REVIEW: M. Ward at the Pabst Theater

The Pabst Theater was full of excited fans Friday night as Milwaukee welcomed singer/songwriter M. Ward. He has not had a headline show in Milwaukee for over seven years, so his show at the Pabst with special guests Big Thief and Nice as F*** was quite the occasion.

©Adam Miszewski

Nice as F*** performing in front of the stage. Photo by Adam Miszewski

The first act of the night was Nice as F***, a super group comprised of Jenny Lewis, Erika Foster of Au Revoir Simone, and Tennessee Thomas of The Like. The trio made their debut at a Bernie Sanders benefit and have been touring with M. Ward ever since. The three-piece band was set up on the ground in front of the stage, with a peace sign of white lights behind them.  Their sound seemed minimal at first, with just Foster’s bass and Thomas’ drums carrying the music, but the band’s energy and Lewis’ powerful vocals made them one of the most memorable parts of the night. Their last two songs “Door” and “Put Your Guns Away” were definitely standouts. Hopefully we can expect some recordings from NAF in the near future.

©Adam Miszewski

Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief. Photo by Adam Miszewski

When Big Thief began next, they did not go for a flashy, explosive opening. The lights turned to lead singer Adrianne Lenker as she performed “Little Arrow,” the slow opening track from their album “Masterpiece.” The room was quiet and attentive. When they knew they had the crowd’s undivided attention, the rest of the band came in with a string of songs all in a row. When the band finally stopped to take a breath, Lenker started talking to the crowd. It seemed a bit awkward at first, but she spoke and interacted with the audience in such a casual tone that the whole performance felt more like a conversation. That intimate atmosphere carried well into their music.

When it was finally time for M. Ward to take the stage, people had left their seats and gathered in front of the stage where Nice as F*** played just a couple hours before. The band opened with a rock instrumental intro, and you could immediately tell that these guys could play. The music got the crowd worked up before Ward even started singing. He played a lot of songs from his latest record “More Rain,” especially for the first half of his set, but fans of his earlier work would leave the show happy too. One of my favorite songs of the night was “Chinese Translation,” which gradually built until finally breaking out into a fantastic instrumental break and guitar solo by the end. The best moment of the night had to be when Ward invited Jenny Lewis back on stage to sing with him.

 

Friday night was full of fantastic music at the Pabst. Each band put on a great show, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope we don’t have to wait seven years to see them here again.

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