Big gigs for Jan. 24-30: Current's Birthday Bash, Patti LaBelle, Sandra Bernhard and more

  • Updated: January 23, 2014 - 4:09 PM

Singer/songwriter Eric Pollard of Actual Wolf, which performs for the Current's birthday party Friday at First Avenue.

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That one time of the year you can count on the 89.3 FM DJs wearing shirts with buttons to work, the Current’s Ninth Birthday Bash is itself a wonderfully mixed-up laundry bin of local scene makers circa 2013. Night 1 boasts the entertaining twofer of rap powerhouse Lizzo and the newly/convincingly soulful Har Mar Superstar, who each had singles in heavy rotation (“Batches & Cookies” and “Lady You Shot Me,” respectively). They’ll be joined by dance-pop wiz-kids Strange Names and Eric Pollard’s lush twang-rock ensemble Actual Wolf. The second show has another proven soul-music convert, Caroline Smith, and two bands previewing new albums, U.K.-adored indie-punks Howler and live hip-hop pioneers Heiruspecs. Plus the Cactus Blossoms will open with their sweet old-school country harmonies. You can usually count on surprise guests, too, and maybe soccer score updates from Mark Wheat. (8 p.m. Fri. & Sat., First Avenue, sold out Fri., $20 Sat.) Riemenschneider


Tesla was one of the least Spandex- and lipstick-prone bands of the ’80s California hair-band era, which may help explain why it maintains a dedicated following as well as most of its heyday-era members, including high-wired, raspy singer Jeff Keith. The Sacramento rockers scored the original hits “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi” but might best be remembered for a cover of the Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs.” You can count on hearing all three. (8:30 p.m. Fri., Myth, $33.) Chris Riemenschneider

Who can follow President Obama on a TV talk show? Jay Leno had Patti LaBelle sing after the president on “The Tonight Show” Monday, and she tore it up on “What Can You Do for Me.” There were lots of horns, backup singers, roof-raising vocals and pleas for peace and love. When she returns to the Twin Cities for the first time since 2000, expect LaBelle’s timeless, stir-it-up favorites, including “New Attitude” and “Lady Marmalade,” and the chart-topping ballad “On My Own.” Last year, the diva’s diva completed her 50th anniversary tour. (8 p.m. Sat., Mystic Lake Casino, $54-$62.) Jon Bream

Anonymous Choir gave local music lovers a holiday gift last month, covering Neil Young’s entire 1970 album “After the Gold Rush” at the Cedar. The 10-member all-female vocal group — led by Nona Marie of Dark Dark Dark indie-folk fame — recorded its “Gold Rush” remake at Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth and is hosting a party to promote its release on vinyl and (in true 1970 fashion) cassette. Not a “real choir” you’d see at Ted Mann Concert Hall, their folksy approach brings a living-room warmth to tunes like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” while adding a haunting quality to “Southern Man.” Phil & the Blanks open. (11 p.m. Sat., Icehouse, $8.) Riemenschneider


A rootsy folkie originally from South Africa, Johnny Flynn came up in the British indie-folk scene with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling and might appeal to fans of either. His backing band, the Sussex Wit, offers a Mumford-ian blend of traditional Americana and Irish music, but his writing style has more of a stark, British Isles brand of acoustic fire. Also a reputable Shakespeare actor, Flynn is touring behind his fourth album, “Country Mile.” Opening is the Melodic, a rustic London folk band that just released its debut via Anti- Records. (7 p.m. Sun., Turf Club, $15.) Riemenschneider 

The irrepressible Sandra Bernhard — the only comic who could disarm David Letterman with her outrageousness — brings her Sandyland Tour to town. That means in-your-face comedy, social commentary, spot-on satire and some sassy rock ’n’ roll with her band, the Flawless Zircons. Don’t be surprised if she shows some love for Prince. (7 p.m. Sun.-Mon., Dakota, $40-$60.) Bream

Not only has the Dark Star Orchestra recently celebrated its 16th anniversary and the arrival of a new bassist, Skip Vangelas, but the Grateful Dead tribute band has actually surpassed the actual Dead in the total number of shows played. Jerry Garcia & Co. performed 2,318 gigs and DSO has finally topped that — re-creating specific Dead set lists. Keep on truckin’. (8 p.m. Wed., First Avenue, $25.) Bream

Veteran New York rocker Willie Nile has been called a one-man Clash. He certainly wears his Dylan and Springsteen influences on his sleeves on “American Ride,” his first album to have major-label distribution in two decades. He kicks it off with a couple of killer blue-collar anthems, “This Is Our Time” and “Life on Bleecker Street,” and peaks on a rockin’ remake of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.” Nile’s rock ’n’ roll passion certainly hasn’t died. (7 p.m. Wed., Dakota, $25.) Bream



The recent Cedar Avenue fire struck close to home for our finest folk and world music club, so it’s joining forces with neighbors KFAI-FM and Augsburg College and staging a benefit for the victims. The list of performers is cross-generational and impressive, including the mighty Brass Messengers, legendary Spider John Koerner, acoustic guitar great Phil Heywood, sublime harmonizers the Cactus Blossoms, songwriter Jon Rodine and neo-soul band Southside Desire. Five hours of musical diversity in action, for a great cause. (7 p.m. Fri., Cedar Cultural Center, $20.) Tom Surowicz


With the kind of eye for detail and ear for unflashy poetry that once helped earn him a Pulitzer Prize, Pioneer Press reporter David Hanners has become one of the Twin Cities’ most captivating and evocative songwriters. That much is obvious from his third album, “There Are No Secrets in This Town.” The songs were largely inspired by an oral history of a Prohibition-era brothel operator in Terre Haute, Ind., and the twangy folk music falls squarely off the Guy Clark/Townes Van Zandt Texas tunesmith tree. Backers on the recordings include acoustic-string aces Lonnie Knight and Fred Grittner, and Urban Hillbilly Quartet leader Erik Brandt on accordion, all of whom will play the release party. (7:30 p.m. Sat., Ginkgo Coffeehouse, 721 N. Snelling Av., St. Paul.) Riemenschneider


The Wailers are cheating a bit by promising to play the album “Legend” in its entirety on their current tour, which really just amounts to your average greatest-hits set. They’re not really cheating by using Bob Marley’s old group name, though: Bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett was the band leader from 1971 until Bob’s death in 1981, and his remade, constantly touring lineup does the legend justice. The group includes fellow Sly & Robbie/Upsetters alum Keith Sterling on keys and a capable Marley stand-in, Koolant Brown, who also grew up in the Jamaican countryside. Opener British Dependency is a roots trio from Anguilla. (8 p.m. Sun., First Avenue, $30.) Local reggae favorites Irie Sol, 9 Tomorrows and Pee Wee Dread are also adding to the mix next door. (9 p.m., 7th Street Entry, $5.) Riemenschneider

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