5 Top Shows, 5 Different Venues
Best shows are all over town and all over the musical map.
Top Show: The Sea and Cake, Cactus Club, Saturday, December 13
If The Sea and Cake prefers gentle challenges to its methodology over drastic changes to its core sound, perhaps that’s because the band started with low stakes: formed by four Chicago underground-rock players, it was intended as a one-off project.
That was 20 years and ten albums ago, yet the members—Sam Prekop, Eric Aldridge (both of Shrimp Boat), Archer Prewitt (Coctails [sic]),and John McEntire (Tortoise)—have continued to gather together and play as if free of, or unmoved by, expectations.
And without a rigorously defined schedule: while the band quickly followed its first LP, 1994’s The Sea and Cake, with two more, Nassau and The Biz, in 1995, it also had no problem periodically dissipating for longer periods during which its members composed soundtracks, recorded solo albums, or developed other creative pathways.
It also represents a new method, within the band, of writing songs: Prekop based his initial compositions on synths and sequencers rather than on guitars, then let the other three members work on the material from a distance and in their own ways.
Once all involved had done enough chopping, rethinking, changing and rearranging separately, they convened for the usual process of laying the music onto tape and emerged with a disc that was noticeably different, but not jarringly so.
If one cares to think about it, one can hear resemblances to the quieter sides of other indie-rock and indie-pop bands from Yo La Tengo to Radiohead, but a steady fan of the Sea and Cake barely should immediately hear the manner in which the band’s challenge to itself is of a piece with the rest of its catalog.
Tuesday, December 9: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Wild & Swingin’ Holiday Party at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo Casino
Although Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will always be associated, positively and negatively, with the brief, unaccountable swing revival near the end of the 1990s—a revival so big that the L.A. collective found itself playing Super Bowl XXXIII—the second album it released was 1997’s Watchu’ Want for Christmas?
And that makes a kind of sense, because Christmas and swing can both be said to encourage overindulgent celebration, whether it’s with too much booze ‘n’ broads on the dance floor or with too many gifts and decorations in the living room. Anyway, BBVD’s latest disc, last year’s It Feels Like Christmas Time, is also its third Xmas ring-a-ding-ding.
Saturday, December 13: Davina and the Vagabonds at Shank Hall
There are bands that treat Ye Olde Time Americana Musique as if it not only needs to be preserved but also needs to be preserved in amber, or in aspic, or behind glass where nobody can touch it. A few such bands are very popular on NPR.
Then there’s Davina and the Vagabonds, a Minneapolis group whose leader, pianist and singer Davina Sowers, doesn’t so much modernize myriad styles of older music—particularly good-time jazz and jumpin’ blues—as emphasize just how touchable it is. She embraces and smudges it and encourages everyone else to embrace and smudge (and smooch) too.
Saturday, December 13: Like Like the the the Death with Tyranny Is Tyranny, Body Futures, and Young Indian at Riverwest Public House Cooperative
This is as almost as much a stoic nod to a venue as it is a raised fist to a lineup of four—two local, two further-afield, if still Midwestern—rock bands. “Building community one drink at a time!” is a sentiment that even Kingsley Amis could get behind.
As for those four bands, LLTTTD and Body Futures represent Milwaukee with furiously energetic rock containing broader and finer reminders of punk attitude, while Tyranny Is Tyranny and Young Indian represent Madison and Dubuque, Iowa, respectively, with groovy sludge and more familiar indie rock, also respectively.
Saturday, December 13: Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Performs the Music of Led Zeppelin, Riverside Theater
Just because I’ve sat and snickered while listening to symphony orchestras grimly saw their way through songs by the Who (with Rod Stewart singing) and the Sex Pistols (with Malcom McLaren whispering) doesn’t mean the combination of classical and rock music is prima facie unworkable.
Led Zeppelin is a pretty good choice for the combination because a few of its most famous songs, such as “Kashmir” and “Stairway to Heaven,” either feature or imply large-scale accompaniment. And with the assistance of a Zep tribute act (provided by Windborne Music, whose personnel also do orchestral gigs devoted to the Rolling Stones and U2, among others), the MSO has made a popular event of this particular combination.
A three-year-old, audience-view example of what’s in store: