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Friday, Aug. 2, 2013

Shouting Matches @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Aug. 1, 2013

shouting matches
Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
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As it often goes, a movie actor will take roles in family-friendly, generic, big budget films in order to finance their smaller, weirder pet projects. That sequence worked in reverse for Justin Vernon. Somehow, his sedated, insular folk music as Bon Iver found a massive audience, ultimately garnering a Best New Artist Grammy and a mayoral proclamation declaring a day in Milwaukee two years ago officially as “Bon Iver Day.” He utilized that newly found fame to bring attention to other endeavors, like the soft rocking Gayngs or the boundless Volcano Choir. Both bands seemed to sound different enough to feel outside of Bon Iver, but still lay within Vernon’s comfort zone.

But Vernon’s latest band, a supergroup with old Wisco friends Phil Cook (Megafaun) and Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier), is where the story gets mussed up. The Shouting Matches conjure the sound of countless contemporary blues bar bands—not heady stuff. Their debut record, Grownass Man, provides no real connection to Vernon’s earlier material. It’s straightforward and bland, which is certainly a departure from his previous output. Vernon no longer sings in his trademark falsetto, but rather adopts a light baritone. There are clear-cut harmonica solos. To put it simply, it’s a fun blues record, but something that’s been heard a million times over.

Thursday night at Turner Hall Ballroom felt like a victory lap. Or at least a sweeping confirmation that this town will support Vernon no matter what musical route he strides down. Vernon appreciated the reaction as he continued to address the dedicated crowd with continual thank yous. (For an album in which he lets loose, Vernon still acted reserved as ever on stage). Shouting Matches breezed through a short set culling tunes off their record and threw in a few covers, including one from recently deceased J.J. Cale called “Crazy Mama.” 

It was unceremonious work, but it did have its charm. Highlights included the genial Wilco-esque guitar solo on “Gallup, NM”—which could be the title of a Bon Iver song, except that it names a place that actually exists—and the tranquil vibes of “I Need a Change.” All in all, it was a pleasant evening backed with some pleasant songs. “We are not church-going folks, but gospel music is very important to us,” Vernon would remark later in the night. Shouting Matches offered a fine diversion from Vernon’s understated discography, though it’s time to put this blue-eyed soul behind him and get back to the serious stuff.

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