When one thinks of superb Midwestern rock 'n roll, it's likely that Cheap Trick, Wilco, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Promise Ring, Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins and even Rise Against might grace many a well-informed Best Of list. Indeed, every major city throughout this slice of America seems to boast communities that have gone on to produce some of finest music our generation has to offer, and chances are extremely high that any band lucky enough to find themselves part of the Milwaukee scene at any point during the past decade crossed paths with The Response at least once. Formed in the early years of the millennium by a team of seasoned Milwaukee music veterans, those Best Of lists need save room for one more outstanding entry, if for no other reason than their final show ever.
Not long after their Cactus Club debut in early 2002, The Response was quick to tap into the early days of that tightly-knit scene, one in which anyone could find a high-quality rock concert nearly any night of the week at any number of venues. It wasn't long before this lively group found an appreciative audience for their energetic stage show and excellent cache of songs, both of which led to the band playing the area on a regular basis, hitting the road for a number of national tours and even sharing the stage with such genre heroes as Hey Mercedes, Sugarcult, Motion City Soundtrack, Story of the Year and Braid on more than one occasion. Thanks to a signing with local indie label Latest Flame and eventual partnership with Illinois-based Action Heights Records, the group only continued to gain new fans as the years passed, eventually releasing a well-received full-length in 2007 to follow-up their stunning debut The Six EP.
The natural progression of time saw all four band members devoting more time to other interests, be it family, work, or other such endeavors, but every so often The Response would come forth from their respective lives for a show or two, always managing to turn a few heads and win over a few new faces with their consistently powerful ability to perform. Despite the absence of activity from the group, their announcement of a final show on March 31st, 2012, nearly ten years after they first graced the stage together, was still met with collective sadness and a wave of sentimentalism from those that faithfully followed the band over the years. Furthermore, after it was revealed that their swan song was to be held at that same venue where they made their impressive introduction a decade earlier, the Cactus Club, it truly seemed that the band had come full circle.
Needless to say, the show on March 31st not only lived up to this statement, but exceeded it in ways one can't possible imagine.
With an opening set by Bosio, a band that's seen its own share of success over the years and a brotherhood with The Response following early tours together, the night kicked off much like a plutonium-fueled DeLorean, seemingly accelerating the packed house back in time with a blistering list of songs that appropriately set a nostalgic tone for the evening. A surprise announcement before their final song, "Take The Roses, " this this was, in all likelihood, Bosio's last show as well, served to crank up the emotions as the band finished, truly leaving it all onstage.
After whats seemed like a moment, The Response soon took to the helm of the Cactus Club amidst a darkened room, suddenly thrusting the audience forward from 2002 into the present-truly, the time had come, and with the opening chords of, "Becky Slater for President, " the first track off The Six EP, this beloved Milwaukee rock staple began what would unquestionably become their finest show of all time.
If one came looking for classics, rare tunes and even an ironic cover or two, the show on March 31st offered an overflowing basket of gems bound to please hardcore fans and even those who had never before heard of a band called The Response. Frontman Steve Kerwin never sounded better, superbly belting out the lyrics to songs like, "Start, " and, "Snowflakes, " two other uptempo rockers off The Six EP that, in addition to the pounding, "If You Only Knew, " probably hadn't been heard in a setting like this for ages.
Much of the latter realization had to do with a reunion between the band and former drummer Jesus Zuniga, who parted ways with the group in 2007 and was soon replaced by former Since By Man drummer Jon Kraft for the next several years. Having Zuniga holding it all together again with the same hard-hitting beats that gave the band muscle during its salad years only furthered the euphoric experience both crowd and band appeared to be having. A simple glance around the room at any time revealed a sea of smiles at any given point, more often than not seen on the faces of The Response. This, naturally, translated to an almost endless burst of energy which resulted in a bouncing, wall-jumping, headbanging show complete with more than one launch off the bass drum by bassist Michael Blanchard and a few wicked guitar swings by backing vocalist/guitarist Peter Rogers.
Though the set largely devoted time to older tunes, like, "Until Then, " the first song the band ever wrote together, many numbers off their 2007 full-length With Friends Like You, Who Needs Enemies? found their way onto the setlist time and again, breathing new life into the killer eponymous title track (which even featured a guest drum performance by Kraft), and crowd-pleasers like, "War of the Roses, " "…I'm Lloyd Dober, " and, "Alright, Who Wants A Mustache Ride? " all songs which had been standards in the band's catalog of rock long before the release of the album. There wasn't a thought running amongst the crowd suggesting this was anything but a comprehensive look back, peppered by the always entertaining between song banter by Kerwin, Rogers and Blanchard. Stories were shared, laughs were uttered and the tears certainly began to materialize as the show came to a close, but not before kicking into a few bars of the Guns N' Roses masterpiece, "November Rain, " to end the evening with an audience nearly begging for more.
Unfortunately, all we have now are the memories, perfectly displayed as, "We Are The Champions, " came on the PA the instant those final notes rung out. As heard during the chorus of another track off The Six EP, "Blank Stares, " Kerwin's chorus of, "Remember me, " definitely holds true to this show, a night both those onstage and off will never forget, a beautiful end to a beautiful band, a group that somehow managed to remind all those in attendance of a time when shows like this weren't just frequent, they were the norm, and the crowds loved every minute of it.
On that final evening in March of 2012, Milwaukee was able to love The Response one final time.