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Monday, Nov. 1, 2010

Trance & Dance’s Multi-Generational Folk Rock

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When Jerry Fortier, then an American expatriate in Amsterdam, formed the Trance & Dance Band in 1973, he never imagined the group would become one of Milwaukee’s longest-running rock bands. The Wisconsin native was mixing psychedelic light shows for Pink Floyd and other touring acts in Amsterdam concert halls and Trance & Dance was just an organic outgrowth of the city’s vibrant scene. Fortier organized the group with Alexander van der Linden of Living Theatre, a buddy of Keith Richards who fancied himself as another Mick Jagger. “It was multinational,” Fortier recalls. “We had a Portuguese drummer, an English bassist and a Belgian on lead guitar.”

Since Fortier’s move to Milwaukee in 1975, the lineup of Trance & Dance has seldom stood still. In the early ’80s it was where Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo, soon to become the rhythm section of the Violent Femmes, first played together, and where DeLorenzo introduced his unique percussion kit, the tranceaphone. Fortier and his songs have been the through line. Some of that music, first heard in Amsterdam decades ago, will be performed Saturday as the seven-member band fills the stage at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn. Admission is free.

“I have no professional aspirations as a musician. I like playing for the joy of it—it’s its own reward,” Fortier explains. “There’s little hope of making any money, so I always insist on no cover.”

The band’s name derives from a Margaret Mead anthropological documentary, Trance and Dance in Bali, a film of exotic ritual featured in Fortier’s multimedia light shows in Amsterdam. As he describes it, the original musical concept was Sun Ra meets Dylan.

“The idea was to have a large group of musicians playing open-ended folk-rock music,” he says. “Sometimes the band wouldn’t know how to play a song that I started and would figure it out as they went along. There is still an element of that in the band today.”

For nearly 20 years, one version or another of Trance & Dance has rehearsed every Wednesday night without fail—in times of many gigs and in years of no public performances. Currently, the band spans several generations. Fortier is the grandmaster on vocals, guitar and harmonica; his 30-something son Reuben plays keyboards and Reuben’s friends Ian Powell and Walter Holstad play guitars and bass. Joining longtime band members Ralph Drzewiecki (percussion) and Chris Loss (bass) is George Darrow (drums), who played on New York’s no-wave circuit in the late ’70s. “We do a lot of switching around on stage,” Fortier says. “The bassist might play drums and the drummer might play lead guitar.”

Trance & Dance has developed a large repertoire, including Dylan and old standards such as “My Blue Heaven” and “Autumn Leaves.” On Saturday, however, the band will play all originals, many of them tested by time during the past 30 years. “I’m not so moved to write new songs,” Fortier explains. “There are so many great songs for us to do.”

The Trance & Dance Band’s free show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn on Saturday, Nov. 6, begins at 8 p.m.