-up of the hottest bands touring the small club circuit every couple of months. All of these shows clock in around the $15 range, and you'd best jump on them quickly. They'll most likely sell out early, and chances are that these bands, bolstered by blog hype and copious internet buzz, won't grind it out in the minor leagues for long.
Click on each artist's name for a link to their full tour itinerary and some key tracks at their MySpace or official website.
Listening to Pat Grossi's meticulous compositions as Active Child, it comes as little surprise that the L.A. native came up in the church as a wide-eyed choirboy. Grossi's celestial tenor vocals and regal harp flourishes would sound at home hovering in the flying buttresses of a Gothic cathedral, but his skittering laptop beats and humming synthesizers sneak in the modern chaos of the world outside the reliquary. Check out this hyper-ambitious synth-pop solo project as he opens for ex-Unicorns outfit Islands and Secret Machines side project School of Seven Bells throughout the summer and early fall.
For fans of: Animal Collective, M83, Joanna Newsom
Tour info: Coast to coast, June 18 – October 22
The swirling fuzz-curtain and patchouli tang of '60s-era psyechedelia and garage rock seem to hold a special appeal for Australian bands, but on debut LP Innerspeaker, Tame Impala pique up the ears as the first Aussies in a long while who manage to nail the alienation, anger and confused longing that underpinned the influential "Nuggets" compilations instead of just mindlessly aping the guitar squeals and pounding, treble-heavy drums of the original psychedelic revolution.
For fans of: Cream, Wolfmother, Apples in Stereo
Tour info: Northeast and West Coast, June 21 – July 31
That's South African for "the answer," but if Die Antwoord are the answer, I'm not sure I want to know the question. This South African crew turned heads and inspired "WTF?" moments all last year by delicately straddling the line between a rap version of the cliche-skewering art school self-consciousness of Art Brut ("F***, this is, like, the coolest song I ever heard in my whole life," lead vocalist Ninja gushes between verses on lead single "Enter the Ninja") and genuine head-bobbing hip-hop energy. Die Antwoord now seem poised to either blossom into the next M.I.A. or implode in spectacular fashion; either way, catch them up close while you've got the chance.
For fans of: M.I.A., Bonde Do Role
Tour info: Northeast, Midwest and West Coast, June 26 – July 24
David Byrne of Talking Heads recently posited that bands subconsciously design their sounds around the venues they dream of one day playing. If that's the case, then Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells must be working their way up to a headlining gig on the International Space Station. On their recent debut LP Treats, their massive, punishing wall of drum machines and Queen-style harmonized guitars hoist up surpisingly delicate female vocals and coy melodies miles over the heads of your average dunder-headed arena rockers, creating a widescreen experience that sounds nearly interstellar in scope. Sleigh Bells' sweaty live sing-alongs are already establishing their reputation as a top-notch live act, so don't miss their summer tour of intimate venues across the United States.
For fans of: Girl Talk, Ratatat, Crystal Castles
Tour info: Coast to coast, July 1 – August 14
Spanish DJ outfit Delorean take on the lush, open-armed Balearic dance music sounds that bands like Air France broke into the electronic mainstream over the last two years and add even more pop melody and song structure, coaxing club music further out of the rave and onto the beach. Think Euro-dance with less drums-'n'-ecstasy and more vocals-'n'-champagne.
Tour info: East Coast & West Coast, July 10 – September 2 (more dates to come)
For fans of: Justice, Hot Chip, MGMT, Phoenix
Golden-throated Los Angeles folk-pop outfit Local Natives spent last year exploring and refining the Afrobeat influences of Vampire Weekend, sans the arched eyebrows and pithy puns, to create their 2010 debut LP Gorilla Manor. Rollicking, buoyant snare drum patterns drag along the melancholy vocal harmonies and distant horn flourishes, searching for a balance between angsty Western influences and breezy (and trendy) aspirations toward highlife and African pop.
For fans of: Band of Horses, Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear
Tour info: Coast to coast, July 18 – August 28
Name-checking totally random genres and influences for sheer chutzpah remains a favorite MySpace tic for self-aware indie rock bands, but when Best Coast brand themselves as part gospel on their own page, I believe they actually mean it. Their simple, straightforward lo-fi girl-group pop betrays a spiritual searching process that most bands skirt with po-mo wordplay or instrumental antics; they're still struggling to shrug off the weight of their love for all things aw-shucks retro, but it sounds like they're in love with the process all the same, and they'd love for you to join in and sing with them while they figure it out. That disarming openness, free of maudlin confessionalism or ironic defense, probably has something to do with the waves they're making in major publications with only one EP, late 2009's Make You Mine, to their name.
For fans of: '60s girl-group pop, The Shangri-Las, Concretes
Tour info: Northeast & Midwest, July 18 – September 30
New York boy/girl duo Cults sure seem to work hard to keep themselves shrouded in a fog of alluring mystery: "There's more information on the wrapper of a candy bar," Pitchfork memorably wrote in March, "than there is on the Internet about Cults." Nevertheless, their apparent lack of desire to court any audience whatsoever (no MySpace or web page to speak of) didn't prevent their single "Go Outside" from absolutely blowing up the internet earlier this year. No wonder - "Go Outside" blends an indelible, Ronettes-worthy girl-group melody with a brooding, synth-fueled breakdown and a distinctly modern sense of unease. Go see them support Chicago experimentalists Maps & Atlases this summer, then report back to me that they really exist. Pics or it didn't happen.
For fans of: Camera Obscura, Peter Bjorn and John
Tour info: Coast to coast, July 18 – September 12
Steven Kent is the Dollar Store Dilettante, a blase lad who knows more about saving a buck and stoking his hipster credentials than all his editors combined. His Money College column runs Sundays; send tips and best MP3s of Pitchfork bands to Steven at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to catch summer's hottest club concerts for cheap