I sit here, listening to the RadioMilwaukee rebroadcast of what is likely going to be my 2009 Concert of the Year, and reflecting on how proud I am to be an Accidental Wisconsinite today.
But before I delve into how amazing the Bon Iver show was, a little self-reflection and good, old-fashioned ranting.
As loyal readers of the blog know, I'm somewhat of a music freak. You may imagine me growing up in Portland, a late-'90s teenager, sneaking out of the house and smoking Parliaments and downing Henry Weinhards at some crazy Pavement, Built to Spill, or Sleater-Kinney shows in a basement in Hawthorne. But alas, my adolescence was confined to suburbia, and as far as I know, no serious rock was coming out of Beaverton. My only brush with the indie rocker world came just after high school graduation, when Kat and I met Elliott Smith's sister at the Denny's by Washington Square Mall.
Nope, in those days our alternative station didn't even come in that well on my side of the hills, and with no older siblings to guide me, I resigned myself to my parent's awesome collection of classic rock. Then at some point I discovered '80s alternative and geeked out about that pretty hardcore.
So when I moved to Milwaukee and found out it was the home of the Violent Femmes, I was pretty excited about that. And I thoroughly enjoyed my first few Femmes shows. But sometime during that period I started dating boys who really liked music, and so I expanded beyond my foundation and discovered a whole world of audio deliciousness -- and discovered that I'd just missed out on being an uber-hip kid.
Knowing that I'd been oblivious to the "scene" in Portland (although I did get to see a circa-The Moon and Antarctica New Year's Eve Eve Modest Mouse show at the Crystal Ballroom when I was home for Christmas from college one year), around senior year I started asking my local pals who the important area bands were. The answers still make me cringe:
The Gufs and The Bodeans!
I know I'm going to offend a lot of my dear friends with this one, but those are not bands you want to claim. That would be like if Portland only claimed Everclear, and at least they had a top album and a Behind the Music episode. (And yes, of course, I was a big fan when I was 17 and still would turn up "Santa Monica" if I heard it on the radio).
In regards to the first band, people need to realize that NO ONE outside of the Milwaukee and suburban Chicago market has EVER heard of The Gufs. Someone started a rumor (pre-Internet, impressively), that they were a huge band and about to take the music world by storm. Not so. Sorry kids, hate to break it to you. I can totally respect that some folks remain fans because that was the music of their youth. Just know that you are fans of an aging local band, not aging rock gods.
Now, The BoDeans, that's a totally different story. I'll give you the national-recognition -- circa 1995. But, do you think that wherever The Rembrandts are from (LA, according to Wikipedia) claim them as important native sons? Okay, okay, LA, you argue. Dude, even if they were from Omaha, I doubt they'd have as much false importance placed on them as the BoDeans do here in Wisconsin. And that whole "they opened for U2 on the Joshua Tree tour" argument -- well, a lot of bands have opened for U2, and I know at least Dashboard Confessional is worse than The BoDeans, so they have that going for them. I kid, I even admit to quite enjoying the song "Good Things," but please don't tell me that this is a critically amazing band. Or that they ever were.
The Femmes may be total caricatures of their punk selves, but they once made several important songs. They earned the respect of angsty teens beyond the borders of the Midwest. They provided the soundtrack to geeky teens' crushes, heartaches, and familial conflicts before the hipster-teen existed. They actually provided the soundtrack to (the way-better-than-even-if-it-was-on-shorter-than-Party-of-Five) My So-Called Life and Reality Bites. At any rate, they were a band I could say was from Wisconsin, when chatting with my West Coast pals.
Then came the indie-revolution of the "aughts," I had to shift focus to associating the Milwaukee scene with the Chicago scene. Not that I wasn't starting to hear good music from around Wisconsin (especially once I got out of the Marquette bubble), but that it wasn't creeping onto the radar out of state.
At some point though, while I wasn't even paying attention, Milwaukee and Wisconsin developed a crazy great music scene. And suddenly this amazing group from Eau Claire, I'd heard first played on WMSE, was becoming a Pitchfork poster child. I have been lucky enough to catch Justin Vernon and company at the Pabst Theater, Lollapalooza, and this morning for a pre-AIDS Walk Wisconsin acoustic set, but tonight's concert at the Riverside Theater was near-perfection.
I think what made it so fantastic is that this band has every right to be total jerkwads. They've "made it." But they're so blatantly humble and gracious to their audience, you just want to keep rooting for them. From my ridiculously amazing solo seat, I could see Justin Vernon doing his own set up after the kickass opening set by another new must-check-out Wisconsin band, Eau Claire's The Daredevil Christopher Wright. (They gave the opening band a nice chunk of time to highlight their wares too.)
Every bit of the Bon Iver set was magical. The song selection (although quote of the night, after an audience member yelled out a song name, "Pop quiz: we only have like 11 songs, so chances are you're gonna hear all of them."), the arrangements and improvisations, the audience participation, and the constant "thank yous" and earnest "it is so wonderful to be here." The combination of a homecoming and tour-closing show, truly made the night electric.
And how can you go wrong with a stripped down version of The Outfield's " Your Love"?
Oh, and they create beautiful, haunting, original music too.
And hopefully none of it will ever become the theme song to a Neve Campbell vehicle.