File under “free shows”: 5 memorable performances at Milwaukee record stores
Believe it or not, there was time in the not-so-distant past when people had to physically enter something called a “record store” in order to get a hold of new music. (Shocking, we know.) Along with thousands of albums and bucket loads of withering condescension, these mysterious brick-and-mortar dinosaurs occasionally offered customers chances to see their favorite artists in an intimate, up-close setting. Today, the hallowed tradition of the “in-store performance” still lives on in Milwaukee, even if the number of actual record stores throughout the country continues to dwindle.
In advance of The Posies appearance this Friday at The Exclusive Company (1669 N. Farwell)—a proper show at Turner Hall follows later in the evening—The A.V. Club takes a look back at a few memorable in-stores from Milwaukee’s past.
1. Smashing Pumpkins at Atomic Records, October 22, 1991
Long before the horrors of hair loss, Zwan, and Jessica Simpson, Billy Corgan was simply the frontman for one of the most dynamic bands of the ’90s, the Smashing Pumpkins. Way back in those halcyon, pre-Siamese Dream days, Corgan and company made the trip up from Chicago and stopped by the late, great Atomic Records for a revelatory in-store performance. It’s hard to imagine nearly 20 years on, but there was a time when Dream’s “Luna” was being introduced as a “new song.”
2. Frank Black at Atomic Records, March 31, 2003
When influential underdogs the Pixies reunited in 2004, fans packed theaters and festival grounds to hear the likes of “Debaser” and “Here Comes Your Man” live. But back in 2003, Pixies frontman Frank Black was quietly plugging away with his then-backing band, The Catholics. Before a show at Shank Hall that year, Black performed a loose, intimate in-store at Atomic. The evening’s set list was composed of mostly Catholics-era material, though a few Pixies ringers like “Where Is My Mind?” and “Cactus” managed to make the cut.
3. Bonnie “Prince” Billy at Atomic Records, August 10, 2006
Will Oldham goes by any number of different monikers—Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Palace Brothers, Palace Music—but his fragile, folksy sound has remained consistent. Stretching across two decades and more than 20 full-length albums, Oldham’s oeuvre helped define the “alt-country” and “Americana” tags long before they became dirty words. In late 2006, a hushed, lovely in-store set at Atomic sent fans into an hour-long swoon, and even brought a few to tears. Not bad for a balding dude plucking an acoustic guitar among the A-D racks.
4. Silversun Pickups at Atomic Records, April 5, 2007
Silversun Pickups’ 2007 in-store probably isn’t on anyone’s list of life-changing shows. (This is a band that was championed by Carson Daley, for Christ’s sake.) Still, there’s something to be said for coming full circle. More than 15 years after Smashing Pumpkins descended upon Atomic, along came a new group of scrappy rockers sporting an eerily similar sound. Though the L.A.-based Pickups have a handful of undeniably great tunes, their aping of the Pumpkins’ early-’90s sound is painfully evident—hey, they even have the same initials!—not to mention a few years too early to be considered retro-cool.
5. Jay Reatard at Atomic Records, October 13, 2008
During his brief life, Jay Reatard—a.k.a. Memphis’ Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr.—famously released dozens of albums and hundreds of songs. He also toured tirelessly, and in late 2008, made an appearance at Atomic for an appropriately raucous in-store performance. Sadly, the prolific songwriter would die less than two years later from a drug and alcohol overdose. An entry from his tour diary, however, paints a picture of a gracious, down-to-earth musician who clearly loved what he did: “Today we did an in-store at Atomic Records which was really fucking fun the kids that came out where great and I think we played the best so far on this tour…Steve bought a Notorious B.I.G action figure from the shop, which is now his most prized possession…We ate some food at the Comet Cafe, and here we are at the local Super 8.”