It’s tough to remember a time before X-Ray Arcade. Frankly, I don’t want to think about it. Amazingly, in spite of seeming like it’s been a fixture in Milwaukee-area music forever, the Cudahy-based arcade and concert venue has only been open since February 2019. During that relatively brief span (a significant amount of which was during a worldwide pandemic), the independent venue has been an invaluable asset to the local creative community. Personally speaking, it’s also been an important place in my life for the entirety of its existence.

Pretty much since it opened, X-Ray Arcade was the location of more than a few interviews I’ve conducted. It’s been the site of a few Milwaukee Record events. Against all better judgement, they graciously booked both of my dumb novelty bands (shout out to my Green Day Packers and Alkaline Quartet bandmates!). It was the place where I caught a concert the very same night the NBA shut down and the country braced for the arrival of the COVID-19 crisis that people thought was likely stop shows “for a few weeks.”

When the pandemic persisted, X-Ray was a place where I picked up pizza bagels and apparel. Around that same time, they invited me to DJ on their patio occasionally, which gave me something to look forward to, offered me any semblance of a social outlet, and probably saved me from experiencing a full-on psychological breakdown. They supported our website-saving online auctions by offering items both times. Even today, they still support Milwaukee Record by advertising with us. And when Bay View Bash returned in 2022, their staff crossed the border into Milwaukee proper to bring national artists to their new stage at the block party.

X-Ray Arcade has been there for me, for local musicians and filmmakers, for touring bands and comedians, for metro Milwaukee show-goers who’d previously dealt with bands in specific sects of music routinely skipping over the region altogether, for young listeners in need to a place to hang out, for gamers and trivia nuts, for DJs and fans of dance parties, for families in need of a place to bring their kids during the day, for the city of Cudahy and its ongoing evolution, and for folks simply in search of a place to belong.

There isn’t a place like X-Ray Arcade everywhere, and we’re incredibly lucky it’s here. I often try to remember that and I ask that you do the same so that it may continue to exist for many, many years to come. Before tonight’s 5-Year Anniversary Party, I wanted to take some time to run down my five favorite shows from the first five years of X-Ray Arcade. Feel free to share you favorite X-Ray experiences on social media or by, like, emailing me or whatever.

5. Chris Gethard
While X-Ray probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of stand-up comedy, the venue really makes it count the rare times they book a comic. On October 7, 2022, comedian/actor/podcaster/and soda aficionado Chris Gethard had two shows at the club. One was a live podcast recording and the other was a stand-up set. With a belly full of Lala’s steak tacos and house margaritas, I attended the stand-up portion. It was an outstanding blend of hilarious and emotional anecdotes from one of the few performers who was left on my comedic bucket list. Emphasis on “was” there because I finally saw him!

4. Frank Turner
I still can’t believe this happened, but it did. On July 10, 2022, tireless UK punk troubadour Frank Turner left his band in Chicago during his “50 states in 50 days Never Ending Tour of Everywhere” to cross Wisconsin off the list with an acoustic matinee show. The concert literally sold out in four minutes of tickets being posted, but I was lucky enough to be there to witness the uncharacteristically intimate outing from an artist that sells out theaters all over the globe because, well, I was asked to DJ out on X-Ray’s patio after the show. So not only did I get to see Frank Turner play deep cuts to a crowd of 250 people at the strike of noon, I teeeeeeechnically headlined the show…which is a detail I casually mention to anyone who will listen. Nobody likes when I say it.

3. Owen
Legend has it that Owen (the solo project of Mike Kinsella of American Football and Cap’n Jazz notoriety) walked off stage at Onopa Brewing Company in Riverwest one song into his opening set there in the early 2000s and went home. He hasn’t played in Milwaukee since. However, he DID make it as far as Cudahy, where he had a show in April 2019. I was there and it was well worth the wait, as Kinsella played a loose set featuring songs selected randomly and via suggestions solicited from audience members that traversed Owen’s extensive catalog. Then he invited everyone to hang out with him at Burnhearts after the show.

2. John K. Samson
I haven’t given it too much thought, but I’m inclined to say John K. Samson, the vocalist of The Weakerthans, is my favorite songwriter of all time. I’d also say The Weakerthans is on the VERY short list of my favorite bands. So I absolutely wasn’t going to miss a chance to see Samson play a show roughly four miles from my house when he came to X-Ray Arcade on November 22, 2019. It was an all-timer.

He performed stripped-down versions of Weakerthans songs, material from his excellent Winter Wheat solo album, and treated the captivated crowd to one of the first public performances of his then-new song “Fantasy Baseball At The End Of The World.” Over the course of the unforgettable evening, some people swayed and laughed at clever turns of phrase and affable between-song banter. Others openly wept and comforted one another as painful prose was turned into gorgeous melody. I cried, I chuckled, I softly sang along, and I was thankful I could be there.

1. The Lawrence Arms/Dummerfest
June 22, 2019 marked the first (and to this date, the only) Dummerfest at X-Ray Arcade…though two prior editions of the festival took place in the same building in 2015 and 2017 when it was called The Metal Grill. The whole day was fun and full of good music, but it was punctuated by headliner, The Lawrence Arms, who were playing their first show in the region in more than 15 years. The Lawrence Arms, much like The Weakerthans as noted above, are on the very short list of my favorite bands, so it was incredible to see them in the smallest room they’d played in more than a decade. Better yet, it was special to be there in that packed and sweaty room screaming along to timeless TLA songs beside friends from all over the Midwest and from all periods of my life who didn’t want to miss a chance to see The Lawrence Arms in Cudahy.

Honorable Mention Shows That Come To Mind

• Dillinger Four and Off With Their Heads (2023)
• Meat Wave (playing on the floor to a crowd of about 20 people, 2019)
• The Copyrights (2021)
• Bad Cop/Bad Cop (2019)
• Mini Meltdowns EP release show (2019)
• Caracara (2023)
• Tiny Moving Parts (the previously mentioned pre-pandemic show, 2020)
• So many more I’m forgetting

Happy anniversary, X-Ray Arcade! Here’s to many, many more. Thanks for the memories you’ve made and the memories that have yet to come.

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.