Critics' Picks: U2, Sia, Steve Earle, and more

Bono and Co. make their triumphant return to the Twin Cities

Bono and Co. make their triumphant return to the Twin Cities


TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday 7.23

With the social and commercial ambitions of the Clash times Michael Jackson, U2 are too big to fail boringly: "Green" mansions and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark are what they do instead of crashing cars into swimming pools. What's amazing is how often they get it right, which in concert is all the time. Playing the Target Center six years ago not long after Hurricane Katrina, Bono took a rare moment of speech-making to say the disaster brought out the best in America. He gracefully saved any implicit criticism for a music video the following year—a cover of the Skids' "The Saints Are Coming," with Green Day—that showed an imaginary U.S. military redeployment from Iraq to New Orleans. On the heels of Israel's war in Gaza a few years later, during a performance of "Pride (In the Name of Love)" at Obama's inaugural celebration, the Irishman paused to suggest that Martin Luther King's was "also a Palestinian dream." These might seem like crumbs, but in pop, they're the gestures of giants—and gutsy ones. U2 are ultimately just four guys who play incredibly well together, their rattlesnake groove and Christmas Krautrock production lifting 2009's No Line on the Horizon to the ether despite fewer great songs than 1997's savaged Pop (whose "Wake Up Dead Man" haunts "Cedars of Lebanon"). All ages. $30-$250. 7 p.m. 2009 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 612.624.8080. —Peter S. Scholtes

Gillian Welch

Fitzgerald Theater on Wednesday 7.20

Eight years after her last album under her own name, Gillian Welch returns with The Harrow and the Harvest, an excellent collection of sepia-toned country-folk monologues played with mostly slow and muted conviction, as if to give the songs their full due without waking the baby. As usual she's joined by her longtime musical partner and co-writer, David Rawlings, an able and subtle guitarist whose vocal harmonies are especially felt when minor-key verses give way to lovely major choruses. Welch and Rawlings began inserting some more contemporary references into their songs on 2001's Time (the Revelator), but their project remains essentially historical; at times this leads to a certain movie-set nostalgia, but just as often they get the timelessness they're after, and whether by intention or not their downcast, sometimes wearily optimistic new songs suit present-day recessions and stumbling recoveries. All ages. $32. 7:30 p.m. 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul; 651.290.1200. —Dylan Hicks

Off With Their Heads and Riverboat Gamblers

Triple Rock Social Club on Wednesday 7.20

Consider it a "grand opening" for the Out of Step podcast when Off With Their Heads, Riverboat Gamblers, and Dead to Me swing through town on their national tour, with Humanoids and the Manix opening. After a decade on Radio K, host Adam Mehl is moving his popular punk show off the dial and moving to an electronic format, with Wednesday's show serving as a launch party. The Riverboat Gamblers, from Texas, play punk-infused big, raw rock, and frontman Mike Wiebe is known for climbing walls, flailing his body recklessly, and swinging his mic stand with little regard for this band's well-being. The three headliners are also supporting a tour-only three-way split release. Few radio shows last 10 years, so get to the Triple Rock, eat some free bacon, and be prepared to hit that snooze button on Thursday. 18+. $14. 8 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.333.7399. —Loren Green


First Avenue on Thursday 7.21

Owner of one of the sexiest voices in pop, jazzily sultry where the dominant style is tough, Australian-born New Yorker Sia Furler has been performing and recording since she was a teenager in the '90s—her "Breathe Me" (from a mellower period) soundtracks the final scene of Six Feet Under. Following collaborations with Christina Aguilera, she promised a star-coming-out party with last year's We Are Born, its bold musicality like an AM-radio Janelle Monae, and with the Strokes' Nick Valensi adding crisp, trebly guitar. But she stopped touring, for health reasons, after playing the Fine Line last year. Now she returns, still something of an eclectic folk-pop neo-soulstress live, but ready for dance. With Oh Land. 18+. $20. 6 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Peter S. Scholtes

The Blow

400 Bar on Friday 7.22

"That's an interesting question. What's the Blow?" That's Khaela Maricich—a.k.a. the Blow—self-posing a query which you can safely expect to remain unanswered after her performance this week, and the next, and the next. It's not that it's difficult music, all minimalist pop production and Maricich's strong and restrained voice, but that it's not strictly about the music at all. At a performance last year, Maricich gazed into the audience from her empty stage, struck a hip-thrust pose, and asked: "Do these people think they can have me?" That question is at the root of the Blow in its current state; a sort of in-person evaluation of the pop princess, with Maricich as the monologuing jester, the self-doubting star, and the actual, vulnerable artist behind it all. Don't go looking for answers, and don't be surprised if you get a few anyway. With He's My Brother, She's My Sister. 18+. $10/$12 at the door. 8 p.m. 400 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.332.2903. —Andrew Flanagan

The BoDeans

Minnesota Zoo Weesner Amphitheater on Friday 7.22

This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of America's greatest modern-rock albums, the BoDeans's Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams. At the end of this month they will release their 10th studio album, Indigo Dreams. While most mainstream pop and rock fans recognize them from their 1995 top-20 hit "Closer to Free," longtime fans of alternative rock know them as one of America's greatest, if not immediately identifiable bands. "Closer to Free" of course became a hit in 1995 thanks to the Fox TV series Party of Five, which used the tune as its theme song. However, it wasn't until a disc jockey in San Diego happened upon a live version of the song from the album Joe Dirt Car that it started receiving heavy airplay. It's astonishing to think that someone in radio, in a large market like San Diego, had never heard of them until this point. While "Closer to Free" is a popular track among fans, the highlight of any BoDeans concert is the audience-participation-friendly "Still the Night," with its trademark vocal hook. Over the years the band's sound has changed little. Declining to reinvent the wheel like, say, R.E.M. or fellow Milwaukeeans Violent Femmes, the BoDeans have opted instead to stick to their rootsy sound. The new album finds a slightly mellower BoDeans, though there are a few toe-tappers like "Rock and Roll Overdrive" and "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is." Other tracks, like "Wrap Me," "How Can We?," and "Paved in Gold," are deeper emotionally, but still memorable. Each should fit well into the band's rollicking live set. All ages. $34-$46.50. 7:30 p.m. 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley; 952.431.9200. —P.F. Wilson

Steve Earle

Pantages Theatre on Saturday 7.23

Renegade roots rocker and (lately) folkie troubadour Steve Earle appropriated the name of a Hank Williams tune for the title of his latest album, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive. The songs all touch on something akin to mortality or fate, from his hard-country declaration of amazement at his own survival and happiness ("Waitin' on the Sky") to his sly look at the politics of religion ("God Is God") and an Irish-style ballad about the Gulf oil spill from the perspective of three generations who worked its waters ("The Gulf of Mexico"). World-weariness drapes much of the album like Spanish moss, but T Bone Burnett's production etches an ambiance of quiet resilience amidst the rubble. Earle will be accompanied by his electric band and vocalist/wife Allison Moorer. All ages. $42.50-$52.50. 8 p.m. 710 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.339.7007. —Rick Mason

Shoveldance (CD-release show)

Triple Rock Social Club on Saturday 7.23

Shoveldance fans have spent the better part of five years without a new release. A lineup change has slowed the St. Paul band's schedule and limited concerts, but the band is finally set to release Second Banana at the Triple Rock. "The release show will be mostly stuff from the new record," singer/guitarist Travis Henspeter promises. Mixing elements of funk, soul, alt country, and more experimental sounds into their classic base, the band honed a 24-song recording session into the 12 tracks on their new record. The songs are steeped in atmospheric, catchy, chorus-dominated hooks with layers of depth underneath the pop veneer. Utilizing digital recording gear, the new record has a few more blips and whistles than the live show, adding modern touches to Shoveldance's nuanced sound. With Shipbuilding Co. 18+. $7. 9 p.m. 629 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.333.7399. —Loren Green