Ifihadahifi CD Release Party: Cactus Club, 9-6-08

Mon Sep 08 2008

These days, I find myself feeling a tad chagrined that I’ve lived in Milwaukee for 12 years and I’m just starting to really pay attention to the music scene here. Sure, I’ve been a Willy Porter fan forever, used to catch lots of good shows at Linneman’s when I lived in Riverwest, and I kept up with all my friends’ bands back in college but they all eventually broke up and I got way too busy chasing around all kinds of national heartthrobs. But it’s never too late to help nurture the hometown scene. Saturday was the CD release party for local rauck legends ifihadahifi, and a free show to boot. A perfect scenario for the Cactus Club’s refurbished earsplitting sound system. Thank God I brought my ear plugs.
The New Loud was scheduled to open the festivities, but due to illness, King’s Horses had to be called in at the last minute to fill in; since singer/guitarist Matt Slater was already, um, slated to play with his other band (white, wrench, conservatory.), it seemed like a great idea, rehearsals be damned! I would have been impressed even if the group had been gearing up for the show for weeks. The band played concise yet explorative rock that swung from subversive hookiness to abrasive spookiness, thoughtful lyrics at a premium but not overbearing. The songs were the stars; the players basked worthily in their glow. My impression was sort of Young Widows meets Spoon—trust me, it’s better than a peanut butter cup. Another band on the “new record coming soon” conduit—let’s hope it’s for real. This was a great start to the night.
Slater’s other band followed (don’t hate me if I haven’t nailed the grammar on its name). I’d seen the group twice previously and hadn’t been blown away, but both times I felt something in the music to keep me coming back, and besides, they always play with other great bands. Tonight, the sound was good, the mood was right, and the band kicked ass. Dixie Jacobs had seemed a bit unsteady the first time I saw her perform; she seemed like a totally different person tonight, in complete command. Maybe she’d just grown confident in the material; if so, it’s with good cause. The songs stood out as much more than just generic shoegaze with a chick singer, which had been my first impression many months ago. There’s still an element of peril, like things could come unhinged at any moment, in the performance; watching Thom Geibel navigate some of the trickier drum parts, I couldn’t help feeling like there’s got to be an easier way, but I always thought that about Keith Moon, too. But one of the coolest things about the set for me is how even the non-singing members of the band feel compelled to sing along at peak moments. It’s something you never see at a Big Rock show. Maybe rock stars feel that it’s unprofessional; to me, it’s a testament to the band’s belief in the song. Despite a few awkward rhythmic problems, I have to say they’ll keep me coming back.
The first time I saw System and Station was at sorely-missed Madison venue O’Cayz Corral, opening for the Meat Puppets (and completely blowing them away). Soon afterwards I bought the band’s Prospects For Living Daily EP, was not impressed and unfairly lost track of the group. My loss, as it turns out. They were the night’s only non-Milwaukee band, although they once called Madison home, and they were a good fit for the bill, playing the familiar mathy indie rock I remember from that show nine years ago. The rhythmic shifts were tight, the hooks were intact, and the overall sound was a bit more muscular than I remembered, but still perfectly suited to the songs (I believe they were only a three-piece in ’99). Clearly experienced road warriors, the band careened from tune to tune frenetically and fluidly, playing a well-oiled set that upped the face-value intensity a notch, just what we needed to prep us for the headliners. We were now officially primed.
This was a show that got the order of bands just right in terms of kinetic energy. If you’ve heard ifihadahifi’s records, you would know to expect raw power; barely-contained ferocity was more like it, though. The difference between the CD and the live show is like the difference between Fugazi and Today Is The Day—an indefinable degree of perceivable suppression of chaos. There’s no doubting the structure of this music, but a CD can’t pummel you with thrilling madness the way a live show can. The swirl of sound that emanates over Mr. Alarm’s propulsive bass lines and Dr. Awkward’s bludgeoning drum beats may seem like it’s going to get away from them, but it never actually does. Vocally, the effect is akin to a trio of mad sentient robots in mid-short-circuit, largely enhanced by the supporting cast of bleeps and screeches coming from the other instruments onstage. Don’t be misled, though; these guys play well-defined songs with beginnings, middles, and ends. There’s just plenty of room for whatever crosses their minds to be coaxed out of whatever’s within reach when they play live. The result is an exhilarating cacophony that’s way too caustic to be pop music but still too catchy to be lumped into “noise.” The best bands are often the ones that make writers like me get sick of trying to come up with a genre designation; I guess the best I can do is to say it’s loud music that makes you want to move your body spastically to its angular beat. I hope that sounds appealing. Buy the new album, Fame By Proxy, listen to it at a high volume, and consider yourself warned but not quite prepared.

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