Tag Archives: turner hall

I was kind of nervous about watching the sold-out Vampire Weekend show at Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, mostly because I didn’t want them to let me down. There’s a lot of hype, backlash, and clothing commentary involved in the band’s coverage so far, but the bottom line is their debut is one of the strongest albums of 2008 so far. Who can blame the band for the mass hysteria surrounding them, ironic or otherwise?

Luckily, the Turner Hall audience didn’t seem to care about hipster hype or backlash. The audience wasn’t even made up of hipsters: It was mostly teenagers in the crowd, chaperoned by their parents. There was a buzz in the air that was heady and reminded me of high school/parish fairs, where audience members would randomly burst into choruses of “Oxford Comma” or “One.” Opener Yacht probably benefited from that anticipation greatly — the crowd was much more receptive because they wanted to let off steam. (BTW, I’m sure everyone knows this already, but it’s still super cool that Yacht’s Jona Bechtolt designed the MacBook Air manila envelope case with his girlfriend.)

With hardly any beards, horn-rimmed glasses or argyle in attendance, it seemed natural that Ezra Koenig and company could give the crowd the show they wanted — energetic, hit-filled, dance-y, with a little bit of a sing-along here and there. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was fun.

The first half (“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Mansard Roof,” “Campus”) sounded rougher than the second. By the time Koenig introduced “A Punk” with “If you have to dance to one of our songs, this would be it,” EVERYONE was going wild — and you could tell that no one cared if there were awkward breaks between songs, or Koenig’s voice wasn’t in top form (hey, they’ve been touring a while), or the stage banter was random and unfunny (they want a Brewers shirt, it’s their first time in Milwaukee, Turner Hall is the nicest place they’ve played, yadda yadda yadda).

The boys seemed really nice and polite, and requisitely, the crowd danced through every single bit of it. They also played a new song in the same “West Side Soweto”-style, which wasn’t a marked departure from their hits.

So here’s the verdict: Watching Vampire Weekend at Turner Hall was like going on a first date with a cute boy you’ve always had a faraway crush on. You don’t have that much to talk about (mostly because you’ve already Googled him to death), so there are a lot of uncomfortable silences. And in the end, you just make out so it’s not a total loss, and everyone ends up going home a sweaty mess of fun.

Oh, an in case you were wondering: There wasn’t a single sweater on stage, either. Instead, keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij was wearing an I Heart NY shirt. Unironically, I presumed.

Before the English Beat came onstage, a roadie set big, full-sized towels down onstage, one for each band member. I thought that was a little odd — why towels? Why not little tissue holders?

I love Dave Wakeling’s bands — English Beat and General Public were bands I grew up listening to, but I didn’t know in what context to watch the English Beat. It wasn’t an oh-my-god they’re back together show, but neither was it like watching the Gin Blossoms perform at a state fair.

They started with the good ones — “Stand Up Margaret,” “I Confess,” ‘Hands Off, She’s Mine.” It took three songs to get both the band and the crowd worked up, and then everything after that was a mad skanking party. From “Twist and Crawl,” to the Smokey Robinson cover “Tears of a Clown,” to “ Two Bleeding Swords” and Rough Rider, everyone freaked out and did skaerobics on the Turner Hall dance floor non-stop.

From the balcony of the venue I could see everyone bopping up and down in unison. It was pretty magnificent to see the crowd super-psyched, and having so much fun.

Even though it was terribly cold, the whole motley crowd — older folks who listened to the Beat when it first came out, teenagers who skanked to it with their parents, and everything in between — was still set on having fun.

This was especially true for founder Dave Wakeling. He’s old and a little pudgy, but his voice still carries a super-sweet charm, and his energy throughout the show didn’t wane. Neither did anyeone else’s in the band, which explained the giant towels. Apparently they needed to mop up all the sweat generated from their crazy energy. (Oh, and Wakeling gave props to Obama onstange.)

The only bummer about the show was that ska generally has such a tight sound, that didn’t really fit with Turner Hall’s acoustics. I could hear everything — the sax, the drums, the toasting — bouncing off the walls and giving the songs some extra reverb.

Still, it was a privilege to see the English Beat live. One of my best friends, Annette Ortiz, plays the drums for ska band Half Past Two. And every time I hear ska music, I think of her. Even though  the English Beat was around 20 years before she was even in a band, when she was still in knee socks and pigtails, I was still thinking of her while watching the whole dance miracle going on around me, and how we used to pogo around dancefloors at shows.

When you grow up with these songs, they’re part of your subconscious. Same with the dances — one leg hiked up, then the other, arms churning as if in a race , in 360 bpm — all this is made up of movement that instinctively comes back whenever you pull them out. I did a little skanking by the stage, in the dark where no one could see me.  So thank God for the English Beat. When I got home, I needed a towel to wipe off all that sweat.

what Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
when 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17
where Turner Hall Ballroom, 1034 N. 4th St.
how much $15

Sharon Jones, along with the Dap Kings, has been credited with spearheading the funk-revival movement, what with kids getting down from Long Beach to Milwaukee to Toronto.

Jones honed her chops at church choirs, and often sang back up for various acts. She also worked as a corrections officer and armored car guard for Wells Fargo Bank, until she backed Lee Fields in 1996. The record producers were so impressed with her that they paired her with the Soul Providers, and eventually formed Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Most of the tunes were recorded the way old funk albums were — on analog — and released on vinyl only.

After releasing “Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings” in 2002 and “Naturally” in 2005, Jones is on her way to becoming a household name with this year’s “100 Days, 100 Nights.” Some of the recognition came in a roundabout way; Amy Winehouse “borrowed” Jones’ band for her album “Back to Black,” for example. Jay-Z is also interested in working with the Dap Kings.

Jones doesn’t mind, saying, “It was just something we jumped on, when we started our own label 13 years ago,” she said. “Everyone else just started hearing it, and … people (just started) wanting us,” she said.

She also has a lot going on. This year, she has a cameo in the Denzel Washington-directed movie, “The Great Debaters,” playing a juke joint singer named “Lila.” And everyone — from Lou Reed to Al Green, to Stevie Wonder and David Byrne — wants to work with her. “I would love to do more stuff with people from back in the day, because we can come back now,” she said. (Her dream collaboration, FYI, is with Justin Timberlake. “He has his head on, I like his voice, whether it’s R&B or soul, I can just see it.”)

So when not being the goddess of funk, Sharon Jones does mundane things like pick up her kids from football practice. That was, in fact, what she was doing when I called her for an interview; luckily, she’s also tech-savvy, and has Bluetooth, so she can talk to reporters while driving.

Jones credits their consistent touring schedule with the success of “100 Days, 100 Nights.”

“It’s such a big difference from the last two,” she said. “In the first week of “Dap-dippin” we sold 500; on “100 Days,” we sold 5,000 — and that’s just in the States,” she said.

It’s a good cap to a difficult year, family-wise. Her brother had a stroke, her mother got sick.

“From Dec. 25 last year to now, I’ve had 21 deaths in my life,” she said. “But things have been coming along, with the movie and the album out now. Everything’s great.”

Before talking to Jones, I asked Andy Noble, who is credited with Milwaukee’s funk revival, if he had any burning questions for her. (FYI, Noble is also opening for Jones tomorrow at Turner Hall.) He told me to ask Jones how she feels about her audience being mainly young white people.

“I’ve been asked that before, and that surprised and stunned me,” Jones said, “Twelve years ago (when we started), young white college people were the only ones playing our stuff and pushing us through the years,” she explained. “I don’t choose my audience. When I hear people screaming ‘Sharon I love you!’ I just see people,” she said.

Their struggle — making their own studio, doing gigs at places that pay 75-100 dollars, touring non-stop — proves thier dedication. “We’ve just been doing what we love to do. When I start singing, I’m just singing, it’s a good thing. I’m just glad more people hear us,” she said.

And she’s enjoying the fame — especially when it comes to inspiring youth. Whether it’s trendy or not to like funk, Jones says, “I just thank God right now they’re interested in us. I’m going to enjoy these 15 minutes!” she said, laughing.