Sept. 25-Oct. 1
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, Sept. 25Common w/ N.E.R.D. @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Kanye West cemented his star-making reputation when he produced Common’s 2005 hit Be, a soulful, down-to-Earth album that resuscitated Common’s career after 2002’s ambitious but muddled Electric Circus. Since then, life has been good for Common, who became the face of Gap and launched a respectable acting career. Common teamed up with West again for much of 2007’s Finding Forever, a decent sequel that never fully captured the simple charm of Be, but for Common’s upcoming album, Universal Mind Control, the conscious Chicago rapper looked elsewhere, turning to The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams to help him craft songs with more of a danceable, electronic bend. In advance of that album, which could see a November release, Common is sharing his current tour with Williams’ Neptunes-based band, N.E.R.D.
Carrie Underwood w/ Little Big Town @ Bradley Center, 7:30 p.m.
Arriving after the commercial disappointments of Ruben Studdard and Fantasia—and just before the pop-chart poison that was Taylor Hicks—Carrie Underwood proved that “American Idol” could create a bona fide mega-star, with “create” being the operative word. In Underwood’s malleable voice and vague, girl-next-door charm, the show’s producers found a blank slate, one they molded into the most old-fashioned of country-music memes: the smiling, troop-supporting, Jesus-worshipping, man-standing-by blond woman.
Drawing obvious inspiration from Shania Twain and Faith Hill’s popcrossover successes, Underwood’s 2005 debut, Some Hearts, made the Idol a genuine star in the country world, and the singer further cemented her good standing in country circles with her 2007 follow-up, Carnival Ride, another super-sized country-pop chart-topper.
Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll & Sipe w/ Cornmeal @ The Rave, 7:30 p.m.
One of the most popular of the jam scene’s barefooted, genre-hoppin’ bros, Keller Williams has, after years of being dubbed a one-man band, made the leap to touring with an actual band. Since last year’s Bonnaroo festival, he’s been playing with guitarist Gibb Droll, drummer Jeff Sipe and String Cheese Incident bassist Keith Moseley. The new setup hasn’t drastically changed the tenor of Keller’s shows.
Though the singer-songwriter can no longer spontaneously break into a Pink Floyd or Bob Marley cover mid-song, the group still keeps things as freewheeling as possible. Chicago bluegrass updaters Cornmeal open.
Friday, Sept. 26James @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 8 p.m.
Though in America they’re still known almost exclusively for their alt-rock hit “Laid,” the jolly orgasm anthem that would later become the theme for the American Pie franchise, James always had considerably more success in their native England. Early Smiths comparisons in the ’80s gave way to even loftier U2 comparisons in the ’90s, as the band expanded their sound with the assistance of producer Brian Eno, but James always had a more carefree demeanor than either of those bands. Their latest album (and their first following a six-year breakup), Hey Ma, balances their stadium-ready alt-rock with liberating dashes of silliness. It’s the work of a band that’s still vying for worldwide superstardom, but first and foremost wants to have a little fun.
Opeth @ The Rave, 8 p.m.
Nine albums into their career, Opeth has skirted just about every unwritten convention of death metal. The Swedish group distinguished themselves immediately by tempering their sludgy assault with unexpected, palate-cleansing washes of jazz, folk and blues music, and they’ve only grown more unorthodox. On their most recent album, Watershed, the band has almost entirely abandoned the graveyard growls that metalheads hold so dear. The result is one of the most accessible records of their career, one that recalls Pink Floyd in its proggy scope and vision, but still grinds out enough heavy red meat to keep the death-metal faithful more than happy.
Saturday, Sept. 27
The promoters of this eccentric variety show are wisely betting that Milwaukeeans won’t be able to resist its wry and lurid combination of irony, kitsch and breasts. At the top of tonight’s freak show is a Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling smackdown, complete with the requisite masks (and hopefully some semblance of cultural sensitivity), but there’s ample sex appeal on the bill to balance out the sweat and testosterone, including Milwaukee’s adorably Bettie Page-ish burlesque troop The Alleycat Revue and two St. Louis acts, the innuendo-spouting St. Louis strip-teaser Lola van Ella and the pole-dancing duo Gravity Plays Favorites. Adding music is Milwaukee’s signature rockabilly band, Uptown Savages, and the city’s latest old-timey aficionados, Dead Man’s Carnival.
The Globe Reunion @ Liquor Sweets, 7 p.m.
For years Ian Pesch owned two of the most important bars of Milwaukee’s ’90s music scene, the Globe East and the Globe West. This Friday and Saturday, at his new South Side bar, Liquor Sweets, Pesch will bring back some of the Globe’s mainstays for a weekend to celebrate the Globe’s 15th anniversary. Among the familiar groups performing are Big Dumb Dick, The US Project, Spiral Trance, Mississippi Cactus and, of course, The Invaders, the poster children for Milwaukee’s ’90s third-wave ska revival.
Sunday, Sept 28Robin Williams @ The Milwaukee Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Robin Williams has been responsible for some of the very best and some of the very worst comedy of the past 30 years, but his manic, full-bodied stand-up performances are still a sight to behold.In the years since his record-breaking 2002 tour, Williams has fallen on hard times, facing the death of his brother, a divorce and the recurrence of his alcoholism, but rather than touch on the darkness that has fueled some of his surprisingly strong film performances over the past decade, Williams’ latest comedy tour will stick to much safer territory. Tonight Williams will offer his musings on the historic 2008 election and will no doubt dump years of material he’s saved up about George Bush’s unfortunate presidency.
Ron Sexsmith @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
The last several years have seen Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith push his well-worn folk-pop in some daring directions. For his 2005 album, Destination Unknown, Sexsmith returned to the stripped-down, all-acoustic setting for the first time since his 1980s debut. His latest album, Exit Strategy of the Soul, is perhaps his boldest yet. It pairs him with Cuban jazz musicians who lend a Latin rhythm to his sensitive songs. The album also finds him teaming up with Canadian it-girl Feist, whose breezy, jazzy songs owe a mostly unnoted debt to Sexsmith, even though Feist even covered his “Secret Heart” on her breakthrough album, Let It Die.
Monday, Sept. 29
Italian singer-songwriter Carmen Consoli continues her push to make a name for herself stateside with her seventh American tour and her first Milwaukee stop tonight. Sophisticated and almost relentlessly baleful, her acoustic songs shimmy around posh bossanova rhythms and have earned Consoli the requisite high praise from Elvis Costello, the tastemaker whose endorsements have encouraged many a “World Caf” listener to reach beyond their immediate comfort zone. On Consoli’s 10th and latest record, Eva Contro Eva, the ballader continues to distance herself from the tense and angsty alt-rock songs she introduced herself with a decade ago.
RIICCEE @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Dead-eyed actor/sex symbol Vincent Gallo outlined his new band RRIICCEE’s M.O. in a typically angry written statement: “We’ve chosen not to go into a studio in a traditional way like other bands have done in the past, to make recordings, cut them up, dub on them, fine tune and mix them, and then release them as an album, then later, go on tour, pantomiming those recordings over and over each night as a form of cabaret. Instead, for a long time now, we’ve chosen to remain open, to grow and change more naturally, and when we play live, the music is often created during the performance.” Since there’s no official recorded document of RRIICCEE’s music, it’s impossible to tell whether the band is any good, but clearly those seeking something poppy should look elsewhere. Former Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson, who was often responsible for reigning in Courtney Love’s noisier tendencies, co-founded RRIICCEE but left in 2007, leaving Gallo to his own avant devices.
Keeping with Cirque du Soleil’s vision of cramming as many amazing acts of human agility onto a stage as can possibly fit at one time, Saltimbanco is the company’s oldest touring revue and a good overview of the company’s blend of ballet, juggling, acrobatics and general feats of strength. Though, like all of Cirque du Soleil’s early creations, there’s no tangible plot here, the show revolves around several poignant images and motifs, including some bizarre, vibrantly colored worms. This touring production runs through Sunday, Oct. 5.