2011: Year Of The Cactus?

Thu Feb 03 2011
Not like we expect anything less, but Cactus Club just had a smokin’ hot two-week run of rock and roll shows, making the city forget that spring is still a long way off.  All three shows I saw there were cold nights packed full of people, even on a Tuesday!  How did this happen?  We know we can rely on a good beer selection, great service, perfect sound, and of course, a pool of local talent that keeps getting better all the time, often sending national-touring headliners away with their tails between their legs.

January 14th was night one of the Muzzle Of Bees sixth anniversary celebration, and appropriately, Ryan Matteson’s site is where I first heard of Sat. Nite Duets.  The group put out one of the Brew City’s best releases last year, the One Nite Only EP, and to our expressed joy, these guys can bring it live as well.  The first act of the night was billed as Blessed Feathers, but unfortunately only one member of the group could make it for some reason, so two members of Lost Letters filled in for a short set that I imagine was about as good as it could be on very little rehearsal.  Golden Coins picked up the energy considerably with a very layered, dense sound that shifted between conventional song formats and the edge of pure noise.  Looking forward to getting to know this band better, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase its cassette-only latest release (if only it came with an mp3 download…).

The night’s headliners have benefitted from a lot of Pavement comparisons; fair enough.  There’s a similar devil-may-care attitude and quirky, guitar-heavy songcraftsmanship to back it up.  Duets are significantly more eclectic and weird overall, though, both musically and lyrically, and vocal contributions from practically everybody in the band add to the excitement via unpredictability.  And in fact, as green as these guys are, they’re already less sloppy than Pavement generally was as a live band.  This set was over in what seemed like fifteen minutes, but it was a stunner.  Let the bidding wars begin, hip record labels!

Four nights later I was back in Bay View for a barnburner.  First, local workhorses Architects Of The Aftermath raced through a set of the death/thrash revival style that’s trending these days.  They have some really solid tunes and top-notch guitar work, but your enjoyment of the band might depend entirely on your tolerance for completely imprecise double-bass drumming.  If you’re into the underground metal scene, though, you’ve surely built up a tolerance.

Burning Sons came on next and crushed our skulls.  You won’t see anybody play drums faster or better than Dan DuChaine with those baseball bats he calls sticks.  The near-capacity crowd churned to old-school hardcore perfection as the band tore through the tunes on last year’s Mystic Records 7" plus a handful more; get excited for the group’s next release, whenever it may be arriving.  We were breathless and, well, it was a weeknight, so we bailed on headliners Toxic Holocaust; maybe next time.

Two Fridays later, the 2010 year-end-list-conquering heroes of Call Me Lightning (stars of Cactus Club’s homepage) played a hometown show, middle act on a bill that also featured relative newcomers (the band, not its members…) to the MKE scene Death Dream.  If you liked singer Brian Rogers’ recently-disbanded Freight, you will probably dig Death Dream.  The Milwaukee noise scene is busting, and Rogers is in or around most of its best bands; add Ifihadahifi guitarist Christopher Van Gompel and you’re pretty much guaranteed a winner.

The best part about CML’s set?  When it was over, my buddy Alex (who’d never heard of the band) was so blown away, he demanded that I loan him the money to buy the When I Am Gone My Blood Will Be Free vinyl.  And he doesn’t even own a turntable.  It used to be kind of disorienting seeing CML live; there was an arena-sized presence and wall of sound that didn’t quite fit the songs, until the arrival of 2006’s Soft Skeletons and particularly its bombastic title track.  Now, the band is armed with a whole album full of songs that awesome and that huge, and it is a powerful thing to behold.  The band played exclusively from the new album, and shook the house to its foundations, ‘nuff said.

Headliners Disappears, featuring Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, were really good too; they have a deceptively pop-oriented approach to pulsing noise rock, and the communication between band members was impressive as they navigated the loosely-structured jam portions of the show.  Still, after the balls-out energy of CML, Disappears was a welcome comedown for the crowd, and ultimately the perfect way to wrap up another amazing night of music at old Cactus.  Now to gear up for Fatty Acids next Friday…

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