Saturday night, Interpol will play a sold-out Pabst Theater show. Even though the seminal New York indie-rock mainstay isn’t exactly a frequent Milwaukee visitor, the band is no stranger to local venues. The three most recent Interpol shows (2005, 2007, and 2010) were at The Rave. Before that—almost 15 years ago, when the dynasty act was in its infancy—Interpol played a show at the Cactus Club, which was also somewhat new on the scene. On Saturday, only a handful of the 1,300-capacity theater will be able to truthfully say they were on hand for Interpol’s inaugural Milwaukee performance.
Many contemporary heavy hitters and household names in modern music had a similar indoctrination into the Milwaukee music scene. Some served as opening support for established locals—many of whom now see said show as a highlight of their band’s run. Others headlined understated weeknight shows at small clubs (and basements) before getting their big break. While there are dozens upon dozens of examples of now-impressive shows at small venues by bands that have grown in popularity, and more seem to be happening every year (King Tuff seems to have outgrown Quarters and Cactus Club, for example), Milwaukee Record can confidently claim none of these 20 (mostly) still-functioning bands will return to play their first Milwaukee stage.
1-2. Jimmy Eat World, Modest Mouse at Bremen House
More than any other type of venue, basements or houses provide the biggest opportunity for show-goers to boast about seeing bands before fame came calling. One such Milwaukee house venue, Bremen House, has a pristine track record of notable bands—especially for a house that would eventually be featured on Hoarders. When Jimmy Eat World was in the middle of just starting out and being radio regulars, the band played the Riverwest house venue. In 1996, Modest Mouse shared a bill with Managra, the high school band of Shane Hochstetler (Call Me Lightning drummer and Howl Street Recording owner). “I remember seeing [Modest Mouse] and saying, ‘Meh, not my thing,’” he says. But 10 years later, “They were one of the biggest bands in the land, which is pretty awesome.”
3-8. The White Stripes, Interpol, Queens Of The Stone Age, Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie, Of Montreal at Cactus Club
Interpol is just the tip of the iceberg: an entire list could be dedicated to bands that played Bay View’s venerable Cactus Club before hitting the big time. The most notable name, however, would almost certainly be The White Stripes, who played their first out-of-town show at Cactus on November 13, 1999. (The band is currently defunct, though Jack White gave the club a shout-out at his Rave show this summer.) It wasn’t even a headlining gig for the Stripes—that honor belonged to Milwaukee’s Mistreaters. For more pre-fame Cactus shows, one needs only glance at the club’s walls: Queens Of The Stone Age, Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie, and Of Montreal have all played there.
9. Daft Punk at Eagle Cave Campground
Yes, this show took place approximately 150 miles west of Milwaukee, but it still deserves mention because, holy shit, Daft Punk’s first U.S. gig was in Blue River, Wisconsin, in 1996. The Even Further rave—organized by Milwaukee’s legendary Drop Bass Network—was a weekend-long party at the Eagle Cave Campground, and would be remembered as the muddy, drug-fueled shitshow that introduced the pre-Homework (and pre-helmeted) French DJs to America.
10. No Doubt at The Globe East
Last week, Hotel Foster’s end-of-Halloween-weekend show featuring Macaulay Culkin joke band The Pizza Underground and Har Mar Superstar was, sadly, the biggest-name show to take place at 2028 E. North Avenue in about 20 years. Though the former tenant, The Globe East (why don’t we just glaze over the brief, shitty Live! On North occupation, cool?) had no shortage of impressive bookings for a low-capacity all-ages venue, the club never had a bigger-name band on its stage than a November 7, 1995 show by plucky O.C. ska band, No Doubt. While the band was already around for roughly a decade at that point, this mid-’90s show came less than a month after the release of the group’s single-laden eventual breakout record, Tragic Kingdom, which went on to sell more than 15 million copies and earned certified diamond status.
11-13. The Arcade Fire, Death From Above 1979, The Walkmen at Mad Planet
Mad Planet was privy to not one, but two shows from The Arcade Fire, who were just about to release their soon-to-be-huge debut, Funeral. The first was June 19, 2004 with The Unicorns (some dipshits who called themselves Holy Mary Motor Club opened the show); the second was just five months later, on November 24, 2004. Before Death From Above 1979 came out of nowhere to take the world of rock and roll by storm and abruptly break up, the Canadian duo played a “loud as fuck and goddamn nonstop” weeknight gig at Mad Planet in April of 2005. After reuniting (following a five-year gap) in 2011 to cash in on the festival circuit, DFA1979 is back in full now. If the band comes through town next year in support of its new The Physical World, it’s going to be at the Pabst Theater or Rave level, if not even larger. Even if The Walkmen broke its indefinite hiatus, the band would warrant a larger venue than Mad Planet (which they played in 2004) for its Milwaukee return.
14-15. The Hold Steady, The National at Onopa Brewing Company
The corner business at 735 E. Center will soon become Company Brewing, taking over the space recently occupied by Stonefly Brewing Co. Before that, the recently underutilized site was utilized quite well, as a brewpub called Onopa that booked a heft of up-and-coming national talent. In March 2004 alone, the neighborhood bar hosted The Hold Steady (who played IfIHadAHiFi and Sounds Like Braille’s dual album release show), and a Tuesday appearance by The National (who played between Pernice Brothers and The Bigger Lovers) just over two weeks later. Nowadays, either would be a Riverside sellout and worth definite Bradley Center, BMO Harris Pavilion, or Milwaukee Theater consideration.
16-19. The Flaming Lips, Smashing Pumpkins, Wilco, Alanis Morissette at Shank Hall
Shank Hall just celebrated its 25th anniversary, so it’s no surprise that the East Side venue has seen its share of bands on their way up. The Flaming Lips were Shank regulars for many years, logging shows in 1993, 1996, and 2000, long before their stage show necessitated a venue that could handle a giant hamster ball. But that’s not all: Smashing Pumpkins played Shank in 1990, Wilco in 1994, and Alanis Morissette in 1995, to name a few.
20. Atmosphere at Y-Not III
As the founder and flagship act of the Rhymesayers Entertainment label, Minneapolis rap outfit Atmosphere has been penciled in as a perennial free stage headliner at Summerfest. While entertaining thousands of die-hards two Big Gigs ago, Slug reminisced about Atmosphere’s first Milwaukee appearance, a show in the upper level of Y-Not III in the ’90s, before they became Midwest rap royalty and Y-Not III became a ’70s-themed reality show bar.