Orpheum Theatre

The remarkable metamorphosis of Johnny Cougar, whose derivative meanderings were the sound of a brash youngster thrashing away in his own raw talent, into John Mellencamp, American heartland roots rocker highly respected for his artistic integrity, remains one of the most extraordinary transformations in popular music history. The string of forgettable material issued under the Cougar moniker was finally broken with "Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane" in the early '80s, signaling the emergence of Mellencamp as a perceptive chronicler of human struggles and real life in all those small towns he helped put back on the map. At the same time he established his band as one of the tightest, hardest working ensembles in the biz, and became an outspoken advocate for family farmers. Mellencamp's latest, No Better Than This, is a welcome surprise: 13 new songs recorded with a single microphone in warm mono sound by producer T Bone Burnett in a variety of historic locations—Memphis's Sun Studio, the San Antonio hotel room where Robert Johnson once recorded. Most of the songs are reflective, but more significantly they all seem to inhabit that heady era when country, blues, folk, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll were still kissin' cousins and invigorating one another. A short film will open the show: It's About You, which documents the recording of No Better and Mellencamp's simultaneous ballpark tour with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. Paintings by Mellencamp will also be displayed in the theater's lobby. All ages. $43-$125. 6:30 p.m. 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.339.7007. Also Tuesday —Rick Mason

TUESDAY 11.23

Grinderman

First Avenue

The humor and grit that Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey, and Jim Sclavunos have duct-taped Grinderman together from is an anguished, low-down testament to (and break from) the 30-odd years they've spent crafting baroque and poetic caterwauls with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the mercurial collective that they've more or less maintained since 1984. Whenever Grinderman is brought up, Nick Cave understandably takes center stage, a magnetic, dark, and finely tailored man of mystery...who could barely play the guitar he strapped on when Grinderman began. So while Cave may provide the ambiance and verve, the bulk of their sonic weight is the product of Warren Ellis's multi-instrumental meanderings, which work like a katana jammed into an electrical outlet (in interviews he's also at least as charming as Cave). Live, they seem like apparitions from the future, spreading word of the danger in safety and the power of not giving a fuck. November 23. 18+. $25. 7 p.m. First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. Andrew Flanagan

Loudon Wainwright III

Hopkins Center for the Arts

Gleefully enduring dozens of self-inflicted wounds over the years courtesy of his rapier wit, withering cynicism, and apparent willingness to air out the worst of his many foibles if that will yield a clever lyric (as well as mercilessly skewering plenty of others, incidentally), Loudon Wainwright suddenly turned scholar and won a Grammy earlier this year. His epic High Wide & Handsome project about roguish old-time country singer, songwriter, and banjo picker Charlie Poole still had sufficient autobiographical implications to keep a team of Wainwright therapists busy for years. So naturally he abruptly switched gears and recorded 10 Songs for the New Depression (on his own Cummerbund label), this time reflecting in his own inimitable fashion on the woeful economy created by the pathetic clowns just swept back into office on the doubtful premise that they'll fix it. Although songs like "Times Is Hard" and "The Panic Is On," along with his spare delivery, certainly still capture the tenor of the times, there's a rare (for Loudon, anyway) glimmer of optimism that now seems dated in light of the Election Day debacle. In, for instance, "On to Victory, Mr. Roosevelt," a vintage song written in support of FDR's efforts to combat the Great Depression, Loudon added the line, "Mr. Obama, we're back of you 300 million strong," apparently not having anticipated Republican perniciousness or the irrational toxins of the Tea Party. Perhaps most telling is the rollicking little rag "Cash for Clunkers," which concludes: "It's hard to wrap your head around that health care coverage thing, but Cash for Clunkers you can kind of understand," stupidity and greed again winning the day, but providing lots of new fodder for Wainwright's acidic humor. $26. 6 p.m. 1111 Main St., Hopkins; 952.979.1100. —Rick Mason

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