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This Week in Milwaukee Feb. 16-22

Feb. 14, 2017
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Thursday, Feb. 16

Ben Folds w/ Kadhja Bonet @ The Riverside Theater, 8 p.m.
It’s a testament to how much Ben Folds has accomplished over the last 15 years that he’s no longer completely synonymous with Ben Folds Five, the piano-rock trio with which he scored his biggest hit, the 1997 weeper “Brick.” That band reunited in 2011 for a good-enough new album (The Sound of the Life of the Mind) and a couple year’s worth of tours, but Folds has kept plenty busy outside the group, releasing nearly a dozen albums and EPs, some as true solo efforts, others in concert with collaborators like William Shatner, author Nick Hornby, the chamber-pop ensemble yMusic, and fellow songwriters Ben Kweller and Ben Lee (as The Bens, obviously). That’s on top of his soundtrack work for kids movies like Over the Hedge and Hoodwinked!, and his four-year stint as a judge on NBC’s hit a cappella reality show “The Sing-Off.” So the guy’s kept busy, yet for all his wanderlust, he always returns to a simple solo setup, just a guy and a piano, which is how he’ll perform at this show.

Friday, Feb. 17

All Messed Up VII @ Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, 7 p.m.
Even the best musicians need a shakeup or challenge every now and then, and Milwaukee’s annual All Messed Up event provides them with a doozy: 64 local players are randomly paired together to create 16 new bands that have three months to create and rehearse about 20 minutes of material, including at least one cover. The resulting bands can be pretty jumbled—by luck of the draw, one could have three drummers and no guitar players, for instance—but many of them are able to make hay of what they’re given, and a few have even spun off into permanent projects. The Frankenstein bands created by the latest All Messed Up draw will perform this weekend at a two-night showcase at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, Feb. 17 and 18. If history is any indication, each night will feature at least a few winners, and the $3 cover each night makes it a very low-risk gamble.

Mike Doughty w/ Wheatus @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
For a long time Mike Doughty shied away from revisiting the eccentric, electronic pop of his ’90s alt-rock band Soul Coughing, preferring instead to reinvent himself as a traditional singer-songwriter. Over the years, though, he’s gradually returned to his old, experimental ways. His latest record, 2016’s The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns, is his third collaboration with the Queens producer Good Goose, and finds him reveling in contemporary electronic and hip-hop sounds. This show will find Doughty branching out from recent tours, performing with a full band that includes a second guitarist, a drummer, an organist, a backup vocalist and a cello/bass player—a lineup that Doughty says lends itself to a lot of improvisation.

Young The Giant w/ Lewis Del Mar @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
California rockers Young The Giant emerged with the right sound at the right time, dropping a self-titled 2010 album filled with giddy, spit-shined alternative rock just as bands like Phoenix and Foster The People were finding success with similar sounds. The group’s 2014 follow-up Mind Over Matter, their first record for the pop-punk label Fueled By Ramen, proved that they were no one-album wonder, though, their 2016 effort, Home of the Strange, was their most impressive album yet. Though it didn’t have a single as catchy as their early earworms “My Body” and “Cough Syrup,” the album found the band branching out, dabbling in soul, funk and arena rock, all convincingly.

Saturday, Feb. 18

Rory Makem and Dónal Clancy @ Irish Cultural and Heritage Center, 7:30 p.m.
Rory Makem was born in County Louth, Ireland, and Dónal Clancy was born in North America before he moved to County Waterford, Ireland. Despite their differing backgrounds, the two each share a love of Celtic music they each inherited at an early age from their influential fathers, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, both of whom played a big role in exporting and popularizing Irish folk music around the world (Tommy Makem is widely credited as “The Godfather of Irish Music,” while Liam Clancy’s group The Clancy Brothers was the country’s most popular band for a time). The two sons will deliver their debut performance as a duo at this show, which, if their recorded works are any indication, is likely to include at least a few songs their fathers performed.

Monday, Feb. 20

Maroon 5 w/ Tinashe and R. City @ BMO Harris Bradley Center, 7:30 p.m.
It’s fitting that Adam Levine is a coach on NBC’s “The Voice,” a show essentially about second chances and dreams coming true, since for a time his own career was in limbo. Before Maroon 5 became one of the biggest pop-rock bands on the planet, they were just a struggling alternative rock band trying to find an audience for their 2002 debut album, Songs About Jane, which took more than a half year to crack the Billboard Top 10, a phenomenon that seems a distant memory now that singles like “Harder to Breathe,” “This Love” and “She Will Be Loved” are radio staples. In the years since the band has moved on to more overtly pop territory, scoring big Top 40 hits like “Moves Like Jagger” and “Animals” and “Sugar” from their most recent album, 2014’s V. All signs show them drifting even further away from rock on their next album: Their last single, “Don’t Wanna Know,” featured rapper Kendrick Lamar, and their upcoming single, set for release later this week, is a collaboration with Future. Levine has described their upcoming album as R&B influenced, which may explain why they’ve selected R&B singer Tinashe as an opener. Though she hasn’t had another hit on par with her breakout single “2 On,” last year she released an intoxicatingly moody digital album, Nightride.

Tuesday, Feb. 21

J.E. Sunde w/ Hello Death @ The Back Room at Colectivo, 8 p.m.
Eau Claire’s The Daredevil Christopher Wright was one of the first Wisconsin acts to benefit from the halo effect of that city’s biggest star, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who produced the band’s first album of bombastically orchestrated baroque folk, In Deference to a Broken Back. On his solo albums as J.E. Sunde, though, former Daredevil Christopher Wright frontman Jonathan Sunde dials back some of the busy, Decemberists-esque arrangements to let the songs speak for themselves. His latest record, Now I Feel Adored, features vocals from fellow Wisconsin indie-rocker Monica Martin, of Phox. It doesn’t come out until March 3, but fans can buy a copy early at this release show, which he’ll share with the Milwaukee doom-folk quartet Hello Death.

Wednesday, Feb. 22

Martin Sexton w/ Dan Hubbard @ The Back Room at Colectivo, 8 p.m.
He certainly doesn’t look like a classic soul singer, but New York songwriter Martin Sexton possesses a surprisingly soulful voice, one that evokes Stevie Wonder’s spirited cheer and Marvin Gaye’s passionate conviction. This limitless voice has opened doors for Sexton that similar new-folk singer-songwriters never have access to, so Sexton has been able to broaden his style considerably since his 1990 debut, In the Journey, which he recorded in a friend’s attic. Like so many nostalgic boomers with a newfound recording budget, Sexton has gravitated toward studio-colored, Beatles-esque pop on his recent albums, including 2015’s Mixtape of the Open Road, but his freewheeling performances are more in keeping with the anything-goes hodgepodge of younger performers in the modern jam scene.

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