This Week in Milwaukee
Cage the Elephant, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mac Miller
Thursday, Dec. 15
FM 102.1 Big Snow Show w/ Cage the Elephant, The Joy Formidable and Sleeper Agent @ The Rave, 7:30 p.m.
The local modern-rock station FM 102.1 has some exciting acts for its annual holiday show. Headliners Cage the Elephant have been alt-radio staples since their breakout hit "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," from their 2008 self-titled debut album, a funky slab of bluespunk with debt to Beck and G. Love & Special Sauce. The bill's real gem, though, is The Joy Formidable, the Welsh trio that earned plenty of airtime this year with "Whirring," one of the massive, surging alt-rock epics on the group's awesomely over-stuffed 2011 full-length debut, The Big Roar, one of the year's most exhilarating rock records. The scruffy Kentucky alt-rock band Sleeper Agent starts off the night.
Mickey Hart Band @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
Tim Hockenberry, keyboardist and trombone player in the Mickey Hart Band, describes the group's sound as "experimental music from outer space meets some of the funkiest rhythm section I've ever played with." Named for its founder, the former Grateful Dead drummer, the Mickey Hart Band features percussionists from across the globe, including South Africa's Ian "Inkx" Herman and Nigeria's Sikiru Adepoju, along with American players spanning from California to Virginia. Sharing their skills on the talking drum, djembe and caxixi, among other unique instruments, the group weaves a seamless and beguiling blend of sounds that titillate the senses and soothe the frenzied mind.
Friday, Dec. 16
Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ Bradley Center, 4 and 8 p.m.
When the Trans-Siberian Orchestra debuted their symphonic take on Christmas music in the late-'90s, it sounded an awful lot like a novelty. In the years since, however, their progged-out, pyrotechnics- and light-show-assisted tours have become an enduring tradition—not to mention a lucrative one. The group's recent tours have been raking in about $40 million a year, and the band has proved so popular that it split into two entities to better capitalize on the seasonal demand. The group doesn't want to be entirely pigeonholed as a Christmas act—in 2009 they released their second non-holiday album, Night Castle—but the group remains most celebrated for the albums in their Christmas trilogy: Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas Eve.
MAM After Dark: Festivus @ Milwaukee Art Museum, 5 p.m.
"A Festivus for the rest of us!" With those seven words, a new holiday tradition was born. Introduced to the world via "Seinfeld," Festivus is a secular day for those who deem Christmas too commercial. Festivus traditions, as interpreted by this seasonal installment of the Milwaukee Art Museum's monthly "After Dark" event, include the "Airing of Grievances," where you can vent resentment toward family and friends at a forum hosted by ComedySportz's Beth Lewinski, and "Feats of Strength" competitions. A fake donation to the nonexistent Human Fund enters you in a raffle to win a Festivus pole. There will also be plenty of art to browse, a full cash bar with happy-hour drink specials until 7 p.m., and music from Radio Milwaukee's Tarik Moody.
Michael Plaisted and Eric Blowtorch @ Dryhootch, 7 p.m.
Two veteran Milwaukee troubadours and mutual fans, folk rabble-rouser Michael Plaisted and reggae-enthusiast Eric Blowtorch, will trade sets at a free show at the Dryhootch coffee shop, 1030 E. Brady St. The evening promises plenty of politically charged songs. As always, all sales at the coffee shop aid Milwaukee-area veterans.
Saturday, Dec. 17
Mac Miller w/ Hot Chelle Rae and Kreayshawn @ The Rave, 7 p.m.
As is often the case, one of the year's biggest breakout rappers has also proved one of the most divisive. Nineteen-year-old Pittsburgh kid Mac Miller, a protégé of sorts to Wiz Khalifa, was able to translate his massive online following into real record sales this fall with his hit debut album, Blue Slide Park. That success was greeted by plenty of hair-pulling from rap's old guard, which remains leery of the white rapper, likening him to a hip-hop Justin Bieber (comparisons made easy by Miller's intense, young fan base). Unlike past frat-rappers, though—cough, Asher Roth—Miller never plays his background off as a shtick; he just kicks agreeably mellow, good-natured rhymes about dreams and house parties. This KISS-FM-sponsored holiday show pairs Miller with one of the year's other big rap curiosities, Kreayshawn, a feisty white girl who has invited a good deal of controversy since scoring a Mac Miller novelty hit ("Gucci Gucci"). The pop-rock band Hot Chelle Rae, whose sugary "Tonight Tonight" was a staple of KISS stations this year, holds down the middle of the bill.
Sunday, Dec. 18
The Great Lakes Improvising Orchestra@ Woodland Pattern Book Center, 2 p.m.
Hal Rammel, the eccentric host of "Alternating Currents," WMSE's Sunday-night experimental music program, debuts his latest project, The Great Lakes Improvising Orchestra, a 12-piece ensemble, with "an afternoon of open-form collective improvisation" at the Woodland Pattern Book Center. Rammel will play musical saw as part of a collective that includes past and present members of Collections of Colonies of Bees and former Okkervil River drummer Seth Warren-Crow.
Monday, Dec. 19
The Sleighriders @ Shank Hall, 7 p.m.
Every December, veteran players from all corners of the Milwaukee music scene (and longtime friends of the music scene, including Cheap Trick's Bun E. Carlos) gather together at Shank Hall as The Sleighriders for a big, joyous jam session to raise money for the SafeZone Community Art Center. This year's lineup includes Greg Koch, Eddie Butts, Sigmund Snopek, Annie Denison, Steve Cohen and members of The Boogie Men, Bad Boy, Bluehand and Streetlife, among many, many others.
Santa Cycle Rampage @ Multiple locations, 9 a.m.
In one of the city's most colorful new holiday traditions, dozens of bicyclists don Santa Claus costumes and ride across the city, stopping regularly for food and libations. This year cyclists will meet up at one of four starting points—Fuel Café, Café Centraal and the East Side and Tosa Village Café Hollanders—and ride to the Lakefront Brewery, Great Lakes Distillery and Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall (where there will be a polka party with free food) before heading to Café Centraal for a post-ride party that begins at 4 p.m.
Ex Fabula Spectacular: Family Ties @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 6:30 p.m.
The storytelling slam Ex Fabula invites Milwaukeeans of all stripes to share stories in front of a live audience, without using notes. Typically storytellers are limited to five minutes, but this expanded, year-end installment of Ex Fabula will allow some extended, 10-minute stories and feature a few stories told by two people. This winter's theme is "Family Ties," which should allow for plenty of tragicomic stories about one of the most reliable causes of stress around the holiday season: relatives.
Sandi Patty and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra@ Riverside Theater, 6:30 p.m.
The Voice, as Christian singer Sandi Patty is affectionately referred to by her fans, earned her nickname due to her remarkable vocal range. With a tone verging on operatic, she saunters her way up the scale, changing keys effortlessly yet precisely, only to crescendo to a conclusion any soprano would kill for. Over the years, Patty discovered that her vocal range encompasses a remarkable four octaves—to put that into perspective, the average vocal range in humans is only about two octaves, at best. She'll put that voice to work on a program of Christmas songs tonight, backed by Milwaukee's top orchestra.
Wednesday, Dec. 21
Winter Fest @ Frontier Airlines Center, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
The Frontier Airlines Center makes itself over as a winter wonderland for its 10-day, familyfriendly Winter Fest through Dec. 31, hosting a variety of games, rides and inflatable decorations, as well as a skating rink, a vintage-style movie theater, a trackless train, a winter village, a rockclimbing wall and an entertainment stage.