Tag Archives: Colectivo

Wisconsin Sound #7


Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO - Joe Kirschling]
Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO – Joe Kirschling]

“They’re America’s greatest rock and roll band,” Joe Kirschling told me as we stood in the lobby of the UWM Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee. The photographer and SIN BAD drummer was referring to Tenement, a cult punk band from Appleton. “I used to think I was the only one saying that, but they’ve been written about in The New York Times and Grantland.”

Indeed, Kirschling’s words weren’t mere hyperbole. And yet there we were, hanging out in the lobby of the UWM Panther Arena before a motorcycle race, waiting to see “America’s greatest rock and roll band.” It was an odd affair to be sure, with (free) music starting at 5:30 p.m. from Platinum Boys, Milwaukee’s premier power-pop party band.

Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO - Joe Kirschling]
Tenement at Panther Arena. [PHOTO – Joe Kirschling]
Arena employees were seen complaining about the volume being too loud. Luckily most kids came prepared with ear muffs for the motorcycles. There wasn’t a big crowd hanging around to see the bands. Most people just walked on by. But for about 15 minutes or so that lobby got an unanticipated performance from one of the best bands in Wisconsin, if not America.

The traditional Tenement trio was joined by an endearing tambourine/vocal duo for a fiery three-song set. Frontman Amos Pitsch is a fantastic guitar player, even when tucked into what my girlfriend described as “a public bathroom.” Tenement’s brief set made us regret missing the band at Eaux Claires and Mile of Music.

Milwaukee hardcore group Midwives finished off the lobby lineup, eliciting some “rock on” hands and air drumming from the crowd making their way to the motorcycle event. Free pre-game lobby rock (or rap/folk/jazz/electronic/etc) would be more than welcome during the Admirals debut season in the Arena.


Siren at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO - David Szymanski]
Siren at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO – David Szymanski]
The Pabst Theater Group began revitalizing Milwaukee’s live music scene in 2002. Renowned artists who once skipped Milwaukee on tour now find themselves playing sold-out shows at The Riverside, The Pabst, and Turner Hall Ballroom. Last year the Pabst Group extended their reach by adding The Back Room at the Colectivo on Prospect to their roster of venues.

The Back Room debuted last summer and in just over a year has established itself as one of the best (albeit only) intimate all-ages venues in town for national touring acts. While it has stuck mostly to folk and acoustic-leaning indie rock acts, The Back Room has expanded its jazz programming and began featuring harder rocking bands.

Gosh Pith at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO - David Szymanski]
Gosh Pith at The Back Room @ Colectivo [PHOTO – David Szymanski]
Local bands have been added to a few Back Room shows, but on October 7, Detroit’s electro-rock duo Gosh Pith were joined by three of the finest and most eclectic local artists. The lineup was curated by Sam Ahmedbetter known as experimental hip-hop artist WebsterXand included his New Age Narcissism collaborator Siren, synth wave rockers NO/NO, and electronic artist Liquid City Motors.

While you might not think the back room of a coffeehouse can fit that many people, the capacity in The Back Room is 297. It’s a warm space with wood floors, plants, brick, and a quality sound and lighting system. The Gosh Pith show did not reach capacity, but those who made it out were attentive and engaged. It was an early start and early finish, ideal for the all-ages crowd. It was also my first time seeing Gosh Pith and they impressed with a unique blend of electronic, rock, and hip-hop.


Madison Halloween 2005. [PHOTO - Joey Grihalva]
Madison Halloween 2005. [PHOTO – Joey Grihalva]
The highlight of my one semester at UW-Madison was the chaotic, riotous, entertaining, and momentarily scary Halloween. The night did not become frightening because of some spooky holiday vibes, but because riot police eventually marched down State Street, blanketing the thoroughfare with pepper spray and making mass arrests.

After bar close State Street got out of control, with huge piles of costumes set ablaze, storefront windows being broken, and all kinds of drunken revelry. I went to visit Madison for Halloween the next year and the situation got worse. That year police used sound bombs, rubber bullets, floodlights, pepper spray and a brigade of police horses. That was 2005.

In 2006 the City of Madison decided to finally do something to curtail the violence and vandalism associated with Halloween. They began charging a small admission fee to enter State Street, which was gated and contained. Arrests were cut in half. In 2007 the city partnered with Frank Productions to bring live music to what is now called Freakfest. The event has grown into the region’s largest Halloween party and music festival, having featured headliners such as OK GO, Matt and Kim, Mac Miller, and Atmosphere. The city reported only 9 arrests in 2015, down from 334 in 2005.

Freakfest 2016.
Freakfest 2016.

The 2016 edition of Freakfest has arguably the best lineup to date, with one of hip-hop’s hottest stars headlining. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals delivered my favorite set at the Soundset music festival this year and that was early in the afternoon. The rest of the State Street mainstage lineup includes Minneapolis dance-pop rocker Har Mar Superstar, ex-Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming’s solo project Diane Coffee, Sweet Spirit, and St. Paul and The Broken Bones.

Freakfest 2016 will also have a country stage on Gilman Street headlined by Kip Moore, plus Jon Pardi, Wheelhouse, Greta Van Fleet, and Adam Bartels Band. There will be a third stage on Frances Street featuring regional talent including Madison’s own rap phenom Trapo, Milwaukee-based/Madison-born hip-hop producer/rapper Mic Kellog, Chicago indie rockers The Kickback, Minneapolis rapper Lucien Parker, and Chicago rapper Rich Robbins.

img_7729Milwaukee will have a number of options for Halloween weekend concerts. Gloss Records is hosting a two-night Spooktacular. Friday will feature Sex Scenes, Surgeons in Heat, Rio Turbo, and Soul Low at Cactus Club. Saturday will feature Moon Rats, Piles, Soup Moat, and NO/NO at Riverwest Public House.

In 2015 Company Brewing held their first annual Nightmare on Center Street, which was a sold-out affair featuring Chicago’s Kweku Collins, Minneapolis’ MaLLy, Soul Low (in full KISS costume), Klassik, Foreign Goods, and New Age Narcissism. This year the event has expanded to include nearby Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts (all-ages), Club Timbuktu and High Dive. You can buy a $15 wristband for entry to all venues and gets you a free beer at High Dive.

There will be a wide array of musical talent at this year’s Nightmare on Center Street. Carl Nichols (guitar player for New Age Narcissism, De La Buena, Painted Caves, RAS Movement) will debut a new hardcore punk band at the Jazz Gallery that includes Bo Triplex, Taj Raiden, and Jake Diaz. Funky reggae, hip-hop influenced jam band Recalcitrant will headline Club Timbuktu, while High Dive will feature the No Stress DJs and performances by Kyndal J. and Chakara Blu.

Company Brewing will host a “Dinner and a Movie” at 7 p.m. featuring the Joshua Backes (New Boyz Club) led DIY Chamber Music ensemble accompanying the 1915 silent film Alice in Wonderland with a soundtrack written by four local composers. Beloved local psych-pop rockers The Fatty Acids will headline Company Brewing. There will be a special late night menu and drummer/dancer extraordinaire Christopher Gilbert will host a costume contest.



Back in the fourth installment of this column I mentioned running into Connor LaMue of Bad Wig at High Dive in Milwaukee. He told me about a new hardcore band he was in with Harrison Colby (Gloss Records, NO/NO), Zach Otto, and Chelsea Hayes. It didn’t take long for the band to release a fast and dirty demo, which you can listen to by clicking here. They hope to put out a record before the year is up.

fivyOur friends at Explain News premiered a new EP from Milwaukee songstress Fivy last week. The 5-track release is entitled “Dreamscape” and is definitely worth a listen. For more head over to Explain News.

Explain News also wrote up the new release from Milwaukee rapper AR Wesley. Check that out by clicking here.

Two Milwaukee femcees, Chakara Blu and Zed Kenzo, each put out a new track recently. Chakara’s is a woozy, bass-heavy track produced by Mr. Kou that you can listen by clicking here. In anticipation of her first project since moving back home to Milwaukee from Los Angeles, Zed Kenzo has released a single, “Scary Spice.” Listen to it by clicking here.


Last night Hear Here Presents celebrated one year of capturing live music performances from Wisconsin and touring musicians by doing what they do best, video recording new performances by the Rusty P’s and Klassik. In the fourth installment of this column I wrote about an experience attending a Hear Here Presents shoot in their new studio space. In the last month they’ve released four new videos from Lex Allen, King Courteen, New Boyz Club, and Chicago’s Grood. Watch them all below.

Colectivo’s Back Room becomes a treasured venue with the Pabst’s help

Most Colectivos are exactly what they look like: fun, trendy coffee shops where patrons grab a drink to start their day, cram before the next exam or get a quick bite to eat. The one on Milwaukee’s East Side, at 2211 N. Prospect Ave., is special. In a back room, there’s an entire concert venue.

Since last June, Colectivo has partnered with the Pabst Theater Group to bring in under-the-radar artists for “Live at the Back Room” shows, intimate performances where patrons get up close and personal with musicians and other artists. In the past year, the partners have brought in just about everything you can imagine: an improv music and art show with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, feminist slam beat poet Andrea Gibson, live podcast recordings with The Memory Palace and RISK!, and lots and lots of musicians. Basia Bulat, Caroline Smith, Avishai Cohen Quartet, Crystal Bowersox and many more have graced the Back Room.

Performance spaces all have a personality and the Back Room is no different. Most music venues of this size are dark, but the room floods with natural light inside and throughout, seeping from a skylight above. When the lights are dimmed, the lighting gives the room a romantic glow, making the interaction between performers and the audience that much more personal.

Scott Schwebel, Colectivo’s vice-president of brand marketing and retail, has been involved with the Back Room since its genesis several years ago. The room was originally used to house the company’s roasting and wholesaling operations, from 1997 until that part of the business moved to Colectivo’s Riverwest location in 2008.

At that time, Schwebel and others at the company decided to use the space for special events, like guest speakers and Milwaukee Film Fest panels, in addition to small music performances.“We started with the gospel brunch that we host on Sundays, which is a charitable partnership with a city organization for healthcare,” Schwebel says.

“We thought it was an underutilized and wonderful space,” he adds, and one that was well-positioned to host larger events than they were already booking.

Schwebel already had a longstanding relationship with Gary Witt at the Pabst, so he simply asked Witt if he’d be interested in programming the Back Room as a music venue. Witt and others from the Pabst stopped by the location, saw the room, and instantly saw its potential to bring in interesting, eclectic talent — most of which had never had played a show in the market before.

“They build their spaces with an aesthetic of beauty in mind. That’s why you kind of have the look and feel of the room,” says Witt. “The space has always been available for people to be able to use in the city. … We consistently get hit up by agents looking for smaller rooms in the city (for their artists) and quite often they’re not able to find that space.”

For example, Witt says, last year he was contacted by an agent who he had a long relationship with, who’d booked shows at Pabst theaters for numerous other artists. He had a client, Olivia Chaney, who was particularly interested in a space with a more intimate aesthetic, but wanted the promotion and marketing muscle the Pabst Theater Group could provide. She’d ultimately become the first artist to perform in the Back Room, on June 14, 2015.

That show was a success, but Witt and Schwebel say it didn’t immediately confirm the Back Room’s viability as a performance space for national acts. More experimentation was in order, and the partners booked successive acts selectively to test the space and get feedback from the artists who used it.

“It was very exciting for us,” Schwebel says. “We came out of there and everyone had a checklist of what we could do better. … One year in, we’re pleased, but we’re not done. We’re constantly trying to figure out ways to improve. You’re going to see us test types of performances and I think you’ll continue to see more interesting and more diverse programming come through.”

For Witt and the Pabst Theater Group, the venue is a logical extension of what they’ve done with Turner Hall Ballroom, the Pabst Theater and the Riverside Theater: creating a loose hierarchy of venues for artists to ascend as their talent and popularity grow, both under their financial umbrella and at other locations in the city.

“Look at how the artist grows,” Witt says. “One show we’ll do at Turner and the next the artist will be at The Pabst and very often it moves beyond there. Amy Schumer is the perfect example on going from Turner Hall to the Pabst to the Riverside all the way to the Bradley Center.”

The natural lighting of the Back Room makes it a good fit for daytime events as well as evening concerts. Photos: Melissa Miller.
The natural lighting of the Back Room makes it a good fit for daytime events as well as evening concerts. Photos: Melissa Miller.

Since that original Olivia Chaney show, performances in the Back Room have grown increasingly popular, with many selling near or all the way to capacity. And the talent level of the performers has grown as well, with Colectivo and Pabst Theater Group able to book more familiar acts like Five For Fighting and Jessica Lea Mayfield in upcoming weeks. They’ve found that many performers even at a national touring level like the opportunity the Back Room gives them to perform in a smaller space.

“Performers, especially at this level, like that direct connection with their audience,” Schwebel says. “There’s this very simple, open connection between the artist on stage and the people who are sitting in the audience. I think all performers get a charge and I think our room sets it up to be a wonderful exchange between artist and audience.”