04/16/09 Hexagon Bar Minneapolis, MN
05/15/09 Kitty Cat Klub Minneapolis, MN
I like to begin reviews with a clever anecdote to draw in my readers. It’s fun for everyone, but especially fun for me because I consistently amuse myself. When Farewell Milwaukee played the Fine Line, I knew singer Ben Lubeck looked really familiar; not in the sense that I had stalked him on Facebook or met him IRL (In Real Life) or even that I’d seen the band perform before (I had). The reason why he looked familiar is because he is Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. I kid you not, readers; Ben Lubeck is tall, lanky, shaggy-haired Shags. The resemblance is uncanny, although I sincerely hope that he doesn’t take offense by this comment (I don’t know why he would since Shaggy drove an amazing green van AND solved mind-boggling mysteries).Farewell Milwaukee may not frequent haunted houses searching for ne’er-do-wells and secret treasure maps or whatever, but they do make sprawling roots rock, which is basically the same. The band was born “Montreal” about five years ago, released one album, briefly split to dwell and deliberate, reappearing in 2008 with a new name and a new direction. “Farewell Milwaukee” is homage to the boys’ Midwest loyalty (interestingly, I like to call Milwaukee the “Montreal of Wisconsin,” for its diversity of things to do and the fact that there are things to do). The band is comfortably settled in, going so far as to state that “while most bands are fleeing their homes for the coastal cities of New York and Los Angeles, [they embrace] the role that their Midwestern towns have played in shaping them artistically.” As artists, their music has a slight twang that could probably be attributed to that indefinable Midwestern panache. A friend of mine, who lives on the East Coast, is always quick to point out that Minnesota’s music scene is comprised of bands with a distinct, unifying sound; regardless of whether a musician labels himself as “indie rock” versus “Americana” there’s something, some common connector, that appeals to everyone.
Farewell Milwaukee at Fine Line, Minneapolis (03/20/09) ♥ photo by Kate
Farewell Milwaukee has this something in spades. I’d say that their crowd-draw feature is beautiful, flawless harmonization. Seriously, these fellas know how to drop a jaw. There was a moment during the show when all five musicians took the mic, a capella style, and a sort of a collective hush grabbed the audience, as if everyone was unconsciously holding their breath (I’m 99% certain there was at least one person doing the eyes-closed-in-the-groove sway). This mass stimulation speaks highly of the band’s chemistry, not only on stage, but as technical artists. At the risk of sounding like an after school special “moral of the week,” I want to point out that even the casual music fan can tell when a band has a positive relationship—they’re either in sync or off balance; no amount of practice can mask ambivalence (obvious, right?).
It pleases me to emphasize that Shags and the gang sound every bit the handsome gentlemen that they are, even when lying to ladies (“Liar”). Dressed like average dudes, their tunes are accessible, with a comfortable, familiar base appeal (music like this is timeless; perhaps it’s called “Americana” because there will always be a place for rustic, dirty-pretty rock in American culture, East Coast naysayers be damned). I think that the climactic quality of “Liar” sticks the most, but “Make ‘Em Smile” is an equally strong track, from its stark opening to Lubeck’s wistful vocals. Lyrically, the songs don’t deviate much from love, heartbreak and life woes (the holy triptych of songwriting), but sincerity lends itself to unanimity—we can all relate to these themes—and the live presentation is what’s going to solidify the band’s talents.
Farewell Milwaukee is Ben Lubeck (vocals, guitar), Adam Lamoureux (vocals, Hammond, Wurlitzer, piano, Rhodes, mandolin), Aaron Markson (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Brad Fox (drums, percussion), and Kyle Magstadt (bass). The band has local shows this month, playing April 16 at the Hexagon Bar in Minneapolis. For more information on shows, or to stay updated on the release of their first full-length album, “Autumn Rest Easy,” visit their website at www.farewellmilwaukee.com, or Myspace and Facebook.