Boston is and has long been a great live music town, so much so that “This Is Spınal Tap” includes a joke specifically calling out its fertile music scene. Which is one reason the concert drought that followed the lockdown that began 16 months ago has been so agonizing: for performers, for venues, for support staff, for audiences. What was once a mighty flood trickled to a dry riverbed.
But with Massachusetts vaccination numbers among the highest in the nation and statewide restrictions lifted after more than a year, concerts are back at long last. True, there were a few live performances delivered under safe (and some under not-so-safe) conditions before now, but with the city reopening, the schedule isn’t simply some scattered one-offs but something genuinely resembling a full summer concert season, including one very busy week at Fenway Park in early August featuring five shows over six nights.
Things aren’t quite up to full speed yet, it’s true. The Sinclair in Cambridge, Leader Bank Pavilion (formerly Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, formerly Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, formerly Bank of America Pavilion, etc., etc.) in the Seaport, and Xfinity Center in Mansfield have all gone full-on with packed schedules. Other venues, like the Chevalier in Medford and Royale in the theater district, seem to be proceeding a bit more gingerly. And, of course, pour one out for venues like Great Scott that didn’t make it to the other side.
But the machinery is moving, and live music has begun in earnest once more. You can safely figure that every one of the following shows — taking us up to the fall equinox and representing no more than a mere fraction of the musical offerings on tap in and around Boston — is going to be someone’s first time seeing live music in at least a year and a half. Welcome back to each and every one of you.
There are plenty of big guns on the concert calendar. And not just metaphorically, with jungle-greeters Guns N’ Roses (Aug. 3, Fenway Park) and rapper-turned-rocker Machine Gun Kelly (Leader Bank Pavilion, Sept. 15) coming through town. Then there are superheroes of pop (Maroon 5 at Fenway Park, Sept. 12), folk (Indigo Girls at the Chevalier, Sept. 18), country (Zac Brown Band at Fenway Park, Aug. 8), hip-hop (Lil Baby at Xfinity Center, Sept. 1), jazz-pop (Michael Bublé at TD Garden, Aug. 24), jazz-jazz (Harry Connick Jr. at Leader Bank Pavilion, Aug. 14), heavy metal (Megadeth and Lamb of God at Leader Bank Pavilion, Sept. 13), and even classical (John Williams Film Night, Tanglewood, Aug. 13).
The list of rock and rock-adjacent acts is so packed that you might not be able to tell that all of this just started up again. Proving that punk, emo, and power pop are all different sides of the same coin, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer join forces at Fenway Park (Aug. 5), while Alanis Morissette, Garbage, and Cat Power (Xfinity Center, Sept. 4) provide a female-perspective corrective a month later. Bridging that gap, dad-rock avatars Wilco and riot-grrl royalty Sleater-Kinney share the bill at Leader Bank Pavilion (Aug. 24), while Brandi Carlile and Mavis Staples (Tanglewood, Aug. 21) promise the season’s most astonishing concert from a purely vocal perspective.
Boston synthpop veterans Freezepop take over the Sinclair for two nights (Aug. 13-14), as do Tigers Jaw, who’ll throw back to the indie-label ’90s (Aug. 27-28). Other indie-rock standouts include Soccer Mommy with Squirrel Flower (Paradise, Aug. 22-23), Japanese Breakfast (Royale, Sept. 9-10), Overcoats (Sinclair, Sept. 15), and Julien Baker (House of Blues, Sept. 17). Neo-New Wavers Future Islands (House of Blues, Sept. 22) and singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright (City Winery, Aug. 25) are also on their way, hearts on their sleeves.
On the hip-hop side of things, Trippie Redd gets the chance to perform a hit song about missing live performance during the pandemic lockdown (“Miss The Rage”) at the Xfinity Center (Sept. 5), as not-so-secret musical polymaths The Roots move from the television screen to the live stage (House of Blues, Aug. 29) even as drummer and “Summer Of Soul” director Questlove has his eyes on the big screen. Also passing through are rappers Yung Bleu (Big Night Live, Sept. 1), Fabolous (Big Night Live, Sept. 9), and Mr. Worldwide and Ms. Down Under themselves, Pitbull and Iggy Azalia (Xfinity Center, Aug. 28). Quiet-storm chanteuse Such (City Winery, Aug. 14) and rock-song interpreter Bettye LaVette (City Winery, Aug. 6) bring R&B and soul.
As for country music, how about award magnets Lady A (Leader Bank Pavilion, Aug. 15) and chart king Thomas Rhett (Xfinity Center, Sept. 18)? Thoughtful rowdies Brothers Osborne (Leader Bank Pavilion, July 30) and keen observer Ashley McBryde (House of Blues, Aug. 20) point the way forward, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Boch Center Wang Theatre, Sept. 18) stretch the genre, while Brooks & Dunn (Xfinity Center, Sept. 9) bring back the glory days of ’90s/’00s Nashville.
And what summer would be complete without the classics? There’s Jimmy Buffett (Xfinity Center, Aug. 14), of course, and perennials Billy Joel (Fenway Park, Aug. 4), New Kids on the Block with Bell Biv DeVoe (Fenway Park, Aug. 6), and the deathless Kiss (Xfinity Center, Aug. 18). The Eagles perform “Hotel California” in its entirety (TD Garden, Aug. 27-28) and the Black Crowes play “Shake Your Money Maker” (Xfinity Center, Sept. 15), each with extra hits as bonus tracks. Elsewhere, there are Judy Collins and Richard Thompson (Tanglewood, Aug. 22) and blues legend John Mayall (City Winery, Sept. 4). And Sandra Bernhard brings her cabaret act to City Winery on Sept. 2, because without music, summer’s nothing.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc