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Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band win over The Pabst

There have been many actors who have tried to double as musicians: Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, Jared Leto and even Jim Belushi are among those who have tried this form of moonlighting.

It is a bit of a dicey proposition, to attempt to parlay one's success in one area of entertainment into an entirely different realm. Fortunately, Hugh Laurie's show with the Copper Bottom Band at The Pabst Theater Sunday night showcased the actor's legitimate talent as a blues musician and his awareness of the risk he's taking with this venture.

Laurie opened the performance with a welcome of "Good evening, Milwaukee," and then explained how he never thought in his wildest dreams that he'd be saying those three words. He then addressed the elephant in the room ‚Äď that the former "House" star is best known as an actor who, because of that notoriety, is getting his shot at being a musician.

Knowing that there was likely some anxiety in the crowd, Laurie made it clear that everyone was in good hands thanks to the Copper Bottom Band that joined him on stage. Laurie said that if he wasn't able to hold up his own end of the bargain, his bandmates would certainly make up for any mistakes.

With that disclaimer, Laurie and the six-member band launched into a cover of Willie Dixon's "Mellow Down Easy." Immediately, any of the supposed apprehension by the Pabst crowd was gone. There seemed to be a good split in the crowd between those who had an appreciation for the blues and those who were there because they are fans of Hugh Laurie as an actor. For many in the latter category, this opening song provided a great deal of amusement at seeing Laurie play the piano.

With the entire crowd won over so early, Laurie basically had free reign to do whatever he wanted in the evening. Laurie carries a natural charm and elicited big laughs from the crowd by doing little things such as adjusting his coat since he'd accidentally sat on its tails while playing the piano. Laurie also showed some …


Ragani, Ritchie fulfill the promise of a sincere and heartfelt tribute

Brian Ritchie and Ragani came together at Shank Hall Sunday night for a benefit-tribute concert for the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, commemorating those lost in the senseless act of violence that took place there last week.

The vibe of this well attended event was peaceful, and the audience embraced the music, seemingly uplifted by the profound spirituality they shared.

Ragani opened the show with sacred mantras of India featuring her heavenly vocals, accompanied by traditional world instrumentation. Her performance conjured the landmark 1971 The Concert for Bangladesh, yet sharing a modern New Age quality with Enya's or Sarah McLachlan's early works.

Ragani's performance had a quieting, nearly religious, ascendance. I was so transfixed by the music I lost track of my surroundings.

Next Brian Ritchie, his son Silas, John Sparrow, Dave Gelting and Michael Kashou took the stage. Ritchie's musical voice has become the wooden flute.

The music was improvised and mixed hip bebop style jazz and Ritchie's beat-boxing style on the flute.

Ritchie lead his band through an improv of the Fred McDowell and Rev. Gary Davis Mississippi blues song "You Gotta Move" (the best-known version is by the Rolling Stones). Ritchie put his own distinct imprint on this classic.

They continued by jamming on Sun Ra, completing the set with pure improvisation, fulfilling the promise of a sincere and heartfelt tribute.

James Vincent McMorrow performing at Turner Hall Ballroom Tuesday night.
James Vincent McMorrow performing at Turner Hall Ballroom Tuesday night. (Photo: Erik Ljung)

McMorrow paints layered sound

James McMorrow took to the stage at Turner Hall Tuesday night and blew me away with his perfect tenor pitch. McMorrow, with the help of his tight and incredibly talented backing band, put on a memorable show that included nearly every song from his recent album, "Early in the Morning," as well as a couple of well-done covers.

McMorrow's songs brilliantly build layer upon layer of sound from subdued melodies that crash into vibrant crecendos.

As the songs raged into manic waves, it was refreshing to see a performer in the Indie Folk genre with so much energy and passion on stage. His swaying and jumping showed his audience how genuinely glad he was to be here.

His sound is reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens or Bon Iver meets Mumford and Sons. McMorrow's signature has to be in his painting of vibrant soundscapes.

Comparing his music to that of an artist, he begins with subtle, soft strokes, and builds to powerful stabs of the brush. McMorrow says, "I like to take the simplest of chords and wrap them in washes of melody."

Continuing to punctuate of his music, his set went from powerful songs like 'Sparrow and the Wolf" to the more elegant and moody "If I Had a Boat" and "Follow You Down To The Red Oak Tree."

It was a treat to see this Irishman bring his soulful visions to the stage. The vibrant and melodic nature of his sounds will stay with me for some time.

The Beloit Snappers are in desperate need of better digs.
The Beloit Snappers are in desperate need of better digs.

Beloit Snappers' stadium seems very minor compared to the rest

One of the best additions to our annual baseball trip has been the inclusion of minor league stops. They might not have the fancy bells and whistles of a major league team, but they play baseball just as well, and the stadiums are often filled with personality, both on the walls and in the stands.

For instance, at Appalachian Power Park, the home of the West Virginia Power, an extraordinarily excitable fan would bring a toaster into the stadium and fling fresh toast into the crowd after every opponent's strikeout. The major leagues can't come anywhere close to that kind of inspired lunacy.

Unfortunately, our cross-country travels have only solidified a sad fact about one of Wisconsin's own minor league teams, the Beloit Snappers. They have one of the worst stadiums in the minor league system.

Now, we haven't seen every single stadium and field in the MiLB, but it's becoming increasingly apparent that their home, Pohlman Field, is tragically outdated and is in desperate need of a remodeling, at the minimum.

That's not to say a Beloit Snappers game isn't a ton of fun. The Single-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins play solid baseball and have a few players who could easily make their way into the show in a few years. Their current third baseman, Miguel Sano, was listed as the Twins' best prospect by Baseball America.

The crew at Pohlman Field tries their best to make up for the lackluster setting as well, especially Snappy, their lovable mascot.

The underwhelming stadium, however, is a lot to overcome. The concourses look old and often empty, and the uncomfortable metal seating is more reminiscent of a high school field than a major league affiliate. Even the field's placement, tucked into Telfer Park amidst a hockey rink and skateboard park, makes it feel more cheap than quaintly small town.

Even before my dad and I started our baseball trips, we thought Pohlman Field was a bit rusty. However, now that we've seen more minor le…