It wasn’t too long ago that January was pretty much a vacant, blustery tundra of Milwaukee entertainment options. Between frigid conditions, uncertainties regarding Packers playoff seeding, and the post-holiday hangover, most venues opted to clear their show schedules, while performers—not unlike the rest of us—became hermits, only to emerge for groceries and to use gift cards obtained the previous month. Fortunately, those days are over.
Between a flurry of great local benefits, some unexpected out-of-towners playing intimate spaces, and some world class comedians and troubadours, this particular January is especially stacked. Make it your New Year’s resolution to get out more, and use this baker’s dozen of can’t-miss shows as your guide.
Friday, January 5
Bands To Watch: Best Of 2017 @ 88Nine Radio Milwaukee Studios
Though 2017 can be chalked up as a terrible year, but at least it was a prosperous 365 days in local music. Journal-Sentinel and 88Nine will showcase five acts on Piet Levy’s 2017 “Bands To Watch” list at the station’s performance space. The varied musical mix includes Fox Face, Mike Mangione & The Kin, Telethon, Vincent Kircher, and Peter Mulvey.
Saturday, January 6
Faux Fiction (EP release) + Rocket Paloma, For The Culture, Brew City Bombshells, and Kaitlin McCarthy @ Company Brewing
We’re just days into 2018, but Faux Fiction isn’t wasting any time. The punk-tinged garage rockers will release its wonderful new Dark Matter EP during a Company Brewing variety show that also features music from Rocket Paloma and For The Culture, comedy from Kaitlin McCarthy, and burlesque from Brew City Bombshells.
Friday, January 12
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony @ The Rave
Oh how the years fly by! Believe it or not, it’s been more than 20 years since hip-hop legends Bone Thugs-N-Harmony put out E. 1999 Eternal, which featured standout hit “Tha Crossroads.” Man, by this point that guy in Bone Thugs probably really misses his uncle Charles, y’all.
Saturday, January 13
Daydream Retrievers + Quinn Sharber, and Marielle Allschwang @ Cactus Club
The last time you could hear Ian Olvera’s voice on a recording, the Milwaukee singer-guitarist was fronting The Sleepwalkers. Following the release of two songs in early 2015, the band was shelved to allow other members to focus on The Midwestern Charm (which later became Bad Wig) and Sex Scenes. With a wealth of material ready and his only project on indefinite hiatus, Olvera says “it was kind of an accident” that brought his next endeavor into existence. Olvera’s new band, Daydream Retrievers, will release its self-titled debut album as part of a stacked Cactus Club release show that also includes Quinn Sharber and Marielle Allschwang.
Adam Ferrara @ Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
Adam Ferrara is best known for his recurring roles in Rescue Me and Nurse Jackie, but the actor got his start as a comedian. The veteran comic will bring his decades of experience to Potawatomi’s Northern Lights Theater for a night you won’t want to miss.
Ken Vandermark @ Sugar Maple
Sugar Maple isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind when thinking of Milwaukee music venues, but the Bay View bar occasionally opens its back room up to host comedy shows and concerts. Back in late 2015, Ken Vandermark played there with The Ex. Vandermark will return to the unconventional performance space to headline a January 13 show.
Friday, January 19
Local Coverage @ Turner Hall
After three years of fun philanthropy, Milwaukee Record’s Local Coverage benefit will return to Turner Hall Ballroom in 2018. On Friday, January 19, an eclectic cast of nine local acts from all corners of the stylistic spectrum will each play 15-minute sets, covering material of bands they selected in early October. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see your favorite Milwaukee outfits in a way you’ve never seen them before.
From De La Buena adapting the music of Jaill, Lex Allen re-imagining the Irish punk stylings of Whiskey Of The Damned, Space Raft covering NO/NO, and Girls Rock alums Negative/Positive crafting a set inspired by Space Raft, Local Coverage is an incomparable event for a good cause. All proceeds will be donated to Milwaukee Women’s Center. Here’s the full lineup.
Saturday, January 20
Pablove @ Turner Hall
Now in its ninth year, the Pablove benefit not only serves as an entertaining way to raise money for an organization that aims to “improve the lives of children with cancer,” it also functions as a means bringing out some respected local bands for a mid-winter showing. This year’s edition is “an all-star tribute to Tom Petty,” which will feature the likes of Sam Llanas, Abby Jeanne, Gabriel Sanchez, Wooldridge Brothers, Semi Twang, Louie Lucchesi, Chris DeMay, Trapper Schoepp, and Spanglemaker’s farewell show.
Bully + Sundial Mottos @ Cactus Club
Bully playing a sold-out show at Cactus Club has become a winter tradition in Milwaukee at this point. The tradition continues on January 20, when the rock outfit returns to the Bay View bar to play in support of 2017’s Losing. Sundial Mottos will provide local support for the show which, yes, has already sold out.
Wednesday, January 24
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit + James McMurtry @ Riverside Theater
Roughly two years after captivating a sold-out Pabst Theater, alt-country powerhouse Jason Isbell and his 400 Unit backing band will take the Riverside Theater stage for a can’t-miss performance by one of modern music’s finest songwriters.
Friday, January 26
Sandra Bernhard @ Turner Hall
Actor, singer, friend of Roseanne, and comedian Sandra Bernhard has done it all. A few years removed from performing at PrideFest, Bernhard will return to Milwaukee to delight Turner Hall with the “comedian” part of her lengthy multi-hyphenate career.
Saturday, January 27
Todd Barry @ The Underground Collaborative
With more than 30 years of stage time beneath his belt and an often-imitated, never replicated wry and soft-spoken comedic style, Todd Barry is on the cusp of comedy legend status. Though he’s performed in Wisconsin a few times recently, Milwaukee is relatively foreign market for the veteran New York funnyman. Following a long gap of Milwaukeelessness, Barry came to Turner Hall in January 2013 as part of his crowdwork tour, where he basically just made fun of a bartender from Oscar’s for an hour. Two-plus years after quietly killing with actual material at the same venue, Barry will return to the crowdwork well once more when he brings his decades of experience and his incomparable comic insight to The Underground Collaborative, an intimate venue in the Grand Avenue Mall’s basement.
Old Earth + Twin Brother, Rocket Paloma, and Camp Sugar @ Club Garibaldi
After a brief creative exodus to northern California, Old Earth quietly returned to Milwaukee last year. The experimental project will head up a loaded lineup at Club Garibaldi, which also boasts Twin Brother (in its new solo state), Rocket Paloma, and Camp Sugar.