Painted Caves may be one of the best bands in Brew City, but you won’t find it playing the corner bar anytime soon. Instead, the band prefers places that are visually stimulating and, if possible, family-friendly. Places like the Milwaukee Art Museum (where it will perform this Saturday), the Streets of Old Milwaukee, or even, someday, the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
“Any kind of art – music, whatever – is not just about the picture. It’s the frame the picture goes in,” says Ali Lubbad, crediting Brian Eno. Lubbad is the leader of painted Caves, as well as a husband and father of three. “You have to make sure to take as much time to frame the picture as it took to make it,” he says. “The intention is to share beauty. It’s important to present beautiful things in a beautiful place.”
“Beautiful” is one word to describe Painted Caves, which fuses traditional Arabic music with rock, psychedelic and folk, making it one of the few truly unique bands in town. Though they’ve been playing for a few years, people really began taking notice after last year’s sunny, meditative self-titled spent more than a month atop WMSE’s Alternative charts.
As popular as Painted Caves has become, there is always the issue of finding the right frame to present the music. Around here, that’s easier said than done. “If I was playing in a Guns N’ Roses cover band, I’d be playing all over West Allis,” Lubbad jokes, but when it comes to his group and its target venues – which are often not typically used for live music – people sometimes need convincing. Luckily, Lubbad’s case is persuasive. He feels his music has something to offer each venue: a “symbiotic relationship” in which the band helps the venue to its full artistic potential, and vice versa. Lubbad calls it “beautifying the space.” The band plays for free whenever possible. Reimbursement, in the case of the MAM, comes in the form of free membership.
The MAM’s spectacular Windhover Hall has proven to be the perfect match for Painted Caves. It reminds Lubbad of the teleportation devices called Pylons from the TV show “Land Of The Lost,” in both look and effect. “It feels like I truly went somewhere when I’m in there,” he says. “When we play there, it’s transportational in the sense that we create a musical mood that fills what is already a beautiful space.”
Windhover’s high ceiling and odd echo would be an acoustic nightmare for many bands, but with Painted Caves’ easygoing tempos and infrequent chord changes, Lubbad says it works well. “The music is pretty huge,” he says, “Huge in the sense that I’m overwhelmed by it at times. I think that venue can contain that feeling.”
Along with the MAM, Painted Caves has performed at an array of places including Alterra, Villa Terrace, the South Shore Farmer’s Market and in the Milwaukee Public Museum’s “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit. When I ask him to tell me his dream Painted Caves venue, he comes up with three: The Alhambra in Granada, Spain; the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul and the aforementioned bottom of the Grand Canyon. This last one gets him thinking. “You know what would be really cool?” he says. “If I could take my family on a National Parks tour.” When I mention reimbursement, Lubbad already has something in mind. “Free camping privileges would be enough,” he says.
Painted Caves plays this Saturday, March 23 in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Windhover Hall at 11 am. Admission is free.