Saturday night’s sold out show at The Back Room @ Colectivo had a special feeling to it. Yes, every live event at this point in time feels a little more significant than it did two years earlier. However, adding to the general excitement of getting to safely see touring musicians perform in person again is the fact that all three acts involved in this past weekend’s show have seen their stars rise considerably due to music they released during a time of worldwide isolation.
A capacity crowd of 300 show-goers came together to see a trio of up-and-coming projects perform material that was primarily put out during the first year of a pandemic and in a period of next-to-no touring. Now that concerts are back, that trinity of performers—Fenne Lily, Illuminati Hotties, and Pom Pom Squad—each could have warranted a Back Room booking on their own due to the newfound popularity of their 2020 and 2021 output. Thankfully, they made the trip to Milwaukee together to combine forces on an all-around excellent show on the tail end of their winter tour.
Pom Pom Squad started things off. Donning attire befitting of a homecoming dance, the indie rock quartet earned the superlative of Most Memorable Performance with an attention-grabbing half hour set that featured 12 songs. Though more than half the set list came from last year’s outstanding Death Of A Cheerleader, the band cherry-picked a few fan favorites from 2019’s Ow, including a lively, and scream-laden rendition of “Heavy Heavy” that earned an especially favorable response for bandleader Mia Berrin and company. Before Pom Pom Squad’s endearing opening set ended with “Until It Stops” and “Be Good,” the band also kept the energy in the room high with a top-notch cover of “Undone (The Sweater Song)” by Weezer.
Maybe 15 minutes after the opener departed, Illuminati Hotties accepted the middle slot of the co-headlining tour and took the stage as Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” played over the house speakers. Standing before a banner that said “ALL RIP’RS” in the Top Gun font, the “tenderpunk” group fronted by project mastermind and noted producer Sarah Tudzin delivered on the tapestry’s promise with a 13-song set that was largely populated by standout songs from last year’s breakout, Let Me Do One More.
When they weren’t leading The Back Room in singalongs of infinitely fun new songs like “Pool Hopping” and “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA,” Tudzin and fellow Hotties member Zach Bilson talked about playing to 30 people at Cactus Club during a blizzard their last time in town. Before calling it a night, the band peppered in some material from other releases, including a criminally catchy one-two punch of “(You’re Better) Than Ever” and “ppl plzr” to end the almost 45-minute run of rippers (or “rip’rs”).
Finally, Fenne Lily was tasked with finishing the show on strong note. Lily’s delicate, soft-spoken delivery on slow-tempo songs marked a definite tonal shift from the first two performers, but the English artist wasn’t out of place on the bill. In fact, the change of pace was refreshing after a night of high-energy tunes to that point. Between gorgeous and emotional offerings (primarily harvested from 2020’s lauded album, BREACH) the eponymous bandleader offered up a few lighthearted remarks about her unsavory sleeping situation in the band’s tour van. She also played an unreleased song and asked the audience for name suggestions, and decided to work another new one into the set “because [she’s] in charge and [she’s] a few feet taller than everyone” when standing on the stage.
With very limited changeover time, this three-act show was over less than three hours after it began. It was all killer, no filler and managed to showcase a trio of bands with growing notoriety at their best. It’s doubtful this trio of up-and-comers will all tour together again at the same time, so we’re glad we finally got see three artists we stumbled upon at the height of the pandemic in a live, in-person setting.