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Monday, April 2, 2012

Cover Milwaukee @ Todd Wehr Auditorium

March 30, 2012

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Originally conceived as a “thank you” to the generous folks who contributed to WMSE's Kickstarter campaign to replace the aging equipment that allows the station to broadcast and record in-studio performances, Cover Milwaukee became something much more ambitious. To be sure, helping keep live music on WMSE is its own reward, especially for local bands who receive not only valuable exposure, but also a free, high-quality recording thanks to station engineer extraordinaire Billy Cicerelli, so any token of gratitude from Frontier Radio would probably have sufficed. But instead of phoning it in, WMSE went big, calling upon three generations of Milwaukee musicians to reinterpret the work of their favorite fellow local artists.

Rounding out the eclectic bill were nine bands (a 10th, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades, had to cancel), including Sat. Nite Duets, Logic & Raze, Couch Flambeau, Paul Cebar, Semi-Twang, De La Buena and The Fatty Acids, as well as reunions from two defunct outfits, legendary blues and soul revivalists The R&B Cadets, disbanded since the mid-'80s, and shoegaze favorites Dorian Gray, who called it quits in 2005. The high-concept covers theme seemed to be somewhat flexible, though it wasn't exactly a disappointment to see Couch Flambeau do their original “Helvetica,” and some tributes went without an introduction, but there were certain moments that stood out, like hip-hop duo Logic & Raze's fun reworking of “Blister in the Sun” (which, admittedly, came after they failed to breathe much additional life into The Gufs' wuss-rock classic “Smile”) and De La Buena tackling Highball Holiday's “Ignorance” with a little help from Highball Holiday vocalist Shahanna McKinney. Perhaps more striking than who covered who (no surprise Paul Cebar got a few nods) was the sheer diversity on display, including Latin jazz, post-punk, indie-rock, rap and folk—a welcome reminder that Milwaukee artists are doing a lot of different things, and doing them well.

It was a little hard to tell how well attended the show was, since the crowd seemed to refresh itself a few times as people came and went over the course of three-plus hours, but the Todd Wehr Auditorium never felt full. That may be because, even though there was no shortage of quality music, there was an overabundance of downtime as bands set up and sound-checked between the short sets, giving people the opportunity to drift away. Waiting for a band to start is a dull, but usually fleeting, part of the concert experience, but with so many acts on the bill, all the tuning and the “check one-twos” and the endless requests for more/less of this/that in the monitors became tedious. They could have used a DJ—lord knows WMSE has no shortage of those—or some sort of hype man to keep people's attention up and the momentum going, but the payoff was still worth the wait. Reflecting on it even now, the memorable performances are firmly fixed while the recollection of waiting around is fast fading.