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 clubs, and some stacked local bar shows, this particular January is especially stacked compared to recent years. Make your New Year’s resolution to get out more, and use this list of 16 can’t-miss shows as your guide. For more entertainment options, check out our events calendar.
Friday, January 8
Midwives + Buildings, Soup Moat, Volunteer @ Frank’s Power Plant
What better way to start your year in show-going than with a stacked lineup featuring three of Milwaukee’s best punk/hardcore acts along with Minneapolis’ own Buildings? After putting out two great releases (totaling 24 minutes) last year, Midwives look to start 2016 strong. Soup Moat and Volunteer make it necessary to show up on time.
The Squish + Phylums, The Ornery’s @ Cactus Club
Not two weeks removed from hosting The Promise Ring’s semi-secret reunion show, Cactus Club will serve as the site for another well-liked local commodity that called it quits more than 10 years ago. Yes, The Squish are back. Joining the punk rock reprisal are Phylums—fresh off the release of their great 2015 debut record Phylum Phyloid—and gritty drummer-fronted punkers The Ornerys.
Saturday, January 9
GGOOLLDD + Canopies, Rio Turbo @ Turner Hall
It’s incredible to think that GGOOLLDD has only been around for two years. Originally intended to be a playful project that would dissolve after its inaugural show in an East Side attic three Halloweens ago, the group decided to keep playing, and has quickly made an indelible mark on Milwaukee music. Even crazier than the electro-pop project’s rapid rise to consciousness in Cream City and well beyond is the fact such quick growth was accomplished through just a handful of songs. $TANDARD$ was a formidable four-pack of intensely infectious numbers, as were subsequent single “Boyz” and the small batch of demos and remixes included with it on the small-run 2015 cassette. In November, GGOOLLDD put out its For The Night EP, which was quickly followed by a surprise LP of past favorites called GGOOLLDD+ in December. Joining the bill for the local staple’s belated release show are Canopies and Rio Turbo.
Tenement + Laffing Gas, Fine Young Casuals @ Lucky Cat
Predatory Headlights—last year’s ambitious and oh-so-awesome 25-track album by Tenement—was one of the best records of 2015, both locally and otherwise. Though Tenement has earned a break, the Appleton/Milwaukee pop-punk trio isn’t showing signs of slowing down. They’ll lend semi-local support for two Indiana bands at this all-ages affair.
Friday, January 15
Milwaukee Record Presents: Local Coverage @ Turner Hall
Call us biased, but Local Coverage is our favorite show of the year. On Friday, January 15, an eclectic and talented group of 10 Milwaukee bands and rappers will take the stage at Turner Hall Ballroom to perform 15-minute sets of another local act’s material. We’re beyond excited to see how Klassik adapts Decibully’s songs, the way The Whiskeybelles will country up Fox Face’s two-minute punk numbers, GGOOLLDD’s take on Maritime’s music, and how each of the other seven acts will approach the band they drafted. Join us for what’s sure to be an unforgettable night of unique entertainment that you’ll never be able to witness again. All profits will be split evenly between Girls Rock Milwaukee and Guest House Of Milwaukee. Avoid lines at the box office and buy your ticket now.
BLAX + Scallops Hotel, Stumblesome, Mike Regal @ Company Brewing
Though we’re partial to a different January 15 event, we simply can’t go without mentioning this outstanding grouping of rappers taking the stage at Company Brewing. His recent “Headphone Experiment” tracks show an especially motivated and poised BLAX. Rory Ferreira will set aside his Milo catalog for a night in favor of his Scallops Hotel alter-ego. WC Tank’s Stumblesome project and Mike Regal will also perform. Good news: You can totally make it to this show after Local Coverage ends.
Dave Coulier @ Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s Northern Lights Theater
While you probably know him better from Full House, (allegedly) the pointed lyrics of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” and that Tumblr page where somebody posts the same picture of him every day, Dave Coulier has made a steady post-sitcom living as a stand-up comedian. The actor/comic/impressionist brings his time-tested and quasi-clean comedy to the casino for an evening of nostalgic laughs. Cut it out.
Tuesday, January 19
Bully + Fake Limbs at Cactus Club
Late last spring, a little-known rock quartet called Bully played with Whips in a (maybe) one-third full Cactus Club back room just days before releasing its first studio album. That record, Feels Like, catapulted Alicia Bognanno and her backing band to national consciousness, complete with ample alternative radio play and spots on virtually every respected music festival. Fewer than seven months removed from that Cactus show, it’s safe to expect more people will make it out to see Bully this time around.
Thursday, January 21
Tommy Stinson + Midnight Reruns, Platinum Boys @ Turner Hall
Though he’s now based in New York, Replacements and Guns N’ Roses bassist Tommy Stinson’s local ties run deep, as he’s represented by Ben Perlstein (formerly of The Benjamins) and recorded Midnight Reruns’ very, very great recent full-length Force Of Nurture. Back in September, Stinson came to Club Garibaldi. Since that show went so well, he’ll return to the Midwest to play to a bigger room with the local support of Midnight Reruns and Platinum Boys. Not too shabby for a $10 show!
Thursday, January 21 – Saturday, January 24
Riverwest FemFest @ Riverwest Public House, Jazz Gallery, Company Brewing, and High Dive
After an encouraging inaugural Riverwest FemFest raised $2,100 to support to the Milwaukee Women’s center with a small-but-solid two-day event at Cocoon Room and Riverwest Public House, the female-focused philanthropic festival returns bigger and even better in year two. From Thursday, January 21 through Sunday, January 24, more than 50 combined musical acts, poets, and spoken word storytellers will take the stages at Riverwest Public House, Company Brewing, the Jazz Gallery, and High Dive for the 2016 installment. The impressive cast of local acts with at least partial feminine presence features a wide variety of performers, including Mortgage Freeman, Hello Death, Ramma Lamma, NO/NO, Queen Tut, New Boyz Club, Sinbad, Tigernite, Siren, Heavy Hand, Fox Face, Static Eyes, and two bands with the word “Pussy” in their name.
Saturday, January 23
Protomartyr + Amanda X, TBA @ Cactus Club
Though Protomartyr has been kicking since 2008, the Detroit post-punk project didn’t break out until about three months ago. In early October, Protomartyr’s third full-length, The Agent Intellect, was released and was privy to loads of critical acclaim along with a warm reception from a continually growing fan base. Before embarking on a lengthy national tour—one that ends with a SXSW appearance—and a European jaunt, the up-and-coming band will drop by Cactus Club.
Pablove 7 @ Turner Hall
Now in its seventh 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 of convincing iconic local bands to reunite for an evening. Past Pabloves brought Alligator Gun and The Benjamins back together. This time around, Carolina will reunite for this night of charity and music. Goran (of The Gufs), Oil Tasters, Pet Engine, The Lovelies, and Eagle Trace will also play.
Sunday, January 24
Tortoise + Light Music @ Mad Planet
Despite having 25 years to do so, few listeners (if any) can put their finger on exactly what Tortoise sounds like. The ever-changing instrumental act has touched and subsequently toppled most every sonic boundary during its lengthy run that includes thousands of shows and six albums. Following a seven-year gap, Tortoise’s discography will grow to seven with the January 22 release of The Catastrophist. Before the headliner plays old favorites and cuts off its days-old record, locals Light Music will play much of last year’s impressive Ocean’s Daughter.
Friday, January 29
Local H @ Shank Hall
After bringing some warmth to an otherwise brisk night at Summerfest last year, veteran Illinois outfit Local H will return to its familiar Shank Hall haunt to play “Bound To The Floor” and other material that has made the band worth seeing live for more than a quarter century.
Saturday, January 30
Christopher Porterfield: How To Write A Popular Song @ Pitman Theatre
In 1893, Milwaukee-based songwriter Charles K. Harris scored popular music’s first multi-million-selling hit with “After The Ball.” 13 years later, the prolific songwriter penned a book entitled How To Write A Popular Song: A Practical Tutorial On Song Writing—With Music & Lyric Samples. Now, 110 years after that, another Milwaukee-based songwriter—Christopher Porterfield of Field Report—will bring Harris into the 21st century with this one-night-only show for Alverno Presents. Porterfield, along with collaborators Phil Cook, Caitlin Canty, Dave Godowsky, Ryan Necci, Thomas Wincek, and Shane Leonard, will both reinterpret songs from Harris’ extensive catalog and follow his instructions to create their own “popular songs.”
Patton Oswalt @ Riverside Theater
You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern comedian who is as influential, who is quoted as often, or who holds a higher average ranking among today’s self-described comedy nerds than Patton Oswalt. The veteran alt-comic has parlayed his decades of prickly witticisms expelled on stage into acting work in sitcoms and film, a book deal, and success as the voice of an animated rodent chef in a massive Disney hit. His reach has expanded, but the humorist’s deft dismantling of contemporary culture hasn’t suffered in the slightest, as evidenced by his great 2014 special Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time. Sadly, though, Milwaukee hasn’t been able to witness Oswalt’s stand-up skill set firsthand since his Pabst Theater appearance way back in 2011. That will change when the beloved comic and Ratatouille star returns to town to headline Laugh It Up Milwaukee 2016 at Riverside Theater. The rare Oswalt outing will benefit the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center and Special Olympics Wisconsin.