Summertime musical entertainment in Milwaukee typically finds a home at the city’s 8,000 street fests, or, you know, that whole Summerfest thing. But look beyond the temporary street stages and the sea of danceable picnic tables on the lakefront that is Henry Maier Festival Park and you’ll find plenty of solid shows to keep you busy all summer long. Here are 12 of them.
Electric Six at Mad Planet
Detroit party-rockers Electric Six may be a long way from their Myspace-era hits like “Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar,” but give them credit for sticking around and sticking to their guns. Last year’s Human Zoo is filled with the same kind of over-the-top, slightly tongue-in-cheek disco-glam the group has been cranking out for a decade-plus. Polyvinyl band White Reaper and Milwaukee’s own NO/NO open the show.
June 20, 21
My Morning Jacket at Riverside Theater
Never underestimate the power of big, bold, wrap-your-arms-around-the-nearest-bearded-dude-and-squeeze rock music. Jim James and My Morning Jacket have been specializing in that particular genre since 1999, and they’ve never been more popular. From 2005 on, the band has been at the top of their game; this year’s stunning The Waterfall feels like both a culmination of the last decade and a victory lap. The June 20 show is sold out, though tickets are still available for the following night. North Carolina’s Floating Action opens both shows.
The Obsoletes (reunion) at Bremen Cafe
It’s going on five years since The Obsoletes played a show. The pop-rock trio was a sort of all-star cast of Wisconsin musicians, featuring members of The Benjamins and seminal Fox Cities acts The Screwballs and Yesterday’s Kids. While The Obsoletes only managed one release—the timeless Is This Progress?—before members branched off to join Limbeck, Tim Schweiger & The Middle Men, and Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, the band will be back for (at least) one show when they revive the project to play in support of The Underground Railroad To Candyland, Polish Girls, and Holy Shit! in a cover charge-free holiday weekend precursor. If you miss The Obsoletes or you just plain missed their first run, don’t miss this.
Matthew Sweet at Shank Hall
Call Matthew Sweet a one-hit wonder if you want, but most musicians would kill for a hit like Sweet’s “Girlfriend,” from his 1991 album of the same name. Not that the ’60s-indebted psych-rock earworm is the be-all end-all of Sweet’s career. Plenty of solid albums litter his discography (1995’s 100% Fun and 1997’s Blue Sky On Mars in particular), and recent collaborations with Susanna Hoffs have produced enjoyable covers albums of music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Sweet is currently prepping a new album that received over $55,000 in funding via Kickstarter.
A.A. Bondy at Cactus Club
A.A. Bondy’s music touches on just about as many styles as his name has permutations. The Alabama native went by “Scott Bondy” during his tenure as frontman for rock group Verbana; these days, he’s known by the initials of his given name, Auguste Arthur. His music rides a fine line between textured, ethereal folk (think Bon Iver) and country-tinged, singer-songwriter confessionals (think Bonnie “Prince” Billy). Bondy hasn’t released a new album since 2011’s Believers, but the hard-touring troubadour should give Milwaukee plenty to chew on at this intimate show.
METZ at Cactus Club
In the thick of a musical epoch that routinely finds artists piling influence from a scattershot of different genres and periods to help shape their sound, sometimes it’s refreshing when a band cuts through the bullshit, digs in its heels, and releases a balls-out rock and roll record. METZ is one of those bands. The Toronto-based trio announced its arrival with a blood-curdling scream via its 2012 self-titled album. Last week, METZ berthed its follow-up, II, an incessant barrage of incomparably harsh, sense-dulling noise and distortion that’s as punishing as it is utterly enjoyable. If you have the foresight to pick up tickets and risk not being able to hear what anyone is saying at work on Tuesday…or Wednesday and part of Thursday, this Monday night musical melee could very well be a show chiseled on the figurative tablet of incredible Cactus Club bookings alongside Queens Of The Stone Age, The White Stripes, and Interpol.
Rise Against at The Rave
Last year, veteran Chicago punk outfit Rise Against came to town to headline a Summerfest grounds stage show on the cusp of the release of the band’s seventh album, The Black Market. A year removed from that record, and not to mention about a decade past its best material, the name Rise Against doesn’t quite tote the same significant it once did (unless you’re Jim Rome). Still, even as a dynasty act that’s between albums, they’re worth the price of admission.
Alt-J at Riverside Theater
Though they hail from England, Alt-J are no strangers to Milwaukee. The impossible-to-pin-down electro-indie rockers have played Milwaukee three times in the past two years, most recently last December at WLUM’s Big Snow Show. Like many popular radio-friendly bands, Alt-J can be divisive—they’re either the best band of the last few years or everything that’s wrong with music today—but their Radiohead-lite act is worth checking out if you’re in the mood for something pleasant and easy to swallow.
Primus, Dinosaur Jr. at The Rave
When you think of which two mid-level ’90s alt groups should get together for a co-headlining show at The Rave, do you think of Primus and Dinosaur Jr.? Of course you don’t, which is why this show should be, at the very least, delightfully bizarre. Will Les Claypool and the “definitive” Primus lineup (Claypool, Larry LaLonde, Tim Alexander) play a slap-bass rendition of “Feel The Pain” in honor of their tourmates? Will Dinosaur Jr. take on “Tommy The Cat”? Will “PRIMUS SUCKS!” be shouted at least a dozen times? Dust off your Sailing The Seas Of Cheese tape, your Without A Sound CD, and find out this August.
Jimmy Buffett + Huey Lewis And The News at Alpine “Yes, We Know It’s Not In Milwaukee” Valley
Blah blah blah “Margaritaville,” blah blah blah “Cheeseburger In Paradise.” Eternal vacationing uncle Jimmy Buffett is fine, and the inebriated hoopla surrounding his shows is good fun, but let’s get to the real stars of this show: Huey Lewis And The Motherfucking News. Lewis was almost 34 years old when his Thriller-for-the-squares masterpiece Sports was released in 1984, a fun fact that goes to show that when faced with top-notch musical cheese like “The Heart Of Rock & Roll,” “Heart And Soul,” “I Want A New Drug,” and “If This Is It,” image means nothing. Lewis and company will of course play all their hits at this show, including the one about the inherent dangers and moral quandaries associated with plutonium-powered time travel.
Mondo Lucha at Turner Hall
Since 2008, Milwaukee’s Mondo Lucha has whipped the city’s wrestling nerds (and closet wrestling nerds) into the turnbuckles with over-the-top, high-flying, masked lucha libre wrestling extravaganzas. The homegrown company has consistently put on high-production, multi-media shows that dwarf anything else on the indie wrestling circuit, and has done it all with a shit-eating grin on its face. If you’re the kind of person who pines for the days when ridiculous storylines ruled the day and the WWE was still the WWF, look no further for your masked, retro wrestling kick to the face. Even better: Whips will provide this year’s musical accompaniment.
Penn & Teller at Riverside Theater
Forget for a moment Penn & Teller, outspoken Libertarians and skeptics. Forget for a moment Penn & Teller, reality show staples. Instead, focus on Penn & Teller, entertainers and magicians. For nearly 40 years, the self-described “Bad Boys of Magic” have continually transformed their sometimes disreputable and corny profession into high art—all the while keeping things funny and delightfully morbid. Their long-running Las Vegas live show is a mind-bending Russian nesting doll of lies and deception, and a perfect example of why the duo are still vital to this day: they’re really fucking good at what they do.