Rodney Crowell & The Outsiders with Will Kimbrough
Saturday · Southgate House
Native Texan Rodney Crowell started his career in the early '70s by displaying his shit-hot songwriting skills to a Nashville peer group that included Guy Clark, Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt. Emmylou Harris heard a couple of Crowell's songs and hired him for her newly assembled Hot Band in 1975 as guitarist, vocalist and, perhaps most importantly, songwriter. In 1978, Crowell launched his career as a solo performer with his marginally selling but well regarded debut album, Ain't Living Long Like This; the title track was eventually a hit for both the Oak Ridge Boys and Waylon Jennings. In 1979, Crowell began his run as a highly sought after producer with his initial work for future wife Rosanne Cash, followed by a string of acclaimed albums for Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Bare and Jim Lauderdale, among many others. After nearly a decade of similarly acclaimed performance and production work, Crowell released his masterpiece in 1988, the Grammy winning Diamonds & Dirt, an album that yielded a record five No. 1 self-written singles. The album proved to be Crowell's high water mark; he and Cash divorced in 1992, and he ended his relationship with Columbia Records shortly thereafter. Two relatively unheralded albums for MCA led Crowell back to Warner Bros., his original label, but he abandoned work on his album for them and asked to be released from his contract. After a six-year hiatus that he spent focused on family, he finally returned with his astonishing 2001 tour de force, The Houston Kid, a bittersweet chronicle of his Texas childhood. The album made a number of year-end Top 10 lists and signaled a new phase in Crowell's three-decade career.
With his subsequent albums — 2003's excellent Fate's Right Hand and his just-released latest album, the ambitious and socially conscious concept album The Outsider — Rodney Crowell has transcended his Country roots and become an artist that utilizes every possible genre to complement the song at hand, a rare gift from an equally rare musical talent. (Brian Baker)
Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick
Saturday · U.S. Bank Arena
There are a handful of artists who can evoke a tangible mood with no more than the dropping of their names. Alice Cooper is surely among the first generation of theatrical rockers to possess the ability to shock and horrify at the mere mention of his Rock du plume, almost from the moment he first burst into the public consciousness with his band's 1971 masterpiece Love It To Death. Thirty-four years after that seminal event in the annals of Horror Rock, and far away from the gold and platinum records of his glory years in the '70s, Cooper is still inventing horrible little scenarios and the characters that populate them and setting them to a howling mad soundtrack. He's never followed trends in that regard; Cooper was serenading boa constrictors, having his head cut off on stage and loving the dead when today's crop of shock Metal merchants were wearing snap-up pants. Still and all, Cooper has learned as much as he has taught. It's a darker world today than the one that spawned Welcome to My Nightmare and Goes to Hell, and Cooper raised the musical ante considerably, supplanting his classic Rock foundation with a darker, edgier Metal approach. But with his latest album, Dirty Diamonds, Cooper has returned to the Hard Rock mix that defined his best work in the '70s.
Working a slightly different path, Cheap Trick has rarely strayed too far from the Beatles-fueled Pop ethic that the Rockford, Ill., quartet has exuded from the very start. The band's first three albums (Cheap Trick, In Color, Heaven Tonight) are still classics of the first order, the first Budokan live album was a beat-the-bootleggers fluke but a strong entry nonetheless, and Dream Police was a flawed jewel. From that point, the Trick managed a steady stream of much-better-than-mediocre albums that each contained some flashes of brilliance that always held out hope for the next one. Throughout the years and right up to the present, the Trick's consistent strengths have been Robin Zander's singular voice, Rick Nielsen's consistently manic tone and technique, and the thunderous rhythm section of Tom Petersson's throbbing, fluid bass and Bun E. Carlos' blood simple drums. Surrender, but don't give yourself away. (BB)
Thunderbirds Are Now! with Rahim and The Oxford Farm Report
Monday · Southgate House
How can a band have so much Pop/Punk-ish energy and Retro chic and still seem subversive? Hell, they're even from Detroit. Yet Thunderbirds Are Now! have an unmistakable sonic unruliness and Art Rock underpinnings that somehow allow them to be both ostensibly marketable and undeniably cred-worthy. To find their rambunctious musical seeds, one needs to look no further than their debut full length, 2003's Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. It's a brilliant but bumpy ride, a fragmented collection of guitar and keyboard hooks shackled to a runaway Mathcore wagon. DLIC seems almost intentionally discordant, as if the band feared that all of their hooks might make great songs or something. Oh, the horror! Only on their latest release, Justamustache, did TAN! really embrace their Pop crafting abilities. Even then, they do it with trademark sarcasm and humor. They owe quite a bit of this fresh focus to their new label, the artist-centric Frenchkiss. The label is run by Les Savy Fav's Syd Butler, who is certainly willing to let them do things their own way, but also has encouraged TAN! to be less averse to making great songs and showing them it can be done without sacrificing their quirkiness. They demonstrated this by tapping Blanche's Dave Feeny to produce, insuring that a slightly skewed rendition of the band's already fractured style would be captured. The new album lives up to every snippet of hype you may encounter, which will probably be voluminous. From Ryan Allen's androgynous shouts and classic, trashy, New Wave guitar to (brother) Scott Allen's frenetic keyboard runs and samples, all 10 songs are engaging, adroit and even (gasp!) danceable. TAN! has already played a number of vigorous shows in the Tristate this year; this time they're bringing Frenchkiss label mates Rahim (ambitious Post Rock with a hint of nerdy Shoegaze) and Lexington's The Oxford Farm Report (deliciously bipolar Psychobilly). If any show can magically transform the native head-bobbers into ass-shakers, this is the one. (Ezra Waller)