Home / Concert Reviews / Braid/Smoking Popes @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011

Braid/Smoking Popes @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Dec. 22, 2011

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The Turner Hall Ballroom felt like a reunion in every sense of the word last Thursday. The space was filled with people from all corners—some former Milwaukeeans, some Chicagoans and plenty of resident Milwaukee rock veterans for who band names such as Hey Mercedes, Compound Red, The Promise Ring and Braid result in happy memories of a scene shared mainly between Chicago and Milwaukee.

This scene grew and flourished from the mid-'90s to the early '00s for its honest, Midwestern air, poetic lyricism coupled with deep-seated sincerity and impeccable instrumentation combined with an exuberant vocal style. For many young people at the time, this style spoke to their sentimental sides as they lived through high school and college, first relationships and those initial working-class ups and downs.

This spirit was revisited by Braid on Turner's stage, as the group picked up where they left off nearly eight years ago, even with a new EP of mostly new material (which spurred the band's reunion). The quartet from Champaign/Milwaukee enjoyed an audience of energized fans without any pretense. The air of the room mirrored the band's countenance—simple, honest and filled with youthful energy, despite the years. Even a new generation of fans was caught up in the spirit, without having been there for round one.

Closer to Closed
, Braid's recent Polyvinyl-labeled and J. Robbins [Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Inner Ear Studios]-recorded release, spurred new activity within the band that seems like a lasting prospect. Guitarist/vocalist Bob Nanna talked to Polyvinyl about regrouping and restarting. "We knew we wanted to record with J. from the very beginning," he said. "Being in the studio with him felt like we were just picking up where Frame & Canvas ended."

Digging into much of 1998's Frame & Canvas (also recorded by Robbins), Braid elicited the same crowd response they got years ago, when they were in the thick of their nearly six-year (and 90-song) career: jumping, singing along, shouting and fist-pumping to songs such as "The New Nathan Detroits," "Killing a Camera" and "Never Will Come for Us" (played in a row as songs two, three and four in their set list, respectively). Nanna took the lead on setting the energy with his gesticulations and boyish singing. Guitarist/vocalist Chris Broach switched things up with "Right Time" from the new EP, his drier style making a nice balance for Nanna's eager, earnest movements. Their guitars sang and rang out superbly, flanking bassist Todd Bell, who took his spot front and center, but humbly so, pumping out a huge and meticulous sound with hardly a head-raise. Damon Atkinson was all fluid movement and bounce, with a nice balance of aplomb and care behind the kit—the engine behind the trio of guitars up front. Yells rose up from the crowd—"Todd Bell f****** rules!" and "BRAID!"—with kids and adults alike singing along. Nanna grinned broadly and Broach stopped to tell jokes with his vocal cohort. "Remember our first show?" "Yeah, we played the whole set before we figured out we had one of our amps turned completely off." The memories were flying thick and with all amps on, as "A Dozen Roses," "What a Wonderful Puddle," "Forever Got Shorter," "The Chandelier Swing" and "Do You Love Coffee" all appeared in fine form.

Nanna announced that Braid would be writing and recording material for a new LP in 2012. "Maybe a double—or triple—LP!" he joked.

With this promise to go on, the crowd remained energized to the end, with a little stage-diving and some yelled-out requests. The show concluded with a dedication to the city the band half-called home for years. "Milwaukee Sky Rocket" rang out as Nanna sang, "So come on color your eyes/ I'll color over mine/ said you could see right through/ you and where you will be...impress yourself."

Color the crowd impressed—and happy that an old favorite returned to do their own memory justice and give everyone something to look forward to in the new year.

Photo by Erik Ljung

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