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The 10 best pop music concerts of winter 2024

Conventional wisdom holds that the live music scene suffers from a long hangover after the holidays. A quick look at the calendar proves this wrong.

Although it may be difficult to replicate the blockbuster spoils of 2023, the new year is starting off with a proverbial bang. Looking for celebrity entertainment? Travis Scott, Madonna, Playboi Carti, Zach Bryan, Eagles, Olivia Rodrigo and Bad Bunny have at least one date at the United Center before the Cubs and White Sox open their seasons. In terms of frequency, Mitski tops the list with a sold-out four-night stand at the Auditorium Theater starting March 21.

Winter, of course, requires a certain comfort. This means that many of the season’s live gems appear in intimate clubs and smaller spaces, where the bond between artist and fan grows even closer. Here are 10 concerts that should be on your shortlist.

L’Rain (January 19, Schubas): Taja Cheek, who played L’Rain, didn’t care about mainstream fame. A multi-instrumentalist and multi-hyphenate who splits his time between his role as musician and art curator, the critically acclaimed Brooklyn native rewards shape-shifting structures that defy simple classification. And clarity. Set amidst a maelstrom of classical, folk, rock and atmospheric palettes, its humor tends to subtly disguise pointed commentary and reveal contradictions. In sound and soul, the vocalist exemplifies the open-mindedness of the annual Tomorrow Never Knows series, which runs through January 21 at Schubas and three other venues. 9 p.m., 3159 N. Southport Boulevard; tickets $25 (18+) lh-st.com

Armand Hammer (January 25 at Lincoln Hall): Vital storytelling and thought-provoking messages come through nowhere more sharply than in Armand Hammer’s extraordinary presentations. The title of the New York-based rap duo’s latest album (“We Buy Diabetic Test Strips”) reflects the duo’s growing conscience. Referring to the underground economy where insured patients sell their medical supplies to those less fortunate, the name also reflects the themes of inequality and uncertainty that worry members Elucid and Billy Woods. Speaking of Woods: One of the most talented MCs in the industry, he’s approaching household name status with each release. 9 p.m., 2424 N. Lincoln Boulevard; Tickets starting from $23 (18+) lh-st.com

Brittany Howard (February 6-7 at Thalia Hall): It looks like Brittany Howard was just warming up during her famous stint on Alabama Shakes. Nearly five years after making her solo debut that revealed her as a sonic alchemist in hiding, the powerhouse vocalist returns with “What Now,” she. Scheduled for release less than a week before this two-night stand, the all-analog LP reflects both the anxiety of contemporary times and Howard’s tendency to move from one style to another. If you go, expect to hear a band of aces: Howard’s keen ear is matched by his fervent curiosity. 8 p.m., 1807 S. Allport St.; Tickets starting from $60.50 (17+) Biletweb.com

Living Color (February 8 at Bottom Lounge): Given the deluge of music documentaries, many of which have debatable profile topics, how does a groundbreaking Black rock band continue to be overlooked? This also applies to Living Colour, whose versatility, vision, intelligence and skill are equal to those of their strongest contemporaries in the late 80s/early 90s. Although the quartet splintered in the shadow of the so-called “alt-rock” movement, its resume includes two terrific LPs, a spot on Lollapalooza’s inaugural tour, and a six-string wizard in the form of Vernon Reid. Re-evaluation of its imports is overdue. 7:30 p.m., 1375 W. Lake St.; tickets $35 bottomlounge.com

The Kills (February 14 at Riviera Theatre): “Love, we’ll probably burn him at the stake,” Alison Mosshart sings on “God Games,” The Kills’ first effort since 2016. It’s not the kind of Valentine’s Day romance that brings to mind candlelight dinners and gourmet chocolates. But it’s entirely in keeping with the freewheeling ethos, magnetic chemistry and raw desperation that have kept Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince in the spotlight since their rise during the garage rock renaissance of the early 21st century. Onstage, The Kills show why they’ve outlasted many of their forgotten peers. 8 p.m., 4746 N. Racine Boulevard; Tickets starting from $45 (18+) axs.com

Jamila Woods (at Vic Theatre, February 23): On her remarkable third album, “Water Made Us,” Chicago native Jamila Woods presents music’s most extravagant subject—love—with original, eye-opening perspectives that illuminate its ups, downs, rewards, pain, and various complexities in between. Using his considerable talents as a singer and poet, Woods transforms jazz and R&B-laden melodies into steps in a balanced journey that ultimately warms the soul like a down jacket. Bet on this show, which will feature local collaborators who, like Woods, will push the city’s creative culture forward. Our friend from Chicago, Kara Jackson, is opening up. 8 p.m., 3145 N. Sheffield Boulevard; tickets start at $29.50 axs.com

Cat Power (February 27 at Cahn Auditorium): Forget the gray areas. Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has a knack for inspiring reactions of the black or white genre. The vocalist, a longtime favorite of the indie-rock community, is reminding others of her hipster pretensions — including recent Tribune contributor Chrissie Dickinson, who said Cat Power “brings out all the charisma of a purring, wacky auntie.” heartbreaking 2013 show review. It’s fitting, then, that Cat Power comes to Evanston to cover one of history’s famously contentious performances: Bob Dylan’s 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert. 8 p.m., 600 Emerson St., Evanston (sold out)

Jason Isbell of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performs at the Bourbon and Beyond Music Festival at the Kentucky Exposition Center on September 16, 2022 in Louisville.

Jason Isbell and Unit 400 (February 29 and March 1 at Salt Shed): Ho-hum. Another year, another great album (“Weathervanes”), and Jason Isbell’s Ryman Auditorium residency is in the books. Personnel changes in his reliable 400 Unit band aside, the singer-guitarist enters 24 on another high. Isbell, 44, is an old soul who makes creating memorable melodies effortless and slick turns of phrase accessible. His humble presence and low-key approach explain why the best songwriter on the human condition in the last 20 years is often underrated. Do this at your own risk. 8 p.m., 1357 N. Elston Boulevard; (sold out) www.saltshedchicago.com

Aimee Mann (March 2 at Cahn Auditorium): Aimee Mann has been turning relationship troubles, witty observations, and emotional trauma into sharp, well-defined pop songs since serving President Ronald Reagan’s first term. Yet his works seem as if they appeared yesterday. Timelessness owes to Mann’s ability to identify universal themes, convey them in his spoken style, and maintain an independent streak. Humorous and serious, wry and surprising, Mann recognizes that life is messy and evades tidy decisions. His Fee profoundly documents these truths. 8 p.m., 600 Emerson St., Evanston (sold out)

Mary Timony (March 6, Empty Bottle): Mary Timony’s more than three decades of industry experience serve as proof that life as a working musician leans more toward the harsh realities of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” than upbeat musicianship sees. The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star.” his sarcasm. The influential singer-songwriter-guitarist, who has previously spawned such great bands as Autoclave, Helium, Wild Flag and Ex Hex, is in town in a very familiar spot to support his debut album, “Untame the Tiger.” Solo LP in 15 years. 9 p.m., 1035 N. Western Boulevard; tickets $22 (21+) Biletweb.com

Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.

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