This Week in Milwaukee
Alison Krauss and Union Station, Gene Ween and David Dondero
THURSDAY, SEPT. 8
The Constellations w/ Prussia @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
Before the Atlanta soul/rock/hip-hop group The Constellations landed on Virgin Records, they were receiving regular radio play in, of all places, Milwaukee. Radio Milwaukee took an interest in the band, spinning their Cee Lo-assisted single “Love Is a Murder,” among other tracks, and the group has repaid the favor by visiting the city regularly. Last year saw the major-label re-release of their 2008 album Southern Gothic, and a singles push for their Asher Roth collaboration “We're Here to Save the Day,” which has been licensed to TV shows including “Chuck” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
Hot Buttered Rum w/ Chicken Wire Empire @ Miramar Theatre, 9 p.m.
Though they're inspired more by The Grateful Dead's twangy, jammy tributes to Americana than bluegrass' Appalachian forefathers, Hot Buttered Rum is nonetheless one of the more traditional modern bluegrass (“newgrass”) acts, a San Francisco quintet that may exaggerate the genre's sharp tones, but never plays them for novelty. Of course, the group brings its own ideology to the music. It's doubtful, for instance, that Bill Monroe would have written a jam about biofuel, as Hot Buttered Rum did for the title track of their 2006 disc, Well-Oiled Machine. The group's 2009 album, Limbs Akimbo, takes them even further from their string-band beginnings, incorporating eclectic rock and jazz influences.
Conan O'Brien Can't Stop @ UWM Union Theatre, 7 p.m.
Filmed during the aftermath of Conan O'Brien's acrimonious, Jay Leno-spurred departure from NBC last year, the documentary Conan O'Brien Can't Stop follows the comedian on his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour. Though the film aims to romanticize its subject as a folk hero cruelly robbed of his dream job, the portrait that emerges of O'Brien isn't always a flattering one. Behind O'Brien's compulsive need to perform is an unveiled bitterness, and at times the comedian's spiteful fixation on the network executives that wronged him borders on petty.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 9
Indian Summer @ Summerfest Grounds
Traditional dances, music, weaving and pottery demonstrations, pow-wows and robust American-Indian cuisine such as wild rice, buffalo, venison and roasted corn are among the attractions at Indian Summer, the festival that marks the end of Milwaukee's ethnic-festival season and the beginning of fall. There will also be a marketplace filled with Indian pottery, artwork and crafts, a “Natural Path Herbal Area” with healing oils and teas on display, and lacrosse games and demonstrations.
Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival @ Riverside Park, 4 p.m.
West Bend's two-day Kettle Moraine Jazz Festival in Riverside Park hosts a particularly worldly lineup this year. The Friday headliners are guitarist Johannes Linstead (5:15 p.m.), saxophonist and composer Eric Darius (7:15 p.m.) and Polish singer Basia (9:15 p.m.). Saturday's lineup includes the Latin-jazz group Nabori (1:30 p.m.), smooth saxophonist Steve Cole (3:45 p.m.), British acoustic guitarist Peter White, and the swing revival band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (8:45 p.m.)
UWM PantherFest w/ Lupe Fiasco and Girl Talk @ Marcus Amphitheater, 5 p.m.
Lupe Fiasco, the socially conscious and increasingly politically minded Chicago rapper who this year made a major pop crossover with his third album, Lasers, and the hard-touring Pittsburgh mash-up DJ Girl Talk co-headline this year's UWM PantherFest semester kickoff concert at the Marcus Amphitheater. Milwaukee rapper Prophetic and DJ Kid Cut Up will also perform, and there will be fireworks, carnival games, sports competitions and demonstrations and entertainment from ComedySportz. Tickets are free for UWM students, alumni and faculty, but are not available to the general public.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 10
Alison Krauss and Union Station @ The Riverside Theater, 7 p.m.
Few musicians have been more instrumental in re-popularizing bluegrass music than Alison Krauss. Outside of her many solo albums and her six records with the band Union Station, the singer-songwriter has performed on two watershed albums in the roots-music revival: the 2000 soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Raising Sand, her 2007 collaboration with former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, both of which helped grow the audience for traditional country music. Her latest album with Union Station is this year's heavy-hearted Paper Airplane, her first record with the band since 2004's Lonely Runs Both Ways.
Gene Ween @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.
The cult experimental alt-rock band Ween has been teasing a follow-up to their 2007 album La Cucaracha for years now, but with details still short, singer Gene Ween has taken to the road for an acoustic tour. His solo shows tend to be chatty and informal, with the singer sharing stories and playing stripped-down versions of favorites from Ween's two-decadeplus career, as well as some occasional covers.
Rocky Votolato w/ Matt Pond PA and Jeff Pianki @ Cactus Club, 10 p.m.
Indie-folk singer-songwriter Rocky Votolato came of age around the same time as many greats from the turn-of-the-century Seattle music scene, collaborating with peers like David Bazan, Rosie Thomas, Red Stars Theory and Death Cab for Cutie. Though Votolato did time in the heavy indie band Waxwing, along with his brother Cody, of screamo heroes The Blood Brothers, his solo work leans toward quiet, intimate songs, with a faint flavor of country. In February he released his mostly acoustic sixth album, True Devotion.
MONDAY, SEPT. 12
MC Chris w/ MC Lars, Mega Ran and Adam WarRock @ Cactus Club, 8 p.m.
Adult Swim writer and voice-over artist MC Chris has regularly chastised critics who label his sci-fi-minded, novelty gangsta rap “nerdcore.” Given how dense his songs are with references to role-playing games, Star Wars and geek memes like robots and ninjas, though, it's easy to see where the tag comes from. Earlier this year the squeaky-voiced rapper released his first children's album, Marshmellow Playground. Tonight he performs as part of a bill commemorating the Cactus Club's 15th anniversary.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 13
David Dondero w/ Wilmot Proviso and Lady Cannon @ Cactus Club, 8 p.m.
Among those who were inspired by David Dondero's shambolic, lo-fi folk was Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, a longtime fan of Dondero (and Dondero's one-time folkpunk band This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb) who signed him to his Team Love label in 2005. Dondero's latest album, A Pre-Existing Condition, is his first since leaving Team Love, and it removes the relative bells and whistles of his three records for that label, returning the singer to the all-acoustic, live-from-a-cardboardbox sound of his early recordings.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 14
Tommy Keene w/ Doug Gillard Electric and Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Though Tommy Keene is regarded in some circles as one of the finest power-pop songwriters of the 1980s, that reputation did little to help him find commercial success. By the '90s he was performing as a guitarist-for-hire, touring with artists like Paul Westerberg. But he continued to release some assured solo albums, including a pair of underrated discs for Matador Records. He continues to release new albums every three or four years, like 2009's In the Late Bright, a characteristically melodic set of pop-rock that puts newfound emphasis on Keene's showy guitar work.