The 3 worst Milwaukee shows of 2012
Like any experience, the enjoyment of a live show depends on countless variables. Did the band seem inspired or was it simply going through the motions? Was the crowd into it, or did it barely lift a single devil’s horn? Did the show leave you happily hearing-impaired and hung over? Taking into account all of these questions, we singled out three shows we saw in 2012 where things just didn’t work out.
Alabama Shakes, March 10 at Pabst Theater
The storyline going into Alabama Shakes’ first Milwaukee gig was that a band without a single album had managed to sell out a 1,339-seat venue. Based on little more than a Conan appearance and some good old-fashioned Internet buzz, the Shakes had been positioned as the Next Big Thing—lack of recorded material be damned. But live, the band seemed a bit out of its element. The biggest disappointment was easily lead singer Brittany Howard, who arrived with promises of a booming, Adele-like voice. Instead, Howard’s vocals were something of a bust, and seemed forced, weak, and downright anemic. Her competent backing band fared no better, appearing listless and distracted (or just plain nervous) while on stage. Happily, the Shakes were in better form when they returned to Milwaukee in November, pushing away any lingering memories of their so-so tryout gig. [Matt Wild]
Common, July 7 at Summerfest
Blowing into town several months after the release of his latest (and not particularly well-received or commercially successful) album, and with all the street cred that a role in Walt Disney’s plant-kid vehicle The Odd Life Of Timothy Green provides, Common was an odd choice for Summerfest to hand one of its lucrative weekend 10 p.m. slots. And by the time it was over, the ancient, arguably relevant rapper’s lackluster performance only called the booking decision more into question. With all the preparation of a man who repeatedly called “The World’s Largest Music Festival” by the wrong name (“Milwaukee Fest”), and whose crowd work consisted of bragging about knowing Derrick Rose—a person who plays basketball in a neighboring state—Common clumsily ambled through a patchwork set. Though he had nine albums from which to choose, Common made sure to spend a decent chunk of his time slot trying (and usually failing) to incite chants from the “Milwaukee Fest” crowd and covering other hip-hop songs. His rendition of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” was almost like hearing a real rapper perform it. For Common, this seemed to be just a high-paying job between movie roles. For the man hundreds waited all day to see, it was likely a letdown. [Tyler Maas]
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Oct. 23 at Turner Hall
There’s no getting around it: This one was a stinker. On the surface, everything seemed to be in place: Spencer, guitarist (and Appleton native) Judah Bauer, and drummer Russell Simins still looked every part the gritty, piss-and-vinegar New York rock trio. Spencer, especially, decked out in leather pants and with sweat literally pouring from his brow, seemed nothing less than revitalized. But the show’s setlist was strangely lacking, favoring material from the group’s little-loved albums (2002’s Plastic Fang, 2004’s Damage), and almost completely passing over songs from 1994’s Orange and 1996’s Now I Got Worry. “2 Kindsa Love” and the intro to “Bellbottoms” were treated to Prince-like medleys, and the encore-ending “Blues X Man”—while undeniably awesome—was too little too late. Not that Spencer and company needed to rely on old staples to leave their mark (the new “Black Mold” was one of the show’s early highlights), but their decidedly rote performance was dispiriting, and the crowd at the half-full Turner Hall responded in kind. It wasn’t a bad show, but it was an oddly uninspired one. For a band that frequently uses its own name as a rallying cry for the power of rock ’n’ roll (and yes, there was plenty of that), the Blues Explosion of 2012 seemed like an echo. [MW]