Three Milwaukee bands are playing two Madison venues this week. You might think that's business as usual, but it's not a routine occurrence. That's surprising, considering only 70 miles separate the two metropolitan areas. Madison club owners say there's a musical disconnect between Mad Town and the Brew City.
This week, two Milwaukee pop-rock bands, the Sugar Stems and Fairweather Friends, aim to bridge that gap when they share the bill at the Crystal Corner Bar on Feb. 5. Then Milwaukee's A Host of Others brings its darkly comic rock to the Frequency on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 10:30 p.m.
Despite these shows, the perception that the Milwaukee and Madison music scenes don't mesh isn't likely to go away anytime soon.
"Personally, I don't see that the Milwaukee scene has a big impact here," says High Noon Saloon owner Cathy Dethmers. "Every once in a while a Milwaukee band has a few years of success in Madison, but I don't think there is as much of a Milwaukee-Madison crossover scene as you might expect."
Frequency owner Darwin Sampson says that bands from other regional cities simply outdraw shows that feature Milwaukee bands. "In my experience at the Frequency, I have seen Chicago bands bringing bigger numbers more consistently."
Drew Fredrichsen, guitarist and vocalist for the Sugar Stems, says the band landed its Crystal Corner gig this weekend with the help of friends in two Madison bands, the Midwest Beat and the Hussy. The Midwest Beat will be sharing the bill with the Sugar Stems and Fairweather Friends on Saturday.
"It's good that bands from other cities invite each other to play their towns," says Fredrichsen. "That's the only way the bands can pollinate each other's scene."
But it's not clear that Madison and Milwaukee bands collaborate very often. Corey LaFleur, guitarist for A Host of Others, says Madison isn't the first place outside of Milwaukee where his band looks to perform. "We've played in Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and New York," says LaFleur.
A Host of Others' quirky acoustic rock melodies match the offbeat wit of its lyrics. Meanwhile, the rock hooks will flow freely at the Crystal: The Sugar Stems bring a jangly 1980s pop sensibility, while Fairweather Friends make keyboards a staple of their lush, emotional sound.
For local live-music fans, these Milwaukee bands are worth checking out.