"The First Waltz" Residency, Nights 2 & 3

Sat Apr 14 2012

Last week I was either too busy or too lazy (I forget which) to do a recap of night two of this residency that’s racing to its conclusion all too quickly, and it wouldn’t be fair to skip a week.  So, let this be your official welcome to the new and improved You-Phoria, thanks to the dedicated work of the inventor and namesake of this site (and birthday boy)!  Act now, limited-time, Milwaukee Day offer: TWO Juniper Tar Hotel Foster “The First Waltz” Residency reviews for the price of one! (Actually, it’ll be up here forever; no need to rush.)

As promised, J-Tar has made every night of the residency so far a very different experience.  The ebullience of night one gave way to a more subdued, introspective night two.  This week’s show was the experimental one, and probably the best so far.  No, not the crispest, not the most well-rehearsed or consistent, but its best moments were the best moments so far.  Thinking about it gets me really sad that there’s only one more night of this to go.

On paper, this run was looking belligerently sausagefestian, but it’s not turning out that way.  Last Wednesday brought an appearance by Lisa Ridgely, duetting with Chris DeMay for a beautiful show-opening acoustic tune.  [Side note: Lisa is having her own record release show at Club Garibaldi May 4th--don’t worry, I’ll remind you!]  This week got way more girly; since Trapper Schoepp had an emergency engagement with Tommy Stinson (rain check next week), Hello Death stepped in to fill his shoes, and this band actually jived a lot more smoothly with the mood of the night anyway.  Plus, the show started with a stunning rendition of Damien Jurado’s “Working Titles” by Ryan Schleicher, Hello Death’s Erin Wolf and my lovely wife! (I believe in the end she was pretty happy that I volunteered her for the job.)

Some of you may know Marielle Allschwang as one-twelfth of Altos, but if you want to get a clearer picture of her as a singer and songwriter, Hello Death is the way to go; can’t WAIT for this band to put out some music.  Earthy, with a slightly gothic darkness, yet strangely uplifting for reasons you can’t put your finger on, HD combined with JT for a mics-off performance of an amazing song called “Settlers”, one of the many highlights of the night, and it actually got most of the crowd to quiet down and pay attention!  I’d heard the song a few times in rehearsal but did not get it at all until this spine-tingling performance.  Found myself singing along involuntarily in unintelligible syllables.

Yes, the crowds have been universally chatty on this run; Aaron Scheicher (who showed off his mad DJ skillz tonight) even pleaded with the crowd to “talk to your friends later” but to little avail.  Chalk it up to Foster regulars or just the meeting of minds eager to pick each other’s brains and make connections, but it’s a supreme test of my patience and powers of tuning out and focusing in, which is something I choose to relish instead of get pissed about.  Most of the time.  The quality beer (and the swill) and exotic cocktails flow like, um, alcohol, at Foster, and as such, so does the conversation.  Black Eagle Child overcame this with volume and layer upon layer of sound.  His set was mesmerizing; particularly following his apology, “There’s been a technical difficulty”, he crafted a rich, Mogwai-esque crescendo of moody guitar.  Then one by one, dudes crept onstage with partially-full jars of beer and began to join in, slowly constructing a wall of cascading noise that eventually bled into Juniper Tar’s “Canting”.  Brilliant through and through.

This was all in stark contrast to last week’s significantly more straightforward, folky affair, paying tribute to stalwarts of the scene rather than up-and-comers.  Hugh Masterson of the Wildbirds and Joe Crockett of The Championship each took the stage for the urban cowboy portion of the night.  It seems like ages since I’ve seen The Championship, so it was particularly enjoyable hearing J-Tar back up Joe for “A Change”.  The two bands have been on remarkably parallel paths of evolution over one LP and EP each, so the prospect of shiny new albums from both bands this year is exciting (as if 2012 wasn’t already off to an amazing start in terms of MKE music).

Paul Cebar, here in between stints at Cover Milwaukee and A Prairie Home Companion, serenaded the crowd for a couple tunes, including the Magnetic Fields’ “Book Of Love”, which he has completely made his own; I pretty much think of it as a Cebar song now.  If we’re looking at these shows in terms of The Band’s Last Waltz, I like to think of Paul as the Neil Diamond of Milwaukee; the veteran, still-relevant dean of Brew City singer/songwriters, except he actually has, y’know, a meaningful musical connection with Juniper Tar.  It was also cool to have Cebar’s R&B Cadets cohort John Sieger (perhaps the Paul Butterfield surrogate?  These are not definitive comparisons.) return for the second week to dominate “I Shall Be Released”.

No Seiger for week three, but the Dylan finale was just as awesome, following a couple of bombastic new tunes from our hosts, those gravelly harmonies barreling through the sound system like drag-racing Harleys.  Once again, the line between band and fan blurred, along with our speech and vision, and we staved off the dread of the Thursday hangover for a bit longer.
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