This Week in Milwaukee: Feb. 23 - Mar. 15, 2017
Thursday, Feb. 23
Tripoli Shrine Circus @ UW Panther Arena, 7 p.m.
Old-fashioned circuses have been a relic of the past for quite a while, but they now seem more endangered than ever. Last year, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus retired elephants from their show, following growing concerns about the treatment of those animals. It wasn’t enough to turn the tide. This year, that circus announced it’ll close for good in May. American audiences, it seemed, didn’t want to see a circus with elephants, but they didn’t want to see one without them, either. What this trend means for other circuses, including the annual Tripoli Shrine Circus in Milwaukee, remains to be seen. But for now, the Tripoli circus is carrying on as scheduled. This year’s is set to feature the usual array of aerialists, clowns and animals. (Multiple performances through Sunday, Feb. 26.)
The Four Tops w/ Milwaukee Children’s Choir @ The Pabst Theater, 7:30 p.m.
Every so often an act comes through town that makes you run the math. The Detroit vocal quartet The Four Tops formed in the 1950s and helped establish Motown’s hit sound with their 1964 smash “Baby I Need Your Loving.” So that would make them how old now? Sadly, the group has lost three of its original members—including passionate frontman Levi Stubbs, who died in 2008—but original singer Abdul “Duke” Fakir (now 81) continues to lead a version of the group that includes original member Lawrence Payton’s son. At this show they’ll perform with the Milwaukee Children’s Choir.
Friday, Feb. 24
Coolio @ Mad Planet, 9 p.m.
Although the hits dried up for Coolio long ago, the rapper never quite disappeared. He became a television personality, appearing on shows like “Wife Swap” and Food Network’s “Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off” and, in a less flattering light, on “TMZ,” where he’s sometimes roasted for his news-making personal missteps. This week, the “Fantastic Voyage” and “Gangsta’s Paradise” rapper will headline a special installment of Mad Planet’s Friday Retro Dance Party, where he’ll perform and appear at a meet and greet with fans. Tickets are $15.
Diamond Banks @ Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
“No more vacations until I make a million,” Milwaukee-native Diamond Banks vows on her debut EP, Golden. Like many of her peers, Banks specializes in bootstrap-pulling modern rap, but her approach separates her from the pack: Like Dej Loaf, she’s as adept at singing as she is at rapping, so her EP is divided between fierce hip-hop numbers and smooth, vaguely ’90s-inspired R&B tracks like “We Good” and “Remember Me.” Banks headlines this release show for the EP, supported by performers Khiante Hardy, Tae The Ticket, Shaun B, Siddity Gangg, Timmy Comix and DJ KTB.
Jamey Johnson w/ Chris Hennessee @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Jamey Johnson has a voice that perfectly evokes the music he writes. A little bit weary, a little bit ragged and filled with a lot of soul, his Southern drawl brings songs about heartbreak, hard times and bad luck taken straight from the playbooks of Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings to life. His second LP, The Guitar Song, was an ambitious double album alternatively weary and full of hope that reached the top of the Billboard country charts and topped many critics’ end-of-the-year lists. His latest full-length album, 2012’s Living for a Song, is a tribute to songwriter Hank Cochran featuring collaborations with an enviable list of country greats who interpreted lovingly, but never strayed far from, the spirit of the originals. Hog riders take note: This show will feature a display of 2017 Harley-Davidsons.
Willy Porter and Carmen Nickerson w/ Mike Mangione @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Part of what’s made guitarist Willy Porter one of Milwaukee’s most reliable, longtime live draws is his versatility: He can perform in any number of configurations—sometimes he’s solo, other time he’s backed by a full rock band. Lately he’s done some of his best work with singer Carmen Nickerson, who’s lent vocals to a few of Porter’s recent releases and appeared with him on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” The two have come together under the name Porter Nickerson for their new collaborative album, Bonfire to Ash, which features songs co-written by both artists. The two were set to play a release show in December that got cancelled on short notice; this week they’ll play their makeup show.
Katt Williams @ Milwaukee Theatre, 8 p.m.
More often than not when Katt Williams is in the news it has less to do with his comedy and more for his legal problems. He has a long history of bizarre behavior and legal problems that would give even the most reckless rap stars pause. Given that background, it wasn’t too surprising when Williams quickly flip-flopped after announcing his retirement in 2012—just three days later he backtracked. Despite being out of the game less than a week, he launched a massive (and massively successful) “Katt is Back” tour and reaffirmed his star power with a Spike Lee-directed HBO special. His latest tour is called “The Conspiracy Tour.”
Big Gigantic w/ Brasstracks and Artifakts @ The Riverside Theater, 9 p.m.
Saxophonist and producer Dominic Lalli puts his skills as a DJ and improviser to work in Big Gigantic, his duo with drummer Jeremy Salken. The group’s 2009 release, Fire It Up, quickly stirred up buzz in some of dance music’s more eccentric outer circles, while Lalli affirmed his jam credentials that summer by creating some well-received remixes for STS9’s album Peaceblaster. STS9 returned the favor, appearing on the title track of Big Gigantic’s 2010 album A Place Behind the Moon, an even funkier outing. The group’s recent releases, including 2014’s The Night is Young and last year’s guest-heavy Brighter Future, have taken on a more aggressive dubstep flavor, earning them an ever bigger following.
Saturday, Feb. 25
Split Lip Rayfield w/ The Piss Poor Players @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Kansas’ Split Lip Rayfield formed with a simple premise: They play acoustic bluegrass, only fast and heavy. Call it a shtick, if you like, but it’s proven to be a fruitful one, and the muse has been inspiring enough to keep them going for more than two decades and a half-dozen albums. Even the death of founding guitarist Kirk Rundstrom in 2007 didn’t slow them down much: The surviving members opted to stay together, performing in his honor. Last month, the group released their first new album in eight years, On My Way.