The first thing I gotta ask hipper-than-hip laptop rapper MC Lars, one of several acts on the Crocs Next Step Campus Tour, is whether he actually owns a pair of the comfy plastic kicks sponsoring his tour. "I don't," he admits via phone from rehearsals in Reno. "They say they'll hook me up, so that's cool."
They'd better. After all, Lars has had to make nice with headliners Cartel, who participated in the "band in a bubble" contest Lars spoofed in a video. Since discovering the guys were to be his tourmates, Lars took the video down from YouTube. The tour, which, in addition to Lars and Cartel, includes hardcore rapper Yung Joc, is a strange mix of different musical styles. But Lars says he's "psyched up for it" and "it's all love." "I have my live band and two video projectors," he says of his setup for his performance. "It's like a rock hip-hop show with multimedia stuff. It's gonna be good. The video links with the beats I make. I bring two screen projectors, and we put them between the bass player and the drummer. It's very cool and very portable."
Lars made his rep by exploiting what he calls the "juxtaposition of disparate cultures." To date, he's made fun of everything from trendy San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop ("White Kids Aren't Hyphy") to the music biz and its obsession with catering to demographics ("Signing Emo"), all the while dropping rhymes as clever as anything laid down by De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest. Lars got his start playing in a punk-rock band in high school, but then, after moving to Palo Alto to attend Stanford, he discovered hip-hop and held down a rap show at the school radio station. Currently in the studio finishing mixes for a disc coming out in January that he says is "more of a hip-hop album," Lars says he's trying to move away from doing so much sampling, simply because it's become cost-prohibitive. "On the last album, we had to pay 10 grand to clear everything," he explains. "It sucks. Some bands like Highball let us do it for free; they're cool." He better hope Cartel's cool too. The show starts at 8 p.m. at the MACC (Janik Dr., 330.672.2244). Tickets: $15. - Jeff Niesel
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks
A musical enigma of sorts, oddball Dan Hicks brings his band the Hot Licks to the Kent Stage (175 E. Main St., 330.677.5005) to preview material from his new album, not due out until 2009. Over the course of a career that stretches back to the '60s, the psychedelic rocker has collaborated with everyone from Bette Midler to Brian Setzer. His last album, Duets, featured him singing alongside like-minded figures such as Tom Waits and Willie Nelson. For his forthcoming album, he's enlisted the help of Grammy-winning producer Chris Goldsmith (Blind Boys of Alabama). Rio Neon opens at 8 p.m., and tickets are $25 in advance and $28 day of show. - Niesel
God-rock band Third Day straddles the same line as most of its peers who share in crossover dreams. Many of the songs are about faith, salvation and how totally awesome Jesus is, but they could just as easily be about that cute girl in your history class. It all comes down to what you want to hear. But this platinum-selling Georgia quartet rides the mainstream a little more successfully than its contemporaries by keeping its guitar-fueled riffs squarely fixed in alt-rock territory. On its 10th album, the recently released Revelation, Third Day runs through a set of familiarÐsounding and Ðthemed songs: "Call My Name," "Run to You," "Born Again." Frontman Mac Powell delivers each and every one of them in a furry growl that wants to rock your ass off as much as it wants to save your soul. Third Day headlines the Music Builds Tour - with Switchfoot, Robert Randolph & the Family Band and Jars of Clay - and plays Blossom Music Center (1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 216.241.5555) at 6 p.m. Tickets $25-$125. - Michael Gallucci
Unlike many of his compatriots, Cuban-born flutist Orlando Valle Maraca did not defect to Miami after winning acclaim as a bandleader and composer. Instead, he's remained in his native Havana, where he works as a music producer when he's not touring the world - which he's done extensively since 1996, when he struck out on his own after leaving the post of arranger with jazz-fusion outfit Irakere (at the time, led by pianist Chucho Valdés), with whom he played for six years. Musically, Maraca and his band keep a foot in traditional Afro Cuban music while also exploring various other musical influences, ranging from Latin jazz to more danceable tropical beats like danz—n, rumba and mambo. Onstage, the band delivers a high-energy set that immediately gets the audience on its feet. Maraca interacts with fans by inviting them to sing along with more familiar tunes. The individual talents of each musician are highlighted during the set, which also includes some call-and-response. On the current tour, the bandleader is promoting Lo Que Quiero Es Fiesta, which features more dance-oriented tunes with a touch of '70s-inspired funk. Maraca's website says the disc was recorded as a tribute to percussionist and maestro Tata GŸines, the legendary pioneer of Afro Cuban music who passed away at 77 last February in Havana. The shows take place at 7 and 9 p.m. at Nighttown (12387 Cedar Rd., 216.795.0550). Tickets: $25. - Ernest Barteldes
The two founders of the Hi-Risers - Greg Townson and Todd Bradley - started playing together 20 years ago. When the band was born in 1997, the two grabbed Jason Smay for the drum set and kept their recipe for success fairly simple: Play good ol' rock 'n' roll music. Now with six albums under their belt, the Hi-Risers continue to prove that rockin' and rollin' never goes out of style. Their songs vary from the '60s-style surf vibe of songs like "Volcano," which is reminiscent of "Wipeout" or anything by the pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys, to "Confession of Love," a sweet ode with an innocent sincerity that seems lost in today's "I'm a Slave 4 U" culture. The Hi-Risers' newest album, Once We Get Started, stays true to their happy-go-lucky style. The title track repeats phrases like "The night is young, let's have some fun" and "When the band starts playing, let's twist." Age doesn't matter here. The Hi-Risers will probably have the crowd - young or old - shredding up the dance floor. Lost State of Franklin opens at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $8. - Danielle Sills
Ronnie Baker Brooks
If the sound of Ronnie Baker Brooks' blues seems to run over the edges into rock and R&B territory and beyond, the Chicago-bred singer-guitarist can pin it all on his daddy. Long before he became a stalwart of the Windy City blues scene, Lonnie Brooks was digging into rock and roll, country and the zydeco sound of his native Louisiana. So when Brooks the younger gets off a set of supercharged solo choruses or flirts with hip-hop, it's par for the course. His knack for suiting the blues up in more latter-day threads showed up full force on his 2006 release The Torch. A year's best pick by many in the blues press, Brooks' ambitious, all-original effort, co-produced by Prince cohort Jellybean Johnson, walked the music through succeeding generations, taking cues from George Clinton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and rapper Al Kapone along the way. Brooks more recently provided the same sort of makeover for Chicago vet Eddy Clearwater as producer on this year's West Side Strut. Lonnie's boy has logged a lot of recent road miles as a member of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, sharing the spotlight with fellow blues travelers Tommy Castro, Deanna Bogart and Magic Dick. His three features on that outfit's Command Performance attest to Brooks' abundant onstage voltage. The Brickhouse Blues Band opens at 8 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124). Tickets: $15. - Duane Verh
While suburban kids and soccer moms know Ice Cube as the dude from family flicks like Are We There Yet? and The Longshots, the rapper/actor hasn't always been quite so bubbly. The L.A. native began his rap career in one of the most important musical acts of all time, N.W.A. Its brash 1988 album Straight Outta Compton turned the rap world upside down. Cube would leave the group to go solo shortly after, elevating gangsta rap with pivotal albums like AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and The Predator - some of which earned him accusations of racism, anti-semitism and misogyny. In 1992, he began acting, starring in the intense Boyz n the Hood, a film that depicted many of the things Cube rapped about - gang violence, drugs, police brutality, to name a few. He later moved away from such dramatic roles in favor of comedies and eventually family-oriented movies. Of course, this has prompted some to cry sellout. After a six-year break from music, he released Laugh Now, Cry Later in 2006, following it up with the recent Raw Footage. Maybe his film career has gone soft, but his music certainly hasn't - Raw's first single, "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It," is a scathing commentary on the media's use of rap as a scapegoat. Love him or hate him, when it comes to his songs, Ice Cube's still not afraid to piss people off. The show starts at 11:15 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583). Tickets: $30-$45. - Eddie Fleisher
The Pack A.D.
I had to double-check my CD player. I didn't remember putting a Black Keys CD in there. I was right. It was the Pack A.D.'s second full-length, Funeral Mixtape. The band is another duo making a massive sound. Recorded live on analog tape, Funeral Mixtape shows that guitar riffs can still sound gigantic and cool. Based in Vancouver, this two-woman act gives its rendition of the blues, with Becky Black howling through the huge sound of two- and three-chord guitar hooks while Maya Miller sits behind the drums to complete the formula. The show starts at 8 p.m. at Wilbert's (812 Huron Rd. E., 216.902.4663). Tickets: $6. - Wes Dodd
Daedelus (Alfred Darlington) has no idea why critics call his latest disc, Love to Make Music To, his most accessible album. "If some people think this record is different from others I've done, I can't argue," he says. "Thank goodness it is different - there should be no reason to release the same LP over and over again." The California electronic producer has released 10 albums (not including EPs) since 2001, but the word "same" has never really applied to any of them. This time around, he concocts a collection of tunes weaving elements of R&B, house and hip-hop; the highlight is a cover of Ghost Town DJs' "My Boo" (renamed "My Beau"), on which he collaborates with '90s rapper Paperboy. Of course, while their work may sound good on tape, many laptop artists struggle with keeping their concerts interesting. "In live performance, I am quite lucky to use a Monome. [It's] a pretty odd collection of hundreds of light-up buttons that uses some neat custom software to allow for very improvised excursions," says Darlington. But if trippy gadgetry doesn't seal the deal for you, Daedelus is also willing to go the extra mile for his audience: "I'll dress up Victorian, extra promise. So you now have an excuse to dust off that frock coat in the closet, and you won't be the only dandy in the club." Head out to the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588) at 9 p.m., when he performs with Eliot Lipp, Hi Scarab and Human Blood to see if he's a man of his word. Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show. - Fleisher
Great Big Sea
Scoring initial success in Canada with its platinum-selling debut, Up, Great Big Sea is back with its latest album, Fortune's Favour. The band's 10th CD continues to blend the traditional music of its St. John's, Newfoundland homeland with pop melodies. "Walk on the Moon" has already hit airwaves in Canada and features strong vocal melodies. Songs such as "Here and Now" and "Love Me Tonight" are focus tracks for U.S. radio. Certain tunes, like "The Night Pat Murphy Died" from 1997's Play, are traditional-sounding songs designed so you can raise your beer up and clunk it with some dude from a fishing boat. Great Big Sea performs at 8 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583). Tickets: $23.50Ð$35. - Dodd
The Rosewood Thieves
A fairly innocuous pop band out of New York, the Rosewood Thieves have gotten a fair amount of acclaim for both their 2006 EP, From the Decker House, and their understated new album, Rise & Shine. The Decker House song "Los Angeles" got airplay on trend-setting TV shows such as Entourage and Grey's Anatomy, and Rise & Shine's "Heavy Eyes" just made its way onto the latter show. The tune "Silver Gun" is a Rise & Shine highlight and features pleasant vocal harmonies and catchy melodies that recall '80s pop experts Squeeze. Rosewood Thieves went over so well when it played at Wilbert's (812 Huron Rd. E., 216.902.4663) earlier this summer, it's returning for an encore performance at 8:30 tonight. Tickets: $6. - Niesel