Critics' Picks: KT Tunstall and more

WEDNESDAY 5.14

KT Tunstall

State Theatre

KT Tunstall's local appearance is part of what's being touted as the Scottish singer-songwriter's first full-blown tour of the States. It'll be an unplugged affair, featuring acoustic guitar, mandolin, harmonium, and double bass, confounding—maybe drastically—any expectations that she was about to climb aboard the glitzy star-making machinery. On the cover of last fall's Drastic Fantastic (Relentless/Virgin) she's wielding a spangly guitar and wearing white go-go boots, while several songs inside—especially the dancehall-inspired "Hold On"—sport glistening hooks so tantalizing they'd be a good bet to lure even Nessie out of her loch. But the key to Drastic's allure and a true measure of Tunstall as a savvy artist is how craftily she entwined folk-rock gambols, rootsy tendrils, pungent pop permutations, and a piquant sense that it's all both fun and meaningful. The songs are also peppered with terrific details, ranging from the energetic handclaps of "Hold On" to stray bits of glockenspiel and ukulele, and the darkly intriguing nuances of her voice on the enigmatic "Beauty of Uncertainty." With Irish singer-songwriter Paddy Casey, a former Dublin busker with a penchant for mixing folk and R&B into a pop context. $32.50. 6:30 p.m. 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.339.7007. —Rick Mason

Helio Sequence

KT Tunstall prepares to unplug
KT Tunstall prepares to unplug

7th St. Entry

Think shimmering landscapes of sampled electronic drips and loops. Then add layers of keyboard or fuzzy guitars and a mellow, occasional vocal track, and you have arrived at the Helio Sequence. Their songs seem iridescent—practically materializing before your eyes like so many iTunes visualizer fractals and swirls. Helio Sequence have been at it for a while (producing their first record in 1999) and their experience, not to mention dedication, shows. They're touring in support of their latest release, Keep Your Eyes Ahead, which has already garnered praise. Their seemingly innumerable keyboards create complex walls of sound for an overall mix that brings out the best in lap-pop and synth-pop. While some artists start with the vocals, Helio Sequence start with meandering melodies and weave in more parts until it equals a whole that is supplemented, but not overpowered, by Brandon Summers's serene vocals. With Grey Skies and Sika. 21+. $10. 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Desiree Weber

THURSDAY 5.15

Pretty Boy Thorson and the Falling Angels

Hexagon Bar

Punks and outlaw country pickers share a knack for concealed vulnerability. Within the testosterone hangover that marks both genres lurk oozing soft spots, cuts and scrapes that, perhaps because of the fury of the music, refuse to scab over. To anyone even distantly aware of the Twin Cities punk community, Pretty Boy Thorson and the Falling Angels have been a tireless, dynamic staple; they've spent years making a basement cocktail of Merle Haggard's beer cans and Mike Saunders's Adderall prescription. With upright bass and a lead guitarist who can hammer out a four-cylinder rockabilly solo without losing an ash of his cigarette, the band's live shows almost keep you sweaty enough to overlook the often wry but always sincere confessions at work in Jesse Thorson's songwriting. Throw in whispers that the spring tour kicking off tonight at the Hexagon might be their last, and you're fresh out of excuses. With Cortez the Killer, the Framed, and Off with Their Heads. 21+. Free. 9 p.m. 2600 27th Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.722.3454. —David Hansen

FRIDAY 5.16

Rock for Pussy

First Avenue

The time has come again for cat people and rock 'n' rollers to unite as the city's local music luminaries pay tribute to the timelessly influential David Bowie while benefiting the Minnesota Valley Humane Society's cat shelter. In its fifth year, Rock for Pussy is once again hosted by beloved radio personality Mary Lucia and has easily cemented its status as a hometown tradition. Among the musicians slated to play are Laurie Lindeen, Jeremy Messersmith, Chris Pericelli of Little Man, and Venus, all performing with the evening's house band, Kitty Stardust, that includes John Eller and Noah Levy. They all dive lovingly into the catalog of Mr. David Jones's many incarnations, and it yields a luminous, over-the-top sonic experience, complete with all the classics and the cherished deep cuts. The sheer musicianship and general fanaticism comes through for an unforgettable experience. And besides, who wants precious, orphaned kitties to suffer? Have a heart. 18+. $6. 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Jen Paulson

El-P

Triple Rock Social Club

If you haven't prepared, do so now. El-P headlines a show of indie hip hop that's sure to assault your ears and your sensibilities. Brooklyn-based El-P doesn't relent on much of anything, and the punch he packs is sure to wallop you back to the days when you were just as passionate (read: pissed off) as he still is. Whether it's getting into rap feuds or dropping one of the most critically acclaimed underground rap albums of 2007 (I'll Sleep When You're Dead), El-P spits rhymes like there's no tomorrow. And at base, that's really what it's all about. In a more-than-opener role, Dizzee Rascal brings his brand of off-beat rapid-speed grime in support of his new record, just released on El-P's Definitive Jux label, titled Maths + English. Are you ready? With Busdriver. 21+. $20. 9 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7499. —Desiree Weber

Vampire Hands

Stasiu's Place

In the last six months, Vampire Hands have done more touring than a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit, and they have the nicks and scrapes to show for it. Banged up but exhilarated by their most recent coast-to-coast sojourn (vocalist Colin Johnson broke his pinky toe on the last show of the tour), expect the Teutonic psych-out faves to be hitting their spots with the kind of haughty flourishes that only a month on the road can develop. With their new full-length Me and You Cherry Red glowing like a Chernobyl sunset, your chances to see these luminaries in a venue of Stasiu's size may start getting fewer and farther between. The fact that Call Me Lightning, Wisconsin's own punk-party acid trip, share the bill means that some pretty vestigial lobes of the old gray matter will be getting a decent workout tonight, no matter how much Old Style you douse yourself with. With Landing Gear and the Nice Outfit. 21+. $5. 9 p.m. 2500 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612.788.2529. —David Hansen

SATURDAY 5.17

England Swings VII

Triple Rock Social Club

Anglophiles unite! The brainchild of longtime local musician Raven (a.k.a. the Duke of Dark) and emceed this year by HowWasTheShow.com kingpin David de Young, England Swings has grown from a curiosity into one of the most sought-after tickets of the year. Local (and some out-of-town) bands take the stage to perform a selection of their favorite songs by Brit-born musicians. The choices are always interesting and sometimes outright awe-inspiring (the Alarmists doing Bowie and cementing their reputation as hot-shit badasses last year, anyone?). This year Aviette, Coyotes, So It Goes, Maudlin, and several others will be covering their chosen Brit-pop, Brit-rock, and if we're lucky, maybe some grime or 2-step as well. This year's "who's covering who" seems to be shrouded in a bit of mystery—which only adds allure to the night. Stuff a cockney dictionary in your pocket next to a hip flask full of gin, pick a favorite football team, remember that the Sex Pistols started punk (not the Ramones), and you'll be well on your way to having a grand old time with your bird or chap. 21+. $7. 7 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7499. —Pat O'Brien

TUESDAY 5.20

Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers

Cedar Cultural Center

From Mofro to the Drive By Truckers, Southern Culture on the Skids and these Shack*Shakers, there's a trend for bands from south of the Mason-Dixon to celebrate the region's genuine, often inherently bizarre customs and traditions, now endangered by urbanization and the so-called sophistication of the New South. Virtually all drip with moss-covered irony and varying degrees of defiance, pride, or self-parody. Or all three in the case of chief Shaker "Col." J.D. Wilkes, who, armed with a studio arts degree, produces comics strongly influenced by Zap! classics and writes equally cartoonish, fractured Southern gothic fairy tales for his band. Like some Pappy Yocum gone intellectual, Wilkes exults in the absurdity of it all, as he and his fellow Shakers careen through a dicey Dixie maelstrom of raging rockabilly, swamp-gas blues, grizzly gospel, blasphemous bluegrass, felonious folk, and preposterous punk. Wilkes has also ventured into filmmaking—preceding the Shakers' performance will be a showing of his hour-long Seven Signs, a documentary-style attempt, according to his website, "to prove that the older, stranger South still exists in all of its eerie, time-worn, & gothic glory." $12/$15 at the door. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rick Mason

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