Ed Schrader’s Music Beat w/ Dogs in Ecstasy @ Circle-A Café
April 7, 2013
Of Milwaukee’s many venues, the Circle-A Café often gets somewhat overlooked, probably because, in all honesty, it’s not much of a venue at all. Tucked away on an odd Riverwest intersection, the neighborhood watering hole has no stage and usually makes little effort to maximize what few square feet of space it has, which makes seeing bands there charmingly, awkwardly akin to going to a house show. But that hole-in-the-wall intimacy is only part of the bar’s appeal, since it’s also impeccably decorated with decade’s worth of rock ’n’ roll ephemera and boasts one of the best jukeboxes in town. In short, the place has good taste, which extends to the bands booked to play there.
First off on Sunday, that meant Dogs in Ecstasy, a local group who, while relatively new, have a punchy, polished set of songs that is, as they say, all killer and no filler. Its members have a history, playing together in a variety of Milwaukee bands, but even that doesn’t fully explain the effortlessness with which they run through song after song of perfectly crafted power-trio pop, roughed up with just the right amount of speed and squealing feedback. In any case, the high-caliber of the music quickly dispels any imaginative reservations their slightly silly band name may inspire, which isn’t to say they don’t have a sense of humor, one seen in tunes about e-cigarettes and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants.
They’re a band that always seems to win over an entire room within a matter of notes, and they certainly made an impression on headliner Ed Schrader, who repeatedly proclaimed them his favorite act that Music Beat has played with on this tour and “the best band in Milwaukee.” That felt like high praise from Schrader, the Baltimore musician and Load Records artist who’s eponymous Music Beat project began with just him and a floor tom, but expanded in 2009 to include bassist Devlin Rice, especially in light of the stunning performance they unleashed shortly thereafter. Instrumentally speaking, the duo may not be working with much, but they use it to great effect.
Their sound is pretty hard to categorize, oscillating between brief blasts of eccentric, upbeat hardcore, like the catchy “Gas Station Attendant,” and eerie incantations such as the new “Weekend Train” that could be called no wave in spirit, in part for their raw simplicity and in part for lack of a more accurate descriptor. The material is fantastic, particularly the lyrics, but the presentation really puts it over the top, with a single light shining up through Schrader’s single drum, casting him in an unsettling, ghost story-style glow that enhanced the moodier numbers and added a deranged menace to the manic punk by highlighting his bare chest and the vein bulging out of his neck like a high-tension wire.
That may sound aggressive or disturbing, and to a certain degree it is, but between songs, and occasionally in the midst of them, the pair came off more like a lovably goofy comedy team than anything else, riffing on everything from sound guys to “that artsy-fartsty son of a bitch” Thurston Moore, and peppering friendly jibes at Juiceboxxx for local color. Factoring into the humorous stage presence, there’s a lot of contrasting elements at play in Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, but they all clicked with the obviously impressed audience, helped along by the cozy confines of the bar itself, especially during quieter songs like a sing-along rendition of “Airshow” from 2012’s Jazz Mind. The band would have been great anywhere, but in this case they were even better at Circle-A.