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Quinn Scharber w/ Hallelujah the Hills @ Mad Planet

Oct. 25, 2009

Oct. 27, 2009
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Milwaukee must have had a rager of a weekend. The low attendance at the Mad Planet on Sunday night to see Boston’s Hallelujah the Hills alongside Milwaukee’s Quinn Scharber was a shame, considering the energy that both bands shared with their small, but attentive audience. Hallelujah the Hills, who recently released their album Colonial Drones on MISRA Records, brought warmth to the slightly tired genre of chamber-kitsch pop by means of stellar front man David Bentley, drummer Matthew Glover and Brian Rutledge on trumpet.

Like their former literate counterparts, Neutral Milk Hotel or Clem Snide, weaving in humor through odd, lyrical references, Hallelujah the Hills lightened up their well-read pop with a little Moog noodling or a trumpet blast. Bentley truly isn’t all that far of a cry from being a doppelganger of Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay also in terms of voice—his vocals carry a similar plaintive honk when bemoaning about life’s obscure trials. Despite being trial-centric, this smart-pop remained uplifting in its solid musicianship. Rutledge, alone, could’ve carried the band with his energy. When not blasting brassy Calexico-inspired notes, he was manning the Moog, bopping about like the ten-year old at a wedding party, on the dance floor from the first to the last song. Equally inspiring was Glover, whose “give it your all” drumming style had his requisite long drummer hair flying and his t-shirt soaked by the end of the set. Whatever energy the other two guitarists lacked, Glover, Bentley and Rutledge more than made up for.

Headliner Quinn Scharber had a lot of ground to cover in bridging the set gap between Hallelujah the Hills’ dynamic performance, playing to a Sunday night crowd a great deal smaller than he was used to, but if any local pop band could do it, Scharber’s could. With a new rhythm guitarist in tow, the band’s sound has morphed from straight up enjoyable Midwestern pop (ala The Replacements) to solid showmanship, as Scharber and his new bandmate Johnathon Mayer displayed their impressive skills as they traded rhythm and riffing duties. Recently joined drummer Jon Phillip (The Benjamins, Limbeck) kept the sound and feel down to earth as he dug into his drums with genuine gusto.

Scharber’s Being Nice Won’t Save Milwaukee owned most of the set, but the older songs got new legs from new contributors, the newbie guitarist adding his straight-forward harmonizing vocals to Scharber’s Elliott Smith-like subdued rasp. “Keep it Legal,” “She Will” and “Latest Flame” got tweaked a bit, and although this didn’t inspire insta-recognition from repeat audience members, (who normally would be throwing themselves into a wholehearted sing-a-long, complete with Scharber’s bygone “tambourine orchestra”), the songs still held their own. Perhaps not as boisterous as before, but still solid, and a bit more mature, Scharber’s Midwestern pop is getting ready to say goodbye to Being Nice and looks to work on a new chapter of their “Midwest Blues.”



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