No Moment of Silence
OK, so now I need to talk about the big show last Saturday night. While it was triggered by the remembrance of absent friends, this seemed more of a homecoming, a reunion, what have you. I felt like I was at a cool high school reunion, at a high school I didn't go to. Most of the bands at Lest We Forget were just finishing up their run when I bounced into town in the late 80s -- although a handful of them were still playing gigs into the early 90s and releasing music. But still, this was a crowd that went before my time.
The remarkable thing about it all, from this outsider's vantage point, though, was how fresh it all sounded. Not a bit of it screamed "80s!" at me. The variety and diversity of these scene reinforced my longstanding view that for whatever reason, Milwaukee has always been, and continues to be, criminally overlooked when it comes to a vibrant arts/music scene. Up on that stage (and I arrived too late to catch Liv Mueller, the Blackholes and the Xposed4Heads, but I'm familiar with all of them anyway and they are all outstanding) I saw everything ranging from Americana, to good New Wave (as opposed to a lot of dreck that cluttered up the airwaves) to straight up punk, to heavy metal, to shoegazing, to experiemntal, to glam. As insular as this scene may or may not have been (lots of bands shared personnel), somehow it wasn't a stew of fifteen bands that all sounded the same, more or less.
Maybe that's why Milwaukee is overlooked. There isn't a definitive "Milwaukee Sound" that one can easily shoehorn into a genre one either likes or doesn't. When you say "Milwaukee" to somebody, there isn't a specific band or sound that jumps in your head the way, "the Memphis Sound" or "Seattle Grunge" or "Minneapolis punk/new wave" does. We don't all sound like the Violent Femmes, people. In fact, nobody sounds like the Violent Femmes except for the Violent Femmes, and nobody sounds like The XCleavers except for the XCleavers and nobody sounds like Die Kreuzen except for Die Kreuzen... and, you get the idea. Even the bands themselves couldn't be easily categorized. Take Die Kreuzen for example. Every album was different. You got the feeling that these were musicians who really loved everything, and incorporated elements of that "everything" into their music. Obviously, so did a lot of bands on the bill Saturday night. So that's why I'm not going to go through a blow-by-blow recap of every band that played, like I normally do in this space. It would be like critiquing the house band at a wedding (which, admittedly, I have been known to do). Let's face it, there was so much love and friendship in that room that Dan Kubinski could have opened up the dictionary and read from it for 40 minutes and that would have brought down the house.
But really, folks, from this (relatively) recent transplant's point of view, Milwaukee, you had (still have) a wonderful, diverse, brilliant music scene here. Nothing I heard Saturday sounded dated, all of the bands were tight and well-rehearsed, and played it as well as any full-time band working the circuit today. If I didn't already know that the majority of the bands reunited and played just this one show (and actually, from what I'm hearing, this was a lovely spark that re-lit the fire for a lot -- we'll be seeing more sets from a lot of these guys), I would have never guessed. Maybe you might have heard a sour note, or a missed beat or two, but I don't know these songs well enough to have been able to pick it out, and the level of professionalism was such that I don't think anybody did. So here's my set of photos.
And that's another point that needed to be made: I'm not the only one who noticed how smoothly things went. That's a tribute to the professionalism (read: grown-up-ness!) of all involved. Sets started on time and nobody went over. Nobody whined about whose amp or whose drum kit was being used. Musicians were set, plugged in, tuned up and ready to go and stayed out of each others' way during changeover. Only a couple of biffs in terms of sound, which were deftly handled by the seasoned pros behind the boards, and those on stage didn't so much as flinch. They just hit another mic until theirs was patched in and played through a mix that was amazing, given the high ceilings and hard walls that the Turner Hall ballroom would normally render shrieking. Lighting was beautifully done and appropriate to each band, and the video montages were funny, thrilling, and bittersweet.
The rock and roll lifestyle does take its toll, though. I'm reconnecting with a lot of other folks from other facets of my life, and while we've buried a few people here and there, for that seemingly obvious reason, it's not like the giant list of people we all somberly looked at on that huge video screen here in the musical underbelly of Milwaukee. Damn, that list was long. And damn, that list included a lot of talent. And really, a significant portion of those people did NOT shake this mortal coil by slowly killing themselves with liquor or drugs: some of the more recent passings were people who generally took good care of themselves and loved life and lived it with gusto. So while the dancing liver bopped around the stage and audience, and while the named scrolled, all I could do was be glad that these people lived and shared their vision with us and inspired us to keep making music and keep living life because you never know when you're number's going to come up anyway. As Doctori Sadisco proclaimed Saturday in his poem that really summed things up: "No moment of silence! NO MOMENT OF SILENCE!"