John Sieger
Sieger On Songs

Milwaukee’s Got Soul

Express Yourself Milwaukee’s Soul 2017 should be a great show.

By - May 2nd, 2017 06:30 pm
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Express Yourself Milwaukee

Express Yourself Milwaukee

The safest bet you can make at the roulette wheel is that it will go around. The fact that it will occasionally land on the same number is the exception that proves the rule in this completely random universe. Still, you can’t help thinking there’s a reason when it happens, and that brings me to the same spot I was in last week. It’s a particularly sweet one — the place somewhere deep in Stevie Wonder’s soul where his creations expand at the speed of light to become unforgettable songs.

It’s not the greatest coincidence in the world to be moved once again by Wonder’s music — it has something to do with Milwaukee’s David Wake and the places he’s often found playing music. Last week we found ourselves at Turner Hall being swept away by a project he had a major role in, “Wonder Uncovered.” This week it’s Express Yourself Milwaukee, where he and his wife, Holly Haebig, a great singer in her own right, can be found every year about this time putting the finishing touches on the annual Express Yourself Milwaukee show. This year the theme is “Soul.” Tickets are free for this always rambunctious and uplifting event, so make your way to the Milwaukee Theater this Thursday, May 4th at 6:30. The finale, with all hands (including massive puppets) on deck, will be a long-ish romp with a short moniker, a version of the song “As,” from Wonder’s double album masterpiece, Songs In The Key Of Life.

When you write about Stevie Wonder it’s very hard to avoid the word joy. I found it popping into a lot of my sentences. This week we’ll call it ecstasy. At the end of a five-hour rehearsal at the EXYO MKE studio on Lisbon one recent night, we rehearsed that song. With a roomful of happy people singing the long, looping denouement of that song, there was a lot of spirit in the room — the kind that threatens to elevate a building right off of it’s foundation. It might seem a bit of a broken record to vamp on a set of changes for four or five minutes, but when you get swept up in it a real sense of abandon overtakes everyone.

I may be some sort of silly utopian. I’m with Nick Lowe when he asks “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” Consider the alternative, earthlings. Both Stevie and EXYO MKE are doing work that springs from a higher consciousness. Calling it  work when it’s as much fun as that massive rave-up is only acknowledgement of how much commitment and sweat go into getting that point. There is no doubt that work needs to be done in this city, or that art and music therapy, in a friendly and safe environment, are part of the solution.

This is the spot where I usually would print the lyrics, but this song is much longer than your average internet page — so here’s a link, limber up that scrolling finger, it’s a workout!

I’m pretty sure Stephen Sondheim would be scandalized by the grammar and syntax here, which are completely and beautifully mangled, but this song doesn’t have time to worry about niceties as it demolishes everything in it’s path with it’s Big Mo. It’s over seven minutes long, the first part features the sophisticated chords and melody, bordering on the kind of soft rock that is nectar to lounge singers everywhere. But Wonder can have it both ways, and after that deceptively polite beginning, he digs in. Over a repetitive, feverish refrain sung by a choir that is surely made up of actual angels, he let’s loose like few singers on this planet can.

One of life’s great mysteries is the unanswerable question: Where does music come from? Especially music this inspired. I’m sure we could live and breathe without it, but aren’t you glad we don’t have to? Get ready then, because some of that ecstatic spirit will be on stage at EXYO MKE’s show, which promises 150 young people and special guest artists singing, dancing and performing in front of a great set design created during the year-long Express Yourself program. I hope you’ll be there to support these aspiring young artists and singers. They might just create a mini-rapture, lifting you and everyone in the audience a few inches of the ground.

Soul 2017
Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m.
 at the Historic Milwaukee Theatre
, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave.

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