Summer music preview: From Gypsy punks to Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head


This is shaping up to be an exceptional summer for live music in the Twin Cities. Here are some of the shows I’m most looking forward to over the next few months. It’s a personal selection, not a complete best-of-the-summer list—how could it be, with no hip-hop or classical music?—but all of these acts are awesome. Objectively.

Among the several bands drawing inspiration from the lush folk-pop sound of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, Rilo Kiley may be the most confident and convincing. Maybe it’s because of their California pedigree, maybe it’s because they actually went so far as to endure a Buckingham-Nicks-style internal breakup (the parallel parties being guitarist Blake Sennett and singer Jenny Lewis), but Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight has a velvety sweep that very favorably recalls vintage Mac. Rilo Kiley will be at First Avenue this Thursday. [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here.]

Although the Old 97’s have been around the block—the band came together in Dallas 15 years ago—they still sound energetically fresh-faced. I haven’t heard their new album Blame It On Gravity, but reviews suggest it’s a return to form after their aptly-titled 2004 release, the muddy and sluggish Drag It Up. Their 2001 album Satellite Rides is one of my all-time favorites, a miraculous mélange of alt-country and power pop—and they’ve always prided themselves on their live act, so there’s potential for serious fireworks when they play at First Ave on June 4. [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here.]

What words could describe R.E.M., founding fathers of alternative rock? Powerful. Passionate. Purposeful. Pricey!

What words could describe R.E.M., founding fathers of alternative rock? Powerful. Passionate. Purposeful. Pricey! I like their new album Accelerate quite a lot, but not quite enough to plunk down $75 for a seat at the X that wouldn’t require opera glasses to determine whether Michael Stipe is wearing makeup or just has circles under his eyes from another all-night bull session with Patti Smith and Bono. That said, if you have a Benjamin burning a hole in your pocket, you should go see the show on June 5.

R.E.M.’s Peach State homeskillets the B-52s will be in Minneapolis on June 9 with Cyndi Lauper. Between the two major crazy-dressing female pop stars of 1984, Madonna was thought by many to be a flash in the pan, with Lauper having the real talent. 24 years later Madonna has been the one to steal Elvis Presley’s record of most career top-ten hits (she’s now had 37)…still, I think I’d rather see a Cyndi Lauper show. After her decade-defining debut She’s So Unusual, Lauper settled into comfortable adult pop—but with well-chosen material and an undiminished voice, she’s kept it interesting. Never mind all that, though: this stop on the “True Colors Tour” (benefiting the Stonewall Community Foundation) also features Tegan and Sara, whose Pantages show last fall was very quickly and very painfully sold out. [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here.]

Brave enough to compete with the animatronic dinosaurs who will be stalking the Twin Cities that week are Gogol Bordello, whose 2005 album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike left me happily dumbfounded. Did the world need a band that does for Gypsy music what the Pogues do for traditional Irish music? Maybe not, but without Gogol Bordello the world would be at least eight-and-a-half percent more boring. They’re touring behind their 2007 follow-up Super Taranta!—the album that dared to ask the musical questions, “Have you ever been to American wedding? Where is the vodka? Where’s the pickled herring?”—and they’ll be outdoors at the Cabooze on June 12.

A performance by Billy Bragg is as much a spoken-word event as a musical concert—but as Bragg pointed out when I saw him in Massachusetts a couple of years ago, in live performances his idol Woody Guthrie would only make it through a handful of songs in an hour, so there’s a good precedent for chatty agit-folkers. Bragg’s electric guitar still rings as righteously as it did in 1977, and though he’s had a little trouble regaining his footing after the disorientingly brilliant Mermaid Avenue collaborations with Wilco, his new album Mr. Love and Justice has earned solid praise. He’ll be at the wonderfully intimate Cedar Cultural Center on June 13 for a gig that’s already sold out. [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here.] If you can’t get your hands on tickets to see Bragg himself, the next best thing would be to catch his amped-up devotees Service Industry at the 7th Street Entry on May 31. [Update: Service Industry’s appearance has been canceled due to a health issue within the band.]

Someone at the Minnesota Museum of American Art had the bright idea that a good way to attract the young and hip to St. Paul would be to stop talking about how young and hip St. Paul is and actually do something young and hip.

South Carolina’s Explorers Club aim to recapture the classic Beach Boys sound, but with “fresh songs not tempered by a generation of Sweatin’ to the Oldies.” Unbelievably, in songs like “Forever”—the opener of their new album Freedom Wind—they actually succeed in harvesting at least a handful of authentic “God Only Knows” goosebumps. The disc is worth buying both for the music and for the fantastic cover art, which imitates a worn 1960s album sleeve. The Explorers Club are at the Entry on June 14, opening for Lightspeed Champion.

Someone at the Minnesota Museum of American Art had the bright idea that a good way to attract the young and hip to St. Paul would be to stop talking about how young and hip St. Paul is and actually do something young and hip—like bringing a series of popular local bands to play outdoors on the museum’s patio. I’ll be there on June 19 to see the endearing Best Friends Forever and on July 10 for Gospel Gossip—who deserve support if for no other reason than taking the title of their debut album (Sing Into My Mouth) from Talking Heads lyrics. Daily Planet writers will be covering several other shows in this series, including Awesome Snakes (June 5 [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here]), Davina and the Vagabonds (June 12 [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here]), Kid Dakota (July 24 [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here]), Dance Band (August 7 [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here]), and Storyhill (August 21 [Update: Read the Daily Planet review here]).

I’ll miss the Detroit Cobras‘ show at the Triple Rock Social Club on June 20 because I’ll be celebrating a good friend’s birthday…and you’d better believe that means she’s a good friend, because for no casual acquaintance would it be worth missing an appearance by this barn-burning outfit from the Wolverine State. The fact that they’ve parlayed a clever premise—playing garage-rock covers of vintage R&B nuggets—into a 13-year career is testament to the power of their punk-flavored, cigarette-stained brand of soul.

If the Go! Team’s first album Thunder, Lighting, Strike (2004) was fun to listen to, it was also a little frustrating—their fusion of rock, hip-hop, and cheerleader chants was like a car engine that chugged and chugged but failed to turn over except on the soaring “Ladyflash” and “The Power Is On.” Their 2007 follow up, Proof of Youth, is similarly spotty, but it’s hard to believe that they’ll disappoint onstage at First Ave, where they’re appearing as co-headliners with CSS on July 30. I’m also excited about openers Matt & Kim, whose song “Dash After Dash” I enjoy, and Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, because…come on. It’s a band called Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head.

Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.