The return of live music has come in fits and starts. Venues have reopened and re-closed. Shows have been rescheduled and re-canceled. Big arena concerts have felt weirdly fine, while smaller gigs have felt unsafe—or vice versa. For this reviewer, Wednesday night’s Cactus Blossoms show at The Back Room @ Colectivo was my first time seeing a show at the East Side venue since—good grief—the fall of 2019. Why so long? Why this show? Who knows. Rhyme and reason are still in lockdown.
Coincidentally, The Cactus Blossoms’ last Back Room show was also in 2019. “It’s good to be back in Milwaukee after three years,” said Jack Torrey, who, along with older brother Page Burkum, make up the core of the Minneapolis-based band. Someone from the crowd called out, “It’s been too long!” to which Torrey deadpanned, “Well, at least we’re all older and wiser.”
What followed was a no-frills, 80-minute set of expertly rendered songs from The Cactus Blossoms’ three stellar albums: 2016’s You’re Dreaming, 2019’s Easy Way, and 2022’s One Day (released in February). Those records are mostly indebted to the sounds of early, country-inspired rock and roll—another brother act, The Everly Brothers, is an obvious comparison—but it’s the alternately warm and icy-cool vocal harmonies of Torrey and Burkum that are the true stars of the show. Opener “Got A Lotta Love” eased the crowd into that dreamy, harmony-drenched mood. Older songs like “Clown Collector” and “Stoplight Kisses” leaned heavily on the Everly influence, while newer tracks like “Is It Over” (featuring a rare lead-vocal turn by Burkum) and the chunky “Hey Baby” mined ’70s and ’80s AM country gold. Drummer Jeremy Hanson and bassist Phillip Hicks (cousin to Torrey and Burkum) provided steady support throughout.
The Cactus Blossoms got a shot of prestige-television fame back in 2017 when they were featured in Part 3 of David Lynch’s wonderfully warped Twin Peaks revival. In the episode, they take to the infamous Roadhouse stage to play the appropriately woozy and hazy “Mississippi.” It was telling that while the Milwaukee crowd responded as expected to the high-profile tune on Wednesday night, that enthusiasm was present for every song. Easy Way opener “Desperado” got a big round of applause, and the three-four time of “Powder Blue” and encore-closer “Adiós Maria” sent the room into a collective lovers’ waltz. There were appreciated moments of levity, too: “I’m Calling You” cheekily describes a night of ill-advised phone calls, while the rock-heavy “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” takes its inspiration from a commercial break on Jeopardy!
But, again, the stars of Wednesday’s show were the pitch-perfect, near-otherworldly vocal harmonies of Torrey and Burkum. Speaking of voices, opener Alexa Rose possesses one of those gorgeous, quietly heartbreaking voices that are sometimes easy to take for granted. Happily, Milwaukee showed her plenty of love, too; Rose’s set of self-described “gloomy” acoustic confessionals was well-received by the crowd, inspiring couples to swoon on their feet and pull each other in close. And after the events of the last few years, who could blame them?
The Cactus Blossoms setlist
Got A Lotta Love
I’m Calling You
If I Can’t Win
Ballad Of An Unknown
Is It Over
Please Don’t Call Me Crazy
Change Your Ways Or Die
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