It might have been the biggest venue upgrade ever for a Milwaukee concert.
When Lovejoy announced a Milwaukee show three months ago, it was scheduled to be in the Pabst Theater Group's 300-person-capacity Back Room at Colectivo Coffee. It was a logical booking, considering this was the British band's first U.S. tour; they have yet to release a full-length album, and none of their songs to date have ended up on the Billboard Hot 100, or even the top 10 on the rock charts.
But tickets sold out so fast that the concert moved to a venue with more than eight times the capacity of the Back Room, the 2,500-seat Riverside Theater. Even there, the show sold out swiftly, becoming, as frontman Wilbur Soot said from the Riverside stage Saturday, the biggest show the band has played so far.
How did Lovejoy pull this off? It certainly helped that 26-year-old frontman Soot, real name William Gold, has a built-in fan base. After developing a following as part of the team behind the comedy YouTube channel SootHouse seven years ago, he found even more success branching out with his own channel (he has 6.32 million followers). He also has one of the most popular channels on Twitch, with 4.7 million followers on that streaming platform, where he largely plays "Minecraft" and creates story lines, settings and characters on the roleplay-oriented Dream SMP server. With an online fan base of millions, Soot started sharing original music in 2018; Lovejoy was formed three years later.
Lovejoy and Soot may not have so much live show experience behind them, but Soot's charming, funny online personality translated well in real life. For the grand entrance of Lovejoy's 75-minute set Saturday, set to a piece of Sergio Leone's epic score for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," Soot, feigning unconsciousness, was carried onto the stage by two roadies and plopped on the ground in front of the mic stand, while another roadie brought over his electric guitar and dropped it on his torso.
Later, when a fan gave him a cheesehead — one of several gifts tossed on stage during the night, including a pillow and a stuffed cat — Soot didn't just put it on for some quick applause, but violently wavered the foam over his noggin, like he was a Marvel hero fighting some sort of invisible forcefield.
A recurring "Monty Python"-esque sight gag with a roadie, who kneeled every time he presented Soot a guitar, sent up Soot's ego, although he later got some laughs through winning self-deprecation recalling the time he bombed a rare live performance of his early career solo song "Your Sister Was Right." (There were feedback problems for a new attempt Saturday, alas, but Soot was swell on vocals and acoustic guitar.)
Soot couldn't sell out the Riverside on fame and personality alone. As "Your Sister Was Right" and 15 other tracks performed Saturday demonstrated, Lovejoy makes some catchy, fun music.
Sure, their sound is nothing revolutionary, nakedly drawing from multiple indie-rock bands from their homeland. "Model Buses," a satiric jab at former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was powered Saturday by tightly wound, revved-up guitar riffs highly reminiscent of Bloc Party, with a dollop of Smiths-like yearning tossed in. And for the climactic, back-to-back performances of "The Fall" and "Portrait of a Blank Slate," Soot's vocal delivery resembled the cool, borderline croon of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, in between bursts of aggressive rock adrenaline more in line with Foals.
While Lovejoy's discography thus far doesn't possess much musical originality, the songs performed live Saturday were an electrifying reminder of how much fun indie rock and post-punk was when it was a dominating force in the early aughts. And Lovejoy clearly was having a lot of fun playing these songs, with lead guitarist Joe Goldsmith and bassist Ash Kabosu dropping down to their knees during "You'll Understand When You're Older," and powerhouse drummer Mark Boardman spinning his sticks between his fingers between smash attacks on the kit for their wrecking ball of a finale, "Concrete."
The music's a blast, but it's Soot's clever and specific lyrics that are quickly becoming Lovejoy's calling card. And they remained a focal point Saturday, whether he was mulling over a lover's passive-aggressive nose wrinkle on "Taunt," taking another lover back even after she killed his cat for "One Day" or likening another lover's smiling, crushing exchange to a guillotine during "Warsaw," the music cutting out so the damning final lyrics, "She hopes to God that I just choke," rang out.
That last song came out on the "Wake Up & It's Over" EP just two weeks ago, but most of the fans in the packed theater, largely teen women, passionately belted out every word to every song. So while Lovejoy played for its biggest audience yet in Milwaukee, that clearly won't be the case for long.
.@Lovejoy was booked to play the 300-capacity Back Room on their debut U.S. tour. Demand was so huge it moved to the 2,500-seat Riverside Theater, and still sold out. This was their biggest audience yet. It won’t be that way for long. My review: https://t.co/NokRfCGrY9 pic.twitter.com/xF5LacoSQC
— Piet Levy (@pietlevy) May 28, 2023
Three takeaways from Lovejoy's Milwaukee concert, including openers Crywank and Spilly Cave
The night’s second opener Crywank — aka Manchester native Jay Clayton (minus, Saturday, his drummer Daniel Watson) — had a confession. Between the anxiety he felt ahead of playing for more people than ever before, and in celebration of his birthday Saturday, he had some drinks before stepping onto the stage for his half-hour set. “Because it is my birthday, if this is the worst thing you’ve ever heard, you have to pretend you like it,” Crywank told the crowd, half-joking. No pretending necessary. His lyrics, aside from an occasional endearing oddball, like a tune requested from a fan via Twitter about a lizard and a sock falling in love, are nakedly direct. As Crywank sang, and frequently screamed, through songs about his anxiety and sadness, the crowd found connection and catharsis screaming along with him. They felt such a kinship that when Clayton was tuning his guitar the crowd burst out into a "Happy Birthday" singalong. Lovejoy had their own present, too: The four members of the band walked out on stage after Crywank's set to give Clayton a cake, which he took a bite out of, no fork at his disposal. Crywank this week announced a June 29 show at the Cactus Club. Don't be surprised if it sells out soon following Saturday's set.
“This is insane to us,” Billy Cave, stage name Spilly Cave, said halfway through the night’s first set. It wasn't just the crowd size that blew his mind, but the rapturous response they received, the sort typically reserved for a beloved headliner. It’s possible some knew the Pennsylvanian artist, who has amassed more than 40,000 followers on TikTok, but it’s more likely the majority didn’t know anything about them. But there was a lot to admire, from Cave’s goofy, grinning personality to the crunchy Mac DeMarco-inspired stoner rock (albeit often with an accelerated tempo), led by Cave’s interchangeably sharp and spaced-out guitar licks and three equally talented musicians backing him up.
In my nearly 20 years reviewing concerts in Milwaukee, I’ve never seen a merch line as wild as the one for Lovejoy on the upper level at the Riverside Saturday. It started in the lobby by the hallway into the left side of the theater, snaked all the way across the lobby to the other side, then moved into the hallway into the actual theater before making a sharp turn back out of the theater and back again into the lobby. One fan I talked with, who was next up for the register at the time, told me she had waited in line at least an hour. Honestly, the show probably should have moved up again to the Pabst’s 4,000-seat Miller High Life Theatre, which has significantly more lobby space for merch stands. Bet Lovejoy could have sold that venue out, too.
Lovejoy's Riverside Theater set list
"Call Me What You Like"
"Cause For Concern"
"It's Golden Hour Somewhere"
"Your Sister Was Right"
"You'll Understand When You're Older"
"Portrait of a Blank Slate"
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Lovejoy is going to be huge. A sold-out Milwaukee concert showed why.