Friday, July 19, 2024

Soma sat cross-legged for their Wednesday set at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

Forget best albums or worst wardrobe malfunctions. Here’s a Top 5 list that you can actually use: the Top 5 Air-Conditioned Music Venues in the area, in no particular order.

Now, presumably every venue worth its salt will have decent climate control, but the following five locations have a little extra oomph. Go there and enjoy some guilt-free AC. After all, it’s better to efficiently cool one big place that lots of people can enjoy together than have everyone running their individual units at home alone.

Crystal Ballroom

The stage above Somerville Theatre doesn’t have the advantage of depth to keep itself cool. Heat rises, you know? And yet when I attended a show there Wednesday, I nearly cried tears of joy at the icy blast of arctic wind greeting me as I walked through the double doors. By the end of the set I was feeling almost too cold. Almost.

The Rockwell

The first of two offerings on this list that take advantage of a subterranean situation to stay cool. The Rockwell goes deep, deep beneath the Earth’s surface, and you will too if you want to find your way to their black box theatre. But first you’ll have to descend the massive staircase, which is long enough to make you feel like you’re in Porter Square instead of Davis.

The Sinclair

A well-equipped modern venue with all the trimmings, including effective climate control. What grabs my extra attention on a hot day is the ceramic tiled-interior of the bar area. It’s a material that stays cool, so imagine being surrounded by a room full of it. Ecstasy. Though if you start rubbing your hot, meaty carcass across the walls, they might kick you out. So play it cool and maintain.

Club Passim

The second of two offerings on this list that digs deep. The folky stage in Harvard Square doesn’t descend quite as far as The Rockwell, but a “garden apartment” effect is enough to give the air-conditioning a good head start. Kick back in the shade and enjoy some guitar pickers.

The Mad Monkfish

The operative theory here is that any classy kind of joint where the acts dress a little fancy needs to stay cooler. Why? Because suits are hot. Not every act is going to dress up like the Count Basie Orchestra, but enough will that you better keep the AC blasting. The customers will appreciate it too.

What top spots did I miss? Probably plenty. And no promises that any venue is cooled to your personal level of satisfaction. So much can depend on the time of day, angle of sunlight, how many warm bodies are in the club and which manager is on duty. Just order a cold drink to make up the difference.

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Saturday: KRS-One, XL The Beast, Blak Madeen (Middle East, Cambridge)

Hip-hop legend KRS-One from the Bronx, kid! From Brooklyn too. From all over the NYC underground hip-hop scene since the late ’80s. The moniker breaks down to Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody. Nearly everybody? Doesn’t sound so supreme. More nacho supreme, less divine omnipotence supreme. The rhymes hit right though, and the rhymer soldiers on as one of the last credible links back to hip-hop’s golden age. Safe to say local acts XL The Beast and Blak Madeen are excited to be on this bill.

July 18: Lambrini Girls, Mulva, Bricklayer (Sonia, Cambridge)

A punk duo (or is it a trio?) out of Brighton (U.K.) crosses the Atlantic to spread the riot grrl gospel. Punk rock originated in America, but the British accent and royal-bashing add that special something. The songs are short, loud and politically charged, but you already guessed as much. Bricklayer and Mulva (featuring members of Kal Marks) open.

July 19: Cola, Devon Welsh, Trophy Wife (The Rockwell, Somerville)

Canada’s post-punkers Cola tour their new album “Gloss” through The Rockwell, high on our list for frostiest venue (see above). There’s always a little bit of krautrock animating your classic Cola composition. A love of repetition, a keen awareness of the power that accrues to textural tropes carved out of the rock ’n’ roll lexicon. But the pop instinct is strong with this band as well. Tim Darcy’s lyrics and bare-bones lyricism have some stories to tell in verse and chorus. Add in electropopper Devon Welsh and alt-rocker Trophy Wife and you’ve got a strong, if eclectic, lineup.

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Live: Grails, Soma at Crystal Ballroom

The headliner Grails and opener Soma self-identify as “devotional” music. “Devotional” is a descriptor that qualifies music as related, in some manner, to religious worship. Which would make Crystal Ballroom into a house of worship Wednesday night.

Blasphemy, you say? Not so fast. The line between the sacred and profane in music is not as clearly drawn as we might think. People love music all over the world. And if you grew up outside of a city (or even if was in a city), chances are the first place you ever witnessed live music was a church, synagogue, mosque or whatever else you might call a house of worship.

Devotional music is a common point of departure for musicians as well. Pick your favorite jazz, blues or folk artist. Do a little research and you’re likely to discover they got their start in the church choir. Built chops, gained confidence, learned how to control the attention of a faithful flock before they were ready to shake their moneymaker in front of strangers at venues with a door charge.

All of the above is familiar stuff, par for the course. It’s a little less common, though, when acts try to re-create the sacred experience on a profane stage, rather than merely take musical inspiration from their lives of private worship.

There was a whole quasi-spiritual category of pop music in the ’60s and ’70s experimenting in this space with various degrees of success. Alice Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Santana (in his cult phase – you know, when he started wearing all white) were just a few big names in on the experiment.

Results were mixed, producing a handful of classic albums and loads more stinkers. When Madonna started disco dancing in front of burning crosses during her “Like a Prayer” period in the late ’80s, you knew the experiment was over for the time being.

Over, but not dead and gone. The affinity between the sacred and profane in popular music remains as strong as ever at its root. Acts such as Grails and Soma try to blur the boundaries between the two, each in their own way.

At first glance, Grails is your average post-rock group. Maybe at second glance too. They have all the standard markings: heavy sounds, ornate and sometimes spacey instrumentals, brooding imagery. Vaguely metal, if metalheads went to graduate school and started pooh-poohing the sex and drugs in favor of more cerebral fare.

No explicit or obvious religious affiliation avowed by Grails. But if you know this type of music, you know how seriously these types of musicians take their music. As if transcendence were just one drum fill away. The slide show accompanying the set was chock full of imagery inspired by stale “X-Files” plot points. Pagan necromancy! Cattle mutilations! Something about the Mayan calendar and rivers filling with blood! Hilarious stuff, but no one on stage or in the crowd allowed themselves even the thinnest smile.

On the other hand, Soma was just five guys from New Jersey. They looked like co-owners of a pizza parlor. Hare Krishnas too, if their jam “Hare Krishna Mahamantra” is any indication. The group sat cross-legged and opened with a set filled with drum-driven, explicitly religious content, top to bottom. And yet it never felt overbearing.

If Grails was religiosity without religion, Soma was religion without religiosity. I know who I’d rather have a beer with at the end of the night, but it doesn’t mean I’m joining your church.


Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.