Nov. 20 - Nov. 26
This Week in Milwaukee
Thursday, Nov. 20
Fastball @ Shank Hall, 8 p.m.
Thanks to “The Way,” a ubiquitous single that nicely dovetailed with adultcontemporary radio’s renewed interest in Heartland-tinted rock, Fastball was among radio’s breakthrough stars of 1998. Though a couple of likable follow-up singles, “Fire Escape” and “Out Of My Head,” suggested that the group might avoid the onehit-wonder kiss of death, ultimately they didn’t, and to the public they seemed to go the way of the mysteriously vanished couple in their signature hit. Despite scattered strong reviews, their last album, 2004’s Keep Your Wig On, arrived quietly, and it’s doubtful the group will be able to ride a wave of ’90s nostalgia strong enough to drum up interest in their oft-delayed upcoming album, Little White Lies.
Friday, Nov. 21
John Cowan @ Vnuk’s Lounge, 9:30 p.m.
As the bassist and vocalist for the New Grass Revival in the ’70s and ’80s, John Cowan helped to expand the scope of bluegrass music, playing heavier and flashier than the genre’s forefathers, and defying the bluegrass establishment with thenblasphemous covers of songs by The Beatles and Bob Marley. Though Cowan has plenty of company these days, thanks to the young, freewheeling “jam-grass” scene, he was among the first to take a gamble on pairing the sounds of Bill Monroe with the energy and flair of Led Zeppelin, honing a style of progressive bluegrass that he has continued to explore on his recent solo albums.
Jason Mraz w/ Lisa Hannigan @ The Rave, 7:30 p.m.
Trading his frat-boy trucker hat in for a more classically stylish fedora and borrowing the relaxed, tropical vibe of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s iconic “Over the Rainbow” cover, Jason Mraz scored his biggest hit yet with this year’s “I’m Yours,” a fittingly breezy vehicle for the singer-songwriter’s gentle, scatting vocals. The most unapologetically poppy of Jack Johnson’s fellow bros, Mraz plays a sold-out concert tonight at the Eagles Ballroom, a venue he has some history with: He recorded his 2004 live album Tonight, Not Again there.
Benefit Concert for Hurricane Relief in Cuba @ United Community Center, 7 p.m.
After a rough summer where Hurricanes Ike and Gustav took a $10 billion toll on the country and destroyed nearly a third of its crops, this month Cuba was struck by another hurricane, Paloma, which leveled hundreds of more homes. Tonight Milwaukee does its part Jason Mraz to help out its struggling sister city, the port of Nuevitas, with a concert and dance at the United Community Center, 1028 S. Ninth St., featuring traditional and modern Cuban music from Tony Baez, Ana Ruth Bermudez and the groups Rumbrava and Fuego Musical. They’re playing for a suggested donation of $10.
Saturday, Nov. 22
Brother Ali @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
When Barack Obama claimed victory earlier this month, Brother Ali was the first rapper out of the gate with a victory track, which was ironic, given that a Muslim rapper infamous for a single called “Uncle Sam Goddamn” is just about the last person the politically savvy president-elect would want to align himself with. Ali is so used to playing the outsider at this point, though, that he almost seems to prefer it. Aside from his label-mates Atmosphere—whose producer, Ant, co-crafted his latest album—nobody channels alienation into party music the way he does. Ali shares this “Made in Milwaukee”-sponsored bill with Milwaukee’s most visible rap group, The Rusty Ps, playing here with their original lineup, as well as the old-school soul band Kings Go Forth and DJs from the No Request Sound and Chalice in the Palace crews.
JJ Grey and Mofro craft their chicken-fried, boogie-blues jams not so much with juke joints in mind, but rather outdoor festivals, where tie-dyed and sun-visor-clad fans are free to twirl around ’til their hearts’ content. Last year bandleader Grey gave himself top billing over his band mates, but while his Eric Clapton guitar and gritty, Muddy Waters vocals are always at the front of the mix, it’s the swollen bass licks and sticky Hammond organ that drive these grooves.
Sunday, Nov. 23Joel and Victoria Osteen @ Bradley Center, 7 p.m.
Smiling pastor Joel Osteen’s “Bible as self-help book” approach to preaching struck a chord with countless Christians tired of the fireand-brimstone screeds of other celebrity pastors. Though Osteen’s nonconfrontational approach to the gospel has actually angered some evangelicals, who find his emphasis on positive thought over hard Scripture shallow, the best-selling author’s brand is so strong that even his less charismatic wife, Victoria—who suffered a nasty bout of PR when the Federal Aviation Administration fined her $3,000 for reportedly throwing a fit on an airplane—has been able to ride his coattails to stardom. Last month she published Love Your Life, her best-selling first book, with the promise of many more to come.
Monday, Nov. 24Neil Diamond @ Bradley Center, 8 p.m.
“There are two types of people in the world,” Bill Murray posited in What About Bob?, “Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.” That may have been true in 1991, but for the past 17 years Diamond has been mounting a slow but steady comeback, and these days the anti-Diamond camp is smaller than it’s ever been. Rick Rubin can claim some of the credit. As with Johnny Cash, Rubin helmed a stripped-down comeback album for Diamond, 2005’s 12 Songs, which earned Diamond his strongest reviews in ages. But in truth, the seeds had been planted long before, when sports stadiums, fraternities and karaoke bars alike adopted “Sweet Caroline” as their new anthem, and when Diamond began to demonstrate a sense of humor about his iconic image on television and in films like Saving Silverman. Lest there be any doubt that Neil Diamond is loved, his latest album, Home Before Dark, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, making the 67-year-old the oldest artist ever to claim that honor.
Tuesday, Nov. 25The Toasters @ Turner Hall Ballroom, 7 p.m.
At 25 years and counting, New York City’s The Toasters can safely lay claim to being the longest-running American ska band. They can also take credit for a good deal of the American ska scene—more than any other band, they buttressed the ’90s third-wave ska revival, with frontman (and lone original member) Rob Hingley running the Moon Ska record label, the now-defunct home to many of the 1990s’ best ska acts. When the ska revival imploded at the end of the decade, The Toasters carried on unfazed, continuing to record the same R&B- and jump-blues-colored ska-pop they have for decades. Like any good ska bill, tonight’s is laden with openers: The Desired Bonus, Flatfoot 56 and Something To Do.
Doyle Dykes @ Discovery World, 7 p.m.
Acoustic country/bluegrass guitarist Doyle Dykes began his career the traditional way, backing an established star—“Hee Haw” banjoist Grandpa Jones, of all people—and then regularly playing at the Grand Ole Opry, where he supported, among others, his muse, Chet Atkins. Ironically, briefly quitting the music industry to become a pastor did more to distinguish his playing than years of gigging ever could have. Arranging music for hymns imbued Dykes’ guitar work with what would become his signature warm tones.
Wednesday, Nov. 26Elzhi w/ Element, Sose and A-Biz @ Stonefly Brewery, 10 p.m.
When rising-star producer Jay Dee left his fledgling group, Slum Village, the remaining members made the best of it, recruiting the charismatic, hot-shot rapper Elzhi to fill in. The fresh blood revitalized the group, helping them score a minor hit, 2002’s “Tainted,” but even Elzhi wasn’t enough to help them overcome the Slum Village curse. Jay Dee died in 2006, just a year or two after fellow founding member Baatin left the group because of a mental illness. It’s no wonder, then, that on his recent solo releases Elzhi has sounded so relieved to be on his own. Liberated and more or less carefree, Elzhi takes advantage of the opportunity to flaunt his storytelling skills on his latest album, The Preface, an album mercifully devoid of the high-concept mumbo jumbo that marred past Slum Village discs.