Erin Wolf
Reviewed

Jaill/the Strange Boys/Sugar Stems @ Cactus Club, 4/1/10

By - Apr 2nd, 2010 12:10 pm
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photo of the Strange Boys by Erin Wolf

Thursday night’s show with Jaill / the Strange Boys / Sugar Stems was celebratory in more ways than one: Jaill, recently signed to Sub Pop Records, undeniably brought in a bit of a new crowd to the South Side venue, eager to catch the band in a smaller setting before they got into bigger things. Plenty of old fans and friends were also on hand to celebrate the newly-signed band’s return home from tour; a bunch were just there to wish singer/guitarist Vinnie Kircher a happy birthday. Family members lined the stage alongside the band’s friends, streamers also lined the stage, balloons were taped onto the venue’s wall and cupcakes were set out — there was a definite air of celebration, and whether it was birthday or signing-related, take your pick.

Milwaukee’s Sugar Stems opened up the evening with their energetic and country/girl-group vocal-centric pop, recalling everything from Neko Case in her more spirited moments to the Pretenders and early Green Day throughout their compact set. Sound like an unlikely combination? Perhaps, but it’s definitely a winning and unique one in terms of current local music. Singer/guitarist Betsy Borst harmonized with guitarist/vocalist Drew Fredrichsen creating pepped-up, undeniable hand-clap moments; many first-time acquaintances with the band stealing looks of approval at one another throughout their performance. Undoubtedly, the band came away with more than a few new fans.

Austin’s Strange Boys (in between stops from SXSW and Glenn Danzing’s house in Nashville) brought in a solid, albeit subdued set, to Milwaukee. Scaling back their show repertoire to songs off of the newly-released Be Brave (In the Red), the noticeably young Strange Boys surprised some of their longtime fans who were probably expecting more off of the band’s older EP’s and 2009’s The Strange Boys and Girls Club. The majority of the crowd still seemed appeased even with the newer material. Those unfamiliar with the Texas group would never have known the difference, the Strange Boys’ new songs a pretty parallel continuation of their prior material, with the occasional older song blending in without a hitch. Those familiar, perked up when they recognized the opening jangly chords from “Woe is You and Me” from…and Girls Club. Guitarist Ryan Sambol’s trademark mewling whine was simultaneously classically deadpan, and the rest of the Strange Boys were happy to comply with the laidback mood. Laidback doesn’t equal lazy, though — guitarist Greg Enlow is a true talent and could give many a musician twice his age a run for their money when it comes to knowing his way around a fretboard.

photo of Jaill by Erin Wolf

Jaill, the special guests of the evening, treated their night with the Strange Boys and Sugar Stems at Cactus like any other number of shows they’d played in their hometown, Sub Pop or not. Kircher got a proper birthday toast at the start of the set, and the band passed around bottles of champagne, first amongst themselves, then sharing with the audience.

Noticeably practiced from countless recent shows on tour (the band just returned from a long road trip that included SXSW), Jaill threw out new material side by side with tracks from their popular 2009 release There’s No Sky (Oh My My).

The guitar-driven pop band, who have morphed gradually into the four-piece they are today after years of lineup changes, have always had a foundation in Kircher’s quirky but down to earth lyricism and his twangy, yet melodic, vocals. Kircher took everything in stride, no performance frills. His band mates, following suit, seemed to take comfort in digging into a solid set without making any gratuitous explanations and appeared relaxed and happy to be playing to a familiar crowd. Kircher, the subtle charmer, ended the  band’s set by explaining that with turning a year older, he’d forgotten the rest of the band’s material, and that they’d have to stop then and there. “This is what happens when you get old,” he joked. If getting old means moving onto new things for Jaill, we can handle it. These new things sound good.

photo of Jaill by Erin Wolf

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