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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Scarring Party @ The Turner Hall Ballroom

March 15, 2008

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Inboth sound and manner of dress, members of The Scarring Party draw from the musicians of the early 20th century. Their frontman warbles like a demented vaudevillian performer, and they prominently feature a tuba. Their lyrics read like a 21st-century adaptation of the Old Testament. And they are quickly becoming one of the hottest acts in Milwaukee.

Playing a well-attended Turner Hall Ballroom to commemorate the release of their new album, Come Away from the Light, the peculiar band demonstrated why so many have embraced them. The group’s newest material fleshes out the promise of its earlier work, adding cello and violin to a mix that already includes a litany of off-thewall instruments. At its best, the band is capable of creating an absolutely beautiful sound, and I found myself impressed with the technical proficiency of all of the band members: Everything was remarkably well played.

Yet I found myself struggling with how to actually respond to the music, as the strongest feeling the band elicited from me was admiration. The group both looks and sounds historical, in a way that strips it of a certain sense of urgency or vitality. Adding to this effect was singer Daniel Bullock’s use of a homemade microphone (making it sound as if his voice was emanating from a forgotten Victrola), which created an even greater sense of distance between the music and the listener. The Milwaukee-based opening act John the Savage sounded like Tom Waits fronting an American version of The Pogues, a version still well in touch with its punk roots.

The band was messy and drunken in all the right ways, crafting a sound that was unpredictable and gloriously noisy. Yet when things threatened to spiral too far out of control, the blaring trumpet of Michael Henderson provided the band with a much-needed sonic focal point. Local music fans take note: This is a band to keep your eye on.