Cellos and Whores. MAMAs and Go-Go's. They were all part of the Madison music story in 2007, and they're part of this roundup of the people, places and trends that made the local scene tick this past year.
Story of the Year
The top local music story of 2007 featured a theater that first opened in 1906. The Majestic Theatre on King Street was transformed from a troubled DJ dance club known for its bartime fights into a stately, midsize live-music venue this year. It was all made possible by two ambitious young entrepreneurs from L.A. - Scott Leslie and Matt Gerding - who moved here to buy the theater and "return it to glory." Some worried that another space for touring artists would saturate an already-busy small market and hurt the Barrymore. But one thing was for sure - with its velvet-red paint and new lighting, the Majestic never looked better.
Anniversary of the Year
The Crystal Corner Bar on Willy Street celebrated its 60th anniversary this year. As the story goes, its late founding mother, Florence Weber, was the first woman in Madison to hold a liquor license. The bar's big birthday didn't seem to cheer up current co-owner Dave Day. When I interviewed him last January, he lamented that the smoking ban had "completely changed the social dynamic here." Luckily, live music hasn't been banned. The Crystal still hosts plenty of local bands, as it has for more than 30 years.
Band of the Year
Pale Young Gentlemen, a quintet featuring a cello, a piano, guitar, drums and two brothers, was Madison's 2007 breakthrough act. Their self-titled debut was reviewed by Pitchfork and earned a respectable 6.9 rating. The piano-rock balladeers make meandering, romantic indie-pop in the tradition of the Decemberists and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It's been a long time since a new Madison band generated this much buzz.
Fan of the Year
By day, she's a quiet researcher hidden away in a UW science lab. At night, Kiki Schueler gets passionate about live music. Missed a show? No worry - Kiki is out on the town three to four nights a week, reviewing them for you on her blog or Isthmus' website. Promoter Tag Evers even joked about giving her a special punch card: Buy 100 shows, get one free. Schueler's latest venture is hosting touring acts in the basement of her east-side home - a place she calls Kiki's House of Righteous Music.
Trend of the Year
National CD sales endured a whopping 20% decline. But Madison's independent-music retailers were too focused on positives to let that get them down. B-Side Records co-owner Steve Manley spent October celebrating the 25th anniversary of his store. The occasion culminated in a party at the High Noon Saloon. Over at MadCity Music, Dave Benton passed the torch of shop ownership to longtime employee and former WORT radio personality Dave Zero. Both B-Side and MadCity plan to forge ahead in 2008, resisting the trend of the year.
Club of the Year
Local music is everywhere in Madison. Nowhere is it more concentrated than at the King Club. Owners Lisa and Tristan Gallagher host an occasional touring act, but most weeks, local artists play all seven nights. What's even more impressive is the diversity of the King Club's offerings. Hip-hop, rock and indie-queer dance nights make it a place for everyone.
Saga of the Year
In May, the blogosphere was buzzing about the Madison Area Music Awards (MAMAs). The annual awards show played out in typical high-class fashion at the Barrymore Theatre that month, but musicians and fans continued to debate the pay-to-nominate and pay-to-vote system that decides who gets recognized. MAMAs organizer Rick Tvedt rebutted by describing the pay system as essential to the MAMAs' charitable mission. Doesn't someone out there have enough money to sponsor this event and let the votes be free? If so, please call Rick and help him put an end to this saga once and for all.
Collaboration of the Year
Yes, it's true: The Go-Go who wrote "Our Lips Are Sealed" asked a Madison band to back her on her new album. That Go-Go is Jane Wiedlin, 49. Whore du Jour are the Madison avant-garage band she wooed. How did Wiedlin come across Madison's Whore? She met them at the Steel Bridge Song Fest (hosted by Timbuk 3's Pat MacDonald) in June and played four shows with them over 10 days in August. She even logged time in Madison learning ProTools from Master Blaster studio engineer Travis Kasperbauer.
Farewell of the Year
Blame it on the Aug. 15 lease cycles. Every year when the downtown apartments turn over, a favorite Madison musician moves away. This year's loss was tough to endure. Kyle "El Guante" Myhre is a skilled rap artist who put out a CD here in 2005. During his time in Madison, he dedicated himself to positive projects. He co-founded the Madison Observer and got involved in the campus antiwar movement. He moved to Minneapolis to pursue a record deal with Tru Ruts/Speakeasy. Some day we'll get you back for this, Minnesota.
Local Album of the Year
For two weeks last summer, I couldn't get the Treats' melodic ballad "Without a Word" out of my head. It was one of 18 excellent tracks that made Reservoir Tales my pick as the Madison album of the year. The disc is a collection of dreamy garage rock that's both heavy and catchy, like the classics of '90s alternative. My interview with Treats frontman Andy Isham, an engineer by training, reminded me why it's a privilege to write this column - meeting people who are genuinely moved by music.
National Album of the Year
Peter, Bjorn and John: Writer's Block (Almost Gold)
The three-minute pop song is an increasingly lost art as more songwriters turn to high-concept experimental styles for fresh ideas. This Swedish trio succeeded in bringing stunning originality to a tried-and-true format in 2007 with their über-catchy single "Young Folks." The achievement of Writer's Block went well beyond that track. "Amsterdam" mastered Depeche Mode robotic-cool. "Objects of My Affection" stood out with hard-driving guitar chords. Peter, Bjorn and John are proof that even in the 21st century, charm still trumps concept.
Happy New Year!