Not too long ago, January was pretty much a vacant, blustery tundra in terms 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 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 list of 13 can’t-miss shows as your guide.
Wednesday, January 2 to Sunday, January 6
The Book Of Mormon @ The Marcus Center
After earning nine Tony Awards (and dozens of other accolades), garnering oodles of critical acclaim, and grossing more than $500M at the box office, The Book Of Mormon returns to Milwaukee for another run of shows at the Marcus Center. If you’ve never seen one of the most successful musicals of all time (or if you just want to see it again), make a point to start your year at the theater.
Friday, January 4
Law/Less + Moss Folk, Eradicator, and Galactic Cannibal @ Cactus Club
The bad news: accomplished Milwaukee drummer and all-around awesome guy Ryan Bollis is moving away soon. The good news: Before he blows town, he’ll sit behind the kit once more as his various bands play him off during an eclectic showcase. Come to town to say goodbye to Ryan and watch him play with Law/Less, Moss Folk, and The Eradicator. Rounding out this special show is a reunion set by Galactic Cannibal.
Saturday, January 5
Abby Jeanne (album release) + Saebra & Carlyle @ Turner Hall
How does Abby Jeanne follow up a year that included a four-show “Fire In February” residency, a WMSE Record Store Day 7-inch, a flurry of high-profile festival gigs, a well-deserved $20,000 Backline grant, a successful “Cosmic Weekend” in her honor, and an awesome holiday single? Why, with a new album and a release show at Turner Hall! Join the prolific Milwaukee talent as she officially releases her long-awaited Music Box Dancer into the world.
Thursday, January 10
The Brian McKnight 4 at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
Though it’s been 20 years since Brian McKnight hit charts hard with “Anytime,” the long-tenured R&B singer hasn’t stopped singing. Including six compilations and a pair of Christmas albums, McKnight has more than 20 albums to his credit. He’ll traverse that lengthy catalog during an intimate Northern Lights Theater show. Emphasis on “intimate.”
Friday, January 11
Brendan Kelly + Sincere Engineer (solo) + Bobby Flowers @ Cactus Club
Brendan Kelly is the best. While you certainly know and love the Chicago punk legend and former Slapstick and Broadways member’s modern-day work in The Lawrence Arms, The Falcon, and on his hilariously bleak Nihilist Arby’s Twitter account, you might be happy to know that Kelly also has an outlet for his solo material. A few months after that solo venture—Brendan Kelly And The Wandering Birds—released Keep Walkin’ Pal, Kelly will make his return to Milwaukee after, like, 500 years away to play a solo show in the intimate confines of Cactus Club. Red Scare labelmates and Chicago’s own Sincere Engineer will also be part of this can’t-miss winter affair.
Friday, January 18
Local Coverage 2019 @ Turner Hall
Following four years of fun philanthropy, Milwaukee Record’s Local Coverage benefit will return to Turner Hall Ballroom in early 2019. On Friday, January 18, an eclectic cast of seven local acts from all corners of the stylistic spectrum will each play 15-minute sets, covering material of artists they personally selected from the pool of participating projects. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see your favorite Milwaukee outfits as you’ve never seen them before. From Direct Hit! adapting the music of Nickel&Rose, Paper Holland re-imagining Immortal Girlfriend, and Amanda Huff covering LUXI shortly after LUXI gives an electronic re-dressing to the ska stylings of Something To Do, Local Coverage is an incomparable event for a great cause. All proceeds will be donated to Milwaukee Women’s Center. HERE is the full lineup.
Erykah Badyu @ The Rave
If Local Coverage isn’t your thing, perhaps the legendary Erykah Badyu’s first Milwaukee show in 14 years is more your speed. We wouldn’t blame you if you missed our benefit show for this rare opportunity to see her.
Monday, January 21 to Wednesday, January 23
Louie Anderson @ Potawatomi Bingo & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
Before he was a regular in ’80s and ’90s movies, a cartoon protagonist, and the host of Family Feud, Louie Anderson was a comedian…a pretty damn good one, at that. Though his cultural significance and his IMDB page waned for a time, his career has turned around with his amazing performance on FX’s Baskets. On top of his acting prowess, Anderson remains a more-than-capable comedian. The Minneapolis-born funnyman returns to the Midwest for three nights of shows at Potawatomi’s Northern Lights Theater.
Tuesday, January 22
Violent J + Esham @ Club Garibaldi
This January and February, the two insane clowns from Insane Clown Posse—Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope—will play Milwaukee’s venerable Club Garibaldi. No, they won’t be playing together as ICP; rather, they’ll be playing separate solo shows, each with a fellow Psychopathic Records artist in tow. Fucking competing solo tours, how do they work? First up is Violent J and Esham on Tuesday, January 22. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
Wednesday, January 23
Milwaukee Record presents MacGruber @ Avalon Theater
We know what you’re thinking. As you read this, we’re sure you’re wondering to yourself, “Wait, isn’t MacGruber based on a bad, one-note Saturday Night Live sketch?” and “Wasn’t MacGruber a box office bust that was critically panned at the time of its release?” And, yes, both those things are true. Of course, if you’ve ever seen MacGruber, you absolutely understand why we’re going to screen it at Avalon Theater on Wednesday, January 23. It’s goddamn hilarious. If you missed it in theaters, you now have a chance to see MacGruber on the big screen. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat! Don’t make us beg. We’ll do it.
Thursday, January 24
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band @ Fiserv Forum
Following five decades of rock and roll and countless timeless chart-topping hits, Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band are ready to say goodbye. Before he officially calls it a career, the Midwestern musical mainstay will come by the brand new Fiserv Forum as part of the “Roll Me Away Tour.” Even though another “last tour” isn’t necessarily off the table, when Bob Seger says he’s calling it quits, you’re inclined to believe him.
Saturday, January 26
Pablove 10 @ Turner Hall
Now in its 10th 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 and national bands for a mid-winter showing. This year’s edition will find Viola, The Blow Pops, and more to Turner Hall’s stage for “Violent Femmes’ first album singalong.”
IshDARR + Emaad, and BoodahDarr @ The Rave
What more can we say about IshDARR at this point? Since bursting onto the scene in his teens, the rapper—now in his early 20s—has taken both Milwaukee and the hip-hop world by storm. In the process, he’s amassed an impressive catalog (most recently punctuated by November’s awesome Slow Down, KID), earned millions upon millions of streams, and acted opposite Matthew McConaughey in last year’s White Boy Rick. The sky is the limit for IshDARR and you can see the Milwaukee emcee’s star continue its ascent during this show at The Rave. Emaad and IshDARR’s brother BoodahDarr will open.