Livewire: Neon Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, and More

The shows you should be seeing this week

Wang Chung may have spread some of the cheesiest rock of the '80s ("Everybody Have Fun Tonight" is a classic example of the era's obsession with karaoke-style synth-pop and party-all-the-time self-indulgence), but the band had a talent for creating melodies you'll remember decades later. "Dance Hall Days" is one of the '80s' most underrated radio sleepers, with the warm synthesizers, six-string jangle, and hot sax you heard in many Howard Jones and Simple Minds songs. Wang Chung also work nostalgic magic on thirtysomethings who grew up during MTV's nascent days. Their videos were on the music channel all the time, and the group contributed songs to The Breakfast Club and To Live and Die in L.A. For most fans, a modern-day Wang Chung concert is all about rehashing those period-piece moments. But the band is also pushing forward, promoting a new double EP (appropriately titled Abducted by the '80s), cleverly packaged with four classic hits and four new tracks (which sounds like Wang Chung laced with Depeche Mode-styled electronics). And if you miss them at Musica on Wednesday, you can catch them at the Winchester in Lakewood on Saturday. — Keith Gribbins

Wang Chung, with Star Monkey and Roxxymoron. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 30, Musica. Tickets: $20; call 330-374-1114 or go to

Bettye LaVette

Back in the '60s, Bettye LaVette's manager ordered the up-and-coming soul singer to study the jazz masters. The payoff was a long time coming, but it arrived with a sizable chunk of interest. Over the past several years, the Detroit-bred singer has evolved from underappreciated R&B belter to one of our most distinctive and increasingly celebrated interpreters of popular music. While LaVette's chart success was a now-and-then affair after her 1962 debut, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man," her fiery, deep-soul delivery — and the nuance she likely picked up from being force-fed Sarah Vaughan and Sinatra — garnered her numerous "second chances" over the following decades. Kudos worthy of LaVette's talents finally arrived in 2005, when she infused works by Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, and others with old-school values on I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. On her latest album, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, LaVette reveals layers of untapped emotion in songs like the Moody Blues' "Nights In White Satin." — Duane Verh

Bettye LaVette. 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 30, Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $20.50 advance, $22 day of show; call 216-383-1124 or go to

Neon Trees

This Utah quartet includes a towering goofball with a bad mohawk and enough retro synths to qualify them for some sort of misguided-nostalgia award. Their debut album, Habits, piles on the winking hooks and cheeky lyrical toss-offs — no doubt something they picked up from pals the Killers. But Neon Trees know their place: They rarely overreach their scope or skills, and when they do, you can at least dance to their messes. Habits' best songs — "Animal," especially — are big, brash, and plow through any misconceptions you may have about their authenticity. For sure, if Neon Trees came out ten years earlier they'd be playing rap-rock. But their hearts and synths are in the right place for 2010. — Michael Gallucci

Neon Trees, with Paper Tongues, Civil Twilight, and Evaline. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 30, House of Blues. Tickets: $9.23; call 216-423-2583 or go to


Ever wonder what would happen if emo kids got into psychedelic drugs? The San Diego quartet Weatherbox has your answer. The band's two albums include emo's honest pleadings and hardcore roots, but there's also plenty of swirling, lilting leads and calm acoustic guitars that would go great with your next trip. The music sounds just at home in the bedrooms of angst-fueled teens as it does at hippie bonfires. Frontman Brian Warren may be heartbroken, confused, and dejected, but that hasn't stopped him from writing diverse, ambitious songs packed with dynamic shifts and melodic warmth. San Diego has a direct link to pop-punk tradition and psych-rock's sun-drenched sound, but Weatherbox may be the only band from the area actually blending the genres. The music can be a bit jarring at first, but Weatherbox sure don't sound like any other emo band. Matt Whelihan

Weatherbox, with Restless Habs. 10 p.m. Thursday, July 1, Now That's Class. Tickets: $5; call 216-221-8576 or go to

Smashing Pumpkins

Two years ago, Smashing Pumpkins launched a small-hall tour in Cleveland, and they're doing it again, kicking off a 14-city jaunt this week at House of Blues. At the 2008 show, frontman Billy Corgan — who was in particularly good spirits, depite having endured two decades of band drama — finally seemed to be in control of his often caterwauling vocals. But it was apparent then, as it is now, that the group is pretty much a solo project at this point. Corgan is the only original member in the band these days. He can still play the heck out of a guitar, and his post-punk/goth/metal mixture of sounds still influences young artists. But with the exception of 1995's adventurous Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the band's music really hasn't held up. Smashing Pumpkins are touring behind the recent Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor EP, the first of many to come based on an evolving online project. — Jeff Niesel

Smashing Pumpkins, with Bad City. 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 6, House of Blues. Tickets: $42.50 advance, $45 day of show; call 216-523-2583 or go to

Steve Hackett

It's hard to overstate guitarist Steve Hackett's contributions to prog-rock. Four decades ago, when he was just 20 years old, Hackett became an integral part of Genesis, one of the most visionary bands in prog history. Over seven years and albums, Hackett set a high standard with the band, and although his tenure was relatively brief, he was there during the group's most influential and interesting period. Hackett was the first Genesis member to record a solo album — 1975's Voyage of the Acolyte — and that creative freedom led to his departure in 1977. He flirted with the group concept again in 1986 with GTR (featuring Yes guitarist Steve Howe), but Hackett has maintained a curious solo career, releasing albums that offer varying degrees of progressive, pop, classical, and rock elements in acoustic and electric contexts. His epic new album, Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, is a symphonic triumph incorporating all of his astonishing gifts. Brian Baker

Steve Hackett & Renaissance. 8 p.m. Thursday, July 1, House of Blues. Tickets: $30-$45; call 216-523-2583 or go to

At times, it's almost like New England alt-folkie Dar Williams doesn't want to transcend the sphere she's so comfortably established in. That's not to imply she's a stick-in-the-mud folk purist; she can craft a hook-filled tune with the best of them (including Marshall Crenshaw, who appeared on her 2008 album, Promised Land). But Williams values witty, incisive songs that examine real-life subjects ("Teen for God," "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed") and pointedly ambiguous feelings. She has the integrity of Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco and the sardonic spunk of Amiee Mann. That's a dandy blend. — Mark Keresman

Dar Williams, with Sara Watkins. 8 p.m. Friday, July 2, Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $25.50 advance, $28 day of show; call 216-383-1124 or go to