Summerfest was treated to a three-band Milwaukee reunion extravaganza Thursday night that included performances by The Wigs, Bon Ton Society and Yipes!, under the roof of the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage.
Other than a WAMI Awards Show performance last year at Turner Hall, it's been more than 30 years since Milwaukee got to see the band.
Both The Wigs and Bon Ton Society played reunion shows at Shank Hall in 2009.
As I wrote earlier this week to introduce an interview with members of Yipes!:
The Milwaukee power pop quintet got together, fortuitously, right as labels were eager to snap up the best of the "new wave" and these five hard-working musicians – Pat McCurdy, Mike Hoffmann, Pete Strand, Teddy Freese and Andy Bartel – were primed and ready to go, having been rehearsing hard and performing even harder, racking up 250 to 300 gigs a year in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin and beyond.
Millennium Records inked Yipes! to a deal and the band recorded two LPs for the label. At the same time, the group toured with the likes of Jefferson Starship, Cheap Trick, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, among others.
Yipes! burned brightly but briefly. In 1981, the year after the group’s second LP, "A Bit Irrational," was released, Millennium dropped the band and its members dispersed. McCurdy to a successful career as a solo performer, Hoffmann as an active musician and producer and Strand as a music attorney in Chicago.
Last year, Yipes! was inducted into the WAMI Hall of Fame and performed a short set at the awards ceremony.
On Thursday night the band played for about 90 minutes, mixing tunes from its two records, and sounded like it's never stopped gigging – certainly not like one that hasn't really played together in 33 years.
Drummer Freese flew in from his home in northeast Italy to perform and the band spent a couple days rehearsing this week.
But perhaps I should have expected the intensive, well-executed set. Not long before the band took the stage, I ran into Hoffmann, who said that since Yipes! is only playing the one gig, he'd thought he'd only really have to commit the songs to short-term memory. But during rehearsals he this week he realized that these tunes were in fact hard coded into his long-term recall.
"I think if I ever get Alzheimer's," he said, and I'm paraphrasing a bit, "I'll still be able to play these songs, that's how embedded they are."
Though the venue wasn't full, the crowd was eager and responded especially well to signature songs like "East Side Kids" and "Out in California," though covers of "Dancing in the Street" -- with vocals by Bartel -- and The Who's "The Kids Are Alright" also drew an enthusiastic response.
Though Yipes! emerged during the new wave era and its records were produced with an eye toward that market, the band, it turns out, is really just a good old rock and roll band with to-the-point three-minute pop tunes. And with top-notch musicians, those songs sound as fresh today as ever.
Toward the end of the set, the animated McCurdy said, "We said if we ever got together to play some songs again we'd have something new to play. This is that song."
The band launched into a blistering double-guitar-fueled song – one of the most inspired and intense of the night – that ruminated on the passage of time and was inspired by the enduring bonds of five musicians, especially said McCurdy, between himself and Strand, who have been friends since the age of 12.
"Thirty years in the blink of an eye here we are again, you and I," McCurdy sang. "Where does the time go?"
Playing for a little more than an hour The Wigs performed equally impressively, with melodic rock songs that mined much the same territory, but with perhaps deeper roots in the British invasion era.
The group also performed a few covers including one of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," with Bon Ton Society guitarist – and Summerfest marketing man – John Boler as a guest.
As was the case with Yipes!, The Wigs were so tight it seemed hard to believe that the band hasn't been performing together non-stop over the years.
(Sorry, Bon Ton fans, I arrived after the band had completed its set.)
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