Goldfinger, Sept. 9, 2017: Shows I’ll Never Forget

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Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “No. Shirley Bassey doesn’t sing with this band!” I knew that, but I also knew I could get a rise out of my friend Pete with the question as we drove to catch a set by Goldfinger.

My friend waxes philosophical: “These guys have been around for quite a while, but you don’t hear a lot about them because they don’t make headlines for the wrong reasons.” And true, instead of fame for tabloid fodder, Goldfinger is known for revitalizing the ska genre in the 1990s. Even so, the band has always rejected being limited to any musical niche, and last Saturday’s Milwaukee set was as punk of a show as I’ve encountered in a while.

John Feldmann is Goldfinger’s frontman, singer, and guitarist. Two things are clear from note one: This is Feldmann’s band, and he has come to incite a party. Feldmann knows that the audience is there to decompress, and he is happy to show the way. Leading group stomps, choreographed leaps, and singalongs of Goldfinger’s most popular tunes made Feldmann an extension of the crowd.

After performing the song “Get Up,” early in the set, Feldmann showed his audience-member mindset by shouting: “All the rest of the songs tonight are old ones!” Goldfinger then kicked through “Superman” and “Here in Your Bedroom.” For “Mable,” Feldmann pointed to a few specific audience members and invited them onto the stage; then he widened the invitation to anybody who knew the words to Goldfinger’s song. I counted about 45 people surrounding the quartet. And yes, they were singing.

The interaction went both ways, for at one point John Feldmann leaped backwards into the standing devotees who happily bodysurfed him around the hall and then safely back to the stage. Feldmann knew his audience, and he showed keen awareness for his band’s history with Milwaukee. He said that Goldfinger had played this same venue three times before, beginning in 1996 when they opened for a Sex Pistols reunion show. He apologized to the appreciative audience for not having been back in town since 2002.

Feldmann was the focal point of the night, but this was not a solo show. Goldfinger has been through many line-ups, and Feldmann is now the band’s only original member. Even so, he was repeatedly generous in giving credit to his band mates.

The introduction to bassist Mike Herrera took an unexpected route that included acorns and advice on fisting. Feldmann then had the crowd chanting Herrera’s name as if at a soccer match. Only once did Feldmann stop his gleaming showmanship: When he introduced his longtime friend, guitarist Philip Sneed. Feldmann was sincere with genuine appreciation when he announced that Sneed is a cancer survivor and remains free of the malady. The leader immediately regained his composure as he led the audience in the repeated chant, “Fuck Cancer!”

The most unexpected member of the quartet on this night was a surprise to the band itself. Feldmann told the crowd that their drummer Travis Barker was unable to get to Milwaukee because of flights cancelled by Hurricane Irma. Goldfinger’s manager had suggested they cancel the gig, but Feldmann was resolute that they would not. They found a drummer by the name of Aric Improta, and he learned the band’s show in a single day! John Feldmann was clearly amazed at Improta’s abilities as he repeatedly introduced him to the audience and gave him a couple of impromptu drum solos between numbers.

Some of Goldfinger’s songs have intricate time shifts and double bar stops. Improta never faltered. In fact, at one point Feldmann said that their ad hoc drummer would lay out on one of their more complicated numbers because they hadn’t had time to rehearse it together. But with some visual cues from bandmate Sneed, Improta’s drums came in, as if on cue, for the second verse. Feldmann was obviously pleased, and I was extremely impressed.

But I stand corrected. The drummer was not the most unexpected musician on stage that night. After the third song, a man wearing a jaunty golf cap and carrying a trombone walked to a microphone and started soloing. This, we learned, was Billy Kottage of the band Reel Big Fish. Feldmann had helped get Reel Big Fish a record deal in the 1990s, and band members have been loyal ever since. Kottage came and went during the 11-song set, and added a bit of diversity to an already strong show.

Known for their unexpected cover versions, Goldfinger did not disappoint in Milwaukee, reinterpreting the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” and their regular concert closer, Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” I would have welcomed a few more that they are known to play, such as the Spiral Staircase’s “More Today Than Yesterday,” the Who’s “The Kids are Alright,” or Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” But considering that the band was almost forced to cancel, I was happy to experience Goldfinger on an unusual, but undeniably special night.

Tom Wilmeth is the author of ‘Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,’ which has earned raves from the likes of Gary Burton and Hal Holbrook. It’s available now from Muleshoe Press via Amazon.


Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth

Tom Wilmeth, an English faculty member at Concordia University-Wisconsin since 1991, has given presentations and published widely on the topics of literature and music. Author of 'Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening,' he earned a Ph.D. at Texas A&M in College Station. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Wilmeth
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