Friday night, a one-block stretch of Vel R. Phillips Avenue in downtown Milwaukee simultaneously hosted two of modern music’s most promising young voices. While the brand new Fiserv Forum was privy to what was surely a high-energy, intense, and sensory overloading performance by rapper Travis Scott, nearby Turner Hall was captivated by another up-and-coming talent with an altogether different sound.
Colter Wall is the pride of rural Saskatchewan. The 23-year-old possesses the voice and the sound of a much older man, both of which have helped the Canadian singer-songwriter quickly become one of country music’s most exciting new names. Less than a year after selling out The Back Room @ Colectivo in a solo capacity, Wall returned to Milwaukee with a full band to captivate a packed house at an even larger venue with a set full of new songs, old favorites (relatively speaking), and some redressed covers over the course of an enjoyable 80-minute set.
Before Colter and company took the stage, the room belonged to Wade Sapp. The begrudging Nashville (“not by choice”) bandleader—who originally hails from Okeechobee, Florida—proved to be altogether satisfying choice for entry music as the ballroom quickly started to fill up. After Sapp’s 45-minute performance, highlighted by a song about breaking up with a Kentucky Wildcats fan and the first of two Townes Van Zandt covers to be played during the show, the headliner came out.
Though he came to town with a band in tow to provide belated support for last year’s critically-lauded Songs Of The Plains, Wall walked out alone and started the show with a cover of the Gretchen Peters song, “Old Paint,” before easing into his own material with a true-to-album solo rendition of Plains’ “John Beyers.” Wall chased the original number with a cover called “Happy Reunion,” followed by another new song with an old feel in the form of his “The Trains Are Gone.” With the attentive and enthusiastic audience thoroughly hooked by the Saskatchewan singer’s rich, impossibly deep vocal chords, Wall decided to bring his band out to join him for the remainder of the show.
The accompaniment of bass, percussion, pedal steel, and harmonica brought a subtle-but-significant dash of pep to traditionally soft and soothing songs like “Thirteen Silver Dollars” from 2017’s self-titled release, as well as “Saskatchewan In 1881” and “Thinkin’ On A Woman” for last year’s album. While touching on songs from his rapidly growing arsenal (which included two different compositions about Canadian rodeos!), Wall showed his range as he held the bursting ballroom in the palm of his hands with crushing songs with beyond-his-years themes (“Wild Dogs” among them) and elicited hollers and stomps with lively efforts that occasionally included some unexpectedly high-pitched yodeling from the patently low-voiced troubadour. And yes, there was a second Townes Van Zandt cover before things were through.
Wall did most of the heavy-lifting in the approximately 20-song outing, but he also built in some room to let his backing band push songs to exciting new territory. As a harmonica howled and the rhythm section billowed atop Wall’s strumming and molasses-y hum, crowd favorites like “Kate McCannon” and “Sleeping On The Blacktop” were carried to even higher ground to help bring the show to a close. Both Wall and Sapp emerged for a single-song encore. For most, it was just icing on the cake, earning one of country music’s brightest new stars an uproarious ovation in what could be his last show at Turner Hall before he moves on to fill up even larger downtown venues.