Credit: Stephanie Rudig

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Sleigh Bells

It is Valentine’s Day. All the restaurants are booked. The florists are out of roses, and the prices for the remaining flowers are jacked. You could cook something for your boo at home, but the lines at every grocery store are atrocious. Instead of the usual, maybe you should go to a rock concert. The pairing of Sleigh Bells and Sunflower Bean is unconventional. Sleigh Bells have been around since 2010, mixing noise-punk with the steady percussion of arena rock. Sunflower Bean are indie darlings, with a twee kind of dream-pop and a strong sense of melody. In a weird way, mixing lighter and heavier bands is a good metaphor for the perfect Valentine’s Day. It starts off tentative, with a sense of wistful romance, only to end in an athletic performance that just may—if you’re lucky—represent the rhythm in your bedroom. Feb. 14 at 9:30 Club. $30.—Alan Zilberman

Sarah Hughes Quartet

On the third Thursday of each month, the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosts Take 5! in the Kogod courtyard, a regular jazz performance series. As free events go, it’s solid, but maybe not something you’d go out of your way for. February’s performance is worth the detour: Sarah Hughes, an imaginative local saxophone player and composer, will pay tribute to Ornette Coleman, the father of free jazz. In the collective consciousness, his peers like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are more often recognized, but Coleman’s contributions were arguably more consequential, freeing many musicians from the rigid rules of music theory. Hughes has the range to play everything from bebop to contemplative improvisations. She’s rooted in jazz’s history without being weighed down by it, which should make her interpretations of Coleman’s music a must-listen. Feb. 15 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Free. —Justin Weber

Phoebe Bridgers

One of 2017’s most striking debuts came from a 23-year-old from Los Angeles with a knack for sad songs. Phoebe Bridgers’ Strangers in the Alps rarely lightens the mood and never picks up the tempo, but she’s so captivating that the lack of variety goes unnoticed in the moment. Her smoldering voice wavers between being put out forever by a strong gust of wind and roaring back to full flame. In this limbo, she details small moments of intimacy and how overwhelming mixed emotions, like the pain of loving somebody who treats you badly or the regret of sharing a nude photo while stoned, can be. “It’s been on my mind since Bowie died, just checking out to hide from life,” she sings on “Smoke Signals” as a rocket engine sound effect roars in the background. What makes Bridgers so relatable is that these moments aren’t begging for pity or outrage, they’re just reasons to crawl under the covers. Feb. 20 at Rock & Roll Hotel. Sold out. —Justin Weber

K. Michelle

Before Cardi B turned reality TV infamy into record sales, there was K. Michelle. Despite a Missy Elliott assist on her debut single in 2009, Michelle’s career didn’t take off until she starred on Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta (and her own spinoff, My Life). Since then, she’s released a handful of albums (including December’s Kimberly: The People I Used to Know) that balance contemporary and classic R&B, and while she hasn’t had a hit with the staying power of Cardi’s ubiquitous “Bodak Yellow,” her concert should draw from a deeper catalog, from broken-hearted jams like “Hard to Do” to brash come-ons like “V.S.O.P.” Feb. 21 at The Fillmore Silver Spring. $38–$140. —Chris Kelly


Richard A. Morse, a Puerto Rico-born Haitian musician and hotel owner in Haiti, spent the late 1970s and early ’80s in the New York punk and art scene, but it wasn’t until Morse moved to Port-au-Prince that he formed the Haitian roots band RAM (taken from his initials) in 1990.   RAM includes Morse’s wife Lunise as a vocalist, along with other musicians on horns, guitar, percussion, and bass. Morse’s crew melds Haitian street parade rara music, vodou religious drumming, and West African rhythms elements of rock and funk with lush vocal harmonies. The resulting compositions are a groove-filled sound with a subtle political message, in both Haitian Creole and English. While that blend might sound forced and crowded in the wrong hands, Morse and company make it work seamlessly. Feb. 21 at Bossa Bistro. $10. —Steve Kiviat

John Nolan

Want to feel old? John Nolan—the singer-songwriter who made his name as part of Taking Back Sunday and Straylight Run—is turning 40 this February. To mark the occasion, Nolan is having a multi-date birthday party, complete with “streamers, balloons and party favors,” and plenty of nostalgic favorites from his back catalogue. While Taking Back Sunday songs aren’t on the agenda, expect selections from his modern rock grab-bag solo albums (one of which includes a cover of Primitive Radio Gods’ alt-rock radio staple “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”) and Straylight Run’s piano-driven emo anthems. It may be incongruous to hear a 40-year-old sing “Existentialism on Prom Night,” but he certainly won’t be alone. Feb. 25 at DC9. $15. —Chris Kelly

Diet Cig

New York duo Alex Luciano (guitar and vocals) and Noah Bowman (drums) are out to prove that pop-punk can be both fun and aware. Luciano sings of being slut-shamed (“Sixteen”) and finding her way in male-dominated punk scenes (“Tummy Ache”), but she does so with an unashamed smile. Her unbridled energy pushes songs to the brink of falling apart before she reigns it back in. “I use my phone until it dies/ Just like my plants, can’t keep anything alive,” she sings on “Barf Day” as she spends her 21st birthday alone. Yet she turns this loneliness into a treat-yo’-self rallying cry for ice cream. Luciano has a unique ability to take all the negative energy around her inside, and then unleash it back out with positive force. Feb. 28 at Rock & Roll Hotel. $18. —Justin Weber

A$AP Ferg

If the wave of Lil rappers—messrs Yachty, Uzi Vert, and Pump—has you down, check out the Mad Man tour, featuring three exciting young talents with divergent takes on street rap that are decidedly contemporary but with enough lyrical heft for rap fans of all vintages. The tour is headlined by Harlem’s A$AP Ferg, the most charismatic member of the A$AP Mob and the one most likely to start a mosh-pit. He’ll be joined by Miami’s Denzel Curry, a Three 6 Mafia-influenced 22-year-old who spits macabre triplets over menacing trap beats, and IDK, a P.G. County product and Kanye devotee who shone on last year’s IWasVeryBad. March 1 at The Fillmore Silver Spring. $30–$144. —Chris Kelly


Somehow no one has noticed that Rachel Aggs—frontwoman for the London-based band Shopping—has become one of the best guitarists in rock. Her style is distinct and playful: Instead of shredding with riffs and power chords, she plays minimalist melodies that run up and down the guitar’s neck. It sounds a little like Paul Simon, except with a post-punk edge that helped the band gain some success in the United States. Their new album The Official Body represents everything the band has worked toward: On top of a confident rhythm section, with each member of the trio sharing vocal duties, they write sarcastic, angry songs about late-stage capitalism, identity politics, and everything in between. When they play Union Stage, part of The Wharf’s commitment toward glitzy mixed-use development, Shopping will probably appreciate the irony of how their values clash with The Wharf, but that won’t stop them from putting on a killer show. March 6 at Union Stage. $12. —Alan Zilberman

The Gospel According to the Other Mary

The titular Mary in John Adams’ composition refers to Mary Magdalene, the source of much biblical apocrypha and early feminist inspiration. There was a time artistic interpretations of the New Testament’s most famous prostitute could spark incendiary reactions—literally, in the case of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, which provoked a movie theater firebombing in Paris for its imagining of her marriage to Jesus. Adams, arguably America’s greatest living opera composer, is never one to shy away from thorny topics or protest, such as the ones which met his Death of Klinghoffer at the Met a few years ago. So one might expect something more heretical in his depiction of the last weeks of Jesus’ life through the eyes of Magdalene, her sister Martha, and brother Lazarus. It is, nevertheless, mystical and murky, focused more on emotion than religious or historical revisionism. Not unlike its composer, whose operas on such polemical figures as Nixon and Robert Oppenheimer leave you wondering what exactly he thinks of them. Gianandrea Noseda, in his inaugural season as National Symphony director, leads the orchestra and the University of Maryland Concert Choir in an orchestral and choral version of the still new oratorio. March 8 to 10 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. $15–$89. —Mike Paarlberg

Adrianne Lenker

The Miracle Theatre over on 8th Street SE isn’t only a place to go to catch movies you missed months ago. With the help of The Wharf’s Union Stage, the beautiful 1909 theater is getting back to its vaudeville roots and expanding beyond moving pictures to live entertainment as well. The jewel of their spring lineup is a solo performance from Adrianne Lenker, the singer of the critically acclaimed Big Thief. Before Big Thief, Lenker performed under her own name and, together with Buck Meek, released three records including 2014’s Hours Were The Birds. Whether Lenker decides to revisit this solo material or strip down Big Thief songs—a solo version of 2017’s best song “Mary” would likely be on many fans’ wish list—her unmatched ability conjure memories in musical form will suit The Miracle well. March 8 at The Miracle Theatre. $18. —Justin Weber

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico formed in 1962 and, since then, have become known as “The University of Salsa” due to the number of legendary musicians that have played in the group.  Though the only original member these days is 91-year-old Rafael Ithier, the group’s former pianist and current conductor, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is anything but washed up. The big band dispenses insistent rhythms on timbales, congas, piano, and bass, aided by powerhouse horn players and tuneful vocalists who keep the show lively with their charming, choreographed dance moves. March 9 at The Howard Theatre. $59.50–$100. —Steve Kiviat

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Jessica Lea Mayfield has spent most of her life making music. At 8, she toured with her family’s bluegrass band. At 15, she recorded her first EP, White Lies, with her brother. By 19, she was recording her first LP with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Now 28, Mayfield has just recorded a record that finally sounds all her own. 2017’s Sorry is Gone is a reckoning with her past domestic abuse and an ode to freedom. “But I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong/ I’m done excusing myself,” she sings on the title track, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but sorry is gone.” With influences in both country and grunge, Mayfield knows when to be fiery, but it’s moments when she pulls back like the stark opening of “Safe 2 Connect 2,” when Mayfield asks, shell-shocked, “Any tips on how to feel more human?” that set Sorry Is Gone apart from the crowd. March 10 at Songbyrd. $15–$17. —Justin Weber

Justin Timberlake

If Justin Timberlake had kept his musical career on ice after 2006’s iconic FutureSex/LoveSounds, his place in the pop pantheon would have been secure. But instead, he returned in 2013 with The 20/20 Experience, a two-part album that reunited him with collaborator Timbaland and returned him to the spotlight. On this year’s Man of the Woods, Timberlake teams not just with Timbaland but with The Neptunes, the duo that crafted his first post-boy band solo album, Justified. Can this cadre of pop legends recapture their millennial magic? Perhaps not: Promising “modern Americana with 808s,” Timberlake delivered dubsteppy disco on “Filthy” and flirted with self-parody on country-trap ballad “Supplies.” Still, no matter the missteps, Timberlake can still rely on hits like “Cry Me A River,” “What Goes Around… Comes Around,” and “Suit & Tie” to dazzle an arena full of fans ready for him to bring sexy back. March 18 at Capital One Arena. $160–$849. —Chris Kelly

Joan Soriano Bachata Dance

Dominican singer and guitarist Joan Soriano plays bachata—a genre of Latin American music—that pays respect to the genre’s rural roots: slow dance numbers largely propelled by Soriano’s high-pitched strumming and frequently melancholy vocal melodies. Though some modern bachata pop stars, like Romeo Santos, add hip-hop and R&B accents, Soriano sticks to the basics: Lyrically, bachata is often about longing for love or regrets of the heart. Soriano is a traditionalist but he and his band’s live approach is not staid. Their instrumental rhythms drawn from African and Spanish styles should have folks wiggling their hips and twirling in front of the stage. March 25 at Tropicalia. $20–$25. —Steve Kiviat


One would be hard pressed to name a band who’s had a more successful indie rock resurgence than Superchunk. Following the band’s sleepy (and underrated) Here’s to Shutting Up in 2001, they quietly slipped into hibernation. They awoke from a self-induced slumber with 2010’s Majesty Shredding, a rousing return to form that stands as one of their finest. I Hate Music followed in 2013, another barnburner in a catalogue filled with them. In mid-February, the band will release What a Time to Be Alive, their response to the shithole otherwise known as contemporary American society. If history is any guide, it will be mandatory spring/summer listening. Come expecting some heavy catharsis through a potent mix of new jams and all of the classics that have got us through up until now. April 3 at Black Cat. $22–$25. —Matt Siblo

Screaming Females

As the New York Times pronounced last year: “Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled by Women.” If you need proof, just listen to acts as vital and varied as Waxahatchee, Angel Olsen, Mitski, Diet Cig, and Sheer Mag. But don’t forget Screaming Females, the punk power trio that has been at it for more than a decade and is fronted by Marissa Paternoster, a shredder who sings with the vibrato of Grace Slick. The band is back with their seventh album, All At Once, featuring the loud-quiet-loud “Glass House,” the dirge-like ballad “Deeply,” and the anthemic “Black Moon,” which focuses its crackling electricity on “all the men before me, swollen with sin”—the perfect sentiment for both the musical and political moment. April 4 at Rock & Roll Hotel. $16–$18. —Chris Kelly

Damaged City Fest

The full lineup has yet to be announced, but D.C.’s sixth annual punk and hardcore festival is already one of the genre’s most anticipated events. Thus far, organizers Chris Moore and Robin Zeijlon have announced nearly three dozen bands, with queer hardcore icon Limp Wrist headlining. But the thrill of Damaged City comes from the array of underground acts from around the world that will give even the savviest scene lifers and exhaustive collectors something new to rave about. Locally, some of the District’s finest—including Bacchae, D.O.C., Guilt Parade, Rashōmon, and Red Death—will perform. To pack it all in, Damaged City follows up its afternoon and evening main shows with late night after-shows at smaller venues. There’s also the Damaged City Art Show, which will highlight underground talent from across the multimedia spectrum, while dozens of vendors will provide ample opportunities to augment your record, apparel, or zine collections. April 5 to 8 at various venues. $20–$30. —Dan Trombly

Field Report

For all the joking about Dad Rock, sometimes men make their best records after feeling the weight and joy of fatherhood. John Darnielle and Jason Isbell both expanded their sounds in refreshing ways after the birth of their children. With the upcoming Summertime Songs, on the heels of the birth of his daughter last July, add Chris Porterfield to the list. As Field Report, he’s focused on up-close-and-personal songs. His vocals are front and center like he’s singing a few feet away, and he’s never quite shaken the “he used to play with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver” thing that gets mentioned so regularly that it could be an official title. His new single “Never Look Back” is less anxious and more comforting. He shouts the chorus, “Never turn around and look back!” from a distance, giving his songwriting—and his new band featuring Barry Clark (bass), Tom Wincek (keyboards), and Shane Leonard (drums)—space to stand on their own. April 6 at Songbyrd. $12–$15. —Justin Weber

UrbanArias: Florida

It’s the golden age of the wrongfully accused subgenre of true crime: Serial, Making a Murderer, O.J. Made in America; it’s telling about this trend that its best example is a parody, Netflix’s American Vandal, with its appropriately breathless investigation of a bunch of spray-painted dicks. It’s also telling about our criminal justice system that the go-to vehicle for those seeking exoneration of the innocent has been to make a documentary or podcast. Add to that opera, with a production by UrbanArias, D.C.’s chamber opera company specializing in new and quirky compositions. With Florida, composer Randall Eng and librettist Donna Di Novelli aim high for quirk value: a jazz opera about a teenage girl falsely charged with matricide, a satire of sex and corruption in deepest suburbia, and of course, “based in part on real events.” April 7 to 14 at Atlas Performing Arts Center. $39–$42. —Mike Paarlberg

Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier

This spring gives us a bonanza of famous pianists visiting D.C.: Mitsuko Uchida (Feb. 21), Emanuel Ax (Feb. 23), Yefim Bronfman (March 15 to 18), and Evgeny Kissin (May 16). Hard to pick one, but amid the hyped concerts from the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, it can be easy to overlook D.C.’s hidden classical institution, the Library of Congress, which consistently brings in—and commissions work by—top international talent. So don’t sleep on this concert by Canadian duo Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier, longtime collaborators taking on a rare version of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances written for paired piano, based on a recently unearthed manuscript. Standard repertoire Rachmaninoff is hard enough to play as it is, so this is no small feat of talent. And the Library of Congress’s intimate setting offers a great opportunity to observe the impishly smiley Lortie’s gratuitous mugging. April 11 at the Library of Congress Coolidge Auditorium. Free. —Mike Paarlberg

A Thousand Incarnations of the Rose: A Festival of American Primitive Guitar

In 1958, a young blues-obsessed guitarist from Takoma Park sat down to record a song for the Frederick, Maryland folk label Fonotone Records. The song, “The Takoma Park Pool Hall Blues,” was the first of hundreds of fingerpicked ballads and ragas that John Fahey would record in his lifetime, pioneering a new style of guitar playing that would eventually become known as American Primitive. Since then, many guitar picks, both old and young, have carried on the American Primitive style and the genre will be celebrated with a three-day festival in Fahey’s hometown. The first-ever festival of its kind, A Thousand Incarnations of the Rose brings together guitarists from around the country playing in the American Primitive tradition. Daniel Bachman, Glenn Jones, Marisa Anderson, Sarah Louis, Willie Lane, Anthony Pasquarosa, Nathan Bowles, Will Csorba, and more than a dozen others will be there. It’s a fitting tribute and celebration for Takoma Park’s most legendary musician. April 13 to 15 at various venues. $135. —Matt Cohen

Jeff Rosenstock

Jeff Rosenstock has always been easy to root for—anyone who can seamlessly break away from his ska-punk past deserves considerable good will. But with 2016’s Worry., he made a record impossible to resist. Ambitious yet accessible, its songs spoke to a generation of aging punks left searching for meaning within an uncertain adulthood. Recently, Rosenstock cemented his underdog bonafides by surprise releasing his new album POST– on Jan. 1st in order to intentionally make it difficult to publicize and promote (its physical release will be available in a few months on Polyvinyl). An idea this counterintuitive could only make sense to a punk rock lifer. Thank goodness there are still a few left out there. Joining him will be Martha—a rare stateside appearance from one of England’s best pop-punk bands—and D.C.’s own power-pop quartet Bad Moves. April 18 at Union Stage. $15–$25. —Matt Siblo

Kronos Quartet

There may not yet be a huge audience in the U.S. for the pipa, a 2,000-year-old, four-string lute from China’s Han Dynasty. Wu Man is the most famous—and basically only—booster of the ancient instrument in the West through constant touring, composing, and collaborating with basically anyone who will help with her Sisyphean efforts to popularize its music, no matter how kooky. So naturally this would lead her to the Kronos Quartet, the prolific, prodigiously talented, and not entirely normal Grammy-winning chamber ensemble. The San Francisco-based group is known for its rotating cast of musicians, association with the titans of minimalism (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley), and spacy multimedia concerts—er, “happenings” with the likes of Patti Smith and Nine Inch Nails. Kronos and Wu Man have been performing together for years and have a knack for creative performance sometimes evoking symbols of the Cultural Revolution. Having both come of age in the social upheavals of the ’60s in their respective countries, both know the propaganda value of putting on a good show. April 19 at GW Lisner Auditorium. $30–$50. Presented by Washington Performing Arts. —Mike Paarlberg


As Baths, Will Wiesenfeld makes emo-tinged electro-pop in The Postal Service tradition. While 2013’s Obsidian peered into the void with heart-on-sleeve vulnerability, last year’s Romaplasm pushes his personal songwriting into more playful and joyful directions. The album is a hyperactive dream full of video game synthesizers, off-kilter drum machines, and Wiesenfeld’s fragile choir-of-one vocals. But don’t mistake the bright colors for empty pleasure. Romaplasm is coming from a much happier place, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the music has to be fully happy throughout,” Wiesenfeld told Nylon. “It’s just easier for me to explore all the different things that I want to explore.” April 21 at U Street Music Hall. $18. —Chris Kelly

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Gustavo Dudamel, the effusive, bushy-haired conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic may be the inspiration of Gael García Bernal’s nutty, bushy-haired conductor in Mozart in the Jungle, but by now he’s as establishment as it gets in the classical world. A prodigy and the most famous of the Venezuelan global classical mafia produced by El Sistema, he was at one point a risky bet for one of the top orchestras in the country. Today, he’s grown into his public role as both orchestra director and ambassador of the classical world as a whole, a walking rebuttal to the genre’s struggles with diversity, both of age and race. So a performance, presented by Washington Performing Arts, of a longtime standard, Beethoven’s 9th, is exactly the kind of gateway drug for the classical novices who Dudamel, with his infectious energy, is well qualified to win over. And if he can’t do it alone, a field army-sized vocal accompaniment from no less than three local choruses—The Washington Chorus, Choral Arts Society, and Catholic University Chorus—will batter skeptics into submission. April 26 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. $50–$250. —Mike Paarlberg

Meshell Ndegeocello

One of the most adventurous artists to emerge in the ’90s, D.C. native Meshell Ndegeocello continues to both inspire and baffle with her idiosyncratic artistry and enduring mystique. Her albums, like 1996’s Peace Beyond Passion, 1999’s Bitter, and 2002’s epic Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape, are nothing short of legendary for alternative soul and alt-pop fans. And so it’s exciting to hear that the acclaimed singer-songwriter-bassist will be releasing an album of covers this year, which include R&B and soul music staples of the ’80s and ’90s, including classics by Prince and Janet Jackson. Following previous sold-out shows at the Kennedy Center for her musical tribute to Nina Simone, she returns to support of her new album. Any concert of Ndegeocello’s music—old or new—is worth attending. April 26 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. $55. —Jerome Langston

Sheer Mag

It’s hard to imagine a more inspired pairing on the spring concert calendar than the marriage of classic rock fetishists Sheer Mag and crossover thrash revivalists Power Trip. Just writing about the two playing together conjures up images of my future self sweating buckets, futilely trying to distance myself from a metal head’s sweaty leather jacket. Such indignities are bound to be well worth it. And it isn’t just the headliners that make this one noteworthy. Opening will be D.C.’s own Red Death—whose latest, Formidable Darkness is, as its title suggests, both formidable and dark—followed by Southern California’s hardcore heroes Fury, making it a full night of pummeling, absolutely necessary jams. May 6 at Black Cat. $16–$18. —Matt Siblo

Endangered Kingdom: Stephen Loya

Whether or not you think climate change is an actual thing, few doubt the impact of human influence on animals that have landed on the endangered species list. D.C.-area artist Stephen Loya produced one drawing of an endangered animal each week over the course of a year. Fifty of those works are now on view at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery. The detailed portraits in black ink, in intimate scale and over a background of playful watercolors, express great illustrative care of the majesty of certain disappearing creatures. Loya renders a tiny crown on each animal, placing these subjects within the tradition of precise, regal portraiture against vacant backdrops that were a hallmark of traditional high art across centuries. Urgent concerns within the sciences have prevailed in exhibition themes in recent years. Although Loya’s year-long project attests to such themes, his serene portraits are also exuberant and elegiac, a celebration albeit with pathos. Through March 3 at the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery. Free. —Erin Devine

Portrait Unveiling for President and Mrs. Barack Obama

In October, the National Portrait Gallery announced that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald were selected to paint the portraits of the former President and the former First Lady—Barack and Michelle Obama—respectively. Each artist is noted for their style and it’s anticipated that both portraits will break from the staid traditions of past official presidential portraits, although we won’t know until the big unveil on Feb. 13. It’s all part of a larger celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the America’s Presidents exhibition in the weeks preceding President’s Day, which includes the recently acquired 1843 daguerreotype of President John Quincy Adams and the “cracked-plate” photograph of President Abraham Lincoln (both of those photos are on view as of Feb. 7). Feb. 13 at the National Portrait Gallery. Free. —John Anderson

Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s

The 1980s don’t always get a lot of respect, but it was a bracing time to be studying art, especially if you were attending college within a train ride of New York City, as I was. Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, the Guerrilla Girls, Sarah Charlesworth, Felix Gonzalez-Torres—these are just some of the more familiar names of the period. An exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will take a deeper dive into 1980s art than I ever did. Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s features 150 works by nearly 70 artists, many of them relatively unknown and not exhibited in decades. What they shared was a tendency to blur the distinctions between art, entertainment, and commerce—patterns that continue in the art world to this day. Feb. 14 to May 13 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Free. —Louis Jacobson

The Prince and the Shah: Royal Portraits from Qajar Iran

Their rivals were Napoleon and Queen Victoria, the Tsars of Russia and the great Ottomans. For nearly 150 years the Qajars were the ruling monarchs of Iran, and the country’s great modernizers. The portraits at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, largely of Persian royalty and nobility, present an image of an opulent sophistication, meticulously detailed in paint or irresistibly coutured in studio photographs. But beyond the sumptuous pleasure of viewing the rich and famous of the “Sublime State of Persia,” as it was then called, the images also reveal nuanced political messages. The Qajars were enthusiasts for a splendid culture that communicated their power and stability, because they ruled during an era fraught with apprehension over the encroachment of a colonial West. Can images from the 19th century help us better comprehend and correct our own tensions with Iran, even if theocracy has replaced monarchy? Probably not. But you can take time to consider the parallels between past and present, in the colonialist fervor for Orientalist fantasies and stereotypes and the necessity of Iran’s own images to resist them. Feb. 24 to Aug. 5 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Free. —Erin Devine

Nico Fertakis: Halo-Halo

An art show named after a dessert sounds sweet. Halo-halo is a popular Filipino dessert that combines shaved ice, sweetened legumes, plantains, evaporated milk, and other assorted items that don’t typify the pie and ice cream of American menus. But the exhibition of prints by Nico Fertakis doesn’t feature images of halo-halo, or any other dessert, for that matter. It’s leaning on the conceptual nature of what the decadent dessert does: mash stuff together. In the case of the exhibition, it’s colorful Thomas Downing-esque spots, overlapping like venn diagrams, atop an American idiom with a twist: “The Papaya of My Eye,” or, “Have Your Halo-Halo and Eat It, Too.” For the Filipino-Greek-American artist, it’s a clever play on identity politics, absent anything overtly political. March 1 to April 7 at Metro Micro Gallery. Free. —John Anderson

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings

The last big D.C. exhibition by Virginia-born photographer Sally Mann, mounted at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2004, was a major downer, documenting such subjects as the decay of her late greyhound Eva and the deterioration of human corpses at a forensic research facility. Mann’s upcoming exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, is certain to have its gloomy moments, but at least it will offer a broad retrospective of her work over the past four decades. The exhibit’s 115 images, many of them exhibited for the first time, will include examples from her controversial childhood photographs, as well as rural southern landscapes, Civil War battlefields, African-American churches, and a variety of portraits. Equally diverse will be Mann’s techniques, which range from large-format works to archaic, murky tintypes. March 4 to May 28 at the National Gallery of Art. Free. —Louis Jacobson

Women House

In 1972, artists Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro worked with their students at CalArts in Los Angeles to transform an old Hollywood mansion into an art installation that called into question what designates a “woman’s place.” Womanhouse, the first major collaborative project by students in the first Feminist Art Program in the U.S., became a watershed work of the feminist art movement. Over the course of a month, thousands of visitors walked through altered spaces like “Eggs to Breasts Kitchen” and “Menstruation Bathroom,” and saw performance art staged therein, like the infamous “Cock and Cunt Play.” This spring at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 36 international artists pay tribute to that moment in Women House with works that continue to reclaim and reconstruct conventional, yet persistent, ideas about women. Rarely are there ever sequels in the art world, but if this exhibition is half as notoriously fun and thought provoking as the original, it will be worth the admission. March 9 to May 28 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. $8-$10. —Erin Devine

Regina Miele

Regina Miele has maintained a keen interest in the city as landscape. Blighted, gentrified, and those in transition: Miele’s subjects are the neighborhoods where she lives, works, and passes through. Her paintings and drawings translate the corridors, back alleys, interiors, and rooftops of the city. The work maintains an honest sensation, not only of the structural framework of brick, steel, and concrete, but of how the light and atmosphere are captured in those spaces. They aren’t as much a way of seeing the city anew, but of re-seeing the city through different eyes. March 16 to April 21 at Honfleur Gallery. Free. —John Anderson

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man

Any piece of miserable news from Silicon Valley seems traceable to Burning Man—if not directly, then at least in spirit. Whether it’s “raw water” hucksters or skeevy tech-exec sex parties, if a trend has elements of thought-leader bullshit and avant-garde libertarianism, its provenance might include the annual festival in the Nevada desert. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. Life-affirming art and purposeful mind-expansion were among the original goals, and they still appear to be achievable each August. (Depends on who you ask.) Get rid of all the burners and the intangibles, though, and the legacy is a bunch of big-boned participatory artworks. Move them to the Renwick Gallery, and it’s a potentially intriguing shift in perspective as well as an attempt to inject some funkiness into the neighborhood around the White House. That’s right: The exhibit No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man will feature works inside and outside the Renwick, meaning that tourists will be subject to Burning Man’s principle of “radical inclusivity” whether they like it or not. If you thought some of the Smithsonian’s recent shows were eminently Instagram-worthy, wait until this shit hits the streets. Surely it’ll be a little weird—and with far fewer rich brogrammers milling around. March 30 to Jan. 21, 2019 at the Renwick Gallery. Free. —Joe Warminsky

Diane Arbus: A Box of Ten Photographs

Something you notice in the photographs of Diane Arbus is how rare it is for her images to be lit by natural sunlight. Wherever Arbus went, it seems, she was trailed by a little cloud, blocking out the warm, flattering rays of the sun and instead casting a grim pall on the proceedings. Her reputation was made on a late-1960s portfolio known as A Box of Ten Photographs, which is about to see a revival at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, almost five decades after assembly of the portfolio began. The images include a portrait of identical twins, a Christmas tree in a Long Island living room, and a cross-dressing young man in curlers. The images Arbus selected became the foundation for her ascension to the pinnacle of the art world, including a 1972 posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. April 6 to Sept. 30 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Free. —Louis Jacobson

Maya Freelon Asante and Amber Robles Gordon

Toward the end of 2016, Maya Freelon began dealing with issues of rebirth and rebounding: the changes of various identities that happen in midlife. Recent tissue and ink mono prints reflect those transitions, with explorations of more subdued palettes, analogous and monochromatic color schemes. Identity is an issue present in Amber Robles Gordon’s work, as well. For the past year she has been constructing collages that deal with African and Puerto Rican heritage in a patriarchal American society, and pushing against the patriarchy with matrilineal mandalas. While the themes of identity will unify these two solo exhibitions at Morton Fine Art, their kaleidoscopic use of color will likely create the visual complimentary bridge. April 27 to May 15 at Morton Fine Art. Free. —John Anderson

J.A.M. the Revue: A ’90s J.A.M.

The VH1 show I Love The 90s debuted in July 2004. A retrospective for a decade that ended only five years prior is kind of odd to begin with. The premiere episode on 1990—OK, a 14-year throwback makes more sense—covered Pretty Woman, slap bracelets, and a little something to do with Marion Barry. It’s on YouTube, and it’ll probably piss you off. There’s simply no denying, though, that people in D.C. do indeed love the ’90s: 9:30 Club’s No Scrubs ’90s dance party routinely sells out, and local cover band White Ford Bronco is celebrating its 10-year-anniversary in May. J.A.M. the Revue, though, trades trashed bros in neon Goodwill finds scream-slurring their way through “Semi-Charmed Life” for professional singers and dancers. Choreographer Jeremy A. McShan (that would be the J.A.M.) created this all-new ’90s showcase. The dancers are known as “the J-Macs,” and the performance runs for 90 minutes, naturally. That’s about 20 to 30 throwback hits ready for you to consume like dozens of liters of Crystal Pepsi. April 13 to 15 at Anacostia Arts Center. $15–$30. —Mikala Jamison

Zadie Smith

In 2015, Zadie Smith—author of White Teeth, Swing Time, and On Beauty—profiled Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele for The New Yorker. Now that Peele is an Oscar-nominated director, it’s compelling to read back to just a couple years ago, when Key & Peele was nearing its last episode. “On set, Peele is notably introverted,” Smith writes. Peele was in drag for a sketch. “Looking down at his cleavage, he murmured… ‘[wearing a dress] is so fun.’” Such tidbits from popular culture abound in the essays featured in her latest book, Feel Free, comprising previously unpublished work and some of Smith’s classics. Feel Free spans the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The London-born Smith also muses on climate change, Brexit, and how she’d talk to a future granddaughter. If you haven’t read her essay “Find Your Beach,” especially if you’re a writer, you’re missing insights like this: “Even if my Manhattan productivity is powered by a sociopathic illusion of my own limitlessness, I’m thankful for it, at least when I’m writing.” Feb. 27 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. $34. —Mikala Jamison

Jomny Sun

The whole jomny sun ethos is one of those internet things you either get or completely do not get. A Twitter account with 525,000 followers, @jonnysun—typically stylized as jomny sun, emphasis on the lowercase—broadcasts wholesome, humorous, or hopeful messages along with frank communiques about loneliness, awkwardness, and anxiety  through a cartoon alien with a limited grasp of correct spelling. The man behind it all is Jonathan Sun, an MIT doctoral student and Harvard researcher who used to study architecture at Yale and was named as one of TIME’s Most Influential People on the Internet. What gives with this weirdness? Sun was a guest on the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round last year, where his affable nature charmed hosts Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu.His new book, everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too, is what Sun calls “an adult length picture book.” People tell Sun that he makes them cry all the time, and he says he wants to see “the death of irony.” The alien’s just trying to figure out humanity. And so are we. March 10 at Politics and Prose. Free. —Mikala Jamison

24 Frames

French film director Jean-Luc Godard once stated “Film begins with D. W. Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.” The latter, an Iranian filmmaker, died in 2016, but just before his passing, Kiarostami completed his final work, 24 Frames. An experimental tour de force, the film is composed of an image of a 1565 Pieter Bruegel painting followed by 23 of Kiarostami’s own still photographs, to which he added subtle actions using computer technology. This isn’t a single narrative story; it’s a collection of 24 static shots—each lasting about four-and-a-half minutes—of what appeared to Kiarostami before and after the still images. A number of the frames depict animals in snow, waves crashing on the shore, and birds flying about, interrupted on occasion by gunfire or loud vehicles. It’s repetitive at times, but the distinctive painterly arrangements and subtle soundtrack powerfully convey naturalistic and somber life-and-death messages. Feb. 18 at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free. —Steve Kiviat

New African Film Festival

The AFI Silver Theatre’s 14th annual New African Film Festival offers work from over a dozen countries, sampling a rich and thriving industry whose fruits are rarely screened in the United States. Highlights include the Nollywood romantic comedy Royal Hibiscus Hotel, about a Nigerian woman trying to succeed as a chef in London; the magical realist fable I Am Not a Witch, about a 9-year-old Zambian girl exiled from her village after accusations of witchcraft; the South African identity farce High Fantasy, in which a group of friends on a camping trip wake up to find they’ve all swapped bodies; and the documentary Mama Colonel, about Congolese police official Honorine Manyole and her work protecting children against sexual violence. March 8 to 18 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13. —Pat Padua

Stop Making Sense

Go looking for an animated GIF from Stop Making Sense, the 1984 Talking Heads concert film by the late Jonathan Demme, and you’re likely to find David Byrne in the Big Suit. Although that iconic wardrobe choice is so readily adaptable to contemporary digital expressions, it’s a bit of a curse, really—it’s the most ’80s thing in an otherwise timeless movie. And so much of the film seems perfect for right now: The stage is full of fragile but energetic bodies, and for every undercurrent of mortality (back then, it was hard to avoid Cold War dread), there’s a wave of funky optimism from the performers. On a big screen in a dark theater, it’s ultimately a reminder that great bands should strive to make great things. May 11 to 12 at Landmark E Street Cinema. $10. —Joe Warminsky

Sasheer Zamata

In Sasheer Zamata’s full-length comedy special Pizza Mind, which debuted on the streaming service Seeso in March, she says she worked at Disney World for seven months, and asks the audience to guess which character she played. Princess Tiana, the only black princess in the Disney canon? Nope—she was Pluto, the dog. “I worked there before [Tiana’s] movie came out,” Zamata says. “They were like, ‘Hide her face, we haven’t drawn it yet!” She’d have her revenge later, of course, when Saturday Night Live cast Zamata as only the second black female cast member since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007. Her work there included launching zingers on the “Black Jeopardy” sketch, as well as impersonating Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Diana Ross. Last year, she left the show for unclear reasons. But the University of Virginia grad already cemented her fate as a sharp comedic voice, making the improv rounds, creating the solo special, and touring her standup act. Zamata is the only black woman currently on Drafthouse’s schedule through May. Feb. 9 and 10 at Drafthouse Comedy. $20. —Mikala Jamison

Tiffany Haddish

Over the last few years, comedian Tiffany Haddish has steadily seen her profile rise: first, by stealing scenes as Nekeisha on three seasons of The Carmichael Show and then thanks to her breakthrough role in Girls Trip as Dina, a bottle-brandishing, absinthe-tripping life of the party who made sure that viewers would never see a grapefruit the same way agin. But her best role has been as herself, mining everything from her youth spent in the foster care system to her adult exploits for comedic gold. She might have made history by being the first black woman stand-up to host Saturday Night Live, but the story of how she got really high, took Will and Jada Pinkett Smith on a Groupon swamp tour, and then became Groupon’s spokesperson says the most about her come-up—and her comedy. March 10 at the Warner Theatre. Sold out. —Chris Kelly

Mick Foley

“Good God almighty, good God almighty, that killed him! As God is my witness, he is broken in half!” Even if you’re not a pro wrestling fan, you’ve probably heard that bit of play-by-play by the WWE’s Jim Ross, either as part of a viral video or over the original footage. It’s the latter that is infamous, as The Undertaker threw Mick “Mankind” Foley off a 16-foot cage—accurately dubbed “Hell in a Cell”—and through an announcer table during a 1998 pay-per-view event. In the predetermined world of pro wrestling, the fall and the injuries it caused were anything but fake. But it was death-defying actions that turned Foley into an unlikely champion and, eventually, a New York Times bestselling author and celebrated storyteller. Twenty years after Hell in a Cell, he is hitting the road to recount his most infamous night and all the other nights that made Mrs. Foley’s baby boy into a wrestling legend. April 12 at DC Improv. $25–$75. —Chris Kelly

The Tarot Reading

So, here are my only real reference points for Tarot reading: Don Draper called the practice “an inkblot, you see what you want to see,” in Mad Men, Janeane Garofalo played a Tarot reader in Now and Then, and students do it in Divination class in Harry Potter. That’s about it. You might call me skeptical. I do, however, like when things are “made special” just for me. That, fellow skeptics and Divination devotees, is what happens at The Tarot Reading. Step one: You must offer a sacrifice; it could be cash, or anything else of value you are willing to part with forever. One supposes you could fib and say the gum wrapper in your pocket is “of value,” but play along. Step two: While your host, “The Fool,” MCs the evening, the “Mediums” perform select Tarot cards; if your card is drawn, the performers create an interactive act for—and with—you. They’re calling it “part vaudeville, part carnival sideshow, part mystical ritual.” The show is known to never repeat a Medium’s performance, some of which, as DCist put it, “defied easy categorization.” Leave the audience participation-phobics at home. March 9 to 11 at Anacostia Arts Center. $5. —Mikala Jamison

Two Trains Running

Any August Wilson play, when it’s cast and directed properly, is highly entertaining, even through the playwright’s recurring themes of systemic racism and poverty. Wilson was remarkably adept at capturing the humor in the everyday language of his characters, along with the complexities of their relationships. Two Trains Running is the seventh play in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicles each decade of the 20th century. And though it’s not as beloved as the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences, Two Trains Running is nevertheless an impressive work of theater. Set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, in 1969, the two-act play explores the impact of urban renewal on the black community—a community that was then reeling from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and related upheavals of the civil rights movement. Featuring a stellar cast that includes Nicole Lewis, Carlton Byrd, and Eugene Lee, and directed by Juliette Carrillo, Arena Stage’s production is worth experiencing. March 30 to April 29 at Arena Stage. $56–$91. —Jerome Langston

Don Juan

Don Juan is the most famous libertine in literature, and many single dudebros in our fair city surely wish they could follow his example. According to legend, Don Juan could easily seduce women from all walks of life, at any age. Moliere’s comedy Don Juan was controversial for his depiction of him—the work led to censorship and several nationwide bans—and while Taffety Punk’s modern interpretation won’t attract that much negative press, they will definitely try. The scrappy theater company specializes in taking classic plays, ripping them apart, and putting them back together so they are modern, irreverent, and fun as hell. And unlike most theater, it might be a good idea to bring along your ear buds. Sometimes the only way to adapt a French comedy from the 17th century is to crank the volume to 11. April 4 to 21 at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. $15. —Alan Zilberman

Underground Railroad Game 

Calling this Obie Award-winning show a comedy is kind of like how Get Out was nominated in the comedy category at the Golden Globes. It’s not that there isn’t some mirth baked into both, but in Underground Railroad Game, the show is quite literally about slavery and the actual Underground Railroad. And while the two actors—creators Scott Sheppard and Jennifer Kidwell—bring plenty of holy shit did they just say that? laughs, along with some maybe-you’ll-squirm sex stuff, the inspiration for the show is rather bone-chilling: Sheppard’s elementary school class in Pennsylvania split the majority-white students into teams of Union or Confederate “soldiers” during an ongoing lesson on the Civil War. Union “soldiers” had to smuggle as many “slave dolls” as possible to “freedom,” and Confederates were to capture the dolls. Points were awarded. Yeesh. Sheppard and Kidman play dweeby teachers (among various other characters), themselves grappling with racial tensions between them, in a staged school offering the same lesson. What ensues is a scathing show that asks many questions: This was really a game in a school? Why aren’t we better at talking about this? Why can’t we hear each other? What the hell is wrong with us? April 4 to 29 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. $20–$69. —Mikala Jamison


The range of emotions that we feel during those pesky teenage years—a time filled with first love, sometimes sex, and plenty of angst—is charmingly captured in the coming-of-age musical Girlfriend. With music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet and a book by Todd Almond, Girlfriend is anchored with an early ’90s pop-rock soundtrack adapted from Sweet’s album of the same name. Will and Mike are just out of high school and their relationship is just starting to bloom. The awkwardness of new love, especially for these two young men who are so different on the surface, is explored through guitar solos and loud power-rock ballads. The show has continued to earn raves since its 2010 premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and Signature Theatre should have little trouble attracting a broad audience. April 17 to June 10 at Signature Theatre. $40–$94. —Jerome Langston