Call Me Lightning: Frank's Power Plant, 3-13-09

Mon Mar 23 2009

There were at least three different Milwaukee shows I could’ve been happy checking out on this night. The Danglers were playing at Points East Pub, but what I’d heard from the headliners, Consider The Source, was pure soulless, proggy wankery, so I ruled that one out. Originally we were planning on seeing Masonry at the Cactus Club, a band I’d never seen but seemed promising. Then at the last minute, we decided instead to try Frank’s for a sure thing with Call Me Lightning. I’d just seen the band a couple weeks prior but it was difficult to fully enjoy as I could barely move and there were equipment problems; plus, I was eager to see CML play a full set, so off we went.

My first impression of Frank’s is that it’s a perfect place to see a show. The bar and stage are in separate rooms, like at Cactus, but you can hear the music from anywhere, and it’s a good set up, the sound was good, and it was packed but I still had no trouble getting a drink at any point—kudos to the bar staff! No complaints at all.

The opening band was Chicago’s Blueblood, and it was really too bad that most of the crowd was jabbering loudly, only a few people actually paying attention, because the band was really good. You could trace a fairly straight line from The Kinks through Elvis Costello, a slight jog to Cramps-style garage static, back through some definite My Bloody Valentine shimmer (but no trace of the muddled vocals), and arrive at Blueblood’s brand of earnest indie rock. It was punk-styled staccato with a geeky heart, and it worked really well as a warm-up to what would be the real highlight of the night.

Detroit’s Terrible Twos looked straight-up new wave, and in a way, the music was new wave, but channeled through noise punk and borrowing tempos and time shifts from grindcore, so brutal in effect that it was sometimes hard to believe there was a keyboard player flailing away up there. The band had the energy of Operation Ivy but with no trace of ska, often coming off like Devo cranked to 78 rpm and filtered through an impossible level of overdrive. They were quite honestly exhausting to watch but the more operative word was exhilarating. One way or another, this is punk rock, incredibly loose yet nailed tight in all the right places. This band needs to put together a tour with IfIHadAHifi, soon. The excitement the TTs generated was a palpable slime coating everyone for the rest of the night, and the next two acts didn’t quite live up to it.

Well, that’s not really accurate. The next act, Thomas Function, was almost impossibly ill-suited to follow the Terrible Twos, yet for some reason, the crowd was loving it. I’ll chalk it up to alcohol. Singer Joshua Macero’s voice is a couple annoyance levels beyond Gordon Gano, and that’s way too much right there. The band’s MySpace genre triumvirate reads “pop/soul/shoegaze”; this must be one of those jokey, arbitrary (pointless) inputs, because I get the “pop” but neither of those other two descriptions made any appearance tonight. The aura was like a sock hop but without any attempt at a tie-in, like a half-assed cover band trying out its own songs, irreverent and it’s not a wedding reception. I would have called it a completely useless set of crappy Faces rip-offs with unlistenable singing, except it took the pressure off the headliners to live up to the energy of the Terrible Twos, and as such I wholeheartedly support the booking choice.

Call Me Lightning came out and rocked the house as predicted. This band is about where Tapes ‘N Tapes was just prior to the release of 2005’s The Loon, except without all the buzz, presumably because CML is from invisible little Milwaukee. The group is rambunctious enough to remain somewhat undefined and under the radar, but powerful enough to be making a name for itself on just catchy tunes and energy. There were a couple of new, unreleased songs in the set that suggest CML is heading in a slightly more jammy, post-rock direction, which really works well in the live setting; this seems to be the band’s focus at the moment anyway. These guys exude working-class bonhomie that tempers the rock-star ambitions of the songs perfectly. Fans will just have to hope that if the hype ever catches up with them, they’ll hang onto that humble spirit, because they’ve undoubtedly got the pieces in place to make the leap to national awareness at any time. The next album could be just the push they need.

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