Reviews: April

This month’s reviews take a look at the new album from Surgeons in Heat, The Pitch Project’s first installation, new bar The Brass Tap, the Milwaukee Public Museum’s new permanent exhibit, and Michael Perry’s novel, “The Jesus Cow.”

Edited by Ann Christenson

Suite Treat

Think of yourself as an ant in the grass as you step into The Pitch Project’s installation, Relativity Suite (through May 6 at 706 S. Fifth St.). Named for a jazz album by Don Cherry, this immersive environment, created by husband/wife artists Carl Ostendarp and Gail Fitzgerald, is meant to plunge us into the feeling of standing within a painting. In a large, brightly lit room, the periphery of the walls holds a gray undulating border that references a giant paint drip. Above it, a row of candy-colored sculptural shapes projects from the wall, one part painting, one part sculpture. Jazz music fills in the space with abstract rhythms. The Pitch Project always challenges viewers to process what they are seeing. (Debra Brehmer)


Surgical Summer

Come spring, the quest begins to find the essential summer album, one that brims with breezy melodies and jangly guitars. A contender for 2015 comes from Surgeons in Heat, whose CD, Disaster, contains the elements worthy of soundtracking every outdoor activity imaginable. Singer Johnathon Mayer takes cues from fellow Jaill bandmate and producer Vincent Kircher that temper his falsetto and neo-soul jams without forgoing the band’s pop sensibilities. What’s left is an album of guitar hooks and sticky-sweet ’60s influences that feels less like a force of nature than a blindingly sunny summer day. (Kevin Mueller)

Down to Brass Tacks

An immense tap beer lineup isn’t worth much if it’s stocked with poorly curated selections like five different Shock Top varieties or the entire Milwaukee’s Best portfolio. I wasn’t sure what The Brass Tap (7808 W. Layton Ave., Greenfield) was pouring from its 80 tap lines, but after spying the Epic Big Bad Baptist tap handle, I knew I was in good shape. The menu (including 100-plus bottles) isn’t beer-snob spectacular, but it’s solid. There’s an enticing mix of styles and breweries, many from Wisconsin. Eleven TVs, plenty of table seating, and a kid-friendly atmosphere (during the day, at least) offers a hoppy oasis for beer lovers on the Southwest Side. (Dan Murphy)

Roads Scholar

Eight steps into Crossroads of Civilization, the Milwaukee Public Museum’s new permanent exhibit, three large, interactive touch screens sweep visitors through 4,000 years of ancient Egyptian, Near East and Mediterranean European history. Yes, your journey through the past comes with an eye toward modern tech, a sure nod to the predilections of an iPad generation. The true impact of Crossroads, though, stems not from high-def pixels, but the power of tangible artifacts and elaborate re-creations. The towering form of King Tut driving his two-horse chariot. Two genuine Egyptian mummies shown in open sarcophagi. A full Rosetta Stone replica. And among those and other big-ticket items are scores of attention-getting smaller ones – coins, carvings, mummified birds. It all coalesces into the feel of a top-end traveling exhibit. But this one’s well worth keeping around. (Howie Magner)


Cow Country

Michael Perry is plowing well-tilled soil in his first novel, The Jesus Cow (HarperCollins) – small-town quirks and jerks and jokes about cow pies in rural Wisconsin. The memoirist knows the turf all too well (he hails from New Auburn, Wis.), along with the “Kwik Pump” gas stations and “headache racks” (they go on pickup trucks). But his swiftness and sureness of action carry him through some unnecessary dawdling with secondary characters and out into panoramic scenes of a simple town, and a simple life, transformed by 15 minutes of crushing fame. Perry’s simple pleasures grow mighty complicated as his aw-shucks pastoral dabbles in love, riches, barn sex, local politics, and finally, a municipal catastrophe. And all because of a very special cow, er, steer. (Matt Hrodey)


This story appears in the April, 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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