Today is: Thursday May 28, 2020 | Status: Under Re-development | Version 2.99.03
Mitski in motion

Mitski with Jay Som

by John Noyd

The first time I saw Mitski she was headlining a triple bill with PWR BTTM and Palehound at The Frequency. PWR BTTM were crazy, rambunctious, like bright, burning sparks flying everywhere. Palehound came on cheery and thoughtful, her songs like flickering candles throwing shadows and shedding light. When Mitski appeared, she was a beacon, strong, focused and intensely determined. The next time I saw her was at the High Noon, again it was as if she was singing to a balcony that was somewhere beyond the visible horizon. Mesmerizing in her potent concentration, Mitski seemed perched just this side of a break-through and, “Be The Cowboy,” was its name. Turning that ever-searching lighthouse inward and routing creative rages through an astonishingly zen presentation, Mitski unveiled a new version of herself to the sold-out Sylvee’s audience. Meta-Mitski exalted the body, dissected social dynamics and choreographed human appetites to the beat of a sublime digital universe.                                                                                                                     

The show started with Mitski’s slow patient walk to center stage, a subtle quasi-robotic precision to her steps, then, taking a seat on a plain white chair behind a plain white table, her prudent movements became more and more a deliberate exhibition. Emotions in motion as it were; her poise, deportment and posture eventually reflecting sacrifice, commitment and discipline. Enlightening the songs with action, the visual-musical synthesis groped broken utopias while muffling struggling hungers, elevating the physical into the sensual and the emotional into a mindful exposition depicting deep themes of self-image and identity. List-making lyrics referencing lipstick, high heels and make-up materialized as desires and regrets erupted in a fusion of jazz ballet and coy burlesque, transforming sexbot pinups into yoga-toned color guard. As the concert proceeded, the set list evolved into a living story detailing happiness and tragedy, pantomimes where mirrors became phones and pool cues became rifles. An attentive crowd spellbound by the limber actions and iron will both applauded furiously and held their breath. In a silent moment between songs, someone shouted, “Mitski, you’re so weird,” only to have another, smaller voice say, “thank you.” Maybe all this art-rock theatrics was thick with metaphors, stereotypes and symbolism, but personally the entire performance took my breath away, opened my eyes and had me thinking for days. Bravo, Mitski, Bravo.   

Opener Jay Som’s bass-driven alt-pop ballads bounced in sun-riddled crispness belying a cynical distance which lent punk authority to the glistening delivery.  Like Mitski, Jay Som enjoys a strong local fan-base built from their previous visits to Madison, steadily working their craft, refining their style and making great music.

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Weezer's Rivers Cuomo

Weezer and Pixies with Basement

by John Noyd

Right from the get go Weezer aimed to please by indulging in their own peculiar whimsy. While Basement and the Pixies both took the straight for the throat mode, with particularly sinister lunacy permeating Pixies’s set thanks to Joey Santiago’s frenzied guitar barrages and Frank Black’s rapturous sunstroke vocals, it was all fun and games for Weezer. Opening their jam-packed hour-plus set dressed in pinstripes for a barbershop quartet rendition of, “Pork and Beans,” the band hardly left a moment for anyone to catch their breath.

A band from the nineties, Weezer’s long-standing reputation filled the Madison Alliant Energy Center with an energetic demographic who spent elementary school bopping to, “Buddy Holly, ” only to party ten years later to, “Beverly Hills.” Another ten years and here we are revisiting those multiple golden years with post-ironic, nostalgia-addled, “Africa,” whose pinnacle solo was impressively slayed by Rivers Cuomo on a synth-driven guitar.  Quite a few families attended, their exposure to these hits no doubt marked stages in their lives; proms, first jobs, kids. Hiding among the young, a small contingency of Weezer and Pixies fans who actually grew up in the nineties, rounded out the numbers. “Say It AIn’t So,” indeed.

From t-shirt guns to flame-shooting flashpots, disco balls and music-video backdrops, Weezer pulled out the big guns for the big hits, while somehow making the entire process seem intimate. Whether coaching thousand-strong sing-alongs or embarking on a four-wheeled boat to play to the back seats, Rivers courted collaborative happiness in a sea of camera flashlights that echoed the night’s shower of sparks pouring on stage as a fitting pyrotechnic finale for a band that spreads cheeky, cheery, wise-guy brightness.  In contrast, the stronger than ever Pixies weren’t looking for new recruits. Between the non-existent chat between songs, blinding lights and mechanical proficiency, the band pitched howling alt-rock punches with desert-punk crunch that challenged rather than engaged with a freight-train display of cathartic heart attacks whose execution was a thing of beauty. 

Stadium-worthy Indulgences from both camps made this time-warped Sunday a memorable entry in anyone’s rock ‘n roll bucket list. 

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Michael and Spyder, Steel Panther

JJO Yellow Snowball 2018

by Al Brzostowski

As tradition goes, Steel Panther made their holiday stop in Madison for the JJO Yellow Snowball. Steel Panther heated up the Sylvee, as the temperature dropped in Madison.

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Manchester Orchester The Sylvee December 5th

Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms with Brother Bird

by John Noyd

Indie-rockers Manchester Orchestra lets the music do the talking. Singer, guitarist Andy Hull did say hello halfway into their set, but soon apologized for not being very articulate or having much to say. That’s ok - the epic journey he and the band took Madison’s The Sylvee spoke volumes; brazen in its attacks and tender in its celebrations with lyrics placating demons and savoring dreamers, the exceptionally tight unit plummeted thundering depths and reached transcendental heights often within a single song. A seething seizure of light and sound greeted the eager audience as the band book-ended the show with the opening and closing tracks from their latest opus, “Black Mile to the Surface.” Although the new album dominated the set, choice cuts from every other album burned powerfully next to MO’s latest as their trademark catharsis came fully alive on stage. Bonding the audience in sweet savage sadness, the soul-baring session was bathed in red shadows and blue fog; stalking, white-hot high-beams swept the venue as brawny, longing songs faced blameless anguish, pitching blistering bliss against existential tempests and uniting the crowd in majestic consensus. Concluding with a three-song encore, which included a deep cut from The Black Mile Demos EP, the band finished the night reaffirming their music’s unique ability to draw gravitas and humanity from larger-than-life arrangements and down-to-earth concerns.

Chatty patter came naturally to The Front Bottom’s hard-strumming Brian Sella whose slacker narratives reveled in disheveled debauchery. Spinning winning folk-punk tales backed by a touring band playing two drum kits, guitars, multiple keyboards and violin,  alongside a functioning bar the crew and band-mates frequented during the side-splitting set, TFB’s smart-ass anarchy broke down all walls between them and their rabid fans. The snarky carnival had no problem getting the crowd to participate in every song including the uproarious, “Peace Sign,” where the mosh pit subsided long enough to flash a peace sign and middle finger in response to the song’s dogged insistence.

Brother Bird, whose thirty minute set started in a country-folk vein before turning dark and synthetic, wondered if they were being a downer, too emo. No worries, in a night of dire pariahs exuding groovy retribution, BB’s sultry despair fit right in with the rest of the evening’s misfit visions  

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James Milbrandt

Versus Me

by Al Brzostowski

Amidst the dark lighting, James Milbrandt and his VSME band mates took the stage after an eerie introduction, launching into “Not going back”. From there, VSME segued into their new track, “Left Here” — in which they recently released a music video to.

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