Beer-handling skills. Keep them sharp, especially if your favorite club is getting a visit from Eau Claire's Drunk Drivers. It seems hard to believe, but the band is already into its second decade delivering rock and roll (and collective crowd hangovers) to the regional club scene. Compared to legendary alcohol-fueled shenanigans of the past, Friday's performance at the High Noon Saloon was a tad more sober. But the rambunctious Wisconsinites don't look like they'll be slowing down musically any time soon.
The manic energy that the Drunk Drivers bring to the stage ensures they always sound fresh musically despite (or, depending on your taste, because of) the basic rock recipe they employ: Combine tight rhythm section, strong singer-frontperson and non-wanky guitar hero; add Farfisa (and Blatz) as needed; stir crowd frequently.
Friday's best crowd-stirring moment came when the mic was lowered down to an audience member for an impromptu chorus of "She Works Hard for the Money," spurred by the band's reminder to "tip your bartenders." Their punk rock by way of '70s guitar rock kept the crowd on their feet right up until the finish.
Friday's show also featured a pair of other bands that each could have headlined the night. Opening was the blues-punk hybrid of Brickshithouse. Since they've been playing out infrequently over the past couple years, it's always somewhat of an event when they're back on stage. The audience responded appropriately to that fact (and to their chooglin' rhythm), with a dance party breaking out by their second song.
It's always entertaining to see what's gonna happen next at a Brickshithouse show. Lead singer Shad may be playing slide guitar, or harmonica, or some stinging leads, or just throwing his entire body into singing.
Providing the most surprising set of the night was Belles of Skin City, a Minneapolis five-piece making its first trip to Madison. The sound created by the Belles is sort of like what would happen if the members of Wire went to a tent revival meeting, got into the spirit and began speaking in tongues.
Their aggressive, percussion-heavy sound is anchored on most songs by both a regular drum kit and a secondary partial drum setup, manned by various band members throughout the set. The groove was intensified on most songs by the guitars serving the rhythm rather than the melody. The group switched off between instruments frequently but managed to cover the downtime with some biting humor that matched well with the songs' lyrics.
All in all, it was a night that showed three very different takes on Midwestern rock music, and three groups of veteran players that prove rock's not dead yet. Not by a long shot.