Critics' Picks: Skream & Benga, Black Milk, and more

Critics' Picks: Skream & Benga, Black Milk, and more
Image by Leif Podhajsky/Original band photo by David Belisle
Step into the Shabazz Palaces realm

Shabazz Palaces

Whole Music Club, Tuesday 4.03

It's one thing to file Ishmael Butler alongside Kool Keith (a.k.a. Dr. Octagon) and Zev Love X (a.k.a. MF Doom) in the list of second-act hip-hop success stories who found new fame—and new audiences—under a revamped identity. But telling anyone peeling the cellophane off their just-bought copy of Blowout Comb in 1994 that the MC once known as Butterfly would go on to helm a group of Shabazz Palaces' caliber? That wouldn't be that much of a shock—even if you did throw in the fact that they're signed to Sub Pop. The suede-dagger flow and undercurrents of militant pride that informed his lyrics on classic Digable Planets cuts like "Black Ego" and "Rebirth of Slick" carry through to the finest moments of 2010's Black Up—only now, they're divorced from expectations, convention, and traditional structure, earning comparisons to the free-jazz vanguard of the early '60s. Simultaneously imposing and liberating, it's a sound and an ethos that pulls every avant-garde tendency of underground hip hop into focus just long enough to point out where it's darting away from. Instantly accessible it isn't, but Shabazz Palaces' modus operandi never loses sight of how much humanity and empathy exists inside the impulse to push those limits. 18+, $6-$12, 8 p.m. 300 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 612.626.7008.Nate Patrin

Ben Kweller

Image by Leif Podhajsky/Original band photo by David Belisle

Fine Line Music Cafe, Wednesday 3.28

All child prodigies grow up and most burn out, with only the lucky few maturing into capable adult talents that make it over the long haul. At age 30, Ben Kweller is now more than 14 years removed from the dizzying major label bidding war and late-night talk show performances that greeted his teenage band Radish; but the father of two still sounds like a fired-up and frustrated adolescent on his just-released sixth solo album, Go Fly A Kite. That's not meant to be taken as a diss. Kweller's always been at his best when filtering Weezer's adenoidal fury through a classic singer/songwriter lens, and after a brief awkward detour into traditional country and western on 2009's Changing Horses, he's back at the task with renewed fervor. Sure he's not exactly showing off any range, just plenty of mid-tempo power-pop gems broken up by the occasional loping power ballad, but as usual Kweller more than makes up in catchy melodicism whatever he lacks in innovation. With the Dig and Sleeper Agent, 18+, $18-$20, 7:30 p.m., 318 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.338.8100. —Rob Van Alstyne

Black Milk

7th Street Entry, Wednesday 3.28

It's been common for critics to refer to Curtis Cross as an heir apparent to J Dilla, the most recognizable precedent for Detroit producer/MCs with an ear for low-end, sample-chopping alchemy. It doesn't hurt that Black Milk reps Motor City's sense of civic pride so faithfully that acknowledging the influence of Dilla and his group Slum Village is a given. But he's never been content to simply pay homage to influences; he builds on them, as revealed in the mutation from the golden age classicism of 2007's Popular Demand to the funk-gone-digital thump of 2008's Tronic to the psychedelic soul of 2010's Album of the Year. It's this kind of adventurousness that built him up to the point last year where he could do his thing with manic genius spitter Danny Brown (Black and Brown), then head over to Third Man and record live-band sessions with Jack White ("Brain"). He respects his precedents, but Black Milk knows how to do his own thing—and it turns out his own thing is anything. With the Tribe and Big Cats, J. Pinder and A.Dd+. 18+, $12-$15, 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Nate Patrin

Bowerbirds

Cedar Cultural Center, Saturday 3.31

North Carolina trio Bowerbirds began life as an austere roots-music trio that rarely implemented more than three instruments—acoustic guitar, accordion, a marching-band style bass drum—to get their melodic point across. Now six years into their evolution, Bowerbirds spread their wings wide and soar to new orchestral heights on The Clearing, their third album. Recorded primarily at Bon Iver's April Base studio in Eau Claire, the album finds Bowerbirds' once simple, homespun folk balladry dressed to the nines, fleshed out with the likes of trombone, violin, cello, vibraphone, clarinet, and organ. The newly super-sized sound works in part because group frontman Phil Moore sings with increased zeal, his always pleasant but previously restrained tenor belting out with newfound flair. Longtime fans needn't worry about a similar sea change lyrically, as Moore is still obsessed with chronicling environmental decay and contemplating mortality. The end result is a set of surprisingly airy and joyful-sounding songs on highly weighty and downbeat subject matter. With Dry the River. All ages, $14, 7 p.m., 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Rob Van Alstyne

Fanfarlo

Varsity Theater, Friday 3.31

London-based quintet Fanfarlo have always left themselves open to charges of pretentiousness. It's an unfortunate side effect of naming your band after a Baudelaire novella and breaking up high-profile New York City concerts with appearances by straitjacket-escaping performance artists. Their well-received 2009 debut, Reservoir, married the band's high-minded artistry to the expected orchestral-rock bells and whistles—greetings, musical saw!—taking their career to the verge of mainstream recognition (a.k.a. landing a spot on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack). Their long-in-the-making sophomore album, Rooms Filled With Light, is a far more interesting beast. Largely ditching its predecessor's over-reliance on swooning strings, Rooms is a wilder affair, focusing on twitchy rhythms and buoyant blasts of saxophone while still featuring plenty of anthemic choruses. With Gardens & Villa. 18+, $15, 7 p.m., 1308 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis; 612.644.0222. —Rob Van Alstyne

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