2014 Milwaukee Day Concert w/ Decibully, Juniper Tar and Whips @ Turner Hall Ballroom
April 14, 2014
For a city that’s continually stacking itself up against
other metropolises, Milwaukee
can often turn its own inferiority complex into greater cultural output through
a hard-nosed competitive nature. Take Milwaukee Day, for example. An offhand
idea regarding an area code has quickly evolved into a week-long party celebrating
everything our artistic community has to offer, from its talented musicians and
comedians to its brawny roller derby team. In turn, Milwaukee Day has been
embraced by the city, not simply as a cute Twitter hashtag or a clever Facebook
status, but as an opportunity to display the city’s diversity and distinct
character. The organizers deserve some praise for being able to put together
such an exciting lineup, while also keeping some distance from outright civic
enthusiasm—it’s refreshing to feel like the city pride isn’t being shoved down
your throat. But really, the bigger high five goes to people who show up to
these things and willfully support their local artistic community.
The night began with a comedy skit from the Midnight Show, who impersonated the ghosts of Milwaukee’s founding fathers, Byron Kilbourn and Solomon Juneau, and attempted to persuade a still-filtering in audience to awkwardly hug one another. An improv sketch that ensued proved that the troupe was willing to go anywhere, and, yes, anywhere includes ending a scene with miming the insidious double-teaming of Hank the Dog. The routine incited more laughs than stone cold silences, so considering the unprepared crowd, should be considered an accomplishment.
Whips followed the merriment with a raucous set that culled from its infectious EP, Year One, and offered a taste of what’s next. The post-punk progenies tore through its material with a calculated ferocity. On a night where the bands that followed offered a glimpse at the Milwaukee music scene’s past, the recent upstarts Whips gave an auspicious look toward the future.
After a break where organizers and the Brew City Bruisers tossed out an assortment of Milwaukee merchandize to a half-enthused crowd—a notable item was a plastic-wrapped Usinger’s sausage which made an unforgettable thumping sound when it plopped to the floor—a relaxed and jovial Juniper Tar graced the stage. Reuniting for the first time since lead singer Jason Mohr moved to Colorado last year, the experimental country rockers looked comfortable jamming to its gorgeously textured songs, even as the self-effacing Mohr confessed that his own stage banter was lacking. Those who missed Juniper Tar during the band’s brief time apart, however, paid no mind to his showmanship shortcomings and remained enveloped in the group’s lush harmonies. The only distraction emerged from an overtly chatty crowd that soured the mood during the more serene moments.
The night culminated with the return of Decibully, who broke up suddenly in 2011 to pursue their own lives. A cheerful and wondrous set followed. The band admittedly had a short time to rehearse and intentionally chose songs either fresh in their minds or easy to relearn, but the setlist included an ample variety from all its records, including special surprises “Small Circles” and closer “Broken Glass.” Decibully appeared laidback and carefree, even with all the added pressure of not only playing together after such a long time apart, but also performing to such a big room of eager fans. Even when the band messed up—an easy thing to catch because the guys would all look at each other and smile widely—they never seemed to be all that bothered. The night belonged to them, and truly anyone who’s cared about local music throughout the past decade.