The Pharmacy, The Midwest Beat and Bobby Hussy @ Circle-A Café
Feb. 19, 2012
As a music fan in Milwaukee, you've got to be thankful for establishments like the Pabst Foundation venues, massive historic spaces with the clout to bring big names to the area. Just as important to the city's musical life, though, are the tiny watering holes hosting niche acts and relative unknowns, places like Riverwest's Circle-A Café. Without anything even resembling a stage, the tiny neighborhood nightspot can only handle a few dozen people before it feels about to burst at the seams, but what it lacks in square footage, it more than makes up for in atmosphere, all the record-geek paraphernalia covering the walls, and a strong dedication to quality rock 'n' roll.
This installment of the bar's ongoing "Alive at 8" series kicked off with a performance by Bobby Hussy, half of the Madison duo The Hussy. The songwriting on display here was strong, but things felt a little half-formed, in need of a full band, or at least the drummer other-half of his usual act, to balance things out. His set was also just way too loud, which only served to highlight any shortcomings.
Next up was sometimes Dusty Medical Records artists The Midwest Beat, whose jangly guitars and insistent harmonies have rightly made them something of a local favorite. They're a tight, talented group and, what's more, they boast a broad appeal, opening doors between styles like power-pop, garage rock, alt-country and Americana while throwing in enough pop hooks to appeal to casual listeners for whom those kind of genre tags are just meaningless jargon.
Closing things out was The Pharmacy, a Seattle three-piece who, true to power-pop form, takes the sunshiny best of '60s bubblegum, surf and early rock, with all the ear-worm ooo-wah-ooo choruses, and rough it up with a healthy dose of punk's unkempt attitude and live-wire energy. It's admirable how seamlessly they can go from one extreme to the other, from catchy to raw, by having switch-hitter Stefan Rubicz go from keyboards to bass and back again. Though they're a bit less overtly freaked out, the sound they conjure up wouldn't sound at all out of place slotted next to The Black Lips or any of their flower-punk peers.
Ideal for a sleepy Sunday night, the whole affair was over by about 10 p.m., and Circle-A once again got back to the business of being just a neighborhood bar, if one with a particular sense of personality. The Pabst or the Riverside may have thousands of seats and the pull to book music's leading lights, but good shows don't need stature, or even that much space—just enough room for creative people to plug in and do what they do best.
Pictured above: The Pharmacy