REVIEW: The Gufs at Pabst Theater
If there’s one thing that Milwaukeeans will always hold near and dear to their hearts, it’s their musical ambassadors. There is always a home for acts like the Violent Femmes, The Bodeans, and the two-night headliner at the Pabst Theater this weekend, The Gufs. While the Kralj brothers may not originally hail from the city, the band formed and found their roots in Milwaukee, specifically at UWM, and celebrated 30 years as a band on Saturday with a sold out Pabst Theater.
While the band has been rather off and on in the last few years, mainly due to families and other career pursuits, the atmosphere inside the Pabst on Saturday night felt like a much more intimate club. When putting these shows together, Goran Kralj explained that he hoped to have the simplicity of an East Side club show, such as the band’s early days at now-defunct venue The Globe on North Ave. With that said, Saturday was true to that in many regards, without excessive production or surprise guests. It was a moment to connect the Milwaukee band with the Milwaukee crowd, and it delivered.
After an acoustic, storyteller session from Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe to kick off the night, there was little delay before The Gufs took the stage. A mesh screen dropped to fully reveal an image that read “The Gufs – THIRTY”, and Milwaukee’s adopted musical sons went right into “Lost Along The Way”, a track from the band’s major label debut, as well as 1995’s “Collide”. The set list played like a time capsule of fond memories to the crowd, and Goran Kralj at one point announced that he “felt like we went back 20 years” with the crowd’s enthusiasm.
For what it’s worth, the Pabst Theater crowd definitely gave the band a distinct home field advantage of sorts; many people in the crowd had some connection to the band, either as old friends, family, or just longtime fans. We had heard word of an afterparty guest list that was already well over expected capacity before the band even went on stage. Those connections to The Gufs made for great moments, including boisterous crowd singalongs for tracks like “Crash (Into Me)” and “Wasting Time”. There were some rumors that this weekend may be the band’s final shows, and if true, Milwaukee was ready to give it all they had for one last go-around. In total The Gufs had a tight set list that clocked in around two hours total, leaving no stone unturned.
Those rumors weren’t shied away from on stage, either. After returning from a 90 minute set for an acoustic encore, the band had mentioned they had the “time of their lives” getting back together to practice for the pair of shows, and even recanted a story of an early practice where their biggest hit, “Smile” was debuted to the band acoustically, with little fanfare. That segued into thanking the fans for keeping the band going, and the true meaning of their 2006 song, “Beautiful Disaster”. Goran explained that he was matched up with drummer and fellow UWM soccer player Scott Schwebel, and that The Gufs truly were an “accident” in some ways.
Later in the encore, after a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”, the band left the stage, teasing the audience with the end of the night. Goran returned to the crowd and said, “You didn’t think we weren’t gonna play ‘Smile’, did you?”. The crowd sang along at full voice, and even took over one chorus as the band closed out the night.
If this is the last weekend that we see The Gufs, they definitely stayed true to themselves with their 30th anniversary celebration on Saturday night. Goran Kralj mentioned explicitly in their encore that this “might be the last time we play together, because we all have different things going on”, which was promptly met by a fan yelling back “Summerfest!”. There will always be a home for The Gufs in Milwaukee.