After making inroads throughout the upper Midwest as a tribute to Dublin's finest, Milwaukee's U2Zoo was recently the subject of a 30-minute documentary.
"Shine Like Stars," directed by Dustin Leimgruber, debuted on St. Patrick's Day at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison.
Leimgruber, who also co-produced the film, is an Ohio native -- raised in Wisconsin -- who currently lives in Los Angeles. His co-producer, Alan Hagemann, is an MSOE grad still based in the Milwaukee area.
The film mixes interviews with the members of U2Zoo -- veteran local musicians guitarist and founder Brian Lang, singer Scott Neis, bassist Mike Kawczynski and drummer Craig Brog -- with footage from gigs by the band at Summerfest and other Milwaukee area venues.
"The film is great," says Lang. "It’s a real representation of our personalities and the history and what’s valued musically and emotionally inside the band. It strips U2Zoo down to the sheer basics and he captured all of this without a script or anything from the interviews to the live footage."
What's especially eye-opening about the film -- especially to an original music-biased listener like myself -- is the quartet's passion for what it does and the seriousness with which it approaches the music.
But the group -- which stresses its not attempting to be a look-alike act ("Every time I put on the sunglasses, I think the nose and mustache is right around the corner," jokes Neis) -- tempers that with a sense of humor, too, and it's that sense of humor that keeps the band grounded and far from the shores of inflated self-importance. And it's endearing, too.
And, if you haven't seen the band, know that U2Zoo does a pretty darn good U2, with Lang especially excelling at recreating the complex sonics and distinctive style of U2 guitarist The Edge. Lang clearly gets that the key to nailing U2 is nailing The Edge.
In the film, we learn that Lang started the band on a whim the night he saw Bono at a bar and exchanged an across-the-room "cheers" after sending over a pint.
We learn that all four members long ago set aside their rock and roll dreams to build lives and careers. The success they've found as tribute band musicians -- the band plays for huge crowds at festivals and couples even get engaged at the band's performances -- allows them to be, in the words of Kawczynski's wife, "weekend rock stars."
And they're more than fine with that.
"The producer approached us in 2008 about following us for a year and we gave him the go ahead with no expectations," says Lang. "It’s turned into a circus of fun and the idea of touring the country and world has turned into a reality on screen."
While Neis describes the band as "U2 fans playing U2 music for U2 fans," Lang quips, "We're just a bunch of dorky guys from Milwaukee playing U2."
Part of the film was shot at Shank Hall, where U2Zoo is a regular attraction. The band returns there to screen the film for the first time in Milwaukee on Saturday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m. Cover is $10.
Some other gigs in town this week include:
L.A. based trio Mini Mansions -- which includes Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman -- brings its mix of indie rock and psychedelia to The Mad Planet on Wednesday. The band’s eponymous debut was recently released on Rekords Records, a label owned by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme.
Twin Cities fave Cloud Cult returns to the Midwest as part of the ongoing tour for its disc, "Light Chasers," and the band hits Turner Hall on Thursday. Dark, Dark, Dark opens the 8 p.m. show and admission is $12 in advance, $14 at the door.
Decembersongs -- the singer-songwriter quartet of Amy Speace, Dan Navarro, Jon Vezner and Sally Barris performing in-the-round -- lands at The Unitarian Church -- North’s Wisconsin Singer-Songwriter Series on Saturday.
The songwriters bring an acoustic holiday celebration to Mequon at 8 p.m. Admission is $15 in advance, $18 at the door. The church is located at 13800 N. Port Washington Rd.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.