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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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MUSIC

The Grasshoppers take a populist approach to rock
Blue-collar resistance

The vibe is friendly, the light show synchronized.
Credit:Adam Miszewski
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The Grasshoppers are an everyband, an ordinary group of musicians audiences can identify with. Especially on a Saturday night, in a bar, with a beer. They make rock music that embraces blues and reggae. Lyrically, they own up to the frustrations of working life and reveal their dreams for something more.

Keyboardist Joe Burbach says their approach to music is different from other bands'. "For us it's more about attitude, emotion and energy," he says. "A lot of bands have better technique and play more precisely. We make music that draws from our life experiences."

The 10 songs on the Grasshoppers' new album, Feed My Monkey, prove the point. "Bossman" is the sound of blue-collar resistance and the unrelenting demands of bills waiting to be paid. Still, the song's cheerful guitar riff propels an energetic tempo and this reassurance: "When I get back to my baby, you know she's gonna treat me right."

"Cup of Dreams" is a peaceful quest for endurance, soothed by easygoing electric guitar jams. "We gonna pray for the light till the sun come up," sings drummer Jason Menting.

Light, in fact, is key to the Grasshoppers' live shows. Supplementing the quartet is light technician Paul Gorzlancyk, who creates a visual show that keeps time to the Grasshoppers' music. "What's great about Paul is that he reacts to us," says Burbach. "We give him our set list and he makes it work. He'll also adjust the size of his rig to the venue we play."

The Grasshoppers have been steadily expanding their Madison fan base since they formed in 2005. The band's lead vocalist and chief songwriter is Jim Sanborn. Burbach, 31, and Sanborn, 35, both grew up in Brookfield, where they met. Like Menting and bassist Rick Becerra, they're Milwaukee-area natives who moved to Madison in search of a more active music scene almost 10 years ago.

"We definitely gravitated to the better musical city," says Burbach. "Madison reminds me more of a Nashville or an Austin when it comes to live music."

When it comes to stage presence, Burbach says Sanborn and Menting are the most outgoing. "Menting is very fun and funny," he adds. "He's got a comical stage presence that audiences love. Rick and I are more reserved."

All four members share similar musical backgrounds. Says Burbach, "A lot of us spent a lot of time listening to Phish and classic rock bands, and that's helped shape our sound." Burbach's keyboard work adds a psychedelic element. "Our sound is diverse," he says. "We don't get pigeonholed."

True to their laid-back style, the Grasshoppers aren't worrying that they might never become a famous rock band. "The odds aren't really in our favor," says Burbach. "We've got jobs, wives, girlfriends and kids."

As they prepare to celebrate the release of their new album with a show at the High Noon Saloon on Sept. 16, Burbach says they've got something more important on their minds than getting famous. "This is a night for us to hang out with our friends."

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