Best Rocking Scot You Never Heard Of?
Midge Ure comes to town, with a long, impressive history behind him as musician and songwriter.
Top Show: Midge Ure at Shank Hall, Friday, March 6
Unlike last week’s marquee choice of Robyn Hitchcock, this week’s Roundup headliner, Midge Ure, is just barely a cult-level artiste and definitely not a consistent or instantly recognizable songwriter. His best-known song might be the one he co-wrote with Bob Geldof in 1984—
—and he’s said it’s not among his greatest compositions anyway.
His history and oeuvre are not without interest, however. During the 1970s, the Scotsman played in bands like Silk, Visage, and a late version of Thin Lizzy until he and fellow Visage bandmate Billy Currie revamped the latter’s synth-pop group Ultravox.
In 1980 and 1981, this revamp would start out immensely strong with Vienna and become one of the key UK representatives of New Wave and the New Romantics.
After 1986 and U-Vox, Ure felt it was time to leave Ultravox. His first solo album, 1985’s The Gift, came before that break and had greater success than its follow-ups in the UK; over here, 1988’s Answers to Nothing scored him a minor hit with “Dear God.”
More recently, Ure has been revisiting shiny glories, including his and Geldof’s Live 8 concerts in 2005, clearly echoing the Live Aid concert the two had helped to organize 20 years previously. Ure also reunited the classic lineup of Ultravox—that is, the lineup featuring him—in 2009, roughly marking the 30th anniversary of Vienna; in 2012, the reformed group issued Brilliant, a new-ish studio record.
Last year, Ure put out Fragile, his first album of all-original material in more than a decade and, despite the title, a hardy set of songs with which he gently recalibrates his grip on the realization that style can be the essence of substance rather than the opposite of it.
Thursday, March 5: Blackberry Smoke at Rave
Occasionally, in discussions and arguments with colleagues and friends, I have quietly concluded that a love for Southern rock is, like the redneck voice, less a matter of where you were born than of how you grew up and what you heard around you during that time. Environment over heredity, in other words.
I have also concluded, sometimes less quietly, that folks who can’t appreciate Southern rock, whether it’s the hardcore variety plied by Drive-By Truckers or the country-leaning type presented by Blackberry Smoke, are just snobs. For us stinky hoi polloi, the recently issued Holding All the Roses is like old-school domestic beer, poured from cold cans into frosty mugs:
Thursday, March 5: Infected Mushroom at Turner Hall Ballroom
The boundary-erasing inter-penetration, if you will—or even if you won’t—of music styles has given rise to many a wonderful pile-up of adjectives and nouns both common and proper. For example, Infected Mushroom is an Israeli duo of psychedelic-trance purveyors within the electronic-dance-music milieu of Los Angeles.
Some of those words (“Israeli,” for example) actually mean something, but for purposes of a preview, what you need to know is that Erez Eisen and Amit Duvdevani are coming to town with their highly booty-bouncing EDM and their “Animatronica” stage show in order to help us lose our Wisconsinite inhibitions. There might be some post-show inter-penetration too.
Saturday, March 7: Joe Westerlund: Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra at Alverno College Pitman Theatre
Outward from Justin Vernon, the Eau Claire fellow who has found befuddling and useful indie-rock fame in Bon Iver, radiate circles of association that take in many former bandmates, including the excellent Christopher Porterfield of Field Report and the slightly but not lightly cracked Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund.
In his alter-ego mode, Westerlund last May released Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra, a disc that favors Beatlesque derailments circa Magical Mystery Tour and Firesign Theatre non sequiturs circa I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus. Live, it might make more “sense,” but I’m inclined to hope it does not.
Sunday, March 8: Taking Back Sunday at Rave
A decade ago, it might have seemed important to debate the true meaning of “emo” as a rock-subgenre term, and it might have seemed important to discuss whether a band like Taking Back Sunday was genuinely emo or just posing. (Two, three, and four decades ago, it seemed nearly as important to debate punk rock.)
In 2015, 13 years after its first album and four after its original lineup put out a re-introductory disc, Taking Back Sunday, the most important thing is whether the latest album, in this case last year’s Happiness Is, is any good. The answer is yes, with the additional wry note that the music—fast-paced, knowingly adenoidal, amped to 10.5—remains emo.
Also, the Menzingers, punk rockers from Scranton, are helping keep it real loud as support.