Tonight, Milwaukee will play host to a reunion show of sorts when Desaparecidos comes to Turner Hall. Probably better known as “Conor Oberst’s old band,” the Omaha act disbanded in 2002 when the frontman stepped away to focus on his other project, Bright Eyes. A decade later, the band got back together for some reunion shows, and earlier this year, made the reunion official by putting out Payola, the first Desaparecidos record in 13 years. At a time when nostalgia is at an all-time high, few things are truly guaranteed to be gone for good. Classic movies are being rebooted or reformatted to become TV shows. Meanwhile, products like Surge are having a “re-Surgence” (sorry) and due to popular demand, Miller Lite reverted to the can design it had ditched nearly 20 years prior.
Of course, in the realm of music, Desaparecidos are far from the only band to decide to reunite. Over the years, Milwaukee projects have been prone to reunions, whether they come after a couple years away from the stage or a couple decades. Surely, there are too many Milwaukee music reunions to count, but here are 15 that stand out to us.
1. Alligator Gun
Alligator Gun were never as big as their early-’90s Milwaukee emo contemporaries (think The Promise Ring, of which Alligator Gun bassist Scott Schoenbeck was a member), but their penchant for more pop-minded melodies would influence the scene the years to come. After breaking up in 1997, the band reunited in late 2006 for a WMSE-hosted show at Todd Wehr Auditorium, which also featured reunion sets from Compound Red and Loomis. Alligator Gun reformed once more in early 2014 for a Pablove benefit show, and were joined by fellow reformers the Benjamins.
As former members of the Drive-Thru Records roster, the Benjamins embarked on cross-country tours with early-2000s favorites like Sum 41, Reel Big Fish, and New Found Glory during the Milwaukee pop-rock quartet’s brief-but-memorable run. In ’02, Drive-Thru’s model of making bands tour constantly for next-to-no money (which ultimately spelled the end of the label) proved too much for the Benji’s, as they called it quits. However, as far as reunions go, the band was particularly bad at saying goodbye. The first few years after the breakup, the Benjamins would have a “last show” nearly every year. Members moving and playing in other projects kept the last shows at bay for a bit, but they came back to play four songs at a Tosa Tonight show in 2013, and were part of the Pablove benefit last winter, which doubled as the release show for the Benjamins’ Back On Track EP. Something tells us that won’t be the last we’ll hear of them.
3. Brothers By Choice
Last year’s Burnhearts/Pabst Street Party essentially belonged to Sylvan Esso. Bay View’s Potter Avenue was plugged tight with people anxious to see the first Milwaukee appearance by the up-and-coming synth-pop duo. However, some may recall that the seventh annual summer block party was closed out with a rare performance by soul singers Brothers By Choice, who enjoyed success in the 1970s. How rare? It was the group’s first show in more than 20 years.
4. Compound Red
Milwaukee’s closest answer to Fugazi, Compound Red dominated the mid-’90s scene with an uncompromising but melodic take on post-punk emo. The excellent Mr. Microcosm was released in 1993, followed by a slew of singles and splits. But all good things must come to an end, and the band hung things up in early 1999. Seven years later, however, Compound Red reunited for a one-off show with Alligator Gun and Loomis.
After a decade-long run, which included releasing the still-outstanding City Of Festivals on Polyvinyl Records and some MTV attention, Decibully—who were playing out incredibly rarely and hardly writing new material at the time—officially announced they were calling it quits while on stage in front of a jam-packed Cactus Club in 2011. That departure didn’t last long, though, as the indie-rock/folk hybrid came together again to help make 2014’s Milwaukee Day one few would forget, as they headlined a Turner Hall show on April 14 that also included Whips’ true coming-out party and Juniper Tar playing something of a reunion show, too. Decibels will (kind of) get back together again this winter when they cover another local band’s music at Milwaukee Record’s second annual Local Coverage benefit.
6. Die Kreuzen (and a ton of other bands)
There’s a version of the story of Milwaukee’s music scene in the ’80s and early ’90s where Violent Femmes were the biggest things going. There’s another, not entirely uncomplimentary version, however, where Die Kreuzen ruled the roost. The hardcore heroes released a host of classic albums (1982’s Cows And Beer EP among them) before splintering off into separate groups in 1992. In 2012, three-quarters of the original Die Kreuzen reunited for the monstrous “Lest We Forget” show, which featured similar reunion sets from groups like Xposed 4Heads, Tense Experts, and Sacred Order. Die Kreuzen have continued to play occasional shows since, including 2014’s “Smith Uncovered” for Alverno Presents.
The latest iteration of Andrew Shelp’s baby, Milwaukee Psych Fest, brought a myriad of bands and DJs, string art, and trippy Breadmothers visuals to Cactus Club back in May. Helping to get the true start to the city’s festival season off on the right foot was an ultra-rare outing by a legendary Milwaukee noise rock band. Feck closed out night one of Psych Fest with a Thursday night show that was worth every moment of the near-20-year wait.
8. The Goodnight Loving
If you missed Dusty Medical Record’s 10th Anniversary Festival last month, you just plain missed out. The four-day, six-show soiree brought more than 20 acts to two Milwaukee neighborhoods. Though every day offered great shows that were emblematic of the local label’s significance, Saturday night’s Mad Planet lineup stood out, as it was the first performance by The Goodnight Loving since the band’s abrupt breakup in 2010, and likely the last time the seminal Milwaukee project will play together…at least until Dusty Medical’s 15th anniversary event.
9. International Jet Set
Whether you loved it or loathed it, ska was a big part of Milwaukee’s music scene in the ’80s and ’90s, with groups like The (still-active) Invaders and International Jet Set bringing Two Tone goodness to the Brew City. The latter group—fronted by future Kings Go Forth singer Dan Fernandez—played their last Milwaukee show in 1990, but reformed a quarter-century years later for a one-off show at the Miramar in 2015.
10. Juniper Tar
Is a reunion really a reunion when a band is broken up for less than a year? Maybe not, but it speaks to the greatness of Juniper Tar that the band’s 2014 Milwaukee Day reunion show, which followed their 2013 breakup, felt like such a big deal. A harmony-drenched 2012 album, Since Before, coupled with a month-long residency at The Hotel Foster that same year solidified the group as one of the city’s very best. The band followed up their 2014 reunion with an under-the-radar gig at this year’s Border Battle Weekend at the Somerset Amphitheater.
11. The Obsoletes
Despite having two of three members living in Neenah, Wisconsin when the project started, drummer Jon Phillip—fresh out of the Benjamins—gave the Obsoletes a Milwaukee affiliation in the band’s infancy. Ironically, Phillip is the only member who no longer lives in town, as singer-guitarist currently Tim Schweiger plays in The Midwest Beat and singer-bassist Justin Perkins owns and operates Mystery Room Mastering. Busy with life and other projects, the trio’s shows slowed to a crawl before (purportedly) their final show in 2010. This summer, a friend’s request resulted in a two-show reunion in early July. After that great return, the band was tabbed to open a pair of shows for Tommy Stinson—who Phillip and Schweiger used to back live, and whose latest release was mastered by Perkins—last weekend. Few would mind a full-on reboot from a band with support in Milwaukee, Madison, and the Fox Cities, but Perkins assures it’ll now be another five or 10 years before there’s another Obsoletes show, if ever.
Legendary Milwaukee post-rock outfit Pele disbanded in 2004, but their influence on local music remains strong to this day. Members of the instrumental three-piece (Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Matt Tennessen) have done time with other classic Milwaukee groups like The Promise Ring, Volcano Choir, and Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, while Mueller’s devastating Death Blues album, Ensemble, was one of the best local releases of 2014. After playing what was thought to be a one-off New Year’s Eve show in Chicago last year, Pele reformed for a show at the Cactus Club this past spring—the band’s first Milwaukee show in over 11 years.
13. The Promise Ring
Milwaukee’s beloved Promise Ring were virtually untouchable throughout most of the ’90s, but their swan song, 2002’s unfairly maligned wood/water, left things hanging on an unsure note. Happily, a handful of reunion sets beginning in 2012 reminded the city (and the country) just how vital and forward-thinking the band was over the course of their entire run. TPR may be on hold yet again these days, but the great—and, dare we say, better?—Maritime continues to keep Davey von Bohlen and company at the forefront of the city’s music scene.
14. The Response
Throughout this young century’s first decade, Milwaukee, and Wisconsin in general, was the frequent host of shows by The Response. The pop-punk project with an emotive twist (as was the sound of the time) toured some, manged an EP and a full-length, and even lent hometown support to Milwaukee stops by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Coheed & Cambria, and Nada Surf. Still, the band was overshadowed for much of their existence by a handful of other burgeoning Brew City bands on the verge of breaking out. Shows slowed, careers blossomed outside of music, kids were coming, and The Response played their final show at Cactus Club in early 2012. Or did they? Ironically, an upcoming event marking the end of Latest Flame Records putting out physical releases prompted The Response, who had an album on the local label, to bring the band’s original lineup back to the stage when they play Club Garibaldi on October 23. If you missed them the first time around, we highly recommend seeing this show.
15. The Rusty P’s*
To be clear, The Rusty Pelicans (or Rusty P’s, if you will) never broke up. However, since starting as a trio in 1995 and, at times, having as many as four members, the Milwaukee hip-hop veterans’ cast dipped to two members for much of its lengthy tenure. Following the release of last year’s Pull The Trigger, Count Classic and Phantom Channel reached back into the project’s history and asked past collaborators Dana Coppa and Oneself to re-enlist for the outfit’s 20th anniversary. Fortunately, they agreed, which resulted in a great Public Enemy appetizer at this year’s Summerfest, a solid (and wonderfully-named) collaborative record with LMNtlyst called LMNoP’s, and a proper reunion record on the way this fall.