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The Big Gigs: Shows and highlights of the upcoming entertainment week

  • January 31, 2008 - 4:44 PM

POP/ROCK

Like fellow Boston alt-rock trio Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom has issued its first record since the '90s and sounds as if it never went away. Titled "Three Easy Pieces," the disc recaptures the band's fuzz-pop glory and melancholic mayhem, which were always as impressive onstage as on record. About the only difference now is that frontman Bill Janovitz sounds a little more weathered and weary, though in a charming way. Blame it on his day job as a real estate agent. Climbing back in the van with a rock band will probably pay better this year. Local newcomers Western Fifth and Sounds Under Radio open. (9 p.m. today, First Avenue. 18 and older. $15.) (C.R.)

One of the nice things about the Dark Star Orchestra is you always know what to expect, but you can never expect it to be like the last time. For 10 years (and 1,500 shows), the world's favorite Grateful Dead cover band has always picked out a specific concert from the vast Dead vaults and played the set list as-was, but with at least a little more sobriety. One legitimate new thing on this tour is the addition of keyboardist Rob Barraco, who has played with Phil Lesh & Friends. (7:30 p.m. Mon., Guthrie Theater. $25.) (C.R.)

They were big in the '90s and early '00s: Alanis Morissette brought angst-ridden girl rock into the mainstream with 1995's Grammy-dominating "Jagged Little Pill," and Matchbox Twenty elevated mainstream rock to new heights with a series of benign hits including "3 A.M." and "Unwell." Last year, Morissette proved her artistic acuity with a hilarious video sendup of Black Eyed Peas' "Humps," and she promises to preview her spring CD, her first studio effort in four years. Last fall, MB20, now trimmed to a quartet, released a hits package, "Exile on Mainstream," that included six new songs that show progress in a mainstream kind of way. Opening is MuteMath. (7 p.m. Mon., Xcel Energy Center, $40-$75, 651-989-5151.) (J.B.)

Jason Isbell started 2007 as "that third-string guy in the Drive-by Truckers," but he rightfully wound up making many year-end lists with his solo debut, "Sirens of the Ditch." The country-ish rocker is back on tour with his Muscle Shoals-reared band the 400 Unit, newly featuring Son Volt member Derry De Borja. He's co-headlining with Nashville songwriter Will Hoge, out supporting his latest album, "Draw the Curtains." Kentucky's Dawn Landes, newly signed to the hip Cooking Vinyl label, also performs. (8 p.m. Wed., Varsity Theater. 18 and older. $15.) (C.R.)

In concert, British pop superstar Mika comes across like a one-man Scissors Sisters. That works in England, where he had four huge hits in 2007, and the rest of Europe. Mika (ME-ka) recently won three World Music Awards, including best new artist. Although he's nominated for a Grammy for dance recording, the 24-year-old piano popster can't seem to get arrested in the States. Is his colorful, sinfully melodious music too gay for the U.S.A.? The Midway State opens. Read an interview with Mika in Monday's Source section. (7 p.m. Wed., First Avenue, $25.) (J.B.)

BLUES

At 82, B.B. King may be the hardest-touring guitarist in the business. He's making his third Twin Cities appearance in 15 months. The past two times, the legend was as much a court jester as king of the blues. But his personality is as forceful and fun as his guitar, Lucille. (7:30 p.m. Tue., Mystic Lake Casino, Prior Lake, $47-$69, 651-989-5151.) (J.B.)

DANCE/HIP-HOP

If turntablists can be compared to guitarists, then the pairing of California pioneers DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist would be like Frank Zappa touring with Eddie Van Halen. Shadow's an oddball genius who's a marquee name in his own right, while Cut Chemist is a flashy, punchy mixer known for his work with Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. The old friends are touring with eight turntables and four mixers in keeping with their third collaborative disc, "The Hard Sell," on which they used 7-inch, 45-rpm records instead of the usual 12-inchers. The results are a terrific mish-mash of soul, funk, mind-warping techno and pure kitsch. Canadian wiz Kid Koala opens. (9 p.m. Mon., First Avenue. 18 and older. $20.) (C.R.)

COUNTRY

Tracy Lawrence, a 1990s mainstay, returned to the top of the charts last summer with "Find Out Who Your Friends Are," featuring friends Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. That tune earned them a trophy for musical event of the year at the Country Music Association Awards -- Lawrence's first CMA prize. (8:30 p.m. today, Medina Entertainment Center, $25-$42, 763-478-6661.) (J.B.)

Last weekend, it was figure skating at Xcel Center. This weekend, it's the World's Toughest Rodeo, followed Saturday by one of the wildest buckaroos in country. Don't let Trent Tomlinson's doo-rag fool you. He's a good ol' boy who puts a lot of rock in his country. He'll work the arena more effectively than any rodeo clown, and that's no bull. (Rodeo at 7:30 p.m. Sat. followed by Tomlinson. $17-$47. 651-989-5151.) (J.B.)

FOLK

Come in from the cold for a night of warm, personal songs and stripped-down modern folk by Boston's Catie Curtis. Her latest CD, "Long Night Moon," is wrought with bittersweet songs -- including "People Look Around," addressing the aftermath of Katrina -- sung with simplicity, strength and grace. Everyone can relate to her themes: waiting, questioning, reconnecting. Opening is Minneapolis' own singing, strumming sweetheart Brianna Lane. (7:30 p.m. Sun., Cedar Cultural Center. $18-$20.) (C.C.)

JAZZ

For Super Bowl weekend, three young heavyweights convene in St. Paul. Paris-born New Yorker Jean-Michel Pilc is an amazing musician, conversant with the full history of jazz piano and able to put his personal stamp on it. From Philadelphia, his soul mate Ari Hoenig is among the more creative, musical drummers on the scene, a Svengali of the sticks as evidenced on a superb new CD, "Inversations." And from Heidelberg, Germany, though long ensconced in NYC, bassist Johannes Weidenmueller is known for his superb work with pianist Kenny Werner. Expect to be transported. (9 p.m. today-Sat., Artists' Quarter. $20.) (T.S.)

Hard-jazz fans often have viewed piano star Ramsey Lewis with suspicion and snobbery, no doubt because his hand-clapping 1960s releases were so commercially popular. Yet some of those sides still sound mighty good. And Lewis has carved out a fine career, turning up as a radio and public-TV show host, artistic director for the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, the composer of a ballet score and the driver behind the Ramsey Lewis Foundation, helping disadvantaged youths make their mark in music (and life). This weekend he shows off his renewed involvement with gospel music, in a quintet with singer Eleanor Hampton, organist William Kilgore, Chicago bass great Larry Gray and drummer Leon Joyce. Prepare to "Wade in the Water" once again. (7:30 p.m. Sat., Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 S. 4th St., Mpls. $35-$45. 612-624-2345.) (T.S.)

Starting out as a precocious club favorite of Sinatra, piano great Monty Alexander spent three decades establishing his cred as a swinging, bluesy crowd-pleaser, and rarely tapped into his Jamaican heritage. But in the past 15 years or so, he has reveled in his roots, recording a string of tasty CDs that meld jazz and reggae seamlessly and soulfully, including his latest, the Bob Marley tribute "Concrete Jungle." It's a very groovy niche. (7 & 9:30 p.m. Mon.-Tue., Dakota Jazz Club. $15-$25.) (T.S.)

Fresh from touring in South America with Dave Holland's Quintet, sax marauder Chris Potter returns with his own terrific Chris Potter Underground, a quartet that shows off his prodigious and prolific composing abilities. Liberally mixing rock and funk into a postbop palette -- this freewheeling band is as likely to cover Radiohead as Billy Strayhorn -- it co-stars Minnesota native Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes piano, electric guitar wizard Adam Rogers and drummer Nate Smith, another Dave Holland associate. (7 and 9:30 p.m. Thu., Dakota Jazz Club. $18-$25.) (T.S.)

REGGAE

"Songs of Freedom: Bob Marley Remembered," a two-night celebration of the reggae legend, is now in its 16th year. The International Reggae Allstars, featuring Lynval (Golden Voice) Jackson, and opening act Innocent promise some obscure Wailers selections along with the resonant hits. (9:30 p.m. today-Sat., Cabooze. $10-$15.) (T.S.)

Contributors: Staff critics Jon Bream and Chris Riemenschneider and freelancers Tom Surowicz and Cyn Collins.

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