Dan Bern Is Dead Serious
Maybe even when he’s being silly. The singer songwriter comes to Shank Hall and should be a treat.
Top Show: Dan Bern at Shank Hall, Wednesday, March 18
This is one of the most wonderfully dumb songs I’ve ever loved (and it’s slightly NSFW):
Ani DiFranco fans who caught Dan Bern opening for her circa 1998 may recall that he started his set with the above song. If anyone thought DiFranco was offended, they probably changed their minds when they saw that she produced his second album, 1998’s Fifty Eggs, which also opened with the above song.
Bern has never been as consistently serious as DiFranco, but he remains capable of seriously exploring the protest and personal sides of folk music. If no one’s affixing the “new Dylan” tag to Bern these days, he would no sooner shake off the resemblance than Dylan would shake off his artistic debt to Woody Guthrie.
Not unlike Dylan, Bern hails from a small Midwestern town—in Bern’s case, Mount Vernon, Iowa—and even after all the extra miles and years, he still has the wry guardedness of a Middle American raised in the kind of place where everyone thinks he knows everybody else’s business and everyone likes a good story.
Bern has expanded his repertoire with live albums, holiday albums like 2013’s Hanukkah Songs, and children’s albums like 2015’s Three Feet Tall. He hasn’t neglected his “regular” material, though, and Hoody, which will be available at this gig, appears to be another set of songs that bump seriousness and silliness into each other.
Bern may also get you psyched for Opening Day:
Tuesday, March 17: Broods at Rave
Broods played Milwaukee for the first time last September, when the brother-sister duo’s debut album, Evergreen, had been out for only a couple weeks. Evergreen, in turn, followed Caleb and Georgia Nott’s actual formation as Broods by about a year and a half, and Broods’ first U.S. hit single, “Bridges,” by about six months.
The New Zealand siblings have been singing together since they were kids, so they’ve paid some dues. Plus, Evergreen is a simultaneously charming and chilly entry in the current vogue for synthesizer-driven pop. Most Broods songs have an atmosphere suited more to headphone solitude than to crowded venues, but events have proceeded too quickly for the Notts to stop now.
Wednesday, March 18: In Flames at Rave
If you could pick two ardent fans of the same pioneering rock band—like, say, In Flames—you would probably get different views on the band’s musical evolution (or lack of same: see AC/DC). The first fan might approve of the prog-rocking alternative metal that In Flames has moved toward on later albums like 2014’s Siren Charms:
The second fan might prefer the “melodic death metal” the Swedish band helped to foment in the mid-1990s. In Flames founder Jesper Strömblad strove to give death metal the room and virtuosity that bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest had. And he succeeded, as this cut from 1996’s The Jester Race proves:
Strömblad left the band in 2010, and those attending this show might still wonder if In Flames is truly In Flames without him.
Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20: Buddy Guy at Northern Lights Theater, Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
Buddy Guy, the term “blues legend,” and Chicago blues aren’t synonymous just because Guy’s Chicago nightclub is named “Buddy Guy’s Legends.” In the 1950s, the Louisiana native began establishing a reputation for onstage flash and six-string sass that would influence Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and nearly numberless other electric guitarists.
Unfortunately, and particularly during the last couple of decades—when new interest in the blues and a new generation playing the blues coincided with Guy’s own rejuvenation via a series of fine, guest-laden albums—Guy also has a reputation for unpredictable live shows. He could phone it in on Thursday and shoot out the lights on Friday, or the other way ‘round, or kill both nights, or…the point is, caveat emptor.
Saturday, March 21: William Tyler at Chapel of Mary Immaculate, Alverno College
Instrumentals can be ideal background music for all manner of contemplation; some of the best instrumentals insinuates themselves into the foreground and shunt aside anything but the act of truly listening. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is like that, and so, in a different way, is William Tyler’s solo work.
Resident in Nashville, the guitarist has played with bands like Silver Jews and Lambchop and frontmen like Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Charlie Louvin. Taking center spotlight self-effacingly on 2010’s Behold the Spirit and 2013’s Impossible Truth, he attentively applies his considerable dexterity to his more important talent of tunefulness. A label like “indie folk” feels too limiting for the slow-blooming beauty he creates.