Flame Shark's Justin Jahnke hadn't been in town very long before he noticed that Madison had a wealth of interesting and diverse musical acts. So for eight hours on Sunday at the High Noon Saloon, he brought together a little bit of everything from country to surf punk to experimental for what he dubbed "The First Annual Rock & Roll Buffet."
While it is likely that area music lovers had seen one or more of these bands before, this was the first time such a wide variety had been collected into one place, complete with a menu. I may have been foolish, but I thought I probably had a big enough musical appetite to do the whole thing.
First course: 4-4:45 p.m.
Though the menu recommended a beer, I went with a Bloody Mary instead. It just seemed too early to start on the PBR, and the Pistols' aggressive surf punk seemed to call for something with a little more spice. Interspersing samples of evil laughter into their Farfisa organ driven melodies, they often resembled an unmasked version of Madison's venerable Knuckel Drager. Song titles like "Couch Surfing at the Halfway House" ("based on true experiences") seemed to support the wild side their music suggested.
Second course: 5:10-5:55 p.m.
Perhaps the city's only purveyors of Eastern European-inflected rock, the always well-dressed and ridiculously photogenic PYG stole the show early on. Perhaps the biggest crowd of the day gathered to hear songs from their infectious self-titled debut, in addition to a few new ones. They even drew their own fan club of sorts, as the Sleeping in the Aviary boys arrived wearing homemade shirts sporting large pictures of the band.
It was a night of firsts for the Gents as they rolled out their revamped (though still partial) line-up for the first time. Guitarist Brett Randall has moved to bass, and a string quartet will be filling in the guitar lines he used to play. While his guitar skill is missed, the violin often makes up for its absence. Only half of the quartet could make this show, but as long as there is a cello they have their secret weapon.
Despite the presence of the handsome Randall and equally good-looking drummer Matt Reisenauer, it's difficult to pay attention to anything other than keyboardist/vocalist Mike Reisenauer. Tall and lanky, he crouches his long frame at the keyboard, never quite sitting, never quite standing, seemingly unable to stay in any position, gesturing wildly to accent the music's frantic tempo.
Third course: 6:20-7:05 p.m.
The Brown Derby opened with "God's Green Acre" on account of it being a Sunday, but their reverence for country music was apparent throughout their set. Lead singer John Kunert has a boyish charm that sometimes makes hard-luck tales like the title track to their debut This Drinkin' Life a tough sell, but there's never any doubt of his sincerity. Though his introduction to "Silver Eagle" ("it's about trucks, and, um, trucking") may not have been that eloquent, he showed his wit when he explained that the wristbands they were all wearing were "part of a band catch-and-release program."
Fourth course: 7:30-8:15 p.m.
It's inevitable that on any buffet there's going to be something you don't like, but you take a little bit of it anyway just to be polite. The duo of Julia Hegland and Alex Degroot used a combination of drums, keys, and guitar to Hegland's preternatural wail. Think Californians Deerhoof meets our own Buffali.
Fifth course: 8:40-9:25 p.m.
Amazingly, by this point the show was actually running significantly ahead of schedule, so the Brown Derby boys called three fast-paced games of bingo with CDs and bartabs as prizes while Flame Shark set up. Jahnke's band was probably the most effortlessly likable band on the menu, their harmony-laden tunes reminiscent of early Jayhawks. Harmonies come courtesy of bassist Mike Messke and the convincingly innocent keyboardist Rusty Lee, and they give Midnight on Pearl Beach its mellow soul.
Jahnke's organizer's enthusiasm for all the bands was apparent as he claimed, "I've really enjoyed all the bands today, especially..." and then went on to name every band that had played up until that point. He later claimed to be "excruciatingly excited' about The Selfish Gene, and well, if you had seen him dancing during the last band, you know he loved them as well.
Sixth course: 10-10:45 p.m.
Every time I see The Selfish Gene they are doing something a little bit different. I had finally gotten on the bandwagon after seeing their high-powered full-on rock set opening for the decidedly mellower Califone a few months back, so I certainly wasn't expecting the mostly acoustic trio that took the stage. "Usually we come equipped with a drummer," they explained after welcoming us "to VH-1's Storytellers."
Sans drummer things got a lot more laid back. Guitarist Matt Allen, bassist Eric Andraska and keyboardist Michael Weber layered vocals over melodies for something completely different from their usual set, telling us that "if you like what you hear, you should pick up a CD… even though it sounds nothing like this."
Seventh course: 11:10 p.m. - midnight
Lead singer Aaron Miller screamed at me for 45 minutes, and I actually didn't hate it. Even more surprising was that, when he asked for "more guitar in the monitor," he could do it in a normal voice. In fact, he was sincerely polite throughout, and when thanking the crowd for the requested encore, he said, "that's the nicest thing that's ever happened." And then he screamed his way through their last number.
Many more looks at the Buffet are available in the photo gallery at top right. Shortening set times and using a backline would move things along faster and make the marathon a little easier for those of us going the distance, but for its first year the buffet went down surprisingly easy. I can only hope that Jahnke keeps true to making this an annual event.