If one were to think of the best that Midwestern rock ‘n roll has to offer, it’s likely that Cheap Trick, Wilco, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Promise Ring, Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins and even Rise Against might grace many a well-informed list. Indeed, every major city throughout this narrow slice of America seems to boast communities that have gone on to produce some of finest music our generation has to offer. And chances are extremely high that any band lucky enough to be a part of the Milwaukee scene at any point during the past decade has crossed paths with The Response. Formed by a team of seasoned Milwaukee music veterans, those best-of lists need save room for one more outstanding entry, if for no other reason than their final show ever.
Not long after their Cactus Club debut in early 2002, The Response was quick to tap into the early days of that tightly-knit scene, where you could find a high-quality rock concert nearly any night of the week at a number of venues. It wasn’t long before this lively group found an audience for their energetic stage show and excellent cache of songs, both of which led to the band playing the area on a regular basis and hitting the road for countless national tours. They even shared the stage with such genre heroes as Hey Mercedes, Sugarcult, Motion City Soundtrack, Story of the Year and Braid on more than one occasion. Thanks to signing with local indie label Latest Flame and an eventual partnership with Illinois-based Action Heights Records, the group only continued to gain new fans as the years passed, eventually releasing the well-received full-length album “With Friends Like You, Who Needs Enemies” in 2007.
The natural progression of time saw all four band members devoting more time to other interests but every so often The Response would come out for a show or two, always managing to turn a few heads and win a few more fans with their consistently powerful ability to perform. Despite the absence of activity from the group, their announcement of a final show on March 31st, nearly ten years after they first graced the stage together, was still met with a collective sadness and sentimentalism from those that faithfully followed the band over the years. Furthermore, after it was revealed that their swan song was to be held at that same venue where they made their impressive introduction a decade earlier, the Cactus Club, it truly seemed that the band had come full circle. Needless to say, the show on March 31st not only lived up to this statement, but exceeded it in ways one can’t possibly imagine.
Bosio opened with a short set, a band that’s seen its own share of success over the years and formed a brotherhood with The Response following early tours together. The night kicked off much like a plutonium-fueled DeLorean, seemingly accelerating the packed house back in time with a blistering list of songs that appropriately set a nostalgic tone for the evening. A surprise announcement that this was Bosio’s last show as well, came before their final song, “Take The Roses ” and served to crank up the emotions as the band finished, truly leaving it all onstage.
After what seemed like a moment, The Response soon took to the helm of the Cactus Club amidst a darkened room, suddenly thrusting the audience forward from 2002 into the present. Truly, the time had come, and with the opening chords of “Becky Slater for President”, this beloved Milwaukee rock staple began what would unquestionably become their finest show of all time.
The show on March 31st offered an overflowing basket full of classics, rare gems & ironic covers bound to please hardcore fans and even those who had never even heard of the band. Frontman Steve Kerwin never sounded better, delivering outstanding vocals as he belted out the lyrics to songs like “Start” and “Snowflakes”, two uptempo rockers which probably hadn’t been heard in a setting like this for ages.
Much of that had to do with a reunion between the band and former drummer Jesus Zuniga, who parted ways with the group in 2007 and was soon replaced by former Since By Man drummer Jon Kraft for the next few years. Having Zuniga holding it all together again with the same hard-hitting beats that gave the band muscle during its salad years only furthered the euphoric experience both crowd and band appeared to be having. A simply glance around the room at any given time revealed a sea of smiles splashed across , more often than not seen on the faces of The Response. This naturally translated to an almost endless burst of energy which resulted in a bouncing, wall-jumping, headbanging show complete with multiple launches off the bass drum by bassist Michael Blanchard and a few wicked guitar swings by backing vocalist/guitarist Peter Rogers.
Though the set largely devoted time to older tunes like “Until Then ” the first song the band ever wrote together, many numbers off their 2007 album found their way into the setlist time and again, breathing new life into the killer eponymous title track (which even featured a guest drum performance by former drummer Jon Kraft) and crowd-pleasers which had been standards in the band’s catalog of rock long before the release of the album. To the audience it would’ve looked no more than a comprehensive look back, peppered by the always entertaining between song banter. Stories were shared, laughs were uttered and the tears certainly began to materialize as the show came to a close, but not before kicking into a few bars of the Guns ‘n Roses masterpiece, “November Rain” to end the evening with an audience begging for more.
Unfortunately, all that exists now are the memories, perfectly displayed as “We Are The Champions” came on the PA the instant those final notes rung out. The chorus of one song is “remember me” and that definitely holds true to this show, a night those both onstage and off will never forget. A beautiful end to a beautiful band, a group that somehow managed to remind all those in attendance of a time when shows like this weren’t just frequent, they were the norm.
On that final evening in March 2012, Milwaukee was able to love The Response one final time.
Special thanks to Martin Moore of MARTINJOHNPHOTOGRAPHY for the incredible photography and video listed below (featuring The Response’s “If You Only Knew”)