This Week in Milwaukee: June 26-July 2
Thursday, June 26
Lady Gaga @ Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Drawing from an unlikely combination of Madonna’s ’80s pop sensibility and Marilyn Manson’s press-courting shock tactics, Lady Gaga helped introduce American radio to the danceable Euro-pop that now pervades Top 40 stations, while making the case that pop music can have real artistic merit. That was a genuinely provocative stance in 2008, though it seems less so today, in a climate where pop stars from Beyoncé to Miley Cyrus are framing their music and performances through the same prism of art. That may explain the tepid response to Gaga’s latest album, Artpop. The album failed to live up to high sales expectations, and even sparked silly Internet rumors that it has lost her label $25 million and forced staff layoffs. In truth the record wasn’t a disaster of that magnitude, but the bad press around the album has left Gaga with something to prove, so she’s been going all out on her latest tour, doubling down on the usual costume changes and choreography as she fights to maintain her A-list status.
Best Coast @ U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
It’s readily apparent where Best Coast is from. The group’s sun-drenched indie-rock with surf overtones brings California immediately to mind, and the band’s name makes their allegiances clear. And even when they’re playing sad songs, the Los Angeles duo never manages to sound unhappy, as fuzzy guitars and reverb-heavy vocals soften the edges of the world while lyrics such as “You and me, we’re just crazy / so when I’m with you I have fun” are sung with cheerful simplicity. Their latest album Fade Away finds singer Bethany Cosentino grappling with themes of isolation and self-doubt, but the breezy ambience of their previous work prevails throughout.
Friday, June 27
Atmosphere @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
Around the turn of the century, Atmosphere introduced a new form of hip-hop that critics deemed “emo-rap” for its aggressively earnest lyrics, but the group avoided falling victim to the somewhat condescending label, pushing their sound and storytelling in new directions with each album. Rapper Slug embraced the full-band setup of Atmosphere’s recent tours on the group’s 2008 album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, a series of hardscrabble narratives about down-and-out folks that bounced with old-school hip-hop beats, and ran with a similar sound on 2011’s piano-heavy The Family Sign. Thankfully, the group’s new album Southsiders picks up the tempos a bit.
Tegan and Sara @ Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
Heartthrob, the latest album from the Canadian sister-sister duo Tegan and Sara marked a bold shift of direction for the group. Bigger and more ambitious than anything the Quin sisters had attempted before, the album paired them with pop producer Greg Kurstin, who turned them away from their guitar-driven punk-folk and toward bouncy, synth-pop, dialing up the ’80s new wave influences that have long shaded the group’s work. It’s the band’s glossiest, most approachable record yet, but it retains the candid songwriting that remains the Quin sisters’ stock and trade.
Saturday, June 28
Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party @ Potter avenue, noon
Now in its seventh year, Bay View’s colorful Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party has a history of pulling together big lineups of unique local significance, and this year is no different: The bill will include the first Milwaukee performance from Sylvan Esso, the critically acclaimed indie-electro duo featuring former Milwaukeean Nick Sanborn. The group’s just-released self-titled album is already a shoe in for critics’ year-end lists, so expect plenty of fanfare when they make their local debut. The bill will also include Brothers By Choice, the vintage Milwaukee R&B group which just reunited after a 20 year hiatus, and local favorites Collections of Colonies of Bees, Head on Electric and GGOOLLDD. Along with the music there will also be an arts and crafts fair, food from Goodkind, Classic Slice and Honeypie, and refreshing Korbel brandy slushes. Some of the proceeds from the event will go to the Bay View Neighborhood Association.
King Buzzo of The Melvins w/ Mark Waldoch and Emma Ruth Rundle @ Shank Hall, 8
Melvins’ massive, sluggish metal was a prime influence on Seattle’s late-’80s grunge scene, and on Nirvana in particular, so when Kurt Cobain’s band broke, he returned the favor. With his endorsement, The Melvins landed a deal with Atlantic Records. Ultimately their stint did little to expand their audience beyond a dedicated cult, and the band was dropped in 1997, but singer/guitarist King Buzzo and his crew have continued recording at a brisk pace ever since. This year Buzzo is trying something new. He released a solo 10-inch EP, This Machine Kills Artists, and is supporting it with a solo acoustic tour that includes this stop at Shank Hall.
The Yardbirds @ BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, 5 p.m.
The Yardbirds saw some of the most influential guitarists of the 1960s and ’70s pass through their lineup. Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page all played with the group at one time or another. Though their popularity peaked in the ’60s with tracks such as “Heart Full of Soul” and “Smokestack Lightning,” their use of innovative forms of distortion and guitar effects influenced generations of guitarists. Their current lineup includes only two members of the original incarnation of The Yardbirds, but the group has kept touring and producing music with the addition of new members. Their Summerfest appearance should mix new and old material evenly as they keep the spirit of the original Yardbirds alive while also looking ahead.
Girl Talk @ Miller Lite Oasis, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
Gregg Gillis, who makes heavily sample-based music under the moniker Girl Talk, has become a controversial figure in the music industry due to his use of often-copyrighted songs for his gleeful mash-ups of popular music spanning decades. Drawing heavily from hip-hop, pop and indie-rock, his innovative remixes form a frenetic collage of sounds that cuts quickly from genre to genre, finding parallels between otherwise unrelated songs. His last album All Day includes a staggering 372 samples and is available on the Illegal Art record label website for free, along with his entire discography.
Sunday, June 29
Outkast @ Marcus Amphitheater, 7:30 p.m.
Outkast rappers Big Boi and André 3000 had spent nearly 10 years apart before revealing that their legendary Southern hip-hop duo would reunite for a marathon of music festivals this summer to commemorate their 20th anniversary. So far their reunion shows have been lively, hit-heavy affairs, showcasing the undiminished chemistry between the two rappers. Given how long André 3000 had resisted calls to return to Outkast, there’s no guarantee that they’ll record new music together or that the reunion will last past this year’s stretch of shows, so this concert could be one of your last chances to catch one of the greatest rap acts of their generation.
The Head and the Heart @ Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
The Head and the Heart combines filter soul-baring acoustic folk into songs big enough to fill one of the valleys mentioned in their songs. Following in the tradition of stadium-sized folk acts such as Mumford and Sons, the Seattle band creates plaintive ballads rooted in themes of nature and simplicity. Much like contemporaries Of Monsters and Men, much of the group’s music capitalizes on a loud-soft-loud dichotomy that brings the music down to a whisper before crashing back to life in a fury of guitar strumming and hammered piano chords.
Tuesday. July 1
Nas @ Harley-Davidson Roadhouse, Summerfest, 10 p.m.
Nas’s 1994 debut album Illmatic remains one of the most highly regarded rap albums of all time, receiving praise from publications such as Rolling Stone and the Chicago Tribune and five mics, the highest rating possible, from hip-hop magazine The Source. Delivering vivid depictions of life in Queens in a confident and relaxed flow while painting an unflinching image of urban struggle and despair mixed with glimmers of hope, Nas set a high bar that the genre has reached only periodically in the decades since. This year the rapper is celebrating the anniversary of Illmatic with a deluxe reissue that includes some interesting rarities and remixes, and a tour drawing heavily from the album.
Wednesday, July 2
Dave Matthews Band @ Marcus Amphitheater, 7 p.m.
The latest tour from the Dave Matthews Band will feature two sets each night. The first is an acoustic performance, which sees the band performing in various configurations to highlight bigger songs or draw out the nuances of quieter numbers. The second set is more in line with a traditional Dave Matthews performance, and sees the full band winding through electric renditions of songs spanning their whole career. The band creates songs drawing from a staggering array of genres and influences, including world music, folk, reggae and rock. With his full band behind him, lead singer and guitarist Dave Matthews delivers a rich and varied sound taking traditional themes and eliciting new meanings from them.