If someone asked me who the hottest band in Milwaukee was right now, I would, without much hesitation, say GGOOLLDD. My decisiveness on the matter mostly came about in the last week.
The lead up
It began last Saturday night, not with a GGOOLLDD show that I saw, but one I didn’t see. The Milwaukee synthpop quintet was playing a prime closing set at Company Brewing, a show that was part of Arte Para Todos (an invigorating 3-day local music festival with all proceeds going to school art programs in Milwaukee). GGOOLLDD was slotted to go on at 10:30 p.m. I knew I had to at least arrive somewhat early as the local band has been a popular draw for a while now, in fact, almost the entire time they’ve been playing shows, going back to October 2013.
Ultimately, I decided on arriving 40 minutes early. Needless to say, when I showed up, the relatively large bar venue was already at capacity. The show, in essence, was sold out. A line had started to form at the door of people hoping to enter as others exited. This line would then go on to wrap around the building. All this happened in 15 degree weather, with other acclaimed local acts playing just blocks away at venues that were also part of Arte Para Todos. The thought of fans lining up outside a sold-out venue, in hopes of catching a local band, is almost unheard of in Milwaukee.
The second tipoff of GGOOLLDD’s prevalence came to me on Monday. My brother Michael, who lives near Rockford, Illinois, posted GGOOLLDD’s hit single “Gold” on my facebook wall, accompanied by the question, “Are these guys blowing up the Milwaukee music scene?”
Coming off of the sold-out scene Saturday night, I had to agree. When I followed up with Michael on how he heard about GGOOLLDD, he said he caught the song playing at a bar in Rockford. He liked it, didn’t know who it was, and identified it as GGOOLLDD’s “Gold” through Shazam.
Now, Rockford isn’t terribly far from Milwaukee, but it also isn’t Riverwest, or Bay View, or the eastside or any other neighborhood in Milwaukee where the majority of fandom for local acts lives and thrives. Of course, there are a fair amount of Milwaukee bands that have garnered attention throughout the Midwest, and, on a national scale, but I can’t think of any that did so while only having five formally released songs.
GGOOLLDD at Tonic Tavern
Having learned my lesson, I arrived very early Wednesday night to see GGOOLLDD play Tonic Tavern, a more intimate and low-key bar venue. I was there an hour before the opener, and the crowd was already starting to fill in. The layout at Tonic is sort of an awkward V-shape, with the stage tucked into the upper left tip of the V and the bar anchoring at the base. Therefore anyone wishing to see the band perform would have to overload on the left side of the bar. GGOOLLDD’s bassist, Nick Ziemann, also bartends at Tonic, and like any old Wednesday, he was slinging drinks prior to the band setting up (he would also return to behind the bar shortly after GGOOLLDD’s set).
Late-addition opener, Eagle Trace, kicked the night off with a spirited garage-rock performance. The lead PR note on Eagle Trace is that they’re a quintet made up of four brothers, the Borgardts, and a friend, Broderick Coning; Lead singer Mitch Borgardt reeled lyrics off with a nonchalant intensity while youngest brother, Cass Borgardt, powered behind the drums with an impressive Super Bowl-or-bust concentration. Most notably, the five-piece band played hungry, and that is still the most attractive and natural characteristic a young band can have.
It didn’t seem like the bar was quite at capacity on a Wednesday night, but when GGOOLLDD took the stage, the left side of Tonic was jammed full. From what I heard and saw, the crowd included: friends of the band, fans, fans that knew members of the band, fellow Milwaukee musicians, GGOOLLDD first-timers, and even one guy wearing a GGOOLLDD t-shirt. Across all those groups were people who wanted to dance.
The set kicked off with an extended jam that led into the synth pulsating “Bling Ring.” The dance pit in front of the stage was ignited. The momentum carried into the rousing anthem “Younger Days,” also off of GGOOLLDD’s excellent debut EP, $TANDARD$. At this time, GGOOLLDD frontwoman Margaret Butler stepped off the modest stage and joined the dance pit, the first of several crowd interactions.
During a break in the music, guitarist Tony Hunt mentioned how it was special to play Tonic because that was where he met Ziemann, and then in turn met Butler, as her and Ziemann are a couple. Much of the rest of the band first came together at Tonic as well, and there was a sort of homecoming vibe in the room prior to the band’s soon departure for SXSW.
With any band that incorporates a lot of synths and electronics into their music, there is always some skepticism of how the songs will transfer into a live show. Hunt, who is the anchor behind much of GGOOLLDD’s arrangements and sound recordings, appeared to keep a constant awareness on the overall instrumental output. At times, some of the newer tracks and demos lacked cohesiveness, and a few times it seemed a backing track mistakenly started out of nowhere. Of course, this is to be expected when a newer band with a small catalog is trying to fill out a headlining slot. With that said, the stomping “Dance 2” demo was a catchy highlight and showed promise.
Latest single, “Boyz” received an enthusiastic reception. One of the dancers featured in the song’s video was present in the crowd and the band invited him on stage, and that got everyone pumped. Buzz-sparking single “Gold” followed shortly after but not before a synth-tinted cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic “Dreams.”
Altogether, the set was fun and energetic. It may come as no surprise, but the catalyst to the live show, as well as the GGOOLLDD brand, is frontwoman Margaret Butler. She embodies a personable, engaging stage presence while also projecting an ability to control the room. At times, Butler would hold her mic in her right hand while stretching the mic cord out wide with her left. The power stance, as it was, was as eerie glimmer of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s front lady, Karen O. The stance, along with Butler’s custom outfit, elegant face paint design, and overall playful stage dominance, definitely kicked up a comparison of the two more than once.
Next week GGOOLLDD travels down to SXSW. Going off of what I’ve seen from the band thus far, I think they have the potential to make a strong impression on the crowds they play to. They won’t be the most talented band there, I don’t even think they’re the most talented band in Milwaukee. But what GGOOLLDD has is something that may be more valuable in its own right. They’re a band that embodies an immediate engagement, powered behind catchy, fun, danceable songs. GGOOLLDD knows how to throw a party, and SXSW definitely appreciates a good party.