By Joey Grihalva
A few years back Milwaukee’s arts and culture scene lost an important voice with the demise of the local branch of The Onion A.V. Club. Thankfully, city editor Matt Wild went on to team up with freelance writer Tyler Maas and launched the website Milwaukee Record in April 2014, offering a unique brand of “music, culture, and gentle sarcasm.”
Since its inception, Milwaukee Record has produced a signature benefit event called Local Coverage. The idea is simple: local bands and rappers cover each other’s material. Proceeds from the event are donated to worthy local organizations like Girls Rock Milwaukee and COA Youth & Family Centers.
On the surface the event might seem a bit like “inside baseball” — something only the musicians and critics such as myself might enjoy. However, after attending Local Coverage 2017 at Turner Hall Ballroom last Friday, I learned that the event has a surprisingly broad appeal.
The fact is that good musicians are good musicians, no matter what material they are performing. Not to mention, as someone who covers local music, it’s always refreshing to see an act perform new material rather than run through their usual set. In addition, the event brings together a diverse cross-section of the Milwaukee music scene, exposing the musicians both to each other and to a wider audience. The musical pairings are chosen at a draft a few months before the event.
Like David Ravel’s Uncovered series — which I featured in the last issue of WiG and the next installment, Tribe UNCOVERED, takes place tomorrow at Turner Hall — Local Coverage is a one night only event. As such, my girlfriend and I made sure to arrive promptly. Kicking things off was Americana band Devil Met Contention covering hip-hop artist Vincent VanGREAT, which they previewed on an episode of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee’s 414 Live.
Vincent VanGREAT followed with his rendition of Abby Jeanne’s soulful rock music, with help from his band Ninja Sauce and SistaStrings. VanGREAT teased his singing skills on the excellent 2016 album UnGREATful, but VanGREAT’s performance at Local Coverage put even more of a spotlight on this additional talent. The emcee/singer brought out Abby Jeanne — who was leaving the next morning for India — to join him on a song, a move that he assured the crowd was pre-approved.
Some acts — like Devil Met Contention and Abby Jeanne — presented their covers through the lens of their own musical sensibility. Others — like Midwest Death Rattle — did more true-to-form covers. The art rockers did an incredible job rapping along to D’Amato’s sexy and thought provoking lyrics.
“I’ve wanted to rap since the first time I saw 2 Live Crew,” exclaimed John Dykstra of Midwest Death Rattle after catching his breath. The band’s earnest rendition of D’Amato’s funky rap songs was a highlight of the night. Even their drummer couldn’t help but dance as they played the final song.
From the looks of her, you wouldn’t expect gentle folk singer Marielle Allschwang to absolutely own the rap stylings of Lorde Fredd33. But after learning about Allschwang’s penchant for hip-hop and R&B, along with the dark, hypnotic tone in each of their music, this was far and away our most anticipated performance of the night.
After a few sets I ran into Nathaniel Heuer — who plays bass in Allschwang’s band as well as another project, Hello Death — and I mentioned that most of the musicians seemed to be taking the challenge quite seriously.
“Oh yeah, we take this very seriously. We’ve rehearsed a bunch. At this point we know it as well as we know our own material,” replied Heuer.
Allschwang’s set was nothing short of a revelation. Her confident, controlled delivery of each and every one of Fredd33’s obscure lines of poetry was glorious in and of itself, but her band also created a mesmerizing soundscape that bounced between doom folk and alt hip-hop. Her set contained a political subtext as well, with Allschwang wearing a solidarity with Standing Rock t-shirt and closing with “MWME,” which contains the chorus, “Trynna turn the Midwest to the Middle East.”
With all of our hype centered on Allschwang’s set, I hadn’t thought about who would be covering her fantastic songbook. That task went to power-pop garage rockers Midnight Reruns, who delivered the best surprise of the night. Allschwang’s folk soul spoke directly through their jangly, crackling guitars. Every time I see the Reruns I love them more and more.
Another takeaway from the night included Jay Anderson creating synth sounds with his tiny saxophone via an effect pedal during Lorde Fredd33’s loose covers of Midwest Death Rattle. I also learned that while I’m not a fan of country music, I can get into country songs performed by a punk band. At least when that band is (two of the three members of) The Pukes covering the music of Buffalo Gospel.
D’Amato closed the show as only D’Amato knows how — with bravado and style, turning The Pukes snappy, punk tunes into his own sensual brand of get down. Between ticket sales, raffles and an exclusive beer made by Company Brewing, Local Coverage 2017 raised over $3,000 and counting, as the delicious sweet and spicy porter is still available at some local establishments. The audio from Local Coverage 2017 will be online later this year, but until then you can listen to and purchase recordings from past Local Coverage events here.