Aaron Sleator and Trent Johnson perform with their band Cougar at the High Noon Saloon on Monday, Jan. 29.
I admit it, I'm a lyrics girl. I can listen to Bob Dylan for hours on end, but I quickly lose patience with anything that doesn't feature clever wordplay. So I wasn't quite sure what I would think about Cougar's headlining hour set of "emergency rock" at the High Noon Saloon on Monday night in front of an impressively large crowd.
Surprisingly, I didn't hate it. In fact, I kind of liked it.
Granted, they could be a bit of a tease, threatening to burst into full rock band mode before settling back into their comfortable but complicated instrumental electronica. The lulling, acoustic guitar-driven "Strict Scrutiny" was followed by the cardiac arrhythmia-inducing bass throttle of "Pulse Conditioner." (Glad I had my earplugs.)
Immediately obvious is that the Cougar boys are all tremendous musicians. From his position stage left, drummer David Skogen led the band with his skilled percussion work, pounding like a maniac one moment, lightly tapping a T-shirt "covered snare the next. It doesn't seem fair to label the distractingly handsome Aaron Sleator as just "the electronics guy." While he did spend most of the set peering at his laptop, he also played guitar and cowbell (!). But his finest moment may have been when he traded in the modern for the old-fashioned, plucking the banjo on the band's lovely encore song, a brand new one only played once before.
While they all currently reside in different towns, they met in Madison, so "this is the closest thing we have to a hometown show," Skogen explained as he thanked the crowd, the opening bands, and the High Noon. Turns out they are very polite too.
Playing first on this local band bill, the Optimistic sounded like the Bottle Rockets one moment and the Meat Puppets the next. This dichotomy was demonstrated best by their opening and closing songs: the first a country ramble, the last an energized rocker -- and both versions of the same song, "Pineapple and Peach."
The Bracelets followed with their whimsically graceful pop. While I preferred those tunes that guitarist Ian Purvis took lead vocals on (particularly the new "Copy Machine" a nice complement to the older "Cubicle City") to those featuring Lindsay Lueders, they all had their charms. And all were buoyed by the extraordinary skills of interim drummer Dan Kuemmel.
All in all, a pleasantly varied night of entertainment and a steal for six bucks cover. No complaints here.