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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wigs Return

Milwaukee’s power-pop stars back for one last time

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Between Cheap Trick on the hard edge and The Shoes on the soft side, the power-pop movement spread out across the upper Midwest during the ’70s and was well represented in Milwaukee. One of the genre’s most popular bands in our town, The Wigs, began as a trio in 1979, expanded to a quartet, shrank to a threesome when recording their 1981 LP, broke up soon after and regrouped for several years in Los Angeles.

The Wigs have reunited, briefly, to tie up the loose ends of their career. They are releasing the soundtrack to the 1986 film they appeared in, My Chauffeur, as well as an album of unreleased ’80s tracks (plus two new ones). They are promising that their upcoming return at Shank Hall will be their “last show ever.”

The band came together in the usual way for first-generation power-pop acts. Three friends since junior high, Jim Cushinery, Bobby Tews and Robert Pachner, tired of playing FM rock covers, formed a band steeped in the increasingly fashionable influences of mid-’60s rock. In 1980, Marty Ross left his Rockford band, The Look, and became their brash frontman. This was The Wigs’ classic lineup—the 2.0 version represented on stage this weekend. Cutting to the chase of band history, Tews and Cushinery left for L.A. in ’82 because, as the latter puts it, “If we wanted to be in the music industry, better to be near the factory.” A year later Ross joined them and reconstituted the band minus Pachner, who stayed in Milwaukee and joined Pat McCurdy’s post-Yipes project, The Men About Town.

“There had been a substantial power-pop scene in L.A.,” Cushinery continues, citing The Beat and 20/20, “but the sea change to hair metal was already brewing. We found ourselves competing for stage time with Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt.”

According to Tews, Ross’ star role in “The New Monkees,” a short-lived TV show, “was most likely the catalyst to the final breakup.” The Wigs’ management, Cushinery adds, “shifted their focus to his [Ross’] career.” And Ross rues his decision not to have “stayed in The Wigs while doing the show.”

Well, the water under that bridge drained away years ago. While their moment lasted, The Wigs were discovered by director David Beaird while playing a show on the Sunset Strip and signed as the band for his film, My Chauffeur. Cushinery calls it “one of the best decisions we ever made. The film gave us a global fan base. It’s still a cult hit around the world and a popular DVD rental.”

So why regroup? “After the many musical endeavors I have been involved in, I slowly came to realize that The Wigs was the most emotional,” Ross says. Pachner adds: “Bobby and I have been playing Jim’s songs since the three of us were in our early teens and Marty’s songs a little later. All of us have a long, shared musical history which makes for a chemistry that’s hard to put your finger on, but comes across when performing these great songs.”

Nowadays, each Wig is busy with his own career. “Sadly, multiple shows are not an option. It’s a lot of work, to be sure,” Cushinery concludes. “We’ve been tooling up as if we’re embarking on a tour to do this one show. Are we crazy? Sure, but who wouldn’t seize the opportunity for just one more night in love of their life?”

The Wigs perform at Shank Hall on Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m. with The Rocktails and Graham Elvis’ Sgt. Popgrass.

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