I’d guess the Stonefly reached full capacity at some point during this Milwaukee Odyssey-produced show, as I overheard someone saying that a hundred people were told to vacate the premises due to overcrowding. It was an eclectic line-up, and an eclectic crowd as well, with a thirty-year age range.
I arrived a little late, pleased to hear Prince playing on the P.A., and I was just in time for the Gina & Olivia Duo, one clad in a black skirt, the other in orange, who opened with a cover of “Stormy Weather.” A vocal duo whose breathy voices work well together, they were accompanied by nothing but an understated keyboard, and it took them a few bars to settle in, but they rose to the occasion. And they let everyone know this show would be something a little different. Their version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” displayed their vocal talents so well that according to one concert-goer, “It gave me goosebumps.” Their set was short but sweet and I’m sure we’ll hear more from them soon.
By this time, the bar was about three or four-deep, so I wandered around, talked to a few friends, and shot some video footage with my mini-handicam. As part of their mission, Milwaukee Odyssey curates local art of all kinds, and at this show they displayed original artwork from twelve very different artists. Stonefly was filled with art, with pieces hung anywhere there was adequate wall space. Throughout the show, a young couple also painted a picture, just to the side of the stage. Live art is usually present at Odyssey events, a unique touch.
After squeezing my way back through the mass of bodies I found a good spot to camp out and to my surprise, Dana Coppa (or Coppafeel), from King Hell Bastard, appeared on stage, joined by Kiran, from Fresh Cut Collective, collectively called Know Flight Zone. Having never seen KHB live (I know, I should be ashamed) I wasn’t aware how much Dana has a natural oddball presence as an MC as he bounces around, and he definitely took over the stage for a few minutes on this particular night. While Kiran played the drums Dana delivered a good, hard two minute-long breathless intro, and Kiran jumped in on the next song; he and Dana handing vocal duties back and forth, with Kiran playing some keyboards as well. Dana always sounds high-strung, and slightly atonal, and Kiran’s smoother sing-speak vocals are a good counterpoint. It’s impossible to know how much of their set was rehearsed and how much was free-styling, but however it came together it felt spontaneous and fairly seamless.
The Milwaukee hip-hop scene has long been sorely underrated, partly due to the fragmented nature of the various musical communities. It gets virtually no local media coverage, and that’s a real shame because a lot of these guys work hard and create consistently good music. Of course, there’s nothing new there, as that’s the case in many communities. The segregation and poverty throughout the city of Milwaukee is the ideal breeding ground for a do-it-yourself, on-the-fly, with-the- resources-at-hand, underground hip-hop movement. Hopefully this set exposed some people to an aspect of the local hip-hop scene they had not experienced before and they’ll take it upon themselves to check out something else.
Dana mentioned during their set that an artist named D’Amato was coming up after them, and I hadn’t heard of him but, boy, he got my attention, and much of the crowd’s as well. He suddenly popped up on stage between two female dancers, dressed in black with suspenders and a medallion around his neck, for an opening dance sequence. When D’Amato picks up the guitar and starts playing a solo that sounds like Roy Buchanan on acid, I’m thinking, “what the…?” Then a man dressed in a white tunic, (I later found out he’s called White Jesus) who up til this point looked out of place on stage, hands him a microphone and he busts out this quick-time rap verse, showing off some serious vocal gymnastics in the process. By this point he was reeling the audience in, and as I glanced around I saw people stop what they were doing to turn and get a look at this guy. A short time later he’s stripped down to his black muscle shirt and he’s delivering a talking-blues/rap about a girl. He changes gears mid-stream and slides into a slinky vocal, asking the subject of the song, “How many boys have you had inside your bed?” The transition was so casual, just like it was nothing. Impressive. D’Amato’s singing/rapping and guitar playing is an amalgam of influences, and he’s all over the place with his mix of hip-hop-soul-R&B-funk-rock. A born story-teller, he knocked it out of the park and sort of knocked me over. I talked to him after the show and I mentioned that he reminded me of a young Curtis Mayfield. One of the coolest musicians in Milwaukee right now, he’s reportedly working on a new record. Stay tuned.
Shepherd Express included De La Buena’s most recent album among the best Milwaukee recordings of 2011, and I was curious to see them live. It took them quite a while to set-up and it was cozy for their ten members on the relatively small stage, and the first thing that jumped out was the percussionists positioned right up-front. Their Latin-fusion is peppered with rock-isms, like a hodge-podge of jazz fusion and some 70s progressive-rock, along with various strains of Latin music, and they showed off some chops right away as they traded solos while alternating between instrumental and vocal-driven parts. Even as they pulled back from an upbeat dance song and played a slower number, their swirling, seductive syncopation held the crowd’s near-complete attention. I observed more guys dancing than one might ever see at a non-rave/electronica show. The only female in the band, Holly Haebig, even came out into the crowd & danced salsa with a few lucky men. Despite the late hour, from my vantage point, no one was leaving yet. De La Buena was a fine compliment to the wild stylings of D’Amato.
Last, but not least, Zigmortius (aka Ben Z) ended the night sometime around 2 a.m. with a set consisting of a blast of noise and his idiosyncratic, partially-improvised, mind-bending, tribal-industrial, man-machine drumming. A statuesque man covered in tattoos, Ben cuts an imposing figure even without the tribal facepaint he wore for Friday’s performance. Alongside of him sat a giant picture of a baby. He seemed to be fidgety as he kept getting up from the drums to pound on his Korg pad, and then, suddenly, just like that, he was done, and just as matter-of-factly as it all began it was over. Wow! What a show.
As I headed out the door in a bit of a daze, toward an after-party across the street, a light snow was falling in Riverwest. I was still digesting everything I had just witnessed, and I was thinking about how much credit Milwaukee Odyssey deserves for having the vision to pull off such a feat, especially the ever-industrious Chrisopher Roze, who brought all the artists and bands together. It makes me hopeful that this kind of energy can be captured again. Localplaylist can’t wait for the next Odyssey show and we hope you can’t either!