This month's reviews: Ale Asylum Riverhouse, Group of the Altos, Troubadour Bakery, JoAnna Poehlmann, "Listen & Other Stories."
Edited by Ann Christenson
A twisty path of taxidermied fox and fowl, strewn with flora and fungi, exuberantly notated by the delicate hand of 82-year-old artist JoAnna Poehlmann feels more like a natural history display than a retrospective exhibition. But a retrospective it is, with 382 works arranged in thoughtful dioramas as interchanges between Poehlmann’s drawn images of feathers, birds, eggs and snakes, and her sweet, boxed collections of rosebuds, pencils and mushrooms. There are also handmade books of all sizes and shapes that carry a whimsical, what-if tone. Poehlmann’s career is based on a fascination with nature, the act of noticing, and then the practice of quiet, skillful rendering. The gentle touch of her illustrations makes her work feel like a secret love letter delivered as a barely audible whisper that says: “Look at that. Isn’t it remarkable.” The exhibition runs through March 21 at RedLine Milwaukee (1422 N. Fourth St.). (Debra Brehmer)
Milwaukee is experiencing a strong strain of doughnut fever. You can run, but you cannot hide. It’s not that the doughnut has never not been. It’s just so now. In late January, Colectivo Coffee’s Troubadour Bakery introduced its classic doughnut at select cafes on Fridays and Saturdays only (colectivocoffee.com). The yeast-raised ring ($1.99 each) comes dunked in one of three glazes – vanilla, chocolate and maple. We rolled into the Third Ward Colectivo just as the barista was unloading them from the Troubadour delivery boxes. The not-as-cloying vanilla doughnut was also less greasy than the other two (whose glazes were so strong, you could smell them in the carryout bag). That’s not enough to stop us from doughnutting with Colectivo again. Introductions are seldom seamless. (Ann Christenson)
In his new Listen & Other Stories (Four Way Books), MKE author Liam Callanan begs for an ear. He has a willing set right here. The protagonists in these disparate, nuanced stories are connected by the universal need to be heard. That moment might be precipitated by an event, life-changing (such as the gay man who captures his lover’s last breath inside a balloon) or not. We’re bystanders, pulled along eagerly, only knowing so much. But enough. Callanan, a professor in the English department at UW-Milwaukee, explores “voice,” letting events unfold without resorting to pathos. Listen carefully. (Ann Christenson)
Crazy Candescent Cacophony
Serious question: Has Group of the Altos gone crazy? The stage-cramping, 12-piece local ensemble, fronted by Volcano Choir guitarist (and possibly mad scientist) Daniel Spack, constructed methodical, bone-chilling post-rock on 2012’s three-song, self-titled debut, which floated amongst the clouds before crashing to the ground in cacophonous crescendo. That proven formula was drastically re-engineered on Altos’ new eight-song R U Person or Not, a schizophrenic frenzy that races through the mud in every direction. Unlike the previous effort, this beast feels more like a deranged, solitary cousin that’s developed an unhealthy obsession with fractured R&B. It’s a testament to Spack’s ingenuity and bandmates that this scattered, harsh-toned experiment yields compelling results that beg to be played again and again. (Kevin Mueller)
Except for tap takeovers, I don’t think I’ve ever seen 14 options from the same brewery in a bar. Then I stopped by the new Ale Asylum Riverhouse (1110 N. Old World Third St.). Nearly all 16 taps are occupied by beers from the Madison brewery (Riverhouse isn’t an official offshoot, but it does have a licensing agreement with Ale Asylum). The tap handles of standards like Bedlam! and Ambergeddon sit next to harder-to-find brews like Phantasm and Pantheon. The two bars in the space also have an impressive list of more than 70 scotch, bourbon and whiskey varieties. Dozens of tables provide ample space for Bradley Center pregaming and for sampling the menu – lobster hush puppies anyone? Visiting Madison is never a bad idea, but if you plan to go there to hang out at the Ale Asylum brewery, save yourself the trip and head Downtown instead. (Dan Murphy)