The Blueheels claim Neenah is the "rock-n-roll capital of the world," but until you've actually seen one of their incendiary live shows, that proclamation may be hard to believe. For two raucous, glorious, and maybe a bit drunken, hours on Friday night at Café Montmartre they pled their case quite convincingly.
Despite their Fox Valley pride, a full 40% of the band currently lives in Madison, enough to make them the only "local" band with Mayor Dave's stamp of approval. (Introducing the band, he stated, "Their amps go to 37," so maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about. Everyone knows amps only go to eleven.)
Surprisingly for a CD release show, the Blueheels spent the first hour playing new songs not on the record. "Billy the Kid" and the ridiculously catchy "Tyler Song" with its memorable whoa-oh chorus were the only exceptions. In the second hour, the songs from Long Gone came pouring out. "It's like seeing Tom Petty," Blake Thomas (a genuinely fantastic songwriter himself) whispered to me, "nothing but hits." And it's true. Every song has a hook-filled melody and gigantic sing-a-long chorus.
The Blueheels gave some of the love back, dedicating "Tennessee" to Thomas and Josh Harty who have been known to do a pretty terrific cover of it. Even though the line was written "drive all night and drink coffee," tonight they sang "drive all night and drink all day," the way the pair misheard (and sing) it.
Lead singer Robby Schiller was careful to point out as a PSA that drinking and driving is a bad idea. Schiller's remarkable voice accounts for a good part of the Blueheels' charm, a little twangy with a hint of Hank Williams' yodel, while the rest comes from their true chemistry as a band.
In the first half the night, the Wandering Sons celebrated the release of their new album Little Bird, which leans toward the jazzier side of people-get-ready Americana. Halfway through the set, lead singer/songwriter Cory Chisel introduced fill-in drummer Charlie Koltac. Not only was this the first time he had played a show with them, he'd had no rehearsal and had just gotten the CD on Monday.
Equally impressive was opener Cameron McGill from Chicago, who blended Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley effectively. In a play on Woody Guthrie's famous saying, his guitar was emblazoned "This machine kills hipsters." Maybe, or maybe they were just all at the Sleeping in the Aviary show.