Milwaukee’s Finest Indie Rock Plays Riverwest Public House
Riverwest Public House hosted an array of rock-solid indie bands to entertain an enthusiastic Riverwest crowd Friday night. Limber Brain, Tomatillo, Yum Yum Cult, and The Unitaskers consisted the bill.
Limber Brain is the alt-rock project of Riley Campos, a multi-instrumentalist who spent time backpacking around the country the last couple years, doing soul-searching while obtaining ideas for his compositions along the way. He wrote songs frequently while on Amtrak trains and buses. His most recent album, “Seizures,” is a more upbeat, less symphonic departure from his 2017 album “Mostly Lucid.”
“I abandoned the stoner-rock aspects and the instrumentation was a lot less ostentatious.” Campos said. “With Mostly Lucid you had a fanfare of guitars and for Seizures it’s a lot more paired-down. This next album I’m working on, called “Pathways,” is even more paired-down from that. It’s like a Russian nesting doll for my albums that just keeps getting smaller and smaller.”
Out of everywhere he traveled, Campos felt most connected to Santa Cruz, CA.
“The people there are so laid back and everyone you meet it’s almost like you’ve known them for your whole life,” Campos said.
Limber Brain plays Milwaukee Psych Fest April 13th and The Back Room at Colectivo May 16th.
Tomatillo describes themselves as jazz-rock. They are vocalist Nolan Benson, guitarist Addie Lipson, bassist Ben Bakunovich, and drummer Cameron Overton. Formed out of a friendship-turned-musicianship between Benson and Lipson, the band has phased through a myriad of influences that range from Radiohead to John Mayer to Tom Misch to Vulfpeck.
As a matter of fact, Tomatillo did a rendition of Radiohead’s “High and Dry.” It was wholesome.
“I like to think of myself as a recovering music major,” Lipson said. “I was a jazz guitar major at (Western Connecticut) for a brief stint and didn’t like that, so I started playing for self-care to take up as much space as possible. When it comes to Tomatillo, a lot of the compositions have very complex chord structures and voice leading that exist to take up space.”
Benson explains the band’s name originates from an inside joke.
“My fiance works at Colectivo and there’s a sandwich they used to serve called the tomatillo chicken sandwich, but they took it off the menu and now they only bring it back as a weekly special, so my fiance made a cardboard sign that said “Bring Back Tomatillo.” When we were searching for band names she said “How about Tomatillo?” and she said it as a joke but I took her seriously and texted Addie immediately.”
“A lot of times I come home from work and I’m sad and pissed off,” Lipson said. “I kinda just sit there and play riffs in a similar key and then put them in different keys, and then I bring it to the band and tell them what to do. Ben and Cameron bring a very lively energy to the band and I would not want to do work with any other dudes.”
“I went to Marquette for writing, and I like to put a lot of meaning behind words. Addie will often present a guitar part to me before it goes to the band, and we’ll work out a vocal melody and write the words.” Benson added.
While Tomatillo’s music is currently shared on their Facebook and Instagram, they have plans to release a few singles and have a few May shows coming up.
Yum Yum Cult plays psych-rock hailed as “Radiohead by the way of Twin Peaks.” Indeed, they played the Twin Peaks theme as an interlude.
The band is vocalist/guitarist Palmer Shah, bassist Sean Anderson, drummer Charlie Celenza, and keyboardist Myles Coyne. Their name comes from a Tobacco song; Shah is a devoted fan of Black Moth Super Rainbow, which Tobacco is frontman of.
“A lot of us knew each other for a really long time from playing in different bands together; I was working with Myles at the time and needed a creative outlet since I’d been sitting on these songs for years. We started jamming and it worked out,” Shah said. “Charlie joined when Myles was drummer and broke his collarbone…and then he kinda respawned as keyboardist while we kept Charlie.”
Celenza also plays in Conundrum, Animals in Human Attire, and Soul Low.
“Palmer asked me to be on the drums, and gosh darn it, I like his songs. They grew on me, they really did,” Celenza said. “It’s enough eclectic, different-sounding songs to keep me interested and challenged as a drummer.”
Yum Yum Cult enters the studio next month to work on singles they plan to release over the next year, and then hope to compile them into a “bizarre mixtape” as Shah puts it. They play the Public House again April 12th and Cactus Club May 1st.
The Unitaskers are a meme-enthusiast, Food Network-loving indie rock band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Dylan Thomas, bassist Ian Bjork, drummer Darrell Andrew, and synth man Joey Betlej. Thomas and Betlej would watch Mr. Robot and chop-and-screw Good Eats episodes into witch-house songs before they began writing formidable indie rock tunes and brought on Andrew and Bjork to form a full band.
Their first single, “Tide Pods/Chicken Sashimi,” dropped last April.
“We put those out back when we were more rudimentary, like when we were doing more electronic stuff and that was right when Darrell moved back to Wisconsin,” Thomas said. “When we started to play live, those were the first two songs we re-worked into what you heard tonight.”
The Unitaskers take influence from many indie rock musicians such as Car Seat Headrest, The Flaming Lips, and Hop Along in addition to 80’s post-punk such as Bauhaus and The Fall.
“We talk a lot about how we can leave synths in the typical indie rock and punk bands but not make it into a synthpop band,” Thomas said.
On the material they band is working on, Thomas describes their subject matter as dealing with anxiety about living in the current world while thriving on the novelty that is Internet culture.
“There’s something really bizarre and jarring about the time we live in where serious horrible stuff is happening all the time but then it’s like no matter what you’re looking at that’s horrible there’s also cute dog pictures, food blogs and memes…and that’s a huge theme of everything we do.”
The Unitaskers are planning a song-a-month project for the summer and have plans to record an LP. They play at X-Ray Arcade March 31st.
Addie Lipson put it best, saying “We want our audience to have as much fun as we do, because this is our self-care.”
Milwaukee’s indie rock is in good hands.