It’s finally here! Following an especially brutal Wisconsin winter and a bipolor spring season, summer makes its long-awaited return this weekend. Sure, we’ve had to endure more than a few “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”s already, but the summer solstice officially ushers in a quarter-year worth of cold drinks enjoyed in warm weather while watching hundreds upon hundreds of bands. Even beyond Summerfest (we’ll get to that next week), there’s no shortage of great acts taking the stage in all corners of the city this summer. Here are 15 such shows we’’e looking forward to.
June 22: Old 97’s at Turner Hall
The Old 97’s were an early pioneer of the now-commonplace alt-country genre. Now vying for attention with a myriad of twangy compatriots, the Dallas band has been kicking for more than two decades by staying ahead of the game with a killer live show and influential frontman Rhett Miller. This subtle Sunday Turner Hall soirée could go down as one of the most underrated shows of the summer.
June 28: King Buzzo at Shank Hall
Legendary sludge masters the Melvins are no strangers to Milwaukee, having played a handful of shows here in the last few years. But this gig is a bit different: Founding Melvins member King Buzzo—he of the Sideshow Bob hair—is going solo and acoustic, playing a hybrid of metal and folk he jokingly dubs “molk.” “Dark Brown Teeth,” the recently released single from Buzzo’s new album This Machine Kills Artists, is a nice summation of the surprisingly tender yet still-heavy direction he’s taking these day. Opening the show is Milwaukee’s Mark Waldoch—he of The Celebrated Workingman and the booming voice—and L.A.-based crooner Emma Ruth Rundle.
July 10: Veruca Salt at Turner Hall
If you’re looking for a band that practically screams “the ’90s!” you could do a lot worse than Veruca Salt. The band’s 1994 album American Thighs contained a monster single for the 120 Minutes crowd, “Seether,” and plenty of alt-attitude from frontwomen Nina Gordon and Louise Post. Following just one more full-length (1997’s Eight Arms To Hold You, which contained another monster single, “Volcano Girls”), the band broke up, and Post carried on sans Gordon. Fast forward a few years, and Gordon and Post have put aside their differences just in time to celebrate the 20th (!) anniversary of American Thighs.
July 11: Sat. Nite Duets at Riverwest Public House
Sat. Nite Duets have become a Milwaukee institution on the strength of an impressive run of excellent albums and EPs, as well as the occasional goofball video. The summer-obsessed kitchen-sink indie-rock group plans to keep that streak going this year with its Los DJs EP, which sees its official release at this show. Joining the group for this undeniably Riverwest-y show (at the Riverwest Public House, natch) are frequent partners in crime, The Fatty Acids and Dogs In Ecstasy.
July 12: Jon Mueller’s Death Blues at Cactus Club
When he’s not busy providing the deafening backbeat for Volcano Choir, Milwaukee’s Jon Mueller spends his time contemplating life, death, and the impermanence of the present. You know, the fun stuff. Mueller’s Death Blues project has taken many forms over the years—a multi-media concert for Alverno Presents, an upcoming book—but its musical incarnation is the most visceral and challenging. Mueller and company will play material from his recently released Non-Fiction album at this show, tackling big ideas with alternately minimal and bowel-shaking instrumental post-rock. Fellow avant-garde musicians Old Earth and Marielle Allschwang open the show.
July 18: Heavy Hand at Cactus Club
What can you say about a band that writes songs with titles like “David Bowie Wants To Steal Your Baby” and “Mother Fucking Bobcat”? What can you say about a band that takes its art seriously but can’t seem to wipe a grin off its collective face? The answer is simple: You can say that band is Heavy Hand. The pop-minded Milwaukee noise outfit will celebrate the release of its second album, Northwoods Knives, at this show, and will be joined by the likeminded Body Futures. Topping things off, Body Futures drummer, tireless WrestleMania scribe, and beloved Milwaukee Record commenter D.J. Hostettler will celebrate his 40th birthday at the show, which will undoubtedly be a sight to see.
July 21: Jack White at The Rave
Ever since The White Stripes disbanded in 2011, Jack White has taken on the role of an enigmatic, analog-obsessed elder statesman, content to load his solo records with baffling vinyl Easter eggs and occasionally talk shit about The Black Keys. But those solo records—2012’s Blunderbuss and this year’s Lazaretto—have been winners, and fly in the face of White’s undeserved reputation as a humorless boor. The second side of Lazaretto, for example, is loaded with some of the most enjoyable rock music released this decade. White’s show at The Rave—yes, The Rave—is sold out, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to score tickets any way you can.
July 23: Counting Crows at Riverside Theater
It’s a story as old as time. Band is universally loved. Band becomes kind of a joke. Band has a song on the Shrek 2 soundtrack. A decade passes and people decide, “You know what? Fuck it…I kind of like some of those songs.” Counting Crows have come full circle. Between the veteran act’s catalog of hits and helping bring our Field Report to wider consciousness, we wouldn’t mind hearing “Mr. Jones” ‘round here this summer.
July 24: Jurassic 5 at The Rave
Reunions are all the rage these days. Of course, Outkast reuniting at Summerfest stands out more than any other in town this season, but another seminal hip-hop act is getting back together after a long absence. Jurassic 5 went extinct six years ago. Yet, not unlike DNA from a mosquito encased in amber, the prospect of cash has ushered in a new Jurassic period with the “Word Of Mouth Reunion Tour” in honor of the 20th anniversary of the group’s formation. Hold onto your butts. This is going to be good.
July 30: Warped Tour at Henry Maier Festival Park
We’re well aware that punk’s not dead, but looking at the lineup for Warped Tour’s Milwaukee stop, mainstream pop punk appears to be severely injured. Beyond the appeal of dynasty acts like Saves The Day, Anberlin, Yellowcard, Bayside, and Every Time I Die, the Summerfest grounds will be bogged down with some of the worst band names imaginable. (Looking at you, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!) But give us a press pass and some Mountain Dew Kickstart, and we’re there.
July 31-August 3: Breadfest at nine Riverwest locations
Last year’s inaugural Breadfest was little fest that could. The Breadking music collective banded together with other Summerfest snubs to put 21 bands in six Riverwest venues over two days. This time around, the upstart event has graduated to a full-tilt local festival force. A staggering 49 (primarily local) bands from almost every genre will play 10 shows in nine locations over four days. With covers at $6 (and even some FREE shows) or a $25 fest-long fee, we won’t miss Breadfest 2014. You shouldn’t either.
August 6: Phox at Turner Hall
Baraboo, Wisconsin’s Phox is garnering a metric ton of glowing press these days, and for good reason. The band’s self-titled debut (which recently premiered on NPR) is a gorgeously rendered collection of dreamy, heavy-lidded folk-pop, highlighted by the stunning voice of Monica Martin. Phox’s Turner Hall show this summer will likely be the last time the band is considered a “Wisconsin band,” and will represent the final step in its transformation into a national treasure. See them now, in an intimate setting, while you still can.
September 5: Sylvan Esso at Cactus Club
Durham, NC electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso’s hook-laden self-titled debut is on the shortlist of the year’s best albums—period. This will mark the second time the new project of ex-Decibully member Nicholas Sanborn will swing through Milwaukee this summer (Burnhearts/PBR Street Party being the other). As the project’s popularity understandably swells, this could be an unforgettable opportunity to see Sylvan Esso at a place Cactus Club’s size—which it has, arguably, already outgrown.
September 9: The Offspring/Bad Religion at The Rave
Since Chicago’s Riot Fest expanded to its massive multi-day carnival format in 2012, Milwaukee has been a slight beneficiary in the form of notable punk and indie rock bands coming to the Windy City-adjacent market in the days either preceding or following the huge Humboldt Park happening. This year, The Offspring comes to The Rave a couple days before Riot Fest and will play its beloved 20-year-old album Smash (aka FM102.1’s morning playlist) in its entirety. Better yet, Bad Religion is also playing.
September 21: The War On Drugs at Pabst Theater
Philadelphia band The War On Drugs has been a critical darling since 2011, when its Slave Ambient album landed on oodles of year-end best-of lists. This year’s terrific Lost In The Dream is receiving even more accolades. Beautifully hazy and downtempo, the record reflects frontman Adam Granduciel’s recent bout with depression, but injects just enough life and vitality throughout to make things ultimately hopeful. Plus, some of the songs kind of sound like Don Henley’s “Boys Of Summer.” Upping the ante will be an opening set from Chicago’s Califone, who are riding high on last year’s excellent Stitches.