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Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008

Space Rock Or What?

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  Back in the late 1970s punk rock and prog rock seemed as opposite as the architecture of the Bauhaus and the Baroque. For punks, progressive was code for pretentious bombast; for progheads, punks were no-talent poseurs.

  There was, however, a slender bridge between the hostile camps in the form of space rock, whose throbbing minimalism and heady ambition offered something for both sides. Space rock existed on the fringes of Milwaukee music in those days. One of its proponents, guitarist Ken Cutter, has reformed the group he founded 30 years ago, r.

  r will play at the Miramar Theatre, Sept. 12, on a bill with F/i, a Milwaukee space rock band dating from the 1980s, and The Aimless Blades, a talented local rock 'n' roll group with roots in the '70s alternative scene.

  "We were based on European rock, with no American influences," Cutter says of r's early days. "We were all listening to the imports. We wanted to be a big concert band, not just the sort of band you see in bars playing covers."

  They never played the big concert halls, but r's co-founder, keyboardist David Wolf, went on to form one of Milwaukee's most popular bands in the early '80s, the techno-pop group Dark Faade. r came and went like a ghost, popping up at odd gigs and on WMSE, going into the recording studio and disappearing for years on end.

  The new lineup includes Victor Demichei, who 30 years ago drummed for the local space rock band Arousing Polaris. In the '70s, bassist Marc Ferch played in several local punk and original rock bands and has been off-and-on in r since the '80s. Joining his 50-something band mates is 24-year-old violinist Klavs Mednis. A Latvian immigrant, Mednis is the son of one of his homeland's most successful pop singers and has played on his father's recordings. r is his first rock band experience.

  The music has evolved over the past three decades without turning away from its original inspiration. Demichei's muscular yet ornamental drumming isn't merely a metronome; it's a lead instrument that pushes the music's direction. Entirely instrumental with nary a word sung or spoken, r can be as deep and liquid as a sonic ocean, or turn heavy with pile-driver rhythms and monster riffs. The new lineup plans to spend some time in the studio, expanding their arrangements with acoustic guitars and Ferch's other instrument, the cello. Here's hoping for r's debut album sometime before the band turns 40.