Critics' Picks: Van Halen, Rick Ross, the Cranberries, and more

Rick Ross: Forgiveness is so overrated
courtesy of the artist

Rick Ross

Epic, Friday 5.18

How does one explain a former correctional officer's rise to the top of the rap charts, considering the largely fabricated subject matter of obscene riches and large-scale cocaine peddling? Anyone who has heard Rick Ross's larger-than-life grunt at the club can answer this easily. Few rappers can claim the same gigantic vocal impact or stomping beats. Hits like "Hustlin'" and "B.M.F." show off Ross's strength with simplicity, using his booming voice to full effect over club-ready bangers that are essentially undeniable. Sure to bring a tsunami through a live crowd, Ross's brand of hustle-hard anthems boil down money, drugs, women, and violence into a pitch-perfect sonic punch. Anticipation for his upcoming fifth album, God Forgives, I Don't, continues to grow as his label, Maybach Music, gains traction. 18+, $40-$70, 10 p.m., 110 Fifth St. N., Minneapolis; 612.968.6636. —Jack Spencer

The Cranberries

The Brick, Thursday 5.17

Roses, released in March, is the first studio album from Irish pop-folk band the Cranberries in more than a decade. The original quartet reunited for a 2010 tour after spending most of the '00s working on other projects, then returned to the studio with Stephen Street (who produced the group's signature albums), and re-emerged with the classic Cranberries sound largely intact. Dolores O'Riordan's linchpin vocals still prove to be a wonder of keening intoxication and whispery intensity while Noel and Mike Hogan and Fergal Lawler surround her with a finely wrought ring of Celtic textures and lilting, infectious melodies. The band gets most aggressive on "Schizophrenic Playboy," O'Riordan's voice as penetrating as a laser as she dissects a predatory relationship. Her musings on romance aren't particularly profound, but she sings the lyrics with such conviction that, when combined with the band's subtle power, the songs echo with unbridled spirit. 18+, $45-$48, 8 p.m., 111 Fifth St. N., Minneapolis; 612.333.3422. —Rick Mason

Joe Pug

7th St. Entry, Thursday 5.17

With a lyrical world defined by a wry and restless romanticism, and a knack for homespun melodies on a par with the greats, Chicago's Joe Pug has quickly become a favorite son in the No Depression crowd. Unlike alt-country talents who mistake authenticity for writing songs about John Henry — here's looking at Justin Townes Earle — Pug crafts tunes that resonate without resorting to heartland cliché. His just-released sophomore album, The Great Despiser, rightly places the emphasis on his winning wordplay and gritty twang. An aspiring playwright before he became a critically acclaimed songwriter, Pug has a way with big-hearted and vivid vignettes that continues to serve him well, whether he's chronicling the critical communion between small-town outcasts ("Ours") or hard-luck low-income lovers' declarations of faithfulness ("Stronger Than the Whole Damn World"). With Bailiff. 18+, 8 p.m., $12, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.332.1775. —Rob Van Alstyne

We Are Serenades

Triple Rock Social Club, Thursday 5.17

Already firmly established as one of Sweden's most formidable indie-rock ambassadors thanks to his work in Shout Out Louds, Adam Olenius has now turned top-notch synth-pop purveyor in new outfit We Are Sernades. A joint project with fellow countryman Markus Krunegard of Laakso, the duo's debut album, Criminal Heaven, takes a sharp turn away from the guitar-driven textures of their primary bands and toward sunny, string-drenched pop. The unabashedly joyous record feels indebted both to modern indie-pop drama queens like Stars and old-school smooth-disco royalty like ABBA. The opportunity to witness the duo transferring their opulent sound from European recording studios to tiny American stages on their inaugural stateside tour makes tonight's Triple Rock gig a can't-miss one. 18+, 8 p.m., $10-$12 door, 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis, 612.333.7399. —Rob Van Alstyne

Mark Lanegan Band

Cedar Cultural Center, Friday 5.18

Mark Lanegan has one of the most instantly recognizable voices in all of modern music. As soon as you hear his smoky, whiskey-soaked vocals, you know he's going to take you on a dark musical journey. After winding down the Screaming Trees in 2000, Lanegan has been rather prolific, working with Greg Dulli in both the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, completing a successful stint with Queens of the Stone Age, and collaborating recently with Isobel Campbell and Soulsavers, among others. Lanegan just released the inventive, soulful Blues Funeral, his seventh solo record. Lanegan has a magnetic stage presence, and hearing him sing is always a special occurrence, so this intimate show at the Cedar should be a real treat. With Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss. All Ages. $15. 7 p.m. 416 Cedar Avenue S., Minneapolis; 612.338.2674. —Erik Thompson

Amy Ray/The Shadowboxers

Turf Club, Friday 5.18

Long established as the edgier, rock half of the Indigo Girls (vividly complementing Emily Saliers's folk lyricism), Amy Ray has further indulged her fiercer inclinations on a series of solo albums, including the recent, roots-oriented Lung of Love. So it's no surprise — but still gratifying — when Ray allows, "There's a little Joe Strummer/In my DNA" midway through the ringing, infectious pop-rocker "Little Revolution." But LOL focuses mainly on the vagaries — often gnarly and regretful — of love. And there's plenty of solace in the music, an alluring array of pop, rock, and Americana, including country ("When You're Gone, You're Gone"), power pop ("Glow"), alt-country ("Crying in the Wilderness," with Eagles harmonies), new wave ("Give It a Go"), and even a stomping Appalachian revival tune ("The Rock Is My Foundation"). It's a wining combo of sinewy, catchy melodies, punkish attitude, human insight, and smart songwriting. Ray will be backed by her longtime pals the Butchies. With the Shadowboxers. 21+, $15, 8 p.m., 1601 University Ave., St. Paul; 651.647.0486. —Rick Mason

Redd Kross


Triple Rock Social Club, Friday 5.18

The venerable California alt-rock quartet Redd Kross's recent reunion — they split in the late '90s — has been a welcome one. Here's a killer live band with spirited songs that still have plenty of life left in them. Along with an infectious back catalog, they have a brand new record, Researching the Blues, due out on Merge in August. This show should not only be a nice look back at a band who never really got their due, but also a glimpse of where they'll take their sound in the future. With Mannequin Men and FMWired. 18+. 9 p.m. $13 adv./$15 door. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7399. —Erik Thompson

Van Halen

Xcel Energy Center, Saturday 5.19

When Van Halen dropped back in '78, punk-addled rock critics didn't take too well to their KISS-gone-supernova racket. "This music belongs on an aircraft carrier," Robert Christgau huffed, in one of those odd dismissals that a lot of people might read as an accidental endorsement. But after three decades of increasingly dour hard-rock bands turning heaviness and volume into an unfun, self-serious trudge, it's good to have a reminder of just how flat-out adventurous the original VH lineup sounds. Eddie's canonization as an uber-technician shouldn't overshadow the fact that his flashiness isn't just some self-satisfied dick-wrangling. Those guitar tones he cranked out were and remain defiantly weird, phased into spaceship flybys and revving V-12 motors and sinister chuckling asides. And David Lee Roth hit on the confounding, yet inspired, idea of becoming the missing link between Robert Plant and Louis Prima, a presence that nails the showbizzy sincerity of pop music as vaudeville and kicks the po-faced reverence of Ye Olde Rock Canon to the curb as sure as anyone this side of Prince. The disco-sucks contingent might grimace at Kool & the Gang as an opener, but their early-'70s funk material is sneakily compatible. $47.50-$147.50, 7:30 p.m. 199 Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651.726.8240. —Nate Patrin

Xiu Xiu/Dirty Beaches

Triple Rock Social Club, Friday 5.19

Two incredibly inventive and idiosyncratic bands, the avant-garde California outfit Xiu Xiu and the Vancouver-based one-man-band Dirty Beaches, are sure to enthrall experimental music fans of all stripes. Xiu Xiu are celebrating a decade of making music together with a tour in support of their eighth album, Always, an artfully discordant collection that continues to push the boundaries of what can constitute a song. Dirty Beaches should serve as a perfect complement to Xiu Xiu's innovative style, as Alex Zhang Hungtai boldly blends many different genres into his constantly evolving music, crafting evocative soundscapes that wash over you like waves. With Father Murphy. 18+. 9 p.m. $11-$13 door. 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612.333.7399. —Erik Thompson

Ramsey Lewis & His Electric Band

Dakota, Sunday 5.20 & Monday 5.21

After playing almost exclusively in an acoustic trio format for well over a decade, jazz piano icon Ramsey Lewis traded his Steinway grand for a Fender Rhodes, plugged in, and expanded his trio (bassist Joshua Ramos, drummer Charles Heath) to a quintet, adding guitarist Henry Johnson and keyboardist Mike Logan (replaced on tour by Tim Gant). The resulting album, Taking Another Look, and now subsequent tour revisit Lewis's mid-1970s period, when he added funk, soul, and R&B elements to his already trademark blend of jazz, pop, gospel, and classical. In fact, more than half of TAL consists of smart new, but not radically different, versions of songs from 1974's Sun Goddess, which was produced by former Lewis sideman Maurice White, who also played on the album with members of his band, Earth, Wind & Fire. The band achieve a fine, slippery cohesion on TAL, working up tasty jazz-funk grooves that peak on Stevie Wonder's "Living in the City" and "Jungle Strut" while the 76-year-old Lewis's keyboard work remains lithe and vibrant. $50-$65 at 7 p.m., $40-$50 at 9 p.m., 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.332.1010. —Rick Mason


First Avenue, Monday 5.21

A lot of MCs rap about how much they like cars, women, and weed, but New Orleans's Curren$y makes that the defining aspect of his personality. After a hot streak of great albums, from the Ski Beatz-laced Pilot Talk I and II to Alchemist teamup Covert Coup to Weekend at Burnies, he's turned out to be the type of rapper who can pick up the expected themes and go to outlandish places with them. ("Michael Knight" still ranks up there with the best of recent late-night-hotboxing soundtracks: "I got highed up so I could autograph the sky.") He values laid-back smoothness over amped-up anthems — more basement rec room than VIP section — and that could be a reason why, even after stints on star-making labels No Limit and Cash Money, he's still something of an underrated cult figure. That could change once The Stoned Immaculate drops later this spring: Guest spots from Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and 2 Chainz, along with beats from the Neptunes and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, seem like the kind of co-signs that could raise Curren$y's profile without compromising his fogged-up, easygoing poise. With the Jets, Smoke Dza, Fiend 4 Da Money, Corner Boy P, Trademark, and Young Roddy. 18+, $18, 8 p.m. 701 First Ave. N., 612.332.1775. —Nate Patrin

Kurt Vile and the Violators


400 Bar, Tuesday 5.22

After some recent local shows opening for indie-rock stalwarts J. Mascis and Thurston Moore, psychedelic folk artist Kurt Vile finally gets a headlining gig of his own in support of last year's Smoke Ring for My Halo, and whatever new songs he's conjured up in the meantime. The former member of the War on Drugs has crafted a string of stellar solo records, and hopefully this well-deserved headlining gig gives Vile an opportunity to explore a good portion of his rich back catalog in front of his growing legion of fans. With Black Bananas and True Widow. 18+. $15. 8 p.m. 400 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.244.5563. —Erik Thompson

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