Rock Roundup

The Angriest Funny Man Alive

Comedian Lewis Black returns. And top music shows include David Gray and OK Go.

By - Oct 6th, 2014 02:19 pm
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Lewis Black.

Lewis Black.

Week’s Top Show: Lewis Black at Pabst Theater, Friday-Saturday, October 10-11

Lewis Black has been simultaneously famous and angry for at least 15 years, which is a pretty good run. His longevity does, however, beg the question of how authentic his anger can be.

It’s a question that has been asked about other stand-up comics (Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, and Sam Kinison are three notorious and now-deceased examples) and also applies to polemical media personalities (such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter) who alternate between frothing tantrums and shock value.

Black is considerably more liberal than that second trio and can store up much of his current-events wrath for his periodic “Back in Black” segments on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, but he and they run the same risks of having to gin up outrage on a deadline.

He could defer accusations of fakery and try the “just an entertainer” dodge employed half-seriously in his 2012 stand-up special In God We Rust; point to his “stage outfit” of rumpled suit and loosened tie; or note the professionalism of his schedule, confirmed by how often he gets back to a secondary market like Milwaukee.

(The frequency of the Milwaukee visits could be explained by the clip below.)

Also, the aforementioned In God We Trust revealed Black’s increasing ability to be contemplatively, rather than savagely, enraged. Unlike Bruce, Hicks, or Kinison, the 66-year-old comic has had the opportunity to get old and get rewarded with things like two Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Album.

Age hasn’t cheered him—the morning glance in the mirror is not happy—but it has allowed him a dry pause and a resigned breath before he decides to release the next thought as a rant.

That doesn’t mean he’s mellowed appreciably or that he holds back without reason to do so: in August, he went after Rush Limbaugh when the radio host made stupid comments about Black’s colleague and friend Robin Williams shortly after Williams committed suicide.

Instead, it means he keeps his powder dry for the real battles. And saves his ammo for the best humor:

 

Wednesday, October 8: Secret Chiefs 3 at Cactus Club

“We like difficult books,” literary critic Lionel Trilling said. Here at the Roundup, we would be lying if we said we didn’t admire difficult music. Especially when I enjoy Secret Chiefs 3, a collective that seems to take much delight in siphoning listenability from difficulty.

Led, more or less, by Faith No More and Mr. Bungle alumnus Trey Spruance, SC3 has explored a bewildering variety of genres and subcategories, from the “exotic” (i.e., Middle Eastern) to the prosaic (surf rock). The current lineup has plenty of old SC3 hands, so everyone ought to prepare for some wonderfully inclusive and difficult entertainment.

 

Friday, October 10: OK Go at Turner Hall Ballroom

OK Go vaulted to success with the surprise popularity of, basically, a homemade video of its members dancing and miming to its disco-rock song “A Million Ways” circa 2005, but the Chicago quartet has since tried to be a pioneer in multi-media presentation (and a model of survival via such presentation).

Eventually, though, OK Go always returns to the music, and is once again strapping itself into the touring machine to promote its fourth LP, A Hungry Ghost (out four days after this show). On the evidence of the Upside Out EP, it’s power-pop fun with garage-practice insolence and arena-show production values.

 

Sunday, October 12: David Gray at Riverside Theater

As Welsh musicians go, David Gray isn’t up there with John Cale, but that’s a little like saying the Gallagher brothers, formerly of Oasis, aren’t up there with fellow Mancunians Morrissey and Marr, formerly of the Smiths. I’m setting the bar high for a singer-songwriter whose geniality is matched by his melodicism.

Those traits, plus a touch of electronic modernization, gave Gray a turn-of-the-century signature song with “Babylon,” which in turn has allowed him to develop a solid career by recording and touring more pop-folk material. His latest album, Mutineers, moves a short distance toward paths both subtle and strident.

 

Sunday, October 12: Big Freedia at Turner Hall Ballroom

Big Freedia is one obnoxious drag queen, and the New Orleans “bounce” style he plies is one obnoxious subgenre. Put them together and they make dubstep’s button-pushing DJs sound as if they should be smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets.

Yet Freedia, a.k.a. Freddie Ross, is a bounce veteran—active since at least 1999—and he shows such crazy commitment on his latest collection, this year’s Just Be Free, and songs like “Mo Azz” and “Where My Queens At” that even the ridiculous amount of twerking he encourages cannot keep a wry grin from my suddenly stupid face.

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