Critics' Picks: Cloud Cult and More...
Exhilarating in an opulently ethereal, Steve Vai sort of way, Surrey, England, import Newton Faulkner brings a neurosurgeon's exactness to the guitar neck, nimbly picking and plucking elaborate harmonics from nylon strings and plugging them right into the fibrillating heart of coffee-shop pop standards. The effect is often like mashing a three-pronged plug into a two-pronged outlet, but it's a sound that has earned him a privileged spot among mindtrippers and tablature scholars around the world. With his head of nitty ginger dreadlocks and an oh-so-serious assortment of climactic performance faces, Faulkner has the kind of image that just begs a YouTube lampoon. But his music is dazzlingly accomplished, benevolent, and as hypnotic as incense smoke, and it is sure to keep your jaw dropping long after your latte has cooled. With Jessie Baylin. 18+. $10. 8 p.m. 1308 Fourth St SE, Minneapolis; 612.604.0222. —David Hansen
The New Congress
The New Congress are in a league of their own with their combination of funk, rock, jazz, and baby-making music. As this six-piece, complete with two new backup singers, prepares to go into the studio to put the finishing touches on their follow-up to 2006's Everybody Gets Up, they continue to hold down a steady gig as the Thursday-night headliner at Bunker's, where they've been holding court since November. Expect a few surprises from these guys, as their sound has evolved in a way that can only be experienced live—at least until they wrap up their next album. Whether or not opener 2 Wurds are in possession of one of the worst band names ever is debatable, but in all fairness, the solid group of musicians behind the name is one to keep an eye on. 21+. $5. 9 p.m. 761 Washington Ave. N, Minneapolis; 612.338.8188. —Jen Paulson
Somewhere between the early tough-guy posturing of Ice-T and Schooly D, Tupac's Thug Life manifesto, and a slew of late-'90s/early-'00s Pac lites (less nuanced, less talented, more steroided—Fitty and Ja Rule chief among them), the big, bad black man archetype went from traditional to explosive to completely ridiculous over the span of rap's two-decade reign on the charts. Similarly, the fascination with moving weight on scale with Scarface has followed a predictable path from simplicity to complexity to commercial exploitation: from NWA and its ilk's casual descriptions of moving eight balls during the onset of the crack epidemic to Raekwon's intricate Mafioso metaphors ("Somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game"), we have come full circle with a Top 40 radio playlist littered with a slew of studio gangstas bragging about pushing impossible numbers at impossible prices. Young Jeezy seems like a sort of unholy hybrid of these two clichés; so thump your chest, ship another ki, and dance to the soul-crushing beat. With Blood Raw. 18+. $40. 10 p.m. 3090 Southlawn Dr., Maplewood; 651.779.6984 —Jordan Selbo
White Iron Band
Nine thousand, six hundred Grain Belt Premium Beers. Three thousand, four hundred whiskey shots. One hundred and ninety bars. Ten years. Seven children. Six bass players. Four wives. That's how the White Iron Band inventory their last decade of rough living and rowdy performances. While it's doubtful Deloite & Touche would sign off on these calculations, anyone who's ever attended a WIB gig knows that they reveal an essential boozy truth. The band's infectious Midwest boogie blues, propelled by Matt Pudas's frenetic vocals and Sam Weyandt's nimble guitar work, inspires a mighty thirst in its followers. Tonight's gig marks the release of the WIB's third (and finest) album, Devil's Sweet Revenge. With Pert' Near Sandstone and Doug Otto and the Getaways. 18+. $8/$11 for under 21. 9:30 p.m. Cabooze, 917 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.6425. —Paul Demko
Triple Rock Social Club
Few bands speak to the Afri-Cola and black Chuck Taylor salad days of our collective Twin Cities adolescence quite like the Crush: pop punk with a heart, a rapier wit with searing chord work, a forceful jangle that owes as much to broken strings as to impassioned strumming. The Crush's shadow still darkens the Triple Rock stage like Athenian ruins, and still elicits grinning reminiscence from the many of us who were fortunate enough to see them the first time around. For those of you still cutting your baby teeth on Triple Rock two-for-ones and polishing your Dead Kennedys buttons as though someone is looking, get yourself a dose of Minneapolis music 101 tonight—you'll emerge sweaty and elated and born again, and chances are you'll be trading high-fives with all those old timers who made you feel young and dumb while you were scanning the Cheapo racks for the new Motion City Soundtrack release. With Dear Landlord and the Steinways. 21+. $6. 10 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7499. —David Hansen
Maria Isa packs more balls and bombast in her tiny frame than should be physically possible. Equally proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and St. Paul residency, Isa crafts a sound that is uniquely "Sota-Rico" by mashing up hip hop, R&B, and reggaetón into a feisty blend that induces feverish late-hour booty shaking. Singing about love and freedom and "Minnesota Nice," Isa transitions flawlessly between soulful crooning and spitfire raps as she fluctuates between English and Spanish lyrics. Backed by her Baker's Dozen Band, including a trumpet player and two percussionists, Isa brings a refreshing big-band allure that manages to sound enormous but not overwhelming. "Die Not Kill" is emotional and politicized, while "No Son Celos" is sure to be a crowd pleaser. You may have no idea what she's singing, but damn if it doesn't sound cool. With headliners Alkaholiks. 21+. $20. 8 p.m. 107 Third Ave. N, Minneapolis; 612 .465.0440. —Erin Roof
Consider yourself warned: Cloud Cult are quickly elbowing their way up the list of local bands made good with their latest effort, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornados). So if you want to prove that you were there, that you heard them first, get yourself to First Avenue on the double. Chock full of eclecticism, any given Cloud Cult song involves elaborate orchestral arrangements, electrifying freak-outs, or soulful art-rock. But fear not—bandleader Craig Minowa keeps it from spiraling out of control with his searching lyrics and earnest voice. If that isn't enough to get you there, the life-and-death themes of songs like "Story of the Grandson of Jesus" and "When Water Comes to Life" should do it. Their stop in Minneapolis comes in the middle of their coast-to-coast tour in support of their new album, so check it out and join the cult. With Mason Proper and the Forms. 18+. $13/$15 at the door. 5 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Desiree Weber
The Deaths are back! These Fargo transplants made a brief appearance last October with a split EP that also featured legendary locals the Beatifics. The Deaths' contribution, "Selector," was a delectable morsel of a preview for their upcoming effort. With their new release, Centralia, the band members advance in their use of electronic flourishes, but still maintain an abundance of expansive organ interludes and their trademark fuzzy, beautifully distorted guitars. The dual vocals of Karl Qualey and Jeff Esterby are mesmerizing as they croon with an affecting lilt that is irresistibly singable. It's been three years since their full-length debut, Choir Invisible, so was it worth the wait? Most definitely: From start to finish, Centralia is a polished, scientifically balanced work that will inevitably show up on plenty of Best of 2008 lists. With the Owls and Arctic Universe. 21+. 9 p.m. 1601 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651.647.0486. —Jen Paulson
Afternoon Records Anniversary
Sporting a healthy bench of Midwest acts like prized pop Picked to Clickers Mouthful of Bees and Sioux Falls natives We All Have Hooks for Hands, Minnesota music stable Afternoon Records is a classic five-tool player. Label founder Ian Anderson has shown a voracious appetite for acts that always seem to strike a masterful balance between style and substance, between grist and glitter, and the bands that he signs exhibit a curious tendency toward national recognition. While Battle Royale pop collars with so many sparkling 0s and 1s, Haley Bonar's unerring croon haunts her earthy guitar work like a miner's ghost. That these acts share a label should be proof enough that Afternoon Records is a dynamic and forward force in Midwest Music, one that has earned with sweat and blood the right to revel in the main stage lights tonight. All ages. $6. 4 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —David Hansen
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.