The Kids are Alright

Ah, the annual "Kids' Night" at Chill on the Hill, where bands comprised of younger musicians fill the bill, sometimes for their very first major performance. It's always a treat to see that night (my first COTH this year, as a matter of fact: I've been BUSY) because when I turn on the radio and hear pre-programmed dreck, the fresh-faced new bands give me hope with their enthusiasm and gumption.  This years trio of bands was no exception.

After a drum corps and baton demo, the first band, Half Glass Full, set up on stage. The majority of this band are recent 8th graders out of Fernwood Montessori, and they opened with a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium." They feature two lead singers, who either trade front person status or sing in duet -- both singers in the melody -- which exposes a bit of pitchiness. But it's heartfelt enough to gloss over. They had a pile of good originals too, a few that punched down a nice groove. Their enthusiasm won everybody over: right down to the brand spankin' new Chuck Taylors the bass player pulled out for the gig. As they were the first band, they only got less than a half hour set, and closed it out with AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" which woke up the crowd and allowed their singers to let it all out.

Next up was a trio of brothers, plus a friend called The Trojan Horses. Their fresh-faced appearance almost belied what we were about to hear musically: on one hand, you have these Mequon boys with shop haircuts, and a demeanor that almost suggested another trio of brothers named Hanson. But then they're wearing Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix t-shirts. And the music they played implied that these weren't just something they found in the clearance bin at Hot Topic: clearly they've actually listened to these artists. They opened with a confident catchy pop number, and checked off all the boxes: a proto-metal bash (complete with scorching guitar), a snotty little shuffle, an emotional ballad, and rocking anthem, and they closed their set with a composition so prog that Darrell "The Brains" Martin approached them and asked if they'd heard of any Hawkwind or other European prog. As they were generally a bit older than the Half Glass Full kids, they were more comfortable and engaging on stage, and their lead singer had enough charisma to carry them through, as he thanked the crowd, and professionally plugged their online presence -- geez, I was almost expecting him to direct us to the merch table -- but I'm sure that's coming soon.  Definitely a band of younguns to watch.

Which is something you could have said a few years back when closers Negative Positive had the first slot, fresh after their "graduation" from Girls Rock Milwaukee. Tuesday night they came back as revered alumnae and with good reason. They've stuck together since their "camp" experience, and have clearly grown not only as musicians and performers, but it's obvious they are a band. With a Summerfest slot, a pile of street festivals, and a music release party with Tigernite under their belt, their obvious onstage comfort and professionalism belies their age -- they're still in the 13-16 range.I read online that they're equally enthusiastic to return to Girls Rock as leadership, which fires my already warm heart about them. And they deserve the devoted fan base of (mostly) young women (but rest assured, plenty of boys were into them as well).
Lead singer/guitarist Ava Gessner belts out songs in a high (not quite shrill like, say, Corin Tucker's), but strong voice that commands attention. They're working similar turf as Sleater Kinney, but they're not as harsh. More pop, but definitely punk.
Gessner attempts -- and succeeds -- at melodies that would at first seem to be out of her range, but she nails them and throws in a talky rap here and there that keeps the audience engaged. She's backed by a rhythm section  of Ava Antoine and Lola Flores that, while looking quiet, is equally forceful and confident. To be sure, I always recommend that if you're worried about the state of rock, you should go to the youth night at COTH, because, as the old Who number goes, the kids are indeed alright.


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