August isn’t prime touring season. It’s muggy, people are on vacation, and many established musicians are getting ready for lengthy circuits in the fall. Check out, for instance, the White Eagle Hall schedule. In September, it’s loaded with sensational shows from rock innovators: Spiritualized, Iceage, Neko Case, White Denim, Nation of Language. In August, we’ve got The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a Bad Bunny and ABBA inspired disco dance party. Fun, certainly. But not the kind of thing this column is about.
Nevertheless, there are quite a few smaller shows worth attending this month. Because while August isn’t the best time to catch a concert by a legend, it’s ideal for lesser-known acts looking to step out of the shadows. Here are seven possibilities for live music fans — almost all of which don’t have a cover. Oh, and next month, look out for a special roundup dedicated to those fantastic White Eagle Hall shows. It’s going to be a White Eagle September.
Van Chamberlain @ Pet Shop (Aug 4)
One of the best developments of the Jersey City summer: Pet Shop has been hosting semi-regular shows again. Bookings have picked up right where they left off at the start of the pandemic — they still favor guitar rock, and they still draw from the deep pool of offbeat regional talent. Van Chamberlain’s music will almost certainly remind you of Jersey favorites Real Estate: their sound is meditative and mildly psychedelic, the vocals are hushed, and there are plenty of lush harmonies, delicately struck drums, and interlocking guitar and bass parts. In the Sun, the singer-songwriter’s most recent album, is full of chiming six-string, warbly organ, and near-whispered melodies. And when they get upbeat, as they do on highlight “The Other Side,” they’re pretty darn danceable, as dreamy-dreamy bands like this go. Van Chamberlain and his band will play with John Cozz With the Works and Johnny Couch. (Pet Shop, 193 Newark Ave., 7 p.m., free, visit petshopjc.com.)
Joy Cleaner, Beneath Trees & Keif Shuvel @ Pet Shop (Aug 11)
The back room at Pet Shop is a relaxing place to hang out; it’s often quiet enough for a serious conversation over a plate of French fries. Well, unless Genevieve Chasty of Beneath Trees is in town. Supported by her partner and drummer Hemmy Hemmerich, she plays stormy, swampy, overdriven, fuzzed-out garage rock with a substantial helping of attitude, and sings in a pouty deadpan that cuts straight through the noise. The Savannah, GA outfit will share the night with the Jersey City power pop band Joy Cleaner, who’ve also been on bills with Little Hag, Pynkie, and other local favorites. Expect Blue Album stomp, catchy melodies, harmonies on the choruses, Matthew Sweet-like chugging on the six-strings, hurt feelings, a hint of a sneer in the vocal delivery, the whole drill. They understand the things that make this style tough to resist. Hopefully, they’ll play recent single “Dramatization,” which presents the band at its crunchy best. (Pet Shop, 193 Newark Ave., 7 p.m., free, visit petshopjc.com)
Carlos Pavan @ McGinley Square Live Music Series (Aug 27)
The roster of outdoor concerts hosted by The McGinley Square Special Improvement District isn’t too big or broad. They’re giving us one show a month until October; then they’ll pack it up until 2023. But the level of quality has been high — in late June, they turned the busiest intersection in the neighborhood over to the strong-voiced singer-songwriter Sofia Oro, and two months later, they’ll be hosting the dexterous Argentinian-American nylon string guitarist Carlos Pavan. He’s primarily a classical guitarist, and he’s performed at Lincoln Center and the New England Conservatory of Music and recorded with the PUBLIQuintet. But he incorporates tango and other South American folk styles into his compositions, and his rhythms make his heritage manifest. In other words, this is a guitarist who always lets you know where he’s coming from. (Performances happen at the intersection of Bergen Ave. and Montgomery St, 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., free, visit jerseycityculture.org)
Water Street @ Fox + Crow (Aug 20)
It’s a tiny little place tucked away in the Jenny Jump State Forest, but there’s a great musical tradition in Blairstown, NJ. Roy’s Hall, a venue on Main Street, has become a reliable source of Bottom Line/City Winery folk-rock in the Garden State. I’m not sure if the musicians in Blairstown’s own Water Street have ever played at Roy’s Hall, but if they did, they fit in well. Frontman Dave Paulson has a voice as clear as a mountain brook, he’s a fine, firm acoustic strummer, and his band backs him up with guitar arrangements that are consistently intriguing, even if they don’t exactly challenge conventions. The latest album is called “All We Tried to Be,” and it ought to appeal to fans of the Gin Blossoms, The Head and the Heart, and the more straightforward, “King Is Dead” side of The Decemberists. They’ll bring a little Warren County oxygen to murky Jersey City this month. (Live in the Parlor at Fox + Crow, 594 Palisade Ave., 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., visit foxandcrowjc.com)
Adrian Danon @ Fox + Crow (Aug 27)
Fox + Crow is the closest thing Jersey City has to a place like Roy’s Hall — a room where folk-rock is the expectation, and even the most vigorous performers don’t try to knock you out with wattage. Jersey City singer and songwriter Adrian Danon used to be a guy like that: he made his name before the pandemic by playing an acoustic at local open mics. But “Knight of Swords,” his debut EP, is pure doomy post-punk, with shimmering electric six-string and artfully downcast vocals, reminiscent of the recent work of Devon Williams, and a terrific mood record as long as your mood isn’t, you know, too good. In a Tarot spread, The Knight of Swords signifies an ambitious and driven young man guided by his intellect and unafraid to charge into trouble. Let’s just say the mini-album is well named. ((Live in the Parlor at Fox + Crow, 594 Palisade Ave., 8 p.m. until 10 p.m., $10, visit foxandcrowjc.com)
Johnny Stanec @ The Hutton (Aug 13)
The Hutton is a gastronomically ambitious bar and grill in the Heights, and part of that ambition extends to their booking policies. They don’t do shows too often, but when they trick out the handsome room for a performance, it feels like a smaller version of The Parlor at Fox + Crow. That’s a suitable spot for Johnny Stanec, a prolific Youngstown, OH folk-rock singer-songwriter with a very deep songbook and a nicely plaintive voice. Call for the excellent “Sounding Bells,” a waltz-time ballad with a meditative melody reminiscent of Crowded House. (The Hutton, 225 Hutton St., 9 p.m., free, visit thehuttonjc.com)
Evan Laurence @ Corgi Spirits (Aug 21)
One nice thing about Jersey City: we double up on Pride months. We celebrate plenty in June along with the rest of queer-friendly America, and then we do it again in August for our own local festivities. Jersey City Pride is always an enormous party, and this year — the twenty-first LGBTQ+ Festival — the organizers are taking over most of the Pedestrian Plaza for the main event on August 27th. But before that, Jersey City artist, ukelelist, and impresario Evan Laurence is going to fill Corgi Spirits with friends. Other performers include the reliably entertaining song and dance man Jack Tracy, soul singer and Jen Love Project founder Jennifer Love Williams, and new wave band The Debbie-Donnas, one of the house bands at the Stonewall Inn. (Corgi Spirits, 1 Distillery Drive, 4 p.m. until 7 p.m., $10, visit jerseycitypride.com)