Lauren Keene – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com Music, culture, gentle sarcasm. Fri, 14 Dec 2018 21:24:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.1 http://milwaukeerecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/cropped-mrapp-32x32.jpg Lauren Keene – Milwaukee Record http://milwaukeerecord.com 32 32 Efren Ramirez talks ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ Riverside screening, voting for Pedro http://milwaukeerecord.com/film/efren-ramirez-napoleon-dynamite-riverside-screening-voting-pedro/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/film/efren-ramirez-napoleon-dynamite-riverside-screening-voting-pedro/#respond Thu, 08 Nov 2018 16:51:19 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=58330 here are few films from the early aughts that are as quotable as Napoleon Dynamite. The low-budget 2004 high school comedy went from a sleeper hit to a cult classic in a matter of months. Nearly 15 years later, it’s not uncommon to spot a “Vote For Pedro” shirt in the wild. On Friday, November […]

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There are few films from the early aughts that are as quotable as Napoleon Dynamite. The low-budget 2004 high school comedy went from a sleeper hit to a cult classic in a matter of months. Nearly 15 years later, it’s not uncommon to spot a “Vote For Pedro” shirt in the wild.

On Friday, November 16, the iconic movie will screen at the Riverside Theater with commentary from the film’s three leads: John Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), and Tina Majorino (Deb). Milwaukee Record spoke with Efren Ramirez over the phone about his enduring fondness of the film, his never-ending association with Pedro, and his work outside of Napoleon Dynamite.

Milwaukee Record: Did you ever think that Napoleon Dynamite would still be relevant and have cultural impact 15 years after it came out?

Efren Ramirez: Uh, no [laughs]. It’s Halloween today, and there’s around 15 million views on Camilia Mendez and Lili Reinhart’s [of Riverdale] Instagram post because they dressed up as Pedro and Napoleon. I think it’s pretty bad ass.

MR: I, too, dressed up as Napoleon Dynamite three years ago. My best friend wanted to be Pedro, but we couldn’t find a bolo tie in time. It’s such a classic costume. Are you still in contact with anyone from the movie?

ER: Yeah! [Jon] Heder lives about 15 minutes away from me, and I talk to Jonathan Gries (Uncle Rico) all the time. When you work with actors, sometimes you work at a job and it becomes a job. But there are moments when you connect to the people you work with and become friends for life, which is rare. In the entertainment industry, you’re constantly working on projects, and you disappear to another world. You have to have some connection to reality, and that connection is your friends. I’ve gotten really great advice from Jonathan Gries. It’s wonderful to talk to Jon Heder about our experiences in this industry as actors, and as friends.

MR: Can you tell me how you landed the role of Pedro?

ER: Well, I was working on two shows, Boston Public and Even Stevens. My agent called me up and said, “Hey, you have an audition for two films. One of them is called The Alamo and one of them is called Napoleon Dynamite.” I read the script for Napoleon Dynamite thinking, “What is this?” It was just so odd. I went into 20th Century Fox studios, and the audition went great. Then I got a phone call and was offered the roles for both The Alamo and Napoleon Dynamite, and I really had to make the choice. I chose Napoleon because Pedro was such a unique character and I wanted to play a lead role. I didn’t know it was going to change my life forever.

MR: You said the movie was odd, and I’m sure a lot of people would agree with that. I think Napoleon Dynamite really embraced a sort of awkward, uncomfortable humor before shows like The Office and Arrested Development did. What was it like being in a movie with that type of humor before it became so popular?

ER: The characters’ experiences throughout the entire film are really funny. One of my favorite moments with Napoleon is when he and his brother order a time machine and they believe they’re going to go back in time. A lot of these plot lines are based off true events that the director and his wife had experienced with their siblings. They literally ordered a time machine thinking they could go back in time. It even came with period money, so just in case you do go back in time, you’d have the right year of dollar bills. Which should make it obvious that it didn’t work, but they still thought it would! It was just so odd.

With Napoleon Dynamite, I found it endearing that the film was about these two different people who don’t know each other and then form a friendship. And then with their friendship, they help each other out and make each others’ dreams come true. In the end, Napoleon gets the girl and Pedro becomes president. Kip finds the love of his life and goes to Detroit, and Sandy goes back to Tina the llama. It’s just a wonderful way of telling a story. You get to go experience the journey of all these odd characters who we can all relate to.

MR: What were you thinking when you first read the script and you learned about all of the weirdo characters?

ER: I literally went to my parents’ closet, and I was wearing my father’s wardrobe, kind of dressed like Pedro. I was doing the voice but not trying to be too comical; you really want to be honest to the character. I was still wondering about [the role], because I had just graduated from acting school. I’m a big fan of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and I knew that I wanted to create a stillness with this character, and this curious eye. When I went out to Preston, Idaho and I met Jon Heder, he was in wardrobe for Napoleon and he was like, “Hey…are you Pedro…?” I knew it was going to be awesome.

MR: Have you ever gone to the Napoleon Dynamite Festival in Preston?

ER: [laughs] No, I have not. But I will tell you, in between working on films, I DJ all over the world.

MR: Oh really?

ER: Yeah! Before Napoleon Dynamite, I did a lot of raves in Los Angeles. After that, I became a celebrity DJ. I’ve actually DJed in Milwaukee, and stayed at the Ambassador Hotel—where Jeffrey Dahmer used to stay—right across from The Rave. I’ve always had a great time in Milwaukee. When they mentioned that I would be making an appearance with Jon Heder over in Milwaukee, I was like, “Oh, great!” It’s a place that I really enjoy. People have been really loving.

MR: What are you expecting from the film screening at the Riverside? Have you ever done something like that before?

ER: I have. It’s kind of like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where you have die-hard fans who are really into the movie and really want to enjoy that experience again. Knowing that it’s been 15 years, I am so happy that all of this is happening. I’m so happy to be able to give big hugs to all the fans and say thank you. This is something that we can all enjoy together.

MR: Do you have any funny stories about shooting Napoleon Dynamite that you can give away before the event?

ER: [laughs] I mean, there are so many. There are fun moments working on the set, and working off the set, like at comic conventions. When I was working on Napoleon Dynamite…I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this [laughs]. It was so hot, a really dry heat and Haylie Duff [Summer Wheatley] ended up fainting. I remember she had a little dog with her and it looked like Falkor from The Neverending Story. She ended up fainting, and her dog ended up coming off the leash and ran off the set and into a field. I was told a bird swooped down, took her dog and ate it.

MR: Oh my god!

ER: She had this tiny dog, but it looked like Falkor! And when she came back to consciousness, they told her, “Hey…we can’t find your dog!” [laughs] Preston, Idaho is such a small town, so the whole town knew that one of the actors had this dog. There was a search for it, but it was eventually decided that the dog went to dog heaven. I think like a week later, she replaced it.

MR: That’s crazy. I’ve read a lot of Napoleon Dynamite reflection pieces, and I’ve definitely never heard that story before. At least it sounds like she got over the dog-snatching pretty fast. Do you think there will be a sequel or revival of Napoleon Dynamite, aside from the short-lived animated series?

ER: Well, it’s been 15 years and the studios really love the film. I can only think about the future, maybe Pedro running for mayor and Napoleon married to Deb, with two kids—one looking like Napoleon, like an eight-year-old Napoleon saying, “Hey dad…I’m ready for school…” Pedro maybe having four kids with Summer Wheatley. Uncle Rico actually being a pro-football coach, Kip become a cage fighter for real. That would be hilarious. Because of that movie, we’re all working actors and we’ve all worked on projects. We’ll see. It’s up in the sky. I’m always open to a really good script.

MR: Do you have any projects coming up that you’re excited about?

ER: I’m working on three different projects—two dramas and a comedy. After Napoleon Dynamite, there were a lot of roles that were almost the same character, and my managers didn’t want to do that. I’ve started playing all these different characters, and I’ve become labeled as a character actor. There are two TV shows and a feature film. All I can tell you is this: The next project, I will be working with one of the actors who has played Gandhi. I love being able to challenge myself and take on roles that scare the crap out of me. When the audience sees the work that I do, they get surprised that they don’t recognize me.

MR: Yeah, I was going to ask you if you ever get recognized on the street or if people ever come up to you and quote the movie.

ER: It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere that I go. [laughs] You know, around Halloween time I like to go to these theme parks, like Knott’s Berry Farm or Magic Mountain. I go to those haunted mazes, and the monsters will jump out and try to scare me, and then they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re Pedro!” And I’m like, “Dude, no! Stay in the moment! Scare me!” The other thing is that when I DJ, I’ll go up on the deck and they’re like wait, that guy’s a DJ?

MR: You should play at Summerfest here in Milwaukee. Summerfest gets a lot of celebrity DJs, like Paris Hilton and Pauly D from Jersey Shore. It sounds like you would fit in there pretty well.

ER: I love what it really means to DJ. It’s about the music and it’s about the people, and creative new music. I’m so passionate about that, but I’m more passionate about acting. You’re exploring new things, especially with new technology in such a way that everybody gets to explore new endeavors.

MR: I know you’ve had roles that were not Pedro, of course. What have been some of your other favorite roles?

ER: I would say Crank, a film I did with Jason Statham and Amy Smart. I’m fan of Tim Curry, and in an ode to that, I played a role named Caleb who’s transgender. The character dies in the film—spoiler alert—and so when they wrote the sequel, I played my own twin brother. My twin brother, he’s kind of gothic and has his own issues. I had training in martial arts and how to ride a motorcycle. Each character takes you on a new journey.

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Fleetwood Mac blends old with new at Fiserv Forum show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/fleetwood-mac-blends-old-with-new-at-fiserv-forum-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/fleetwood-mac-blends-old-with-new-at-fiserv-forum-show/#respond Mon, 29 Oct 2018 05:30:49 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=57860 espite various marriages, divorces, breakups, and makeups, the members of Fleetwood Mac have continually performed alongside one another for nearly half a century. Aside from a repertoire of legendary tunes, the band is perhaps most famous for its longevity. That longevity was briefly interrupted on April 9, 2018 when a RollingStone.com headline made waves across […]

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Despite various marriages, divorces, breakups, and makeups, the members of Fleetwood Mac have continually performed alongside one another for nearly half a century. Aside from a repertoire of legendary tunes, the band is perhaps most famous for its longevity. That longevity was briefly interrupted on April 9, 2018 when a RollingStone.com headline made waves across various the internet. “Fleetwood Mac Fires Lindsey Buckingham,” declared an article on the music mag’s website. Commenters on Facebook joked about how Buckingham’s departure would have been big news in 1979, not in 2018.

While those snarky commenters weren’t completely wrong, Buckingham’s unexpected termination still managed to shock fans. The prolific band—who managed to stay together for countless decades—was, at long last, losing a crucial piece of its never-ending puzzle. Would the group continue to prosper without Buckingham’s signature howl and refined guitar work? Only time would tell.

Not long after Buckingham’s dismissal, the band announced yet another tour. “An Evening With Fleetwood Mac” began this month, making its 12th stop in Milwaukee Sunday night at the freshly minted Fiserv Forum. Buckingham was replaced with not one, but two seasoned performers who were each given the task of trying to fill the big shoes that Buckingham left behind. Neil Finn (of Crowded House) took over Buckingham’s vocal duties, while Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) wielded a lead guitar.

The brand-new lineup started off the set with “The Chain,” a haunting track off of Rumours, perfect for Hallo-weekend. Right off the bat, audiences were given a little taste of both Finn and Campbell’s newfound contributions to the group. Finn admittedly seemed a little uneasy during the early parts of the set, but who wouldn’t be? Buckingham managed to set an extremely high standard, both for himself and for Fleetwood Mac; it speaks volumes that two musicians were hired to replace him.

Of course, Buckingham is a very important member of Fleetwood Mac…but frankly, he’s not exactly who people come to see. The ethereal goddess (and rumored witch) Stevie Nicks has long been the group’s showstopper, and that is definitely one aspect of the band that has remained unchanged. Her haunting voice sounds almost identical to the band’s early recordings; strong, slightly raspy and powerful as ever. It’s unlikely Nicks has ever succumbed to the temptation of auto-tuning her music. She sure as hell doesn’t need to.

Fleetwood Mac’s other leading lady, Christine McVie, has consistently remained one of the band’s most understated members. She immediately claimed her throne during “Little Lies,” a track on which the British chanteuse sings lead. During “Everywhere,” McVie stepped away from her keyboard and commanded center stage as Nicks stepped to the side. McVie left Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and only recently returned in 2014. Last night, it was clear the rest of the group was thankful to have the opportunity to perform alongside McVie once again.

One of the show’s few low points was an extremely gratuitous drum solo from Mick Fleetwood after a raucous rendition of “World Turning.” Yes, Fleetwood deserves his moment in the sun, and he is an extremely talented drummer. Regardless, his solo went on for far too long and was very obviously a self-indulgent addition to the otherwise engaging set. He yelled random hype words into a microphone as he drummed vigorously, eventually moving from the back of the stage to the front with a bongo drum slung around his shoulders.

After finishing up his act, Fleetwood took a moment to introduce the group to the massive audience. Aside from the main members of Mac, the lineup consisted of two backup singers, one backup percussionist, one backup guitarist, and one backup keyboardist. A grand total of 11 musicians made the Fiserv Forum stage their home for the night, taking the group’s arena-rock sound to the next level. “We are excited to have them join this crazy band called Fleetwood Mac,” Fleetwood said with a laugh.

Naturally, the most enchanting performances of the evening were those with Nicks on lead vocals. “Gypsy” and “Rhiannon,” two of the group’s most beloved tracks, were each highlights of the two-hour set. Another highlight was Nicks’ and Finn’s teamwork on a stripped-down, acoustic version of “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” It’s seriously unlikely that anyone listening to Crowded House in the mid-’80s would have ever guessed Finn would one day be a Fleetwood Mac stand in, but hey, stranger things have happened.

After performing a generous 19-song set, Fleetwood Mac finally stepped away from the stage. The band began its encore with a heartfelt performance of Tom Petty’s signature “Free Fallin’.” The crowd went berserk immediately after hearing the iconic intro. The sweet tribute was accompanied by a slideshow of Petty, who apparently took hundreds of photos with Stevie Nicks over the course of his career. Considering Nicks’ and Petty’s impressive track record, it may have been even more impressive to hear “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” or another collaboration between the two artists. But when Nicks howled, “I wanna write his name in the sky,” there was not a dry eye in the, uh, forum.

“Don’t Stop,” another legendary ditty off Rumors, was very appropriately saved for the encore. “Yesterday’s gone…oh, don’t you look back,” the band harmonized with a twinge of bittersweetness. Buckingham’s name was not uttered once throughout the entire set, but perhaps it didn’t need to be. Considering most of Fleetwood Mac’s members are in their 70s, it’s hard to imagine a next “era” for the legendary group. But if their 2018 track record is indicative of anything, it’s unlikely they’ll be retiring any time soon.

And thank God for that.

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Courtney Barnett is a force to be reckoned with at sold-out Pabst Theater show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/courtney-barnett-force-reckoned-with-sold-out-pabst-theater-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/courtney-barnett-force-reckoned-with-sold-out-pabst-theater-show/#respond Thu, 18 Oct 2018 05:45:27 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=57548 ustralian native Courtney Barnett made a stop in Milwaukee Wednesday night, traveling halfway across the world from her hometown of Melbourne to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at the Pabst Theater. The first thing we noticed about the gig was the historic stage’s offbeat décor. A twinkling row of string lights made their […]

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Australian native Courtney Barnett made a stop in Milwaukee Wednesday night, traveling halfway across the world from her hometown of Melbourne to perform in front of a sold-out crowd at the Pabst Theater. The first thing we noticed about the gig was the historic stage’s offbeat décor. A twinkling row of string lights made their way across the floor, giving the space a familiar dive-bar feeling. It’s almost as though Barnett realizes her punky, ’90s-inspired sound is usually most appreciated in smaller-scale venues rather than historical landmarks.

Barnett has so many fans, though, that placing her in a tiny venue would be a massive misstep. The singer/songwriter made her Milwaukee debut back in 2015 opening for indie rockers Belle & Sebastian. Fresh off the heels of her debut, Barnett was allotted a mere 30 minutes to win over the crowd back then…and win over the crowd she did. Her Pabst Theater gig was only her second stop ever in Milwaukee, and every seat in the house was full.

After a riveting opener set from Katie Crutchfield-fronted Waxahatchee, Barnett finally took the stage. She opened with “Hopefulessness,” a low-key track that set a mellow standard for the rest of the set. “You know it’s okay to have a bad day,” she crooned with her signature gentle punk sensibility. Even though Barnett started off on a gloomy note, the duration of her set would prove full of twists and turns.

The set was already perking up during Barnett’s second track. “Sometimes I get sad…it’s not all that bad,” she quipped on “City Looks Pretty.” Arguably the most special aspect of Barnett’s songwriting ability is her knack for humanizing the melancholy aspects of everyday life. Hearing her oft-#relatable lyrics in person was like receiving a hug from an old friend. Barnett often acknowledges things aren’t truly terrible, but it’s hard not to feel that way. It’s especially easy to relate to that sentiment as the temperatures grow colder and the days grow shorter. There may not have been a more perfect show to take place in Milwaukee in the middle of October (including the Foo Fighters gig happening nearby.)

Barnett continued to pick up speed with an energetic performance of “Avant Gardener.” One of the show’s many highlights was Barnett’s guitar playing. The woman can fucking shred, and her guitar work during some of the longer instrumental breaks was something to behold. Barnett performed alongside three other musicians: one drummer, one bassist, and one keyboardist/guitarist. The group was able to perfect a sound that was oftentimes much fuller than the average four-piece band.

The set took a dark, dramatic turn during “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” The entire room turned black, save for one red spotlight shining directly onto Barnett. After a lull, countless strobe lights began to flash as Barnett howled and growled with all her might. “I try my best to be patient, but I can only put up with so much shit!” she seethed near the track’s finale. The Exorcist vibes were a great addition to the set, and a friendly reminder that, hey, Halloween is coming up!

The set began to mellow out again near the middle. “Depreston,” “Small Poppies,” and “Small Talk” were each performed with ease. Even during her most subdued performances, Barnett remained a force to be reckoned with as she banged her head around the stage. Her energy was infectious, and the crowd was absolutely picking up what Barnett was putting down; most of the main floor spent the entire gig dancing and headbanging alongside Barnett.

“Should get married, have some babies, watch the evening news,” she crooned during “Are You Looking After Yourself?” The track is about not conforming to society’s black and white expectations of normalcy, and thank God Barnett has long ignored the advice of adults before her. If she had, we might not have the gift of her music, or the privilege of watching her perform live.

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CHVRCHES put on yet another terrific show at Riverside Theater http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/chvrches-another-terrific-show-riverside-theater/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/chvrches-another-terrific-show-riverside-theater/#respond Fri, 05 Oct 2018 05:25:24 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=56922 lot of people cringe when they hear the phrase “electronic music.” Sure, it’s almost exclusively produced via computers, and the genre is often synonymous with sweaty festival bros. We’ll be honest here—it is a genre that is easy to hate. Even though Scotland’s CHVRCHES is easy to place under the “electronic” umbrella, their label is […]

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A lot of people cringe when they hear the phrase “electronic music.” Sure, it’s almost exclusively produced via computers, and the genre is often synonymous with sweaty festival bros. We’ll be honest here—it is a genre that is easy to hate. Even though Scotland’s CHVRCHES is easy to place under the “electronic” umbrella, their label is technically “synth pop.” The trio performed an energetic set at Riverside Theater Thursday night, loaded with countless sights and sounds to behold.

Say what you will about EDM, but CHVRCHES is consistently an excellent live band. Their show last night was no exception. The group first came to Milwaukee in 2013 and again in 2016, delighting fans both times with their whimsical, electronic-pop sound. It’s clear word has spread about the band; though the show wasn’t sold out, it was noticeably packed.

One unique thing about their 2018 show is a live drummer. The band has toured as a three-piece since their inception in 2011, but decided to add a fourth dimension to their sound for their current tour. It was refreshing to watch the group perform with an additional instrument; the other two instrumentalists both wield keyboards, making the live drummer an unexpected, much-appreciated addition.

Singer Lauren Mayberry is a tiny woman with a massive voice. Her pipes were easily able to cut through the two keyboards and drums, echoing in every corner of the Riverside. Singing isn’t her only strong point. The pint-sized performer commanded the stage like artists well beyond her years. It was hard to keep your eyes off of her—and that’s saying a lot about a band that employs hundreds of strobe lights. (Their shows should come with a trigger warning.)

The band was able to induce a moderate dance party almost immediately, but it was during their electrifying performance of “We Sink” that the crowd really began moving. Mayberry herself certainly didn’t stand still, bouncing around the stage in a pair of bulky platform heels. “The last minute of that song is the closest I get to extreme sports!” she laughed.

Near the set’s midway point, Mayberry and keyboardist Martin Doherty switched posts, with Mayberry tickling the keys and Doherty taking center stage. Even though Doherty severely lacks Mayberry’s pipes, it’s always entertaining when band members switch positions. The ol’ switcheroo might have been a lull in the set, but the effort was still appreciated. After all, who doesn’t love a multitalented band?

Aside from the music, the show’s highlight was undoubtedly Mayberry’s stage banter. The Scottish songstress speaks quickly, with a thick accent—it’s hard not to wish she had subtitles. But that famous U.K. sense of humor was easily able to shine through. Mayberry joked about how we’re all just killing time before the release of A Star Is Born. Honestly, she’s not wrong, though it was obvious we were already witnessing a star onstage.

CHVRCHES have already played the Riverside three times, and at this rate, the group might be performing at the brand spankin’ new Fiserv Forum the next time they come to town. They’ve already proven they could handle it with ease.

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Frankie Cosmos show vulnerability, strength at sold-out Colectivo show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/frankie-cosmos-vulnerability-strength-sold-out-colectivo-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/frankie-cosmos-vulnerability-strength-sold-out-colectivo-show/#respond Fri, 28 Sep 2018 05:25:18 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=56628 t’s almost possible to read about bands who receive a lot of internet attention without seeing the word “hype” somewhere throughout a body of text. (Yep, even a few concert reviews here on Milwaukee Record have fallen prey to using the word repeatedly.) Hype can be either an artist’s friend or foe, but one thing […]

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It’s almost possible to read about bands who receive a lot of internet attention without seeing the word “hype” somewhere throughout a body of text. (Yep, even a few concert reviews here on Milwaukee Record have fallen prey to using the word repeatedly.) Hype can be either an artist’s friend or foe, but one thing about hype is guaranteed: it sets a high standard for a young, oftentimes inexperienced artist. They’ll either live up to their precious online legacy or succumb to the “overrated” label.

Frankie Cosmos have been on the ol’ hype train for a while now, and deservedly so. Singer/songwriter Greta Kline began uploading countless self-recorded tracks to Bandcamp in her early teen years, becoming widely known as a post-modern “bedroom pop” pioneer. Even though Frankie Cosmos—Kline’s four-piece band—has only three “official” albums, Kline herself has spent the last 10 years curating a massive catalog of lo-fi tunes as a prolific D.I.Y. songwriter. The quartet made their first-ever stop in Milwaukee Thursday night, performing a delicate set in front of a sizeible audience at the sold-out Back Room @ Colectivo.

Becoming familiar with an artist through a pair of headphones is an entirely different experience from seeing them perform onstage. Bedroom pop is a very, very intimate genre, and moving such scrappy tunes from the screen to the stage isn’t always a seamless process. Kline and the rest of the Cosmos crew possess that endearing awkwardness that makes bedroom pop work in the first place, and said awkwardness certainly transcended the band’s recordings.

There’s a very childlike quality to Kline, in both her songwriting and presence. She’s a tiny woman with a tiny voice, most easily comparable to The Cranberries’ late crooner Dolores O’Riordan. Though she doesn’t growl with the same Clinton-era angst as O’Riordan, Kline’s voice does possess a similar sweetness and innocence.

Frankie Cosmos’ 1990s parallels don’t stop there. Even though their tracks highlight a minimalist instrumentation, they often invoke a ’90s pop/rock sensibility, with hints of emo tucked throughout. It comes as no surprise that a generation so ridden with 1990s nostalgia would take a liking to Frankie Cosmos’ intimate gloom.

These days, anyone with a guitar and a MacBook can upload their heart and soul online for the whole world to hear. Frankly, Kline and their contemporaries are a dime a dozen; what is it about Frankie Cosmos that helps them stand out from the crowd and sell out shows across the country? Maybe it’s the way Kline can relate to her peers. Her songwriting is often deemed Frankie Cosmos’ crown jewel, and her way with words was certainly one of the show’s highlights.

Playing tracks off the group’s most recent release, Vessel, Kline performed with a refreshing self-assurance that one might not expect from a bedroom pop superstar. The question remains: do Frankie Cosmos live up to their longstanding internet hype? Kline’s soft power, paralleled with her endearing vulnerability, makes the answer easy: yes. It’s almost guaranteed Frankie Cosmos will graduate to a larger venue next time they roll into town to accommodate fans both old and new.

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MKE Music Rewind: The Shivvers, “Remember Tonight” http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/mke-music-rewind-the-shivvers-remember-tonight/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/mke-music-rewind-the-shivvers-remember-tonight/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 05:45:32 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=53226 In our weekly MKE Music Rewind, we revisit a notable Milwaukee song that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014. t’s sometimes said that the Midwest rocks the hardest. That may or may not be true, but one thing’s for sure: the Midwest has a strong affinity for power pop. The […]

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In our weekly MKE Music Rewind, we revisit a notable Milwaukee song that was released before Milwaukee Record became a thing in April 2014.

It’s sometimes said that the Midwest rocks the hardest. That may or may not be true, but one thing’s for sure: the Midwest has a strong affinity for power pop. The genre has maintained a cult following since its birth, particularly here in Milwaukee. Through the magic of radio airwaves, power pop’s slick, infectious melodies made their way to the shores of Lake Michigan and haven’t left since. Even the most casual local music listener can’t deny the genre’s enduring influence in the Milwaukee music community.

Power pop’s resilience in Milwaukee should come as no surprise. During the genre’s short-lived peak, Milwaukee was home to a band that should have been crowned power pop royalty. Though their popularity may pale in comparison to their power pop peers, The Shivvers continue to hold a special place in the heart of Milwaukee music lovers young and old.

If you Google “The Shivvers Milwaukee,” many of the search results on the first page include the word “lost.” The Shivvers undoubtedly had both talent and charm, but they never achieved the same success as Cheap Trick, Paul Collins’ Beat, and other ’80s power pop bands. They found little fame outside of Milwaukee, and they remain one of those “lost” bands that lacked the resources to achieve mainstream success. Their Midwestern stomping grounds left the band in the wrong place at the right time.

The Shivvers have never been “lost” in Milwaukee, especially among those who consider themselves Milwaukee music history buffs. I stumbled upon The Shivvers a few years ago, in the midst of a hyper-obsessive power pop phase. My love for the genre began with Big Star, another “forgotten” band who have only recently began to receive the attention they never got during their 1970s heyday. I was inclined to check out Big Star after hearing The Replacements’ loving tribute to the band’s frontman, a single aptly titled “Alex Chilton.”

Honestly, power pop is hard not to fall in love with. It’s rock and roll with pop music sensibility, guitar riffs and drum beats you can dance to until your feet hurt. I was instantly smitten with The Shivvers, especially with frontwoman Jill Kossoris. I watched countless Shivvers performances on YouTube as I danced around my bedroom. I was elated to discover a rare female-fronted power pop band from my very own city. How could I not be enamored?

I was fortunate enough to interview Kossoris last winter, and I can wholeheartedly say it was one of the highlights of my “Milwaukee-based freelance culture writer” career. Kossoris told me that if the band would have been able to record a second album, their sound would have become similar to “Remember Tonight,” the final track off their first (and only) LP.

“Remember Tonight” is noticeably different from the 11 other songs off of The Shivvers. The track’s drum beat is remarkably similar to the iconic drumbeat from The Ronettes’ 1963 track “Be My Baby.” Though that beat has been imitated hundreds—maybe thousands—of times, it sounds brand new behind Kossoris’ sweet, striking voice. The song features haunting harmonies and melodic keyboard arrangements that move much more smoothly than the rest of the album’s poppy tunes. It’s still power pop, but it’s slower and darker. It’s kind of spooky.

Even though The Shivvers’ greatest hits are “Teen Line” and “No Substitute,” I find “Remember Tonight” to be the most memorable track in the band’s small discography. Given their longstanding reputation as a “lost” band, it’s hard not to imagine what the group’s second, third, or fourth album could have sounded like. “Remember Tonight” was a glimpse into the band’s nonexistent future, an open-ended journey into what could have been. We’ll never know what The Shivvers could have accomplished, but we do have one legendary album that we’ll always remember.

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The War On Drugs bring beauty, boldness to sold-out Riverside show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/war-on-drugs-beauty-boldness-sold-out-riverside-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/war-on-drugs-beauty-boldness-sold-out-riverside-show/#respond Mon, 23 Jul 2018 14:36:03 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=53200 ver the weekend, a congregation of the biggest and baddest names in indie music gathered in Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival. The three-day gig boasted an impressive lineup of artists who were fortunate enough to receive a coveted stamp of approval from the infamous music criticism website. Luckily for Milwaukee music fans, Pitchfork doesn’t enforce […]

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Over the weekend, a congregation of the biggest and baddest names in indie music gathered in Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival. The three-day gig boasted an impressive lineup of artists who were fortunate enough to receive a coveted stamp of approval from the infamous music criticism website.

Luckily for Milwaukee music fans, Pitchfork doesn’t enforce “radius clauses” like that other Chicago music festival—clauses that prevent performers from playing nearby cities within a time frame too close to the festival dates. A few Pitchfork performers headlined their own shows in the Cream City this weekend, including lo-fi crooner Japanese Breakfast and indie rock gods The War On Drugs. The latter performed an ethereal, gorgeous set at Riverside Theater Sunday night that would surely make the festival crowd—or anyone—jealous they missed out.

The War On Drugs have been playing together since their 2005 inception, but their current lineup has only been in place since 2014. The band has endured its share of lineup changes (notably losing guitar player Kurt Vile to a solo endeavor), but the six-piece has the kind of chemistry that older groups seldom achieve. They didn’t miss a single beat throughout their two-hour set, keeping audiences on their toes both figuratively and literally.

The War On Drugs are one of the most unique-sounding groups of our time, and it’s obvious they draw from a variety of source material to craft their one-of-a-kind sound. Their music sounds completely modern while still drawing on classic, tried-and-true influences. Their thumping bass lines are reminiscent of New Order while their harmonica grooves bring Neil Young to mind. Nearly all of their songs could easily invoke a dance party, and the audience didn’t abuse their opportunity to move their feet.

If legendary sound engineer Phil Spector pioneered the “wall of sound” in the 1960s, front man Adam Granduciel and company have revolutionized the beloved recording technique for the modern age. Their sound was so, so incredibly full. A six-piece band is naturally going to have a sound much broader in scope than a band with fewer members, but The War On Drugs’ six members are each multi-instrumentalists who put their multiple instruments to use. Granduciel performed both irresistible guitar solos and crispy harmonica melodies while Jon Natchez traded his keyboard for a saxophone. Drummer Charlie Hall also played an organ. It’s a privilege to watch a band whose members each utilize their many talents, and it was refreshing to hear such a variety of instruments used in a rock set.

Crowd members may have purchased their tickets expecting one show, but they instead received two. Yeah, colorful lights are pretty much mandatory at any concert, but The War On Drugs had one of the most unique, gorgeous stage arrangements the Riverside Theater has ever seen. Countless white spotlights moved in unison, drowning the audience in a soft, hazy glow. On stage, a half-moon of smaller lights changed colors throughout the set, paralleling the drumbeats and bass lines. When the light hit Granduciel at a certain angle, the massive shadows of his body, guitar and microphone were projected on the walls of the theater. It was really fucking cool, and the sensory overload added an extra layer of beauty to an already beautiful show.

Granduciel was very grateful to play in front of the sold-out crowd, calling the audience “beautiful” and expressing his gratitude multiple times throughout the set. The War On Drugs probably have the least corny encore routine possible, which was very much appreciated. Instead of performing an over-the-top, exuberant miniature grand finale, Granduciel told the audience the band would grab a drink and come back and play some more. The move spoke volumes about the band and their set. The War On Drugs don’t need gimmicks to entertain; their straightforward talent and earnestness is more than enough to dazzle audiences. After Sunday night’s stunning performance, there’s no question they’ll sell out their next Milwaukee show.

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The Pretenders deliver full-force set at Riverside Theater http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/the-pretenders-deliver-full-force-set-at-riverside-theater/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/the-pretenders-deliver-full-force-set-at-riverside-theater/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 05:12:55 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=52742 Summerfest 2018 ended its 11-night run on Sunday, and one might think Milwaukee audiences are completely out of concert-going energy. Well, it turns out they aren’t–at least, not yet. On Tuesday night, Riverside Theater was packed with excited Pretenders fans eager to see the legendary new-wave band perform an electrifying, unforgettable set. Those expecting a […]

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Summerfest 2018 ended its 11-night run on Sunday, and one might think Milwaukee audiences are completely out of concert-going energy. Well, it turns out they aren’t–at least, not yet. On Tuesday night, Riverside Theater was packed with excited Pretenders fans eager to see the legendary new-wave band perform an electrifying, unforgettable set. Those expecting a night to remember certainly were not disappointed.

The Pretenders performed with a magnetic energy and a sophisticated swagger that is often imitated, rarely duplicated. The ravenous crowd could hardly resist the band’s infectious grooves. A few zealous fans in the balcony gave the band a standing ovation after every single song. The group’s lineup has changed a few times since its ’70s debut, but original members Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers continue to tour with the band.

Hynde was naturally the star of the show. Though 66 years old, the rocker is still a force to be reckoned with. She made shredding guitar and singing along look both effortless and effortlessly cool. She led the five-piece band with her signature badass-ness and enviable confidence.

Playing both older hits and a few newer tracks, Pretenders kept fans on their toes the entire night. In 2016, the band released “I Hate Myself,” a brooding, self-loathing track about, uh, self-hatred. Hynde’s delivery of the angst-ridden anthem was both chilling and comedic, and the performance was one of the night’s most memorable moments. She explained the song was inspired by waking up in the morning, taking a look in the mirror and thinking to yourself, “What an asshole.” After finishing up the performance, Hynde turned to the audience with a twinkle in her eye.

“I don’t really hate myself,” she quipped. “I think I’m fucking awesome.”

Hynde proved her awesomeness even more upon receiving some unwelcome comments from audience members. When one fan yelled that Hynde could come to their house and do whatever she wants, Hynde took a long, cool pause and replied, “I’m doing what I want right now.”

The Pretenders could easily fill an arena—or at least a festival stage—with their anthemic rock sound, so to see the band perform in a venue the size of Riverside Theater was an absolute privilege. Hynde spent the night switching back and forth between singing and singing/playing guitar, and the band’s sound was noticeably more full while Hynde played along.

Before the group’s five-song encore, Hynde took off her guitar and held it triumphantly in the air. The Pretenders have lived many lives, and their set was a reminder that they’ve only improved with age and maturity. Here’s hoping the band makes a triumphant return to Milwaukee soon.

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Stephen Malkmus lives up to his legacy at sold-out Colectivo show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/stephen-malkmus-lives-up-to-his-legacy-at-sold-out-colectivo-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/stephen-malkmus-lives-up-to-his-legacy-at-sold-out-colectivo-show/#respond Sun, 03 Jun 2018 14:54:01 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=50729 In his 2007 book Love Is A Mixtape, author Rob Sheffield describes his introduction to Pavement, the ’90s indie rock band that put singer/songwriter Stephen Malkmus on the musical map: Our friend Joe in New York sent us a tape, a third-generation dub of the Pavement album Slanted And Enchanted. Renee and I decided this […]

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In his 2007 book Love Is A Mixtape, author Rob Sheffield describes his introduction to Pavement, the ’90s indie rock band that put singer/songwriter Stephen Malkmus on the musical map:

Our friend Joe in New York sent us a tape, a third-generation dub of the Pavement album Slanted And Enchanted. Renee and I decided this was our favorite tape of all time. The guitars were all boyish ache and shiver. The vocals were funny bad poetry sung through a Burger World drive-through mike. The melodies were full of surfer-boy serenity, dreaming through a haze of tape hiss and mysterious amp noise. This was the greatest band ever, obviously. And they didn’t live twenty years ago, or ten years ago, or even five years ago. They were right now. They were ours.

Pavement has since remained Sheffield’s band; a quick Google search will reveal his lifelong obsession with the group, both as a pseudo-celebrity music writer and a passionate fan. Saturday night’s Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks show at The Back Room @ Colectivo was a reminder that Malkmus himself is a musician who belongs to a certain group of people—even 20 years after Pavement’s tragically early demise.

As a twenty-something spring chicken, Sheffield first saw Pavement in the early 1990s. Today, the writer is 52 years old; his passion for Pavement mirrors that of his peers. Though The Back Room was mostly a sea of salt and pepper hair, there was a surprising amount of younger fans who came out to see Malkmus alongside people who could easily be their parents.

Pavement is one of those bands with an infamous, well-deserved cult following. The early 1990s admittedly didn’t provide much rock music worth writing home about (sorry, Mr. Vedder). The lighthearted, earnest four-piece offered a light at the end of the scuzzy grunge-rock tunnel. Many a music critic has crowned Pavement the best band of the 1990s, and that sentiment is objectively accurate (sorry, Mr. Cobain).

Malkmus became an indie rock hero for his comical earnestness, slick guitar riffs, and almost dissociative singing style. Pavement broke up in 1999, and his solo effort The Jicks have been a band for significantly longer than Pavement even existed. Malkmus continues to be idolized through the ups and downs of his long career; the band very quickly sold out The Back Room, a venue certainly too small for Malkmus’ legacy and impact.

Portland post-punkers Lithics warmed up the crowd before Malkmus and company took the stage. The band was an all-too-appropriate choice for an opener. Their late ’80s, Pixies-esque punk was refreshingly straightforward, reminiscent of the long-gone time when Pavement was on top of the world. Aubrey Hornor’s atonal crooning mirrored a Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne; the band’s influences are no secret.

As soon as Malkmus appeared on stage, audience members immediately began talking at him, in a comically conversational tone. Yep, people are close to Malkmus, and that intimacy was obvious almost instantly. Malkmus is still the same cool guy that he was in 1989, and the most wonderfully satisfying part of the show was hearing his voice in person. Almost 30 years after Pavement’s first record, his voice still sounds as pure and angsty as ever. In fact, it sounds even better live than it does on those early recordings.

For anyone who may not be familiar with Malkmus’ solo work, the show was a great gateway into his breadth of post-Pavement tunes. A few of the Jicks’ albums have been criticized for being too self-serving, but their most recent release, Sparkle Hard, finds Malkmus in a political position. That currency was mirrored in Malkmus’ stage presence; he joked about Tide Pods and “manspreading” throughout the set. His signature casualness was evident, and he’s as lovable as ever.

Not many “older” (read: middle-aged) musicians can nail angst when they’re older (see: Tom Delonge), even if that is their signature thing (see also: Billy Joel Armstrong). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Malkmus continues to radiate that infamous ’90s angst flawlessly. He’s not a 45-year-old man singing about falling in love with girls at the rock show, and thank God for that. Stephen Malkmus is a tried-and-true, timeless indie rock crooner whose talent is seemingly ageless.

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John Prine reminds audiences of his timeless talents at Riverside Theater show http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/john-prine-timeless-talents-riverside-show/ http://milwaukeerecord.com/music/john-prine-timeless-talents-riverside-show/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 05:20:42 +0000 http://milwaukeerecord.com/?p=49102 Very few touring artists have a career breadth as expansive as John Prine‘s. The 71-year-old crooner has been cranking out songs, EPs, and albums since the early ’70s after being “discovered” by fellow folk legend Kris Kristofferson. In February, Prine released The Tree Of Forgiveness, his first album of entirely new songs in 13 years. […]

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Very few touring artists have a career breadth as expansive as John Prine‘s. The 71-year-old crooner has been cranking out songs, EPs, and albums since the early ’70s after being “discovered” by fellow folk legend Kris Kristofferson. In February, Prine released The Tree Of Forgiveness, his first album of entirely new songs in 13 years. Though a break that long may prove inefficient for some artists, it reminded listeners that Prine isn’t even a little rusty. His performance at Riverside Theater Wednesday night highlighted his many talents.

Before Prine took center stage, folk duo The Milk Carton Kids shared the spotlight. Their minimalist arrangement—two guitars, two voices—was calming and endearing, not unlike the various folk troubadours who achieved fame during Prine’s own era. They joked with the audience in between songs, setting a cheery tone for the evening.

Prine emerged onstage with a four-person backing band and greeted the crowd with “Be My Friend Tonight.” The inviting performance immediately enchanted the audience and set the precedent for the rest of the set. Prine kept the crowd lingering on his every word. He played the recently released “Caravan Of Fools” early in his set. Ever political, he remarked that the track is about impending doom and “has more verses than members of the cabinet.”

As the set progressed, band members continually switched instruments. This was only appropriate, of course; Prine has dabbled in folk rock, rockabilly, country, and everything in between, and his genre transcendence requires quite a bit of flexibility. Even though he can easily shine with only an acoustic guitar and his weathered voice, his lively support system created a lush soundscape that filled every nook and cranny of the Riverside.

Prine has 26 albums under his belt, and a discography that vast naturally leads to a collection of cherished classics. Though he slipped in a few of his tried-and-true tracks, the bulk of his setlist featured songs off his most recent release. While some older artists can occasionally bore audiences with their newer material, Prine didn’t miss a single beat. The set was virtually seamless, and it’s safe to assume tracks off of Forgiveness will provide good company for his classic material.

One of the most enchanting performances of the night was “Boundless Love,” a song dedicated to Prine’s longtime wife, Fiona. Prine sang and strummed with a tenderness and sweetness that is often mirrored but rarely duplicated. Before diving into the performance, he explained how his wife told him he needed a new record and joked about how she locked him in a hotel room, forcing him to work.

Prine’s slick sense of humor is frequently noticeable in his lyrics, and that comedic sensibility made an easy transition to his onstage presence. He told goofy stories about his recording process and songwriting inspirations, and the twinkle in his eye was noticeable even to audience members in the last row. He had the crowd giggling and cheering throughout the night, and it’s clear his undeniable charm has only increased with age.

Near the tail-end of the set, the band left the stage and gave Prine the opportunity to strum solo. The all-too-brief unplugged stint showed Prine in his prime: an effortlessly talented songwriter with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar. He joked about how his voice is “sometimes like a radio; it goes in and out.”

The lively audience participated in a sing-along during “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone).” Like so many others in the set, the song was off of Forgiveness. The avid sing-along proved that Prine’s talents are timeless, and he continues to dazzle fans even when they aren’t in his midst. The Milk Carton Kids joined Prine onstage for two songs, creating a charming blend of folk music past and folk music present.

John Prine is a national treasure, and his Riverside show was a much-needed reminder of his timeless talent. He may not always receive the same reverence as his contemporaries, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for audiences; he will always be our little, unkept secret.

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