Shearwater at Mad Planet
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Having been handed the unenviable position as the first act of three for a post-holiday Monday bar show, opener Hospital Ships unwittingly started their first show at Mad Planet as any wry native Riverwesterners might: by apologizing for interrupting the music playing over the PA and asking the audience to get ready for some "gay-ass indie rock shit." What began as the alter-alter-ego of former sole proprietor Jordan Geiger—otherwise known as Shearwater's touring trumpet player, and front man of the woefully undersung shamble-pop septet Minus Story—has evolved into a sprawled-out, loping six-piece. The crowd, which varied in size from sparse to respectable, offered only tepid, sober applause and, during a lovely cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Save Me A Place,” drunken, wholly unrelated guffaws.
Baltimore duo Wye Oak filled the evening's middle slot with dreamy, emotionally wrenching pop-rock. The ache in lead singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner's undeniable powerhouse of a voice surely raised more than a few goosebumps in the room, while band mate Andy Stack made the seemingly impossible feat of manning both a drum kit and a keyboard look effortless. Being forced to reinvent their winsome, folked-up, Land of Talk-esque sound for a simple two-person stage show, the pair still came out swinging with highlights like "I Hope You Die”— the lead single from their new EP My Neighbor/My Creator—sophomore LP The Knot's "For Prayer," and the inarguably devastating "Family Glue," from their debut, If Children.
After a jaw-droppingly amazing 45 minutes of Wye Oak, the stage was set for Shearwater's second-ever show in Milwaukee: Mad Planet was half-drunk and half-full, which is about all you can ask for on a Monday at midnight. Based around a core trio of singer/guitarist Jonathan Meiburg, bassist Kim Burke, and all-around mad genius Thor Harris on drums, clarinet, bells, and assorted percussion, Shearwater has spent the last decade proffering a half-dozen increasingly dynamic albums to a progressively larger and more appreciative audience. Arriving on stage as a roaring septet, abetted by delegates from both openers, the group sounded more like a conventional, straight-up rock and roll band than ever before. Though he drew almost entirely from the recently-released The Golden Archipelago and 2008's Rook, Meiburg took a page from 2006's Palo Santo to dedicate "White Waves" to Ed Gein, and followed through with a frenetic performance befitting the song's creepy, understated lyrics. With every older tune re-minted as a stomping, anthemic standard, it seemed natural for Shearwater to close up shop with a high-tempo, breakneck version of the already-frantic fan favorite "Seventy-Four, Seventy-Five," finally bringing the house—and, per Meiburg's request, the house lights—down at the ancient hour of 1 a.m.