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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Remembering Milwaukee's Punk Scene

Lest We Forget brings together bands from the '80s

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If one marker of growing old is the realization that the companions of youth are dying, then the survivors of Milwaukee's original punk rock scene (1978-1983) have turned a corner on the road to mortality. "We were in the midst of getting The Oil Tasters back together at Larry Kennedy's wake," says Ron Faiola, speaking of the path-finding guitarless trio and the scenester who died earlier this year. "And then, a couple days later..."

The sudden death of The Oil Tasters' Richard LaValliere was shocking to many, but galvanizing to others, especially after the recent demise of Those XCleavers' Terry Tanger, the Alewives' Tess, The Muckrakers' Dave Raeck and the cancer struggle of Kenny Baldwin, owner of the '80s-era Starship club. In memory of those who have died and the music they made, Faiola, who played in Couch Flambeau, and Sacred Order's Mike Podolak have organized Lest We Forget, a long night of performances by the era's Milwaukee bands. Some groups in the lineup haven't been heard from in years; others have sporadically come to life during the last decade. But the coup of good fortune was convincing the hugely influential Die Kreuzen to regroup for the first time since 1992. Word of their reunion traveled quickly on Twitter and Facebook, and tickets have been purchased from as far away as France.

"We've been approached for other concerts," says Die Kreuzen bassist Keith Brammer. "But we've never been incredibly enthusiastic about the reunion thing. When you see a band like The Pixies: They're either doing it because they have no idea what else to do with their lives or they're doing it for money. We've always had other things going on."

But the spirit behind Lest We Forget moved Brammer, vocalist Dan Kubinski and drummer Erik Tunison to return to the stage for one night only. "This was close to our heart," Brammer continues. Guitarist Brian Egeness, now running a recording studio in Austin, Texas, and with young children, was unable to return home for the event. He gave his blessings to Couch Flambeau's Jay Tiller to occupy his spot for Lest We Forget. Brammer recalls that Tiller had actually filled in one night with Die Kreuzen at a long-ago Minneapolis gig. Because Tunison lives out of town and couldn't make it back in time for the first round of rehearsals, Dan Hanke from one of Brammer's later bands, Crime & Judy, kept the spot warm until his arrival.

"We don't sit around listening to our own records," Brammer says. "It's been 20 years—we all had to sit down and relearn every song. A good deal of work went into this." The Lest We Forget audience can expect to hear at least one song from every Die Kreuzen recording.

Before Lest We Forget became a concert, it was a Facebook page started by Podolak, the event's co-organizer. "The name was a comment Roger Waters made during a concert about Syd Barrett," he explains. "Anyway, while feeling very sad for lost friends, I also realized I had lost the scene that was so vibrant back in the late '70s and into the '80s."

As the concert concept took hold, Podolak and Faiola made a wish list of bands and began contacting them. As if to underscore the urgency of the project, one of its scheduled performers, The Blackholes' mastermind Mark Shurilla, passed away less than two weeks before the event, following triple bypass surgery.

None of the bands on the bill is accepting money for the performances. Proceeds from Lest We Forget will be donated to the American Liver Foundation, which will maintain information booths at the concert. "A lot, and I mean a lot, of names on the departed list had died of liver-related illnesses," Podolak says.

Although Die Kreuzen is the band with the greatest international reputation, most of the acts have achieved notice outside Milwaukee, if only for tracks on posthumously released compilation CDs, and all enjoyed a local following during their day.

"It's Memorial Day weekend and we're having a memorial," Faiola concludes. "The concert is a look back on the post-punk, pre-MTV era, when cities still had their own distinctive music scenes—unlike now, when everyone sees the same things on the Internet and it all begins to be the same."

Doors open for the Lest We Forget concert at 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, at Turner Hall Ballroom.


Lest We Forget

Liv Mueller, 6 p.m.

Xposed 4Heads, 6:25 p.m.

The Blackholes, 6:45 p.m.

The Rock-a-Dials, 7:10 p.m.

3XCleavers, 7:35 p.m.

Dominoes, 8 p.m.

3 on Fire, 8:30 p.m.

Tense Experts, 9 p.m.

Sacred Order, 9:30 p.m.

Die Kreuzen, 10 p.m.

Lubricants, 10:50 p.m.

Dummy Club, 11:20 p.m.

St. Bernard, midnight