Music roundup for March 6-12, 2014

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bob Weir & Ratdog at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, The Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets: $45. Call 414-286-3663.

Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir is back on tour with the band he formed shortly before the Dead broke up in 1995.

Legendary bass player Rob Wasserman, a founding member of Ratdog, has rejoined the band, giving it an unusual two-bass lineup, with Robin Sylvester also holding down the rhythm section. Other members are drummer Jay Lane, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and lead guitarist Steve Kimock.

The six-piece band kicked off a 23-show tour in Philadelphia on Valentine's Day, playing a mix of Dead standards, some Ratdog originals, a Bob Dylan song and an assortment of covers.

Weir was 16 years old and living in Palto Alto, Calif., when he met a 21-year-old banjo player—Jerry Garcia—on the street and spent an evening jamming with him. The two decided to form a band, which eventually became known as the Grateful Dead.

Weir played rhythm guitar and sang most of the lead vocals through the Dead's 30-year run. He also is credited with an unusual playing style that lent itself to the extended improvisational jams that are a Dead trademark. Ratdog has embraced the jams as well.

In a 2008 interview with Maximum Ink magazine, Weir said he was lucky to have experienced the musical and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

“I was at the right place at the right time, really at the tip of that surge,” he said.

Weir said he was drawn to music more than anything else when he was a kid. Later, when he began to perform, he suffered from stage fright.

“It was and has always been a challenge for me to get up and sing in front of people,” he said. “But that said, it's all I ever wanted to do, so I just bucked up and did it and just kept challenging myself more and more as bigger opportunities presented themselves.”

James McMurtry at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Stoughton Opera House, 381 E. Main St., Stoughton. Tickets: $25. Call 608-877-4400.

James McMurtry is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and bandleader based in Austin, Texas—and also the son of acclaimed novelist Larry McMurtry.

He began performing as a teenager. His career got a boost in 1987 when he won a songwriter contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival.

At about the same time, John Mellencamp was starring in a film based on a script by McMurtry's father. That gave the younger McMurtry a chance to get a demo tape to Mellencamp.

Mellencamp subsequently served as a co-producer on McMurtry's 1989 debut album, “Too Long in the Wasteland.”

McMurtry released follow-up albums in 1992 and '95, earning a reputation as a fine storyteller and writer of acerbic political songs.

In 2005, his album “Childish Things” won song of the year and album of the year at the Americana Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. The album featured McMurtry at his most political. His working-class anthem “We Can't Make It Here” featured direct criticism of President George W. Bush, the Iraq War and Wal-Mart.

McMurtry has released nine studio albums and two live albums since his debut. When not on tour, he performs regularly at the Continental Club in Austin.

Miley Cyrus at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 9, BMO Harris Bradley Center, 1001 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. With Icona Pop. Tickets: $39.50-$89.50. Call Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

By almost any measure, singer and actress Miley Cyrus is one of America's most successful performers.

The 21-year-old daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus has had five No. 1 albums on the U.S. Billboard 200—two of which are soundtracks credited to her Disney character, Hannah Montana.

Cyrus became a teen idol in 2006 after being cast in the Disney Channel TV series “Hannah Montana,” in which she portrayed the starring character, Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana.

She signed a recording contract with Hollywood Records in 2007 and released her debut album, “Meet Miley Cyrus,” which sold more than 4 million copies and included the hit “See You Again.” The next year, she released “Breakout,” which featured the song “7 Things,” and launched her film career as the voice actress in the animated movie “Bolt.”

In 2009, Cyrus starred in the film “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” whose soundtrack included the hit single “The Climb.”

Cyrus' latest album, “Bangerz,” was released last October with “We Can't Stop” as its lead single. The track peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, while a second single from the album, “Wrecking Ball,” set a record for 19.3 million views in the first 24 hours of its release. It became Cyrus' first No. 1 single on the Hot 100.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Cyrus admitted to being a heavy marijuana user and said her life revolves around music.

“I'll sit there and jam all day,” she said. “My chef loves it 'cause every morning I'm down there playing the piano. I'm writing pretty much all the time. Sometimes I think other people don't get it—to them, it seems like all I do is work. But you can't shut off from this.”

Cyrus said she's a perfectionist when it comes to making records, and she hopes “Bangerz” will have the staying power of a classic Michael Jackson album.

“I'm going to be that (kind of) artist to so many people, so I want to make sure my record is the best it can be,” she said. “I'm trying to set a new standard for pop music.”

Mike Gordon at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9, Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave., Madison. Tickets: $25. Call 608-241-8633.

Mike Gordon achieved celebrity status in the rock music world as a founding member of Phish, which formed at the University of Vermont in 1983.

Gordon played bass in the band, but he is also an accomplished songwriter and banjo player and is proficient at piano and guitar. He is also a filmmaker, author and record producer. He has released five solo studio albums, two of which were collaborations with guitarist Leo Kotke.

By the time Phish broke up in 2004, Gordon had established himself as a soloist and collaborator. He recorded the album “Clone” with Kotke in 2002. The next year, he released “Inside In” to critical acclaim.

In 2005, Gordon and Kotke teamed up again for “Sixty Six Steps” and went on tour together. Gordon recorded solo albums in 2008 (“The Green Sparrow”) and 2010 (“Moss”) before releasing his latest album, “Overstep,” in February.

Phish reunited for a series of shows in 2009, and since then, Gordon has split his time between the band and his solo career.

His latest album veers away from the “complex weirdness” of previous solo efforts and has more of a bubbling rock feel, making it a bit more accessible.

“I go for the quirky a lot of the time, whatever that means, but some of this album really rocks pretty hard in my opinion,” Gordon said in a March 1 interview with The Marquee magazine.

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