Rock Roundups

Two Great Bands You Probably Missed

Marshall Crenshaw and the Bottle Rockets come to town, with decades of good music to draw on.

By - Jan 5th, 2015 12:09 pm
Marshall Crenshaw. Photo from facebook.

Marshall Crenshaw. Photo from facebook.

Top Show: Marshall Crenshaw with the Bottle Rockets, Shank Hall, Friday, January 9

There might never be an effective algorithm to explain the hits and misses of popular music. For example, Marshall Crenshaw’s failure to connect with a larger audience might, initially at least, have been the result of nothing else besides a decidedly Buddy Holly vibe that didn’t connect to the culture of the early 1980s.

It wasn’t just Crenshaw’s glasses that got him compared to Holly. In 1982, his self-titled debut long-player arrived with a full load of pop-rock songs that evoked the innocence and playfulness of Holly’s gems. Even a song like “Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.” sounded as though it was a fairground excursion rather than a headfirst dive into CBGB’s.

With pauses—including a portrayal of Holly himself in the 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba and a gig writing the title song to the 2005 biopic mockery Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story—Crenshaw has hewed to a high standard of craftsmanship on his albums, including the potential (at the time) second chance of 1991’s Life’s Too Short and the rougher edge of 2009’s Jaggedland.

Despite or maybe because of that standard, Crenshaw is still a cult artiste, and on this occasion he will have an opening act that knows how he feels: the Bottle Rockets, who formed in 1992 and should have benefited from the then-increasing popularity of the alt-country subgenre.

The Rockets tasted a small amount of that popularity. However, despite a steadiness that Crenshaw could appreciate—on albums ranging from The Brooklyn Side in the mid-1990s to Lean Forward six years ago—they didn’t rise with acts like Wilco or Old 97’s.

Fortunately, no lack of mass success can take away from tunes this good:


Tuesday, January 6 & Wednesday, January 7: A Tribute to the King: The Elvolution at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Even among Elvis Presley impersonators, Ryan Pelton is peculiar. While he announced online that February 23, 2013 would mark his last appearance as an “Elvis entertainer,” here he comes to Milwaukee as part of a celebration of what, on January 8, would have been Presley’s 80th birthday.

If that weren’t confusing enough, Pelton is also continuing his burgeoning careers as musician and actor under the name “Blake Rayne,” and his first major starring role under said name can be pondered through this review of a 2014 movie called The Identical.

After reading that review, you might wonder if “peculiar” is too mild a word for Pelton/Rayne, but he can do a convincing imitation of the Real King:


Saturday, January 10: S.S. Web at Cactus Club

In 1981, reputation assassin Albert Goldman wrote an Elvis biography in which one of his too-numerous questionable contentions was that white boys just couldn’t sing the blues, or gospel, or anything else that had even the slightest roots among Those Not Like Them.

Goldman’s long dead and good riddance too, but his unspiritual heirs might claim that a Milwaukee trio like S.S. Web has neither the call nor right to play down-home country music with strong odors of punk clubs and pirate ships. Fortunately, S.S. Web doesn’t seem to care about its detractors and, on its recent third LP Skulls Will Sink, gets in your face with mandolin and washboard.

An earlier instance:


Saturday, January 10: Sena Ehrhardt at Shank Hall

Speaking of blue folks who can sing the whites, or the other way ‘round, Sena Ehrhardt is without a doubt a blonde woman from Minnesota, which makes her naturally somewhat pale. Yet her father, a blues guitarist and songwriter, taught her that soul mattered more than color.

Before she made her third album, last year’s Live My Life, her father stepped out of her band; his lessons linger. Ehrhardt hasn’t yet escaped the bonds of blues cliché, but her powerful voice has, with growing nuance, found the sweet ‘n’ hot spots of a form dedicated to feelin’ good by feelin’ bad.


Saturday, January 10: MitiS at Miramar Theatre

The man behind MitiS (yes, spelled with an upper-case S, because it is, so there) is named Joe Torre; unlike that other Joe Torre, the former MIlwaukee Brave catcher and Yankees manager now in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he’s a classical pianist who has immersed his educated self into the mirror-ball world of electronic dance music.

Torre’s EDM tracks do not display much of his experience playing Bartok, Beethoven et al., although he has slipped limpid examples of his piano skills into the quieter pockets of compositions like “Life of Sin.” He also sports a childlike enthusiasm for EDM that puts a few degrees of separation between him and those who treat EDM button-pushing as if it were 9-to-5 clock-punching.

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