This Week in Milwaukee: July 6-12, 2017
This year Summerfest saved some of its best indie-rock shows for last.
Thursday, July 6
Tegan and Sara @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
In some circles, “going pop” has a bad connotation. But what if performers were born to do pop music? The sister/sister indie-rock duo Tegan and Sara had been dabbling in pop music for years before they fully embraced the synth-heavy spirit of modern Top 40 music with their 2013 reinvention Heartthrob. It was a natural fit: the more danceable sounds didn’t come at the expense of the confessional lyrics and dry wit that the sisters have brought to all of their records. Last year they released a similarly infectious sequel to that album, Love You to Death.
AWOLNATION @ Uline Warehouse, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
You have to admire the audacity of AWOLNATION. At a time when prog-rock was deeply out of fashion, the Los Angeles electronic-rock band looked to the spirit of Styx on their breakout anthem “Sail.” The group’s 2011 debut album, Megalithic Symphony, ran with that more-is-more mentality, bounding from cocky pop songs like “People” to opulent, Muse-esque arena-rockers like “Soul Wars.” They followed that record up with a characteristically bombastic sophomore effort, 2015’s Run, a heavy, rowdy album driven by the group’s bulldozer guitars and synths.
BJ The Chicago Kid @ Johnson Controls World Sound Stage, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
For much of his career Chicago soul singer BJ The Chicago Kid has been a proverbial bridesmaid, lending his suave voice to tracks by rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Freddie Gibbs and Schoolboy Q (on his hit “Studio”), without finding much traction for his own solo projects. That finally changed last year, though, when Motown Records released his sophomore album, In My Mind, a forward-looking record that earned him a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. It features guest raps from some of BJ’s usual collaborators, including Chance The Rapper, Big K.R.I.T and Kendrick Lamar.
Friday, July 7
Michelle Branch @ Summerfest’s U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, 8 p.m.
Grammy Award-winning artist Michelle Branch was only 17 when her 2001 major-label debut album, The Spirit Room, made her the pop star many young girls dream of becoming. The Spirit Room was certified gold, its songs “Everywhere,” “All You Wanted” and “Goodbye to You” all Billboard Top 40 hits, made even more impressive by the fact she wrote them herself. That was only the start of a career that hasn’t peaked yet. Branch is currently on tour in support of her new album, Hopeless Romantic, which features on-brand powerhouse vocals and songs about relationships, but with a grown-up twist. She’s not a teenager anymore, and her new songs reflect the messiness of adulthood.
Julieta Venegas @ The Rave / Eagles Club, 9 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas sings entirely in Spanish, but one needn’t speak the language to understand her music. She has six Latin Grammy Awards, one Grammy Award, and a fan base that spans the globe. Venegas dappled in alternative Latin music in the ’90s, but with a switch in direction for her third album, Si, she found her calling in pop/rock. Her current tour brings her back to her roots to perform stripped down versions of hits spanning her repertoire, like “Andar Conmigo,” “Lento” and “Limón y Sal.” This is the first time Venegas has performed in Milwaukee.
Saturday, July 8
Future w/ Big Sean and Migos @ American Family Insurance Amphitheater, 8 p.m.
After a long prolific stretch that’s seen him release a new album or mixtape every few months, this winter Future made history when he became the first ever to debut albums at number one on the Billboard albums chart in consecutive weeks. Just a week after his menacing self-titled album topped the charts, it was replaced by the more R&B-minded HENDRXX, an album that showcased his gifts as both a rapper and a singer. He’ll be joined on this bill be two other modern rap acts that are coming off of recent career highs. Big Sean scored his own number one record this year with I Decided, which features the biggest hit of his career, the rally anthem “Bounce Back.” Internet icons Migos, meanwhile, scored the first number one hit of their short but influential career this winter with their Lil Uzi Vert collaboration “Bad and Boujee.” It’s not often you’ll find a rap bill with three artists all at the peak of their commercial and creative powers.
Whitney @ Johnson Control’s World Stage, Summerfest, 8 p.m.
While frontman Cullen Omori set off on a solo career after the breakup of the late, beloved Chicago power-pop ensemble Smith Westerns, his former bandmates Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich started their own new group called Whitney. It didn’t take long for the indie-pop group to find an audience: Their debut album Light Upon the Lake thrust them into the limelight last year, thanks to infectious summer jams like “The Falls” and “Golden Days,” which offset the group’s lush instrumentals with breezy vocals and a lighthearted, feel-good air. The record raked in rave reviews from publications like Paste and Pitchfork, and earned the band a vocal fan in Sir Elton John, who was so enthusiastic about the record that he interviewed the group for a New York Times magazine feature last fall.
Sunday, July 9
The Shins @ BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, 9:45 p.m.
Blame Zach Braff, not James Mercer, for that notoriously awful line of dialogue in Garden State about how The Shins will “change your life.” The band themselves never made any such claims, nor did they ever set out to make that kind of impact. Instead Mercer has been content to record dreamy, intimate pop songs about romance and social phobias. On the group’s latest record, the typically radiant Heartworms, Mercer once again proves himself one of indie-rock’s most incisive songwriters, penning tunes about anxiety, feminism and his own childhood. More than two decades into the band’s run, his knack of weightless melodies remains undiminished. These songs may not change your life, but they will brighten your day.
Tuesday, July 11
Poetry in the Park @ Juneau Park, 6:30 p.m.
Music isn’t the only attractions in Milwaukee County Parks during the summer. Once a month through September, Juneau Park hosts this free Poetry in the Park event, where wordsmiths read their work against the inspiring backdrop of Lake Michigan. July’s lineup features four poets: Ed Werstein, Tiffany Miller, Pete Burzynski and the recently crowned Wisconsin Poet Laureate Karla Huston, an Appleton resident who won a Pushcart Prize for her 2013 collection A Theory of Lipstick. Guests are invited to bring chairs and blankets to sit on and food and refreshments to snack on.
Angelica Garcia @ The Back Room at Colectivo, 8 p.m.
The first word that comes to mind when listening to Angelica Garcia’s music is right in her name: angelic. The 17-year-old singer underlines those heavenly sounds with some chillingly undercurrents. “Tell my mother to not come after me … Her little bird grew big wings / Dangerous things,” she sings sweetly, and menacingly, on the opening track of her debut album, Medicine for Birds. Her blues-tinged hooks, mysterious storytelling and expressive voice make for a beguiling combination.
Wednesday, July 12
Southern Culture on the Skids w/ The Exotics @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Southern Culture on the Skids don’t take anything about their act too seriously. Their eccentric mélange of rockabilly, surf and country is packaged as both a parody and an homage to white-trash, trailer-park culture, and their live shows are even wilder than their records—they’ve been known to bring some fans on stage to dance, and to pelt others with fried chicken and banana pudding (or, as they pronounce it on one of their signature songs, “banana puddin’.”) Their act has changed little over the years, though on their most recent album, last year’s The Electric Pinecones, they dialed back the hillbilly antics a little bit in favor of richly layer psychedelic folk-rock.