Article submitted courtesy of Grant Steskal.
On an arctic Friday night here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city was alive with the sounds of live shows pretty much everywhere. The Arte Para Todos Festival kicked off, and I’ve heard great reviews from both the bands and show-goers about the festival. But, incredibly, there were shows on Friday night in Milwaukee not affiliated with Arte Para Todos. One of these was a show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, a local favorite in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee.
From the moment I heard the official line-up of this show, I knew it would be good. The bill combined the folk stylings of Milwaukee’s own King Courteen, the psychedelic spunk of Madison’s Dolores, the groovy ethereal jams of Lincoln, Nebraska’s Oketo, and closed it out with Milwaukee’s own three-piece punk rock band The Midwestern Charm. It was the perfect line-up to get people in from the cold and warmed up, dancing and enjoying the night.
King Courteen opened the show with his soul-searching, heavy folk tunes. The sound system here at Linneman’s captured every distinct note played on Courteen’s guitar, every breath he took as he sung in his ethereal voice. He was a man with a guitar up there onstage, but his songs have a lifetime and a half behind them. The weight of his work echoed around Linneman’s, capturing the attention of the crowd gathered. My favorite from the set was his song “Borderline.” He played it around mid-set, and it combines my favorite elements of King Courteen all into one song – his melodic, percussive guitar work, his ethereal voice with vibrato, sliding seamlessly between notes, and his use of personal experience and this wonderful city as his backdrop for his work. Audience members were raving about his songwriting and singing voice. I must have heard the word “Wow” about 23 times, followed by a compliment of equal stature. With almost 11,000 hits on his videoed appearance at the Tiny House Festival in Memphis, and an interview at 88.9 Radio Milwaukee under his belt, King Courteen is a rising star here in Milwaukee, and beyond. His music will hold my attention beyond the show on Friday night, and many were blown away by his musicality and songwriting skills.
Next on the bill was Madison’s own Dolores. In their first appearance in Milwaukee since opening for Phox at the Pabst Theater, they put on what was, in my opinion, the best set of the night. From the moment I heard lead guitarist Javi Reyes soundcheck with a Twin Peaks lick, I was hooked. The group spoke with me beforehand, and emphasized that they were all about the groove. The four band members named many different influences, which ranged from jazz-rock to Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, The Grateful Dead, The Meters, and keyboardist Adam Thein specifically mentioned Steely Dan as a band of influence. But, as they took the stage, they wowed the crowd here at Linneman’s with their funky blend of tight, lively grooves, and epic freakout jams. Drummer Teddy Mathews and bassist Willie Christianson laid down a driving drum and bass beat for the classic jamming sensibilities of Javi’s guitar work, and Adam’s funky, upbeat keys. Their upbeat sound got people moving at Linneman’s, as we were treated to wacky keyboard work from Adam and complex, soaring guitar work from Javi, as well as his famous unmatched dancing skills across the stage. We were treated as well to vocals that were harmonically tight and seemed to drive the energy of the room upwards. Finally, the band took pride in their weird time signatures (I swear I heard a song in 7) and funky grooves. From the audience came comparisons to Umphrey’s McGee, Phish, a “psychedelic Mac DeMarco”, Jerry Garcia and much more. The band members emphasized to me that they were used to playing shows in rooms the size of Linneman’s, but the sound production from Jim Linneman was “something special” and that the experience playing the Pabst was “just a funky 1890s German time-warp” rather than their everyday experience in the Wisconsin music scene. They emphasized how Madison has helped them grow, but they are really concentrating on getting out on the road and into the studio for a record. If they are serious, we’d love them back in Milwaukee as soon as possible.
Next up were the five members of Oketo, from Lincoln, Nebraska. The first thing they said was that they loved the Milwaukee scene, the Linneman’s vibes, and their number one goal was to “come back soon.” When they took the stage, it was a transition from Dolores’ upbeat funk to their own brand of slightly dark, beautiful music. The band is very versatile, bringing the sounds of the Great Plains to the Midwest for the first time. This is their first long tour, and the band had a successful Kickstarter campaign in order to help fund a van to tour in. Touring, for them is “a wonderful experience getting out and meeting people” while “still being able to introduce our music to a new accepting audience.” As they took the Linneman’s stage, they kept the crowd in it by throwing in a little funk edge to their first couple songs. The band has excellent energy and stage presence, letting the music do the talking and getting the audience up on their feet dancing. Everything from the killer bass lines reverberating around Linneman’s to the slashing guitar lines coming over the top of the band’s groove were spot on. They definitely have the tendency to accentuate their studio recordings live, building on them, and fleshing them out into better jams. The audience was kept on their feet the entire set, and I heard comparisons likening them to “Explosions In The Sky with vocals and brass” and comments like “this is just a musical fusion right here.” Honestly, this band is inventive, catchy, and in it for the long haul, planning on touring more and recording a few new tunes soon. Props to Oketo for the stage energy, the infectious grooves, and big ups to the man with the brass. Yes, you heard it right, there was a trombone in the house, and it was played extremely well. (Maybe I’m biased, I play brass, but the brass kicked this crowd’s ass on Friday).
Finally, the boys from The Midwestern Charm dialed it up to eleven to close the night out on a strong note. Their new three-piece line-up is tighter, more punchy, and gets you in the mood to throw your body around a bit. With nods to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, these guys charm you with their basement grunge punk aesthetics and do-it-yourself attitude. In fact, the Midwestern Charm is just that, dudes from the Midwest, playing Midwestern punk, and laying down a thick dose of punky charm along the way. Their songs are tight, catchy, and solidly rock and roll. Guitar work rips in and out of Connor LaMue’s vocal offerings, which are tasty. Slight key changes lead the band in and out of solos, usually accompanied by a bit of a yell or drum punctuation. It’s a delightful mess one moment, a super tight groove the next. Connor was anxious about the new line-up before the show, but I think that the three-piece suits them just fine. In fact, the band seems to be just turning it up as they get older and wiser, which is not usual, and totally fine. Some of their work is aggressive, but you can definitely peel back the layer of dissonance to find a melodic, artfully arranged center. For the people who stuck around all night, this was a great ending. I talked to a few audience members who were thunderstruck that only three people happened to be onstage. Some comparisons to the Replacements and the Figgs were thrown around, willy-nilly. All in all, the band brought sharp, kicking punk pop to Linneman’s, and they did it with swagger, hard work, and most importantly, they charmed the hell out of us. I hope they are out and about soon in Milwaukee and beyond.
It was a cold night out there in the frozen February Milwaukee night, but inside Linneman’s, it was hot and rocking. The bands were tight and groovy, the sound was warm and enveloping, the beer was cold, and the vibes were friendly. All in all, a good $5 spent on supporting Wisconsin and Nebraska musicians.