Band T-Shirts I’ve Loved and Envyed — Tone Madison

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If I could have a closet of cartoon characters with 80 of the same outfit, that would be fine. I’m at peace with being the dull little cube-shaped thing that I am. Still, I enjoy wearing band T-shirts. I can wear a good tattered one, and the Madison-based artists have created many memorable designs. I don’t really need a stranger on the street to know I like a band, but it’s an easy solution to the dressing problem and a way to spend a few extra bucks to support the music I ‘love.

The newest in my closet comes from Tubal Cain. Josh Stuewer’s ornate arcane ritual scene is printed in red on a plain yellow shirt. The ketchup and mustard color palette is strong and alludes to the sense of humor around the edges of the band’s unwavering black-metal swagger.

Speaking of condiments, a few years ago Proud Parents ingeniously released a T-shirt designed by Matt Chicorel and featured a bunch of corn dogs, along with a shiny splash of ketchup or mustard. If you’re a clumsy person like me, who always dribble bits of food and drink all over your clothes, then a shirt like this is your friend.

The shirts I’ve collected from artists connected to Madison over the years range from playful and simple to self-referential and high concept. A black and white Willy Street Chamber Players shirt tastefully incorporates an old map of the isthmus. A newer one, for the Supa Friends hip-hop outfit, reads “SUPA!” in beautiful plump bubble letters. Rapper and singer Trapo accompanied his 2017 song “Blue Shirt” with a blue shirt that says “BLUE SHIRT” on it; the actual name of the artist appears only in very small text at the bottom of the front. Powerful post-hardcore band Pony released a shirt years ago that appeared to show an amp with the base of the Christmas story leg lamp. The United Sons Of Toil, a noise-rock band whose songs raged against atrocities and injustices, created a shirt that simply showed a timeline of genocides throughout history.

Most band shirts are limited run deals. Sometimes you miss. My biggest regret in this department is never having received a shirt that Madison’s post-punk/metal band, Zebras, was selling over a decade ago. On the underside of the shirt is a reclining cat with its belly exposed and front legs crossed. The wearer could theoretically pat their belly and thus pat the cat’s belly, without risking the dreaded claw trap springing out. Synthesizer/singer Zebras Lacey Smith designed it as a parody of Santana’s debut album cover. Dash Hounds also had a very cute one that I didn’t catch in time, with a gracefully rendered dachshund.

It’s a shame, but it’s also good that these shirts mark a moment, finished, not infinitely printed on demand. At some point, the artist decided to go with a particular design, and maybe that allowed them to express something beyond what’s in the music. Or it was just a little extra fun that hopefully brought in some extra cash too.

Group t-shirts aren’t the only thing that captures a sense of loving local connection, of course. B-Side recently reprized a classic shirt with a design by cartoonist PS Mueller: a smiling stegosaurus in headphones and sunglasses. Queer and Indigenous tattoo shop giige also recently launched a line of shirts featuring the work of its resident artists. Mar Gosselar’s “precursor” design is particularly stunning. These are things that even the utilitarian dressers among us can expect to wear.

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