I believe in getting to a show in time for the opening band because you never know when they will be your new favorite band. My best example is that the first time I saw Chris Mills he was opening for Robbie Fulks. Nothing of that magnitude has happened in a long time, or is honestly ever likely to, but two of my favorite bands right now I first saw as openers. Canada’s Zeus were my must-sees at SXSW after I saw them open for Jason Collett in 2010, and I’ve been listening to the Donkeys ever since I bought their CD after they opened for the Hold Steady last year. And when I say I haven’t stopped listening to them, I mean it quite literally, Born with Stripes hasn’t been on the shelf more than a couple weeks since I bought it. There are days at work when it is all I listen to, hitting play every forty some minutes for the entire day, only when there is no one else around of course.
I’ve been waiting for them to come back to Wisconsin ever since then. I wouldn’t have chosen a show that started at 11 pm in Milwaukee for my next chance to see them, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. It was all a little strange, from the time to the place. Mo’s Irish Pub is just that, an Irish Pub, and I get the feeling they don’t have bands very often. Both were explained by the fact that this was an after party sponsored by the Pabst Theater for the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes show earlier that night at the Riverside. And while that was the reason, it doesn’t make a good one. Very few people showed up for the “party” and even fewer were actually listening. I know this because after the show three of the four band members thanked me for listening. I, of course, told them to play at my house next time.
They were just as great as I remembered them, except this time I knew most of the songs. I sang along with everything, there were only a few older and a few new songs where I couldn’t. A big part of their charm is that there are three singers in the band, which gives them more variety of sound than your average single frontman band (and coincidentally, that same thing is part of what makes Zeus so awesome). The drummer, a wild haired giant who towers over his average height bandmates, may have the best songs, notably the lovely “I Like the Way that You Walk,” but the floppy haired young Dylan lookalike who played bass most if the night is probably my favorite and his “Oxblood” was the track I chose for my best of 2011 CD. It was a short set and a late night, but I wouldn’t have missed it.
Openers Advance Base turned out to be very likeable. The band features members of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, who I’d been aware of but never seen. The trio had a wistful, simple charm, which is probably to be expected when one of your main instruments is the autoharp. The lead singer’s non-traditional voice wasn’t for everyone, but I found it cathartic and calming. If I’d brought more money with me I would have bought their record too. As it was I only had enough for a Donkeys shirt and the new 7” single. Ah, who am kidding, if I’d brought more money I would have bought more Donkeys stuff.