Last weekend, Direct Hit! formally released its Fat Wreck Chords reissue of the 2011 album Domesplitter with a hometown show at Cactus Club. In addition to the release show circumstance (and the fact that it was taking place on Record Store Day), this early-evening event was special for another reason. The show—the first of two Direct Hit! release shows that night—was the first all-ages show Cactus Club hosted in more than 10 years.
Since Milwaukee bars and concert venues rarely offer all-ages entertainment, Cactus’ foray into the all-ages realm with Direct Hit! and openers The Living Statues and Midwives was something of a mystery. Would hosting a show with their beer coolers locked and liquor stowed away in the basement in favor of LaCroix and Red Bull pay off for the bar? Would there be a noticeable difference in audience energy and attendance? Would it go off without a hitch? Would something terrible happen when a club is handed to—gulp—people under the age of 21?! Knowing this would either be the only all-ages show Cactus does for the next decade or the first of many to come, Milwaukee Record sent contributor/noted underage music fan Lauren Keen to the show. Here’s how it went.
W hen we arrived at Cactus Club, the bar was empty except four people, and one of those people was in one of the bands. We didn’t have high hopes for the crowd at this point. After entering the venue we were pleasantly surprised at how many people came out for the early show. The crowd was mostly older fans, but there were quite a few kids who looked like they were in high school. Most of the crowd lingered towards the back of the room, but a few younger people were close to stage watching the show with wide eyes. The crowd was very enthusiastic and energetic, but controlled.
Midwives opened by breezing through a short but sweet set of their blistering hardcore tunes. The Living Statues followed with pop-rock stylings that were a vastly different stroke than that of Midwives or Direct Hit!, but the crowd danced anyway. They ended their set with an energetic cover of “Valerie,” and said the gig would be their last for a while (but promised the break wouldn’t be permanent). When headliner Direct Hit! finally took the stage, the audience was at its energy peak. Showgoers of all ages were headbanging and dancing. Naturally, mosh pits started, but they remained pretty tame.
Hosting an all-ages show at an established bar and venue does have its pros and cons. Cactus Club has significantly better sound than any DIY venue that Milwaukee has ever seen. There’s pretty much no comparison. This is only natural, of course, seeing as it’s an actual venue instead of an art gallery or vintage store. It’s also nice to be able to sit outside in between sets without worrying about being too loud or attracting too much attention from neighbors. The pressure feels lower. The tradeoff is the price of the event ($12 for day-of-show tickets in this case) to cover the sound costs. This is steeper than DIY shows, but the sound quality and lack of hushed tones do provide some compensation.
This kind of matinee performance benefits younger fans as well as older. It gives underagers the opportunity to see bands they might not get many chances to see at a venue that they can only dream about going to before they turn 21. For older fans, this type of show provides an opportunity to potentially catch two shows in one day at two different venues. It also gives super-fans a chance to see a band twice in one night with different sets of openers.
It would be interesting to see how the crowd size would vary for a touring band as opposed to a local band. Direct Hit! does have a pretty sizeable and loyal fan base, and this was an album release show on a music-oriented holiday, meaning that they’re able to fill a small space pretty easily. The crowd (106 paid) was comparable, if not bigger, than crowds at past all-ages shows for bands even more popular than Direct Hit! Could a matinee work for a nationally popular band? Only time will tell.
It’s safe to say that this matinee performance was a success and is something that Cactus Club should consider again in the future, especially considering the crowd size. Direct Hit! is good at promoting their shows and getting people to come out. It might be harder to get this many people to show up for an early show for a band with a smaller fanbase, but it’s a chance that Cactus Club should take.