Collections of Colonies of Bees w/ Male & Canyons of StaticMad Planet, Milwaukee WI
Milwaukee is kind of a craphole. I should know; I grew up there. And yet, even though my family no longer lives there, I still find myself there at least once a year, and almost always the reasons are the same: music and friends. There are not a lot of decent venues to play in Milwaukee, but I’d heard ever since my teenage hangout The Globe closed down a few years ago, Mad Planet was the place to go. Having never been there before, I was excited not only to see three bands I liked and never seen live before, but also to experience a new space in an old place - a place I used to call home.
In typical Milwaukee fashion, I walked in and realized, yup, it’s your typical bar. So it was nothing fancy, no big deal. It had a black light that embarrassingly illuminated all the white cat hairs on my jacket I failed to lint roll before I left Minneapolis and a healthy amount of regulars that were glued to their barstools - leaving absolutely no one on the floor in front of the stage. At least there was room to stand and see the bands. As the first band in an all-instrumental lineup, Canyons of Static absolutely tore the place down, playing mostly new tunes plus a couple from their solid 2008 release The Disappearance. Their brand of droning but incredibly intense post-rock is not necessarily a new sound, but with a subtle infusion of melodic keyboards and guttural unmic’d screaming from the polar bear of a man behind the drum kit, they hypnotized me and frightened me simultaneously. With flashes of abstract projection against the pitch black stage and three intermittent white screens, it was also a visually compelling set-up - the perfect kick start to a much anticipated spring break.
Next up was Male, a new Chicago collective of ambient experimentalists, featuring former members of Joan of Arc and Pan American. I understand how pretentious that sounds, but what makes this awkwardly-named group rise above their own artsy-fartsy-ness was definitely their presentation. They could have gotten up there and just swelled their guitars and barely touched the drums and stared at their feet the whole time. But no - with a charmingly theatrical frontman manipulating the guitars through a laptop while seemingly being possessed by the music emanating from his bandmates that surrounded him, jutting his fists into the air with every new layer projecting out through the speakers, I found myself once again transfixed. Toms were tickled, turntable crackle was looped and placed every so slightly in the mix, and guitars were both reserved and blasting, creating sonic textures that felt both soothing and completely insane.
Finally, local favorites Collections of Colonies of Bees utilized both the climactic splendor of the evening’s opener and the quirky but still artful execution of Male to completely own the night. My traditional stop at the record store before epic road trips found me digging in the used section to, in a twist of fate, find a copy of the band’s latest album Birds, which I played heavily during my drive and certainly used to psych myself out. And while so often I have found myself disappointed by a band’s live act after falling in love with their record, it was indeed the opposite with the Bees. The gentle minimalist expansions of Rhodes piano, keytar, sparkling guitars from virtuoso Chris Roseneau (formerly of Pele and Vermont), and manic drumming filled every possible void in my eardrum, and even though they never strayed too far from a main riff, they got the most of their few notes, creating a tense mood and briskly cathartic releases. As I left Mad Planet and drove back with their sounds still ringing in my ears, I looked at the Milwaukee skyline before preparing for my next destination and realized it’s actually quite the pretty sight. All it took were two of the city’s best acts to convince me that maybe the place I grew up wasn’t so shitty after all.
Chris Polley teaches high school English, often with his hair disheveled and a glint of crazy in his eye, in the Midwest’s greatest city, Minneapolis. He rambles on and conducts discourse with friends and strangers about the horrific beast that is pop culture over at The Blogulator.