The 7 best concerts that happened this year in Milwaukee
The shows from 2009 that we'll be bragging about seeing for years to come
We go to a lot of shows here at The A.V. Club. The majority of them range from forgettably decent to somewhat less forgettably good. But a few gigs every year nudge their way into the permanent part of our memories. Here are seven shows from 2009 that we’ll totally be bragging about seeing years from now.
7. The Gaslight Anthem: Oct. 4, Turner Hall
What we said then: “Where Brandon Flowers flopped as an innocuous charm salesman, New Jersey’s The Gaslight Anthem has flourished, taking The Boss into a mustache-free zone of sincerity, storytelling, and melodic punk blasts that appeals as much to cranky audiophiles as it did to the pit of shirtless alpha-males that opted to slam-dance and give each other piggy-back rides through the young quartet’s set Sunday at Turner Hall.”
Why it’s on this list: GLA played Turner Hall twice this year and we still want more. Don’t be surprised if this band is playing across the street at the Bradley Center by the time its next album comes out.
6. The Blind Shake: March 1, Sugar Maple
What we said then: No review
Why it’s on the list: This Minneapolis band’s performance at Bay View bar Sugar Maple brought it all back to the bare essentials: three guys playing at ear-splitting volume in a very small room for 25 unrelenting minutes. This was also one of the only club shows in Milwaukee we saw this year where we didn’t smell like an AA meeting when we got home, so thank you Sugar Maple for your no-smoking, all-rock policy.
CJ Foeckler5. Bon Iver: Oct. 11, Riverside Theater
What we said then: “For a night that felt more like a homecoming party than a concert, it almost seems beside the point to note that Bon Iver sounded pretty terrific. Coming almost two years after Vernon played Riverwest music club Mad Planet at the beginning of the For Emma tour cycle, Sunday’s Riverside Theater performance was a telling benchmark for how far Bon Iver has come since. Back then the band seemed tentative and unsure of how to deal with the incredible amount of media hype that clung to Vernon like an overly aggressive groupie. But after so many months playing festivals and increasingly large venues, Vernon has found a way to take his intimately constructed songs apart and put them back together into something larger and more universal—while also retaining the intense emotional bond that so many people have with For Emma.”
Why it’s on this list: Justin Vernon is Wisconsin’s biggest rock star right now, and this landmark show justified it.
4. Thee Oh Sees: Sept. 28, Cactus Club
What we said then: No review
Why it’s on this list: After eschewing the stage and setting up its gear on the floor of Cactus Club’s small music room, this San Francisco garage-rock band proceeded to play the most balls-out 30 minutes of hellacious, fire-breathing music we heard in Milwaukee this year. Looking like a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and infamous Badlands killer Charles Starkweather, singer John Dwyer attacked his microphone and guitar so ferociously that they stayed in town to press in charges.
CJ Foeckler3. Wilco: April 15, Pabst Theater
What we said then: “I have a brilliant idea: Let’s make Wilco concerts at The Pabst Theater an annual tradition. The downtown venue should bring the band back for a couple of shows every April—always a magical time in Milwaukee because we have several months of good times and decent weather ahead of us—and we’ll all just sit back and watch the local legend grow. Because a legend was indeed born last night; people who either weren’t lucky or quick enough to get tickets will soon grow tired of hearing about how great these shows were from their over-excited friends. And they’re only going to get more annoyed—Wilco’s two-night stand at the Pabst is going to be talked about for a long time.”
Why it’s on this list: Seeing a legendary band play in a small venue is pretty much guaranteed to be memorable. Oh, and we still think bringing back Wilco to play two nights at the Pabst every year is a brilliant idea.
2. Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band: Nov. 15, Bradley Center
What we said then: "At the Bradley Center Sunday night, he worked much, much harder than he had to. For instance, he probably didn’t have to freaking crowd-surf back to the stage after prowling his way into the center of the audience during “Hungry Heart,” a trick most performers would reserve for the show’s climax. (Bruce did it only three songs into his concert.) And he definitely didn’t have to collect a generous portion of song-request signs held up by fans in the first several rows, and then play those songs in order. (One of the requests included “Living Proof” off of 1992’s forgettable Lucky Town, which Springsteen had to re-learn for a few moments before quickly teaching it to the E Street Band, who didn’t play on the studio version. And it sounded pretty good!)"
Why it’s on this list: There’s been speculation that the E Street Band might’ve just played its final tour. If that’s true, it went out on an incredible high point.
1. Grizzly Bear: June 8, Pabst Theater
What we said then: "Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear has managed to soar over a trendy heap of Brian Wilson aspirants and shoegaze revivalists by using imaginative songwriting and exquisite musicianship to augment rather than emulate those influences. The multi-tasking quartet made a well-attended return Monday to The Pabst Theater, suggesting that Grizzly Bear’s incredible live show may finally be getting the audience it deserves."
Why it’s on this list: We went into this show kinda sorta liking Grizzly Bear, and left literally frothing at the mouth over how in-fucking-credible and powerful (major props to quietly virtuostic drummer Chris Bear) this band sounds live. And it wasn’t even sold out! If you weren’t there, sorry, but you basically missed this year’s equivalent of seeing Radiohead on the OK Computer tour.