Critics' Picks: Mika and more

Candian special export Basia Bulat
Bobby Bulat



First Avenue

If you took a hot air balloon and covered it in spun sugar and candy sprinkles, would it still be able to carry you and your favorite stuffed animal to Oz? Or would it instead transport you to Planet Mika, an even more fantastical place where a wide-eyed Brit with Freddie Mercury's voice invites you to ride down a rainbow slide? The Technicolor aerobics-pop soundtrack for your adventures there will be 2007's Life in Cartoon Motion, a joyous record that the grumpy grownups at Pitchfork rated an extremely hostile 1.5. Well, not everyone can get to Planet Mika with an air-filled balloon—some may need nitrous. All ages. $25. 6:00 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Sarah Askari

Will Hoge & Jason Isbell

Varsity Theater

This pair of superlative Southern singer-songwriters revel in whiskey-soaked Americana angst, their music laced with stray elements of Southern rock, country, and the classic soul/R&B/blues hybrid that lurks in places like Memphis and Muscle Shoals. The Nashville-based Hoge played with former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird for a time and had a dead-end contract with Atlantic. But he honed his grit-flecked, soulful drawl and songwriting skills on the bar circuit. Last fall, he issued Draw the Curtains (Ryko), which runs the gamut from fiddle-tinged ballads to full-tilt rocker reminiscent of Skynyrd with the lyrical muscularity of Springsteen or Petty. Former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell reprises his local November visit, still touting his fine solo debut, Sirens of the Ditch (New West), full of his own Southern-fried soul and demons. 18+. $15. 7:00 p.m. 1308 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis; 612.604.0222. —Rick Mason



7th St. Entry

As we suffer through the miserable February deep freeze, a little aural reminder of the hotter latitudes of the world might help. Brooklyn's ambitious and expansive Yeasayer have places beyond this continent in mind. Unashamedly melodramatic, they have the globe-trotting sense of grandeur of Peter Gabriel or (I swear!) Kate Bush (more responsible critics would mention Byrne & Eno's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts). Their songs are crammed full of a dozen things at once—ringing guitars, synth bombast, close-harmony singing, that a bit of an Amen break peeking out of "Sunrise"? What keeps the whole thing from collapsing—and earns them continued press-hype as "Afro-pop"—is a jones for solid rhythms. The content may be bleak, but music that moves this well can't help but bring a sense of uplift and escape. Fellow Brooklynites MGMT play hazy, sun-dappled psychedelic synth-pop. Winter, schminter! Sold out. 8:00 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Geoff Cannon


Daniel Johnston

First Avenue

Yo La Tengo collaborated with him; the late Kurt Cobain threw him all sorts of authenticity props; members of Sonic Youth rescued him on the streets of New York City during a psychological episode; Jeff Feuerzeig patched together a 2005 indie-film-circuit documentary about him. Bipolar and crushingly naive, 47-year-old Daniel Johnston is the sort of underground pop songwriter who's perpetually doomed to niche underground adoration—no matter how many new albums and best-of comps are issued or how many mainstream admirers (Beck, Kimya Dawson, Wilco, Pearl Jam, etc.) cover his tunes or insert them into films. His child-like flights of fancy and romantic distress signals come equipped with a precociously high-pitched, zig-zag-ouch singing style that brings to mind Half Japanese's Jad Fair—another minor countercultural figure soldiering valiantly on in the impassive face of total commercial indifference. Forget Ron Paul—Johnston needs and deserves your monetary vote; the dude lives with his parents in Texas. Let's all chip in and help save a career headed for footnote status, right below Eugene Kelly. 18+. $15. 8:00 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Ray Cummings

Baby Dee

Bryant Lake Bowl Theater

Ah, the church organ. What sinister power drives its practitioners to such arcane, Byzantine lives? If you were to make case studies of Anton LaVey and Baby Dee, you would find a shared ancestry of church organs, circus sideshows, and marketable stage names. But oh, how that road did fork, leading the former to the demonic theremin and the latter to the heavenly harp. With a taste for the bizarre that could only be rivaled by ol' Grampa Satan himself, Baby Dee has found herself riding a 30-year career of unlikely collaborations, most recently with that dark prince of partying, Andrew W.K., who plays bass on her haunting 2008 release, Safe Inside The Day. For those seeking further comparative data: Baby Dee's instrument has a dizzying 47 strings to master. LaVey's precious theremin? Not a one. Plus, he's been dead for 10 years. Baby Dee 2, Satan 0. With Dreamland Faces. $12. 9:30 p.m. 810 West Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.825.3737. —David Hansen


Luke's Angels CD-release show

Hexagon Bar

In an age where two-pieces strive to sound like three, this Minneapolis trio brings the lush luster of a quintet with the greatest of ease. Is that upping the ante, or just preserving a proportion? Who the hell cares, Poindexter? Luke's Angels' new disc, hot off of local mix-master Jacques Wait's boards, is sleek and shiny enough for anyone looking for more of the head-bobbing listenability that the long-defunct Breeders can no longer supply. Sisters Jennie and Melissa Kalpin weave their frictionless harmonies as if from a satin loom, while Nick Hook lays on enough syncopated hi-hat to make the metronomic, Petty-esque guitar lines excellent dance floor material. Always willing to grind into a good power chord and the occasional screamy hook, they manage a sound that's at once potent and professional. Know thy basics, and keep them holy: Luke's Angels have this 11th commandment well in hand. With Birds of Virginia, Deep Pool, and the Wild Animals. 9 p.m. 2600 27th Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.722.3454. —David Hanson

Basia Bulat


7th St. Entry

Bridging the divide between traditional folk and a sweep of contemporary alt domains, Canadian singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Basia Bulat finds her voice in the untamed fringes they share on her striking debut, Oh, My Darling (Rough Trade). She can sound brittle, etching spare tales of love, remorse, and cautious hope. But the full dimension of her voice quickly becomes apparent. Slightly husky, marbled with rich, amber streaks, and harboring a knowing authority, Bulat's voice is reminiscent of Natalie Merchant's, Sandy Denny's, and, when her band gallops into jangly overdrive on "In the Night," Ronnie Spector's. The diverse arrangements sometimes kick into epic folk-rock territory, especially when brother Bobby Bulat rumbles on full drum kit. But arch, chamber-like strings add a measure of earthy refinement, and a piano occasionally weighs in with a dose of devilish alt-jazz irony. Darling, released in Europe and Japan last spring, is just out this week in the U.S.—hence, Bulat and her band appearing at this intimate a venue is not likely to be repeated next time around. $10. 8:00 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Rick Mason


Six Organs of Admittance

7th St. Entry

2007's Shelter from the Ash (Drag City), found guitarist Ben Chasny (a.k.a. Six Organs) fusing tuneful folkie-ness and visionary raga-guitar into compact, accessible music. But just because Shelter's succinct and pretty doesn't mean it's toothless—witness the tormented guitar solo on "Coming to Get You" and the haunting vocal bridge on "Jade Like Wine." Tourmate Mick Turner's reinvented his guitar vocabulary over the last 25 years in the Fungus Brains, Moodists, Dirty Three, Tren Brothers, and on solo records. His current mode is laconic and painterly: His pieces unfurl slowly and spontaneously; soothing at first, they're sad and beautiful on a closer listen. 18+. 8:00 p.m. $10/$12 at the door. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Cecile Cloutier

Mark Olson

400 Bar

When I grow up, I want a divorce as fortuitous as the one currently being enjoyed by Mark Olson and the Jayhawks, the alt-country superpower he helped found. Yielding more light than heat, both parties seem to be better off without one another. While the Jayhawks moved records with ever-glossier, poppier production until their 2005 break-up, Olson spent the last decade building anew his own shotgun shack, nail by rusted nail. His is a cozy sound, and his solo enterprise has seen him emerge with a lyrical insight that few might have expected from his work in the Jayhawks. Even in the thornier corners of his material, his breezy voice suggests a gleeful, indomitable grin. Sigh...both parties happily seeing other people, no need to cut the kids in half, the forbidden pleasure in outliving your ex.... Here's hoping we all get so lucky in love. $12. 7:00 p.m. 400 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.332.2903. — David Hansen


Dean & Britta

Cedar Cultural Center

As members of 1990s/2000s outfit Luna, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips hid their songcraft behind overwhelming guitar swirls. Today, as an independent duo, the couple trade in ambling, aging-hipster pop romance and unlikely, often contradictory happenstance. Listening to 2003's L'Avventura or last year's Back Numbers, it's too easy to imagine Wareham and Phillips cavorting gingerly in some harmless CGI simulacrum of the Milky Way, exchanging knowing winks and smiles the way they exchange wry, adoring verses. Retouched squirts of synthesizer, effects-pedal burbles, and drum-machine thumps pad out sentiments dryly delivered, like these, from L'Avventura's "Moonshot": "I know a girl from a tribe so primitive/She can call me up without no telephone/See all the wonders that you leave behind, enshrined in some great hourglass." Call 'em the perfect soundtrack to a bubble bath and a bottle of fine wine, but don't miss 'em and don't leave your significant other at home; either way, you'll be sorry. 416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Ray Cummings

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