words by Cal Roach
Welcome to holiday season! Yep, it’s the time of year when you eat too much and spend too much time with your family, if that’s possible. But leading right up to Turkey Day itself, Milwaukee has got a ton of great options for you to preemptively dance off those calories. Well, some of the options might not be overly danceable, but we like to think that live music is good for the body and soul alike even if you’re just standing there in awe. Awe has to consume energy somehow, right? (We aren’t exactly biochemists here.) Read on for some great times to be had in the coming week.
This weekend is something Milwaukee music fans have been salivating about for quite some time: finally, the unveiling of Jon Mueller’s shrouded-in-secrecy multimedia production known as Death Blues. The band portion of the project did a brief tour earlier in the year, and the first album was made available digitally yesterday, but tonight (Friday) and Saturday will be your first opportunity to experience the full monty, dubbed “No Time Like The Present.” It promises to be an event like none other, not just music but plenty of visual stimuli as well and even food! The point of all this is a focus on living in the moment, eschewing past and future in order to concentrate on making the most of the present, using the inevitability of death (and not knowing when that death will occur) to enhance the importance of each moment of life (You can read the full manifesto here). Other than that, there’s not much more we can tell you, except Saturday is sold out and there are only a few tickets left for Friday so we suggest you jump on it!
For something a bit less weighty, you could head up to Circle A Café for a performance by Milwaukee’s iconic barroom troubadour Jonathan Burks. If rock and roll is supposed to offend and piss off your parents, then Burks embodies that spirit about as fully as possible in this day and age, and if by chance you are put off by his foul-mouthed, tongue-in-cheek party dirges, you can probably consider yourself a prude. If, however, you like to laugh and have fun, head over to Bandcamp ASAP and check out his latest album, How I Roll, which is amazing, and peruse his other stuff while you’re at it. If this somehow fails to brighten your day, seek a mental health professional. Also playing: The Original Fryin’ Pan.
Another great Friday night option: Cactus Club, where Madison noisemongers Zebras make yet another appearance. Do these guys make it out to Milwaukee a lot because they’ve shared so many band members with Milwaukee bands? Maybe. But they are a good band either way, and you can check ‘em out for yourself in advance at the ever-reliable Bandcamp; they have a new album out over there. Plus, the somewhat reclusive Disguised As Birds will make an appearance as well. The noisy Milwaukee indie rock band has released nothing but excellent records over the past few years, but for some reason they don’t seem to promote themselves as well as others in town. Hey, that’s where we come in! Also playing: Hot Coffin.
We know as well as anyone that most modern bluegrass-type music is crap, mostly just an insidious conspiracy to do banjo cover versions of every song ever written. But then there’s Old Crow Medicine Show, playing Saturday night at The Riverside Theater. Despite the largely acoustic instrumentation, this band has a punk rock energy; combined with a style steeped in the tradition of the oldest forms of American music, the result is anything but a gimmick. The band may have made the world safe for the current trend of roots-ish pop music, but don’t blame the messenger; this is authentically excellent stuff played by top-notch musicians that started way before nu-Americana was a cash-in proposition. Also playing: Chuck Mead.
When was the last time you went to see live music at the Milwaukee Art Museum? Yeah, us neither, but Saturday would be a good choice for your first time. Starting at noon, Milwaukee’s own Painted Caves will play a set of “prehistoric music” (that’s according to MAM’s website, not us!). Chances are if you’ve been listening to WMSE lately, you’ve heard some tracks from Painted Caves’ excellent debut album; if not (or even if so), hasten on over to Bandcamp and check it out. The album features our very own Paul Cebar and is easily one of the most exciting releases in the city this year, blending Middle Eastern folk and musical traditions from all over the world into a completely non-cheesy, invigorating stew of infectious music. Call it “world music for people who don’t like World Music,” how’s that sound?
In case you missed the awesome Adam Ant show last month, now’s your chance to check out the band that shot off from Adam And The Ants over three decades ago. That’s right, it’s Bow Wow Wow, apparently still a band! You might recall the group’s new wave hit “I Want Candy” from way back in 1982, and sadly, there hasn’t been an album of new material from this band since 1983, but at least you can count on hearing “the classics” since that’s really all there is. Hey, all kinds of new pop bands are cashing in on the 80s; why not get a taste of the real thing? While you’re at it, get to Shank Hall early Saturday night and do “The Safety Dance” with Men Without Hats! Admit it: that’s on your bucket list. Some of you might also remember “Pop Goes The World,” in the running for cheesiest song of all time, and your favorite song on Earth for about two weeks if you happened to be a dork in middle school at the time.
You’ve got a couple of great options if you’re not skipping town Wednesday night for the Thanksgiving holiday. There’s the perennial favorite “Nod To Bob,” the traditional Dylan tribute show that happens every year on this day at Linneman’s. Not only is it always a fun-filled celebration featuring many of the area’s most notable tunesmiths (apparently they’re being extremely tight-lipped about who’s playing this year, as we couldn’t find any sort of artist listing), but proceeds benefit the Hunger Task Force. Otherwise, if you’re in more of a dancin’ mood than a strummin’ mood, you could head to Shank Hall, where Grand Rapids’ Ultraviolet Hippopotamus will bring the jams. The band is rapidly setting itself apart from the jam band pack with a more progressive style that’s heavily influenced by Zappa and King Crimson moreso than The Dead or Phish, and specifically, the talents of keyboardist Dave Sanders are worth the price of admission alone. Also playing: Recalcitrant.