Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Features; March 29, 2012; The Rave Bar
The best thing about the Pabst Theater emerging as Milwaukee’s go-to venue several years ago was that it meant I never had to go to the Rave again. Most shows that used to be in the dark bowels of the gigantic and overwhelmingly creepy building are now hosted in the Pabst’s lovely theater, where you can get a PBR tall boy for three bucks instead of paying six for a cup of MGD. Since the Rave had switched to presenting mostly metal and rap, I figured I would never have to go there again. In fact, I don’t think I had been there since Chris Mills opened for Ben Folds upstairs in the ballroom. Yet here I was pulling up at show time outside the massive structure which seemed especially desolate tonight. There wasn’t any security, and I didn’t get wanded, in fact, I wandered around a bit before I someone pointed me to the door I was supposed to go in. And they let me bring my camera in. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
The show was in the Rave bar, the smallest of the many venues housed in the building. It was a “New Music” night sponsored by 102.1 WLUM, and I’m sure like me most of the folks there had gotten free tickets. They may be my new favorite radio station- when I told them I wouldn’t be able to pick up my free tickets during business hours since I live in Madison, they mailed them to me. Sweet. It seemed a bit funny to call the Features “new music” when they’ve been a band since 1994 and their most recent release, 2011’s terrific Wilderness, was their sixth, a point that was not lost on the DJ who thanked us for coming to the show. Besides, it is nice to see them getting recognized for being awesome. The openers were a local band, two girl singers, a drummer, catchy tunes, and better than I expected. They had definitely brought some people out to the show and they enthusiastically sang along and snapped pictures on their iPhones. And they stuck around. Despite the relatively decent crowd, the Features looked like they thought maybe this was a bullshit gig as they set up their gear.
That thought was gone as soon as they jumped into the first song. From the second they started playing they were brimming with the energy that makes their shows amazing. Bass player Roger Dabbs never stopped moving and effortless drummer Rollum Haas, the not-so-secret weapon of the band, was a blur. I didn’t get a decent picture of either of them the whole night. Even though I had been listening to Wilderness (my favorite record last year) on repeat in my car for, um, a long time, the songs sounded as fresh as ever. Even my least favorite song on the record “Big Mama’s Gonna Whip Us Good” was great, due to my realization that “Big Mama” is Mother Nature and they are talking about global warming and our destruction of the planet, not some sort of creepy punishment, an a-ha moment I had reached on the car ride there. I’d been singing along for months without really listening to what I was saying. I wasn’t the only one singing along tonight. I was surprised to see that much of the crowd knew the words.
In addition to songs from Wilderness a few older songs also made the set list. The haunted”Lions” from Some Kind of Salvation was extra terrific. “Temporary Blues,” which asks rhetorically “my God what have I done?” about a temp job, became a little more real tonight when lead singer/guitarist Matt Pelham introduced the song by saying it was about working in a Pillsbury toaster strudel factory. I wish I knew whether or not that was true. They are easily one of the most consistently entertaining live bands out there. When I had to miss their Madison show the night before because of a late volleyball game, I didn’t even hesitate to drive to Milwaukee the next night; I knew it would be worth it. I only wish I could have seen more of their Midwest shows. Judging by the line to buy merch after the show, I was not the only satisfied customer. Hmm, I wonder if they need a merch girl? I work cheap (i.e. free…)