May in Milwaukee usually serves as the calm before the storm that is summer festival season. By the time next month, we’ll be gearing up for block parties, weekly concerts, and a massive wave of occurrences bearing the “Fest” or “Days” suffix. If you thought this month would grant you a brief respite from staying out late and seeing top-tier musicians and comedians, think again. A staggering batch of tremendous indoor events will unofficially launch Milwaukee into its bustling run of great shows that should sustain the city through September. This is easily the best entertainment month in Milwaukee so far this young year. Between outstanding concerts from local and touring acts alike, and an unheard of helping of great comedians heading our way, May is going to be crazy. To help guide you through this stacked stint, here are 15 shows Milwaukee Record is especially excited to see this month.
Friday, May 1
Surgeons In Heat (album release) + The Fatty Acids, Canopies, and Sat. Nite Duets at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn
For the past five years or so, Surgeons In Heat have had the distinction of being one of Milwaukee’s best bands and one of its most elusive. Following the release of two EPs in 2011 and 2012—both of which were later combined to form a self-titled full-length—the group’s once-busy show schedule slowed to a crawl. Multiple lineup changes and relocations ensued, with singer-songwriter Johnathon Mayer counting himself as the only consistent member. Now, three years after falling silent, Surgeons In Heat are set to make a confident return with a long-awaited (and long-delayed) new album, Disaster. Helping to celebrate the release of what will likely be one of Milwaukee’s best albums of 2015 are The Fatty Acids, Canopies, and Sat. Nite Duets. For just $10 (which includes a digital download of Disaster), that’s a hell of a deal.
Underwear Comedy Party at Hybrid Lounge
Given the daunting task of stepping on stage armed with only a microphone and a batch of deeply personal thoughts, feelings, and past experiences in effort to make a room full people laugh against their will, stand-up comedy is widely considered to be one of the—if not the—most difficult forms of expression. Doing it without a shirt or pants on brings this already-intimidating art form to an even greater degree of difficulty. Friday night, nine brave, body-secure local and regional comedians will shed their inhibitions along with their clothing to join Atlanta-based comic Joe Pettis on stage at Hybrid Lounge to partake in the Milwaukee leg of his Underwear Comedy Tour. This particular show features Christopher Schmidt, Liza Marie, Sammy Arechar, Matty Field, Ashley Huck, Gary Zajackowski, Liz Ziner, Stephanie Hasz.
Saturday, May 2
The Replacements + Midnight Reruns at The Rave
Legendary rock band The Replacements split up in 1991, walking away from a career that, while never fully embraced by the mainstream, could only be described as incalculably influential. Against all odds, frontman Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson reformed the group in 2012 (along with drummer Josh Freese and guitarist David Minehan), and have been thrilling young and old alike with their timeless sound ever since. Or at least that’s what we’ve heard—the Minneapolis band’s victory lap has yet to include Milwaukee. That’s all set to change, however, when The Replacements play—wait for it—The Rave. Midnight Reruns are opening, too! Need we say more? No. Holy crap.
Monday, May 4
Death Cab For Cutie + The Antlers at Riverside Theater
Believe it or not, Washington-born emo kingpin Death Cab For Cutie is closing in on its 20th year as a band. A dozen years after making its mark with the still-solid Transantlanticism, Ben Gibbard and co. peaked in popularity with 2005’s Plans, yet have weathered time, ever-changing music trends, and a brief hiatus to release three more albums. The latest release, the month-old Kintsugi, has seen mixed reviews. Expect a mix bag of new cuts and old favorites from the veteran indie rock act.
Friday, May 8
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally at Riverside Theater
Parks And Recreation’s semi-recent series finale forced the world to begrudgingly bid adieu to one of televised comedy’s single greatest characters, Ronald Ulysses Swanson. With Swanson’s swan song, viewers are now forced to grapple with thoughts of a life without him (not to mention Duke Silver!) and wonder what’s next for Nick Offerman, the character actor who achieved mainstream recognition in his brilliant portrayal of the lovable Libertarian. In February, Pabst Theater Group announced Offerman and real life wife Megan Mullally (who made occasional Parks cameos as Swanson’s unhinged ex-wife/nemesis “Tammy 2”) would swing by Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater on May 8 as part of the comedic couple’s “Summer Of 69: No Apostrophe” tour. Offer-mania immediately swept through Milwaukee, causing the side-splitting spouses to tack a 10:30 p.m. show to follow their sold out 7 p.m. performance.
Chris Hardwick at Pabst Theater
Though he’ll never be able to fully shake his breakout gig as co-host of Singled Out, Chris Hardwick has fashioned a cottage industry of hosting virtually every show under the sun, including his 671-episodes-old Nerdist podcast. Beyond building an empire out of his interests, the tireless TV personality is also an accomplished stand-up comedian who has spent the majority of his time away from the @midnight and Talking Dead sets on stages throughout the United States on his “Funcomfortable” tour.
Saturday, May 9
Vacation + Mexican Knives, Tenement, Fox Face, and The Midwest Beat
What do we need to say about this show? It’s an awesome lineup. Tenement is on the Mount Rushmore of active Wisconsin punk bands. Fox Face is one of the city’s most underrated acts, and this all-ages soiree will also serve as The Midwest Beat’s sendoff show for their European tour. Six bucks is a steal.
Wednesday, May 13
Bob Dylan at Riverside Theater
While the literal folk hero’s reputation as a whole cannot be tarnished, modern reviews of Bob Dylan have been mixed. Whether you’re hoping for an unforgettable performance from one of the planet’s most iconic songwriters or you just want to check the 73-year-old legend off your bucket list before it’s too late, there’s good reason to get out to see whatever version of Dylan takes the stage.
Mastodon at The Rave
From a folk force to a mammoth of modern metal, Mastodon—fresh off its 2015 Grammy—will continue what will be a huge month for The Rave and a massive May 13 for Milwaukee music. Now five years and two albums removed from breakout record, Crack The Skye, the brutal heavy metal heavy-hitter is making a belated Brew City stop in support of its latest sludgy masterpiece, 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun.
Thursday, May 14 to Sunday, May 17
Milwaukee Psych Fest 3 at Cactus Club
Since 2013, Milwaukee musician Andrew Shelp (Moss Folk) has given the city a loud, fuzzed-out, and reverb-drenched gift every spring: Milwaukee Psych Fest. The multi-day shindig has become a welcome staple on the city’s concert calendar, one featuring psychedelic, drone, and shoegaze-leaning bands from Milwaukee, the United States, and the world. “I definitely believe that Milwaukee Psych Fest holds up against most other independent music festivals around the world, let alone the country,” Shelp told us before the 2014 installment. If the lineup for 2015 is any indication, he’s right again. Cactus Club will play host to nearly two dozen bands ranging from beloved Milwaukee favorites (Space Raft, Drugs Dragons, Calliope) to international groups (Ancient River). Of special note is the reunion of Milwaukee psych-rock legends Feck, who haven’t played a show since the late ’90s.
Friday, May 15
Kids In The Hall at Riverside Theater
The list of influential ’80s/’90s sketch comedy shows runs surprisingly long—The State, The Ben Stiller Show, Mr. Show, a season or two of Saturday Night Live—but nothing comes close to the influence and surreal timelessness of The Kids In The Hall. The Canadian troupe of Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson produced five seasons of delightfully deranged comedy from 1988-95, introducing a small but devoted fan base to characters like Thompson’s Buddy Cole and McKinney’s Chicken Lady, and sketches like that head-crushing guy and the ones where McCulloch plays that “Gavin” kid who rambles on about celebrity haircuts and eating things for money. Now, for the first time since 2008, The Kids In The Hall will bring their live show—featuring old and new material—to Milwaukee.
Saturday, May 16
Sammy’s 2nd Annual Birthday Party at Quarter’s Rock ‘N Roll Palace
Yes, a birthday party is a strange inclusion on a city-wide list of show recommendations. However, the birthday boy is one of the funniest motherfuckers in Milwaukee. In honor of Sammy Arechar’s born anniversary (likely the last one before he leaves the city to begin to his unstoppable journey to comedic notoriety), the soon-to-be 23-year-old (!) alt-comic will host a stacked bill of Milwaukee and Chicago comics. In addition to the pizza, free hourly shots, DJ sets, and musical guest Hemispheres, Arechar has booked some of the region’s top comics, including: Jason Melton, Christopher Schmidt, Allison Dunne, Phil Davidson, Jeff Wheatly-Heckman, Dave Losso, Osmi Abdel-Hamid, Matty Field, and Mike Berg. Forget the loosely-associated birthday theme, this is an incredible local show for a mere $2. PLUS DRAKE MIGHT PERFORM IF HE WANTS TO COME AND PERFORM!
Tuesday, May 19
Jenny Lewis + Nikki Lane at Turner Hall
Jenny Lewis’ résumé includes everything from child actor (The Wizard), frontwoman for a beloved early-’00s indie band (Rilo Kiley), member of a one-off Traveling Wilburys update (“Handle With Care”), and adored solo artist (Rabbit Fur Coat). That last bullet point became even more prominent last year with the release of the excellent The Voyager, a sun-dappled AM-radio throwback and a confident return to form after 2008’s so-so Acid Tongue. Voyager finds Lewis grappling with topics familiar to artists of her age and stature—nostalgia, fame, growing old, looking back, pressing forward—but in a perfectly observed and sharp-tongued way all her own.
Tuesday, May 26
Kyle Kinane at Turner Hall
Just over a year ago, lovable schlub Kyle Kinane dropped by Milwaukee and toppled an enraptured Shank Hall audience while workshopping a new batch of gruff, self-effacing material that would wind up in his third special, I Liked His Old Stuff Better, between slugs of High Life. The Illinois ex-pat (and current voice of Comedy Central) will now try his hand in a larger room, as the late-blooming comic’s career continues on its belated upward climb.
Friday, May 29
John Mulaney at Pabst Theater
In the winter of 2013, up-and-coming comedian John Mulaney packed Turner Hall on the weight of his uproariously funny 2012 special, New In Town. Since that well-attended early March show—a rare event that forced the venue to offer balcony seating—Mulaney’s hilarious mixture of smarm and charm has rendered him a household name in comedy, seen him deliver infinitely quotable performances in the role of “Too Much Tuna” prankster George St. Geegland on Kroll Show, and landed him a FOX sitcom named after him. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad, right? Mulaney was even forced to add a second show in Milwaukee, just one of four Midwestern cities the comedian will hit during his 30-city run.