Rock Roundup

Five Best Shows of the Week

From home-town act Field Report to NRBQ and tUnE-yArDs, it’s a week of wild variety.

By - Oct 20th, 2014 03:41 pm
Field Report. Photo by Benjamin Wick.

Field Report. Photo by Benjamin Wick.

Top Show: Field Report, Pabst Theater, Wednesday, October 22

For a music fan, there are few pleasures greater than bearing witness to promise fulfilled. That’s what I thought and felt when I first heard the self-titled 2012 debut album from Field Report, the band that singer-songwriter Christopher Porterfield had refined from earlier Milwaukee efforts like Conrad Plymouth.

Like many other folks in the region, I had caught such earlier incarnations and been struck by the talent blooming in Porterfield’s songs. Like many others, I also hoped he would assemble the best tools with which to harvest them.

Meanwhile, as Bon Iver’s success had grown from the other end of the state to the rest of the world, I remembered that Porterfield had been in DeYarmond Edison, a folk-rock group, with Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon. (DE also spun off Megafaun.)

When Vernon and Porterfield reconnected while the latter was solidifying Field Report’s lineup and material, Vernon offered the use of his recording studio in Eau Claire. Porterfield accepted, and the results showed that Vernon wasn’t the only DE alumnus who could tell stories in songs that were at once within Americana’s reach and well outside its limitations.

One example was the song “I Am Not Waiting Anymore,” which Vernon later presented to the Blind Boys of Alabama while he was helping to produce the longstanding gospel group’s 2013 long-player I’ll Find a Way. Their version, with Vermont folksinger Sam Amidon on lead vocals, was as spiritual as any traditional hymn.

Two weeks ago, Field Report released Marigolden, the kind of second album that proves the first wasn’t simply an unrepeatable Roman-candle burst of creativity. Porterfield evidently has more to say, which means he has more promises to keep.


Wednesday, October 22: Spottiswoode & His Enemies at Cactus Club

Just from his last name, you’d guess that Jonathan Spottiswoode hailed from England, and indeed he was raised there, although his mother is American and he lives in New York City. If you didn’t know those things, the music he makes with his band, His Enemies, would support your original surmise.

Late English folkie Nick Drake and Australian expat Nick Cave, who lives in Brighton, are touchstones, as is a bluish-gray hint of imminent rain. Yet his music contains hints of magnificent American melancholy a la Leonard Cohen, and his latest LP, this year’s English Dream, imagines his home isle more than it longs to return there.


Wednesday, October 22: NRBQ at Shank Hall

Some bands, like U2, would have a difficult time carrying on if even one of the original members departed. Others, like the Stones, need no more than two or three crucial members to keep up the pretense. And still others can get by with one founder and the spirit.

For NRBQ, that founder is keyboardist Terry Adams, who has been with the band since 1967—although there was a hiatus from 2004 to 2011—and the spirit of the band is spontaneity in a musical spectrum from cool jazz to barroom rock.

Despite longevity and high-profile fans like Elvis Costello and Keith Richards, NRBQ hasn’t developed an audience larger than a cult, but it’s a fun cult with minimal costs (such as a mild hangover) for joining.


Thursday, October 23

Busdriver at Cactus Club

There are probably mainstream rappers who regard underground MCs like Regan Farquhar, a.k.a. Busdriver, with the same disdain that mainstream comics in the 1950s showed for “sick” brethren like Lenny Bruce. They might even think that Busdriver wouldn’t be able to hack it in the big leagues.

His latest album, this year’s Perfect Hair, is just accessible enough to suggest that he could go mainstream. Yet he’s no more inclined to restrain his eccentricity than Bruce was to clean up and glue on the fake smile for Vegas crowds. In both cases, the art is better for the disinclination.


Thursday, October 23

tUnE-yArDs at Pabst Theater

An acquaintance of mine has told me that tUnE-yArDs, the indie-pop (of a sort) project headed by Merrill Garbus, is one of the worst things he’s heard in 20 years. Another acquaintance tells me that listening to tUnE-yArDs makes him want to kill. (He wasn’t specific about whom or what.)

Such visceral responses merely redouble my fondness for Garbus and her seemingly deliberate wont to mix the elements of pop, R&B, folk, and world music until they splinter and a listener has to follow the pleasures into the cracks. The third tUnE-yArDs full-length, Nikki Nack, maintains her wont and thus continues to polarize. Good.

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