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Jackson wows The Pabst with new old tunes

Usually when a performer proclaims that a particular audience or city is his favorite, it is a comment that should be taken with a grain of salt. With that in mind, during his Saturday night show at The Pabst, Joe Jackson said that Milwaukee was his favorite city in the United States, but his sincerity was easily apparent.

In front of a respectful and appreciative audience, Jackson balanced out his performance by drifting back and forth between his well-established catalog and selections from his latest effort, "The Duke."

Jackson, not unlike David Byrne (who appeared at the same venue just a couple weeks ago), has a very diverse interest in music that has led him to some very unique projects. His recent release is his reinterpretation of a number of Duke Ellington songs. As Jackson explained, when he was younger and first heard Ellington's music, he wrongly thought of it as "scratchy old crap." Once his listening skills matured, he realized how revolutionary it was.

It can be a gamble to focus so much of a concert on a new album that has such a bold concept, but The Pabst audience was completely on board. The performance was greatly aided by "The Bigger Band," Jackson's six-member accompanying band. Violinist Regina Carter and keyboardist/vocalist Allison Cornell attracted the most attention out of this phenomenal band. Cornell's beautiful voice matched Jackson's perfectly, but she really stood out when she was the only vocalist and sang in both Farsi and Portuguese.

The biggest reaction Jackson received was toward the end of his initial set, when he transitioned out of Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and in-played his original songs "Target," which then blended into "Steppin' Out." The latter is one of those songs almost everyone has heard at some point, but didn't know the name of. By the conclusion of "Steppin' Out," Jackson and company departed to a standing ovation.

After only a few seconds, one of the members of …


Randy Newman's "I'm Dreaming of a White President" stirs the political pot

There are songwriters and there's Randy Newman.

He practices a craft that may have died with the Gershwins, if it ever existed at all. No one in the world of pop is quite like him – first-rate composition skills like Bacharach, but more like Stephen Foster in melody and harmony. His songs are throwbacks and often cover topics that could generously be described as less than current, if you stretch that to mean 100 years less than current.

He also indulges in a dying art: satire.

There will always be a portion of population that confuses him with the vile little men he portrays in his songs. By channeling the foul and untrustworthy narrators whose stories he spells out in laughably dark lyrics he is doing the opposite of career-building, he's stirring a hornet's nest while ceding popularity to the bland and auto-tuned denizens of the top 40. I'd like to think that in 50 or 100 years he will be remembered, but who knows?

On those rare occasions when Old Ran focuses on real-time events it is an event of the first magnitude. A while back his brilliant song, "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," was the darkest, funniest and truest summation of all things Bush, Cheney and neo-con. Treat yourself, it is so far beyond description I won't even try.

Well, after five years of hibernation, he is out and about with a vicious take on the presidential race. To see this on the day we learned of Romney's gaffiest gaffe, the one involving 47 percent of the country being freeloaders and non-taxpaying mooches, was certainly good timing. And the way it addresses what I believe to be the subtext and dirty little secret of the Tea Party – their fear of a black nation and hope that hysterical seniors and right-wing crazies will join in their search for the new great white hope – is hilarious and spot-on.

The title is a parody of "White Christmas," and his roll call of sterling members of that most exclusive men's club, the presidency, told from a cas…


Off The Wall delivers with "A Man Like Hong Kong"

For the few of you who may not know, Dale Gutzman has long been a major fixture on the Milwaukee theater scene. Once head of the now-defunct Milwaukee Players, he is a local jack-of-all-trades – acting, singing, dancing, teaching and whatever else is required for his productions and his livelihood.

His latest group, the relatively new Off The Wall Theatre in downtown Milwaukee, is courageously opening their 14th season with a previously unseen and untested new work, "A Man Like Hong Kong." Dale does not appear in it, but he introduced, wrote and directed it.

Even when presenting more conventional shows such as established musicals and dramatic classics, Off The Wall can always be depended upon to put their own unique spin on their material, and in this case, we have an intriguing, offbeat and self-contained espionage tale. This company aims to be eclectic, as well as entertaining, insightful, provocative and even controversial.

David Roper has the complex, crucial central role of Alistair Caruthers, a British agent living in modern-day Hong Kong. He sympathetically conveys a man in turmoil and despair, suddenly forced to tap on previously unused resources in order to survive. He also has the best British accent in the cast, perhaps aided by the fact that he is genuinely British! Anyway, Blake, his heartless "superior" (Rick Anderson), wants him to choose his own method of suicide because their somewhat shady, mysterious organization is uncomfortable with a nasty act from Alistair's past, when he taught school in London over 30 years ago.

He has since been married to a loving but perplexed woman, Flo (Marilyn White), and they have been living a fairly happy, comfortable yet somewhat distant life together for 25 years. Flo has grown attached to the vitality of Hong Kong and is reluctant to be uprooted back to staid old England, as has been suggested. Alistair cannot tell her the whole story, at least not yet, as she thinks he h…


Upright Citizen's Brigade gets the laughs started at the Marcus Center

The touring company of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade performed the first of their four scheduled improvised comedy shows in Milwaukee at the Todd Wehr Theater early Friday evening.

The Upright Citizen’s Brigade (aka UCB) performs long-form improv, which is more scene-based, as opposed to short-form, which revolves around games. While shortform improv such as ComedySportz or "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" appeals to a broader audience, long-form is considered more of an art and spends more time developing scenes and characters.  The four-person cast of the touring company consisted of John Frusciante, Jon Gabrus, Brandon Gardner and Zack Willis.

The show began with the four just taking the pulse of Milwaukee and learning from the crowd what the big topics around town were.  Items such as the President’s visit and the Wisconsin Avenue bridge party were discussed.  They then asked for a volunteer from the crowd to interview and ended up speaking with a visiting sportswriter from Chicago.  Through this interview, the performers and the audience learned about Chris’s job, his hobbies and about a recent date he went on at the Pasta Tree on Farwell.  These nuggets of information were then incorporated as the inspiration to a forty-five minute improvised set.

The highlight of this first set was an extended riff that the quartet did revolving around the existence of an actual pasta tree.  What began as a pair of people eating from a tree that grew pasta (including meatballs) led to an epic biblical parody.  The red sea of Marinara was parted and the Pasta Tree informed a Noah-like figure to build a giant pasta bowl and fill it with two of each kind of pasta.  This all led to a scene set in modern day as a couple struggled with their wedding planning since one person was an atheist and their partner grew up as a traditional Pasta Tree believer.

After a ten minute intermission, the UCB returned and requested a single word for the inspiration of their next s…