Dec. 11 - Dec. 17
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, Dec. 11
Shawn Colvin w/ Garrison Starr @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
After long and mostly under-the-radar beginnings, Colvin scored a Top 10 hit in 1997 with her revenge tale “Sunny Came Home,” a song that dovetailed with the era’s newfound interest in female empowerment and Lilith Fair-friendly folk-rock. By the end of the ’90s, though, Lilith Fair had ended for good, and radio replaced Lisa Loeb and Meredith Brooks with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, creating a climate where a middle-aged singer-songwriter like Colvin stood no chance of scoring a follow-up hit. Colvin has spent much of the past decade on the road, and although she hasn’t duplicated her previous commercial success, she’s released a pair of wellreceived new albums, including 2006’s These Four Walls on Nonesuch Records, a label that’s found its niche harboring singer-songwriters who have passed their radio expiration date.
Barbara Stephan @ Miramar Theatre, 6:45 p.m.
Singer Barbara Stephan, a staple of regional music and jazz festivals like Summerfest, Jazz in the Park and the Third Ward Jazz Festival, celebrates the release of her latest album, I’m Awake. Featuring production from Joe Puerta and guitars from Keith Pulvermacher and Mike DeRose, the record spotlights Stephan’s buoyant, R&B-inflected voice, which fills these soft-pop songs with a pervasive warmth.
Friday, Dec. 12
The Scarring Party @ Cactus Club, 10 p.m.
The Scarring Party plays old-timey, tuba- and accordion-driven jazz; vintage American music as re-imagined through the lens of Tom Waits records and haunted carnival rides. Even when filtered through a quirky, archaic microphone, their lyrics are decidedly macabre, reading like excerpts from a George Romero script peppered with nods to Nietzsche. The band’s percussive cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows,” recorded live on WMSE and available on their Web site, is perhaps the best version of the song since Concrete Blonde’s.
Nut/Cracked @ UWM Mainstage Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
If you like your dance performances with a whiff of dissidence, Your Mother Dances, a feminist dance troupe founded by a divorced mother of three, might be up your alley. Reprising one of the most popular inclusions from last year’s “Extravagantly Extravagant Winter-Extravaganza,” this year the troupe performs the full version of Nut/Cracked, a comedic sendup of the The Nutcracker choreographed by New York City’s David Parker. Like so many so-called “subversive” parodies of Christmas classics, it’s actually another loving tribute to the holidays packaged with gentle jokes at their expense. (Through Dec. 14.)
Harry Connick Jr. @ The Riverside Theater, 8 p.m.
Along with New Orleans and that “Saturday Night Live” skit where Tracy Morgan and James Van Der Beek taunt him with a laser pointer as he attempts to play “My Funny Valentine,” Harry Connick Jr. is known for Christmas. In addition to creating his own swingingly saccharine holiday special, The Happy Elf, the smoothjazz pop singer has recorded several Christmas albums, the latest of which, What a Night! A Christmas Album, includes “how has he not already covered these?” standards like “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Saturday, Dec. 13
Tiles w/ Discipline @ Vnuk’s Lounge, 9:30 p.m.
Michigan’s rising prog-rock band Tiles formed in 1993, a time when bands like Alice In Chains and Living Colour put a disguised, proggy spin on modern rock. Though they retain that era’s signature simple, no-nonsense fuzz riffs, Tiles makes a point of branching into elaborate polyrhythm and overt nods to Rush. Released in January, their latest album, Fly Paper, even boasts an impressive guest guitar spot by Rush’s Alex Lifeson. Tonight the group is joined by a greener Detroit prog-rock group, Discipline, whose symphonic hard-rock songs clap and clatter like they were recorded in an abandoned auto factory.
Sunday, Dec. 14
Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ Bradley Center, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
When the Trans-Siberian Orchestra debuted its 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, 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, as the band has proved so popular that it’s split into two touring groups to further capitalize on the seasonal demand. Next summer promises to see the release of the outfit’s fifth album—and their first not themed around the holidays—Nightcastle.
Even before the indie-dance boom of half a decade ago, The Faint was playing glamorous, danceable synth-rock, marked by retro New Order arrangements and big, catchy choruses—their libidinous signature track, “Worked Up So Sexual,” still outshines 99% of all dance-punk. The Saddle Creek alums toned things down for their most recent albums, 2004’s Wet From Birth and this year’s Fascination, opting for digital soundscapes indebted to Depeche Mode, but their live shows are still all about the party. The Faint performs while backed by animated projections that playfully riff on the band’s recurring motifs of sexuality, procreation and existential despair.
Monday, Dec. 15
Sleighriders @ Shank Hall, 7 p.m.
Every year, Shank Hall’s annual benefit for the SafeZone Community Art Center brings out a couple-dozen luminaries from the Milwaukee music scene, who come together to form the city’s largest jam band for an evening. This year’s Sleighriders roster features, among many others, Greg Koch, Eddie Butts, Sigmund Snopek, Mark Krueger and members of Bad Boy, Street Life, The Boogiemen and the Daryl Stuermer Band. Keith Pulvermacher and The Brandon James Band warm up the crowd.
Wednesday, Dec. 17
103.7 Kiss FM Kissmas Bash w/ Jesse McCartney, Metro Station and Shontelle
@ The Rave, 6:30 p.m.
Had anyone ever done less to earn the title “pop star” than Jesse McCartney did? For years the singer coasted on his boyish good looks and considerable financial backing from Disney, scoring only the most disposable of Radio Disney hits, but 2008 may be remembered as the year that McCartney finally earned his keep. Not only did he manage to distance himself from his embarrassing kiddie-pop roots and reinvent himself as a grown-up lothario a la Justin Timberlake and Ne-Yo, but he actually co-wrote one of the biggest hits of the year, Leona Lewis’ awesome, inescapable “Bleeding Love,” suggesting he’s a far bigger talent than his feeble voice lets on. He plays tonight as part of 103.7’s Kissmas Bash, with the third-tier synth pop band Metro Station, whose claim to fame is—sigh—singer Trace Cyrus’ familial relationship to half-sister Miley.
Sister Hazel @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Sister Hazel scored one of the most amiable hits of 1997 with “All for You,” a jangly roots-pop sing-along that lit up adult alternative stations but marked the band as another 1990s one-hit wonder (at least among listeners who correctly attribute that one hit to them—to this day many listeners understandably assume that Blues Traveler recorded the song). Sister Hazel has changed remarkably little over the past decade—they still sound a lot like Blues Traveler, with a dash of Counting Crows—but although they’ve released their recent albums to diminishing sales and interest, they’ve remained an enduring touring institution. This month singer Ken Block also released his first solo album, Drift.