When you think about Madison's 1990s rock scene, one of the first acts that comes to mind is The Wizenhiemers. The group's career spanned the decade, and they played everywhere from local rooms like the Club de Wash to New York's CBGBs, and probably just about every beer tent in between (well, at least in the tri-state area). Happily for fans, there's been the occasional reunion show since the group's retirement from active duty, and they'll hit the stage for the first time in a couple years this Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Bean. Showtime is 9:30 p.m., and it'll be all Wizenhiemers, all night long.
The group was formed in 1990 by Sam Platner and Jeff Brikowski. Drummer Scott Theis knew Platner through a music store."Before and after his first tryout, we knew he was definitely a Wizenhiemer," recalls Brikowski of Theis. Bassist and vocalist Rick Murphy likewise fit right in, and except for a brief hiatus by Murphy, the lineup has remained the same since.
Even folks who don't follow local music likely know at least one Wizenhiemers song: "Go You Packers, Go!" which became somewhat inseparable from Green Bay's 1996 Super Bowl run (and, coincidentally, shares only a similar name with the team's historic fight song).
"The Packer song was just dumb luck," says Brikowski. "I wrote it back in 1991 and recorded it on my four-track to listen to while the four of us made a trek to Lambeau field for a Packer game. [Due to] the bratwurst incident in the tailpipe, us taking our shirts off and our language, we almost got thrown out of the game.
"A year or two later we got booked to play before a game at the tailgate party that they used to have right next to the stadium. I talked the guys into playing the song there and it kind of took off. Local radio stations wanted copies and so did fans, so we recorded it rather quick and the rest is a blur, it happened so fast. The song ended up being put on Fox television commercials for Packer games."
The Wizenhiemers had many more original tunes than that, though; besides the Go You Packers Go EP, they released four albums over the decade and played hundreds of shows. Brikowski says, "Our motto was, we will play anywhere, anytime, for at least beer. That changed when we realized we had to pay for studio time, CDs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, managers, commissions, lawyer fees and a lot of other things."
Despite following their motto, Brikowski says the band had broken even financially by the time they called it a day. "Since then we have done a few reunion shows in the summers here and there, whenever someone wants us to play -- it's just that we don't play for beer anymore. We're all a little older and a little Wizer. All of us have little Wizie's running around and daycare ain't cheap."