Three alternative rock bands from the Midwest — Campdogzz, Meat Wave and Cursive — proved the underground rock scene in Madison is still alive and well.
Listening to three bands perform at High Noon Saloon Friday for a dedicated crowd of mostly middle-aged adults revealed there are more ways to enjoy a Friday night than listening to “Mo Bamba” in somebody’s basement — though that certainly has its place.
The three bands each brought their unique sound to the table. The opener, Campdogzz, a band hailing from Chicago, delivered a delicate yet intense wash of sound with their five-piece band.
Having been recently signed to Cursive’s label, 15 Passenger, Campdogzz made their way back to Madison to open for Cursive. It was evident that many people in the crowd were familiar with Campdogzz’s music and enjoyed their set as if it was the main event.
The breathy, expressive voice of Campdogzz’s lead singer, Jess Price seemed to fit perfectly with the variety of intricate chord progressions laid down by the multiple guitars on stage.
Many of the songs sounded like they were influenced by folk music, but they would quickly transition from folky sections to long, passionate riffs where Price would let her emotion flow through the mic. The band produced emotionally charged indie rock coupled with sweet country and folk melodies.
They performed this style well, with all three guitars working seamlessly together to give power to the choruses, whilst trading back and forth and maintaining intricate harmonies.
After Campdogzz finished their set, a band called Meat Wave took the stage, and the mood shifted from mellow, almost psychedelic vibes to more of an intense, punk sounding set.
Meat Wave, also from Chicago, only a three-piece band —guitar, drums and bass — managed to amp up the crowd somehow with their heavy hitting drums and pounding guitar riffs. The lead vocalist, Chris Sutter explored similar emotional themes of breakup and loss, like Price and Campdogzz, but his singing style was raspier and had more twinges of punk than folk in it.
The band would transition from gnarly, edgy chord riffs into more classic, hardcore rock sounds which anchored home the refrains. Sutter’s voice reminded listeners of 80s punk bands like the Clash, as it was expressive through raspy tones and yelling vocals.
Meat Wave’s songs did seem unstructured at times, but the incredible energy of the drummer and bassist — who were totally submerged in the music and playing their hearts out — drove the music along and made it exciting to listen to despite the vocals trailing off and feeling incomplete at times.
Cursive was up last, and as any good headlining act should do, they took their time getting to the stage. But the wait was definitely worth it, and Cursive delivered a compelling performance which put the conceptual and musical themes of their newest album “Vitriola” on full display.
Hailing from Omaha, Neb. and having recently remastered one of their classic albums, “The Ugly Organ,” Cursive has the biggest fan base and reputation of the three bands — and they have been performing together for a long time.
Their chemistry on stage showed, as the lead singer, guitarist, and leader Tim Kasher told stories from times with his band to the audience. They were very informal with the crowd at the High Noon, mentioning they’d performed there several times before and that they loved the sound of the room.
The speakers were slightly overpowering for such a small room, but that was likely the intention of the band.
Cursive displayed the biggest variety of instruments in their band, with two guitars, a cello, a bass guitar, keys and drums. Still, in the alt-rock genre, their music encompassed a little more of an emo feel to it, with more screaming vocals coupled by a wash of intense instrumentation.
Kasher’s vocals touched on a wide variety of themes, from divorce to loneliness, to anti-capitalist and anti-Trump politics. These themes were backed up by a slow and steady build of classic rock riffs into an explosion of more hardcore sounding choruses.
The group’s music displayed an incredible attention to layering and detail, as well as some very interesting, emotionally charged lyrics.
Though alt-rock isn’t everyone’s preferred taste in music, checking out High Noon Saloon is a must. Audience members are likely to meet some really interesting people and experience an authentic venue that puts on a wide variety of shows.