Rock Roundup

Summerfest and Beyond

The week’s five best concerts aren’t all at the Summerfest grounds.

By - Jun 23rd, 2014 02:05 pm
John Hiatt

John Hiatt

For all the excitement about Summerfest, there are always the naysayers predictably calling it “Bummerfest” while others decry the predictability of that label. And so, for the naysayers, two shows that aren’t at the Big Gig; for everyone else, three that are.


Top Show: John Hiatt and the Combo at Uline Warehouse, Summerfest, Saturday, June 28

John Hiatt is playing at 3 p.m., an odd time for a national act. Then again, mid-afternoon is a near-perfect time for folks with kids, and Hiatt’s 1987 breakthrough was called Bring the Family.

That album displayed the Indiana singer-songwriter’s ability to attract musicians: Nick Lowe, Jim Keltner and Ry Cooder were his backing band, while Bonnie Raitt kickstarted her comeback with a 1989 hit version of the third track, “Thing Called Love.”

Raitt wasn’t the only one to cover his songs: Keith Urban, Jewel, Iggy Pop and B.B. King are just four others from a very long list. Hiatt’s singing voice might resemble that of a Midwestern bullfrog croaking; his songwriting voice translates across lines of gender, age and genre.

Hiatt’s own records have rarely more than air-kissed the charts, even when he was trying for a more profitable clinch: 1979’s Slug Line, for example, tried to line him up alongside Graham Parker and Elvis Costello…and tanked.

Through the mid-1980s, Hiatt reached commercial and personal nadirs, getting dropped from two labels, flailing through alcoholism and facing the suicide of his second wife. His third marriage and Bring the Family were important ladders out of the pit.

In the 21st century (his “back 40,” as he’s put it), the 61-year-old has settled into artistic independence and late-period excellence. Starting with 2008’s Same Old Man, he has been touring and recording in fairly regular cycles.

His latest LP, Terms of My Surrender, comes out in mid-July and is another fine set of folk, rock, blues and country, stirred together with the vigor of a Hoosier wife making whatever it is they like to eat down there. Hiatt won’t mind if you bring your family to his sunshine show.

A fantastic song from 2012’s Mystic Pinball:


Wednesday, June 25: Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at Johnson Controls World Sound Stage, Summerfest

Not unlike art or pornography, New Orleans music is something folks have trouble defining but no trouble identifying when they encounter it. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews might grasp this point intellectually and definitely grasps it creatively.

Just 28, the trombonist, trumpeter and singer has already helped pay tribute to Louis Armstrong and played with Lenny Kravitz, a range that comes through on his recent albums: 2013’s Say That to Say This is an especially funky concoction that draws as much from hip-hop as from, say, ragtime.

Stuff like this, when played with Shorty’s band Orleans Avenue, really boils over live:


Friday, June 27: Tilts at Cactus Club

Some of the bands—Riddle of Steel, Shame Club—whose members went on to form Tilts might not be familiar to you, but Torche should be. Andrew Elstner, admittedly, didn’t join Torche until 2011, but that was soon enough to be part of its killer 2012 LP Harmonicraft, and Elstner is now a key member of Tilts.

Tilts’ self-titled 2012 debut album was less of a killer, but the St. Louis quartet is in the same territory of smart (and occasionally smart-aleck) hard rock. The day before this gig, the second Tilts album, Cuatro Hombres, will be released, so the band should be playing with pride as well as power.

A roughly made video of what’s coming:


Friday, June 27: Otis Taylor at Johnson Controls World Sound Stage, Summerfest

The title of Otis Taylor’s 2000 album When Negroes Walked the Earth was enough to get me to see him at Summerfest, and his work since then has evidently convinced many others to do the same.

Perhaps that’s because Taylor is truly unusual among bluesmen: he temporarily retired from a music career in 1977, avoids the 12-bar format (he’s called it “propaganda”), restores the banjo’s place in the blues and has put out almost an LP a year after When Negroes… came out. The latest, 2013’s My World Is Gone, maintains Taylor’s high and different standards.

This song improved the movie Public Enemies by at least half a star:


Saturday, June 28: King Buzzo (Buzz Osborne) at Shank Hall

Last year, the Melvins did a 30th-anniversary tour, marking the persistence of a band more influential than popular. Significant credit for the influence goes to “King Buzzo,” a.k.a. Buzz Osborne, whose singing and guitar playing were pegs on which grunge bands (including Nirvana, as Kurt Cobain gladly revealed) hitched their tents.

Osborne didn’t release an official solo LP until earlier this month, when This Machine Kills Artists also became his first acoustic disc. There is a Melvins-unplugged feel to the 17 songs, which means that this live appearance will not feature the steamroller sound Osborne has been riding for three decades.

“Drunken Baby,” ladies ‘n’ gentlemen:

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