Big Mother Gig Leads a Night of Milwaukee Alt-Rock Reunions Saturday at Turner Hall
Richard Jankovich can’t look back at Big Mother Gig’s
original run without wondering what if. With a gleefully rough-around-the-edges
sound akin to The Replacement and Soul Asylum, the band was making a solid name
for itself in the early ’90s, regularly gigging at venues like The Globe, Shank
Hall and The Unicorn. This was during the heyday of the alt-rock boom, a time
when a major-label contract seemed within the reach of just about any band.
“The labels were very scene driven,” Jankovich recalls. “They would go to certain cities and gobble everybody up. They’d done Seattle and Chapel Hill and all those areas, Then they hit Chicago in ’92, ’93 and signed everybody, so in ’94 you’d listen to alternative radio and it was all Chicago bands. But I was convinced that Milwaukee bands don’t get record deals. That’s why I broke up the band and decided to move to New York. Then, I’m not exaggerating, the labels came up to Milwaukee and just scooped up everybody, from Bender and Buzzhorn to Citizen King.
“When we played our last show we had a few A&R reps at the show,” Jankovich continues. “But my bags were packed and I left. Timing has always been the curse of Big Mother Gig. I feel like had I given it another six months this could have been a whole other story.”
Jankovich went on to find some notoriety in New York with his electronic-rock band Burnside Project, and also as a remixer and producer working under the moniker Pocket. He now lives in Los Angeles, where he continues to work in the music industry, but his thoughts regularly returned to Big Mother Gig, a project he always felt he had unfinished business with. So he got the group back together. “It just felt like putting on an old leather jacket,” he says. “It just felt totally right.”
Logistically it hasn’t been the easiest reunion. The band members are scattered across the country, and one of them, guitarist Riz Rashid, lives in Malaysia, but they've been encouraged by the response the group’s new EP, Almost Primed, has received from radio and publications like Paste and Alternative Press.
On Saturday, March 18, the band will play their first show in more than 20 years at Turner Hall Ballroom, and you can’t say they haven’t gone all out for it. The bill will also feature sets from five other reunited alternative and indie rock bands from their era, many of which will have new releases or re-releases to promote: You're Pretty, The Probers, Slurr, Pet Engine and FS Camels. If you lived on Milwaukee’s East Side in the 1990s, there’s a good chance you remember many of those names, or at least saw a few of them on show flyers. They were all regulars at North Avenue clubs like The Globe and BBC.
Jankovich says many of these bills are overdue for a rediscovery. “I feel like there’s been a lot of attention to paid to the Milwaukee scene from the late ’70s to the ’80s, but what happened in the '90s was its own experience,” Jankovich says. “We’re not going to compete with Die Kreuzen or Violent Femmes reunions. Those were the mainstays. But there was some great stuff that happened in the ’90s.
“If you have any interest in seeing these bands, come out, because you don’t know when this is doing to happen again,” he continues. “And if you have nothing else going on that night and want to see some great rock bands, come out.”