Rock Roundup

The Indelible Impact of Erasure

‘80s synth-pop band comes to town. As do the Wood Brothers, Braid and Warpaint.

By - Sep 29th, 2014 02:55 pm
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Week’s Top Show: Erasure at Pabst Theater, Sunday, October 5

Erasure

Erasure

The term “guilty pleasure,” applied to music, periodically makes me ponder what music would truly qualify as guilt-inducing. Rock played by and aimed at neo-Nazi adolescents? Choral groups that donate all their profits to NAMBLA?

That’s better, perhaps, than the middle ground occupied by a group like Nickelback. Maybe they are a guilty pleasure for other people. I get no pleasure of any kind from Nickelback.

I do get pleasure from Erasure, and I feel about as much guilt (read: none whatsoever) about that enjoyment as I do about my enjoyment of Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, or the John Coltrane Quartet’s Ballads LP.

Considering that the duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke is one year shy of its 30th anniversary, Erasure evidently feels no shame about providing synth-pop entertainment that has mostly avoided becoming part of the kitschy pseudo-appreciation we sometimes display for the 1980s.

One reason for that might be the constancy of Bell’s “flamboyance,” and that’s not a code word like “earnest” was in Oscar Wilde’s day, because Bell has never hidden the fact that he’s gay. Remember: in the mid-1980s Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford wasn’t out of the closet; he was just really into leather. Hello!

Another, stronger reason is that Bell and Clarke appreciate the liberation pop music can provide. Clarke picked up this appreciation as a founding member of Depeche Mode (he left after one album) and Yazoo (which dissolved after two albums), while Bell expresses it through just the right amount of vocal drama.

There have been deviations into more experimental work and solo careers, particularly after a string of international hits up until about 1995, but Erasure’s brand-new disc, The Violent Flame, nearly parallels the aforementioned Pet Shop Boys’ 2013 Electric with its shift back to clubland corners and discotheque floors.

However, and again like Pet Shop Boys, Erasure isn’t chasing its youth. Bell and Clarke know there is no guilt in being old as long as you can still give and get pleasure.

Friday, October 3: The Wood Brothers at Shank Hall

If the legacy of the BandLevon Helm, Robbie Robertson et al.—rests on two and a half of its first three albums, then the legacy is more disproportionate than that of the Velvet Underground. Alt-country, Mumford & Sons, guys in their 20s with mountain-man beards: they all owe the Band a debt.

The Wood Brothers pay open homage, in lieu of royalties, on albums like The Muse, although bassist Chris Wood’s modern-jazz experience in Medeski Martin & Wood give the proceedings an unexpectedly spry skip. And if the tunes are second-hand, the high emotions of joy and melancholy are not.

Friday, October 3: Braid at Cactus Club

The connection between Braid and Milwaukee goes beyond our fair city’s usefulness as a place the group can stop enroute from its native Champaign-Urbana to Chicago to Minneapolis. It must, because it played one of its farewell shows here in 1999 and played its 600th show here in 2011.

That latter year was when the emo-rock band reunited and showed the faithful that it hadn’t lost much earnestness. In July 2014, a new album, No Coast, was likewise not an unworthy follow-up to Braid’s recorded apex, 1998’s Frame & Canvas. With emo, the only true embarrassment is low quality.

Saturday, October 4: Warpaint at Pabst Theater

In June, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds brought Warpaint along for their Milwaukee show, and the fans showed taste or at least good manners by paying attention to and eventually cheering on the Los Angeles quartet. Will that translate into a sizable crowd for this headlining gig?

One hopes so, because Warpaint is remarkably skilled at taking the elements of familiar indie classifications—the lilt of dream pop, the hypnotism of shoegaze—and all but transmuting them into a distinct kind of chemistry that, on this year’s Warpaint, sounds unscientifically like dark magic.

Sunday, October 5: Mirah at Turner Hall Ballroom

As a former resident of Olympia, Washington and a current resident of Brooklyn, Mirah certainly finds herself drawn to towns and neighborhoods with a surfeit of hipsters (and some genuine artists). Fortunately, the preponderance of those dudes and dudettes doesn’t seem to have marred her music or hindered her maturity.

On Changing Light, her first solo album in five years (she digs collaborators, and this record’s guest list proves collaborators dig her right back), Mirah reassembles the damage left by heartbreak into songs that sound stronger in the broken places. She and her fellow players create many dazzling backgrounds, but Mirah rarely forgets to keep her humanity in tight close-up.

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