Milwaukee’s own Field Report is a band with a lot to prove. Rarely, though, can a group make its stand as effortlessly as this one did on at Madison’s High Noon Saloon Saturday night.
The group has been out on the road in support of its self-titled album, a record Rolling Stone calls a “breakout debut.” However, Field Report is currently standing in the shadows of giants and high expectations. As often pointed out, front man Christopher Porterfield was once in a band with Wisconsin’s current musical heavyweight, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. While this is an interesting footnote and the two have a continuing friendship, this is a band that moves on its own two feet, especially in concert.
With a heavy sonic atmosphere created by the group, the patiently crafted live show unfurled itself as delicately as the Midwestern landscape about which the music is written. The skills of the members worked well in giving buoyancy to Porterfield’s often concrete lyrics. Opening its set, Field Report eased into “Route 18,” a hushed confession of Milwaukee living that is dense with Porterfield’s signature use of proper nouns. The utilization of Ben Lester’s pedal steel and the effects-laden guitar of Jeff Mitchell gave depth to the characters and landmarks associated with the track’s protagonist. In order to keep the momentum going between tracks, the band would loop sounds and quietly stretch notes until ready to begin its next number.
Moving from the slow drone of “Captain Video” to the nearly danceable beat of “The Year of the Get You Alone,” Field Report played its way to a climax with the anthem-like “Fergus Falls.” The song, much more restrained on the band’s debut, was restored to its original heavy form as first recorded for Porterfield’s Conrad Plymouth E.P. in 2010.
Completing the wall of sound produced onstage were well-placed harmonies and melodies from band members Travis Witty and Nick Burg. In addition, a new face was shown in drummer and multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard. Leonard, who was not involved in the recording of the album, held his own by adding banjo to the historical “Taking Alcatraz” and violin to the thoroughly depressing “Circle Drive.” These two additions brought a freshness to the songs that, while not stale, benefited greatly from the instrumentation.
Closing out the night, Field Report played one of its best kept secrets — the non-album track “Lust Bowl,” a song so good it needs an official release. With its distortion-heavy drive and Porterfield’s shouting of the line, “Oh I gotta leave before I love, love, love too much,” Field Report left the crowd loving it all and wanting some more.
Kicking off a night of Midwestern brewed music, the audience was treated to two remarkable opening bands. Starting off was Madison’s own Dietrich Gosser, a quiet acoustic guitar player with equally quiet vocals. Gosser’s low-key style worked well though as it managed to carry more weight in its silence, but he made the smart choice of bringing in a little help — joining Gosser on stage was the talented Anna Vogelzang. Vogelzang, a fellow Madison musician, fit well accenting Gosser’s lyrics with her own beautiful harmonies. This combination of voices was an appropriate welcoming call to the crowd slowly filling the High Noon.
Taking the second slot and bringing a touch of soul and jazz was the Chicago quintet of Cameron McGill & What Army. McGill and company mixed the sounds of classic Paul Simon with a voice reminiscent of The Cure’s Robert Smith and underscored it all with a solid rhythm section.
A constant grooving base and the soulful saxophone of John Edwards added dashes of funk to McGill’s rocking piano playing. McGill, a man whose intensity on stage is at complete odds with his offstage shyness, is out with What Army in support of their album Is A Beast and the group’s blend of music and showmanship should guarantee great success to come.
Rarely do nights of music play out with such diversity and yet combine to create an evening that anyone could enjoy, but the combination of Gosser, McGill and Field Report easily brought spirits up while bringing the house down.