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Friday, Dec. 21, 2007

The New Face of Milwaukee Emo?

The Response Fits the Bill (In a Good Way)

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December 20, 2007

While recently re-watching Rushmore, Steve Kerwin realized with some dismay that a memorable line in the film bears an unintentional resemblance to the title of his band's latest album, With Friends Like You, Who Needs Enemies?

That's not to say that his band, The Response, has a policy against pop-culture references. On the contrary, they embrace them. The first song on With Friends Like You, "I've Made a Huge Mistake," evokes an oft-repeated lament from the cult sitcom "Arrested Development." Another song title, "…I'm Lloyd Dobler," pays homage to John Cusack's geeky boast in Say Anything.

Rushmore, however, carries certain connotations. In recent years, the film has played muse to a horde of modern-rock and emo-bands, like My Chemical Romance, Motion City Soundtrack and, most notoriously, Fall Out Boy, the titans of contemporary emo.

Even without the shared interest in Wes Anderson's oeuvre, The Reponse is already fighting off comparisons to Fall Out Boy. Little matter that The Reponse eschews ostentatious choruses and meathead power chords a la Fall Out Boy; the bands share enough cursory traits—spiky guitars, punkish enthusiasm, earnest lyrics and wordy, farcical song titles—to keep those comparisons coming.

Kerwin says that he doesn't take particular offense to The Response being labeled emo (although he concedes, with all due respect, that "if people were to keep saying we sounded like Fall Out Boy, I guess the four of us would try to rethink what we're doing"). Kerwin says his band takes inspiration from modern-rock staples like the Foo Fighters, and '90s favorites like Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids. In a sense, they carry the torch of Milwaukee's emo forefathers, The Promise Ring and The Benjamins, but they're more likely to be lumped in with new-school emo acts like The Starting Line and Hawthorne Heights.

The Response's trendier, radio-ready sound actually makes them an oddity locally. In Milwaukee's fiercely individualistic music scene, local bands with allegiances to semi-obscure sub-genres of underground music far outnumber those in step with the commercial rock depicted on MTV2 and promoted by Alternative Press. "We just want to let fans of this music know that a band like us really does exist in Milwaukee," Kerwin says.

Although The Response has been playing together since 2001, the group is emerging from something of a hibernation. Three years ago, a small independent label promised to foot the bill for the group's new album, only to dissolve midway through the recording process, leaving the band with the tab. Demoralized, the group ceased writing songs and scaled back on concerts, falling out of the local music scene's consciousness. They finally rallied the energy and the funds to complete the album this year, recording parts of it in Kerwin's bedroom using microphones strewn between piles of dirty laundry.

The band will have a chance to reintroduce themselves to Milwaukee this weekend, when they play a show at the Turner Hall Ballroom, one of the largest venues in Milwaukee that hosts local concerts.

"The Turner Hall show should help us a lot, I think," Kerwin says. "Not because it proves we've arrived or anything, but because—well, I'll use my mom as an example. She doesn't take any of our shows seriously, because she doesn't understand them. But then when you mention a venue like The Pabst Theater or Turner Hall, she pays attention. It's like you're a real band."

The Response headlines a CD release party at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. with a trio of local indie-rock openers: Fable and the World Flat, From the Headline, and Kid, You'll Move Mountains.

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