Oct. 16-Oct. 22
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, Oct. 16
With their twisty, tangled guitars and number-crunching chord changes, Minus the Bear sound increasingly disconnected from a greater indie-rock scene that now prefers manic, cute-overload pop or tranquilized, NPR-friendly troubadours, but that’s part of their growing appeal. Of course, it also helps that this Seattle group has honed its craft over recent albums and EPs, moving from the calculated stiffness of early releases toward warmer, sweeter songs. Their latest is an online/tour-only EP called Acoustics, which strips down six fan favorites and introduces a new one, the windswept “Guns & Ammo.” Openers Annuals strive for greatness on their just-released second album, Such Fun, pushing their chugging, pittering, pattering, blooping soundscapes toward Arcade Fire-levels of grandiosity. The group is still too green to always evoke the desired goose bumps, but when they do it’s worth hearing.
Merle Haggard @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 8 p.m.
Merle Haggard was integral in popularizing some of country’s most memorable movements, from the rugged, electric Bakersfield sound to the outlaw country aesthetic and later the Western-swing revival. His true legacy, though, is his songwriting. Like so many of the genre’s greats, his canon is marked by conflicted patriotism and fluid politics. His signature song, “Okie from Muskogee,” is either a loving tribute to or a scathing indictment of conservative values, depending on the performance, and his turn-of-the-century output has documented his ever-firming opposition to the war in Iraq in real time. In keeping with the leisurely pace and casual mood that have defined his mostly excellent output this decade, Haggard’s latest album is an informal affair self-explanatorily titled The Bluegrass Sessions.
Friday, Oct. 17The Animation Show @ Times Cinema, 7 p.m.
The 2008 installment of The Animation Show, the country’s last major touring animation festival, is the first not to include contributions from festival founders Mike Judge (the “Beavis and Butt-Head” creator who is presumably busy with his current television commitments) and Don Hertzfeldt (who quit the festival for unknown reasons earlier this year). Festival mainstays Bill Plympton, PES and Georges Schwizgebel are well represented with new features, however, and rising star Steve Dildarian makes his festival debut with “Angry Unpaid Hooker,” a characteristically awkward short starring his Tim character, who now has his own HBO show. (Through Oct. 23.)
Joel McHale @ The Riverside Theater, 8 p.m.
As the sharp-tongued host of E!’s “The Soup,” Joel McHale skewers the usual celebrity targets (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton), placing an ostensible focus on trash television. Ironically, McHale has become the very sort of television personality he often lashes, raking up a slew of appearances on shows like “Iron Chef America,” “Last Comic Standing” and the swiftly canceled “Thank God You’re Here.” He’s even become a staple of MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” where he frequently drags the staid political commentator down into pop-culture mud with him. He’s one of the few E! personalities with a sense of awareness about the channel. In his live act, he regularly concedes, “I work for the Ryan Seacrest network.”
Saturday, Oct. 18
The B-52s @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.
Little-changed since their late-’70s reign as the kings and queens of Athens’ onceproud college rock scene—or, for that matter, from the late-’80s stardom they amassed when “Love Shack” became the country’s favorite party song—The B-52s returned after a 16-year studio hiatus this year for Funplex. Though they’re now set to bigger, more modern dance-club beats, their songs still ring out with the boy-girl backand-forth and the campy declarations of freakiness that made this would-be novelty group so enduring. Funplex’s title track has even returned the foursome to the radio, albeit mostly to the college radio where they got their start, not the Top 40 where they made their fortune.
The Notwist w/ Le Loup @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Of all the bookish musicians who, with the help of their laptops, infused their mopey, meditative songs with some electronic pep, creating a genre fittingly branded “glitch-pop,” The Postal Service recorded the most successful album, but it was The Notwist—a German metal band that mellowed with age—that recorded the best. An utterly enchanting collection of lush, jazzy bedroom electronica, 2002’s Neon Golden was widely imported and bootlegged by American music fans until its 2003 stateside release, which only prompted anticipation for a follow-up. More than five years later, the band finally followed up Neon Golden with The Devil, You Me, an album that finds the group little-evolved despite their considerable hiatus. The breathless beauty of their breakthrough album is still on full display, but the magic and mystery which made that record such a landmark less so.
Jennifer O’Connor w/ Juniper Tar @ Y-Not II, 10 p.m.
An oddity on Matador Records’ iconoclastic roster of rabble-rousers and trendsetters, Jennifer O’Connor plays straightforward folk with faint rustic undertones, not unlike thousands of other singer-songwriters who never gig beyond their local coffeehouses. What she lacks in flair, though, she makes up for in songwriting polish. Her latest, Here With Me, assembles a dozen grippingly brief songs that breathe life into even the most exhausted sentiments. O’Connor last played Milwaukee in July at a gig that cemented her affection for the city. “Previously, I’d been to this fine city only once to play and had such a great time,” she wrote on her blog. “I wondered if it was a fluke. I now know it was no fluke—Milwaukee may just be the finest place on Earth.”
Carlos Mencia @ The Riverside Theater, 7 p.m.
The comedy elite holds an inherent grudge against any comedian who achieves breakthrough success a little too quickly and cleanly, but it reserves particular disdain for Carlos Mencia. Mencia’s base racial humor and his sketch show, “Mind of Mencia,” a face-value “Chappelle’s Show” knock-off, would have been enough to earn the ire of his fellow comedians, but Mencia’s true crime is alleged plagiarism. He’s been accused of lifting jokes from some of comedy’s greats (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) and even some of comedy’s not-so-greats (Bobby Lee, Jeff Foxworthy). George Lopez has proved a particular mark. The sitcom star has claimed that Mencia stole more than 10 minutes of his material.
Sunday, Oct. 19The Revival Tour @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Punk has a long history of interest in folk music, dating back to Joe Strummer’s pre- Clash worship of Woody Guthrie. In an age where the late Johnny Cash has been re-imagined as a punk godfather and when younger punk artists are increasingly returning to their populist roots, there’s been a broader, renewed interest in DIY, Guthrie-styled folk. On the collaborative Revival Tour, three singer-songwriters previously best known for their electric work indulge their rustic tendencies: Hot Water Music’s Chuck Ragan, Lucero’s Ben Nichols and Avail’s Tim Barry, one of the first prominent punk luminaries to go the Southern acoustic route.
Wednesday, Oct. 22
New Kids on the Block w/ Natasha Bedingfield @ Bradley Center, 8 p.m.
Curiosity alone was bound to make New Kids on the Block’s long-delayed reunion a financial success at the very least, but against the odds the reunion has turned the seminal boy band into commercial powerhouses once again. The group is enjoying the success of their high-charting comeback album The Block, a distinctly modern pop album that is much more adult (or, in their words, “sexified”) than the boyish bubblegum with which the quintet earned their fame. As if to stave off the inevitable middle-aged impotence jokes, the grown-up Kids have crafted a nasty, skeet-covered set of R&B pop. That ought to make for a curious live show: How, exactly, will New Kids on the Block pair the innocent, preteen-friendly hits of yore with their new songs about homemade pornography and stained sheets?