The List: Columbus concerts we hope to see if delta doesn’t intervene

Events are moving forward as planned for now, but with coronavirus cases reaching highs not seen since April, it all feels a bit tenuous

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Mdou Moctar

Even just a month ago, this coming fall felt full of promise. COVID numbers were on the decline, vaccines were readily available to all who wanted one, and the city was hit with a slew of killer concert bookings following more than a year of analog silence. 

And now? Well, now things feel a bit more… tenuous. On Wednesday, the state reported 2,167 new cases of COVID — the highest number reported since April. This ongoing spike has been largely attributed to the delta variant, which is more highly transmissible than earlier coronavirus strains. And there’s potentially worse news on the horizon, with the lambda variant (which reportedly shows resistance to the vaccine) and the delta plus variant (totally not worth the monthly subscription fee) starting to pop up on the radar. 

But, at least for now, we’re going to approach the coming weeks with a degree of hope. So mask up, get vaccinated (a must if you want to attend some of these concerts) and keep your fingers crossed that we get to see all of these shows, presented here in chronological order.

Wilco at Wonderbus on Aug. 29

Years ago, I watched Wilco perform at Otto’s, a small club in DeKalb, Illinois. The concert took place not long after singer Jeff Tweedy had finished a stint in rehab for an addiction to painkillers, but what struck me most was the condition of the denim jacket he wore, which had a pronounced rip right where his guitar strap hung, suggesting countless hours spent with the instrument slung over his shoulder. It’s a dedication to craft that continues to reveal itself in Wilco’s music, which has replaced the restless search of early albums such as A Ghost Is Born with a growing content evident on releases such as Ode to Joy, from 2019. We all grow up sometime, but not many sound as good doing so.

Faye Webster at A&R on Sept. 7

The Atlanta singer’s fourth and best album, I Know I’m Funny haha, is more revealing and assured than its title might suggest, Webster working her way through a series of stately, country-tinged ballads filled with matter-of-fact observations. “If you’re not around, I’m missing a whole half of me,” she sings on “Half of Me,” one of a handful of songs that centers on the precariousness of love. 

Japanese Breakfast at Skully’s on Sept. 14

On Jubilee, released in June, Michelle Zauner, the creative force behind Japanese Breakfast, embraces joy. In interviews, Zauner celebrated the album as a fresh start following years spent writing about grief, and the record’s release date was even pushed back to try and free it from the heaviness of the COVID era, which, hey, good effort. The LP's celebratory feel exhibits itself in everything from the musical freedom embraced by Zauner (songs flit from electro-pop to orchestral indie-rock) to the lyrics, which, while far from maudlin, consistently embrace the promise of a brighter future. “I wanna believe in something,” Zauner sings on “Be Sweet,” and that need echoes throughout.

Mdou Moctar at Ace of Cups on Sept. 15

Every few years critics claim that guitar rock is dead, often ignoring the fact that it might simply be mutating, appearing in new forms and on different continents (not unlike a certain... never mind). On new album Afrique Victime, released in May on Matador Records, the Tuareg guitarist stretches the limits of the form for which he previously professed ignorance. “I don’t know what rock is exactly,” Moctar said in the past, and he approaches the band’s new album sounding untethered from both the weight of the genre's history and any of its present expectations. This is particularly true of songs like the album-opening “Chismiten,” where the guitarist’s fluid soloing gradually approaches transcendence. 

Phoebe Bridgers at Express Live on Sept. 18

On “I Know the End,” off of full-length Punisher, Bridgers pushes the throttle down for an apocalyptic road song that manages to capture the desperate climate of recent years. “Windows down, scream along/To some America first rap-country song,” she sings. “A slaughterhouse, an outlet mall/Slot machines, fear of God.” Eventually these words give way to a primal scream, Bridgers going full Aphex Twin video as the instruments tumble around her like debris in a storm. It’s a rare outburst on a graceful, largely downtempo album that is, at turns, sad and funny, the sharp-eyed songwriter presenting a wealth of intimate details that collectively offer a big-picture view. 

Julien Baker at the Newport on Sept. 28

“I wish I could get all the sad songs out in one chunk,” the Memphis-born singer and songwriter said during a 2016 concert at Big Room Bar. “But they’re all sad songs, and the chunk is my set.” Not much has changed in the five years since, with new album Little Oblivions finding the musician continuing to press at accumulated bruises. “What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?” she sings on “Hardline.” But even if the mood is frequently dark, Baker, whose big voice has never sounded better, consistently draws out golden hues in the music, projecting a sense that there can be beauty in finding a way to simply survive.

Margo Price at Express Live outdoors on Oct. 10

The country belter experienced an impossibly difficult 2020 that included an extended stint in quarantine with a newborn while her husband battled a coronavirus infection. “He had breathing problems every night,” Price wrote in a candid essay in Vogue. “I could barely find rest myself, I was so worried. I listened for his breath while he was sleeping. Did I have it? Did the kids have it? Were they going to die in the middle of the night?” Fortunately, both Price and her husband made it to the other side — a recurring theme in the singer’s music, which is filled with tales of survival that Price delivers in a brassy, been-there-done-that tone.

Lucy Dacus at the Newport on Oct. 12

Arguably the sharpest songwriter working today, Dacus reaches new peaks on the recently released Home Video, an album that narrows in on adolescent relationships (both romantic and platonic friendships), exploring these past connections as a means to better establish who she is in this moment. Throughout, the writing is graceful and incisive, Dacus often adopting a near-conversational tone that suits the clear-eyed writing. “You called me cerebral/I didn’t know what you meant,” she sings on the shimmering “Brando.” “But now I do/Would it have killed you/To call me pretty instead?” Expect the Newport to shrink to bedroom size on this night.

Titus Andronicus at Ace of Cups on Nov. 14

This tour will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the New Jersey punks' breakout album The Monitor (technically the 11-year anniversary, owing to COVID delays). Filled with generational angst and projecting an apocalyptic worldview, the LP sounds right at home in 2021 America, particularly as frontman Patrick Stickles howls, “I’m at the end of my rope/And I feel like swinging.” The singer will be joined in the act here by a packed house.

Tyler, the Creator at the Schottenstein Center on Feb. 27, 2022

Owing to the longer lead time, we’re more hopeful for this show than most on the list (pending discovery of the psi plus variant). And it should be a great one, as the rapper, vocalist and producer has continued to grow and evolve with each release, including new album Call Me If You Get Lost, from June, a loose-limbed effort that conjures the anything-goes freedom of hip-hop’s mixtape era. This remains true whether Tyler is engaged in personal bloodletting (on “Massa” he reveals that his mom was living in a shelter when he dropped breakout song “Yonkers”), rhyming about the alienating effect of celebrity or simply flexing on a track with Lil Wayne. “I paint full pictures of my perspective on these drum breaks,” he raps on “Massa.” Even as these paintings continue to shift, the images remain effortlessly compelling.