by Brian Kalish
In recent years, it seems as though Milwaukee has exerted a lot of effort trying to reinvent itself as a more cosmopolitan city, the effects of which have trickled from pricey high rise condos downtown all the way to the local music scene. From Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue to the East Side and beyond, electronic rhythms and canned beats pulsing in some of the trendy night clubs have encroached on territory once dominated by live music. However, if the New Blind Nationals’ show February 6 at Onopa Brewing Company is any indication, this is a city that still knows how to rock. New Blind Nationals, a self-described “rock band with punk ethics,” ripped through an entertaining 40-minute set, fusing thrash-punk riffs with light hooks and sparse, well-orchestrated guitar leads. The first half of the show featured a wall of distortion driven by a three guitar setup, with guitarists Tony Weber and Michael Marchant leading the assault. Bassist Josef Blind and drummer Joe Kirschling shored up a solid rhythm section. Kyle Altadonna, also playing guitar, displayed enough intensity on vocals to put Howard Dean’s post-caucus bombast to shame. As any fan of live music knows, pounding three chords into submission will only get you so far, even for a punk band. New Blind Nationals demonstrated its versatility midway through the set as Blind discarded his bass in favor of a keyboard while Weber and Altadonna alternated vocal duties. With the addition of a keyboard, the songs stayed fresh yet managed to retain a distinctly punk edge, reminiscent of At The Drive In’s Relationship of Command. New Blind Nationals display first rate musicianship and possess a quality that seems to elude live acts that tend to take themselves too seriously: the ability to entertain. The real showman is Weber. The geeky looking guitarist jerked around spastically on stage, reminding you of that kid in your 3rd grade class who sat in the back and drove the teacher crazy because he couldn’t sit still. Between songs, Weber indulged in expletive-laced commentaries ranging from his recent treatment for an ulcer (go figure) to Altadonna’s choice in footwear. The showstopper came during the last song — in an homage to the ever popular milkshake song — when Weber cast his guitar aside and joined a group of young ladies dancing in the crowd. “We’ve played around 75 shows so far,” Weber says. “We’ve played Onopa probably about five times in the last year and we’re incredibly happy it has become such a successful venue.” New Blind Nationals has released two EPs: Unconscious and Standing, and Born on a Beach Blanket. A new album entitled Bury the Pattern is due for release this month or next. You can visit New Blind Nationals online at www.newblindnationals.com.