This Week in Milwaukee
Fest Italiana, Bon Iver and Ted Leo
THURSDAY, JULY 21
Festa Italiana @ Henry Maier Festival Grounds
The city's endless appetite for comfort foods like Italian sausage, eggplant spiedini, fried zucchini, pasta and calzones ensures that Festa Italiana is consistently among the most highly attended of Milwaukee's many summer ethnic festivals. Among the attractions at this year's festival are an Italian piazza, chef demonstrations, dance performances, a Leaning Tower of Pisa made from LEGOs, nightly Bartolotta fireworks and headlining performances from The Monkees, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Buddy Valastro of TLC's “Cake Boss.” (Through July 24.)
Michael Tolcher @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
A smooth-singing, Dave Matthews-styled songwriter who wrote his first song at the ripe age of 5, Michael Tolcher has always had grander ambitions than many of his pop-rock peers. His debut album, I Am, was a showcase of clever, almost ostentatious, lyricism and wordplay, highlighted by the lead track “Mission Responsible.” The Atlanta native scored his biggest hit to date with the single “Speed Feels Better,” which was used as a theme song for the Beijing Olympics and came readymade with a music video that featured superstar athletes like Barry Sanders and Andy Roddick.
FRIDAY, JULY 22
Bon Iver w/ The Rosebuds @ The Riverside Theater, 8 p.m.
The critical success of Bon Iver's 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, threatened to forever pigeonhole Justin Vernon as that folk songwriter who recorded an album alone in the woods, but Vernon has challenged that stereotype with his many follow-up projects, from his soft-rock flirtations with Gayngs and post-rock experimentations with Volcano Choir to recent collaborations with Kanye West. Those form-breaking pursuits should have primed listeners for the shock of Bon Iver's second full-length, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, a more lavishly produced record rich with strings, horns and, in its closing half, Gayngs-styled nods to '80s soft rock. That might sound cluttered on paper, but the album breathes beautifully, and its songs are every bit as hauntingly unforgettable as For Emma's. (Also July 23; both shows are sold out.)
Kinetix w/ Roster McCabe @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Kinetic energy is characterized by motion, velocity and acceleration, which is why the moniker Kinetix is apt for these vivacious Denver boys who never seem to stop moving onstage. Like so many jam bands, the group got its start playing college house parties, and over the years moved on to progressively bigger stages as they made a name for themselves on the road. Last year the group released its latest album, Let Me In, an Allman Brothers-inspired set of funky roots-rock.
Rx Bandits @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
As a player in the third-wave ska scene since the mid-1990s, it would be easy to label California's Rx Bandits as yet another ska punk band clinging to the genre's already well-established tropes. In reality, though, the group's records have transcended ska conventions, drawing not just from reggae and punk but also more unexpected forms of alternative and even progressive rock, to become increasingly unclassifiable. It seems that 2009's Mandala will be their last, however: The group is breaking up after their tour this summer.
SUNDAY, JULY 24
Steve Earle @ Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.
Southern rocker Steve Earle's story is one with many chapters. Jail time, seven marriages and drug addiction are just some of the hardships that twisted Earle's life—and his songwr iting voice—into what it is today. Released this year, his 14th studio album, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, contains deeply intimate musings on mortality and second chances. Now reborn as a political activist and jack-of-all-trades actor, playwright and novelist, Earle continues to deliver detours and surprises at every turn of the road—but his penchant for rocking out has rarely wavered.
TUESDAY, JULY 26
Chris Robinson Brotherhood @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
Along with his guitarist brother Rich, Jesus-maned singer-guitarist Chris Robinson has been the face of The Black Crowes since the late-'80s. When that band went on a three-year hiatus in 2002, Robinson stayed busy recording a handful of solo albums, and now that the Crowes are again on hiatus, he's formed a new project, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The band doesn't depart too much from the Crowes' signature blues-rock (Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall is even one of the members), but fresh faces Neal Casal (the guitarist for Ryan Adams' band, The Cardinals) and George Sluppick (a touring drummer for countless bands, including J.J Grey and Mofro) bring a new energy to the sound.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 27
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists w/ Tweak Bird and Call Me Lightning @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
After the breakup of his mod-leaning punk band Chisel in the late-'90s, Ted Leo turned to poppier and more indie-rock-leaning sounds on his records with the Pharmacists, but he never let listeners forget about his punk roots. His latest lineup of the band includes guitarist James Canty, a veteran of D.C. bands including Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up. Canty's gnarled, concise guitars come across particularly on the band's 2010 album The Brutalist Bricks, a tougher, leaner and more rock-minded follow-up to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' wide-ranging 2007 album, Living With the Living.
Melanie @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
For better or worse, singer-songwriter Melanie Safka will always be remembered for her 1972 smash hit “Brand New Key,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts despite being banned from many radio stations because of implicit sexual innuendos. That song's success sometimes overshadows Melanie's other accomplishments—she delivered two more Top 40 hits that year alone, while “Brand New Key” simultaneously topped the charts—and the longevity of her career. Now 64 years old and more than 30 albums deep, the songwriter continues to pave her way as an artist unwilling to conform to anybody else's expectations.