There’s nothing quite like the smeary ink stamps and thick Sharpie Xs haphazardly tattooed onto the hands of myself and fellow under-21 concertgoers. With an occasional warning from a bouncer telling me not to wash my hands until the ink dries, I’m pretty used to the fine art tradition of hand stamping. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one showing off some fresh ink Thursday night at High Noon Saloon, where the Minnesotan band Bad Bad Hats opened for Seattle natives Hey Marseilles.
While I’d like to say my friends and I stood front row during both performances, we were slightly barricaded by piles of winter coats lining the stage: a true mark of a concert during a Wisconsin winter. The hill of jackets continued to rise as Bad Bad Hats took the stage, capturing the attention of the growing crowd. The members of the indie-rock band, composed of lead singer Kerry Alexander, bassist Noah Boswell and drummer Chris Hoge, all met at Macalester College in Minnesota. Bad Bad Hats released their first EP It Hurts in early 2013, followed by their debut LP Psychic Reader in July 2015, under the Minnesota label Afternoon Records.
“I feel like [going from the EP to the LP] is different, but I don’t really feel like we approached it too differently, at least I didn’t from a songwriting perspective,” Alexander said. “A lot of the songs on it were written around the time that the EP was written. I just think we had more tools at our disposal, we were working with a producer, so that was helpful. We had more to work with, to make our sound bigger.”
Their second stop of a 21-concert tour with Hey Marseilles, the band is traveling the country in a Toyota minivan with upcoming shows throughout the Midwest, New York, and a Valentine’s Day show in Chattanooga.
“Making music is fun, and playing shows is fun, but there’s nothing like crawling into a warm minivan at the end of the night, knowing that sleep is coming soon,” Alexander said about tour life. “It’s a comforting space to me now.”
Alexander entertained Thursday’s crowd with anecdotes of a past Madison show, where the crowd was more excited over a fisherman catching a fish in the background than of the live performance. This time around, Bad Bad Hats didn’t seem to have any problems as the crowd nodded and tapped their feet along to the band’s catchy beats and lyrics. The band played a mix of songs off the EP and LP, and energized the audience with a couple new, unreleased tracks.
Bad Bad Hats’ powerful vocals and enticing lyrics mixed with strong drum beats and intricate melodies provided the perfect transition for Hey Marseilles to take the stage. The band demonstrated their musical diversity, keeping the audience on their toes as they switched from slower songs featuring soft guitar melodies to upbeat songs, full of maracas and fast tempos.
Hey Marseilles perfectly fit the genre of chamber-pop music, as the six-piece band crowded the entire stage with an eclectic spectrum of instruments including guitars, two keyboards, a cello, drums and a viola. Lead singer Matt Bishop perfectly delivered lyrics as member Samuel Anderson switched from playing bass to cello mid-song, without missing a beat. The band seamlessly transitioned from genre to genre, sounding like a full orchestra one moment to indie rock just seconds later.
The group played old tunes and songs off their latest self-titled album, giving a shout out to their homeland of Washington through the song “West Coast.” Bishop joked with the crowd between songs about the low temperatures of Wisconsin, but how nice and happy Midwesterners always seem to be. Crowd members started singing along to Hey Marseilles’ cover of the late David Bowie song “Heroes,” performing a stripped-down rendition that the group put their own, honorable spin on. The audience broke out into applause, cheers and eardrum-shattering whistles after Hey Marseilles performed their final song, continuing until the band came out and performed two additional songs.
While I spent the rest of my post-concert night scrubbing my under-21 stamped hands, hoping the ink would fade before a 10 a.m. job interview, it was clear through Thursday’s passionate performances that Bad Bad Hats and Hey Marseilles aren’t fading away anytime soon.