This Week in Milwaukee
Youth Lagoon, Opening Day and Lucero
Thursday, April 5
Youth Lagoon w/ Blessed Feathers and Porcelain Raft @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
It's funny how a little bit of talent is all it takes to make even some of the most exhausted sounds feel new again. Released last year through Fat Possum Records, songwriter Trevor Powers' debut album as Youth Lagoon, The Year of Hibernation, was crafted exclusively from oft-abused indie-rock signatures: twee melodies, lullaby-tuned keyboards and hazy, bedroom production, all topped off by a tiny, androgynous voice. Even the album's packaging was tired, its vaguely vintage-looking cover photo indistinguishable from those of so many vapid chillwave records from the last few years. The music itself, though, is utterly vibrant and alive, poignant and uplifting like few other recent indie-rock records. Powers' gift is knowing how to use flimsy sounds to convey great scope. Even his smallest, most lo-fi constructions suggest real grandeur.
Dinosaur Feathers w/ Shy Mirrors and Control @ Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
Recalling the summer harmonies of The Beach Boys, the polyrhythmic diversions of Vampire Weekend and the experimental wanderings of Animal Collective, Dinosaur Feathers' plucky debut album, Fantasy Memorial, won the Brooklyn band props from The New York Times and Paste magazine, among others, but it was the band's jovial live performances that earned the group much of their following. After two years spent mostly on the road, the group will release its second album this month: Whistle Tips, which promises to introduce new dynamics into the quartet's upbeat pop. A press release for the album suggests it takes cues from XTC, The Soft Boys, The Olivia Tremor Control and "of course Paul McCartney's Wings." Of course.
Cornmeal w/ The Giving Tree Band @ Shank Hall, 9 p.m.
From their humble beginnings as a house band in Chicago, the progressive-bluegrass ensemble Cornmeal grew an audience that allowed them to play high-profile festivals like Bonnaroo with some of the legends of traditional bluegrass, including David Grisman, John Hartford and The Del McCoury Band. After recording three studio albums—the latest and most accomplished of which is 2006's self-produced Feet First—the band released a pair of live albums, 2010's Live in Chicago, IL, Vol. 1, and last year's Live in Chicago, IL, Vol. II, which includes the 20-minute jam "Troubled Land."
Friday, April 6
Opening Day @ Miller Park, 3:10 p.m.
The Milwaukee Brewers' most successful season in a quarter-century left fans wondering whether the team would be able to follow it up, especially now that slugger Prince Fielder has shipped off to Detroit. Spring training this year has given them some cause for hope. Replacement first baseman Mat Gamel arrived for Arizona with real power in his bat, and Jonathan Lucroy's impressive spring showing helped him secure a well-earned five-year extension on his contract. If the starting rotation can stay healthy and Ryan Braun can keep pace with his 2011 numbers, the team has a real shot at playing ball into October again. The season hits the ground running today with a rematch against the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals.
Lucero w/ William Elliott Whitmore @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
It's almost a shame to lump in Lucero with all those other alt-country bands, since instead of the passive folk and timid retro-twang that predominate that genre, this Memphis group kicks up an edgier, rockier sound, a fiercer take on The Replacements' rowdy roots-rock. The group's 2009 major-label debut 1372 Overton Park, sacrificed none of Lucero's ramshackle energy; the same goes for its even more Bruce Springsteen-inspired follow-up, Women & Work, which finds singer Ben Nichols belting out more songs to his two great muses in his signature, whiskey-stained rasp. The band shares this show with Iowa blues-folk songwriter William Elliott Whitmore.
Giada De Laurentiis @ The Riverside Theater, 7 p.m.
The petite and photogenic chef behind Food Network programs like "Everyday Italian" and "Giada at Home," Giada De Laurentiis has made a career out of instructing viewers on how to prepare simple but sophisticated home cuisine. Her latest cookbook, Weeknights With Giada, puts her solidly in Rachael Ray's territory. In it, she shares recipes for simple dinners, most of which can be prepared after work in about 30 minutes or less (it'll be interesting to see if Ray retaliates by releasing an Italian cookbook). De Laurentiis will be discussing some of those tips and dishes at this appearance. Each ticket includes an autographed copy of her book.
Hip-Hop Hates Illiteracy @ Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
So far local rap promoter JC Poppe's "Hip-Hop Hates" series has taken on MS, breast cancer and HIV. The latest installment sets its sights on a different kind of problem: illiteracy. This fund-raiser for Milwaukee's Literacy Services of Wisconsin will feature performances from local rappers Pizzle, who last fall released his pop-savvy album Fame in Vain; Ray Nitti, whose club hit "Bow" remains a favorite on local radio; Blizz McFly, who offered a novel blend of electronic and rock sounds on last year's Big Dreams Bright Lights; and C-Piepz, who last month released a video for his club-minded single "Break It Down."
Saturday, April 7
Colin O'Brien w/ Chicken Wire Empire @ Linneman's Riverwest Inn, 8 p.m.
A longtime staple of Milwaukee pubs and open-mic nights, singer-songwriter Colin O'Brien—also a member of the bluegrass band Salt Creek—recently left the city behind in favor of Nashville, Tenn., where he recorded his latest album, After a Song. Judging by the record, he's doing just fine down there. After a Song surrounds the guitarist/banjoist with a crack lineup of Nashville session players who bring a lively intensity to his original Americana tunes. O'Brien returns home for this album release show.
Guster w/ Jeff Garlin @ The Pabst Theater, 7 p.m.
Following the jam-band business model even though they don't much care for jamming, alt-rockers Guster have gradually built their following by encouraging tape trading and touring colleges like the one they formed at two decades ago, Tufts University. They've become a better pop band with each release, casting themselves as something of a small-scale Coldplay without the egos and with a friendly sense of humor (in 2005 they celebrated their Judaism with a side project called Hanukkah Rocks). For this tour they've put their humor on display once again, sharing the stage with gregarious comedian Jeff Garlin, of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Sunday, April 8
Nero w/ Dillion Francis @ The Riverside Theater, 7 p.m.
As dubstep continues its commercial surge, a simple pattern has emerged: The genre's biggest acts are also its loudest ones. That's certainly the case for the fast-rising Nero, a London duo that measures right up there with Skrillex on the decibel meter. Behind all the grinding synths and wobble bass, though—and to be sure, Nero builds a mighty thick wall of wobble bass—there's an interesting artistic vision. The group's 2011 album Welcome Reality was conceived as a score to a nonexistent sci-fi film, a fun setup that let the duo indulge in the epic, proggy excesses you'd expect from an electronic group that once collaborated with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.