Gang Gang Dance with Marnie Stern @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Nov. 5, 2008
Though the venue dropped the cover charge in a last-minute attempt to boast attendance, Wednesday night's Gang Gang Dance/Marnie Stern performance at the Turner Hall Ballroom still drew barely a few dozen people. I'll spare you the "this is why Milwaukee can't have nice things" lecture, though. It's easy to see why most of the city sat this one out.
Both co-headliners have received widespread praise from Internet tastemakers, including essential thumbs up from Pitchfork, but they're miles removed from the comfort zone of say, Fleet Foxes, who sold out the Pabst Theater earlier this fall. Neither Gang Gang's undanceable dance music nor Marnie Stern's shrill art-rock has a tenth the reach of Fleet Foxes' familiar folk-rock.
As if in premature defeat, Stern began her set a few minutes before the bill's 8 p.m. start time, ripping through her first song before the house music had even been cut. Apparently schooled on basement-show etiquette, most of the young, meager audience flocked to the front of the stage, where they amiably flailed along with her squirrelly guitar licks. She couldn't have asked for a better crowd, though obviously she could have asked for a bigger one.
Prim, blonde and quietly dressed, Stern makes an unlikely art-rocker, and playing the part clearly exhausts her. Her songs spasm from point A to point B taking the squiggliest route, yet she chased them feverishly, breaking into a thick sweat. By set's end, plumes of disheveled, golden hair hovered above her face, which like her chest had been flushed bright red. She flashed a bleary, post-coital smile before unplugging her guitar.
Gang Gang Dance benefited from a fuller crowd, but couldn't offer the spectacle or personality of Stern's set. The quartet's worldly, ambient textures built slowly and paid off not in washes of guitar or powerhouse choruses, but rather fits of percussion. By the third or fourth drum circle crescendo, it became too apparent the band wasn't hiding any other tricks up its sleeve.
(Photo credit: Erik Ljung)