Maybe two years ago, I was talking with one of the local scene critics about some of the music you get to hear around town, especially in the summer, and he mentioned the Milwaukees as being awesome. I had heard their name, but for one reason or another, I just never was able to catch a set. Friday was one of those special Groove on Groves that coincided with Creative Grove and Jersey City Fridays, and lo and behold the Milwaukees played. The front man, who sang and played mainly rhythm guitar implied something about a hiatus being over. According to their website, some of the band members became fathers and indeed, the music had been on the back burner for a few months.
But now they’re back and if this set is any sign of things to come, Jersey City is in for some undiluted Rock. The Milwuakees played the most memorable set I’ve seen in Jersey City this year.
Classic Rock wasn’t called that until the 80s, when the genre had basically ended, replaced by punk and post punk and new wave and hair bands and various categories of metal. FM formats started in with the Classic Rock, which recycled hits of the previous decades, although the category was soon broad enough to incorporate anything that was popular, loud and rocked. Arena rock is probably the more precise tag. As guitar-based bands started touring larger venues, the hooks got bigger, the sound got bigger, sounded as good coming out the speakers in your car as it did even in the upper rows of the Brendan Byrne. Classic or Arena, the genre is both a recycling of Elvis and the Beatles and dozens of others and taking those strains and making them new, adding more volume and a (then) contemporary attitude.
The Milwaukees add a chapter to that story. They blend the Bob Seger and the Van Halen and probably a few other riff-based Rock, one step removed from the blues. Power pop is another applicable term.
The set started with a thrilling rocker. Children – young children, well under 10, were jumping around, excited. The music was loud, some of the loudest I’ve heard at Grove Street Plaza (seriously, that’s what official name givers have anointed it). I guess the sound police have finally been successfully bribed. Some of the children had ear plugs. It was fun to watch them jump around, with adults soon joining the pogoing.
The kids were cracking up the band. “We were afraid of our audience getting older, but now we’re finally reaching the youth,” said the singer.
They were having a great set. The kids soon wandered away, replaced by adults many of whom were familiar with the songs. The drummer seemed especially on, attentive to the intense, concise guitar jams as they explored every idea suggested by their thick hooks. A power ballad, Carolina Beach and a rocker, Victoria (or was it Valerie), were particular striking, the set having built on a momentum, then exploded in some pure Rock (without cliche). A woman, a friend of theirs, was invited on stage, she added back up vocals to the concluding number. She was introduced as a new mom, fitting for the rocking day care center that accompanied the earlier songs of the set.
Arena Rock – the stuff of FM formats for three decades now –is an established genre. You can imagine these guys listening to their music with their fathers. But this is Classic Rock with the energy of Punk, delivered with genuine musicianship. Hearing it in an open air setting – under a canopy tent with the Fender Amps turned up to 11 – showcases just how much complexity those hooks contained.