“When’s the last time Hot Snakes played in Milwaukee?” guitarist John Reis asked a full Mad Planet as the band prepared to play Thursday night. “Never before, so we’ll never be here again. Let’s make the most of it.”
Between the influential rockers reuniting and playing on the eve of their return record’s release, the fact that it was a long-overdue Milwaukee debut, and the show being relocated from the quaint confines of Cactus Club to Mad Planet, it had all the makings of a special night. But before Reis and company took the stage in Riverwest, two supporting acts had to play. Some people in the room waited almost 20 years to see Hot Snakes. They could wait two more hours.
Fortunately, Meat Wave started things off right with a short-but-strong opening set chock full of punchy cuts off Delusion Moon and last year’s The Incessant. The Chicago trio gave way to the kooky Quebecois in Dutchess Says, who held the attention of the growing crowd, exuded energy, and even convinced some show-goers to sit on the ground for one song. Both openers turned in memorable and all-around enjoyable performances, but it’s safe to say everyone at Mad Planet was there to see Hot Snakes.
The guests of honor took the stage around 11:30 p.m. and—after Reis issued the above query and earned extra credit by claiming Die Kreuzen as his favorite band—launched headlong into an all-killer and no-filler set by playing “Death Camp Fantasy,” a standout song off Jericho Sirens. Quickly addressing any fears the outing was simply a promotional push for the band’s March 16 release, the band chased the newcomer with “Who Died” and “LAX” from 2002’s Suicide Invoice, among other older offerings.
That seemed to be the pattern for the 19-song, approximately hour-long performance: a little new stuff, twice as many fan favorites, everything played with raw energy and album-caliber execution. The catalog-traversing set made room for excellent Jericho Sirens ditties like “Six Wave Hold-Down,” the new record’s title track, and “I Need A Doctor,” but was also rife in oldies/goodies like Automatic Midnight‘s “10th Planet” and “If Credit’s What Matters I’ll Take Credit, and the title track from Suicide Invoice.
After “No Hands,” the Snakes slithered off stage, only to return moments later for a four-song encore that included blistering renditions of such Audit In Progress standards as “Braintrust” and “Hi-Lites” that inspired a mosh pit—likely the first many of the people in late-30s and 40s-leaning crowd had been part of in years—near the front of the stage. During one of the band’s sparing moments of audience interaction, a member asked, “Has any of this at any point seemed absurd?” It did. It was the Ides of March in 2018, but it could’ve been 2005. Mad Planet was hosting a concert, people who’d “retired” to Bay View or the suburbs were out to celebrate in Riverwest (on a weeknight, no less!), and Hot Snakes sounded incredible.
Though it took 19 years to happen and the show went by incredibly fast, Hot Snakes finally made it to Milwaukee, and the couple hundred folks at Mad Planet took Reis’ advice by making the most of it. Hopefully the first show in town wasn’t also the last. And if it was, what a way to go.