Die Antwoord, a South African hip-hop group fronted by a sneering white man (Ninja) and a sleepy-eyed white woman (Yo-Landi Vi$$er) with some of the worst haircuts imaginable. In the past, Ninja and Yo-Landi have appeared in other groups, under other names, raising certain metatextual questions: How seriously should we take Die Antwoord? Are they a joke? (Listen to "Beat Boy," the group's eight-minute ode to hermaphrodites, clone sex, and menstrual blood. They're probably joking.) It's beside the point, anyway: the beats are real enough, homemade and gleefully trashy, and Ninja's thick Afrikaans accent, whether an affectation or not, twists his already bizarre lyrics into something like sculpture. Onstage and on wax, the group has more attitude than it knows what to do with. Die Antwoord may thrill or mystify you, but they're unlikely to leave you cold.
Old Crow Medicine Show, a Nashville string band whose music owes no obvious debt to anything recorded after the Truman administration. It's hard to overstate the charm of OCMS's patient, bittersweet songs, which stand astride generous foundations of banjo and acoustic guitar. The group is best known for "Wagon Wheel," an aching paean to love and travel that OCMS fiddler Ketch Secor fleshed out from a tossed-off Bob Dylan outtake (Dylan and Secor now share songwriting credits on the track). In "Wagon Wheel," as with all the band's best songs, high harmonies emerge unexpectedly from the mix, locking the song in whichever lobe of your brain keeps track of wistfulness.
You're probably planning to see:
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, who appears with his backing band/supergroup Atoms for Peace. (Among the Atoms are legendary producer Nigel Godrich and hyperkinetic Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea.) On record, Yorke crafts moody, cerebral tunes that land somewhere between rock and IDM; in concert, his songs tend to gain a bit of bite.
There's also French electro-pop outfit Phoenix, whose Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, built on swooning choruses and chiming, candy-colored riffs, was one of 2009's most acclaimed albums; and Gorillaz, the unfailingly weird all-cartoon band into which Blur singer Damon Albarn has put most of his energy this decade. Gorillaz shows inevitably involve some kind of multimedia spectacle, but the real draw is the music, anchored by Albarn's keen pop instincts and love of all sounds greasy and sinister.
But we also recommend:
Yann Tiersen, a French composer best known to American audiences for his work on the Amélie film score. Stone-faced and frequently turtlenecked, Tiersen may be as close to a rock musician as someone can get while still calling themselves a "composer." His pieces revolve around fleet, eloquent chord progressions that travel emotional arcs every bit as recognizable as the ones you'll hear in an indie-rock playlist; Tiersen is essentially writing pop songs without lyrics, and the audience claps giddily along. Half the fun of a Tiersen show comes from wondering which instrument his ensemble will use next: accordion, piano, and violin form the backbone of most pieces, but banjos, xylophones, toy pianos, and typewriters have all been known to make an appearance. Catch his set and come late to Gorillaz.