This Week in Milwaukee
Quintron and Miss Pussycat, The Polyphonic Spree and The Black Keys
Friday, May 11
Steve Winwood w/ Bobby Long @ The Riverside Theater, 7:30 p.m.
Prolific rocker Steve Winwood was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 for his work with the prog-rock outfit Traffic, and it's not inconceivable he could be inducted again, since he was also a founding member of The Spencer Davis Group. And should the Hall of Fame decide to honor Winwood's '60s blues-rock band with Eric Clapton, Blind Faith, or his short-lived '70s super-group Go, the musician could end up being a four-timer. Over the years Winwood has sat in on key sessions with legends like Lou Reed, Toots and the Maytals and George Harrison, while recording a steady stream of records under his own name. His latest is 2008's Nine Lives, a full-band album that draws more from Winwood's blues-rock roots than from the pop mindset of his '80s hits like "Higher Love."
K.D. Lang @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 8 p.m.
Without a doubt the most commercially successful openly gay female country singer of all time, K.D. Lang long ago stopped limiting her albums to strict country-and-western terrain, gradually moving toward more polished, adult-contemporary production in the '90s. But with her latest albums, she's brought back some of the twang from her '80s breakthrough records. Her 2008 record Watershed played like a culmination of everything Lang had recorded before, pairing the western tones of her early albums with the jazzy, folky aesthetic of her later efforts. Her new Sing It Loud is even rootsier. She recorded it in Nashville with a tight backing band led by Guster's Joe Pisapia, who also co-produced the album.
Saturday, May 12
DJ Abilities w/ The Hollowz and AUTOMatic @ Cactus Club, 10 p.m.
Minneapolis' DJ Abilities is now on the road as an unwilling solo artist, following the tragic death of his longtime collaborator, battle rapper Eyedea, in 2010. As Eyedea & Abilities, the two left behind a rich recorded legacy, including a spry self-titled 2004 album and a darker, grunge-inspired 2009 album, By the Throat. The last album is a near masterpiece, albeit one that's difficult to listen to in the wake of Eyedea's drug overdose, since it's haunted by lyrics that read like suicide notes. DJ Abilities now tours behind traditional DJ sets, mixing up tracks by artists like El-P, Outkast and Aesop Rock.
Sunday, May 13
Grouplove w/ Reptar @ The Rave, 7:30 p.m.
It seems like every six months or so there's a new euphoric, ridiculously catchy, kind of shouty synth-pop song storming alternative radio playlists. The latest is "Tongue Tied," a giddy, neon-lit romp from the Los Angeles band Grouplove's 2011 full-length debut, Never Trust a Happy Song. Imagining a full-out Los Campesinos! dance party, the track quickly caught on after being featured in an iPod Touch commercial last year. The group will share this show with Reptar, an Athens, Ga., quartet that has earned frequent comparisons to Animal Collective and the Talking Heads for their lively, synth-drenched art-pop. This month Vagrant Records released the group's debut album, Body Faucet, which the band recorded with Animal Collective and Washed Out producer Ben Allen.
Willy Porter and Patty Larkin @ The Pabst Theater, 7 p.m.
Milwaukee-raised Patty Larkin grew up with the piano, but she became an eminent guitar player after teaching herself in high school and then honing her jazz-based style at the Berklee College of Music. Larkin's urban-infused folk-pop hinges on inventive, spellbinding guitar spirals that aptly frame her tale-telling. In 1985, Larkin released her first album, Step into the Light, but she didn't crack the Billboard charts until 2003's Red=Luck. Two years later, Larkin produced the collaboration album La Guitara, a collection of songs by accomplished women guitarists. Released in 2010, her most recent album, 25, contains 25 new tracks as a tribute to her 25th anniversary as a professional recording artist. Tonight Larkin shares a double bill with another songwriter with local roots, Mequon folkie Willy Porter.
Quintron and Miss Pussycat w/ Cave and Catacombz @ Cactus Club, 9 p.m.
Since 1994 under the pseudonym Quintron, inventor and former nightclub organist Robert Rolston has performed at his own private New Orleans club, the Spellcaster Lodge, and patented inventions like the Spit Machine, the Disco Light Machine and the Drum Buddy, a light-activated drum machine. Backed by these machines, Rolston performs as a one-man band, playing on a Hammond organ designed in the shape of a vintage car (complete with working headlights). He's frequently joined in concert by his wife, Miss Pussycat, a backup singer and puppeteer.
Monday, May 14
Amy Ray w/ The Shadowboxers @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have come a long way since Strange Fire, their 1987 debut as Indigo Girls, broke into the world of mainstream pop with its hit "Closer to Fine." Indigo Girls have remained one of the most popular folk-rock duos over the last two decades, releasing 13 studio albums, including last year's Beauty Queen Sister. Always the more rock-minded half of the duo, Ray has indulged her punk leanings on several solo albums she's recorded on the side, including her 2001 solo debut, Stag, which she recorded with the North Carolina queercore band The Butchies. Her latest solo release, Lung of Love, is softer than that record, but it's a bit more varied than the typical Indigo Girls album, a poppy set that nods to Motown and honky-tonk.
Tuesday, May 15
The Polyphonic Spree @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
The Polyphonic Spree traded in their colorful, gospel-choir robes for more menacing militia uniforms to promote their latest disc, 2007's The Fragile Army, but the sunny vibrations so central to the band's sound haven't gone anywhere. Using the massive, orchestral rock of The Flaming Lips as their starting point, the Spree have a vibrant sound that doesn't quite come across on record but absolutely overwhelms in concert, where the spectacle of this singing, costumed cult drives the music.
Wednesday, May 16
The Black Keys w/ Arctic Monkeys @ Bradley Center, 7:30 p.m.
There are blues-rock bands that only salt their music with the blues, and then there are bands that absolutely bathe their albums in the blues. The Black Keys are in the latter camp. For a band that was once saddled with comparisons to The White Stripes, the difference between the two groups was, well, black and white. Since teaming with super-producer Danger Mouse for their 2008 album, Attack & Release, the formerly lo-fi blues rock duo has inherited some of the Stripes' commercial mojo. Their 2010 album Brothers was one of the year's blockbuster albums, thanks in large part to its Danger Mouse-produced hit "Tighten Up," earning the band a bundle of Grammy nominations. Danger Mouse played an even greater role on last year's follow-up, El Camino, co-writing all 11 of its tracks. Openers Arctic Monkeys are touring behind their fourth album, last year's Suck It and See, a consciously accessible album that takes generous cues from The Beatles and the Stones.
Michelle Shocked @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
As her stage name suggests, alternative-folk singer Michelle Shocked is fond of surprises. Many of her studio albums, from 1989's Captain Swing (which she recorded with a full big band) to 2005's Got No Strings (a collection of bluegrass-leaning Disney covers), have arrived as total curveballs. Perhaps the most surprising thing about her latest album, 2009's Soul of My Soul, then, is that there is no surprise. It's Shocked's poppiest, most straightforward record. That doesn't mean Shocked has lost her edge or her activist ideals, though. Last November the singer-songwriter was arrested while protesting with the Occupy Los Angeles movement.