Folksy pop artist plays intimate gig at Pabst

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The smooth, warm crooning and charming storytelling of Joshua Radin was the perfect remedy for Milwaukee on Monday night after a day of lake effect snow and bone-chilling winds. The folk-rocker played an extensive show to a packed house at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St., which he called his favorite venue in the world ("No one treats you better than they do here").

Opening for Radin was the banjo-playing Jesse Harris, who also joined the band and played guitar when Radin hit the stage later on. Harris is most popular for writing "Don't Know Why," which hit airwaves big time and earned both Harris and Norah Jones a Grammy in 2003. To hear this familiar tune on a six-stringed banjo and Brazilian-style percussion almost made it sound completely new again.

Meiko, best known for her top pop-folk single "Boys with Girlfriends," charmed the audience with her stories of disastrous ex-boyfriends and witty song introductions. However, an attempt at humor went sour when she asked the audience if anyone's ever seen her perform in Milwaukee before because she couldn't recall being here.

It got a tad more awkward when she pronounced Waukesha as "Wau-keesha" and asked if the suburb is "the same thing" as Milwaukee. However, her charismatic performance of cheery songs like, "Reasons to Love You" and "How Lucky We Are" made the mispronunciation a mishap to easily overlook.

Radin, who is originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, could be called a prime example of Midwestern values, given his down-to-earth attitude and sense of humor. His speaking voice is surprisingly deep compared to his singing tone, which was noticeable since Radin was generous with his conversation.

You'd never guess that he's only been writing music for four years and touring for three. He still seems a bit insecure about this whole live-show deal, which makes it all the more genuine. He explained his need to play a song called, "No Envy No Fear" early in the set just to settle his own nerves.

Radin was more than grateful for the well-behaved audience, constantly thanking the crowd for being so quiet and unplugging his guitar from amps for spontaneous acoustic performances after waving for his band to stay offstage as he extended the show.

Lighthearted songs about cute girls in thick-framed glasses driving hybrid cars in California ("Vegetable Car") were paralleled with breakup songs, like "Closer," which is about Radin's tendency to fall for depressed girls (he said the reason one relationship lasted six years is merely because the girl was a crier).

He pulled all the stunts on the last song of the night, a cover of Sam Cooke's 1961 hit, "Bring It On Home to Me." It was just the right touch of soul to end the night and showcase Radin's ability to be a sensitive guy with a guitar, yet summon the guts to cross genres and have some fun.

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