The Shepherd’s New Year’s Eve Guide
Parties start 2009 off right
All right, let's face it: 2008 wasn't a great year. An unending procession of bad news about bankruptcies, foreclosures, layoffs and stock-market downturns left the country skittish and demoralized, but that's all the more reason to bid good riddance to 2008 with one of Milwaukee's many New Year's Eve gatherings. As always, the city celebrates the annual fresh start with an array of parties, galas and concerts, offering a night out for any budget.
Skating and Fireworks @ Red Arrow Park, 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.
It isn't nearly as crowded as Times Square, but the quaint ice-skating rink at Red Arrow Park is the heart of Downtown's public New Year's Eve celebration and a fine option for families looking to stay out until midnight. Free ice skating leads to the countdown and fireworks, while Mayor Tom Barrett literally rings in the new year-he'll be in the bell tower at City Hall.
New Year's Eve @ The Domes, 6 - 10 p.m.
The Mitchell Park Domes had something to celebrate this year: A high-tech makeover left them illuminated by whirling beams of LED light, transforming the architectural landmark into a giant, animated Pink Floyd album cover. Though the dramatic light displays will be the talk of the gathering, this year's family-appropriate shindig also boasts live music, comedy and magic, as well as a holiday floral show.
Harlem Globetrotters, 1 and 6 p.m.
It's anybody's guess as to why for the past several decades the Harlem Globetrotters have chosen to spend New Year's Eve in Milwaukee-as opposed to, say, Harlem-but their annual appearances are one of Milwaukee's oldest New Year's traditions. In between these Milwaukee games, the Globetrotters have solved mysteries with Scooby-Doo, visited Gilligan's Island and hung out with Pope John Paul II, all while maintaining their status as the winningest team in the history of sports. Of course, they owe much of their record to easily distracted referees and a liberal use of plays that the NBA would find questionable.
Cake @ The Riverside Theater, 9 p.m.
Though critics initially derided their dispassionate vocal delivery as an example of '90s postmodernism gone awry, Cake nonetheless scored a steady stream of beloved, trumpet-brandishing alternative hits such as "The Distance," "Never There," "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and "No Phone" over the following decade. Although their career has slowed since leaving Columbia Records in 2005, the Sacramento band has amassed enough good will and cult celebrity to remain a major live draw. This show is a belated follow-up to their sold-out New Year's Eve performance here in 2006.
New Year's Eve Celebration @ The Pfister, 6:30 p.m. - 1 a.m.
As usual, Milwaukee's luxury hotels offer some of the most decadent New Year's packages. At the Pfister, party options begin at $465 and include a five-course gourmet meal, hors d'oeuvres, Viennese desserts and ballroom dancing with the Nick Contorno Orchestra. Black ties are optional, which is a polite way of saying men should probably wear black ties.
New Year's Eve Party @ Decibel, 8 p.m.
Inheriting the seemingly damned North Avenue lot where several less-fortunate clubs perished, Decibel has thrived by appealing to the most upscale of East Side clubbers, and its New Year's Eve VIP packages are accordingly lavish. The priciest option, at $800, will get you a table for eight people, two hours at an open bar and buffet, a bottle of Louis Roederer champagne and a bottle of liquor. Of course, there are options for smaller crowds on more of a fixed budget, too. DJs include Decibel mainstays White Shadow and Broadway Streetz.
Retro Dance Party @ Mad Planet, 9 p.m. - 4 a.m., $10
Though it still hosts occasional concerts, lately Mad Planet has re-embraced its roots as a dance club-albeit a dance club with more of a counterculture presence than the glossier clubs Downtown. Its most storied event remains its Friday night Retro Dance Party, where DJs resurrect pop and dance hits of the '80s and '90s. As usual, New Year's Eve promises a longer, sweatier edition of the party, with an added midnight champagne toast.
New Year's Eve @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino, 6 p.m.
As a general rule, casinos treat every evening like it's New Year's Eve, but Potawatomi has thrown in a couple of extra bells and whistles for the holiday. In between drawings for $1,000 travel certificates and Caribbean cruise packages, the casino will entertain with dueling pianos and steel drums, and host the requisite champagne toast at midnight.
New Year's Eve Gala @ Circle-A Caf, 8 p.m.
The Circle-A Caf hosted its first New Year's Eve party in 2000, and though this Riverwest tavern/punk venue has mostly gone dark in recent years, it still rallies for the holiday. The night kicks off at 8 p.m. with a couple of rock bands, Aluminum Knot Eye and Ivan & The Terribles, and continues until 5 a.m. with a string of DJs: Rebel Sound Ryan, Paul Finger, Chuk LeFuk and Lemonie Fresh.
Southbound @ Rip Tide, 9:30 p.m.
There's no cover charge to see Southbound, the popular Milwaukee jam-rock band deeply versed in the Allman Brothers' songbook, when they spend the night at this popular seafood restaurant, but those who cough up $40 get access to an open bar-complete with top-shelf options. There's also a free buffet at midnight.
The Uptown Savages w/ The Liam Ford Band @ Bar LuLu, 10 p.m.
Milwaukee's most prominent rockabilly band, The Uptown Savages, are proudly of a different era, playing feel-good rock 'n' roll, jump blues and country with 1950s pomp. It's hard to think of a more festive, good-natured band to spend New Year's Eve with.
King Solomon @ Lakefront Brewery, 10 p.m.
This party pairs two of Milwaukee's most reliable draws: the long-running reggae band King Solomon and the Lakefront Brewery. As usual, the brewery is generous with its product: The $35 admission includes unlimited tap beer in addition to party favors and a midnight champagne toast.
Take the Bus
Comedian returns for third New Year's at the Pabst
By Evan Rytlewski
When Jim Gaffigan first moved to New York to pursue a comedy career, it didn't take him long to come up with a novel stand-up identity. The New Yorkers he encountered decided it for him, pigeonholing him as a dim Midwesterner.
"Telling people you're from Indiana, you would get this reaction from them," Gaffigan says. "They'd look at you like you were slow, and ask all these questions about the Midwest like it was a foreign country. A lot of my early biographical material-being from Indiana, coming from a big family, being pale and looking white bread-is very similar to those early conversations I had when I moved to New York, but I'm still treated like a tourist here, and I've lived here for 20 years."
Gaffigan's plain dress and corn-fed build further cast him as a distinctly Midwestern stand-up, an image that Comedy Central hit home especially hard in his first television special.
"I'd asked to have a cornfield in the background, but then I got there the day of the taping and the stage literally looked like the set from 'Hee Haw,'" Gaffigan says with a shudder, recalling the ramshackle red barn and a bale of hay he performed in front of.
Though he doesn't try to play up his heartland roots, Gaffigan does consider himself a descendant of a subtle tradition of Midwest humor. "I do feel like this is a certain Great Lakes kind of sarcasm," he says. "All these jobs left in the '70s and they keep leaving. It takes a certain sardonic attitude to deal with that."
Mostly, though, Gaffigan's observational comedy is of the most universal sort, with food being a favorite muse-he's ranted about Mexican cuisine, salads, Cinnabons, cake and, in a bit that took on a life of its own, Hot Pockets. He maintains that it's a deceptively hard style of comedy to write.
"Comedians like Louis C.K. and Lewis Black can do a new hour of material a year, but for me, coming up with observations that everyone can find some truth in takes longer, and there's more dirty work to it," he says. "When you're doing non-topical comedy, it's not like the vice president can shoot someone and you get five minutes out of it."
Gaffigan also peppers his observational stand-up with one genuine innovation: his "inner voice," a running meta-commentary on his own performance, ostensibly from the audience's perspective. Though this inner voice typically just makes small asides-sometimes as simple as "this guy sure talks a lot about cake"-it affords Gaffigan room to improvise while delivering scripted material. Some nights, the inner voice might be timid and agreeable, others brash and ornery.
For the third year in a row, Gaffigan will spend New Year's Eve performing at the Pabst Theater, a favorite gig of his and one that keeps him near family. He has ties to Chicago, and his wife is from Milwaukee.
"I wouldn't say I'm an expert on Milwaukee or anything," Gaffigan says, "but it's gotten to the point where I've been here enough times that Kopp's is one of my favorite burgers. Really, any culture that embraces bratwurst and cheese can't be that bad."
Gaffigan performs a 10:30 p.m. show at the Pabst Theater on Dec. 31.