Icarus Himself has spent the last two years in rock band purgatory, existing somewhere between being on-hiatus and broken-up. Now, one of Madison's most well-known rock outfits from the past decade has announced that it's calling it quits officially — but not before coming together for one last show.
The final curtain for the Madison trio — which garnered some national attention during its seven-year run thanks to its bright, meticulously crafted brand of synth rock — will fall at Mickey's Tavern at 10 p.m. Friday night, in a free show that will also feature the Eau Claire-based band The Heart Pills.
It's perhaps ironic that Icarus Himself is putting together a farewell performance now, considering that it more or less hung up its mantle back in 2014. In fact, they already staged a "final show" once before at Appleton's Mile of Music festival.
However, lead vocalist Nick Whetro ended up calling on Christenson and drummer Brad Kolberg earlier this year to meet up for a final show, again. The decision stemmed from the fact that Whetro was moving to Iowa City with his family, a major life change that would cement the end of the band.
And honestly? That other last show kind of stunk, said Whetro.
"Our last show was kind of a dud," he said. "It was in this dingy martini bar."
Kolberg said he was pleasantly surprised at Whetro's call for an eleventh-hour reunion. He said that the band has since been meeting up to go over their old set lists in preparation for the show, and that it's been fairly easy to fall back into their old groove.
"It was a little more like riding a bike than I'd have guessed," he said.
Christenson agreed: "It's been surprising how fast the songs came back. It's a little weird. It feels good actually."
Icarus Himself's began as the solo side project of Whetro in 2007, who at the time was singing for the local group the National Beekeepers Society. Eventually, he joined forces with Kolberg and Christenson, expanding Icarus Himself's palette to include baritone guitar, loop sampling and drums. The sound they began to create — a luscious, smoky, synth-infused sort of rock — ended up elevating the band's profile beyond the local level.
Some of the band's most popular music came off of its 2011 album, "Career Culture." Take "On Your Side": it's an upbeat rock groove featuring woozy guitars and a driving bassline, built on a foundation of piercing, shimmering synths.
The band also received some attention for "Digging Holes." On that track, a twinkly music box melody descends into a jaunty, brassy indie rock oompah tune. Christenson described the song as the band's favorite, and noted that they once were approached by a Los Angeles marketing firm to have the track featured in a marketing campaign for Facebook. (The band decided to make an "absurdly high" offer for the rights to the song, said Christenson, which promptly scared the company away.)
The trio went on national tour a couple of times, and recorded four albums. On top of that, they twice had the opportunity to record at Daytrotter studios — something that's seen as a rite of passage for many up-and-coming indie bands.
"I thought we attained this very modest level of success where we started to be on the radar," said Kolberg. "Like, we started not just being a local band."
The band's initial decision to pump the brakes stemmed from a number of reasons. For one thing, said Kolberg, the group had competing priorities like jobs and families that began to take precedence over the band.
On top of that, said Christenson, there were some feelings of frustration with the band's trajectory. Yes, the band had achieved a lot, all things considered — but Christenson said that they weren't anywhere close to where they wanted to be.
"We were pretty serious about 'making it' or whatever," he said.
Whetro in particular was feeling burned out. "We had put tons of times into booking tours ... and sometimes only two people would show up for shows," he said.
Kolberg said that the band's ambitions was part of what made it so special.
"For me, a big highlight was the ability to tour at all," he said. "I didn't think that was going to be part of my life."
Christenson said that he'll miss the experience of playing music with two of his best friends: "It was always a lot of fun — just the three of us, in a band, driving around in a van."