words by Cal Roach
Resisting the urge to make some kind of lame joke about how Spring was difficult; we prefer to concentrate on the fact that, come rain or shine or snow, Opening Day is less than two weeks away, and when baseball is being played, it’s either warm or it’s gonna get warm soon. Soon after that, it’ll be time to bust out the tents and sleeping bags and get out into the wilderness, not to mention the prospect of outdoor live music; that thought always gets us pumped! So, as we await the banner announcement of oodles of Summerfest performers, let’s not forget that there the concert season is already heating up here in Milwaukee. March has been pretty stellar, and it’s not through yet. Continue down the page for an array of choice possibilities for the coming week…
Winter seems so long ago, doesn’t it? (AW CRAP, we tried!) Wouldn’t it be great if there were a couple of mopey Scottish bands coming to town to remind you of the dreary cold, snowy months gone by? Ha, they timed it perfectly! To be fair, Frightened Rabbit has grown quite anthemic and uplifting on its excellent new album, Pedestrian Verse. You can’t exactly call it “happy,” but it’s certainly potent and pretty accessible if the prominent Scottish accent doesn’t render it too foreign for your American sensibilities. Opening act The Twilight Sad has also done its share of evolving over its three full-length albums, but a distinctly drizzly melancholy pervades them all, although the band is notorious for putting on insanely loud, noise-drenched live shows, so don’t expect a low-key, morose performance tonight (Friday) at the Pabst Theater.
If you’re feeling like something more upbeat (like, WAY more upbeat), you can’t go wrong with Tower Of Power, the funk/R&B powerhouse that came to prominence in the 70s and hasn’t really looked back–or maybe, has been looking back the whole time? The band’s sound hasn’t really changed much over the years, but with a distinctive horn section like that who’ve worked with everybody from Elton John to Phish, why mess with a good thing? The music is super danceable and bursting with brassy bravado, perfect to chase away any weather-related doldrums. Oddly enough, War is actually billed second for this show; perhaps the band that released iconic singles like “Low Rider” and “The World Is A Ghetto” has lost a few members over the years, but can you imagine a live show by this genre-hopping bunch being anything less than a celebratory groovefest? These guys epitomized the cross-pollination of cultures and styles that defined the idealistic late 60s, and their message and image is as valid today as it ever was in the past.
There’s also somewhat of an in-between option for tonight at Shank Hall: Semi-Twang. They have their upbeat stuff, but not like shake-your-booty, horns-blasting-in-your-face upbeat. They have their mellow stuff, but not slit-your-wrists mellow. The name basically says it all; they do that folk-rock type of thing that has been ruling Milwaukee for the past year or more, with perhaps a bit more of a country influence than most of ‘em, all made possible by the songwriting talent of John Sieger. Tonight marks the release party for the band’s third album, The Why And The What For. Also appearing will be Milwaukee guitar-hero standard-bearer Greg Koch as well as Micah Olsan and the OCD Big Band.
You could start your Saturday off early if you like–and who wouldn’t? Painted Caves will play for free at 11 a.m. at the Milwaukee Art Museum, as they’ve done a few times now over the past several months. We’re willing to bet that if you’re a regular WMSE listener, you’ve heard this band at some point. Painted Caves’ music is so infectious yet difficult to categorize, it gets grabbed by a wide assortment of DJs. If there’s any one dominant style it would be folk, but with influences taken from basically across the entire globe. Great music needs no category.
Saturday night, grab some earplugs and head to Cactus Club (or, if you forget, pick up a pair at the club–why don’t all venues sell earplugs for heaven’s sake?) for a night of loud, punkish mayhem featuring some of the Brew City’s best purveyors of such nonsense. Topping the bill: a reunion show for White Problems! Well, actually, the reunion show was at Riverwest Fest in December, right? So perhaps the band just isn’t officially active, and any and all shows from here on will count as reunions? Anyway, we’re stoked! Joining them will be Absolutely, a band that only has one full-length album out (2011’s excellent Learns To Love Mistakes) but has been playing out relentlessly so far this year. Also, Heavy Hand, a band that seemed to come together really quickly last year and put out a totally awesome EP (Confusion Is Body Parts, and the song titles are even better), will play its noisy/catchy-as-hell/hilarious brand of pop music as well. AND, Chicago’s Cold Lovers, so seriously, it’s an all-nighter.
Another place-to-be for Saturday night is Riverwest Public House, where you could catch some Altos moonlighting as Hello Death. This band’s forthcoming debut album is certainly one of the most anticipated local releases of the year, but you can check out the first video, for “Good Luck,” here if you need a preview. This is another group for whom you could say folk is the root, but the conventional connotations for that term don’t begin to describe the music. It actually should make for a perfect pairing with Minneapolis’s Brute Heart, whose music is similarly subtle, eclectic and haunting. Check out the band’s new album, Brute Heart’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, on Bandcamp. Also performing: DJ Andy Noble and DJ Spero Lo Menzo
This Sunday marks another long-awaited return: it’s The Scarring Party! What is it with the bizarre, hard-to-describe derivations of folk music this week? The lyrics are often humorous, often disturbing and violent; the music is certainly never violent, but certainly disturbing at times, although overall it’s remarkably upbeat given the morbid subject matter. The band has been hailed for several years now as one of Milwaukee’s most unique bands, and there’s really no way to argue the point; we’ve yet to hear another band like The Scarring Party anywhere. So we highly recommend attending this event at Hotel Foster, where you will also be able to catch the gothic-Americana stylings of Memphis’s Dead Soldiers.