Radiator Hospital at Cocoon Room – 9/8/14 (Pictorial Review, Video)
by Steven Spoerl
When Radiator Hospital announced Milwaukee as a stop on their tour, not going wasn’t an option. After all, Torch Song has had more plays this year than just about any other record from 2014 so far. “Cut Your Bangs” was a personal pick for “song of the summer” and more than earned it’s inclusion in this site’s summer songs mixtape. They’re a band that embodies next to everything that’s worth celebrating about the DIY ethos in punk-leaning independent music (something that was touched on by the band directly with their attached note in The Media premiere of their “Bedtime Stories” music video). As if that wasn’t enough, Radiator Hospital also gets to claim Jeff Bolt (who also drums in site favorites Swearin’ and runs Stupid Bag Records– also a site favorite) as a member.
After the two and a half hour drive down to Milwaukee, it didn’t take too long for the night’s plans to be set into motion. While Radiator Hospital was the priority, there was a late show happening across town at Boone & Crockett featuring an Ian Olvera solo set and semi-recent Watch This honorees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Having never been to Cocoon Room or Boone & Crockett it was difficult to know what to expect but both proved to be intriguing venues that’ll likely warrant repeat visits. Cocoon Room came across as a small DIY art gallery and had already set their bill into motion with a welcoming set from King Courteen shortly after the projected start time. Due to a late arrival, there were only a few King Courteen songs that managed to be taken in but from those alone, it was easy to see a very distinct, considerable talent- one that’ll likely be around a while.
During the last moments of King Courteen’s gripping set another thing became abundantly clear: thanks to how dimly-lit Cocoon Room was, it was going to be very difficult to shoot the bands playing. King Courteen proved impossible and it didn’t seem like that’d be changing for any of the following acts. Radiator Hospital wound up playing second, allowing Lousy Trouts the final slot and it didn’t take them long to lament the lack of light, either. After bluffing her way through a guitar solo while laughing to herself, Cynthia Schemmer smiled and offered up the fact the band usually plays in more light- which probably should have been seen as a subtle plea to get a few additional bulbs turned on- but things stayed the same. Not that it detracted from much of anything as Radiator Hospital blazed through a 9-song set that leaned heavily on the best moments of Torch Song (“Cut Your Bangs”, “Five & Dime”, “Leather & Lace”, etc) while still making room for the deserves-to-be-considered-classic “Our Song”.
If the lack of light didn’t affect them too much outside of Schemmer’s ridiculously fun solo, it was a little bit disheartening to hear that Cocoon Room was dealing with a shot speaker cable, forcing the mix to one side- which meant sacrificing a fair bit of bandleader Sam Cook-Parrott’s vocals. Even with that factored in, Radiator Hospital played with more conviction than most bands manage in perfect circumstances. Bolt was as on point as ever, Schemmer and Cook-Parrott both put next to everything they had into their playing and singing, and bassist Jon Rybicki (whose recent record as Attendant earned a lot of love here) played as emphatically as possible, providing the songs with an extra bit of punch. Both the audience and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, which isn’t always the case- but that night everyone operated under the understanding that great music deserves attention, applause, and praise. Even with the dim lights and PA issues, it was a memorable experience and an impressive set- one that ensured Radiator Hospital a position on the “can’t-miss” list for live acts.
After Radiator Hospital wrapped up, the venue got a little too crowded a little too quickly and the heat became too much, so (after some time spent catching up with the members of Radiator Hospital outside the venue), it was off to Boone & Crockett for Sub Pop signees Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. While arriving late meant having to miss Ian Olvera (who also fronts The Sleepwalkers), it’s a safe bet that he put on a great set that probably shouldn’t have been missed- and if Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires’ first half of their set was as incendiary as the back stretch, then the same can definitely be said for them. Bains and his band play a ferocious strand of southern rock that embraces a manic punk energy, allowing each individual member to fly off the handle at will. It took less than two seconds of being in the venue to see Bains jump off the stage and barrel his way into the audience before jumping back up and taking a perch on the bass drum- before falling to the floor and punching a malfunctioning pedal. That string of actions set the tone for what was to follow, as the band tore through song after song and ripped through a wide-reaching selection of riffs and solos while working themselves into an intense sweat. There were no sections where they lost pace or momentum and by the time they finished, it felt like the room (a small bar that specializes in mixology) had just sustained an atomic blast… and the band was only playing with their “little” amps. It wouldn’t have been surprising if the following night saw them burning Green Bay’s Lyric Room to the ground. Currently, they’re getting set to embark on a tour with Southern stalwarts Drive-By Truckers and that’s a bill that needs to be taken advantage of, if at all possible. Keep it in mind.
All in all, it was a night of great music and impressive lyricism (especially in the case of Radiator Hospital, whose Torch Song boasts some of the strongest writing of the year) that showcased how vital Milwaukee is to fostering independent-minded music. King Courteen displayed promise, Radiator Hospital solidified their on-the-rise position with a vicious authoritativeness, and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires proved that they weren’t an act to be trifled with using as much wild-eyed intensity as humanly possible. And, on nights like those- especially when they’re spent with good friends- it’s impossible not to fall in love with music all over again.
Due to the lighting at each venue being very limited, there weren’t a lot of photos worth posting but a small handful is better than nothing. View those below and videos of Radiator Hospital and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires beneath the gallery.