For Milwaukee music fans of a certain age and temperament, The Globe East will forever hold a special place in their alcohol-blurred minds, their noise-damaged ears, and their rapidly wilting hearts. The venerable East Side rock club (now The Hotel Foster) was the site of countless shows both big and small throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, giving the city a chance to see up-and-coming national artists in an agreeably intimate and dingy setting, and local acts a chance to ply their wares to a receptive hometown crowd. One of those local acts, Big Mother Gig, was a regular fixture at The Globe in the early and mid ’90s. In a recently unearthed video, a recorded version of BMG song “This Picture” is synced up with live footage of the band performing at The Globe in 1996. Revel in Big Mother Gig’s sound—big, bold, melodic, the kind of classic alt-rock college-radio goodness they don’t make anymore but you wish they did—and lap up the venue-induced nostalgia:
But there’s more to Big Mother Gig’s story than just a grainy VHS video plucked from a closet and uploaded to YouTube. Twenty years after calling it quits, the band is releasing its previously cassette-only catalog into the digital world, prepping a brand-new EP, and plotting a reunion show for 2017. According to frontman Richard Jankovich, the time is simply right to revisit the once-ubiquitous Milwaukee project. “We figure [20 years] is a good time to put our old music out there and start telling our story, to get people thinking about us again,” he says.
The history of Big Mother Gig is perhaps a typical one. Formed when Jankovich and company were students at Marquette, the band slowly carved out a niche as a high-energy, Replacements-indebted favorite in a sea of middling cover bands. A debut LP was released in 1993 (My Social Commentary), followed by an EP in 1994 (Transition), and a Jeff Hamilton-recorded LP in 1996 (Smiling Politely). Radio airplay on stations like New Rock 102.1 and Lazer 103 materialized, as did shows with groups like Alligator Gun, True Heart Suzie, Miss Trixie, and more. But when Jankovich proposed moving Big Mother Gig to New York City, his bandmates were reluctant to leave. “I told them, ‘Let’s all move to New York! Nothing happens to Milwaukee bands, so let’s move to New York together!'” he says. “One by one, they all dropped out.”
On August 30, 1996, Big Mother Gig played a farewell show at The Globe. It featured 10 opening bands and garnered a slew of local press. Then, according to Jankovich, “I moved to new York and started over. And literally within three months, every band in Milwaukee got a record deal. The Promise Ring happened. My timing was perfect. It was hilarious.
“If I had given it maybe another six months, we might have seen something,” he continues. “We had a few label scouts come check us out, and our manager was Marc Solheim at the time, and he was talking to a few people. It was just hilarious that at the very moment I decided nothing was going to happen, then of course everything happened for everybody.”
Fast forward more than 15 years. In 2013, Jankovich, now living in Los Angeles, reconnected with his former bandmates—Rizal Rashid, Matthew Deede, and Brady Roehl—and revealed plans to write a book about Big Mother Gig’s close-but-no-cigar history. Despite being scattered across the actual globe (with Rashid living in Malaysia), they jumped at the idea. “I think the stories of bands that don’t make it don’t get told very often,” Jankovich says. “You read these rock ‘n’ roll books about great bands and how they made it, but no one ever writes about the reality that 99-percent of musicians experience, of giving it your all and still not succeeding.”
On August 30, 20 years after that final Globe show, digitized and remastered versions of Big Mother Gig’s three releases will be available online for the first time. A new EP is slated for January 2017, and a reunion gig is planned for the following March. Until then, look for updates on the band’s Facebook page, take a spin through Milwaukee’s music past, and ponder a band that gave it all, only to give a little more.