Sept. 4-Sept. 10
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, Sept. 4
Given the inability of Nas’ last album to explain exactly why hip-hop was dead, the media understandably greeted Nas’ latest untitled album, originally titled Nigger, with great skepticism. Against the odds, though, the rapper created a piece of art that more than addressed concerns that its controversial title was just a publicity stunt. From start to finish, the decidedly noncommercial album (which ironically peaked at the top of the charts) is filled with thoughtful yet ambiguous ruminations on racial identity. It’s fitting that Nas promotes his most cerebral album in years by sharing a tour with Talib Kweli, long the thinking man’s rapper of choice. In recent years, Kweli has found a comfortable balance between his status as one of the underground rap scene’s favorite conscious rappers and one of mainstream rap’s long-shot stars, releasing slick, guest-laden albums like Eardrum for the masses, and no-frills, beats and-rhyme discs like Liberation on a smaller scale for his backpack rapper contin gent. (For an exclusive interview with Talib Kweli from this spring, visit ExpressMilwaukee.com.)
Friday, Sept. 5
PantherFest ft. Lupe Fiasco and Jack’s Mannequin @ Marcus Amphitheater, 8 p.m.
Though he introduced himself as a geeky, skateboarding rapper with an affinity for Japanese pop culture—to be sure, a meme completely new to rap music—Lupe Fiasco has smartly fought against being pigeonholed in the years since, revealing himself to be more ambitious than anyone could have expected. His sophomore album, The Cool, is written around a mythology nearly as dense as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and though it’s thematically confounding, it’s packed with triumphant arrangements and oversized pop hooks that complement Lupe’s slippery, focused storytelling. Tonight’s PantherFest, a UW-Milwaukee-sponsored concert open to non students as well, pairs Lupe with piano-rockers Jack’s Mannequin, a combination that would seem more unusual if the two otherwise very different acts didn’t share a common understanding of how the pop charts work, and a common drive to climb them.
Indian Summer Festival @ The Summerfest Grounds
Traditional dances, music, weaving and pottery demonstrations, a daily pow-wow competition and robust American-Indian cuisine such as wild rice, buffalo venison and roasted corn are among the attractions at this weekend’s Indian Summer Festival. Milwaukee’s annual American-Indian cultural celebration also features a marketplace filled with Indian pottery, artwork and crafts. The market is a particular draw, and, increasingly, so is lacrosse, which will be played in all its full-contact glory for the full three days (along with a traditional, no-pads “medicine game” on Friday at 6 p.m.).
Benevento/Russo Duo @ Miramar Theatre, 10 p.m.
With their keyboard-drum setup, the Benevento/Russo Duo initially earned hasty comparisons to Medeski Martin & Wood, even though the duo’s jams are far trippier and often heavier than the more seasoned trio’s agreeable jazz grooves. Benevento/Russo work up a mean wall of sound from their brick-and-mortar base, and the frantic pace and percussive showboating of their live shows have made them peripheral stars of the jam scene—of course, their frequent performances with mem bers of Phish haven’t hurt their stock, either.
Saturday, Sept. 6
With their sprightly guitars and doe-eyed songs, System and Station play like a punkier version of The Shins—probably because both bands share a clear reverence for Built to Spill. Where The Shins steep their albums in the gentle ambiance of ’60s pop, though, System and Station drown their albums in the harsh light of the ’90s, basking in the era’s burly guitars and prickly, sing-along hooks, which have earned them deserving Sunny Day Real Estate comparisons. Their reverence for mid-’90s alt-rock makes them the black sheep of Portland’s notoriously in-the-moment indie-rock scene, and System and Station have frequently been dis missed over the last decade as little more than a regurgitation of their influences. The group does have one thing going for it, though: a bighearted and mostly wonderful new album, A Nation of Actors, which could earn the band the second look they’ve long been seeking. The band opens tonight for local quirk-rock band IfIHadAHiFi as part of their free CD release party, which also features sets from local shoegazers White, Wrench, Conservatory and indie-rockers The New Loud.
SoCo Experience @ The Alliant Energy Center, Madison, 2 p.m.
A couple of liquor giants sponsor this free, annual 21-and-up concert at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center, and they’ve put their marketing budget to good use, booking several top-tier acts aimed at the discerning col lege student. Hip-hop’s most acclaimed live band, The Roots, headline the bill, and they’ll be backed by indie bluesters The Black Keys, jazzy-jamsters the Benevento/Russo Duo and, awesomely, GZA, the oldest and most even-tempered of Wu-Tang Clan’s many emcees. Although GZA recently released a fine new album, Pro Tools, he’ll be dedicating this show to his undisputed masterpiece, 1995’s Liquid Swords, which he’s taken to performing in its entirety in recent years.
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 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 the sharp tones and showboating solos of back-porch bluegrass, but that’s not to say that Thile doesn’t still toss the bluegrass faith ful plenty of red meat in the form of plentiful solos.
Tuesday, Sept. 9
Spiritualized @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Coinciding with alternative-rock’s increased interest in grand, studio-crafted albums, Spiritualized released its magnum opus in 1997, the space-rock symphony Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, an album that replaced the dramatic drones of Jason Pierce’s past work with Spacemen 3 with elaborate, orchestral arrangements and made ample use of the London Community Gospel Choir. Like any great album, this one had a story behind it: It was recorded after Pierce learned that his then-girl friend (and also then-keyboardist) Kate Radley had secretly married The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft. In the decade since, Pierce has toyed with Spiritualized’s sound, expand ing it and contracting it from album to album, eventually returning to grand, oversized arrangements on his fine new album, Songs in A&E. This album, too, arrives with an irresistible back-story, having been recorded both before and after Pierce’s near-death bout with double pneumonia.