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Tampa Bay concert calendar has star quality

Apparently, rock stars don't worry about a looming national recession. Fancy limos and giant belt buckles? Maybe. Oncoming fiscal nightmare? Not so much.

At a time when most of us are chicken-littling about the next Depression, the music industry, not exactly known for brilliant logic, is gearing up for a yowza concert season. Lousy timing? Maybe. Great shows? Heck yeah.

Following a 2007 without much sizzle, this season's concert bracket is nutty with bold-faced names. Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, Radiohead and the Vans Warped Tour are just a few of the major shows about to roll through the Tampa Bay area. (Be patient, country fans: The autumn brings Kenny Chesney, LeAnn Rimes, Brad Paisley and Martina McBride.)

There are tons of killer gigs out there. But is there enough dough in your wallet to feed the dog and rock out to Cyndi Lauper and the B-52's at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 18?

If not, allow me to help you navigate through the jam-packed spring and summer concert schedule. Here's my Top 10 can't-miss shows & plus a few potential duds.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the St. Pete Times Forum, April 21. Is this the last go-round for the Boss and his merry band? Could be. I'm not saying the E Streeters are old, but "Big Man" Clarence Clemons just celebrated his 127th birthday. Don't miss what could be your final chance to jump a little higher with Rosalita.

Sheryl Crow at Ruth Eckerd Hall, April 29. Crow's latest album was a mixed-bag affair, turgid political tripe followed by sparkly revelations about her health and heart (yes, she had a go at ex-love Lance Armstrong). In a live setting, however, Crow is a crowd-pleaser front to back, dishing out hits, cool covers and slick rock-chick banter. Plus seeing her in such an intimate venue is a rare treat.

Kanye West and Rihanna at Ford Amphitheatre, May 5. Listen and listen good: If you see one show all year, make it this one. Self-loving hip-hop king Kanye is at the top of his game. Long-legged Rihanna had the top party album of '07. ("I'm breakin' dishes up in here all night!") And the openers might as well be headliners: Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco plus N.E.R.D., the side project of hip-hop impresario Pharrell. There isn't a bathroom break in the whole lineup. I can't wait.

Radiohead at Ford Amphitheatre, May 6. I might as well get a room at the Hard Rock. ("But, honey, it's for work.") The night after Kanye tears up Ford Amphitheatre, Thom Yorke, above, and his mates show up on the strength of In Rainbows, the controversial album that defied usual sales techniques. Yorke will lead the brain-teasing Brits in melody deconstruction and head-scratching grandeur. And when you least expect it, you might get a faithful version of Karma Police. Should be a trip.

WMNF's Tropical Heatwave in Ybor City, May 17. An eclectic event in a celebratory locale, WMNF-FM's one-day throwdown is a prized jewel in these parts. This year's Heatwave features such luminaries as genre-shifting icon Graham Parker and quick-fingered guitarist Sonny Landreth. But rest assured there will also be plenty of deliciously offbeat options, including Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys, above, the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band and the Zydepunks.

Alicia Keys at the St. Pete Times Forum, May 24. I've seen the R&B star twice in concert, and each time I've been leveled by her encyclopedic showmanship. The New York prodigy can bust out flapper swing or Blue Note jazz, hip-hop or funk, shifting costumes and personae, but never missing a note. And even when she takes a breather behind her trusty piano, Keys remains nothing less than spellbinding. (Fair warning: This date is listed on her Web site, but has not been officially announced.)

Gomez at Ford Amphitheatre, July 9. Here's the deal: This underrated Brit-pop contingent is opening up for the Dave Matthews Band. And while I'm lukewarm on DMB, I'm a freak for Gomez, which has had middling fame in the United States (mostly from covering the Beatles' Getting Better for a Philips ad). But they're huge in the United Kingdom, mixing pop and jam-band breakdowns and letting all-world singer Ben Ottewell, above, bring the heartache. Go for Gomez, stick around for DMB.

Vans Warped Tour at Vinoy Park, July 11. Now the longest-running touring festival in the United States, the Vans Warped experience will once again bring creatively pierced young people to the prettiest spot in St. Pete. Bradenton pop-punk quartet We the Kings will get the biggest ovation. The young FLA dudes are blowing up thanks to hot singles Skyway Avenue and Check Yes Juliet. WTK will be joined by dozens of other acts on myriad stages, including Reel Big Fish, the Academy Is & and Relient K, above.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the St. Pete Times Forum, July 16. I haven't seen a Petty show in about 20 years, which is about 20 years too long. Sure, his Super Bowl set was a snooze, but he's a garage rocker at heart, a pop craftsman who prefers hooks to laser shows. With longtime guitarist Mike Campbell at TP's side, such concert staples as Rebels and Even the Losers will still have plenty of that Gainesville bite. I still wish this show were outside under the stars (and smoke), but I'll take what I can get.

Mark Knopfler at Ruth Eckerd Hall, July 30. I've somehow never seen Knopfler live — either solo or with Dire Straits — so I was pretty jacked when this date popped up on the calendar. Drawing that rich, burbly tone from his trademark Stratocaster, the hangdog guitar great will, with any luck, run through all eras of his songbook, including stuff from his newest album, Kill to Get Crimson. If he dusts off big ballad Darling Pretty, I won't be afraid to cry on the guy next to me. You've been warned.

Watch your wallet ...

Huey Lewis and the News at Derby Lane, April 6, This is what I want when I go to the dog track: cheap beer in waxy cups, a rubbery hot dog, stubby cigars and, to cap off the day, the trifecta. This is not what I want at the dog track: Hip to Be Square. No offense, Huey, but Derby Lane is holy land.

Avril Lavigne at Ford Amphitheatre, April 19. The wheels are coming off for this former pop princess. Accusations of plagiarism and wild party habits have tarnished her cool-girl buzz. She has the hits to entertain, but will she have the desire if the joint is less than full?

Bon Jovi at the St. Pete Times Forum, April 27. Jon, Richie and the boys are usually money in the bank in a live setting. But BJ's last album — you know, the country album — was a pretty tough slog. If they do most of twangy Lost Highway, this is gonna be a long night, y'all.

Eric Clapton at Ford Amphitheatre, May 3. Listen, I love Slowhand. I really do. But even Clapton admits he's not nearly as nimble as he used to be. And considering that his concerts have always been "efficient" at best, I'm not expecting fireworks from the 62-year-old.

Ace Frehley at Jannus Landing, May 18. The former Kiss guitarist isn't the main reason to beware of this one. It's the doughy dateless dudes in the audience, who just might explode from rapture when Ace shoots inevitable sparks out of his axe. Enter at your own risk, ladies!

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

Tampa Bay concert calendar has star quality 03/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 11:56am]

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