Red Headed Stranger No More
Willie Nelson & Family sell out two nights in a week that includes metal-influenced Spanish guitar (Rodrigo y Gabriela) and a 19-member collective (The Polyphonic Spree).
Wednesday, August 13 and Thursday, August 14
Willie Nelson & Family at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo Casino
Technically both shows are sold out, though brokers might have some tickets and there’s a chance the venue will kick more seats loose at the last minute. Either way, not mentioning Willie Nelson the week he passes through Milwaukee would be a nearly unforgivable omission.
That is especially true in 2014, when Nelson has (a) turned 81, (b) earned a fifth-degree black belt in the Gongkwon Yusul martial art and (c) issued Band of Brothers, his latest album and the first to feature more originals than covers since 1996.
Plus, Nelson wrote all nine of the 14 songs on Band of Brothers with his current producer, Buddy Cannon. For the other five he does not eschew (re)visiting the work of others, including Vince Gill and Billy Joe Shaver.
Nevertheless, even Nelson’s most ardent admirers occasionally ignore his latest studio output because of the dearth of fresh material. Band of Brothers is a potent reminder of the man’s talent with both a truly grown-up song like “The Wall” and a truly incorrigible song like “Wives and Girlfriends.”
In the grooves of the album we also find a reminder that Nelson is mortal: if age and growing old were eliminated as country-music subjects, the entire genre would be 20 percent smaller. Fortunately, Nelson is enjoying life while admitting his ultimate bill will soon come due.
Thursday, August 14
Ana Popovic at Shank Hall
I once had a friendly argument with a comely blues singer about the sexualized way in which Ana Popovic has presented herself, whether concealing not much with a guitar on the sleeve of 2011’s Unconditional (http://www.americanbluesscene.com/2011/07/ana-popovic-cover-story/) or standing on red “do-me” heels in the video for her cover of Hendrix’s “Can You See Me” (see below).
The comely singer ran off with some Stevie Ray Vaughan wannabe before resolving the argument, but Popovic, born and raised in Belgrade, has proven she’s got real blues chops, and her latest disc, 2013’s Can You Stand the Heat, is soulfully seductive with or without her physicality in view.
Thursday, August 14
Rodrigo y Gabriela at Riverside Theater
Spanish guitar has traveled widely beyond its homeland and changed just as much from the journeys: woe unto those who assume that the style remains the same in Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. The latter of which is where Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero became Rodrigo y Gabriela.
Fond of heavy metal but committed to acoustic dexterity, the two had their first taste of popularity in Europe (especially Ireland) and, for the last decade and some change, taken their musical knowledge all ‘round the globe. Their fifth studio LP, this year’s 9 Dead Alive, reinforces bonds with the Old World and the New World.
Sunday, August 17
The Polyphonic Spree at Turner Hall Ballroom
Currently sporting 22 members, the Polyphonic Spree has often, contrary to the general rule and cliché, found quality in its very quantity. The spirituality and wonder that Spree founder Tim DeLaughter was lurching toward with his indie-rock band Tripping Daisy gained greater tangibility when broadcast through more channels.
Not unlike the Flaming Lips, the Dallas collective has carried its cheerfulness to nearly ridiculous heights as a live unit (drawing the attention of David Bowie as a result), but its latest album, 2013’s Yes, It’s True. [sic], and a recent remix of the same, Psychphonic, manage and focus the positivity toward a greater mission. It’s no longer just a Spree.
Monday, August 18
Strand of Oaks at Turner Hall Ballroom
Timothy Showalter has learned something quite important on Heal, his fourth album under the Strand of Oaks moniker: some of the most specific and personal details of his songs belong in the titles, where they can be mysterious, rather than in the songs themselves, where they can be alienating.
Two examples, “Goshen ‘97” and “JM,” refer to his adolescence and one of his favorite songwriters (the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia), respectively, yet the music and words are all punk gratitude and rock catharsis, as is most of the rest of the disc and as should be most of this ten-dollar show.
For a double shot of oddities transformed into resonance, here’s a number from Showalter and another from his opener, Christopher Denny: