Two fistfuls of fury from We Should Have Been DJs and New Primals

Thursday, January 16, Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m., free.

Thursday, January 16, Mickey’s Tavern, 10 p.m., free. Info

Image: We Should Have Been DJs. Photo by Alex Mitchard.

Madison band We Should Have Been DJs pulled off a heroically raggedy feat on last year’s album Side A, which ranked among our top 20 Madison records of 2019. Mike Pellino and Alex Mitchard’s frantic, tangled guitar hooks power unapologetically melodic punk songs that reflect viscerally on suffering, struggle, and alienation (“Prizefighter,” “Grow”) and, on “Red Hotel,” call out the impact of gentrification on Madison’s music community. And Side A turns the band’s tormented emo into very much a communal affair, thanks to the powerful guest vocals a bunch of other local musicians piled on top of the core members’ vocals across all seven tracks. Especially on the refrain of “Red Hotel”—”If you wait for it to happen / You’ll wait for it forever”—the guest vocalists sound at once like game collaborators and fans caught up in the throes of an earnest singalong, crashing through inhibitions to attain a state of vulnerable yet joyous connection.


Pellino and Mitchard, along with drummer and Erik Fredine and bassist/vocalist Drew Ferguson, also know how to pull back and create quiet, aching passages between the moments of full-throated purging. “Prizefighter” builds up with an understated but tense bass line, as the two guitarists work around each other in flickering figures before pulling together in a restless groove. In the middle of Side A‘s closing track, “Grow,” WSHBDJs shift right from wounded fury to a slower-moving passage of ringing guitars and gauzy reverb. But even then, the band doesn’t sacrifice its rough edges, piling on a few final group screams and triumphant cymbal bashes. 

Headlining this show is Minneapolis trio New Primals, who wrap the jagged chords and menacing vocals of noise-rock around particularly tight and syncopated structures. On “Death Hoax,” from the band’s 2017 EP Wraith, drummer Andrew Kurtz and bassist Eric Nordling create rhythms that expertly ride the line between precision and chaos, all of it under guitarist/vocalist Sam Frederick’s unhinged grunts. “Modern Lover,” the first single from the forthcoming album Horse Girl Energy (with new drummer Lars Oslund and vocalist Ali Terveen), takes more of a staggering, off-centered approach, giving Frederick’s guitar and Nordling’s bass a chance to stretch out into queasy but impressive spirals of dissonance. Madison punk outfit Black Cat rounds out the bill here.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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