Animal Lover w/ Absolutely and Gauss @ Cactus Club
Sept. 20, 2016
Leading off the show, Gauss projected a playful energy. The crowd waited for guitarist/vocalist Eddie Chapman to tune while the keyboard player, Brandon Miller, threw out an impromptu approximation of church music. The original trio lineup has expanded to a six-piece, adding trumpet, violin and keys. Their sound has evolved from their mostly instrumental post-rock beginnings into a lush indie-rock orchestra of sorts. Working a violin into a rock band setting can be disastrous, but Gauss’s augments their sound.
With the opening chords, Chapman gyrated like a dog scooting on a rug. He appeared comfortable in his role as frontman. The rest of the band had the concentrated stares of musicians diving headlong into their craft. Drummer Andy Grygiel’s eyes stayed fixed on his drums like a scientist working with unstable chemicals—a look of exact precision. When the band settled into mid-paced grooves, the songs occupied a similar space as those of forgotten Midwestern greats C-Clamp. Between songs, Chapman often lightheartedly talked to the crowd. This humility combined with their subtle sound has allowed Gauss to quietly creep into being one of Milwaukee’s most underrated bands.
To complete the Grygiel drum exhibition, Absolutely took the stage second. Compared to the six-piece Gauss, the trio made the stage look massive. The band started with guitarists swapping instruments. They gave each other a sheepish smile and nod in that “I guess we’re doing this” sort of way. The song started slow and brittle, as if it could derail at any moment. Eventually the repetition solidified and they settled in. Back on their native instruments, the band burst into a mostly instrumental, Unwound-styled jam. The rhythm section locked into a Kraut-rock style groove as guitarist George Ananchev embellished on their riff. Between songs he stepped to the mic to thank all the teachers and early morning workers for coming out on a Tuesday night, saying with a smile, “I have off all day tomorrow.” The rest of the set stayed within the established theme of repetition. It’s interesting to see what kinds of twists long-running bands will make. They can branch out and lose sight of their roots, or retrace their steps and become a parody of themselves. Absolutely have managed to evolve organically and gracefully, carving out their place among Milwaukee’s elite bands.
genre tag of noise-rock is often a misnomer. Many bands that place themselves
under the noise-rock umbrella fall too far to the rock side and forget about
the noise aspect. There’s more to it than just being loud. It’s more than
crunchy riffs. There needs to be an element of abrasiveness to not come off
like tepid alternative rock rehash.
Touring on their new album Stay Alive, Minneapolis’s Animal Lover closed the show. Their set was brief but perfect. In line with the previous bands of the night, each member looked to be completely consumed by their playing. They pummeled their instruments. The guitar fed back. They traded a little banter and then finished, epitomizing the maxim “leave the audience wanting more; don’t bludgeon them to death.” Animal Lover are the torchbearers of noise-rock.