April 30 - May 6
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, April 30
Guster @ Marquette University, 7:30 p.m.
Following the jam-band business model even though they don’t much care for jamming,Guster has gradually built their following by encouraging tape trading and touring colleges like the one that spawned them 18 years 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 Jewish faith with a side project called Hanukkah Rocks). They’re working on a new CD for tentative release later this year, and in typical good-guy fashion, the band will buy carbon credits to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing the record.
Sho’ Nuff Gospel Music @ The Marcus Center, 8 p.m.
Though it ran just a month ago at the Mason Temple Church of God In Christ, Milwaukee playwright Andre’ Lee Ellis’ Sho’ Nuff Gospel Music returns for a three-night encore, this time at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The production is as much a concert as it is a musical, charting the history of gospel music over the past century and a half, letting songs like “Precious Lord” and “Oh Happy Day” speak for themselves. The production, which Ellis hopes to bring to Chicago this fall, features some of Milwaukee’s most powerful gospel singers, including Rodney Cunningham, Melissa Carter and Phoebe Alexander. (Through May 2.)
The Killers @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
After establishing themselves as one of the best, most commercially successful of this decade’s many ’80s revivalists, scoring hit after hit like “Somebody Told Me” and “Mr. Brightside” with their 2004 debut Hot Fuss, The Killers made an early effort to reinvent themselves on 2006’s Sam’s Town, a disc that invited countless Bruce Springsteen comparisons. That record, too, was a commercial success, but the band must have taken its tepid reviews to heart, because their latest album, Day & Age, returns them to the unpretentiously ’80s rock of their debut. “Are we human or are we dancer?” Brandon Flowers sings on its first single, “Human.” In their finest moments, The Killers are both, but if forced to choose one, it seems most fans would rather they pick dancer.
Friday, May 1
Willy Porter @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.
Willy Porter conjures Bob Dylan on the title track to his forthcoming
recession-inspired album, How to Rob a Bank, a portrait of America’s
current credit crunch. In the spirit of the times, though, his scheme
is more Bernie Madoff than Bonnie and Clyde. “I’m gonna secure myself a
seat on the board of directors first … I’ll get some decent suits and a
bogus business plan,” Porter sings, “That’s how you rob a bank.” In
channeling the populism of Woody Guthrie, Porter eases up on the
acoustic guitar heroics that have been a staple of previous albums, but
has crafted some of his most irresistibly tuneful songs yet.
Saturday, May 2
Flight of the Conchords w/ Eugene Mirman @ The Riverside Theater, 7 and 10 p.m.
Opener Eugene Mirman has some advice to people who might be tempted to shout and holler throughout the Flight of the Conchords’ routine, as many did during the musical-comedy duo’s concert here last May: Don’t do it. “Crowds can get excited being within 50 or 100 feet of people they’ve seen on TV,” Mirman says, “but clearly the Conchords have prepared a show, so the idea that you would just yell random stuff and interrupt them seems so crazy to me I don’t even know how to address it.” Mirman himself is a TV staple, known to Milwaukeeans not only for his spots on the Conchords’ HBO program, but from local commercials for Lake FM, where the radio inside his finger plays some of the crappiest music possible. It’d probably be rude to shout out anything about that, too. “Five years ago I went into a studio for an hour and filmed that commercial, then they sold it to stations in different cities; I think Milwaukee is the only one still airing it,” Mirman explains. “The truth is I was incredibly broke at the time and wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent, so doing that literally allowed me to continue doing comedy.”
Flight of the Conchords
Dobet Gnahore @ Alverno College, 8 p.m.
Pan-African musician Dobet Gnahore travels back to Milwaukee for a second performance after closing 2007’s Global Union festival. This time around the Ivory Coast native closes out the latest season of Alverno Presents, offering a diverse cultural experience as she blends music and dance traditions not only from her native region of Africa, but the entire continent. She’ll be playing behind her latest record, 2007’s Na Afriki, a restless collection that finds her singing of social justice and human rights issues from a distinctly feminist perspective.
Russian Circles @ The Cactus Club, 10 p.m.
It’s always a challenge for small instrumental rock outfits to keep an audience’s attention, but Chicago’s Russian Circles, drawing from the crushing math-rock of Don Caballero, find novel ways to keep their sound evolving thanks to imaginative progressions and primal riffs. Though they’re only a three-piece, they’ve proven they can rock out with even the major metal acts, as a tour with Tool affirmed. While they’ll probably never draw the crowds that Tool gets, their fist-pumping post-metal rocks just as hard.
Sunday, May 3
Hot Buttered Rum w/ The Roller Mills String Band @ Miramar Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Though they’re inspired more by The Grateful Dead’s twangy, jammy tributes to Americana than bluegrass’s Appalachian forefathers, Hot Buttered Rum is nonetheless one of the more traditional modern bluegrass (“newgrass”) acts, a San Francisco quintet that may exaggerate the genre’s sharp tones, but never plays them for novelty. Of course, the group brings its own ideology to the music. It’s doubtful, for instance, that Bill Monroe would have written a jam about biofuel, as Hot Buttered Rum did for the title track of their 2006 disc, Well-Oiled Machine. “What the restaurant kitchens dump, I want to pump,” Nat Keefe sings about the band’s tour bus, which has been retrofitted to run on both biodiesel and second-hand vegetable oil.
Monday, May 4
Ray Romano and Brad Garrett @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 8 p.m
Even audiences that have never seen Ray Romano’s stand-up routine will be familiar with the gist of most of his material, since it served as the basis for his long-running hit sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Where that sitcom sometimes cast Romano as the stock, oafish husband, though, Romano’s stand-up material examines marriage and fatherhood with decidedly more nuance. This bill pairs Romano with his on-screen brother from “Raymond,” Brad Garrett, who, though better known as a character and sitcom actor, began his career as a stand-up comedian in the early ’80s.
Tuesday, May 5
Dan Deacon @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
the first time, Baltimore-based electro-rocker Dan Deacon is touring
with a band—and a large one at that, with 13 extra members in all. It’s
changed the way he travels and the way he performs. His gang is riding
across the country in a school bus that runs on vegetable oil, which
has led him to offer free tickets and even dinner to anyone who donates
enough of the kitchen waste product. Deacon has also toned down his
live shows, taking breaks from the jacked-up warehouse rave vibe that
made his 2007 show at an overfilled Cactus Club so legendary, making
space to include some of the smoother, toned-down live sounds from his
latest album, Bromst. There may be more variety in Deacon’s sets now,
but he still leaves most crowds in a sweaty haze by concert’s end.
Wednesday, May 6
Sara Watkins @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
During her years with the bluegrass-revival trio Nickel Creek, Sara Watkins grew into a formidable songwriter, penning sad, traditional country numbers with an unusual sense of drama. But with her small voice and meek stage presence, she was often overshadowed by the super-sized showmanship of Chris Thile and his rapid-fire mandolin. On her debut, self-titled solo album, Watkins gets a chance to include more of the laid-back numbers that suit her best, striking an assured but informal vibe similar to Gillian Welch, who guests, along with a star roster of David Rawlings, Jon Brion, Chris Eldridge, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas and, of course, the guys from Nickel Creek. Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones handled production, perhaps seeking a taste of the critical acclaim that came with Robert Plant’s recent foray into roots music.