There was a point this year when I was starting to wonder whether summer would come at all. It can only snow during baseball season so many times before you start to go a little crazy. But those days are behind us, so here’s a look at some of the best concerts, festivals and psychobilly freakouts that Madison has in store for summer 2019.
When Jordan Cook moved from his native Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Seattle, Reignwolf began in earnest. And I mean extremely earnest — Cook built the Reignwolf name on his performances as a one-man rock band, cranking heavy blues-punk out of just a guitar and kick drum. Now, Cook alternates those solo performances with a three-man version of Reignwolf. Regardless, it rips.
Madison’s Last Crack were this close to major stardom in the late ’80s and early ’90s. They were early practitioners of groove metal, releasing two albums for iconic heavy music label Roadrunner and getting one of their videos played on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. But the group’s original lineup dissolved shortly thereafter, and Last Crack faded into obscurity. Until earlier this year, that is. That’s when Last Crack announced they had signed with a new label and were prepping the release of their third proper album, The Up Rising. This show will celebrate that album’s release.
It’s been six years since Andrew Hozier-Byrne first took us to church. With a song that big, you’d think Hozier would’ve been quick to put out more music. But instead of just farting something out, he spent that time building up to Wasteland, Baby!, an album that sees the 29-year-old fine-tuning his sound and avoiding the sophomore slump. (And that Mavis Staples features on the opening track helps quite a bit, too.)
Few metal bands are as revered as Sleep. The California trio has been called the “ultimate stoner rock band,” largely due to their complete mastery of lurching, sludgy riffs. Sleep songs sound physically heavy; listen to their blistering classic Dopesmoker for further proof. Or if you want something a little newer, Sleep last year released The Sciences, their first album since Dopesmoker in 2003.
Greta Van Fleet
Love ’em or hate ’em, Greta Van Fleet is one of the most popular rock bands in the world. Their debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, positioned them as the Gen Z answer to Led Zeppelin. Sure, they might just be repackaging Zep’s screeching hard blues for the streaming era, but there isn’t another band at their level who sounds quite like they do. Besides, if Greta Van Fleet inspires even one kid to pick up a copy of Houses of the Holy and get the Led out, I’m all for it.
Few musicians complement each other as well as Ratboys’ Julia Steiner and Dave Sagan. The Chicago band plays emo gone country, with Steiner’s confessional lyrics paired to Sagan’s guitar twang. I’d coin it “yeemo” if Our Queen Kacey Musgraves didn’t already lay claim to that one. Also, they wrote a song about a dead cat that destroys me every time I hear it.
Seeing as I don’t know of any other rock stars from Niger, I’m going to go ahead and call Bombino “Niger’s biggest rock star.” The former herder (as in livestock) builds his template on a North African genre called Tuareg, tempering it with more contemporary rock and blues. The result is a trippy, surf-laden sound that led to The New York Times dubbing him “The Sultan of Shred.” And his indie cred is impeccable: Bombino has collaborated with both The Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.
On The Big Freeze, Laura Stevenson turned the amps down. Her previous two albums (Wheel and Cocksure) flirted with buoyant indie punk, but the Long Islander’s latest strips that away. The focus is put on Stevenson’s songwriting, which is at once intensely personal and universally cathartic. And her voice has never sounded better; Stevenson’s twisty-turny phrasing bears the emotional load, guiding the album through its ups and downs.
Obviously, the biggest selling point for Macca is the fact that he was in the FUCKIN’ BEATLES. But personally — and I will die on this hill — I’ve always been more of a fan of his work with Wings. I love Wings. To quote Alan Partridge: “They’re only the band The Beatles could have been.” Clearly it’s meant as a joke, but I can’t say I disagree with the sentiment. Paul never would have made Ram or Band on the Run with Ringo dragging him down. Get your peace and love and tiny sunglasses out of here, Ringo. We want that “Monkberry Moon Delight.”
As the lead singer of chart-toppers Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas is one of the most recognizable voices of the ’90s. (Also, he won three Grammys for the song “Smooth,” with Carlos Santana.) But even beyond “3 A.M.” and “Real World,” Thomas is a successful solo artist, releasing four albums beginning with 2005’s double platinum …Something to Be up to this year’s Chip Tooth Smile. And he appeared in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia playing himself alongside comedian Sinbad as Dennis’ bullies at rehab, which is truly a must-watch episode.
Utah’s Choir Boy play a gauzy form of dream pop indebted to the mellow bedroom-dwellers of the late 1980s. Lyrically, Choir Boy frequents the concept of rebirth, which is fitting given frontman Adam Klopp’s time spent as a Mormon missionary-turned-indie rocker. (Klopp left his mission abruptly… while in Tahiti.) Get born again.
A Day to Remember
Florida’s A Day to Remember is among the most successful punk bands of the last decade. The quintet was one of the first to combine pop-heavy punk with melodic hardcore, frequently careening between harsh and clean vocals. I remember hearing “The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle” for the first time as a New Found Glory-loving teenager, and it being like a bolt of lightning. And in the years since, the boys from Ocala have rocketed to the top of their genre, selling millions of albums and playing shows alongside the likes of Blink-182 and Bring Me the Horizon.
As a college student in Chicago, I recall seeing The O’My’s stickers everywhere around the city. And it turns out, the only thing the duo is better at than self-promoting is making music. Their sound exists at the crossroads of hip-hop and art rock, utilizing two wildly different genres without it ever feeling forced. There’s a reason that Chance the Rapper collaborates with these guys so often.
Marquette Waterfront Festival
A highlight of this year’s Waterfront Festival is Trapper Schoepp, a Milwaukee roots rocker who recently appeared at The Sylvee as support for Shovels & Rope + Frank Turner. He’ll play two sets on June 9, one solo acoustic and one with his full band. Schoepp’s latest album, Primetime Illusion, features a song with a co-writing credit to some guy named Bob Dylan. Other notables on the fest lineup are Golpe Tierra and Jillian Rae on June 8, and Nickel & Rose, Wilder Deitz and MarchFourth on June 9.
I’m calling it now: Father of the Bride is 2019’s best album. Vampire Weekend’s fourth record is an entirely listenable exercise in studio wankery, utilizing a diverse mix of sounds and keynote assists from both Danielle Haim and Steve Lacy. Moreover, it cements singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig as one of the most peculiar guys in indie rock. He’s an unrepentant weirdo prone to flights of fancy, and layered over Vampire Weekend’s breezy pop rock, they shine even brighter.
As a teenager in Kenya, J.S. Ondara was shocked to learn that his favorite song, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” was written by Bob Dylan and not Guns N’ Roses. But this sent Ondara into the folk music wormhole, which led to him crafting song-stories culled from a life spent on two often vastly different continents. His debut, Tales of America, “understands America better than we do,” says folk tastemaker Atwood Magazine.
As a native of Beloit, I am required by law to tell you that Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander is, too. We Belotians didn’t have a whole lot to be proud of when I was growing up there, but being able to claim the guy who belted out “Surrender” is pretty cool. And better yet, the legendary power pop band was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, their 14th year of eligibility. Better late than never, if you ask me.
Madison native Raine Stern is hard to pin down. Her music takes influence everywhere from rock to jazz to reggae, resulting in a melting pot of sound that’s as difficult to classify as it is easy to enjoy. And watching her play guitar is something else — Raine Stern can wail like no other. She’ll also play the Memorial Union Terrace on July 13.
Hailing from Tyler, Texas, Whiskey Myers plays ragged country rock that practically howls at the moon. It’s the kind of music to which you’d shoot whiskey, and the perfect way to kick off the Live on King Street season.
Trent Prall carries on a tradition of being a musical auteur named “Trent” (see also: Reznor). But rather than abrasive electro-metal, Prall’s Kainalu project caters in psychedelic funk that draws heavily from his Hawaiian heritage. The Madison-based musician has steadily released a handful of tracks since putting out his debut EP, Bloom Lagoon, in 2017.
George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
After half a century of funkiness, George Clinton is calling it a career. The rainbow-locked face of Parliament Funkadelic — inarguably the most influential group in the genre — is hanging up his zany outfits for good once P-Funk finishes its “One Nation Under a Groove” tour. That said, he did make a hologram of himself, so consider this your last chance to see Clinton with P-Funk in person.
This Father’s Day, give dear old dad a present he’ll never forget: tickets to see Toby Keith perform to promote a professional golf tournament. The American Family Insurance Championship has enlisted Keith — who did the “boot in yer ass” country song that dad loves — to headline, with 38 Special set to open. Dad also loves “Hold on Loosely.” Your opportunity to claim the title of “favorite kid” is waiting…
The Pursuit of Happiness Session
This festival has quietly put together one of the best lineups anywhere in the city this summer. On June 22, second-generation country rocker Lilly Hiatt will play two shows, with other performances scheduled from Chicago’s indie soul collective The JC Brooks Band and stand-up from Kyle Kinane. June 23 will have comedy from Marina Franklin and a whole new slate of musicians that includes WheelHouse and Mal-O-Dua among others.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Kurt Cobain once said he didn’t realize his was famous until “Weird Al” Yankovic wanted to parody one of his songs. Getting lampooned by the comic accordionist is a right of passage among modern music stars, and Weird Al’s oeuvre is full of note-perfect send-ups of popular songs going back decades. Here, the parodist will perform selections from his deep back catalog, and for the first time he’ll be backed by a full symphony orchestra. And hopefully that means a symphonic take on all 11 lunatic minutes of “Albuquerque.”
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Aaron Lee Tasjan is a man after my own Oasis-loving heart. The Ohio-born folk rocker is apparently a big fan, having recently performed in a star-studded tribute to Manchester’s finest in Nashville. But Tasjan’s original work is, dare I say, even better. It’s like a sonic whiskey and water in which the water is mostly your own tears. Tasjan has a way burrowing into your psyche in an almost primal way.
You need to listen to The Beths if you haven’t already. Like, right now. The New Zealand band is a near-perfect combination of indie pop and punk, built of self-deprecating lyrics and sunny vocal melodies. Their 2018 debut, Future Me Hates Me, saw the group delivering not just one of the sharpest first records in recent memory, but one of the sharpest records full stop.
Built to Spill
For my money, this is the highlight of this year’s LOKS lineup. Indie rock survivors Built to Spill have been at it since the early 1990s, and have more or less designed the template for laconic, ambling indie rock punctuated by squiggly guitars. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Keep it Like a Secret, so hopefully this performance will feature some fan favorites from that album like “Center of the Universe” or “You Were Right.”
Froth began as a joke. Originally, the rock trio intended to put out a record that just spun silently for 20 minutes. Seriously. They only began actually playing music after having to fill-in on a show at the last minute, but since then the band has become a very real, very talented band with songs and everything. Froth’s dreamy psych rock is no joke.
Wisconsin indie pop is on full display at this show. Headlining is Seasaw, the Madison duo known for their sharp and sweet lyrics and laidback sound. (And if you want a double dose of Meg and Eve, head over to Summerfest on July 2 to see them open for the mighty CHVRCHES.) Also on hand is Madison Malone, a Badger State native who left for Los Angeles in 2016 and his opened for everyone from Kaleo to Josh Radnor (a.k.a. Ted from How I Met Your Mother). Lastly is Paper Holland, whose almost tropical take on indie rock contrasts delightfully with their very un-tropical hometown of Milwaukee.
Despite their status as godfathers of California punk, Bad Religion’s roots are sorta Wisconsin. Frontman Greg Graffin was born in Madison and spent time in Racine and Milwaukee before moving to the Golden State. Now, Dr. Graffin (he has a doctorate from Cornell in history of science) and his Bad Religion bandmates are true icons. Their leftist melodic punk helped to inspire an entire generation of bands to form and countless punks to pick up a dictionary and look up what the hell “jurisprudence” means.
With Prince Rogers Nelson having ascended to a higher plane of existence, Sean Tillmann — aka Har Mar Superstar — is now the most soulful guy in the Twin Cities. As Heart Bones, Tillmann partners with noted howler Sabrina Ellis of A Giant Dog. Together they recall the best duos of AM Gold, albeit with their own irreverence injected. In February, they performed the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in Minneapolis. This sounds like a good time.
Andy Shauf makes music that hangs like a sonic fog. The Canadian artist behind the band Foxwarren crafts lush indie rock that seeps into every open space it comes in contact with. It’s painstakingly crafted work, so it makes total sense that, despite being a band for 10+ years, Foxwarren didn’t release their first album until last year. But in that decade, Shauf and his Foxwarren bandmates built a musical language and communication that is almost unparalleled.
Shove it, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. When it came time to name the best artist of the 1990s, alt-country bible No Depression — a magazine named after an Uncle Tupelo song — chose Alejandro Escovedo. It’s an inspired choice, too. Before striking out on his own, Escovedo led the influential cowpunk band Rank and File. But since the late ’80s, he’s built a solo career on those same rootsy ethos with a shot of chicano rock for good measure.
On Dead Horses’ latest album, My Mother the Moon, Sarah Vos unpacks some pretty heavy shit. Namely, the expulsion of her family from the fundamentalist church she grew up in. The result is a haunting collection of indie folk that teters between hope and despair, a clear representation of some deep inner turmoil. But the result has been anything but despair; Rolling Stone named the Wisconsin duo an “Artist You Need to Know” because of it.
My first memorable concert experience was seeing Alice Cooper with my parents during a lightning storm at Riverfest in Beloit. The shock rock legend has long been known for his wild, theatrical live act. But coupled with lightning strikes that seemed timed to each drumbeat, it was transformative. Alice Cooper was, is, and always will be awesome. Even if you’re not familiar with Cooper’s lengthy catalog of songs, you should absolutely make time to see him live. School’s out forever, baby.
La Fête de Marquette
Summer is festival season in Madison, and Fête is usually one of the most hotly anticipated. This year’s lineup is highlighted by a July 14 headlining performance from lap steel virtuoso Robert Randolph & The Family Band. The entire schedule is filled with New Orleans-flavored funk and rock, including two sets by both Geno Delefose & French Rockin’ Boogie and Steve Riley & Mamou Playboys, plus Flow Tribe, Givers and others.
Musique After Dark
This two-night companion to La Fête de Marquette is a showcase for electronic music, featuring performances by a pair of Detroit house icons: Omar S on Friday and Stacey Pullen on Saturday.
Cracker + Camper Van Beethoven
For this show, David Lowery will be pulling double duty. He’ll be performing with two of his beloved bands, first of which (chronologically, at least) is Camper Van Beethoven. The influential college rockers helped pave the way for the alt-rock boom of the 1990s. One of the bands to reap the benefit of that is Cracker, a country-tinged rock outfit that Lowery formed after CVB broke up in 1990. (They reformed in 1999 and have remained active since.)
Liz Cooper & The Stampede
On Window Flowers, Liz Cooper established herself as a singular voice in Americana. With The Stampede, Cooper takes Americana and covers it in sprawling psychedelia. It’s the kind of music you’d want to listen to while floating down your local creek in an innertube. And her live show is even better, as the Nashville group can often recall a more punk rock version of Crazy Horse.
Here Come the Mummies
Like GWAR, The Aquabats, or our very own Masked Intruder, Here Come the Mummies is a band incognito. The Nashville-based funk rock outfit has an ever-changing lineup, with the only connective being that its members all dress up as mummies onstage. No one knows any of the players’ identities — likely because many of them are under contract to other record labels — but that hasn’t stopped Here Come the Mummies from releasing nine original albums of spooky funk.
In the post-MySpace era of music, it’s pretty difficult to maintain an air of mystery. But that’s what English post-punk outfit black midi have done, declining interviews and not streaming their songs. But they’ll have a concrete introduction on June 21, when they release their debut album, Schlagenheim, via Rough Trade.
Murder by Death
Despite the members of Murder by Death probably being lovely people, their music sounds sinister. A lot of that has to do with Adam Turla’s baritone vocals, which sound tailor-made for the soundtrack of whatever is David Lynch’s latest nightmare fuel. That said, Murder by Death shows are highly intimate — the band is beloved by its fans to the point of feeling like extended family. Plus, the Barn is a venue that might as well have been built for Murder by Death. So at least if you’re going to be scared, you’ll be in good company.
As is the standard, AtwoodFest has put together another killer lineup. More than a dozen bands will perform, including local favorites like VO5, Rare Element, WURK, Steely Dane (a tribute to Steely Dan) and Better Yeti.
She may now call Nashville home, but Josie Dunne is neither “yee” nor “haw.” Instead, the rising pop star is a mixture of classic Motown and soul. It recalls a simpler time, an image she illustrates literally in the video for her song “Old School,” which was filmed at her childhood home in La Grange, Illinois.
The Dead South
Despite having “south” in their name, The Dead South actually hails from up north (Regina, Saskatchewan, to be exact). But their sound — a mixture of folk and bluegrass — is decidedly southern. And it’s won them tons of acclaim; their 2018 album Illusion and Doubt won a Juno Award (Canada’s version of the Grammys) for Best Traditional Roots album. It’s the type of music you’d expect to hear on a back porch in Kentucky rather than in the midst of Canada’s oil fields.
The fact that Old 97’s never became one of the biggest bands of the 1990s is a crime against humanity. The Dallas alt-country lifers married classic Texas country to skittish college rock — there are few bands more emblematic of the ramshackle, punky spirit of the genre when it came of age. And after 15 albums, Old 97’s have become a well-oiled machine. Rhett Miller’s shaggy locks may be starting to gray, but he’s outpacing bands who weren’t even born when Hitchhike to Rhome came out.
Lost Dog Street Band
If Lost Dog Street Band looks like they fell out of a boxcar somewhere in middle American, it’s probably because they did. The husband-and-wife duo of Benjamin Tod and Ashley Mae got its start hopping trains and playing pretty much anywhere that would have them. Now, they’re a tough, tender voice (well, voices) that shine through in a genre that can feel kind of crowded.
On Flamagra, Flying Lotus’ latest album, the L.A. producer finds his sound reaching its final form. With assists from Anderson .Paak, Solange and, um, David Lynch, FlyLo has created an album that takes all of his weirdest tendencies and disguises them in a funky package. Like George Clinton before him, Flying Lotus takes funk to the moon and back, with soul and hip-hop along for the ride. And David Lynch. Can’t forget that old weirdo. Also, this is Flying Lotus in 3D, and I can’t imagine a better way to hear selections from Flamagra than coming straight at you.
Orton Park Festival
No lineup has been announced yet for this year’s Orton Park Fest, but save the date. Past years have included music from Dead Horses, Evan Murdock & The Imperfect Strangers and more.
Phantogram makes dance music you can lose yourself. Their trip-hop-inflected electro rock is an amalgam of shoegaze guitars and spiraling keyboards. They also may have their first new music in years coming out soon, so keep watch for that. They last released the album Three in 2016. Supporting them will be Bob Moses, a Canadian duo — yes, duo — that specializes in sophisticated electronic music.