Juniper Tar: Turner Hall Ballroom, 4/27/12
Posted 5/1/2012 by cal
Ever since Wilco went indie rock, the whole folk rock trend seems to have lost its way. Hell, even My Morning Jacket went disco, and if all we’re left with is Fleet Foxes in the national picture, God help us. (I’m not even going to get started on Bon Iver.) But freed from the pressures of keeping up with a widespread scene, Milwaukee has kept the flame alive all this time, to the point where now it’s the dominant unifying sound of Brewtown. Go figure; this is where the rural and the urban meet, a cultural melting pot with plenty of room to breathe. It may be a sad thought, but with the passing of Levon Helm, there could well be a massive resurgence in roots music, but around these parts it’s been full steam ahead all along. 2012 will purportedly see new releases from The Championship and Field Report (start getting excited now), and Friday night, The First Waltz at Turner Hall Ballroom (naturally!), was in honor of Juniper Tar’s exceptional new album Since Before. I don’t care if you’re sick of hearing about these guys. They rule.
I’m going to bring up MMJ one more time, because there are definite stylistic similarities between old MMJ and J-Tar, and for years I’ve been hearing about how MMJ is the best live band in the country. Now, I know everybody’s looking for different things in live music, but I really feel like the praise for MMJ has to do with good songs and numerous guitars at once, and perhaps the stage presence of Jim James. That’s all I get out of their live show. There’s nothing impressive about their improv, and very little evolution between studio and stage in terms of the actual songs. They play really good, dynamic, atmospheric/loud rock songs. That’s what J-Tar does too, except instead of a Kermit The Frog falsetto they’ve got these amazing three part harmonies. So basically what I’m saying is that J-Tar live is a lot like MMJ live, except much better.
The most unexpected aspect of this show was how well the performance flowed. Taken as a whole it was smoother than any night of the Hotel Foster residency, which is counterintuitive considering most of the guests from four weeks’ worth of shows were up there at some point or other on Friday. Sure, there were a few pauses for tuning, equipment mishaps (and swift recoveries), and Joe Crockett was a bit hard to hear. But all in all, in a room where vocals often get muddied and drowned, the sound was damn good, the transitions between guests were natural and J-Tar as a unit was tight.
Highlights? Golly. The Black Eagle Child appearance bookended by “Residents” and “Canting” (I hope I’m remembering that right) was stunning in its entirety. Hello Death’s “Settlers” is probably still stuck in the heads of half the people who were in attendance; songs don’t get much more perfect than that one. I loved the fact that I heard at least two people wondering when the Sat. Nite Duets portion was going to happen, and appropriately, Andrew Jambura’s was the final guest appearance of the main set. This rendition of “Peel Away” was even better than the one at Foster, pure rock and roll glee. J-Tar closed the set out in maximum guitar mode with “After The Tremors” and “She’s Inside Glass” (nothing against the version on To The Trees, but this song is leaps and bounds better live). Nothing left but the massive “I Shall Be Released” singalong for the encore, for which my lovely wife took the reins for the second verse and got possibly the biggest crowd reaction of the night.
Okay, maybe we were cheating; the night was made sweeter by having so many of our favorite people in the room, and it’s not without sadness that I think about this night and how this five-week run has ended now. But it was the record release party, and as such, just the beginning
; there’s a whole world out there now getting its first chance at these songs. The goal now is to think of Friday night as a stepping stone instead of the peak, and that's hard to do right now; maybe when I'm not missing it so much...