Rat 'n’ Roll with Ratboys, Ducks Ltd. and Work Wife

Ratboys at the Rathskeller

You can always count on the Memorial Union to come through with a stacked free show at the Rathskeller. Chicago’s Ratboys touring behind the Chris Walla -produced “The Window” album, Toronto’s Ducks Ltd. and a late addition to the bill, Work Wife, all contributing to the synergy of the evening. This show could have easily sold out the High Noon Saloon or Majestic Theatre.

Hoping to secure a seat, we arrived early to find a full Rathskeller with all the tables occupied. So much for our plan of attack. The weather on this Saturday had been excellent and it looks like a large group of people had been enjoying the Terrace earlier in the day. It’s always good to see punk poet Thax Douglas on hand to provide prose accommodated introductions in a very organic semi-MC role. I see him all over town from Mickey’s Tavern to Live on King Street.

Brooklyn’s Work Wife started off the night. The folk-rock infused foursome led by lead vocalist/guitarist Meredith Lampe evoke a melancholy vibe that draws you in and never lets go. The band’s new EP “Waste Management” had just been released the day before and you could tell they were excited. A local connection with Work Wife as former Madison resident Kenny Monroe contributes heavily to the group. Kenny wasn’t in this touring edition lineup keeping the home fires burning back in Brooklyn with a full-time job. You may recall Kenny’s Madison band Pioneer from the early 2010s. He was a major supporter of the now defunct Project Lodge in his time here. You know it’s going to be a good night when the opening band knocks it out of the park like Work Wife. Hopefully the band can come back with Kenny in tow? Check out our favorite track “Strangers” off the new EP.

Work WifeWork Wife

“So this is Badger Nation?” proclaimed. Ducks LTD. guitarist Tom McGreevy, addressing the capacity crowd who abandoned the rathskeller tables, surging toward the stage. McGreevy and his partner lead guitarist Evan Lewis front a four-piece outfit that has critics tagging them as “Jangle Pop.” I’m lukewarm to generic labels. If you need to make a comparison, R.E.M. and Real Estate come to mind. Treble-heavy electric guitars and open chords backed by solid bass and drums, The intensity of the lyrics contrast with the sweetness of the soaring rhythm.

“Train Full of Gasoline” challenges the listener referring to a Canadian rail disaster that resulted from the cumulative effect of small errors. A metaphor for self-destructive life patterns that can manifest themselves in places you don’t expect if ignored. A heavy message indeed. Introspective thoughts with an upbeat soundtrack describes Ducks Ltd. The crowd cheered in approval as the band’s set loaded with tracks from the new album “Harms Way.” Produced by Chicago indie rock scenester Dave Vettrainowith, McGreevy and Lewis graduated from recording in their Toronto basement on previous releases to a collaborative effort.

The bespectacled McGreevy looked like he could pass as a UW graduate student contemplating life’s challenges channeled through his Fender amp. “I saw a group of cadettes as I walked into the building and then turned the corner into a Bavarian beer hall,” commented McGreevy on the Memorial Union. “If we had this back home, I would have stayed in school and gotten a PhD!”

Ratboys’ drummer Marcus Nuccio joined the band for the finale of the set playing tambourine. As the Ducks LTD. train came to a stop to loud cheers, the Rathskeller crew hustled on stage to help move equipment in anticipation for the Ratboys.

Ducks Ltd.

I’m standing up in front of the low-level stage and turn around to see an ocean of people all the way to the back of the room. This will be fun! You could feel the surge of energy building in the crowd as Julia Steiner strapped on her Flying V guitar. The band kicks in to “Making Noise for the Ones You Love” the first of six songs off the new album. Wearing a pullover cap with “White Sox” blazoned across the top, Steiner makes sure you know the band’s home base is Chicago. The hint of a countryish Appalachian drawl in her voice reveals that she grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, later on attending the University of Notre Dame, before moving to the Windy City. “Elvis is in the Freezer,” an early track about Steiner’s cat, that helped put the band on the map, jumps out at you in a much more upbeat way than on the recording.

Ratboys are definitely much rawer live than on record with a guitar edge that prompted someone to scream “Rock ‘n’ Roll!” between songs. Even the jam band spirited “Black Earth, WI,” written after a trip to “House on the Rock,” has this incredible solo by lead guitarist Dave Sagan. Ever the pro, he broke a string mid-song and managed to smoothly switch guitars, tune-up and still pull off the lead break.

You can tell the band tour has been going well with new opportunities popping up from the live show word of mouth. The just announced opening slot on the Decemberists forthcoming national tour was a fitting reward for the end to their run of dates with Ducks Ltd. Not bad for a band that’s been paying their dues for the last ten years and is ready to break out of the Midwest.

“Our last show here was on February 21, 2020 just before our first album was coming out,” explains Steiner. You could hear her sigh as she mentally recalled the musician nightmare of a world -wide pandemic shutting down your band tour for the album including a prime gig at SXSW. Local indie rockers Disq can relate.

Tonight, in Madison was the righteous finale to their current road trip with an enthusiastic audience that couldn’t get enough. Hey, everything works out if you maintain good karma. That’s Rat ‘n’ Roll.

Rat 'n' Roll

Ratboys setlist
Ratboys Setlist

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