Riverwest Fest Day 1: Group Of The Altos silence the crowd, Brief Candles shatter the lights
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Even before any music went down Friday, Riverwest Fest felt like a victory. The media loves to harp on the neighborhood’s yin/yang reputation, but residents are fiercely loyal and quick to defend the community. Undeniably one of the most visible and well-defined neighborhoods in the city, Riverwest deserved a strong lineup of local talent for its namesake festival, and it got one. The police had obviously been notified of the event; their presence on the streets was noticeably strong (but no reported sightings of The Watchman). It was a crisp, chilly night, and fans came out in droves for some of the best bands the city has to offer.
Things got going early for the benefit of students, unemployed Occupiers, and third-shifters. Jackpot Gallery opened at 3 p.m., and the small, brightly lit space drew a couple dozen people for the first sets of the fest. (The former Eagle’s Nest downstairs is no longer hosting shows.) We were mightily impressed with Cat Ries, whose poetic folk tunes and lovely voice quickly won the room over. DW & Co., a fledgling, Modest Mouse-influenced indie-rock crew (featuring Myles Coyne on keys), have a passion that exceeds their precision, but they’ve got some brilliantly arranged tunes and an anything-goes stylistic palette that’s very promising.
Next stop was The Uptowner, where punkish noise duo Bedouins played their debut show—a decent but unremarkable performance. Brief Candles, however, were very remarkable. The band was unusually animated and seemed to be in great spirits, as Kevin Dixon went on a frenzied but only slightly destructive guitar-smashing binge in the middle of the set, and Drew Calvetti wound up shattering one of the light fixtures above the stage after bashing it repeatedly with his bass (all in good fun, of course). Oh, and the music was fantastic. Milwaukee’s premier shoegaze pop maestros never disappoint.
The basement of Cream City Collectives is a DIY paradise: crumbling, graffiti-coated brick pillars; a ceiling patched with shag carpet; black lit like a freshman dorm room. We arrived just in time for Midnight Reruns’ spot-on cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song,” then caught a blistering set by Burning Sons. Hardcore punk can scarcely get any better than this.
Club Timbuktu is a weird and distinctly Riverwestian club, and it was fairly packed as Catacombz played a set of intensely loud, swelling guitar crescendos. If the guy who coined the term “stoner rock” had foreseen this band’s style, he would’ve held off on coining it for a few years. This is one of the city’s most original and powerful live acts.
John The Savage followed. The band’s music has always been a little disjointed, and the absence of a horn section makes it even… less jointed? The band is hit or miss live, but Timbuktu was the perfect setting for Mike Skorcz’s carnival-barker madness, and Friday’s set resulted in more hits than misses overall.
The Fatty Acids headlined the venue, and it was clear that most of the crowd was there for them, and not just out of curiosity. The Fattys delivered the sweaty, spastic groovefest everyone was looking for. They didn’t even play their most well-known tune, “Hiroshima,” but it wasn’t missed—once the ominous drumbeat and synth hook of “Creature” started up, everyone was swept up in the rush. With two albums in two years, The Fatty Acids already have enough world-class pop songs in their repertoire to make a huge splash, and the chops to pull them off live.
The final stop of the night was the Riverwest Public House (apologies to Kane Place Record Club over at Stonefly; we assume that was a killer show as well). Moon Curse played some straightforward, old-school stoner/doom metal very appropriate for its name, and then set-up began for Group Of The Altos. Amazingly, the dozen band members managed to get everything in order quickly, and as the tipsy late-night crowd gabbed away, the set began with no fanfare. It was a testament to the band’s dedication that they didn’t rush things or shy away from the quieter moments of their compositions, even as front-and-center attendees strove to drown them out with inane chatter. Ultimately, the magnificent dynamics of the band’s perfectly paced music silenced even the most oblivious onlookers. There were a couple of lump-in-throat moments just realizing that something this crazy and cool was happening in Milwaukee. Riverwest got its due Friday night, and unlike Bay View shows, the crowd didn’t clear out before the headliners.