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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Those XCleavers

30 years and counting for Milwaukee band

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The members of Those XCleavers created a Milwaukee band that almost reached stardom and never entirely faded away. Formed in 1979, they became the city’s premier new wave group and a perennial opening act for national bands. One of their songs, “Skip a Beat,” won heavy rotation on many Midwest radio stations. Although time moved on, the Cleavers’ seamless blend of pop melody, rock energy and ska rhythm still sounds fresh decades later.

“We never formally said we’re through,” says guitarist Terry Tanger. “We all had other projects and did other things, but we never hated each other. Whenever any of our fans put a gig together for us, we’ll play it.”

Those XCleavers will perform Saturday, April 17, at Shank Hall. The first 150 customers will receive a free copy of the band’s newly pressed CD, a live set recorded in 1996 at Shank. The Cleavers were among the earliest local bands to see the future in music videos; a selection of their videos will be screened between sets. Back when band posters covered every phone pole on the East Side, the Cleavers commissioned some of the city’s finest graphic designers, including Bob Solem and Neil Mickey, to execute fliers. Many of those visually dynamic posters will be on display. An added bonus: XCleavers bassist Tom Lesions will open the concert at 8 p.m. with a short solo set from his new CD, Me, My Songs and Beer.

In reviewing their peak years in the ’80s, Lesions recalls opening for U2’s first U.S. tour at Merlyn’s in Madison and for The Police at their swan-song tour at the Milwaukee Arena.

“That was bittersweet,” he says of opening for The Police. “It was their last date on the tour and everyone arrived in separate limousines.”

The XCleavers also received a rejection letter from legendary music mogul Clive Davis. “The thing we thought was our strong point, that we played rock and ska, he considered too scattered,” Lesions says. It was, ‘Choose a genre and get back to us.’”

“The ’80s started out great,” Tanger adds. “Think about the [Milwaukee alternative club] the Starship: Every band in that scene was unique, edgy and arty in its own way. By the mid-’80s it became a formula. We always wrote and played our songs the way we wanted. We didn’t want to sell out…”

“But we were accused of selling out when we were on the radio,” Lesions notes.

Although they have spent more time in recent years on their own projects, including Lesions’ acoustic act Mr. Wrong and Tanger’s reggae band King Solomon, the XCleavers’ set at Shank Hall will include some new songs along with many old favorites.

“The coolest thing about the early ’80s,” Tanger concludes, “was all that creativity. There weren’t any rules yet—it was just fun to be part of it.”