Music roundup for May 29-June 4, 2014

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rising Appalachia at 9 p.m. Thursday, May 29, Majestic Theatre, 115 King St., Madison. Tickets: $12-$15. Call 608-255-0901.

Sisters Leah and Chloe Smith established Rising Appalachia in 2005 after recording a collection of songs one night in a friend’s basement studio.

The album was meant as a gift for family and friends, but it received so much attention that the sisters decided to form a band around the recording, which they titled “Leah and Chloe.”

They’ve gone on to independently record and release four more albums, featuring their wide-ranging interpretation of Appalachian music. It’s an amalgamation of folk, soul, hip-hop, classical, Southern gospel and other styles. They’ve traveled the world performing, learning new styles of music and discovering uncommon instruments.

The sisters grew up in an artistic family near Atlanta. Their father is a sculptor and painter, while their mother is a jazz pianist and Appalachian-style fiddler.

Leah and Chloe are multi-instrumentalists and sing in close vocal harmonies. They include half a dozen friends who come and go in their band.

Leah, who also performs independently as Leah Song, plays banjo, kalimba, fiddle, bodhran and various other percussion instruments. Chloe also plays fiddle, banjo, kalimba and percussion.

The sisters have set up a supporting project, The RISE Collective, which is a crew of performance artists that travels to music festivals, rallies and street parties. With Rising Appalachia, the collective helps support many of the Smith sisters’ projects uniting the arts and justice.

The Smiths view their art as a source of political activism and cultural development.

Conor Oberst at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 31, The Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Dawes also performs. Tickets: $27.50. Call 414-286-3663.

Like the Smith sisters, Conor Oberst’s musical career began in a basement recording studio—with his father’s four-track cassette recorder and an acoustic guitar.

In mid-1993, Oberst self-released his debut album, “Water,” on cassette tape. The release was financed by his brother Justin on what they called Lumberjack Records, the indie label that would become Saddle Creek Records.

In 1994, Oberst and three friends formed a band called Norman Bailer, later known as The Faint. He also created the rock band Commander Venus the same year. That band recorded two albums—“Do You Feel at Home?” (1995) and “The Uneventful Vacation” (1997)—before dissolving.

Oberst originally founded the group Bright Eyes as a solo project in 1995. Its second release, “Letting Off the Happiness,” featured members of several bands and was recorded in the Oberst family basement.

One year later, Bright Eyes released its first EP, “Every Day and Every Night.”

Bright Eyes’ third album, “Fevers and Mirrors,” was released in May 2000 and climbed to 170 on Pitchfork Media’s list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s. The band has released nine albums and continues to perform sporadically—that is, when Oberst isn’t working solo or with other groups.

The Monkees at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 1, The Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets: $49.50-$65.50. Call 414-286-3663.

The Monkees had their heyday in the second half of the 1960s, and despite the death of singer Davy Jones in 2012, the group has continued to perform reunion tours and as a nostalgia act.

Members of the Monkees initially were hand-picked—based on their appeal to young people—as American television’s response to the Beatles. The band is considered the precursor to the modern studio- and corporation-created bands.

But that critical reputation has softened somewhat with the recognition that the Monkees were neither the first manufactured group nor unusual in this respect. The Monkees also frequently contributed their own songwriting on their albums and saw their musical skills improve. They ultimately became a self-directed group, playing their own instruments and writing many of their own songs.

The group’s popularity faded after 1970, and original member Michael Nesmith quit the band to work as a solo musician and record producer in Hollywood. The band continued touring as a nostalgia act and occasionally attempted comebacks.

The group’s 45th anniversary tour would be the last with Jones, who died of a heart attack Feb. 29, 2012. Soon after, rumors began to circulate that Nesmith would reunite with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork.

In August 2012, the surviving trio announced a series of U.S. shows for November and December. The brief tour marked the first time Nesmith had performed with the Monkees since 1997—and the first time without Jones.

Jones’ memory was honored throughout the shows via recordings and video. For Jones’ signature song, “Daydream Believer,” Dolenz said the band had discussed who should sing the song and concluded that it should be the fans.

The fall 2012 tour was well received by fans and critics, resulting in the band scheduling a 24-date summer tour for 2013. Dubbed “A Midsummer’s Night With the Monkees,” concerts featured Nesmith, Dolenz and Tork, who described audience reactions as “euphoric.”

In 2014, the Monkees were inducted into the Pop Music Hall of Fame at the Monkees Convention.

Vampire Weekend at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 4, The Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets: $40. Call 414-286-3663.

Formed in 2006, Vampire Weekend is a rock band from New York City that has released three studio albums. The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig, guitarist/keyboardist and backing vocalist Rostam Batmanglij, drummer and percussionist Chris Tomson, and bassist and backing vocalist Chris Baio.

The band released its debut self-titled album in 2008. It peaked at No. 15 in the United Kingdom and No. 17 on the Billboard 200.

The band released a second album, “Contra,” in January 2010. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and prompted the group’s appearance on “MTV Unplugged.”

The band’s latest album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” was released in May 2013 and also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart—the first time an indie band had accomplished that feat for two consecutive albums.

“Modern Vampires of the City” won a Grammy Award this year for best alternative music album.

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