Spring concerts are unusual but promising

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Black Keys “will try to fill Verizon Center on March 9.” The show has sold out. This version has been updated.

Looking at this spring’s concert calendar is a bit like staring off into a live music Twilight Zone.

Big names are cautiously playing small rooms (Lauryn Hill headlines the cozy Warner Theater on Feb. 29), while young rock bands are brazenly taking aim at the nosebleeds (The Black Keys have sold out Verizon Center on March 9, and Foster the People headline Merriweather Post Pavilion on June 10.)

The thread connecting this spring’s concert season is that there is no thread. Our pop programming has rarely felt so all over the place.

It’s also literally all over the place. In addition to the dozens of venues in the greater Washington area already booking dynamic acts, a few promising new rooms opened their doors last year, including the Fillmore Silver Spring and the Hamilton downtown. Other newish venues are soldiering on in Virginia. Arlington’s Artisphere has done plenty of inspired booking (reunited lo-fi indie heroes Black Tambourine perform there on April 6 and 7), while the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas continues to land legends (84-year-old bluegrass great Ralph Stanley appears with his Clinch Mountain Boys on Feb. 11.)

After combing the calendar and the map, here are the six most promising gigs to jump out of this chaotic season.

Most anticipated event: Lady Antebellum at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 20.

A year ago, a Lady Antebellum concert might have qualified for “most dreaded event.” But something borderline-miraculous happened on “Own the Night,” the co-ed country trio’s platinum third album. Their corny country tunes became undeniably anthemic. With songs finally worthy of a 17,000-person sing-along, joining in should feel like a thrill and a relief.

Most surprising event: Lauryn Hill at Warner Theatre on Feb. 29

Three surprises here. The first is that the era-defining R&B singer is playing a room this intimate. The second: After two years, she’s still on tour performing (sometimes loosely) her still-riveting 1998 album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” And the third surprise won’t present itself until showtime when Hill actually shows up. Last time she was booked in the area, her set was delayed three hours. Her alleged defense? Mani/pedi.

Secret tip: XO and XIB at Pure on Jan. 30.

The condo boom on U Street may have contributed to the demise of hip-hop club State of the Union and the weekly go-go concerts at the Reeves Center, but both genres of music have migrated to new rooms down the block. When XO, the underrated Washington rapper who honed his smooth delivery in the U Street open-mike scene of yore, performs with bounce beat go-go band XIB at Pure, it’ll serve as a reminder of Black Broadway’s not-so-distant musical past — and hopefully a glimpse into its future, too.

Best reason to celebrate a break-up: Romeo Santos at Patriot Center on March 9.

There comes a time in every heartthrob’s life where he must break up his chart-topping boy band and venture forth as a chart-topping solo artist. That’s exactly what happened last year with Romeo Santos, former leader of Bronx bachata quartet Aventura. His recent album “Formula, Vol. 1” is as enjoyable as it is aptly titled.

Best second chance to make a first impression: Skream & Benga at U Street Music Hall on Feb 5.

When the British dubstep duo performed at Fall Massive, a festival held in the parking lot of RFK Stadium, in November, the stage banter amounted to a litany of insults hurled at the soundman. Turns out that noise complaints forced the promoters to hush the duo’s signature bass to relatively feeble volumes. But that shouldn’t be a problem when Skream & Benga return to Washington for a gig at U Street Music Hall, which boasts the finest sound system in the city.

Two reasons to get excited about Minneapolis (again): Polica at Red Palace on March 23 and Howler at Red Palace April 13.

If you think Washington’s rock scene has had a tough time growing out of the shadow of the ’80s, imagine what poor Minneapolis has been through. In the case of two young Twin Cities bands set to bloom this spring, it’s hard not to compare them to their Reagan-era forebears. Howler is a surly young rock quintet that owes a dash of its scrappiness to the Replacements while Polica is an adventurous foursome that use drums and electronics like a distant heir to Prince at his freakiest — sonically speaking, of course.

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Chris Richards became the Post's pop music critic in 2009. He has covered D.I.Y. house shows, White House concerts, go-go and Gaga.
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