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Thursday, March 4, 2010

This Week in Milwaukee

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Friday, March 5

Rhett Miller w/ Mike Benign @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.

Although conceived as a dumping ground for songs rejected by his band, the Old 97’s, Rhett Miller’s 2002 solo debut, The Instigator, earned far more attention and airplay than any Old 97’s release before it. Miller didn’t let the success go to his head, and as promised he stuck with his long-running country-rock group, but he’s continued recording solo albums, including 2006’s The Believer, which further downplayed Old 97’s twang to indulge Miller’s pop leanings, and last year’s self-titled effort, which was his most mature, elegant solo offering yet.

Friday, March 5

Kid Sister @ Miramar Theatre, 8 p.m.

It took Chicago rapper Kid Sister more than two years to follow up her perky, 2007 Kanye West-assisted pedicure single “Pro Nails” with a full album, but her 2009 debut Ultraviolet largely lives up to that song’s promise, drawing from the vibrant sounds of Chicago house, ’80s electro-pop and Southern crunk. It’s a party record tied together by Kid Sister’s ebullient, unapologetically girly personality, which imagines a more down-toearth, female version of Kanye West himself—instead of Gucci loafers, she rhymes about Christian Louboutin heels.

Miltown Beat Down Hip-Hop Olympics @ The Wherehouse, 10 p.m.

Hip-hop lends itself particularly to competitions, but historically most of these battles have been for rappers and DJs, leaving the producer—so-often the genre’s unsung hero—out of the spotlight. DJ Madhatter’s Miltown Beat Down Hip-Hop Olympics buck that trend, pitting producers against each other. The event, which has emerged in recent years as a bridge between Milwaukee’s sometimes-disparate hip-hop scenes, kicks off its fifth year tonight with a preliminary round featuring local producers Reason, Noah Styles, MagicFingaz and Lex Luther.

Def Harmonic w/ Lookbook @ The Cactus Club, 10 p.m.

Aside from their own band, Decibully’s Andy Menchal and Nicholas Sanborn have signed just two acts to their young label, Listening Party, but their roster is already tremendously eclectic. The latest signees are, somewhat unexpectedly, Def Harmonic, the avant hip-hop/space-funk trio that reunited late last year after a long hiatus. Def Harmonic will make their label debut this June with a still-untitled album, but first they share tonight’s bill with Listening Party peers Lookbook, a Twin Cities synth-pop duo that mines the same Pretenders-by-way-ofkeyboards territory as recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums, a comparison hit home by singer Maggie Morrison’s earnest yelps and chirps. Tonight Lookbook celebrates the release of its Listening Party debut, Wild at Heart, which is available through the label on vinyl and via pay-what-you-like download.

G. Love and Special Sauce @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 9 p.m.

Rapping, blues-kicking Philadelphia singer-songwriter Garrett Dutton, aka G. Love, scored an early novelty hit with the single “My Baby’s Got Sauce” from G. Love and Special Sauce’s 1994 debut, then found a comfortable homein a jam scene that appreciates his eclectic, transcultural pastiches. Though to some ears G. Love’s appropriation of music forms traditionally associated with African Americans can seem a little off-putting, his upbeat, idealistic songs about peace, love and unity make it clear that he means no offense. G. Love’s latest album is 2008’s Superhero Brother—his third for Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records—which he’s filled with homages to reggae, ’70s rock and other styles the jam scene holds dear.

Punch Brothers @ The Pabst Theater, 8 p.m.

Whirlwind mandolinist Chris Thile spent more than 15 years playing with his roots-pop trio Nickel Creek, but in recent years he spent more and more time working on his many outside projects, and by the time the band called it quits last year it was clear that his star had outgrown Nickel Creek. He’s since dedicated most of his energies to the Punch Brothers, a quintet that nurtures Thile’s ever-expanding ambitions, letting him perform lengthy, classical-inspired suites. At their best, Punch Brothers place more emphasis on composition than on showboating jamming, but that’s not to say that Thile doesn’t still toss the bluegrass faithful loads of red meat in the form of plentiful banjo, mandolin and fiddle solos.



Hairspray @ Milwaukee Theatre, 8 p.m.

Transgressive filmmaker John Waters infiltrated the mainstream with 1988’s Hairspray, the sweet story of a plus-sized, dance-obsessed teenager in racially segregated 1960s Baltimore. Waters’ story was resurrected in 2002, when it was adapted into a Tony Award-dominating musical, then found even greater exposure with a 2007 film adaptation of that musical, which cast John Travolta in the role Waters conceived for his drag queen muse, Divine. Now Waters’ unlikely hit is a staple of community theaters around the country, and remains a popular touring draw. The latest touring production of Hairspray stops at the Milwaukee Theatre for three performances this weekend, tonight at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.


Saturday, March 6

The Avett Brothers @ The Riverside Theater, 8 p.m.

Brothers Scott and Seth began recording as The Avett Brothers in 2000, roughly at the beginning of the modern roots-revival movement jump-started by O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and in the decade since, with bassist Bob Crawford and cellist Joe Kwon, they’ve emerged as the movement’s most likely crossover stars. The North Carolina ensemble transcended their native folk and bluegrass scene by drawing from pop melodies and rock ’n’ roll rancor—particularly at their rowdy live shows—before consolidating their critical reputation with the 2007 Emotionalism. Even better was last year’s I and Love and You, a softer, more focused collection produced by Rick Rubin, who polished away the band’s rough edges to better emphasize their song craft.

Danny Gokey @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.

Danny Gokey’s gone country? Actually, it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Milwaukee’s most successful “American Idol” contender was never shy about expressing his Christian faith, but the Christian contemporary music market is too insular for an ex-“Idol.” Contemporary country, however, allows its stars to tout their faith all they want without alienating crossover audiences. This week, Gokey released his RCA Nashville debut, My Best Days, a Rascal Flatts-styled country record saturated with inspirational moments. The $12 admission to his local record-release performance tonight includes a copy of that CD, which he’ll autograph after the show.

Frank Fest @ Steny’s Tavern, 2–7 p.m.

After a hospital stay left Francis Ford, a Milwaukee photographer best known for his lively, quirky portraits, unable to work for a while, Ford’s friends organized a benefit concert to help cover some of his expenses. Musicians Steve Cohen, Peter Roller, John Sieger, Robin Pluer and Mike Jarvis are among those performing, while local artists and restaurants will be auctioning off creations and merchandise.

Sunday, March 7

Rockabilly Chili Contest @ MSOE Kern Center, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Now in its eighth year, WMSE’s annual Rockabilly Chili Contest is the largest and most anticipated of the city’s many chili cook-offs, featuring 57 chilis—including 12 vegetarian varieties— from 48 restaurants like Roots, Palomino, AJ Bombers, Café LuLu, Hinterland and Maxie’s Southern Comfort. Admission is $6, and each chili sample is $1, though you can get a couple of free samples with the donation of four nonperishable food items to the Hunger Task Force. And as always, yes, there will literally be rockabilly music at the event, courtesy of WMSE DJs Jonny Z and Dietrich.