It’s kind of a shame that a night like the seventh of May 2011 at the Mad Planet probably won’t be remembered in the annals of prog history, not even in Milwaukee lore. There were equipment problems, the playing wasn’t always crisp, wasn’t always inspired. But the best moments of each set amounted to musical greatness, three seasoned bands still very much relishing the ability to blow away an audience. Halfway through The Danglers’ set, bassist David Gelting summed things up perfectly: “It’s been a lovely night of complicated music.”
Fibonacci Sequence’s opening set shouldn’t be overlooked, but the band is still finding its feet live. For a band that has been playing out for less than a year, these guys are surprisingly adept at recreating the complexities of their traditional instrumental prog debut, last year’s Numerology. There were rhythmic discrepancies throughout, and keyboardist Jeff Schuelke may have gone off the tracks a few times, but it was intermittently thrilling stuff; drummer Tom Ford in particular was impressive, and guitarist Michael J. Butzen showed flashes of brilliance. Especially refreshing: in a genre that often takes itself too seriously, these guys don't. They were clearly having fun up there.
Once The Hue’s set began, the ferocity got cranked up a notch. Some difficulties with their amps only seemed to inspire guitarists Jared Rabin and Marcus Rezak; they were particularly experimental with their leads tonight, making for one of the more viscerally jagged shows I’ve seen them play, and one of the most powerful. The highlight of the blistering set was the second-to-last song, a brand new one that amplifies the metallic edge of the heaviest songs on the group’s debut, 2009’s Beyond Words. If this is the direction The Hue is headed, the world is in store for a more concisely vicious but more crushingly melodic attack than ever from this band.
The only other time I’d seen Alpha Transit was when the band blew an admittedly off-its-game Particle off the stage at the Miramar Theatre; that was over three years ago, and I’d barely heard a word since; definitely my loss. Leaning more sharply into the jazz realm than your typical jamband can navigate properly, each member of the group took solos that riled up the crowd, but it was during a couple of full-band excursions that they set themselves apart. It takes a rare concoction of unselfish creativity for an improv-based band to travel into unknown waters guided by a singular purpose, and Alpha Transit achieved it for a couple of stunning jams in this set. I don’t throw this comparison around lightly, but for a moment I felt the dramatic tension of a really hot Phish jam. Not gonna let another three years go by before catching this band again.There was a stretch in the early 00s when it seemed like The Danglers briefly lost touch with what made them a unique Milwaukee treasure, but over the past half-decade or so they’ve set about recapturing and building on their original formula (and thankfully, leaving the guitar out of the picture). As a result, these three musicians--Jason Loveall on electric violin and vocals, John Sparrow on drums, and Gelting on upright bass--are so in tune with each other’s improvisational whims that they are absolute masters of launching into free-jazz territory and landing smoothly back into their compositions.
There are almost guaranteed to be moments of impenetrable randomness that occasionally smack of dispassionate exercise, but these were fleeting Saturday night; the group’s largely improvised set was often wildly inspired. Loveall was spellbinding, stretching and distorting his unconventional violin melodies into and out of the maelstrom of noise like an ice sculptor with a chainsaw. Even at their most chaotic, Sparrow and Gelting were focused and attentive to each other and their frontman, twisting confounding sound puzzles into awe-inspiring resolutions over and over. You probably felt dizzy at times (even if you weren't drinking), but you couldn’t help but be impressed.