Tenement at Mickey’s Tavern – 9/9/14 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)
by Steven Spoerl
To get this out of the way at the top: there are very few bands that mean as much to me as Tenement. Without the support of that band when I was starting to do things like book and play shows, I probably wouldn’t have been affected as much by the DIY-centric artists and spaces that Heartbreaking Bravery was designed to bring into focus and celebrate. They’re a band that I’ve been filming fairly consistently over the course of the last six and a half years with an increasing amount of admiration. I’d book them to play shows in my city; they’d return the favor and invite the band I was playing in at the time to drive an hour to play their basement (The BFG) and, in doing so, opened a cultural door that allowed me to invest in the community shared by the other bands that played there. A few of the bands that wound up playing The BFG had a massive effect on my musical growth and now regularly snag features on this site- Swearin’, Screaming Females, The Hussy, Sundials, Delay, and an impressive selection of other bands that now populate labels like Don Giovanni, Dead Broke, and Salinas. Whether I was just fortunate enough to be at (or play on) the right shows, I’ll never know, but the amount of support and easy camaraderie surrounding the bulk of those shows was something that made me feel like I’d found a home.
Over the course of those early years- and on the back of playing host to consistently strong bills and relentless touring- Tenement began to build their reputation as one of the Midwest’s best bands. Amos Pitsch, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, had spent more time behind a kit as the drummer for Social Classics, than writing songs in front of it. While at that point, it was already clear Pitsch was a preternaturally gifted musician, it was likely difficult to know what to expect. Unsurprisingly, the most visible role in a band was one that felt naturally suited to Pitsch- and, importantly, allowed him to more fully demonstrate his music’s personality. Lyricists who are characterized more by novelists than other songwriters tend to be the ones that feel the most worthy of acclaim and Pitsch falls squarely into that category. Utilizing a wealth of musical knowledge and integrating it into stanzas and vignettes with a literary grounding, Pitsch has been able to create a sound that’s as influenced by John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, and William Faulkner as it is Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Hickey, and The Figgs (who once played a very memorable set in The BFG’s living room).
There’s an additional allowance for the abstract that helps further differentiate Tenement from other bands that are attempting to play their hands at similar combinations, which has caused both emphatic celebration from some sets and scathing derision from others (the latter usually tends towards the genre-specific). After years of touring and playing host (before The BFG was forced to cease their venue operations), word started to spread pretty quickly and the band was able to leave with another fiercely-loved WI act, Holy Shit!, for a fairly lengthy tour in Japan. During their time spent in Japan, they played with two of Japan’s finest basement pop acts: Sanhose and Your Pest Band. Fortunately, both of those bands wound up finding their way Stateside not too long after that tour ended, allowing the possibility of all three bands playing a show on Tuesday night at Mickey’s Tavern in Madison, WI.
Mickey’s has long been a staple of Madison’s live music scene, consistently booking shows that would have made sense at a place like The BFG. The fact that it’s small plays well to the bands that have a fondness for eardrum-shattering volume levels and to the people who actively seek out more intimate settings. It’s essentially a 21+ basement venue with proper business licensing. All of which meant that it was a perfect fit for the night’s bill. Riff-happy trio Sanhose played first, going full-speed from the outset and only pausing to adjust or add extra weight to the cinder block positioned in front of the bass drum to prevent the whole thing from toppling over. While that issue was eventually solved by having a friend leave a foot planted firmly into the block while they played, Sanhose couldn’t bother to be too distracted by it. All throughout their set, there was a very palpable sense that the band loved to simply play their music- which wound up being a great reminder that earnestness in punk-leaning music isn’t completely dead. From 20-second blitzes to three-minute anthems, Sanhose left just about everything they had at Mickey’s and got the night off to an excellent start.
Considering Your Pest Band has most of their discography available at any major punk distro worth their salt, it’s a relatively safe bet to say that they’ve built themselves a strong following and a considerable reputation. Their music is frequently celebrated on both sides of the ocean and frequently featured in blogs, zines, and publications. Nearly all of their releases over the past few years have been heavily anticipated by very specific communities and subsequently met with acclaim- so, their live show had a fair bit to live up to. Any doubt those elements cast on high expectations were thoroughly obliterated by the end of their first song. It doesn’t matter what mode this band is in, whether it’s the unabashed 50’s pop stylings of “Time to Go” or the ferocious basement punk onslaught of “Dice“, they always tear into their songs with manic glee. Those efforts are doubled live. Every member of Your Pest Band was constantly in motion during their songs, working themselves into a sweat as they grew more frenzied. Towards the end of a set that was graciously spread throughout their seriously impressive discography, it seemed like they were practically jumping out of their own skin, totally alive and incredibly impassioned before ending it all with one of the strongest performances of the evening (which can be seen below).
Tenement played last (likely to ensure as many people as possible were there for Sanhose and Your Pest Band) and tore through a set of songs that they’ve now been playing for about two years. Not that it mattered or worked to their detriment- the songs that they’ve been playing are some of the best songs in any genre of those past few years and Tenement’s consistently been one of the best live bands that today’s music has had to offer. Any opportunity to see them play any song should be jumped at whenever possible and their set at Mickey’s wound up being yet another one that wound up giving additional weight to that opinion. Playing with the knowledge that this set would be one of the last they play before a scant few others (at least before their upcoming record’s released) may have pushed them to play with even more gusto than usual- or maybe they knew they had to be in their rarest form to follow Your Pest Band’s stunner of a set- but their short set found them hit a near-perfect stride. Blazing through material from their last two records with next to no pauses and a laser-sharp focus and intensity, they left absolutely no doubt that they are one of the best bands of the moment (for further proof of this, watch the supercharged set-ending take on “Stupid Werld” below). Factor in the fact they have a few records on the horizon (including their debut for Don Giovanni, which is projected for a Spring 2015 release) and will have a new set under their belt shortly after those releases and the set they offered up at Mickey’s instantly becomes one worth remembering. Tenement are nearing the end of a chapter in their career before bigger doors start opening for them- and they’re making sure that it ends on the right notes.
Sanhose, Your Pest Band, and Tenement will all be playing in Milwaukee (along with So Cow, Holy Shit!, and a handful of others) on Sunday, September 14. If at all possible, don’t miss it.
A photo gallery of all three bands can be seen below and videos from each band’s set can be viewed below that.