Umphrey's McGee

Madison House Publicity,

The Big Gigs

  • Article by: Star Tribune staff
  • Star Tribune
  • March 3, 2011 - 2:38 PM

Part newbie band competition and fundraiser for a few local acts headed to the South by Southwest Music Conference -- hey, getting to all those free beer taps and no-cover showcases doesn't come cheap -- this year's Are You Local? contest features two of the most celebrated songwriters in town, Jeremy Messersmith and Ben Weaver, plus futuristic '60s rockers Phantom Tails. The competing newcomers are: a newly transplanted, Sigur Ros-sampling Chicago rapper called Longshot; catchy and wiry pop-rockers Pictures of Then, and hard-stomping quartet the 4onthefloor. (7 p.m. Fri., Varsity Theater. 18 & older. $8-$10.) (C.R.)

Chicago jammers Umphrey's McGee are no strangers to doubling down their performances in the Twin Cities. This is their third consecutive year playing First Avenue on back-to-back evenings. The group has not spattered its brand of progressive boogie onto a new disc since 2009's "Mantis," but its oft-bootlegged live sets have always carried Umphrey's reputation anyway. After all, their attention-deficit-abating improvisation and wandering, Clapton-evoking guitar solos are more fascinating to be seen rather than merely heard. (8 p.m. Fri., 6 p.m. Sat., First Avenue, 18 & older, $25.) (A.P.)

With his breathy vulnerability, Chicago's high-voiced Mike Mangione evokes Paolo Nutini, David Gray, Ray LaMontagne and even an acoustic bluesy Robert Plant on his indie release "The Offering." Mangione and his sextet, the Union, are working on a new album with Iowa producer Bo Ramsey. Cities 97 addicts might appreciate hearing Mangione & the Union in an intimate setting before they graduate to a rowdy bar. (9 p.m. Fri., Aster Cafe, $8. 8 p.m. Sat., 318 Cafe, all ages, $10.) (J.B.)

Singer/pianist Michael Feinstein has studied Frank Sinatra. So when he presents the Sinatra Project with the Minnesota Orchestra, he'll pose such questions as: What if Ol' Blue Eyes recorded "Fly Me to the Moon" as it was intended -- as a ballad? Feinstein will make use of the orchestra and some of those classic Nelson Riddle arrangements. (8 p.m. Sat. & 2 p.m. Sun., Orchestra Hall, $22-$60.) (J.B.)

It's an "American Idol" runner-up serendipity. Last year's No. 2 finisher, Crystal Bowersox, is here the same night as Clay Aiken. Fresh from making her debut at the Grand Ole Opry, she'll bring her Earth Mother pop vibe to a Bedrace for Bridging benefit. Also appearing at this post-race concert are Cities 97 fave Augustana and locals the Chris Hawkey Band. (7 p.m. Sat., Buck Hill Ski Chalet, Burnsville. (J.B.)

At heart, Clay Aiken is an old-fashioned guy. At least, that's what his latest album, "Tried and True," suggests. He covers love songs from the 1950s and '60s, including "Misty," "Suspicious Minds" and "Build Me Up Buttercup." He'll also remind Claymates what becomes an "American Idol" runner-up most -- his own modest hits, "Measure of a Man" and "Invisible." (8 p.m. Sat., State Theatre, $53-$63.) (J.B.)

Between its upcoming date at Coachella, continuing sessions for a second album and pending lawsuit over its bus fiasco -- you know a band is serious when it has a lawyer on call -- all-star smooth-rock ensemble Gayngs has pretty well answered the question of whether it would just be a short-lived creative burst. Ryan Olson and the gang return to the scene of last year's "Last Prom" shows and will spread out into the Entry for their "Affiliyated" showcase, featuring several acts straight off the family tree, including Solid Gold, Megafaun, Leisure Birds, Har Mar Superstar, Alpha Consumer and Marijuana Deathsquads, plus friends such as Mystery Palace, Slapping Purses and Moonstone. (7 p.m. Sun., First Avenue. 18 & older. $20.) (C.R.)

It's an evening of organic acoustica as songwriters Griffin House and Charlie Mars strip it down for an unplugged mini-tour. Ohio rootsy rocker House offers up a songwriting style on his 2010 release, "The Learner," that shifts between Jeff Buckley crooning and blue-collared Springsteen sensibility. Co-headliner Mars, from Mississippi, favors Down South twang. (8 p.m. Sun., Varsity, 18 & older, $16.) (A.P.)

Twin Citians love themselves some Celtic punk in March, as evidenced by another sold-out visit by Irishman Dave King and his Pogues- and Clash-inspired big band Flogging Molly, who arrive just four nights after the Dropkick Murphys also filled First Ave, and 10 days before St. Patty's Day. The group's seventh annual Green 17 tour precludes the May release of a new album, "Speed of Darkness." (7:30 p.m. Mon., First Avenue. Sold out.) (C.R.)

In her five-decade career, Patti Austin has sung jingles, done duets with Michael Jackson on "Off the Wall," scored her own hits ("Do You Love Me" and "Baby, Come to Me," with James Ingram) and won a jazz-vocal Grammy in 2008 for "Avant Gershwin." Her new album, "Sound Advice," establishes again that she's a terrific stylist as she gets jazzy/funky on the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and haunting on Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence."  (7 & 9 p.m. Tue.-Wed., Dakota, $40-$55.) (J.B.)

All the controversy and debate over Girl Talk's self-described "illegal art" -- i.e., does mashing up samples of other artists' music really qualify as "art"? -- usually evaporates into a burst of sweaty, swaying bodies and giddy excitement anytime Pittsburgh-reared Talk man Gregg Gillis takes to the decks. He's here for two nights behind his latest madcap mix, "All Day." The real crime is what some scalpers are trying to charge for the long-gone tickets. (9 p.m. Tue. & Wed., First Avenue. Sold out.) (C.R.)

While dancing between baroque, jazz or folk compositions during his 30-year career, French-Algerian acoustic guitarist/wordless vocalist Pierre Bensusan has always focused on pushing the capacity of his strings. He's serenely plucking away in support of his 2010 release, "Vividly." (7:30 p.m. Wed., Cedar Cultural Center. $15-$18.) (A.P.)

When she was doing Lilith Fair last summer, Sarah McLachlan didn't think she'd undertake her own solo tour to promote "Laws of Illusion," her first studio album in six years. But then Lilith turned out to be a financial disaster and she split with her manager of more than 20 years. Undaunted, the ornately introspective piano woman presses on with her usual aplomb. With Butterfly Boucher and Melissa McClelland. (7:30 p.m. Wed., Orpheum, $39.50-$75.) (J.B.)

Simone has a varied résumé: extensive theater work in "Rent" on tour and "Aida" on Broadway, acid-jazz with Chicago's Liquid Soul, R&B with Daughters of Soul, and some serious jazz on her self-released 2008 CD, "Simone on Simone." That found Simone interpreting tunes identified with her famous mother, the late, great Nina Simone. (7 & 9 p.m. Thu., Dakota, $20-$30.) (J.B.)

Cold War Kids' stab at making slicker, more radio-friendly rock on their third album, "Mine Is Yours," is not as bad as many indie-stickler music writers are making it out to be. But it's true that the Southern California quartet with the blathering-voiced singer has yet to match the power of "Hang Me Up to Dry" and other gems off its 2006 debut. The not-so-promisingly-named opening band A Lull is an experimental trio from Chicago. (7 p.m. Thu., First Avenue. Sold out.) (C.R.)


Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King come out rockin' on their latest CD, "Have Blues, Will Travel." The title cut's a winner, calling up memories of Richard Boone and Richard Berry, while "My Space or Yours?" is an amusing groove tune for the texting era. "Have Blues, Will Travel" is an album-of-the-year nominee at the Blues Music Awards, and this Texas combo is always reliably rousing at their live shows. (7:30 p.m. Sat., Wilebski's Blues Saloon. $10.) (T.S.)

When you think Robert Johnson, Todd Park Mohr is not the first name that comes to mind. But the leader of Big Head Todd & the Monsters has put together an album and tour to honor the blues pioneer's 100th birthday. B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Ruthie Foster and others join Mohr on the predictable tribute CD, "100 Years of Robert Johnson," and some of the contributors to the recording -- stalwarts Hubert Sumlin, 79, and Honeyboy Edwards, 95, as well as Cedric Burnside and Johnson's grandson, Steven Johnson -- are on board for a tour that will feature Johnson classics. (8 p.m. Sun., Orchestra Hall, $22-$55.) (J.B.)

Mardi Gras comes a couple days early to downtown Minneapolis, as the Dakota serves up perfect New Orleans party music. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band always brings the jazz fire and the R&B strut, while special guest Jon Cleary adds piano professorship, rolling boogie and soulful vocals. Fashion tip: Wear some garish beads. (7 p.m. Sun.-Mon., Dakota Jazz Club. $50.) (T.S.)

Guitarist and singer Tommy Castro cleaned up at the 2010 Blues Music Awards. He won the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, best contemporary male blues artist, contemporary blues album (for his Alligator Records debut, "Hard Believer") and his five-piece touring group, with two horns, earned band of the year honors. Saxophonist Keith Crossan has quite an illustrious past; you may have heard him with Marty Balin, Commander Cody or John Lee Hooker. (7 p.m. Tue., Hopkins Center for the Arts. $25.) (T.S.)


With its unique instrumentation of two percussion, piano and woodwinds, the chamber ensemble Zeitgeist almost has to specialize in new music. There would not be much repertoire otherwise. The quartet continues its tradition of exploring new artistic frontiers with "Unveiled," a program of new chamber works, including the world premiere of "strange places, briefly seen" by Ben Broening, and the Minnesota premieres of "Reunion" by Harvey Sollberger and "Accord" by Adam Greene. Local composers are represented by Brent Michael Davids' "The Last of James Fenimore Cooper" and Ann Millikan's "Cantando Para a Onça." (7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Studio Z, 275 E. 4th St., Suite 200, St. Paul, $10, 651-755-1600 or (W.R.B.)


Loba African Jazz Trio is an international ensemble that seems to play regularly only in St. Paul -- the pleasure's all ours. It features two brothers from the Cote d'Ivoire -- Loba Akou on electric and acoustic guitars, and Serge Akou on fretless electric bass -- who really mix it up musically. You'll get straight jazz, contemporary jazz, homeland Afro rhythms, a bit of funk and some rock pyrotechnics. (9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., Artists' Quarter. $10.) (T.S.)

Contributors: Chris Riemenschneider, Andrew Penkalski, Jon Bream, Tom Surowicz and William Randall Beard.

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