Rock Roundup

Sarah McLachlan Turns Down the Volume

After the thundering decibels of Summerfest, it’s a quieter week of music, led by the Lilith Fair founder.

By - Jul 7th, 2014 02:51 pm
Sarah McLachlan

Sarah McLachlan. Photo from facebook.

If you spent considerable time at Summerfest during its most recent run, you can be forgiven for wanting to sit inside an orgone box for the next 24 hours rather than contemplate this week’s shows.

However, going to see this week’s headliner show is about as far as you can get from reliving the Summerfest cacophony of side stages close together and sonic bleed-through and fireworks and drunks shouting into their iPhones while standing next to stacks of amplifiers….


Top Show: Sarah McLachlan at Riverside Theater, Wednesday, July 9

Yes, this Canadian chanteuse has a long-proven ability to sing beautifully, passionately and non-confrontationally. Her first album, 1989’s Touch, indicated promise just waiting to get past overly mannered production and her own youth: she was 19.

In 1991, Solace broke through those barriers; in 1993, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy broke through almost everyone else’s and made her an unusual and comforting pop star in the time of grunge.

She domesticated herself too much with 1997’s Surfacing, but at the same time she began the Lilith Fair tour and, for all the subsequent jokes about estrogen overload and complaints about the lineup, created a haven for female singers and songwriters and their fans where they had more choices than sexpot or waif.

That didn’t keep her next proper studio album, 2003’s Afterglow, from being not only a forgettable aerosol mist but also a disappointing return from a hiatus. The 2006 Christmastime album Wintersong and 2010’s Laws of Illusion also didn’t add much to her catalog.

If this year’s Shine On isn’t a massive contrast, it is something of a relief: the divorcee and mother has reconnected to her younger self’s passion in a way that her similarly aging fans—and, I suspect, some of her newer ones—should be able to grasp.

McLachlan remains non-confrontational—you were expecting Lady Gaga, maybe?—but flowery, willowy beauty is exactly what this ‘Fest-exhausted town needs.

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly:


Wednesday, July 9: Hurray for the Riff Raff at Pabst Theater

If one of the best venues in Milwaukee has given us nothing else, it has given us the Ten Buck Show, which gently suggests that you aren’t going to put that sawbuck in your pocket to any better use than checking out, in this case, Hurray for the Riff Raff.

This band would draw a crowd at twice the price, thanks to the increasingly evident charisma and always-evident talent of frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra and the dirt-floor sophistication of its 2014 major-label debut, Small Town Heroes. All new-music choices should be this easy.

Plus, you’ll have more money for appropriate refreshments:


Thursday, July 10: Zepparella at Shank Hall

Tribute bands are funny. Sometimes in the literal ha-ha sense, as any half-dedicated follower of the multifarious mutations of KISS tribute bands could tell you. They can also be touching and true as they labor to capture the spirit of the legends they are emulating.

Zepparella cannot do a complete one-to-one emulation simply because, well, Led Zeppelin was a bunch of hairy dudes and the members of Zepparella are definitely not dudes. However, there’s machismo and then there’s toughness, and these women don’t need the former to show the latter.

The better Zep songs survive the sex change:


Saturday, July 12: Say Anything at the Rave

Max Bemis, the core and constant member of Say Anything, doesn’t like to hold back, which is why he did the right thing by choosing to express himself through punk-pop music with a voice that I don’t think fans would object to being classified as emo.

The sixth Say Anything LP, Hebrews, came out in June and, more than ever before, makes Bemis himself the subject of his songs. While the words are not particularly unusual artistic self-laceration, the music tosses guitars aside in favor of string arrangements. That shift alone ensures this gig will be a triumph or a disaster.

You can tell it might go either way:


Saturday, July 12: Jon Mueller’s Death Blues at Cactus Club

Jon Mueller is one of the most fascinating drummers I’ve ever witnessed and one of the most interesting musicians that the Milwaukee scene has ever had a hand in revealing. Whether driving Pele from behind the kit or helping turn Justin Vernon’s side project Volcano Choir into a real damn band, he’s always thinking.

With Death Blues, he makes no mystery of his current contemplation: mortality. He’s gathered many talents around him to explore it in manifestos, videos and of course music. Mueller’s 2013 LP Death Blues was a spiky, potent meditation on the only end we all face, and live the guy is very likely to explore it in greater detail.

A fine introduction:

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