"The First Waltz" Residency, Night 1

Thu Mar 29 2012
Hotel Foster . Finally, a worthy successor to The Globe East. Wednesday night was my first venture into the building since Today Is The Day played in it, October 2002. It was kind of like going into Shank Hall for the first time after its renovation, except it didn’t feel sucky. You don’t get many chances in life for a sudden memory dump like this, and it was weird but invigorating envisioning the dingy black environs from back in the day and remembering all the great shows. Foster is nothing like The Globe, really, but of course it shouldn’t be. It’s a symbol of the new Milwaukee, the one that demands a modicum of style and a substantial selection of Wisconsin beers and fierce support of this potential golden age for local music.

Jason Mohr had me at “Like A Monkey In A Zoo”, the Daniel Johnston tune he performed solo to start the show. Actually, I think Juniper Tar pretty much captured everybody with the brief section of “Strings” that served as soundcheck. Three-part harmony like that isn’t as simple to pull off live as these guys make it seem. Even when they succeed, most bands sound like Beach Boys or CSN or Eagles rip-offs doing it—all artifice and no character. Not so with Juniper Tar. Together, Mohr and Ryan and Aaron Schleicher create a gritty but smooth, instantly recognizable sound, and they’ve been at it long enough now that it’s getting scarily second-nature in the best possible sense.

The band stuck to its more celebratory tunes for the most part, which was appropriate for the first night of this month-long residency. Also fitting was the appearance of Andrew Jambura from Sat. Nite Duets, the city’s premier weirdo-party band. He played a couple songs solo at the keyboard, then joined JT for a gleeful rendition of “Peel Away” worthy of his own band. John Sieger (aka Johnny Schleicher) of Semi-Twang came on next for a couple solo tunes and a couple group tunes. The night was frankly a brilliant generational cross-section of Milwaukee roots rock, as well as a perfect prelude to Friday’s Cover Milwaukee show, come to think of it. Oh, and the packed-stage finale of “I Shall Be Released”? A whole house filled with nothing but smiles.

This is how mythologies are nurtured, how scenes coalesce, how things start to develop that you can look back on with gratitude for having been there. Even if the whole thing starts fading out in a month, with or without any sort of widespread validation, the current surge of creativity in this city’s music is already A Thing, across scenes and genres, competitive but relentlessly positive. What do I know, maybe our town isn’t special, maybe this is happening everywhere, but it is happening. If this, to you, is a worn-out argument or misplaced idealism, fine; stay home. But what fun is that? (Check out the lowdown on this residency, including the lineup of special guests, here.)

Comments on this article from long ago

2012-04-13 Schnufi
This was by far one of my all-time favorite events in Milwaukee! It's sad that it's coming to an end soon. Thanks for capturing the memory so perfectly.
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