Chicago / Milwaukee Concert Preview
March 1-8, 2011
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2011, Volume 18, #3
Written by John Metzger
Tue March 1, 2011, 06:30 AM CST
3/2-3 - Merle Haggard / Kris Kristofferson - Northern Lights Theater - Milwaukee - 8:00 p
After cancer threatened to fell him, Merle Haggard toned down his tour schedule slightly so that he could spend more time with his wife and sons. Nevertheless, he still hits the road more frequently than most performers his age. Likewise, his band is always on call just in case he decides at the last minute to begin working on a new album. Issued last year, his latest set I Am What I Am was a striking return to his classic country roots, albeit with many of the twists and turns that often have powered his arrangements left intact. Even at the age of 73, Haggard maintains a captivating stage presence, though the big complaint about his concerts is that they often are ridiculously concise. Regardless, Haggard typically delivers a healthy dose of his best-known songs with a youthful swagger that sends most fans home in a good mood. Haggard, along with Kris Kristofferson, will perform at Milwaukee’s Northern Lights Theater on March 2 and 3.
3/4 - Iron and Wine - Riviera Theatre - Chicago - 7:30 p
Sam Beam, who records under the moniker of Iron and Wine, loves to keep his fans on their toes. Over the course of three full-length albums, he has bathed his spiritual visions in a hazy, Americana-imbued glow, thrilling the indie-folk crowd with his penchant for resisting tried-and-true formulas. His latest set Kiss Each Other Clean continues this trend, though not necessarily in the fashion that most indie kids will relish. After joining the major-label system, Beam’s Iron and Wine has broadened its palette with world rhythms and jazzy textures. At the same time, though, the endeavor marks a definitive turn toward a more mainstream-minded approach. Only those who are paying particularly close attention to the arrangements are likely to notice Beam’s rebelliousness still percolating beneath the surface of the material. In concert, Iron and Wine is likely to scuff up its tunes, which makes its upcoming show at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre on March 4 a proving ground of sorts for Kiss Each Other Clean. It might be the band’s best chance to sell the affair to its devoted legions.
3/4 - Rodney Crowell - Turner Hall Ballroom - Milwaukee - 8:00 p
3/6 - Rodney Crowell - Old Town School - Chicago - 7:00 p
In the 39 years that have passed since he moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a professional musician, Rodney Crowell has accumulated a lot of stories. He was pals with Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He performed in Emmylou Harris’ sterling backing band. He married Rosanne Cash, and he penned songs that became huge hits for Crystal Gayle (Till I Gain Control Again), Bob Seger (Shame on the Moon), and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Long Hard Road). He also assembled a number of terrific endeavors of his own, including Diamonds & Dirt, The Houston Kid, and Fate’s Right Hand. It is surprising, then, that it took him this long to pen his autobiography (Chinaberry Sidewalks). With this in mind, his latest tour promises to be a unique experience. When he visits Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom on March 4 and Chicago’s Old Town School on March 6, Crowell will interweave stories from the book with material from his vast repertoire. Anyone who has followed his work won’t want to miss these deeply personal shows.
3/5 - George Strait - Allstate Arena - Rosemont - 7:00 p
George Strait has an enviable track record, but the cracks in his foundation are beginning to show. With each passing album, regardless of how well they have sold, he has adhered to a rather strict formula, so much so that the outings and songs are utterly interchangeable. To shake up his routine, Strait made a few alterations to his approach while crafting his 2008 effort Troubadour. Rather than widening the authenticity of his country roots, however, he instead shifted his songs toward the generic pop-oriented material that the Nashville machine frustratingly chooses to emphasize. On his subsequent offering Twang, however, Strait appeared to regain his footing, largely by returning to his roots. When he performs at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena on March 5, Strait will share the stage with Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack, a line-up that proved to be country music’s biggest draw last year.
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