December is a time for celebration. As publications prepare to roll out their lists of best albums, concerts, and more artistic efforts brought forth during the last 11 months, the calendar year’s cold conclusion is often a period that usually yields to holidays, the dipping temperature, and the city’s proclivity to unabashedly don pajama pants and watch Netflix during all non-work hours. In short, December is usually a month lacking in truly notable events, which seamlessly bleeds into January, as well, before normalcy is restored by mid-February. That said, December 2o14 is an anomaly. In addition to the few expected occurrences that happen annually, this particular December finds some of the city’s best albums getting their proper release, noted out-of-towners swinging through town, and, yes, Jim Gaffigan performing a shitload. Of the overflowing abundance of great things going on in town this month, here are the 15 events Milwaukee Record recommends.
Tuesday, December 2
Big Snow Show 9 – Night 1 (Cage The Elephant + Alt-J, Fitz And The Tantrums, Vance Joy, Meg Myers) at The Rave
For nine years now, Milwaukee’s premier source for 20-year-old Offspring songs played thrice-hourly and the city’s most polarizing venue have joined forces for an annual winter event that’s surprisingly attendable. FM102.1 and The Rave’s ninth Big Snow Show is so stacked, they needed two nights. Despite the semi-hometown presence of Fall Out Boy in the second installment, night one steals the spotlight with suitable headliners in the form of Cage The Elephant, Alt-J, and Fitz And The Tantrums. If this lineup appeals to you, hopefully you already bought a ticket. It’s sold out.
Wednesday, December 3
Wilco + Disappears at The Riverside Theater
Speaking of sold-out shows, it’s no surprise Wilco managed to hit Riverside Theater capacity shortly after the show was announced. Following 20 years (TWENTY!) in action and a cavalcade of influential albums—including the seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—beneath its belt, Wilco comes to Milwaukee for what appears to be a greatest hits affair.
Thursday, December 4
2014 Radio Milwaukee Music Award at Radio Milwaukee Studios
It’s been a hell of a year in Milwaukee music. More artists than ever are churning out tremendous albums and striking videos that are capturing the attention of listeners locally (and beyond). Now it’s time to celebrate. After 88Nine Radio Milwaukee let listeners weigh in on its massive ballot, the finalists for eight categories were announced, and winners will now be decided upon by a panel of judges (our own Matt Wild among them) on Thursday. You can see who takes home the hardware in person and see performances by GGOOLLDD, The Delta Routine, The Living Statues, and more at the awards show, which takes place at 88Nine’s studio in Walker’s Point.
Migo and Meat Greeter (dual album release show) + Airo Kwil, Lousy Trouts at Mad Planet
If you’re not a Riverwest resident in his or her early twenties, perhaps none of these strange collections of letters and words elicit much of a response. But they should. Migo jam-packs punk, poetry, elements of jazz, and out-of-step time signatures in its great forthcoming full length, Napkin Back, which bandleader Jay Joslyn (Ugly Brothers drummer) and company will release Thursday. Meat Greater (featuring members of Ugly Brothers and Lousy Trouts) will also celebrate its album release. Genre-jumping rapper Airo Kwil and Lousy Trouts will set the stage for the dual release show.
Saturday, December 6
Catacombz (final show) + Dogs In Ecstasy, (ORB) at Riverwest Public House
For close to 10 years, Milwaukee psych-rock outfit Catacombz has been a staple of the local music scene. Formed when most of the members were still teenagers, the band toured extensively, released a series of great records—one of which earned the no. 15 spot on our 50 best Milwaukee albums of the 2010s (so far) list—and was nothing short of a fixture in Milwaukee music. In recent years, though, the lineup changed, members moved, focus shifted to other projects, and the band’s output slowed. The writing was on the wall, and all I’s will be dotted and T’s crossed December 6 when Catacombz officially comes to an end. The band will play its final show (which will double as a release show for its final digital-only album, and a liquidation sale of remaining copies of its previous physical releases) at Riverwest Public House with support from Dogs In Ecstasy and (ORB), and DJ sets by Spero Lo Menzo. We’ll miss you, Catacombz.
Friday, December 12
Canopies (album release) + The Fatty Acids at Polish Falcon
We don’t hear from the Canopies camp too often, but when the reclusive and calculated Milwaukee synth-pop project breaks its silence, it’s always worth listening to. Canopies’ self-titled debut required just five songs to take the town by surprise in 2011. Three years later, the outfit managed just two new songs on a lathe-cut record limited to just 25 copies…that just so happen to eclipse the output of the introductory EP that effortlessly cracked the top five on our top 50 Milwaukee albums of the 2010s (so far) list. If you can believe it, Canopies’ forthcoming full-length is better than everything they’ve ever done. To mark the release of the group’s long-awaited Maximize Your Faith, Canopies will play its second (and final) show of 2014 at the Polish Falcon. The Fatty Acids open and Bread Mothers will provide visual wizardry throughout.
Direct Hit! + Pears at Borg Ward
Following an especially taxing 2013, Direct Hit! has enjoyed a great 2014. Between avid (and fiscally responsible!) touring throughout the U.S. and Canada, a lofty Summerfest slot opening for Rise Against, and finally completing the ambitious video for the entirety of its outstanding 2013 apocalyptic concept album Brainless God, the pop-punk force hasn’t had much time to unwind in their hometown. To celebrate singer/guitarist Nick Woods’ 30th birthday, Direct Hit! will return home for an all-ages show at the Borg Ward, bringing New Orleans punkers Pears with them to join the “Fuck You! Get Pumped!” party.
Thursday, December 18
Owls + Absolutely, TBA at Cactus Club
While only (originally) around for about a year more than a decade back, Owls quickly amassed a name in the Chicago emo scene alongside the likes of Joan Of Arc, Owen, and Make Believe. It’s probably not a coincidence, then, that Owls is stocked with ingredients from Chicago emo acts like Joan Of Arc, Owen, and Make Believe. Now reunited, the legendary Kinsella brothers and the rest of Owls will nest in the cozy confines of the Cactus Club in support of its dozen-years-overdue follow-up Two.
Saturday, December 20
Whips (album release) + comedian Ryan Holman, Midwest Death Rattle at Cactus Club
With members who have former and current connections to vaunted acts including Red Knife Lottery, The Academy Is…, Call Me Lightning, Space Raft, Hot Coffin, and Last Place Champs, Whips demands attention. Last year’s inaugural EP, Year One, was a great (albeit brief) introduction to the new project. Year two has yielded a ton of captivating festival appearances and the band’s first full-length, the blistering and altogether wonderful Turn It On. Joining the release show for the well-warranted last-minute entry into the best Milwaukee album of 2014 conversation is Ryan Holman (fresh off opening four shows for Dave Chappelle) and Midwest Death Rattle.
3rd Annual Mad Planet Ugly Sweater Holiday Party at Mad Planet
Joining events like Hover Craft and Jim Gaffigan’s yearly multi-show Pabst Theater residency is Mad Planet’s Ugly Sweater Holiday Party, which is essentially just a stacked local show in Riverwest with slightly more hideous and ironically outdated articles of clothing than usual being worn by those in attendance. This time around, Mad Planet and Honeycomb Productions have enlisted Fresh Cut Collective, Sat. Nite Duets, The Living Statues, and WC Tank to take the stage in their shittiest garments for the third annual Ugly Sweater Holiday Party. The show costs $7 (or $5 if donning an ugly sweater). There will also be a contest for the highly-sought “Ugliest Sweater In The Best Way” award.
Buffalo Gospel + Heidi Spencer And The Rare Birds, Simon Balto at Anodyne (Walker’s Point)
Last summer, Buffalo Gospel came out with its outstanding and emotionally wrought full-length, We Can Be Horses, which straddled conventions of classic country and Americana whilst easily earning a spot in the mid-twenties of our 50 best Milwaukee albums of the 2010s (so far) list. Boasting a cast that includes Riverwest singer-songwriter mainstay Heidi Spencer (of opener Heidi Spencer And The Rare Birds) and Allen Coté (ex-The Championship and Juniper Tar) among its ranks, not to mention the timeless lyrical abilities and incomparable twang of bandleader Ryan Necci, Buffalo Gospel is nothing short of an all-star team. Though the loaded lineup can’t get together often, the group is taking the stage for the first time since summer for a can’t-miss night of heartfelt and expertly executed compositions.
Monday, December 29
Juiceboxxx + Sat. Nite Duets, WebsterX at Hotel Foster
Whether you love him, hate him, or only sort of hate him, you can’t deny the passion and energy Milwaukee ex-pat Juiceboxxx puts into his live show. The now-Brooklyn-based rapper returns to his hometown to bestow the gift of a post-holiday performance at Hotel Foster. Rounding out this eclectic and stacked Monday night bill are Sat. Nite Duets and WebsterX.
Monday, December 29 to Wednesday, December 31
Jim Gaffigan at Pabst Theater
By now, modern comic force Jim Gaffigan’s December 31 show at Pabst Theater has become as much of the Milwaukee New Year’s tradition as champagne toasts, staying out at bars until 6 a.m., waiting three hours for a cab that never comes, and the crushing realization that you’ve wasted yet another year of your goddamn life. Fortunately, the beloved actor and author (who has also been known to dabble in stand-up comedy from time to time) can be relied upon to bring some post-Christmas and pre-New Year’s Day chuckles with his now-expected appearance at the historic venue. This winter is no different. For the eighth consecutive year, the seminal stand-up comic will bring his grab bag of jokes about food and general everyman musings to the Pabst for a run of shows, this time as part of his “White Bread Tour” in support of his new book Food: A Love Story.
Tuesday, December 30
Local H + The Life And Times at Shank Hall
The pride of Zion, Illinois, alt-rock duo Local H peaked in 1996 with its punchy single “Bound For The Floor” off As Good As Dead. Mere days away from entering its 25th year as a band, the two-piece—which has only one original member left—might have seen its best days come and go, but they still mean a lot to a small-but-devoted cast of Local H diehards. That said, it’s the opener that makes this show a truly worthwhile event. Kansas City-based The Life And Times, which is fronted by shoegaze demigod Allen Epley of Shiner semi-fame, bolsters the bill with its first show in Milwaukee since releasing its latest, Lost Bees, earlier this year.
Wednesday, December 31
The Get Down at Turner Hall
Though the Milwaukee institution usually unfolds on the dance floor at Mad Planet every month, The Get Down takes to Turner Hall each New Year’s Eve of late. Now 10 years old, “Milwaukee’s Biggest Dance Party” will dance in the new year with a steady diet of funk and soul records, along with an open bar, midnight pizza buffet, champagne toast, party favors, and a balloon drop.