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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

Bicentennial Rub: Fake live album, real protest

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It’s not without irony that Peder Hedman now plays guitar in the ’80s-style punk band Bicentennial Rub, since Hedman spent the actual ’80s far removed from punk. He was too deeply ingrained in psychedelia at the time, having found a productive outlet for that interest with the Milwaukee psych-pop band Liquid Pink. As the decades passed, Hedman never lost interest in performing music. From Liquid Pink, he went on to play in both harder rock groups and softer singer-songwriter projects, so when his friend Michael Carriere pitched him on the idea of a political punk band, he was open to it even though he had no experience with the genre.

“Mike turned me on to his influences, sending me links to YouTube videos,” Hedman explains. “When we first got together, we had a grand vision of the band being like Black Flag with more avant-garde influences put into it and more sludge, like Fu Manchu. I was into the more dirgy side of it, while Mike was very into David Yow. I let the rest of the band steer the sound, just sort of using my own vocabulary to support what they do, but I had fun exploring some of the ideas they turned me on to. Plus, it’s just downright fun to play a faster, harder kind of music.”

Though it meant curbing the winding, exploratory guitar work of his past projects for quick no-nonsense breaks—not to mention alienating some old friends from the music scene who didn’t find much poetry in Bicentennial Rub’s raucous live show—Hedman says his belated foray into punk has been invigorating. “It’s nice to leave the old baggage behind,” he says. “At a certain point as a musician, you realize that it doesn’t make sense to tailor your sound to anything other than what you want to play. You’re never going to catch the next wave; you’ll always be too early or too late. I’d get swept up in one style of music, then all of the sudden everybody would be doing it or nobody would be doing it. A lot of musicians take it hard when they start to realize they’ll probably never catch a break, but other musicians feel almost liberated by it and I’m definitely in that camp. Plus it’s been great getting to play basement shows again, which I probably hadn’t done since ’84. People at those shows really care about the music and they’re really community-oriented. They’ll cook dinner for each other and make sure that everybody stays to hear all the bands on the bill. It’s a great vibe.”

This winter, Bicentennial Rub issued their second release, Capital Chaos! Live! The title is a play on the overheated media coverage of the 2011 Madison protests that inspired many of the band’s songs. “You know how news companies create names for every storm or every mass shooting?” Hedman explains. “Instead of tagging the protests ‘Expression of Democracy,’ they had to call it ‘Chaos’ to color people’s opinions.” The title is also a deliberate misnomer. Though the songs are supplemented with crowd noise from the 2011 protests, they were actually tracked in a quiet studio last year for WMSE’s “Local/Live” program. Additional applause was dubbed in from YouTube videos, often crudely.

To support their fake live album, Bicentennial Rub is undertaking a fake tour of sorts, playing three shows in four days this week, all of them in Milwaukee because, according to the band’s Facebook page, “That’s the type of touring you can do when all band members have kids.”

They’re half joking. They do hope to do some actual touring around the state and region soon, but parenthood is a real concern for the band, and one that sometimes informs their songs. In the middle of Capital Chaos!’s writhing closer “Single Entendre,” Carriere breaks from protest for a moment, slowing the song and tempering his scorched-throat yowl so that he can “kiss the children, pay the mortgage.” The takeaway is that punk values and adult commitments aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s possible to juggle both.

Bicentennial Rub plays the Riverwest Public House Thursday, Jan.10; Frank’s Power Plant Saturday, Jan. 12; and Scheme City Sunday, Jan. 13.
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