Art and music both involve looking inwards and producing something to project outwards. The recent kickoff of the Hamilton Event Series on July 29th brought these two forms of creative expression together. The Hamilton is a recent addition to the Milwaukee bar scene, one that brings a touch of class to a market that dearly needs it. Just northeast of Trocadero on Hamilton Street, the space appears cozy, even small, at first glance. The front bar is fancy with heavy velvet drapes, dim lighting and comfortable couches to lounge on while you enjoy a cocktail. However, once you walk into the back area which made its public debut on Friday, you realize that the Hamilton has so much more to offer. With high warehouse ceilings and a humongous open space, the back room has a very industrial feel, perfect for a combination of live music and art exhibition. Milwaukee Odyssey, run by Christopher Roze, filled the sparse walls with a variety of artwork, including large paint-on-metal installations, kaleidoscopic paintings by the Couto brothers and much more by other local artists. The event itself was overseen by the owner of the Hamilton, Kimberly Floyd, local musician Peter Thomas and Milwaukee Odyssey. It was a well-rounded event with music, food, art and of course libations. A $5 cover bought you a ticket to the exhibits, performances by two local bands, light appetizers and a drink. The choices were beer, wine and a gin cocktail, made with Bittercube bitters (whose owners helped create & inspire the Hamilton’s outstanding specialty drink menu).
The music started at 9pm, featuring local alternative rock band, Ikarus Down. It was an upbeat show, mixing danceable grooves with a few slower jams. Ikarus Down released a self-titled EP last year and is currently working on a full length album. They’re led by Jonathan Ferrer on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, who switches back and forth from bouncing around stage with the energy of a child playing his first guitar to crooning softly into the mic with his eyes closed. Ferrer has a style all his own (both vocally and fashionwise) and the rare capability of playing the guitar well without taking away from his singing. Lead guitarist William Ryan Gardiner (who goes by Ryan) has that kind of skill that captivates your attention, with a tone reminiscent of 70s rock that made guitars cry & wail. Ryan rarely looks up from his guitar, so enmeshed with the instrument it’s as if he’s transfixed himself. Nick Brennemann provides the classical sounds of the piano, possessing an energy you rarely see a keyboardist exude, while still playing every note on cue. For Nick, this was an extra special concert, as it essentially served as his wedding reception. Nick and his bride Nanda married earlier Friday and she was in the front row, gazing adoringly at him the entire show. Love was in the air and Nick’s eyes when he played a short solo to his new wife during the show. Patrick Masimore and Daniel Langkammer (on bass and drums, respectively) round out the band, providing the beat s and keeping the band grounded. While they may be more subdued in their stage presence, they are integral to the sound. All in all, Ikarus Down puts on a great show and while they’re not the kind of musicians who banter back & forth on stage or crack jokes with each other, the friendship between them is obvious. Their sound may be easy to peg as alternative rock but they do it well with talent and a bit of soul.
The headliner of the night was I’m Not a Pilot, another Milwaukee band, who has garnered quite a large following. Part rock, part pop, part classical, I’m Not a Pilot has a unique sound that’s become wildly popular within Milwaukee’s local music scene. Winner of 88.9 Radio Milwaukee’s band of the year award, I’m Not a Pilot consists of lead singer & pianist Mark Glatzel, cellist Peter Thomas, bass player Adrian Esguerra and drummer Steven Vorass, Jr. Their eclectic and unparalleled brand of music creates something special during every show. Mark is the unassuming front man with an impressive vocal range and dramatic dexterity on the keyboard. He displays none of the “rock star” antics or ego that many musicians overuse, in fact, he seems almost surprised when everyone cheers at the end of a song. The lyrics to their original music are nearly all written by Glatzel alone and you can feel the emotions coming through his voice, drawing you in. And while you stand, caught up in the story Mark sings, you hear Peter’s electric cello come in. The instrument lends a haunting, almost gypsy-like quality to some songs and a heavy, orchestral sound to others. A classically trained cellist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Thomas fills the space that a guitar would normally occupy, alternating between fierce bow strokes and beautiful, symphonic melodies. The rarity of having a cellist in a rock band, let alone someone of Peter’s caliber, is unheard of. Mark and Peter play well off of each other and keep the audience transfixed. And making this group a true “band”, Adrian Esguerra maintains the rhythm on bass guitar and Steve Vorass keeps the beat going on drums. They may be in the background but they are an important part too and do their jobs with the utmost accuracy. Adrian and Steve provide the rock end of the spectrum while Peter and Mark are the classical twist that sets I’m Not a Pilot apart. Their blend of upbeat pop-rock and slower, heartfelt ballads provides a much needed breath of fresh air to Milwaukee’s live music circuit. Most of their songs are original but they do throw in a few covers here and there. When they do, I’m Not a Pilot reinvents the original song and puts their own stamp on it. A crowd favorite is “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies, made famous when it was featured in “Fight Club”. However, the standout for me is their recent re-do of Arcade Fire’s “Tunnels (Neighborhood #1)”. I’m a big fan of Arcade Fire but I prefer I’m Not a Pilot’s version. I personally think Mark’s voice suits the soaring notes better and Peter’s cello provides a stronger backbone to the song. Singing the female part (and playing the tambourine) was Rae Cassidy, a local artist who is featured on I’m Not a Pilot’s full length album, “Need Money For Rocket Fuel”. A classic beauty with the voice of an angel (I’m not exaggerating), Rae has joined the band for their last few performances, including Summerfest and Bastille Days. She usually sings three songs, just enough to shake up the formula a bit, complimenting Mark’s voice without overpowering him. Rae also plays at VIA on Downer every other Monday with the Chris Hanson Band, a swing group that suits Rae’s jazzy style. Hopefully she’ll keep making appearances at I’m Not a Pilot’s busy upcoming calendar of events. Their next show is in Port Washington at Freeport Music Festival on Friday at 7:00pm. Check out imnotapilot.com for a complete listing of shows (or our gigs calendar), to listen to some of their music and much more!
I hope that you can make it out to see the next edition of the Hamilton Event Series, Saturday, September 10th at 8pm. I’m Not a Pilot will be performing again along with the Delta Routine and Wamsley, who will be releasing their new CD that night as well. It’s bound to be another great night of music, art and drinks!