Tag Archives: turner hall ballroom

You would think that the White Rabbits have a co-dependency problem — they have two singers, two drummers, and everyone in the six-piece band plays pretty much every instrument available onstage. “Yeah, we’re trying to score a second bassist as we speak,” said Greg Roberts, over the phone laughing. (He sings the catchy-as-hell “The Plot.”)

He was at co-singer and bandmate Steve Patterson place, working on new songs, before they set out on tour. Having multi-taskers in the band set-up as a gimmick, he explained. Rather, it was what the music called for.  When New York City by way of Missouri members, who’ve all been friends since they were kids, started recording their debut “Fort Nightly,” Patterson, who studied drums in school,  was their only drummer. Now-drummer Matthew Clark was initially their keyboardist. While recording however, the band hit a wall and decided to try something new. “We just come up with stuff any way we can. There’s no ownership over the songs. It’s much more conducive for getting ideas out there,” Roberts said.

And because various drummers were involved in their debut’s production, “we kept adding percussions,” Roberts said. “We definitely have world influences, and there are a lot of tropical and soul, RnB genres are really percussive…it was compelling to focus on the rhythms as much as the melody without really coming off as a dance band.”

To be able to pull it their sound off live, however, they needed another person beating the drums. So they asked a friend, Jamie Levinson, who was studying to be a librarian at UW-Madison, to join tha band. “We didn’t know that having two full kits at gigs would make every sound man in the United States hate us,” Roberts laughed.

Last August I saw the White Rabbits open for the Cribs at the Pabst. It was the Thursday before Lollapalooza, a festival that both bands were playing in. There was barely anyone in the audience. It was a shame because while the Cribs were (as usual) stellarly Brit, the White Rabbits blew me away. Watch this video of them on David Letterman:

The six-piece played indie-pop-rock of cacophonous melodies, multitasked with two drum kits, two vocalists, various string instruments, and brought forth an energy that deserved a bigger crowd. Tomorrow Milwaukee can finally redeem itself and see this band in action; this time, more people should come and see them — especially since they’ve been practicing new songs. Which ones should we watch out for? Roberts can’t say, mostly because none of their new songs have names. “We’re really, really bad about naming songs. We’re playing four new songs, and we still haven’t named them.” Having two principal leads begs the question: how do you write lyrics? “It’s communal,” he said. “Someone writes when inspiration strikes.We don’t really have a set formula for writing. We only have a record and some change under our belts, so I don’t think we have a formula.”

What White Rabbits open for The Walkmen

When 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 18

Where Turner Hall Ballroom, 1032 N. 4th St.

How much $12

This year, I said a prayer of thanks for two things: one, the glorious number of diverse acts coming through Milwaukee, and two, the great taste of my co-Blog Party writers. Milan Zori turned me on to Sharon Jones; Justin Shady introduced me to Nellie McKay.

McKay — who was introduced on the TV show “The View” as a fusion of “rap, jazz and attitude,” years ago, channels Ella Fitzgerald and Lucille Ball into her music. Her music is crazy-hilarious, in a sneaky-sophisticated way. After interviewing her for 15 minutes, I had tears running down my face from laughing so much, effectively disabling me from asking her questions that made any sense.

However, those 15 minutes were pure joy, leading me to believe that heaven must be made up of conversations with Nellie McKay, where all you do is listen to her tell jokes. Here are snippets of the conversation that I could barely keep up with, because I was laughing so hard.

On where her old-school songwriting comes from: I don’t know – I guess it’s a mixed -up sensibility. It comes from all directions…I don’t know if it amounts from anything. They all just flung themselves like lemmings into the ocean of the album.

On her musical influences:
I’m kind of undecided on that, if I even like music. I’m not sure it’s good for human beings to listen to music. It can mislead them to dark paths. You could listen to the wrong song and you can get a speeding ticket…there are just better places to put your money.

Something random and yummy: Vegan rootbeer floats with soy ice cream…it’s the most refreshing treat.

On touring in the winter: Hopefully I never stop touring …it’s nice to keep moving, it’s the gypsy in me, I guess. We just did a Christmas single, it’s one of the most depressing Christmas songs ever. (It’s called a “Christmas Dirge” and you can download it for free here, but you can also donate to the Nellie McKay disaster fund, which goes to “my publicist, because we’re using her Paypal account. We already know she’s dishonest, that’s why she’s a publicist.”).

No, she doesn’t like Christmas: The only holiday I like is Halloween — it’s all about the freaks. I don’t go shopping, I don’t have a generous bone in my body, and I don’t want anything – oh no no, wait….

On why she’s funny: I would have a better sense of humor if I got it from my mother.

Her favorite part of performing: The curtain call. “I always think it’s the destination, not the journey.”

Random words of wisdom: I think it’s important, considering the world we live in, to make as little sense as possible.

Sophisticated, wry and funny. Does she think she’s all those things? Not at all. It’s a wonderful illusion – if that has been created so far then I hope I can maintain it. I think it better describes my one-eyed cat, Emerald, though.

On non-ironic reactions to her music (“Obligatory Villagers,” for example, has a song called “Mother of Pearl” that makes fun of feminism): The worst is I’ll play it at some gig and frat boys will go, “YEAAAAAAHHH.” But they do that at Dylan concerts too, when he sings “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” like it’s a kegger song.

On stuff she likes: Most of my favorite records are by dead people or ghosts attached to them. I don’t have a TV. I don’t find it a distraction, it’s more a reminder of all the things wrong. I love to zone out, but TV doesn’t do it for me. A bike ride, maybe. Or playing for pleasure or going to a movie. I buy child seats from automated ticket vendors, and I haven’t gotten caught yet!

On how I just wanted to listen to her make jokes and be funny: That’s terrific. We should quit while we’re ahead then! Because it’s all downhill from here…

If you go
Nellie McKay
When 7:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 26
Where Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. 4th St.
How much $15
Instore appearance 5 p.m., Monday, Nov. 26, Atomic Records, 1813 E. Locust St.