Arts and Culture

March's mixbag of live music

Alt-country concerts, sad electronica and upcoming hip-hop

Shitty Barn in the Basement
Buffalo Gospel sounds a lot like their name; their soulful country western has the twang of rural Montana with the soul of a church choir. With heartfelt, twangy vocals, uptempo upright bass and a little touch of mandolin, the Milwaukee five-piece played at Williamson Magnetic on March 23 in a kick-off event for the Shitty Barn season. If you haven't yet made it to a show at Willy Mag (a new recording studio in the basement of Nature's Bakery), it is becoming one of my favorite venues for live music. Sure, it's little and gets toasty with a lot of bodies, but the sound clarity is unmatchable and the stairstep stage creates boosts the musicians without sacrificing intimacy.

It's time to mark your calendar for the Shitty Barn sessions. The summer concert series in Spring Green books bands for a slate of shows from May through October. At the Willy Mag event, they revealed their calendar for 2016, packed with great acts like Dead Horses, Wood Chickens and Charlie Parr.

Soul Society
I also stopped by the High Noon Saloon for Josh Harty and Old Soul Society. The concert on March 19 doubled as an album release for both artists; the turnout was huge.

Josh Harty took the stage with a big voice and even bigger backup. With seven musicians behind him, surprise slide guitar or fiddle melodies elevated his brand of country to old-fashioned barnhouse blues jams. The stand-out member of the band? Miscellaneous percussion. Probably an unnecessary part of the octet, I couldn't look away from the guy on triangle. And chimes. And cowbell. I'm not kidding. This guy kept pulling out new toys during every jam session, never shy with the shaker. The band took a break for Harty to do a more pop-country solo set, or "slow jams", as he told the crowd. His new album, Holding On, is available April 8th.

Baraboo's Old Soul Society also channeled Americana jamming with their syncopated funky-folk songs. With lively violin and husky vocals, they find the right heartstrings to tug on their latest release, The Farmhouse Sessions.

Less Hippie, More Sabotage
Electronic acts can be a tricky live show. To do it well, you need an energetic connection to the music. I've seen Big Gigantic three times because of their infectious live sax and drums. Even just hitting play on a laptop, the right performer can turn a track into a communal experience. At the March 12 Majestic show, Hippie Sabotage did neither. 

At age 23, it is rare I feel like the majority of the crowd is younger than me. However, the Hippie Sabotage show was full of beerless hands in the air and high school festival fashion (crop tops and flower crowns). The two dudes of Hippie Sabotage jumped around, started some half-hearted arm waving and emptied the contents of water bottles onto the crowd. Music I like to listen to became second fiddle to watching the performers do absolutely nothing interesting. The most exciting thing they tried was taking the phones offered up by people in the front row and snapping pictures (a move done about five too many times). From my vantage point, it seemed more people were interested in taking snapchat videos of themselves "enjoying the show." Suffice to say, not my favorite concert to attend.

Looking Forward

One act I'm looking forward to finishing off March with Le1f at the Majestic. The openly gay rapper from Brooklyn made a splash in 2012 with his music video for Wut, which not only showcases his stellar dance moves and high fashion aesthetic, but also features a creative use for a pikachu mask. Can't wait to see what he has planned for the stage on March 30.  

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