Home / Columns / This Week in Milwaukee / August 13 - August 19

August 13 - August 19

This Week in Milwaukee

Aug. 12, 2009
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Thursday, Aug. 13 

Irish Fest @ Summerfest Grounds
One year shy of its 30th anniversary, Milwaukee’s Irish Fest once again transforms the Summerfest grounds into a haven for Celtic culture. This year’s festival features musical performances from artist 3 Pints Gone, Gaelic Storm, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers (see what they did there?), Frogwater and Screaming Orphans. Helping keep centuries of Gaelic tradition alive is an onsite Irish summer school, teaching youth classes like dance, fiddling and Celtic spirituality. Fans of Irish spirits will surely flock to Jamison Lounge, which features authentic Irish whisky tastings led by Jamison’s whisky ambassador from Ireland. (Through Sunday).

Blue Oyster Cult @ Wisconsin State Fair, 8 p.m.
After playing together for more than 40 years, ironically, Blue Oyster Cult have reached the point where they do need to fear the reaper. They don’t, however, need to worry about their legacy, which is well cemented. They were one of the bands that lent a literary edge to heavy-metal songwriting—they were also the first to flaunt an umlaut for no good, grammatical reason, a move that would later be appropriated by bands from Queensryche to Motley Crue. Of course, to a younger “Saturday Night Live”-watching generation, Blue Oyster Cult’s legacy is the cowbell, which was featured on their signature song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” albeit not to the extent the popular “SNL” Gene Frenkle sketch surmised.

Friday, Aug. 14

Pulp Fiction @ Discovery World, 6 p.m.
One of the defining films of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction was the “Seinfeld” of crime caper movies, with long stretches of amusingly mundane chatter tied together by wild coincidences. The film inspired a slew of knock-offs, rekindled John Travolta’s career—thus making Battlefield Earth possible—and afforded director Quentin Tarantino the opportunity to make any film he wanted. Pulp Fiction remains his masterpiece, though. Its subtle cinematic allusions gave way to the more explicit genre exercises of follow-ups like Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. In advance of the opening next week for Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Discovery World screens Pulp Fiction as part of its Fish Fry & A Flick outdoor movie series. The evening kicks off with a $9.95 fish fry at 6 p.m., followed by the free movie screening at dusk.

Daniel Johnston @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
What’s the deal with Daniel Johnston? That depends on who you ask. Some will say the songwriter is a mad musical genius, others will say Johnston is the glorified equivalent of a Wesley Willis, an outsider artist whose songs are thin at best. Whatever your opinion is on Johnston there’s no denying that the man speaks from his soul. There’s a childlike quality to his voice and a simple wisdom to lyrics, which for decades has captivated musicians from M. Ward to Wilco to Kurt Cobain, who famously sung Johnston’s praises in the ’90s, well before a 2005 documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, introduced the troubled songwriter to a much larger audience.

Tracy Chapman @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.

Introductions don’t get much more memorable than Tracy Chapman’s. Months before she released her debut album, Chapman performed her single “Fast Car” for Nelson Mandela at his 70th birthday party, boosting her profile considerably. Her 1988 self-titled debut went on to win two Grammy awards and cemented Chapman’s status as one of the stars of contemporary folk. She scored her biggest hit to date with “Give Me One Reason” in 1995, but has continued to release solid material that carries a gentle personal touch and a simple political message, including her most recent album, last year’s Our Bright Future, which she recorded with Joni Mitchell producer Larry Klein.


Cracker @ Wisconsin State Fair, 8 p.m.
With its crunchy alt-rock guitars and angsty stoner mentality, Cracker’s biggest hit, “Low,” is pure ’90s, but the rest of the band’s catalogue doesn’t date so easily. Like frontman David Lowery’s other band, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker continues to record spry rock albums spiked with rootsy digressions and tangential fits of punk-rock silliness—music that sounded great before the ’90s alt-rock boom and music that still sounds great today, even if there’s no longer an obvious place for it on the radio. The band’s newest release, Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, is as informal and oddball as any they’ve recorded.

Saturday, Aug. 15

The Melismatics w/ Grammar Debate and Bloodline @ Mad Planet, 9 p.m.
It’s a safe bet that the Melismatics, a Minneapolis alt-rock band with tagged-teamed husband/wife vocals, spent a fair portion of their youth glued to the TV set, watching “120 Minutes.” The group’s latest album, Acid Test, revives hooky Jesus and Mary Chain guitars and bombastic, Elastica-esque sonics, though with the record’s nervy, new wave undertones and hyper-slick production that beckons modern-rock radio with all the subtlety of a flair gun, listeners could be forgiven for mistaking the group for the Shiny Toy Guns.

Company of Thieves @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Is “Gossip Girl” the next “O.C.” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” a show that can make stars out of little known musicians through simple song placement? The Chicago alt-rock band Company of Thieves suggests the show might be. The band steadily picked up traction after its single “Oscar Wilde” was featured on episode of the trendsetting CW drama. Company of Thieves singer Genevieve Schatz has earned comparisons to Fiona Apple for her strong personality and aggressive voice, though in her dramatic lyrics and grad-school literary references she better resembles Rainer Maria’s Caithlin De Marrais.

Tuesday, Aug. 18

Metric @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
After a nearly four-year lapse between albums that saw singer Emily Haines further collaborate with members of the Broken Social Scene crew and release a couple of stripped-down solo discs, Haines returned to her primary band, Metric, rejuvenated by some time spent in Argentina and inspired by the election of Barack Obama. Not that Metric’s fourth album, Fantasies, sounds particularly hopeful. It’s a gloomy, death obsessed synth-pop record with shades of Blondie and Joy Division. It also looks to be the band’s true breakout. Its lead single, “Help, I’m Alive,” was the group’s first number one single in their native Canada, and it’s also showing legs in America, where it’s climbed up modern-rock charts.


Tuesday, Aug. 18

Daredevil Christopher Wright w/ These United States @ Club Garibaldi, 9 p.m.
Eau Claire’s Daredevil Christopher Wright, unsurprisingly, has ties to the only other musician you’ve ever heard of from Eau Claire: Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has trumpeted the young group and produced its debut album, In Deference to a Broken Back. The group’s bombastically orchestrated baroque folk invites immediate comparisons to The Decemberists, though perhaps Page France comparisons are more apt—not only because Christopher Wright evokes a similar twee vulnerability, but also because the band’s songs are so saturated in Christian scripture and folklore that they make Sufjan Stevens look agnostic by comparison.

Daredevil Christopher Wright

Wednesday, Aug. 19

Neil Hamburger w/ J.P. Inc. and Art Hinty @ The Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
With his greasy comb-over, cheap tuxedo, poor comic timing and frequent, phlegmy coughing fits, Neil Hamburger’s send-up of bad stand-ups should be almost as tired as the as the bad stand-ups he’s mocking. But Hamburger’s shtick is really just a vehicle for his subversive jabs at celebrity targets, jokes that would be funny regardless of how tired their targets are or how clumsily they’re delivered. “What do you call a senior citizen who can’t refrain from exposing their genitalia in public?” Hamburger asks in one typical gag. “Madonna.”


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