Tag Archives: pabst theater

Here’s a Martha Wainwright review I wrote for Fan-Belt Milwaukee:
Martha Wainwright

I’m not going to lie: Martha Wainwright and not headliner KT Tunstall was the reason I went to the Pabst for the second night in a row. I’ve been in love with her voice, her impassioned delivery and her obscenity-laced confessional songs since her self-titled album was first played on my iPod three years ago. I always dreamt of seeing her live, wondering how she would compare to her melodramatic brother Rufus, her funny actor-dad Loudon III and her mother Kate McGarrigle, both folksingers. I would watch videos of her on YouTube on repeat constantly.

I haven’t had a chance to digest songs from Wainwright’s latest release, “I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too.” All I knew was that there was more instrumentation on those songs than the eponymous record. But I knew she wouldn’t disappoint on Friday night.

Armed with just a guitar, and dressed in simple blouse and short skirt, Wainwright literally kicked up a storm with her raspy voice –alone.

“I inherited it from my father,” she said, of the rhythmic, syncopated stomping she would use to accompany her songs. Apparently, amazing live performances are genetic — and Wainwright does her family proud. She played oldies like “Factory” and closed with a rushed version of “Bloody Motherfucking Asshole” (I think maybe because the show was all-ages, and it seemed she was slightly uncomfortable singing it.) But there were also renditions of “Bleeding All Over You” and “Jesus and Mary” — stripped down, unproduced and beautiful.

I was fully prepared to leave the theater by 9 p.m., but tiny KT Tunstall, ultra-charming in a ponytail, a silver, glittery tank top and a Scottish accent, knocked the wind out of me. I didn’t know any of her songs except for “Suddenly I See,” made famous in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. I figured it was all going to be poppy schmaltz. Instead, Tunstall hit the crowd over and over again with ballsy rock and roll, never once losing the crowd, and getting everyone to their feet dancing more than once.
KT Tunstall
Martha Wainwright’s Web site
KT Tunstall’s Web site

Here’s a Bon Iver review I wrote for Fan-Belt Milwaukee:

Actually, I’m kinda miffed that I had to share Justin Vernon with 100x more people than the last time I saw him. A bunch of people braved the zero-degree weather in January to watch that Mad Planet show, which was also sold-out.

Back then, Bon Iver definitely was just Justin Vernon’s nom-de plume, and his backup musicians were only there to help him along. It was a sparse, lonesome and starkly beautiful performance. I remember the bottom of my stomach falling out, and then listening to his album — written up north after a bad break-up — the rest of that desolate winter.

But last week, at The Pabst, that Bon Iver performance was a whole different band. The performance was warm, joyous, and suffused everyone with a golden glow that they took home.

I’d read interviews where Vernon said Bon Iver has solidified into a real band now, with its members contributing equally to the songwriting and performances, and it showed. On the songs, from For Emma, Forever Ago, song parts that used to be silent were filled with bouncing percussion and deftly-woven harmonies. There were steady bass parts holding up the melodies; there was energy and strength behind the songs of heartbreak and pain.

Of course, there were some parts that faltered — a Talk Talk cover made me feel like dozing off, and “Lump Sum” had some prog-rock bits that seemed forced, like unecessary jam band noodling.

The Pabst crowd was great for the most part, except when buffoons would yell out random things during the songs, which I hate. I also don’t get the audience participation for Bon Iver songs because they’re terribly sad, but in this instance, they worked.

But those were tiny glitches in a beautiful night, which included a cameo by Collections of Colonies of Bees’ Jon Mueller on drums, and was capped by a cover of “Lovin’s For Fools” by Sarah Siskind.

Friday night’s was pretty busy (Gallery Night, etc.), which probably accounted for the Pabst Theater, three-fourths filled, at the Stars show. For some reason that made me feel bad — not only were many Milwaukeeans missing out on one of the best bands in the world, but I also have this crazy, possessive, protective feeling for Stars.

Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan

Stars @ Pabst

The Canadian band’s music has been such a huge part of my life — breakups, first dates, dreams — that I wanted their first impression of Milwaukee to be awesome.

I didn’t have to worry. Torquil Campbell, the loquacious vocalist, was indubitably awed by Pabst Theater. It was magic, he declared. His actress-mother acted on that same stage, in a touring theater in 1964. It was one of the most magical rooms the band had ever played in, he added.

i'm aliiiiiiiiiiiive

Amy Millan

Amy Millan bw

He and the rest of his band then proceeded to spill their guts onstage, song after song after song. It was impressive: watching the smooth, apple juice voices of both Amy Millan and Campbell intertwine without being cloying. Seeing them move onstage, playing  melodicas, flutes, harmonicas, trumpets, throwing flowers and dancing.

Chris Seligman

chris seligman

There was a weird pomp to the whole set-up; the stage filled with roses, Millan’s prim, office secretary outfit, the Broadway-like gestures, and the way Campbell exhorted everyone to “get up, this is a dance party,” and the audience following suit, not sitting down for the whole show.

There was no danger of the grand gestures getting in the way of touching the audience emotionally, either. Campbell and co. saw a Milwaukee crowd on their feet, dancing non-stop. Milwaukee saw the exuberant lead singer jump into the crowd and take the riot to the aisles, so to speak.
Torquil Campbell jumps into the crowd

Torquil Campbell in the crowd



Amy Millan watches from the stage, laughing


Stars. Oh so awesome.


Renditions of songs like “Your Ex-Lover is Dead” were super quiet and gentle, yet at the same time exploded with energy. Enhanced by the beautiful, majestic Pabst Theater, Stars played for an hour-and-a-half, then came back for a 20-minute encore.

Torquil Campbell

Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan

“If you guys want us here, we don’t really want to leave either,” Campbell said. By the time he was singing “Calendar Girl’s” optimistic “I’m alive” lyrics into the crowd, I was taken by the magic too.

He was singing so loud that he had left the mic on the ground, veins popping out of his neck. Tears sprung into my eyes. It didn’t matter that I’d seen him do this before, at a show in Los Angeles.

It was a given that Campbell and the rest of Stars are the masters of the pop love songs. So they know exactly which notes to hit and which heartstrings to tug. So what? I was alive.

Set list: 
1. The Night Starts Here
2. Elevator Love Letter
3. Soft Revolution ("Dedicated to Barack Obama") 
4. Window Bird
5. One More Night
6. The Ghost of Genova Heights
7. Bitches in Tokyo
8. Set Yourself on Fire 
9. Look Up
10. Personal 
11. Going, Going, Gone
12. Midnight Coward
13. What I'm Trying To Say
14. Your Ex-Lover is Dead
15. Ageless Beauty
16. In Our Bedroom after the War
17. Take me to the Riot
18. My Favourite Book
19. Calendar Girl 
20. The Woods 

P.S. The opening band, the 1900s, were sweet too, and would definitely pass the mix tape test.

The fact that Sunday’s Explosions in the Sky show was sold out surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. The Austin-based band, after all, plays the kind of music that everyone describes as ‘epic’ and ‘mind-blowing.’ Obviously, most Milwaukeeans can get into that, as evidenced by the glowstick wielders in attendance, and the conversation of the group sitting beside me in the balcony.

Girl amongst friends: “This is the best social setting, ever.”

Girl’s friend, behind her: “Ohh, those lights! Ohh, that guitar! Aaaah, that drumroll!”

It was definitely much more psychedelic than the last time I saw them. And how does their music translate live? The quartet does a great job of parlaying intense emotion through their music, but “without all the unnecessary noodling found in a lot of the music on the jam band scene,” as MKE’s editorial assistant Adam Lovinus, who was also at the show, said. EITS’ performance “felt like the next direction in psychedelic music…just pure, visceral tension and release.”

I sort of felt that the audience was expecting nothing less than an epiphany from the show. While it was sonically stupendous, it didn’t change my life or anything. But I agree with the girl sitting beside me: there is nothing more spectacular than listening to great music with fans who are equally as into it as you are. So, yeah, it was the best social setting for me as well.

Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky
Explosions in the Sky

Explosions in the sky
Explosions in the Sky

Jose Gonzalez

Three days after seeing Swedish troubadour Jose Gonzales at the Pabst, I’m still marveling at how economically powerful it was. I left the theater in a daze — bewildered by how one man with a guitar, a percussionist with conga drums, and a woman singing back-up could give such a powerful performane. There were no wailing guitars, no histrionic stage dives, nothing but the respectful, awed silence of the almost-full Pabst Theater, and Gonzalez’s voice: as clear and steady as a beating heart.

Jose Gonzalez

It was so simple, too: he played most of the songs from “In Our Nature,” and added “Crosses” off his debut “Veneer.” Gonzalez’s harmonizing with his accompanists on “How Low” made the proverbial hair-on-back-of-neck connection. The light show was incredible for setting the mood as well. Just to reiterate how hushed and quiet it was: the only sound I could hear was my camera clicking while taking photos — and I felt terrible that I was disturbing people around me. The last time I remember a show that seemed to make as much of a connection with the audience this way was also at the Pabst, when Iron and Wine came to town.


One of the best parts of the show, I thought, was his cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” — his pseudo-last song. The encore was at least five songs strong, and included one that I thought he said was called “Deborah,” but couldn’t find anywhere online. One thing I did miss was a cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” — rumored to be a signature move on Gonzalez’s part, but not something he’s been doing on this tour. Here’s a bit I found on Youtube for everyone:

Here’s what The National is reading on their tour bus: Aaron Dessner is on Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way.” His twin brother Bryce is reading a book on Austerlitz, and Bryan Devendorf is reading “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy.

At least, that’s what he said over the phone; maybe bands carry around heavy tomes while touring to impress journalists. We did talk a little bit about the band’s relationship with Vincent Moon, whose real name is Mathieu Saura. Vincent Moon does Take Away Shows, clearly one of the best indie music sites online. He takes touring artists and records them performing on the streets of Paris. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Dessner said that Vincent Moon was one of their first friends in Paris, so they were like his video guinea pigs and became a really good friend of the band. Now Moon is doing a film for R.E.M. and Arcade Fire, aside from the National DVD “A Skin, A Night.”

Another thing Dessner is working on now is a compilation for the Red Hot music series. Before he decided to concentrate on the National full time, Dessner worked for a new media company called Funny Garbage, which also released the Red Hot series.

Now they’re teaming up with the National’s label, Beggars Banquet, to release a compilation curated, if you will, by the National. “It’s such a good cause and great organization,” Dessner said.

The set, which will be out next year, will include the bands’ friends and favorite artists. “All of the artists we asked are very strong songwriters, independent minded musicians, and song–oriented musicians,” Dessner said. That includes Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Yo La Tengo, Spoon, The National, Grizzly Bear, Feist, Kevin Drew, Antony and the Johnsons, Bright Eyes and Cat Power.

Don’t forget to watch them at the Pabst this Friday.

the gig 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21
genre Indie rock
where Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St.
how much $15
latest release “The Boxer” (2007)

bloc party

You could say I am a Bloc Party concert connoisseur, having seen the British band about six times since 2005. So I will say this: the band seemed pretty hyped to be playing for the first time ever in Wisconsin. (With the help of a couple of Red Bulls and a Pokemon stuffed toy onstage.) They played at the Pabst on Tuesday with the same fervor, the same moves.

So maybe it was just me, but for some reason the crowd didn’t seem to be as excited as the band was.

I’m not talking about the lower level, where everyone was on their feet from the first strains of “Positive Tension.” But the second floor wasn’t packed as I thought it would be, and the no one was at the third level of the Pabst.

Or maybe it’s just that I wasn’t used to NOT seeing everyone dancing their brains out at a Bloc Party show.

Or maybe at a certain point, I reached a saturation level for Gang of Four-like, dance punk derivatives. (Case in point: I can’t listen to Franz Ferdinand anymore, ever.)


I bumped into the kids from the New Loud at the lobby and they said Bloc Party sounded like the Cure without the catchy refrains.

Still, Kele Okereke, the indiest boy in indie rock (he’s black, he’s gay, he plays guitar in a dance-punk british band — come on, it’s unrefutable!) killed it. He’s so photogenic, he makes this wolf t-shirt look super hot, making the audience hungry like a wolf.


Oh, and Final Fantasy, aka award-winning Canadian violinist Owen Pallett was insanely good too, looping oceanic sounds and singing into his violin pickups with gusto. A friend of mine called him “Andrew Bird Lite,” but I think he has his own quirky style. Stephanie Comilang, live artist and projectionist, provided the visual aids for the set.

Funny “only in Milwaukee” story: At Laissez Faire for lunch I noticed two hipster-esque Asians (one boy, one girl) and one white dude eating. You guys know what a rare sight that is in downtown Milwaukee. Then at the Pabst I recognized the girl as Final Fantasy’s projectionist. When I went to the merch table I met the Asian boy, Patrick Borjal, Pallett’s boyfriend.



Rufus Wainwright’s show at the Pabst Theater last night was sort of like a vacation into an exotic, foreign country. It was mezmerizing, sexy, sometimes uncomfortable and tiring but constantly surprising.


Because he was shooting the show for a DVD, he apologized in advance for doing some of the songs over. But to the enthusiastic crowd, the almost-three hour show on a Monday night was worth every second. Before he started, ushers handed out wands with stars on them to the audience, in keeping with Wainwright’s newly released album “Release the Stars.”


As the audience waved the silver-tipped wands in the air, Wainwright released bright shining jewels throughout the night. Wainwright’s voice, his diction, his piano and guitar playing, and his stage banter were perfect — for the most part, except for the three songs they had to do over for the DVD.

He made four costume changes (a multicolored suit, liederhosen, a bathrobe and a suit), sang a Gaelic song once without a mic (to test the Pabst’s acoustics, he said), did a few Judy Garland covers, and brought his “special someone” out and clambered onto his “special someone’s” shoulders to sing a song while members of the audience danced on stage. Wainwright took the audience’s breath away at every possible moment.


For his encore, he came out in a bathrobe, then put on lipstick, diamonds and heels, then took off the robe to reveal a smart suit without the pants, all cabaret-like. So let’s pretend I’m sending you a postcard, and that in it, I wrote, wish you guys were all there. Enjoy the photos.


P.s. The Magic Numbers weren’t too shabby either.



Here’s the biggest reason I love Milwaukee: On Monday, I saw three awesome bands — Dappled Cities, Interpol (see lead singer Paul Banks’ photo above) and the Fratellis — in one night.

I shuttled to and from the Pabst Theater and the Rave to do so, but it wasn’t a hassle at all. No expensive parking to pay, no traffic, no sold-out crowds. Just pure, unadulterated musical bliss.

Dappled Cities (see photo below), whose album “Granddance” is one of the best I’ve heard this year, certainly was charming live. I don’t think Milwaukee crowds are normally that receptive to opening acts (especially since they played at 7:30 p.m.!), but the audience was amped enough to mill around the pit during their 30-minute set.


Afterward, I hustled over to the rave where Interpol was playing. I’ve seen Interpol live SIX times, which was why I chose to cover the Fratellis over Interpol. But Erika Bock (who was supposed to cover the show) wasn’t feeling well, so I figured it was a disservice to not go and see my ex-future husband, Paul Banks.

The thing about Interpol is, even though their sound hasn’t changed much through three albums, the band still produces excellent songs that stick in your head no matter what. They still perform intense live shows. There’s still something about them that gives people butterflies in their stomachs. And the light show at their concerts — which turn the members into dancing silhouettes — just adds to their mystique.

It was hot and muggy at the Rave, and it was so full that it took me a while to navigate through the crowd. The Rave was the smallest venue I’d ever seen Interpol in, so it gave me a goose-bumpy feeling of intense love to see the New Yorkers so close.

I never realized, for example, that Daniel Kessler plays so hard that his eyes are closed most of the time (see photo below). Or that Paul Banks has freckles and wears gold jewelry. Or that on Carlos D., a handlebar mustache is brooding and serious, unlike Colonel Sanders’.


After about 40 minutes and stellar selections from “Our Love to Admire” (they opened with “Pioneer To the Falls”), I figured I was going to get another chance to see Interpol this weekend at Lollapalooza. So I returned to the Pabst — but not before they played “Slow Hands” and “Obstacle 1” — two of my favorites from their previous albums.

While the Interpol crowd was rapt in attention (I saw more than one mouth hanging open throughout the show), by the time I got back to the fourth oldest theater in America, the Fratellis’ set was well into party mode, courtesy of the frat-boy-esque heavy crowd.

I got there at around 10 p.m., when the trio was playing “Henrietta,” their first single. Everyone was bouncing like mad around the pit or their chairs, and a few hooligans stage left would yell out the “doo-doo-doo” riff of the band’s hit, “Chelsea Dagger” IN BETWEEN EVERY SONG.

It got really annoying, especially since they did that during the opening acts’ sets as well. And the Fratellis obviously weren’t going to sing it until the very last possible moment. Still, it was helluva lot of fun til the very end. I was right too– “Chelsea Dagger” was the last song of the band’s encore. Booyah!