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Local Coverage @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Jan. 13, 2017

Jan. 16, 2017
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Midwest Death Rattle - Photo credit: Ben Wick

Milwaukee Record’s annual Local Coverage concerts are a low risk-high reward endeavor. Every year, the fundraiser lines up a fleet of Milwaukee bands and rappers who have been assigned, by draft, to cover one another. When things click, there’s the potential to see a knockout act put their distinct stamp on a similarly distinguished songbook. But even the shakier pairings deliver the novelty of watching performers stretched beyond their comfort zones—and since each act only plays about 15 minutes anyway, the misfires are over with quickly enough.

For the third year in a row, it was remarkable how many local acts rose to the occasion, treating what could be a quickie benefit concert gig as a matter of personal pride. The night’s best covers left you hoping the performers might get around to recording proper versions of them. Midnight Reruns, for instance, milked a solid EP’s worth of material from their set of Marielle Allschwang covers, turning the songwriter’s knotty doom-folk into lean power-pop; their taut, guitar-driven re-interpretation of “New Skin” might have been the night’s catchiest number. Similarly, the virtuosic roots ensemble Buffalo Gospel is the type of band that could probably pull off an entire set of Smash Mouth covers and bring a tear to your eye doing it, but Midnight Reruns’ tightly crafted tunes about social unease gave them plenty to work with. And for her set, vocal powerhouse Abby Jeanne used the Devil Met Contention’s gothic Americana as an excuse to tap into her bluesier side—sometimes she sounded like Janis Joplin; at others like Adele, if Adele carried a switchblade. 

Buffalo Gospel - Photo credit: Ben Wick

The bands that draw rappers during the draft always have the biggest challenge at these things, but art rockers Midwest Death Rattle absolutely seemed to relish tackling D’Amato’s sensual poetry-rap. Their set had the fun and spontaneity of watching a popular coworker totally crush an Eminem song at karaoke, even those tricky later verses that everybody stumbles over. This band always takes immense joy in whatever they’re playing, but to judge from this show you’d think they were born to be a funk-rap band act. And while with her polite demeanor Marielle Allschwang was probably the last act in the lineup anybody would have expected to take on the shit-talking rapper Lorde Fredd33, a complimentary gloominess runs through both of their work, and she and her band played it up during their menacing, inventively composed set.

Marielle Allschwang - Photo credit: Ben Wick

Not all performances seemed quite so rehearsed. For his heavy-lidded set, Lorde Fredd33 read Midwest Death Rattle lyrics from a phone, backed by a band that seemed to be making up the songs as they went along. And the purist punk trio The Pukes, playing here as a duo, didn’t overthink their renditions of Buffalo Gospel’s rootsy testimonials. The assigned revealed a new facet to their sound, though: Turns out when you give them country songs to play they sound a lot like Social Distortion.

One of the most common criticisms of the Milwaukee music scene, echoed by countless newcomers, is that it seems like one big clique—a cool kids’ circle that excludes anybody on the outside. This year’s Local Coverage lineup in particular pushed back against the notion, though. What was most impressive about the roster, beyond the sheer variety of it all, was how little its performers had in common with each other—musically most seemed to come from entirely separate worlds, and the majority of the lineup had never even shared a bill together before. These shows would have the potential to be insufferably self-congratulating if they were just bands covering their friends. Instead Milwaukee Record assembled a roster united not by scene politics, but by a shared desire to look beyond their bubble.

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