Saturday, July 15, 2017

SHOW REVIEW: Bad Bad Hats - High Noon Saloon 7/13/17 (With Heavy Looks, Disq)

Minneapolis group Bad Bad Hats took full advantage of a surprise headlining slot Thursday night.  The High Noon show was originally set to feature Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, who were forced to cancel all of their performances in July, citing personal reasons.  The show went on, with Bad Bad Hats and Heavy Looks moving up the lineup and local group Disq added as the opener.  The High Noon allowed ticket returns and offered a new discounted price, and turnout was impressive nonetheless.  

I must admit with guilt that after a cumbersome work shift I didn't arrive at the show until Disq's last few songs.  Being unfamiliar with the band, I was surprised to walk in and see a teenaged quintet fronted by something of a Lou Reed lookalike.  Their sound held up strong though, with a nice dynamic at play between tight three-guitar rhythms and mellowed out Pavement-esque vocals.  They ended their set with a pretty ballsy "She's So Heavy" type blues jam.  I don't feel like I caught enough of them to write a whole lot without getting ahead of myself, but I am grateful that this show put them on my radar- it will be exciting to see where they take things.

Heavy Looks
I apologize for being the world's shittiest concert photographer

Madison's Heavy Looks formed while co-songwriters Dirk Gunderson and Rosalind Greiert were studying at UW-Stevens Point.  There they both worked as DJs for the student radio station, leading to a wealth of influences which they proudly wear on their sleeves.  With their alternating vocals and swaggering midtempo grooves, Heavy Looks sound a bit like they've stepped right out of the late-80's college radio heyday.  Rosalind's smoky vocals smoldered over a backing band that rollicked with a cocky, freewheeling aesthetic reminiscent of Patti Smith's group.  She traded lead singing duties song-for-song with Dirk, who channeled Thurston Moore at his most playful moments.  Their set lagged a bit during the more somber songs, but they ramped it back up to end with some straight-forward rockers that sounded like a less try-hard version of The Distillers.  I would have liked to see them play longer, but as an active band in the local scene there will surely be future opportunities to do so.

Bad Bad Hats

As Bad Bad Hats took the stage shortly after 10:00, it marked the beginning of a six-week tour for the band.  It was also the seventh time they have performed in Madison.  Frontwoman Kerry Alexander noted that we are nearing "gold pin status" - which would signify ten shows on her personal corkboard-map system of commemorating the towns in which they have played.  The front half of the floor had filled up by this point, and the band was received as one of our own.  They drew a mostly college-aged crowd and the show had an almost festival-like atmosphere - very friendly and positive.  

The Hats launched into their version of indie-pop, featuring a spacious, 60's-esque bounce which allows plenty of room for playful music box guitar leads and understated singing.  Kerry uses her beautiful voice as an instrument of its own, employing a breathy vocal technique and hints of a faux British accent which fit her persona and the musical context perfectly.  

I did not anticipate laughing as much as I did during this show, with Kerry's quirky onstage banter doubling as a mini-standup routine between songs.  Speaking in an awkward near-monotone, she introduced each song with anecdotes that were often vague but always relatable, and delivered in hilarious deadpan fashion.  Her bandmates cracked up along with the audience as she meandered through monologues about "Super America providing the snacks, while (she) provides the sorrows" and sleeping with her phone under her pillow...just in case.  This observational and accepting attitude towards 20-something life is mirrored by her songwriting.  She sings bluntly on themes of loneliness and unrequited love without falling into the traps of wallowing nor sugarcoating.  She allows herself to hurt, but maintains a balanced, sort of omniscient perspective which gives usually painful subject matter a cathartic buoyancy.  

Kerry established such an effective connection with the audience that the entire room became dead quiet as she began the heartbreaking Things We Never Say.  Alone with her guitar she bared her soul with the confessional song which she'd introduced as being about what you wish you could tell somebody but never do.  It was a powerful moment in contrast to the preceding lightheartedness of the set.  As the final notes rang out everybody stood silent and captivated until her smiling "thank you" triggered the night's biggest applause.  

The band used this momentum to slingshot into a series of upbeat rockers.  A muscular rendition of Shame in particular ramped up the energy level, and they ended their main set on a high note.  After exiting the stage, Kerry quickly returned by herself, announcing a "surprise cover song from (her) childhood".  After slowly plucking a few vaguely recognizable chords, it soon became apparent that we were being treated to the most harrowing and somber imaginable take on Blink 182's All The Small Things.  It closed the evening with a wink, encapsulating the earnest, heartfelt, and innocent nature of the band.

Kerry Alexander

Bad Bad Hats' tour continues with three weekend stops in Michigan.  Their much-anticipated sophomore LP is currently in the mixing process.  I personally cannot wait until their next Madison visit (and second and third after that on our way to that gold pin!)

Heavy Looks performs next Thursday at Milwaukee's Riverwest Public House, then the Art In here in town on 7/28

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