PUNK ROCK AT PANTHER ARENA
“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.
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.
THE ECLECTIC BACK ROOM @ COLECTIVO
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.
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 Ahmed—better known as experimental hip-hop artist WebsterX—and 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.
HALLOWEEN CONCERT PREVIEW
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.
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.
Milwaukee 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.
NEW MUSIC FROM SEX SCENES, FIVY, AR WESLEY, CHAKARA BLU, AND ZED KENZO.
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.
Our 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.
NEW VIDEOS FROM HEAR HERE PRESENTS
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.
As summer winds down Wisconsin music fans soak in the last sun-drenched and moonlit hours of outdoor music. The threat of rain held at for the inaugural Milwaukee Fringe Festival, where Tigernite and Milo turned in powerful headlining sets. The Underwear Bike Ride in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood threw another epic after party. Hear Here Presents, an independent video performance series, moved into a new studio space. Christopher Porterfield (Field Report) tells me about Argopelter, his improvisational rock trio. Plus, a new video from Milwaukee rapper AR Wesley featuring Von Alexander, and WiG recommended events.
HEAR HERE PRESENTS MOVES INTO NEW SPACE
Back when I was a college radio DJ and video student in Minneapolis I occasionally helped shoot the “Live on Radio K” in-studio performances. These are intimate recordings with up-and-coming bands, similar to the “Live on KEXP” series. While both 91.7 WMSE and 88Nine Radio Milwaukee host in-studio sessions with local and national bands, these performances are not video recorded for the public.
Hear Here Presents, an independent series produced by local comedian and music lover Ryan Holman, is filling that void in Milwaukee. The series is inspired by Audiotree Live, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, La Blogothèque, Live & Breathing, and Live on KEXP. In their first year Hear Here Presents has captured over 20 performances with local and national bands including Soul Low, Foreign Goods, and BUHU. This summer they moved from a loft on South Second Street across from Purple Door Ice Cream to the Lincoln Warehouse on South First Street.
Hear Here’s new home is shared with eleven other tenants, one of them being Milwaukee band The Cavewives. Their audio engineers use it to record music, while Holman’s girlfriend Jenny Vanderheiden uses it as a studio for her painting, making it a multi-purpose space.
I visited Hear Here’s studio on a recent Sunday for a shoot with local dream pop darlings GGOOLLDD. A crowd of about forty people were mingling and snacking. The space is filled with vintage furniture, band tour posters, plants and framed landscape paintings behind the performance area. Vanderheiden has added bright, colorful rivers to the paintings.
Hear Hear Presents uses high-end equipment to record both audio and video. It is currently a self-funded and volunteer-run endeavor, but Holman’s goal is to eventually be in partnership with a larger media outlet that can provide funding and distribution, though he’d like to maintain a curatorial role.
I spoke with Holman before the GGOOLLDD shoot.
RH: The new space is more professional, it feels more sharp. The last place was great but the building was kind of falling apart. This feels more like an actual recording studio than a loft. It’s a little bit bigger than the last space and the layout is different. The audience had to be off to the side in the last space, whereas now they can kind of wrap around.
GGOOLLDD began their performance with a stripped down version of “Younger Days.” Keyboardist and guitarist Thomas Gilbert played an acoustic guitar. After a change over the band returned fully electric, and Holman’s team fired up a smoke machine. He announced it was the first time they’ve used one, which elicited cheers from the crowd. The band then played “City Lights,” followed by their signature single “Gold.” After the cameras stopped rolling they played a few more songs for fun.
Because of their move Hear Here’s backlog has grown. It will take a few months before the GGOOLLDD video is out. In the meantime click here to check out their video library and music recommendations.
ARGOPELTER AT BOONE & CROCKETT
Field Report is one of the most successful Wisconsin bands of the last decade. The folk rock outfit has garnered praise from Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines. In celebration of their sophomore release, Marigolden, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed October 22, 2014, to be “Field Report Day.”
As part of Arte Para Todos 2016, a festival that raises awareness and resources for struggling arts and music programs in Milwaukee Public Schools, I brought Field Report frontman Christopher Porterfield and bassist Barry Paul Clark to Escuela Vieau School.
Porterfield regaled the Vieau middle schoolers with road stories and told them how a failed commercial jingle turned into one of his biggest singles. For the actual festival Porterfield performed a daytime solo set at Lux Bar and Lounge, a small black owned establishment that doesn’t typically host singer-songwriters.
No stranger to non-traditional venues and arrangements, Porterfield and Clark, along with prolific jazz drummer Devin Drobka, began playing improvisational rock sets at a small bar in the Bay View neighborhood under the moniker Argopelter. The sets take place once or twice a month on Mondays at Boone & Crockett. The trio first met playing at the “Alverno Presents: Unlooped vs. Marvin Gaye” concert.
On a recent Monday I went to see Argopelter. Porterfield told me that he’s happy with the progress of the new Field Report album and that it’s being recorded locally at Wire & Vice with engineer Daniel Holter. Porterfield actually had to leave the previous Argopelter performance early because his wife went into labor with their first child.
Argopelter tunes feel like extended, epic introductions to a Field Report song. Towards the end of the second set Porterfield heavily employed pedal effects to the point where one song sounded like the soundtrack to a superhero movie trailer. Their last song brought to mind Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” with Porterfield throwing in some faint vocals at the end. Overall, Argopelter is heavier and headier than what Field Report fans might be used to.
I emailed Porterfield and asked him what he likes about Argopelter.
CP: Argopelter really stretches me out. Most of what I do in other groups is composed and considered beforehand. Argopelter forces me to listen and trust. I love playing with Barry and Devin, and I’ve grown to trust myself as a player more from playing with and trusting them.
What we do is improvised, but it’s very different from jamming. It’s more meditative. It’s more moment-sensitive. It reacts and supports, and only injects point of view when one of us has something to say. We’re ok with a piece stalling out. There’s a lot of trust between us, the wonderful people at Boone & Crocket, and the audience we’ve developed. We’d all love to transcend, but we all know you can’t get there every time.
Some of the audience we’ve carved out is from the jazz community, and sometimes we invite someone to sit in on our second set. That’s always interesting. The three of us have become pretty sensitive to one another, and are hyper-aware of different energy. Sometimes it’s an exciting fit, and we all hear each other and blast off in new directions. Other times the vibe isn’t right. But every exploration yields some moment of discovery.
The next Argopelter performance at Boone & Crockett will be Monday September 12.
UNDERWEAR BIKE RIDE AFTER PARTY
Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood has a number of uncanny traditions. A few of those include bike riding. The annual “Riverwest 24” attracts riders from all over the city to compete in a 24-hour bike relay and communal hang. A smaller, but no less enthusiastic crowd gathers once a month in the summer for the Underwear Bike Ride (UBR). This celebration of positive body image, originally founded by Steve Roche in 2011, has grown organically over the years and regularly turns out over a hundred riders, especially when the weather cooperates.
The Underwear Bike Ride is followed by an after party concert. There have been some wild after parties, including Foreign Goods debut last summer at Bremen Cafe. Lorde Fredd33 opened the show, which took place shortly after the racially-charged South Carolina shooting. Fredd33 walked out in a ripped Confederate Flag tank top, which was eventually thrown into the crowd and lit on fire. (And then safely stomped out by Roche.) This June the Nashville-based, perpetually touring, immersive DIY dance party Terror Pigeon headlined the UBR after party at Company Brewing.
Last week Gloss Records label heads Harrison Colby and Joey Peterson got to play together at the UBR after party at Mad Planet. Their respective bands, NO/NO and Platinum Boys, opened for Baltimore’s Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. The show was originally scheduled for Quarters Rock ‘N Roll Palace, but Roche reached out to Peterson about making it the official UBR after party and moving it to the larger Mad Planet.
I wasn’t able to make it to the Underwear Bike Ride, so last Friday I went to High Dive to talk to Peterson about the show. When I arrived bartender Connor LaMue told me Peterson had just taken off for an early show at Bremen Cafe. Before leaving I chatted with LaMue, a member of the band Bad Wig, and he told me about a new noise band he’s in with Colby from NO/NO and two other people. They haven’t played out yet but they have three songs, they’re called Sex Scenes, and LaMue feels good about it. He was just getting over his hangover from the after party at Mad Planet and managed to take a tequila shot with me before I left to talk to Peterson.
JP: I was extremely pleased with the participation of the riders. It was cool to expose them to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. There was probably 200 more people. It was a nice mix of people who were going to the show and the underwear riders. The riders bought merch and were into the bands. They had all that adrenaline after going on a cruise like that, plus they’re in their undies. That’s like taking care of three steps of the party. Ideally that’s where it gets by three in the morning, but if you’re starting that way at 9:30 p.m. you’re in good shape.
Peterson, better known as Joey Turbo, is also the singer/leader of trash dance pop outfit Rio Turbo, who will be playing the Mondo Lucha! “When Worlds Collide” event at Turner Hall Ballroom on September 9. Mondo Lucha! is an annual wrestling event inspired by the “Lucha Libre” form of professional Mexican wrestling. The event was founded by Andy Gorzalski in 2008. This year’s Mondo Lucha! will also feature burlesque dancers and a performance by Rio Turbo.
JP: I’m fucking stoked. That’s what kicked off the whole Rio Turbo thing. Not to play a wrestling event, but that idea of obsessing over professional wrestling as a child.
WiG: So you’re hitting a Rio Turbo benchmark?
JP: Yeah. I’d say all that’s left is a bowling alley and a strip club.
The final Underwear Bike Ride of 2016 will be on September 16, with an after party featuring Juiceboxxx (MKE/NYC) and Show Me The Body (NYC).
Mondo Lucha! “When Worlds Collide” is September 9, at Turner Hall Ballroom.
MILWAUKEE FRINGE FEST MUSIC HEADLINERS
In addition to producing Hear Here Presents, Ryan Holman helped out with the inaugural Milwaukee Fringe Festival’s outdoor music stage. Early morning showers on Saturday August 27, were concerning, but the rain cleared up and stayed away for the entirety of the Fringe Fest’s outdoor music series.
Held at the Pere Marquette Park gazebo, the lineup included Milwaukee stalwarts Platinum Boys, ZED KENZO, Mark Waldoch, Abby Jeanne (Rebel Love), Piles, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, Ugly Brothers, and Light Music. It also featured out-of-towners Oh My Love (Madison), Seasaw (Madison), plus lesser known Milwaukee acts like LUXI, Zhivago, and Lady Cannon.
I visited the park, where the Wednesday night summer music series River Rhythms usually takes place, to catch the each headliner: Tigernite on Saturday and Milo on Sunday.
Tigernite is one of those bands that you couldn’t not hear about if you’ve been paying attention to Milwaukee music these last couple of years. They were the feature band at the 2015 Milwaukee Film Fest opening night party. This year they played just about every street festival and were one of the standout acts at Arte Para Todos. Fringe Fest would be my first time seeing a full set from the energetic glam rock band.
The most prominent aspect of Tigernite’s music is lead singer Molly Roberts voice. Love it or hate it, Roberts voice is a little Pat Benatar, a little Lita Ford, turned up a few notches. Their music sounds like something from the late ‘90s/early 2000s alternative rock scene. Guitarist Maxwell Emmet has long flowing rock star hair, and he plays the part well. At one point he hopped off-stage and ran through the crowd. Roberts one-upped him and poured a jar of glitter on her head, which stuck to some of the paint she smeared on her face and arms beforehand. She was a spark throughout the set, bouncing up and down, whipping her bi-colored (one half white, one half black) hair around, and even donned shiny black wings at one point. Between the band’s showmanship and Roberts powerful pipes, Tigernite delivered a hard-hitting, entertaining performance.
There has been much talk of the bubbling Milwaukee hip-hop scene in the last few years. In my first feature for WiG I wrote about the best rap albums (so far) of 2016. When it comes to artistry, Milo is on a level all to himself. This surely has something to do with the formative year he spent in Los Angeles with the Hellfyre Club collective. Not to mention, Milo has logged more tour miles than any other rapper in Wisconsin under 30. His stage presence has elevated considerably since I first saw him at Arte Para Todos 2015.
When I arrived at 8:55 p.m. on Sunday August 28, Milo’s signature sparse production could be heard echoing through the park. I worried that he had started early and I missed most of his set. But he was merely sound checking. Turns out, a Milo sound check is better than most rappers singles. Once he felt good about the levels he invited the modest crowd to come closer to the stage.
“It takes a lot of precious energy to rap in the park. It’s been a minute since a brother rapped in the park,” Milo told the crowd.
Throughout his set Milo repeated the refrain, “Thanks for coming to my job,” and “Glad you could make it to my place of work.” His white painter outfit emphasized this “blue collar rap” theme. Whereas some rappers see their music as a hobby, a get-rich-quick scheme, a way to get laid, etc., for Milo rap is simply his profession. When you see him live you can tell he puts in the hours, carefully crafting his art.
When I spoke with Milo earlier this year he told me he had been thinking about how to add theatrical elements to his live performance. At his Fringe Fest set there weren’t overt “bits,” but his movements were far more expressive. His interaction and appreciation for the audience was incredibly genuine. Where most musicians connect with the audience during eruptions of noise, Milo and his audience commune in those quiet moments between songs.
Early in his set Milo showed love to the festival and the audience for embracing the fringe spirit, of which is music squarely fits into. With that spirit in mind, he debuted a new song that he created the day before. Later in the set he brought intense ferocity to an unreleased BLM-themed song with lyrics about how “David Clarke hates himself” that was so powerful it gave me goosebumps. Considering the intimacy of the park setting and the free admission, it was a very special evening. Milo’s next performance will be this Friday at the sprawling, expensive, weekend-long Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.
WiG RECOMMENDED EVENTS
SEPT 8: Athletic Supply with Iron Pizza, Apollo Vermouth, and Proud Parents (Madison) at High Dive in Milwaukee. For more on Athletic Supply see my upcoming feature on Close Up of the Serene in this issue of WiG.
SEPT 10: The Movement V2: I Am Milwaukee – This unique, family-friendly, outdoor/indoor event will take place at the Beerline Trail in Milwaukee from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. From their Facebook event: “Using a series of compilation albums and events, “The Movement” demonstrates the power of musical talent at work in our city. Volume 2 highlights a pool of extremely talented Milwaukee producers. The release event brings together a diverse selection of our skilled hip hop, house and techno producers/djs, pushing against genre division, segregation, and building community.” For more information click here.
SEPT 10: 91.7 WMSE Backyard BBQ – In its 7th year, but first under the Humboldt Park Bandshell, Milwaukee’s favorite college radio station throws their free end of summer barbeque bash. Featuring performances by national acts Balkun Brothers, Sonny Knight and The Lakers, plus local bands Trapper Schoepp, Midwest Death Rattle and Doghouse Flowers.
SEPT 17: Rock the Green – After taking three years off, Southeastern Wisconsin’s premier sustainability-themed music festival is back. This year it will be held at the Reed Street Yards along the Menomonee River in Milwaukee. The mainstage lineup features international indie heavyweights Lord Huron, Best Coast, Robert DeLong, The Heavy, and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. Local favorites New Age Narcissism, NO/NO, Eagle Trace, Foreign Goods, Evan Christian, and Great Lake Drifters will be play a pedal-powered side stage. Each ticket comes with a reusable water bottle. For more information and tickets click here.
SEPT 17: Rusty Pelicans album release – Of my picks for the six best Wisconsin hip-hop albums (so far) of 2016 only one was forthcoming, Apartment 7 by the Rusty Pelicans. With two decades in the game, the Pelicans reunited their original lineup and brought in some of the best local talent to assist them on the new album, a return to form for Milwaukee’s longest-running hip-hop group. Sharing the bill at Company Brewing will be Mammyth, AR Wesley, Bo & Airo, and DJ MadHatter.
SEPT 17: Foreign Goods EP release – Gloss Records celebrates their first live recording cassette/digital release at Mad Planet in Milwaukee. Taken from their headlining set at Summer Soulstice in June, this live recording captures the dynamic performance of jazz/soul/funk/hip-hop supergroup Foreign Goods. Sharing the bill will be Lorde Fredd33.
SEPT 17: Jazz at the Jazz Gallery – Between 1978 and 1984 the Jazz Gallery on Center Street in Milwaukee was one of the premier jazz clubs in the country. Owner Chuck LaPaglia brought in the likes of Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, and Wynton Marsalis. Today the Jazz Gallery Center of the Arts hosts a variety of events, but are keeping their jazz legacy alive. Next Saturday features the Ryan Measel Quartet at 5 p.m., followed by the Billy Johnson Trio at 7 p.m., which features Milwaukee jazz legends Manty Ellis and Victor Campbell.
NEW AR WESLEY VIDEO
Directed by Rob Randolph and Raphael Roby, one of the best tracks off AR Wesley’s 2015 EP Time is Millmatic, “Here iGO ft. Von Alexander,” gets the slick visual treatment. The track is produced by Mike Regal, who appears in the video alongside another Milwaukee heavyweight, Reggie Bonds, and probably a few more rappers.
Wisconsin music makers have been busy these last few weeks. Appleton’s Mile of Music pulled off their fourth festival. One of the most anticipated Wisconsin albums of the year—Nosebleeds by Soul Low—was released on August 5. For more on Soul Low see my upcoming feature in WiG.
The attention of the international media will be on Eau Claire this weekend, as Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and friends host the second Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. I will bring you my report in the next issue of WiG. Now I offer my rundown of Mile of Music, the Milwaukee Public Library’s inaugural “Library Loud Days,” a couple Company Brewing shows, and the latest addition to Milwaukee’s impressive roster of festivals.
Synth Fest MKE
A new Milwaukee festival debuted last month in the Bay View neighborhood. Produced by the people at Acme Records—a music store on S. Kinnickinnic Ave—the inaugural Synth Fest MKE put the spotlight on electronic music. Barry Paul Clark, bassist in several Wisconsin bands including Field Report and the mind behind adoptahighway, told me that what made the festival unique is it provided an outlet to artists who don’t often perform live.
“The experimental, electronic music scene in Milwaukee can be very introverted. It is usually one person spending a lot of time working with different recording technologies and machines in isolation. The festival was really special because it showed us that we’re all kind of speaking the same language and living in the same universe, so there can be a community around it.”
One of those people who rarely plays out is John Goezler, who performed as BTS.WRKNG on the second night of the festival. Clark was happy to see Goezler, as he was one of the first people Clark met in the electronic scene after moving back to Milwaukee from New York City. Synth Fest MKE comprised two nights of music at Cactus Club and two days at Acme Records on July 23 and July 24.
I caught Clark as adoptahighway on the first night and he delivered a powerfully haunting set. On my way out of Cactus Club I ran into a guy who looked like but was not Nick Schubert of GGOOLLDD, which made me sad he wasn’t playing the festival as his Holy Visions side project. Maybe next year.
“Library Loud Days” inaugural event
In an attempt to redefine Milwaukee’s concept of their library, the Central Branch became a lively, interactive destination on July 28. Out front on Wisconsin Avenue there was a block party with V100 DJs, food and beer vendors. Inside there was an instrument station, a music video display, free popcorn, a photo booth, spoken word, and a headlining performance from New Age Narcissism (NAN), Milwaukee’s premier hip-hop collective. The stage was set up inside the Schoenleber Reading Room. The packed audience, from toddlers to senior citizens, gave NAN a warm reception, feeding off their infectious energy. It was a beautiful night of music in a place where I never thought I’d get the chance to chant, dance, sing and stomp.
The Lion’s Ball and Strange Fruit
Company Brewing in Milwaukee is usually closed on Monday, but when Milwaukee saxophonist Jay Anderson requested that his birthday party fall on his actual birthday—Monday July 25—owner George Bregar gladly complied. After all, Anderson helps book Company’s Wednesday night jazz supper club series. “The Lion’s Ball” also honored Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. It was quite the social affair, with some good music thrown in.
D’Amato turned in an inspired set with a smaller backing band than usual and dedicated a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “I Heard Love Is Blind” to Anderson, who is a huge fan of Winehouse. The headlining band featured Fred Boswell Jr., arguably the best drummer in town, and Angie Swan, an accomplished guitarist from Milwaukee who is spending some time back home before another high profile gig elsewhere. They jammed along with Quentin Farr, Alan Harris, Terry Harris, and B-Free.
This weekend (August 12 – 14) Anderson has co-curated the Strange Fruit music festival, which seeks to “explore the thoughts and emotions of local musicians, regarding the current climate of racial relations both in Milwaukee and the country as a whole.” It was inspired by a community dinner that included Anderson, Chauntee Ross (SistaStrings) and others. It is co-produced by Tarik Moody and David Ravel (former director of Alverno Presents), will be held at the Hotel Foster, Company Brewing, and Cactus Club, and features a very strong lineup of hip-hop, jazz, folk, rock and poetry performances.
Siamese and the new Nightgown lineup
Company Brewing hosted another special event on Tuesday August 2, as Dallas, TX glam rock band Siamese visited Milwaukee. This weeknight show also saw the debut of Nightgown’s new lineup, Milwaukee singer Gina Barrington’s latest project. She was joined by Amelinda Burich, Thomas Gilbert (GGOOLLDD) and Erin Wolf (Hello Death, WMSE). Local artist Kristina Rolander created her fourth custom, hand painted backdrop for the Company stage. (Full disclosure, Rolander is my girlfriend.)
The glittery, neon, geological rock inspired backdrop flowed seamlessly with Siamese’s outfits and face paint, elevating the young band’s gorgeous, groovy sound. Milwaukee’s Marielle Allschwang, who made one of the best Wisconsin records of 2015—Dead Not Done—finished the night with a spirited set. At one point she improvised a song with fellow Hello Death member Nathaniel Heuer in which she sang, “I want to be the dirt.” The sentiment seemed morbid until she followed it up with, “I want to help it grow.” It was a magical midsummer evening with an excellently curated lineup.
Cory Chisel and Mile Of Music 4
Appleton-native Cory Chisel has carved himself a nice place in the music industry, splitting time between his hometown and Nashville, TN. On July 29, his “World Tour of Wisconsin” stopped at the newly-opened MobCraft Brewery in Milwaukee. The sound wasn’t great as it reverberated between the brewing tanks, but Chisel and his band had an enthusiastic crowd. The vocal talents of J-Council were a highlight of the performance, part of a nine-city tour sponsored by USA Today that takes Chisel and his band to non-traditional venues representing what they love most about our state: breweries, barns, bookstores, supper clubs and riverboats.
Four years ago Chisel founded Mile of Music, an Americana/roots festival that has attracted thousands of visitors to downtown Appleton. The 2016 installment featured over 800 performances by more than 200 acts at 70 venues over four days on one mile. I visited “Mile 4” on Saturday August 6, staying at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel right in the heart of the action on College Avenue.
The festival can be overwhelming, with so many performances in bars, storefronts, alleys and outdoor stages. During my time I discovered the sweet, nervy indie-folk rock of Idle Empress (Eau Claire), the saintly-voiced Paul Otteson (Madison), and the derivative electro-hop of Oh My Love (Madison). It was no magic trick when Milwaukee favorites GGOOLLDD got Houdini Plaza dancing and debuted an uncharacteristically dark new song (working title “Undercovers.”)
The highlight of “Mile 4” for me was the festival’s first hip-hop showcase, curated by Milwaukee’s Lex Allen of New Age Narcissism. His collective headlined the five-hour block, which also included Milwaukeeans Fivy, Queen Tut, Mic Kellogg, AUTOmatic, Chakara Blu, Zed Kenzo, Rahn Harper, Cree Myles, Bo and Airo, and Chicago’s Ric Wilson.
The showcase was held at Lawrence University’s Stansbury Theatre, which was somewhat hard to find on the east end of the mile and had no beverage service. Even so, it was a success in that it exposed interested festival-goers to an underrepresented and often misunderstood genre of music, and some of its most talented local creators. After his show at MobCraft Brewery I spoke with Chisel about the hip-hop showcase.
“I’ve loved Lex for about two years. We played Summerfest and he was on the stage across from me. When I saw him I was like, “Who the hell is that?” So I tracked him down and we’ve become really good friends. He comes up to Appleton and visits. When I had the opportunity to expand the mind of our town with some new programming I immediately thought of Lex. The singer-songwriters are great but I think the festival needs what he brings.”
New videos by NO/NO, The Fatty Acids, and Airo Kwil
The last couple of weeks saw the debut of videos from one of the best Wisconsin albums of the year (NO/NO’s “Television” off Sound and Light), one of the best Wisconsin albums of the last 20 years (The Fatty Acids’ “Little Brother Syndrome” off Boléro), and the first single, “Run Away Now,” from Airo Kwil‘s upcoming album Best Served Cold.