Sunday, March 02, 2014

Trudging through the snow with One Horse Towne

VMR_0014 by V'ron
VMGeorge shines at Linneman's_, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
When it's nasty cold like it has been, and you're as busy swamped as I am, getting out to see a band is kind of like going to the gym: you really have to work up the energy to do it (not to mention put on enough clots to brave the cold or the snow or whatever the Evil Vortex is going to slam at us), hope the car starts, find a parking place and get there. But, like going to the gym, once there I'm always glad I did it.

And so it goes for the CD release party for One Horse Towne, as OnMilwaukee.com called them, a "trio of veterans", (um, I counted four people on stage). I arrived in time to get the last third of opener Floor Model's set, and having seen Floor Model a couple of weeks ago anyway, I wasn't despondent that I didn't see the whole thing. This gave me time to actually schmooze a bit with the Floor Model guys OHT got ready to go.

If stage placement means anything, I guess you could say that One Horse Towne is "fronted" by George Mirales, a shamefully underrated/overlooked songwriter/guitarist who I've seen in various bands over the years. But this is a very well balanced band of (cliche coming up) Milwaukee alterna-veterans: Tom Tiedjens (do I even have to mention Those X Cleavers anymore?) on bass, Chris Lehmann (who I really wish was mixing the sound at Linneman's and that's all I'm going to say about that) on drums, and pretty much the Dean of Milwaukee Americana, Blaine Schultz, on guitar. Put those guys together, and I expected some jangly, rocking pop americana and that's what I got. But there was an extra layer of special something I couldn't pub my finger on, until my DH Brian leaned over and said to me, "You know what this reminds me of? Those early Frank Black and the Catholics albums!" That was it: melody and lyrically, wise, these are storytelling songs that may or may not be autobiographical, but the effortless musicality of those four guys made these songs pop with that something that made me stay in the room to hear it all despite the fact that I was simultaneous parched with thirst and increasingly worried about the falling snow. This is a good mix of guys who have known each other for years, have played together on-again, off-again too few times and in too few other incarnations, and should keep this lineup going.  They've got a good spark here.

I suspect the snow was keeping people away and only the hardcore fans stuck around for the last band, Dr Chow's Love Medicine, who used the time to try out some new songs on their faithful friends. It was a good Chow set, but I'd been up since six am, and that snow was getting even thicker, so after a couple of choruses of "Nina Hartley" and "Somebody Else" and a new tune or tow, I had to bid adieu.

Unfortunately, since I am married to the Dr Chow guitar player, and I therefore did not pay cover (which I had to explain to the doorman for the eighty somthingth time), I did not receive my complimentary copy of the CD they were promoting Saturday night so I didn't get the luxury of popping it in the car stereo to enjoy on the way home. So, here's the part where I need to yell at One Horse Towne to get with the program and make this thing downloadable though iTunes or Amazon or CD Baby or something. Because nowadays, as much as I'd like to be a vinyl or at least digital hardcopy snob, it's all i can do to just click "buy this album!" and have it in my ever-present iPod (not to mention in the Amazon and Google cloud!) rather than buy the CD, go home, load it into my computer, sync it to the iPod and then have it. That's too much work, guys. Driving in the snow at 12:30 am before the salt trucks were out on I-94 was hard enough. But as I said before, like going to the gym, I'm glad I did it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Which Jeff Beck Album Are You?

I'm getting sick of those Buzzfeed quizzes (which, truth be told, I end up doing anyway: I'm Capt Kirk, I should get stoned with James Franco,  and us girls had a bonding moment when I had to admit that I got Alanis Morisette in the "Which 90s Alt Rock Girl Are You?" quiz.)

 Swingin' with Mark
 Originally uploaded by V'ron.

But lately, I've had a lot of stuff going down in my life and my friends' lives, not to mention (skip this part if you're sick of us whining about the cold) this seemingly endless winter where bundling up and shoveling seems to be a Sisyphean task. When too much crap happens, I find the music of Jeff Beck to be equally soothing and inspring. No lyrics to get in the way to trigger tears or laughs or dregs of irony. Just really good guitar music, played passionately well, and a memory of a perfect evening in Champaign with best friends watching the There and Back tour. So when I decided to drag my butt out the other night (because I knew I really needed some live music instead of another episode of Star Trek TOS) all I could think of while watching the two bands I selected was a potential Buzzfeed quiz entitled "Which Jeff Beck Album Are You?"


He Danced with Every Girl But Me
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Let's start with the Best Westerns, a band I'm ashamed to admit I hadn't seen before. This is especially heinous since my friend and Loblolly drummer Andy Pagel has been with them a while, and he wears this western swing very well with them. (This isn't/wasn't his first western swing band, but its the first time I've seen this incarnation.) They were so fun, and swingy and delightful that you could almost overlook the techincal musical brilliance of the playing. Every song seemed to be punctuated with a mischievous grin, like the kids in the class who were up to something but were slippery enough to get away with whatever it was, feigning ignorance of the rules. But every person in this band had a chance to shine, and it was a standard western band lineup: standup bass wielded with ease by Opry-veteran Mark Hembree, whose laid back charm belied the fact that he's played for presidents; regular and lap steel guitars, violin, keys and a basic drum kit. They turn the saddest, most pathetic country tears into tears of joy:, keyboardist Anna Brinck's  song "He Danced With Every Girl But Me" had me grinning and giggling for a good five minutes, probably because even though she missed a dance with Him, she sang it with a raised eyebrow smile that revealed "I probably should be devastated, but honestly I kinda don't give a hoot."And Pagel finished off the set with an inspired drum solo that sounded like what would happen if Buddy Rich's car broke down in Tupelo and he got stuck playing at a honky tonk where they have "both kinds of music."
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Jeff Beck's Rock n Roll Party Honoring Les Paul"


in a darkly lit jazz room
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So Pagel sent me and my camera down the street to see "oh, John and Frank Calarco are doing some fusion thing at Dino's." That's all you had to say, dude. I've been a fan of both of them (mostly via Pagel!) but I rarely get to see those bros together. Trudged through the snow, fought my way through the crowd all the way to the back, planted myself in front of the band to wait for the magic. And they delivered. On one hand, you could tell they were making this up as they went along (bass player Andrew Toombs started this set by looking at the rest of the band and humming a funky tune and saying "you know that tune? let's do that" and off they were) and on the other hand, they were so precise and tight you'd have thought they'd rehearsed all month for this set. And if I wasn't already riveted by the swells of tempo and dynamic changes that they fell into each other like a well-worn pair of shoes, three songs into the set and they're covering Radiohead. (I've heard the Danglers do "The National Anthem" too.... is this turning into a prog-jazz staple or something?) Then, they follow up with some more wonderful funk prog/fusion jams, frosted with this keyboardist who's obviously heard of Jan Hammer, and then they put forth their take on that old jazz standard "Jealous Guy" (composer: J. Lennon) that started out melancholy and then triumphantly soared, rendering me joyfully speechless.
Which Jeff Beck Album: Some ultimate Box Set including:
  • John Calarco, drums, would be: "There and Back"
  • Andrew Toombs, keys, would be: "Live with the Jan Hammer Group" (duh!)
  • Frank Calarco, guitar: He would take this quiz twice, and get "Wired" and "Blow by Blow" on separate tries
  • Bryan Doherty, bass, would be: "Rough and Ready"

This week's Bukowski
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Last week was a stressful week and I just couldn't chance that an unknown band wouldn't cut the mustard. I had to go with a sure thing, and regular readers know that Floor Model is permanently on my list of never-disappoint-sure-things. I've written about them enough, but let's just say this week's execution of "Charles Bukowski" and its chorus of "Drink! Fight! Fuck! Write!" was the stiff glass of FML on the rocks I needed at the Circle A. Then I braved the snowy weather to get over to Kochanski's for a comfortable evening of Dr. Chow when the guilt set in. There was Lemonie Fresh, whose new band the Grovelers I had just missed. Worse, I ran into no less a trusted authority on excellent bands than Crazy Rocket Fuel's Ginny Wiskowski who assured me that the Grovelers were very very good. Coupled with the fact that Lemonie Fresh has great garage rock sensibilities, I really regretted missing their debut and they're on my "must see" list. Dr. Chow was terrific as usual: a nice weissbier chaser to the previous hard stuff Floor Model gave me.
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Truth."


Reuben on the keys
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
A couple of weeks earlier, I braved the cold to get out for a rare Trance and Dance Band sighting at Frank's Power Plant. Jerry Fortier's Trance and Dance band was one of the first bands I ever saw in Milwaukee, and their folky, haunting, rambling and hypnotic performances always do put me in a trance. Reuben Fortier is now firmly ensconced in the keyboard seat and I enjoyed weissbier in a can and reconnected with old friends while reconnecting with my Milwaukee musical roots. I still remember the first night I saw them and one of my companions had commented, "They're so good I don't want to tell anybody about them!" One could get easily burnt out on them, though, but a three year break? That's just a little too long for me.
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Emotion and Commotion"

Oh, by the way, I'm probably "Truth" as well. Either that, or "Beck Ola."

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Post of 2014-- let's wrap up Q4


A Trolley Christmas
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, let's squeeze out a blog post before starting 2014, (which will of course start with a resolution to write more). It's been a crazy personal year (which is why I've only posted 7 times!) but it's ending nicely. I get to brag about my daughter's Straight-A report card, I get to brag about my son's rockstart debut, and I still have a job. Hoo-Ha!

Let's start with bragging rights at Trashfest, which, I know, I know, was a month and a half ago. My friends dragged me and my guitar out of the basement to actually show up on a stage and, since we weren't sure whether or not Rob McCuen was actually up for appearing in a Jan Terri tribue band, Lemonie Fresh floated the idea of Sammy making his debut on drums. Suddenly my crazy gregarious little guy got shy. But, as I told him, you gotta get your first gig out of the way, and we agreed that Rob would drum most of the set, and he'd put Sammy on the floor toms for the last two songs, and that's how it would work. We practiced and rehearsed and I let him know how it was going to go.  Still, Sammy was, as his teacher Rob put it, "wound tighter than a tourniquet" that night.

So, I went through the motions with him:
The drummer before his gig.
getting a bite to eat at Oakland Gyros before the gig, hanging out backstage with all the other musicians in the green room, joking around, playing his part on the couch to warm up. We hit the stage, with Lemonie Fresh on bass, Harmony Nelson channeling Terri herself on vox, Paul "The Fly" Lawson on lead guitar, the aforementioned Rob McCuen holding down the rhythim section. and  prog queen Julie Brandenburg (who'd remarked to me about Jan Terri during rehearsals, "I'm really growing fond of her" -- capturing that je ne seis quoi that is what appreciating Jan Terri is all about.) Brian's boss gave him the night off so he could catch our kid's debut, and he was one proud papa in the audience. Without a video here, I can tell you that Sammy gave it his all -- carefully keeping on eye on his work, but letting loose at the end to thunderous cheers from the Trash Fest crowd, most of whom either knew him through us or were just folks happy to give a little kid encouragement. Still, after it was over he was visibly relieved to chill out backstage. Unfortunately, the only videos/photos I've seen of this are on Facebook, so I can't really link them here. People, FB is the WORST place to use as a photo/video repository. You give away your rights to your work, and the resolution is horrid to boot. (rant off).

Before we were onstage, I'd already missed perennial Trash Fest openers The Nervous Virgins, but caught enough of Migo's diatonic set to know we were going to need to rock it out. I spent Prettiest Star's set helping Sammy get psyched, so, yeah, I didn't see a lot of them, which is a shame, since it's always a treat to catch Big Dave Thomas and his big guitar. Right after us, Midwest Rock Theater's Melanie Beres fronted a Sinead O'Connor tribute that made me remember, oh, yeah, Sinead was great. Another one of the Beres kids had found a roll of police tape and spent the entire set wrapping up the crowd. And afterwards, Black Star (featuring last minute addition of true rock queen Binky Tunny on bass) was what Trash Fest was all about -- gloriously horrible takes on rawk classics (Van Halen, Ratt, et al) that had us singing along and throwing trash all over. But I had a 10 year old kid who was exhausted, so I had to take him home, and apparently besides the nicely overdone Flo and The Disco Queens, I had to miss what I was told were great sets from Exposed 4Heads and Serbs You Right (dammit I missed another Nev show!) and a jaw droppingly weird set from Cheese of the Goat (Dr. Chow's Frank Chandek and band.) So, as I titled my Flickr set of the whole experience, I could only cover 50% of Trash Fest. Next year, Brian gets babysitting duties.


A Reindeer Lick Christmas.
 Believe.
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So, the only other time I got out since then (yes, I missed a Dick Satan show!) was to catch the Annual Mighty (Rein)deer Lick Christmas show. Supposedly this was the last time they're doing this. (Yeah, I was at the "last" Rolling Stones tour/Chicago, 1977, too.) As usual, they rocked, they rolled, they cussed, and Dave had a bunch of T-Shirt changes (hey, he's lost weight!).

Opening the set was Trolley, a band I hadn't seen in a while, in fact, not since they first released their wonderful CD, Things That Shine and Glow. By every measuring stick, this band should annoy me. Their playing is right perfect, they have pop melodies that almost border on mawkish. But you know what saves them? As I remarked to Lemonie Fresh (also in the crowd, and also agreed with me): "They're so sincere!" And strip away the regular cynicism you expect from me as you read that. I mean they're sincere in the very best possible way: I mean it as a compliment. Paul Wall does not write these songs to get chicks. He does not write these songs to impress people with the Beatles, Big Star and other pop influences he unabashedly wears on his sleeve. He writes and sings these songs because he loves them. That's why it works. That's why he gets away with it. That's why I paid good money for Things That Shine and Glow and that's why I'm glad, when I was in the mood for snotty ass punk (and I'm really sad I missed opening act The Jetty Boys) I got to catch their set. Now if Rob McCuen and his Animal Magnets would've have booked a few shows to promote the excellent Step On Your Neck, 2013 would have been complete.


Well, in the words of BMRC, let the new year/day begin!



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Randon Crabbyness. I need to get out and see some bands

Once again, I begin a post with, "It's been forever since I wrote." Well, I normally write either about some excellent band, or the exploits of my kids, or just general SE Wisconsin quirky wonderfulness. Well, I've been busy with other life-things, and too busy to write. And I haven't gone out to see any bands lately, and so I'm crabby. Thus, a post about three overused phrases that drive me up the wall:

"Congratulations!"
Makes me crazy. I estimate that in only about 15% of the instances where "Congratulations!" are given, they are really warranted. I noticed this when a friend of mine that I haven't seen in years was posting on FB about the wonderful 30th anniversary party his daughter threw him and his wife. Now that warranted "Congratulations!" Not only for maintaining a 30 year marraige, but for raising the kind of daughter who could put together a major party like that. College graduations deserve a hearty congrats, and I guess high school graduations do too. Eighth grade, not so much. New job, yes. New promotion, yes. Unless that job is at a fast food joint. Then it's  "OK, it could be worse. You could be totally unemployed. Phew." Finishing a triathlon or a marathon or other long distance game, or winning your conference's championship is a congratulations-worthy accomplishment. Finishing a game of Majong on your smart phone, not so much:

"I'm so proud of you."
Oh you are, are you? Nine out of ten times when somebody tells you that, you've just achieved something. And unless the person telling you that is your mom or dad, chances are good that they have absolutely NOTHING to do with whatever it was you achieved. So what are they proud of? How did they help you get to whatever it was you accomplished? Did they lend you the money to do it? Were they your coach or mentor? Did they encourage you in such a way that you couldn't have accomplished this without their help? If the answer is no, well, then, it's quite patronizing for them to smile down at you and mention how proud they are of you. A more appropriate thing to say would be "I'm so proud to know you." As in, I'm proud that, amongst people who will give me the time of day, there exists somebody who actually finished a marathon! Congratulations!

"Simply [complete this simple task]."
Oh, how I hate it when there are instructions for something that tells me to "simply" do something. I know the point of it is to ease into it, like trust us, it's really not as hard as it sounds, it won't take too much of your time or expense, and, well, it's simple. But it doesn't come off that way. When, for example, I'm reading user instructions to install some software (which is never "simple"), it comes off as arrogant: It's easy to install this software! Simply click the button labeled "Click This Button To Begin Installation" to begin the installation. Click the fucking button, you simpleton! Any moron could have figured this out, but you apparently need instructions! Idiot. Simply click the button! How hard is that? 

No, you arrogant assholes, if  you had written truly good software, I wouldn't have needed instructions, you techier-than-thou bean of Kopi Luwak coffee. It would have been intuitive and user-friendly. You wouldn't have needed to tell me to simply click the button. It would have (and it IS) obvious. Alrighty then, I'll simply click that button. Here I go. Oh, my! I'm getting this message: "Stack error at 250:110. Fail." Fail. That's where we got that meme, dickslaps! It's an old DOS message: Abort, Retry, FAIL. What should a simpleton like me do now? Shall I simply call your help desk? And simply wait 45 minutes for a specialist to help me? Congratulations, you've pissed me off! I'm so proud of you!


Despite the crabbyness.....

Anyway, Trash Fest is this weekend. I'm going to be in it, with the Jan Terri Appreciation Society. Sammy will be making his debut on drums. Brian can't make it -- he's already used up all his work days off playing with Dr Chow (once was opening for the Grandmothers of Invention!) so it's me and Sammy, which means I'll have to leave earlier than staying to the bitter end like I usually do. Still, watch this space for a 85% full report.

And who is Jan Terri? Why, creator of what YouTube Denizens have dubbed the Worst Video Ever. On the other hand, this is a catchy as all hell song, and the more you listen to her, the more you'll adore her for her seeming existence as the bastard love child of Art Paul Schlosser and Jonathan Richman. That's Trash Fest, this Friday at the Miramar Theatre. Where else is throwing trash at the band not only permitted, not only encouraged, but seen as a badge of honor?!?!?



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

BAM! It's a Girl music post!

Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes
I'm the first one to do a massive eyeroll when people start blathering on about "It's Woman's Night" or "Girl Rock Festival" or such and such, as if women needed their own festival because somehow we're handicapped when it comes to music. I'm all for thing like Girls Rock (summer camps to get young women playing in rock bands), but once you're graduated/grown up, there's no need to segregate us.

That said, I think it was just coincidence that some of the bands that have caught my ear lately happen to be female fronted. The first one I literally stumbled upon. I was on a lovely Saturday morning bike ride in that part of 'Tosa I usually get lost in and I noticed there were increasingly more people people on the bike trail than there were not a mile earlier and BAM! I'm suddenly in the middle of this farmer's market!

I pulled off my headphones, talked a peach vendor into selling me just one peach (I was hungry!) and I heard some music that drew me in a little more seductively than the usual folkie-at-a-farmer's-market.  It was a little three piece band (the drummer, it turns out, had forgotten his sticks and ran home to get them DOH!) called Caley Conway and the Lucy Cukes. Conway has one of those voices you picture singing in the foothills of Appalachia, but there's this urban, almost Dylan like sensibility to her lyrics and songwriting. Except I get the feeling she's a much nicer person.  I heard snippets of lyrics like how impressed people would be when she takes out the trash (and of course, this is snidely delivered), but darn it, her voice is so sweet that you put up with lyrics that kick you. It's like having a pie in your face, but you deal with it because it's really good pie. I dropped the folky word, and they assured me they rocked too, but, well, their drummer was getting his sticks. I believe them, though. They had some complex arrangements going on between the guitars and basses and mandolins and whatever instruments they felt like picking up. I made a point of getting their name and will keep an eye out for them, but after two songs my heart rate was going down and I needed to get back on my bike.

Ramma Lamma 
A coupla weeks later, again, on the bikes. This time was the second Chill on the Hill I've been to all year. The first was "Irish Night" and my bandmade Dan Mullen turned my head by closing out McTavish's set with a celtic version of "Maggie May." I've seen McTavish enough times -- this was the first of them bravely pushing on withOUT Mark Shurilla (and not a Shurilla tribute show, either). But it was the following week that's I'm writing about here, to keep this "Chick Night" theme going. It was indeed Chick Night (I don't know what the very nice and politically correct folks at the Bay View Neighborhood Association called it) and the first band was a wonderfully fun glammy, garagey outfit called Ramma Lamma. Lead singer Wendy Norton looks, sounds, and writes songs as though one fine day in her youth she woke up, heard Joan Jett and said BAM! That's what I wanna be! She's simultaneously badass and fun, and so's her band. Lots of times a band like this will be totally badass (see Cycle Sluts from Hell) or totally fun (see Cyndi Lauper) but like Jett, she unabashedly loves rock and roll and wears it well. Plus, her band is tight, punchy, and can handle her catchy, riffy songwriting. And, she's working my favorite subgenre of rock, so they're definitely on my Must Catch Them Again list.

Wanton Looks
They were followed by some equally badass women out of Chicago called Wanton Looks. There must be a
really good garage punk revival going on down the I-94 road: this is the second good garage band out of the Windy City I've seen. They didn't blow me away as strongly as Ramma Lamma did, but they got stronger as the night went on. Bassist Tracy Trouble trades lead vocal duties with guitarist Inga Olson, and while Trouble has a strong voice, my advice to her is to write songs in a key that hits the strong part of her range. I could hear the best part of her voice only later in the set -- and that's when I realized it existed. (I only realize this because I can be accused of the same issue -- writing songs in a key that doesn't necessarily suit my voice). Otherwise, this band has a lot of the same stuff going for them as Ramma Lamma does: fun badassery in that Runaways vein. They're a little more on the metal punk side as opposed to Ramma Lamma's glam punk. Olson and Trouble have more rawkstar swagger to them, but they're kind of upstaged by their really top notch drummer, Meg Thomas. I'd like to see them in a dark club -- maybe on a bill with somebody like Black Actress.

So there. I've written a "Chick Rock" blog entry, and if I were reading this, even with the disclaimer, I'd probably be rolling my eyes over this. Especially since the three bands I saw don't need the "pretty good for a girl" handcap hanging on them. I just happened to stumble upon three really good bands over the past few weeks, and they just happened to be fronted by women. BAM.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Staycation, Part I: Local garage


I was on vacation this week. I plan stuff for a living, so I didn’t plan anything for my staycation. I just decided that I would wake up when I felt like it, and just do whatever came to mind. That ended up being driving to various state parks and riding my bike there. Yes, I did that in the sweltering heat, and it felt great, in fact, exhilarating. Still, by Friday, I had a nice ride to Wilson Park, swam a couple of laps in the cheap, oldschool public pool, and when a text from Ted Jorin came that said, “There’s rock and roll at Frank’s Power Plant tonight”

I believed him and on the spur of the moment I went. I’d hoped I’d be able to catch a set from the Northside Creeps, (bass player Ted knows I’m a fan, hence the text message) but I was too late. Apparently they’d only played a short set, that was cut even shorter by technical difficulties. Or something like that. Nobody wanted to get detailed about this, since they are all Sixthstation readers and knew I’d write about it. Ted tried to convince me to stay for the next band anyway, but he didn’t need to – It’s been too long since I’ve seen new bands, and besides I paid cover already. I’m gonna hear some music, dammit. The band, the 57s – was wonderfully worth the $5 I paid. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of them. Lead guitar player has a plaid amp front cover. Not flowery, like Paul “Fly” Lawson’s. Plaid.The Lead singer has the build, hair and demeanor that reminded me of Wanda Chrome’s Cliff Ulsberger, and that was a good sign. Drummer looks like he could be Paul Wall’s little brother. Yes, I’m referencing Milwaukee legendary garage elderstatesmen to describe how these guys looked, because they turned out to sound like legendary garage rockers. They had that matured angst, tight playing, trashy Americana sound: three minute trashy, poppy, punky anthems that have that Great Lakes rust belt stamp all over them.

It took forever (or so it seemed) for the next band, Dead on TV, out of Chicago, to get on the stage. I expected more garagy, and that meant it should have been a matter of set up, plug in and play already. I admit to laughing when they asked for a sound check. (Poor out of towners, they didn’t
 know better.) And the lead singer’s shorts were too long to be shorts, and he was a guy, so I couldn’t call them capris. Too fucking hipster for me. I was starting to really hate them, but decided for five bucks, I should see more than one band.


Dead on TV
bending over backwards

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
 Fifteen seconds in, they won me over. Lead singer’s shirt comes off, and suddenly, he’s transformed into a guy who wants to be Iggy Pop so bad we can all taste his sweat. I mean this as a compliment. He’s literally bending over backwards for the six of us who were there (only four of whom paid cover), cavorting all over the stage, while their drummer holds down a hard beat. These guys were definitely on the glam edge of the garage continuum, so cocky they didn’t need a bass player, instead a snarky guy on keyboards. Tempo changes, dynamics changes, and tight songwriting. Definitely glad I stayed. I felt bad for them, that they drove up from Chicago and didn’t even make gas money, so I picked up their CD (with the four of them all bloodied on the cover) and listened to it the next day on the way to the Vans WarpedTour in Tinley Park. (I know I should say Chicago, but I grew up a mile away from Tinley Park, so I’m going to be specific about this.) Still, Ted Jorin was right: there was rock and roll at Frank’s Power Plant last Friday night, and it was good.

Staycation Part II: Warped National Hardcore and Feeling Old

So, Saturday morning, I woke up, checked to see that the weather would not be as oppressively hot as it had the previous couple of days, and told Stella, “OK. We’re going.” The night before, at Frank’s, I was looking over the lineup for the Vans Warped Tour and realized that perhaps this old punk mom is indeed getting old, for I did not know anything about a single band that was on the bill. Wait, I’ve heard of Reel Big Fish. But that’s about it. We packed up some (sealed, therefore acceptable to bring in) bottled water and I didn’t even need directions to Tinley Park. We picked up her friend Steven and hit the road, a little early for my tastes but late for Stella’s.

I'll tell ya, if I wasn’t already feeling this way (I had my doubts that I'd last all day at this festival), it seemed this was a show that wanted to drive home to anybody over 23 that You.Are.Old. My first (pleasant) manifestation of that was the fact that since I was a parent to Stella and her friend, I got in free, more as an escort to my children and I was there to keep them safe. Well, that was true, but I still was interested in the music. After all, this was originally a punk/hardcore festival and I love punk/hardcore. But management assumed that, at 52, I had absolutely no interest in partaking of any of this music, that I will have written off all of it, and was probably grumbling about the heinous $45 ticket for bands I supposedly had no interest in seeing. But, I’m not just a mom here, kiddos. I’m a elderstateswoman and you just don’t know it. And I’m kind of sad that I can drop names/situations like “I interviewed John Doe and Exene back in ‘82” and “I photographed Henry Rollins back when he only had four tattoos” and “ I had dinner with Jello Biafra” -- and as Stella pointed out, “Mom, most of these people don’t know who they are.”

So, I played along, acted like I was bored while they inspected my ID to see that I was indeed older than the target demographic and was accompanied by two obvious teenagers, got my “escort” wristband, and sailed through the entry gate without paying a damn dime. Now that, motherfuckers, is punk.

It’s a good thing we left when we did, because the band Stella really wanted to see, Chiodos, was about to take the stage. “Go on,” I told her and Steven, who left their backpacks with me as they headed for the mosh pit. Oh, I’m your fucking valet now? When the hell did I agree to this? Well, I’ll check out this band, and search for the “Reverse Daycare” tent that, as a wristbanded parent, I had access to.

Oh, Bender, you punk rebel, you.  
This was a place where parents could sit down for a bit, with AC, cold water, and a TV showing movies from our supposed youth. (“The Breakfast Club” was a little after my time. I was hoping for “Repo Man” myself – c’mon, Emilio’s in that too! But to really give away my age, I wasn’t really an Emilio girl. I was more about his dad…. But I digress.). I got some fresh cold water, which I knew the kids would need after the mosh pit for Chiodos (and otherwise would've had to wait in long lines at a drinking fountain to get), and went back to the meeting spot we’d agreed upon.

 OK, Chiodos. Named for the special effects team of brothers who, among other things, directed Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I'm already liking the obscure reference. They (like half the bands on the bill) were termed “post-hardcore” which basically means hardcore punk, but not limited to always being fast and loud. Like many of the bands of this subgenre, they mess with time signatures, some of their vocalists actually sing sometimes (as opposed to always being screamo), and can often get anthemic. But they do inspire serious moshpit action, which means the demographic this festival is aimed at has a chance to just get all their pent up stuff out. It’s acceptable to push, scream, yell, and be part of a crowd. Chiodos understands this, and encourages this, oh, and they’re good at it. And also, like a lot of the bands here, they’re kind of rockstar about this, which actually, I liked. “HEY CHICAGO! WE’RE SO FUCKING GLAD TO BE HERE AGAIN! IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST WARPED TOUR, LEMME SEE YOUR YOUR HANDS!” They’re not too hipper-than-thou for this, and a big crowd appreciates it. Musically, they’re tight, fast, varied, and lead singer Craig Owens can actually sing, as he proved further in the “acoustic” tent. They signed merch and other stuff at an autograph tent later. We moved onto another post hardcore band, The Amity Affliction who, while not as popular/well known by this crowd, were just as good. I probably enjoyed them more because they had that American punk ethos of also being fun and sometimes funny. I even almost got pulled into the mosh pit, but declined to go through because a) I was wearing glasses and I know better than to do such a thing and b) once again, I was holding the kids’ backpacks like I was their damn valet. I needed to get out of this.

Stella meets a hardcore singer
Meantime, this was quite an active mosh pit, and once some girls were getting the guts to go crowd surfing, I was keeping an eye on Stella. In this crowd, there were two guys giving the girls a boost to fly across the crowd and land near the bouncers, who would safely bring them back to the ground – but it was too thin of a crowd to truly risk it – and Stella didn’t do it. “Yeah,” I told her later, “if you’re gonna crowd surf, you probably want to have a thicker crowd of padding to fall into.” So while Sleeping With Sirens was playing (another band I’d vaguely heard of, and they were more of the same), Steven went to see them, and Stella herself went to the acoustic tent to hear this Craig Ownes guy do his “acoustic” set. Here, “acoustic” means quieter songs on a piano, concentrating more on melody and lyrics to make a point – and if he hadn't won me over by then, he did in the picture taking session that Stella waited in line 45 minutes for. Here’s a guy who does a hardcore set at 2 in the afternoon of a brutal hot sunny day, takes a short break, does a half hour acoustic set, and then meet ‘n’ greets a hundred fans and is fresh and charismatic for every.single.one. Seriously, Stella was near the end of the line and he gave no indication of “how many more of these do I gotta do” as he smiled for every picture with every fan. I gotta respect that.

Alvarez Kings looking for their subjects
In fact, I had/have a lot of respect for the general hustle that a lot of these bands put forth. I saw no major label presence there, which meant there were dozens of indie label tents all over the place, hawking their goods and in many cases, giving out free samples to push their bands. I came across one band that had a sign saying “Did you miss us? Come have a listen...” and they were happy to pop some headphones on me and play their music on a connected Ipad so I could get a sample of their work. They were called the Alvarez Kings and they described themselves as pop-prog. Um, I have a different definition of prog: no, these guys did NOT sound like Yes or ELP. I’d go with Simple Minds, and I told them, “a little more rough edge and I’d swear you grew up listening to the Buzzcocks.” Big smiles from them. I smiled back: Ha! You know who the Buzzcocks were! And further, they took it as a compliment. Hell, if somebody compared my band to the Buzzcocks I’d be floating on air, too. Craig Owens wasn't the only one hustling and working this crowd, I'll tell you that. Seriously, I was happy to see the kind of hustle and DIY self-promotion that abounded here. Indie labels and bands are catching on to what it really takes to make a living off this, and they’re cultivating the audience and the business to work with the technology they have available to them. That's what it's going to take to keep good indie music going instead of that hipper-than-thou-we're-so-above-this crap that regular Sixthstation readers know I hate.

 Another dip into the parents’ tent for some fresh water and we met back up, and Stella and friend swam into a huge crowd for the end of Sleeping With Sirens. The next band on the stage right next to them were a pop punk band called Billy Talent, and I really liked them, too. They were out of Toronto, kind of reminded me of Green Day: pop punk, snotty, crowd-pleasing, and songs that each had their own thing going. I decided after this point to take in some of the other stages, now that I trusted the kids to not be stupid. Saw a band called Lionz of Zion that were too funky/fast to be true reggae, but not quite frenetic enough to be ska. I liked them-- they infused a level of funk that was worthy of being on a bill with George Clinton. Saw a truly oldschool hardcore band called  No Bragging Rights that reminded me of Kenosha’s Pistofficer: passionate, political, and massively hardcore. I finally decided to get out of the sun and head to the amphitheater, where the large state was divided into two stages, so that there would be not a long wait between bands. Neither offering stood out for me (so I won’t name names), but it was nice to sit down in a real chair out of the sun, and hit my smartphone to see who else I might like to check out.

My answer came in the form of Frank Bang and his Secret Stash: his bio looked interesting enough. Chicago-based, sounded like he was a rocking bluesman. After the kids were done with another post hardcore outfit called Bring Me The Horizon (who ended their set with a middle finger salute) , I pulled them over to the stage where Bang was playing. They were ready to hit the road (hungry and probably a little sun-exhausted) but I wanted to check this out. Bang seemed almost out of place at this fest: first off, as I commented to the others with me near the stage, “Shit, these guys look like they’re my age!"  But I was reminded of something Ted Jorin said the night before when I told him I was taking Stella to this, and that she enjoyed hardcore and punk: “That’s wonderful. The great thing about being into punk is that it doesn’t stop you from being into lots of other kinds of music,” and watching Bang and the Secret Stash drove this point home. Bang hits the stage with a rack of four guitars – the first of which is a lap steel and proceeds to squeeze some ferocious Chicago-style blues out of it, accompanied by his voice that sounds like an aging punk who listening to a lot of Tom Waits. He’s got that Waits-like phrasing, minus the gravely voice. And his band (well, rhythm section) was obviously a couple of pro-level vets who still loved to get down and dirty with some punk blues. He switches to another lap guitar tuned in a different key before standing up and picking up a beautiful Les Paul gold top to finish his set. The only bummer was the eight -- count ‘em eight-- bouncers in front of the stage (including the tallest guy for the middle, jesus h christ) who were there to protect the band from the couple of dozen of us who were tired, drained, and probably gentle enough not to smash a fly. And they’re all talking to each other, which was really distracting. Oh, for Pete’s sake. This wasn’t Chiodos or even The Amity Affliction. It was some 50 year old bluesman banging away on a six string lap -- et the hell out of the way for cryin’ out loud.

Anyway, I let the kids admit to being beat first, but I concurred. It had been a long day. We trudged out toward the exit, at which I witnessed the saddest part of the day:
That's right. The top picture is a damn DJ, playing some stale ol' beat to the cheers of a packed screaming crowd. The bottom picture-- taken not fifty feet away-- is a live, local band (they were either The Indecent or the Hollywood Kills, not sure, and I'm sorry about that) who can actually play instruments, sing, and is delivering the goods despite the fact that there's less than a dozen kids (half of whom I'll bet are friends of the band) watching them. That really depressed me after a full day of otherwise kickass, passionate music. Still, here's the list of bands that played on this stage. They probably didn't get paid much, and they probably played in front of similarly sized "crowds". Go see them sometime and support live music played by real musicians. That's my little lecture for today.

Still, we were tired but we were in the South Burbs, so we went to our (free!) parking place, cranked on the air conditioner, and went straight to my childhood pizza joint, Aurelio’s, who I’m glad to say still lives up to wonderful childhood/teenage memories of being some of the best damn pizza on the planet. Like damn good punk, a good pizza (made in an independent restaurant) always satisfies. I know Aurelio's is a chain, but the location we went to was the (almost) original Aurelio's that they carved out of the old Van Drunen Ford Body Shop in Homewood, Illinois. (The truly original Aurelio's two blocks away on Ridge Road, a tiny little place that had two tables and a carry-out station, has been gone since they opened the place we went to in 1976).

I’m just rather impressed with myself that not only did I last as long as the kids that day, I also found enough music that I truly enjoyed and I was also glad to see that there’s still a very active and enthusiastic market for this stuff. OK, I made it through! On to Riot Fest!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Locust Street Dependability

Still blogging slow and sporadic, I admit. Didn't make it to the opening day of Chill on the Hill and shamefully missed the Wooldridge Brothers, who I heard were great. Heck, I don't think I've seen either of those brothers since they were in the Squares and we'd bonded over a love for Tom Verlaine's second solo album. I puttered out a couple of weeks ago to the Circle A to see a blisteringly great set from the Northside Creeps, but I was too lazy to shoot any kind of photographs. I enjoyed the set too much to be bothered with photography.

Still, the Sigmund Snopek at the Klinger's Stage (followed by Matt Hendricks and his blues, and sitting in Brother Louie's regular spot, good ol' Xeno). At the time we walked past Snopek's set, he'd just launched into a alt-lounge of "Brazil" and let his percussion section go nuts. This was after a synth-accompanied tour on that long horn thing you see on the Riccola commercial.



Savage Sax
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Also giving me comfort was Lovanova, starting off the Lakefront Brewery stage. They're really found their stride in this whole instrumental organ-guitar thang they do. I suspect they go first so that Hammond Man Paul Kneevers can then comfortably sit back and run the rest of the stage and not worry about having to play later. We missed Boys with Bosoms, but wanded back in time to catch One horse Town, which seemed to be Chris Lehmann, Tom Tiedjens and George Mireles jamming out on their various poppy hooky stuff that all three are known to love. Turn around, and there's The Uptown Savages getting ready to a tight and fun Americana set. And of course, there's the dependable Paul Cebar, who makes the Tracks stage tolerable.

Linneman's stages, like Klinger's food, is/was hit or miss. I mean, c'mon, Klinger's. You're known for wonderfully excellent juicy (greasy) cheeseburgers. My mouth watered for a Klinger's cheeseburger, fried up on a grill and dripping with cholesterol.... only to be served this thing that tasted like something I would pick up at a Speedway when I'm desperate. This isn't the first time you've done this to me, Klinger's. No, there was the time you roped me in with wonderfully spicy, slightly crispy chicken wings, only to be served lame-o wings the following year. Now this year, there's "Thai Chicken Nuggets" which I didn't try, because I thought when I ordered a cheeseburger at Klinger's, I was getting a Klinger's Cheeseburger. Step it up guys, or I'm totally writing you off.



Calamity Janes
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Anyway, back to Linneman's. I'd have to say the highlight there were these four lovely mountain folky girls called the Calamity Janes. With a name like that, I was expecting something more in the vein of Crazy Rocket Fuel, but we don't need another CRF -- and these girls had more sweetness in their tea (whereas CRF would throw a little whiskey in theirs.) Here's how you can tell they were perfectly sweet: they ended their set with a cover of "Across The Universe" with not a hint of irony, and just as lovely and perfect as you can imagine. The other band I caught at Linneman's were these no-wavers called the Newlybreds, whose sound brought me back to about 1979ish, 1980s British No-Wave, ala the Slits or the Raincoats. I think I need to admit here that while I admired the Slits and the Raincoats, I never really got into them. And so it was with the Newlybreds: I admire the balls it takes to put forth this kind of stuff, but I can only listen to it for about a couple of songs.

This year's find for me, was stumbling upon the Riverwest Public House's stage. At first, I was pulled in briefly by their first offering, an instrumental, kind of jazzy, kind of movie-soundtracky combo called Fjords. I want somebody to make a movie and use them for a soundtrack, because that's definitely what their music reminds me of.

But among everybody I talked to that saw them, the band to see that afternoon was Midwest Death Rattle. Four guys (drums, bass, guitar and keys), who look and sound like XTC's tour bus crashed into the Danglers' practice space and just cooked in the midwest for awhile. I walked by at the end of a poppy song in a messed up time signature, followed by a mindblowing cover of Sonny Bono's "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done" -- the wah-wah pedal part being sung in the nasaliest voices they could muster but still being (as Dr Chow's Joe Politzzi later described) "magnificently symphonic" about it. Yup, I stayed for their entire set, where they abruptly stopped in the middle of songs, raved up songs you couldn't think could be raved up, and left me wanting to get on their mailing list.

But I'm getting old. I was already too burnt out to stay long enough for Brief Candles' set -- a band I saw a couple of years ago at the Cactus Club and wanted to check on. After all, it was Sunday and I had to work the next day. I really am going to try to get out more, and the unofficial kickoff to Summer, the Locust festival, always helps me do just that.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Generation Flashback

OK. The Sixth Station has been dark for awhile. We had health issues at home, we had an 8th grader in the throes of making a transition, we had a 3rd grade boy being a third grade boy..... I've seen maybe about five shows, and they were nothing I haven't written about (glowed) before. But I went out Saturday night and saw four bands I've never seen, and so its as good a time as any to fire up this blog again.

The circumstance: Stella and I got these tickets to see Pierce the Veil with All Time Low back in, what, January? At first, she was aghast that I was going to go with. Who the hell wants to go to a real concert (not some teeny bopper crap) with their mom? (Who wants to go to some teeny bopper crap anyway, but that's beside the point). I went into "Mom" mode quickly: "You are NOT going to the Rave by yourself or any of your similarly-aged friends by yourselves," I made clear. "Shit, *I* don't like to go to the Rave by myself. As a matter of fact, I prefer to go to the Rave with your father -- and at least four other guys who are built like your father." That's the problem with having a punk rock mom. You can't bullshit her. She will know exactly what's going on, unlike my mother who had no clue just what went on in the Aragon Brawlroom back when I went to see bands there.

Still, Stella and her girlfriends packed into the back seat of the car and begged me to pay the $25 to park in that lot just South of the Rave, because, as the doors opened at 5:30, and we didn't even leave the house until 6ish, we were already late as it was and can't we just park.... For cryin' out loud, mom, you're not going to find a parking place better. "Here, we'll all chip in for this parking," they all agreed. No way. It's not the money. It's the principle of the thing. I'd rather park downtown and take the bus in rather than give this guy $25 to park in a glass-strewn lot that he's just going to walk away from onve he's filled it. To their surprise (and, admittedly, mine), I found a spot just a block north on24th Street. Leading three bottles of soda pop (otherwise known as teenage girls) ready to explode down the street , we approached the venue. Walked in, got frisked, and to my ears' horror, realized this show was NOT in "The President's Room" (or whatever the hell it's called now). No, this was in that acoustic nightmare called the Ballroom. Oh dear god, where the hell are my high end filters? Well, maybe it won't be so bad, I thought to myself. (Brian said later: "The only time I ever heard good sound in that ballroom was when King Crimson was there back in the 80s" and I'd replied, "Well, that was probably because Fripp got there at 7 in the morning and worked on acoustics all freakin' day.") I swear to God, we've gotten old and grizzled.

The girls were clearly pissed off that we'd gotten there so darn late. There was already a huge crowd around the stage, so just to prove a point, I told them to follow me and I made it about halfway into the soon-to-be mosh pit before they decided it was too hot in there to stand for awhile. "Don't worry, once the band starts, if you want to be next to the stage, you will be." We walked out to the perimeter, and my 52-year-old ass decided it was time to sit down on the steps.

The first band, You Me At Six, takes the stage, and a screaming roar greets them, reverberating against that circular plaster ceiling. Damn, this room is harsh, especially when up against thousands of young voices. The band was good. Straight up, somewhat edgy, pop rock band out of England. They got their half hour set with no special effects and I was impressed -- good melodic pop with an edge, catchy songs, crowd-pleasing stage antics without being obnoxious. They knew their place on the bill and they played it. They were followed by another straight up pop/punk band, Mayday Parade, who were more of the same, but they didn't grab me as much. Maybe You Me At Six was just trying harder because, let's face it, everybody just loves being the opening band.

I was actually surprised the next band up was Pierce the Veil, who I thought were the main attraction (if T-Shirts could cast votes, in addition to Stella's opinion). PTV is described as a "post hardcore" band. I'd actually call them a damn good alternative metal band, in the vein of Jane's Addiction but with much more Mexican/hispanic influences, probably due to the leadership of the Fuentes brothers on vocals and drums. Every now and then you hear a touch of flamenco-style flourishes, as well as a bit of Carlos Santana's legacy. Actually, in both live performance and their recordings, I could hear a dash of Die Kreuzen in there as well. Standard light show, and a fairly minimal stage design -- a backdrop with their current logo, and a couple of large representations of circular saw blades painted in ultraviolet paint. But these guys could have just as easily gotten by on musicianship alone. By the middle of their set, Stella and her friends had been absorbed into the crowd and at one point her friends reported to me, "Stella got near the stage and she got stepped on!" "Where is she now?" I asked. "She went back in there....." her friend answsered, "She's crazy!"

"She's not crazy!" I answered, proudly, "That's my grrrrrlllll!" The two others disappeared back into the crowd, and I suddenly was no longer in the Eagles ballroom (as I'd posted on FB:). No, at that moment, I stepped into the Wayback Machine, and there I was, at the Aragon Brawlroom. It's August, 1982 and the Clash are on stage. I'm covered with sweat and mystery bruises and beer (the Aragon sold beer in a biergarden called the Casbah in -- get this -- popcorn buckets, oh, those lasted a long time in the mosh pit) and I've made my way toward the stage and managed to climb up to hang off the edge of it. There's Joe Strummer! The girl next to me hanging on the edge of the stage has a bouquet of socialist-red roses for Joe Strummer and she's handing them to him and in doing so, she's falling off the stage and Strummer thinks they're from me and he kisses my forehead and I fall off the edge of the stage and land next to the girl who is clearly pissed off that I got "credit" for her roses and the band jumps into "Rock the Casbah" and the biergarden goes absolutely apeshit and....

"Mom, could you hold my soda for me? I'm going back in...."

"Did you make it to the stage?"

"Yeah, I crowdsurfed!" And off she goes.... and this crowd knows every lyric to every song by this band. Lead singer Vic Fuentes asks the crowd, "If this is your first concert, lemme hear you!" and more than half the crowd complies. He tells them that he hopes to make it as special as possible, because he knows that for a lot of people here, music can save your life and they want this experience to be memorable. If I didn't already like this band, I love them now. They.Get.It. They get the difference between music being lifesaving and music being wallpaper and they are clearly NOT wallpaper and their fans don't want wallpaper either. Then they jump back into playing what is clearly their hit. I can't tell, because this isn't a band that gets played on the radio for whatever reason. They are too big (and noisy,. and screamo) for the "alternative" stations, too alternative for the metal stations (and also, too young. The HOG isn't going to play them anytime soon) and they're, well, just too damn musically challenging for whatever's being called top 40 these days. They're comfortably under most people's radar, and coupled with their obvious disciplined musicianship, they've totally won me over. Oh my god: which is it? Is it that actually I *like* my kid's music, or am I relieved that my kid is into a good band instead of some lame-o crap that will get covered on American Idol? I think it's both. Stella's having the time of her life, and I'm enjoying this too. I go to the bar and order myself a Goose Island IPA because I can (both age wise and financially - it was nine bucks!) and it goes right through me, so I head to the bathroom and have another flashback.

It's the disgusting bathroom at the Aragon. Disgusting, because while there are a bazillion stalls (as opposed to the four at the Rave), there is at least an inch of water on the floor all over, and as much as I would like to believe this is just water, I know that toilets don't overflow because there is just water in them. I'm making a mental resolution that I'm going to have to buy a new pair of Chuck Taylors, because I am NEVER wearing these again and .....

"Hey, you in the next stall? Is there any toilet paper in there?"

"Sure, hang on," I say to the girl in the next stall at the Rave. I hand her what she needs neat the (thankfully dry) floor, and walk out and see, to my disappointment, a little circle of moms who are clearly not having as much fun with this show as I am. A few are reading books or studying for something, most are on their smartphones or kindles. All clearly can't wait for this to be over. I want to shake them all up: "You're here anyway with your kid -- this is important! This is important to them! This isn't fucking Justin Bieber! These kids are quoting these lyrics to each other on Facebook! C'mon, you cared enough to come here with them and make sure they're OK, take it a step further, willya?" But I don't say it. These are the people for whom music is just wallpaper. These are the people who go to Summerfest to watch cover bands (if they go at all.) I just shake my head, and pick up Stella's soda, which she is going to need in a moment to rehydrate. There's a bunch of other kids who obviously didn't have their parents with them, or knew how to take care of themselves -- every now and then i see a security guy bringing out an unconscious or near-conscious kid out of the crowd to a save place to revive them. I'm hoping it's just the heat and they're overheated, but, as I am *not* my mom, I know that it's unfortunately probably not the case. Still, they're OK.

By the end of PTV's full hour set, my ears have actually adjusted to the godawful acoustics. The next band is All Time Low, who are a very good pop punk band, musically in the vein of Green Day, but character-wise, kind of a Goo Goo Dolls, maybe even Dead Milkmen kind of snottyness. I enjoyed them too. They were introduced by a Michael Buffer wannabe, complete with championship belt bellowing " Let's Get Ready To Rumble!" , and lead singer Alex Gaskarth takes the stage wearing boxing gloves. Their songs are well-constructed pop punk ditties, more sophisticated than, say, the Ramones, but they're not dark. PTV can get dark. These guys are all about the knowing smirk, except they do have a heart. The songs even seem to admit this: they are about the standard op topics: love, life, loss, frustration, fun -- but their stage MO has a rough edge, everything's ironic, you-won't-catch-us-off-guard kind of thing. Except that they admit it. At one point in the show, Gaskarth asked the crowd, "Can you all put down your cameras and smart phones for a minute? I understand that you want to capture this memory and remember it, but, can we all just live in the moment for once?" I smiled to myself as the crowd complied and sang along to the slower ballad. Every now and then, I hear crappy manufactured dreck on the radio and I probably sound like some grizzled old fart complaining that "this generation doesn't know how to make great music" but that's wrong. Like every other generation, this one can: you just have to know where to find it. And I'm damn happy Stella has learned that skill. Her generation is is good hands.

I'm just really pissed at myself that I don't have the Clash on my Ipod. I really needed to listen to the Clash on the way home.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Celebratory History in a Cigar Box

cigar box guitars by V'ron
cigar box guitars, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
Some years back, when I was out of work, Lori Jablonowki (then performing as Roni Allwaise with Guido's Racecar) gave me a buzz and hired me to shoot her band. It was a time when I really needed the extra money (duh, I was out of work!) not to mention the boost to my confidence. Plus, let's face it, Guido's Racecar, besides being a wonderful band musically was also a visually captivating group of people; the photos pretty much shot themselves.

After I'd done post-production I went over to see Lori and her then-boyfriend then-bassplayer (and now husband) Johnny Washday to deliver a DVD with the raw and processed photofiles and to, well, collect my pay. No problem, but they also threw in a bonus: one of Washday's Cigar Box guitars. I about cried. They're beautiful instruments in and of themselves and perhaps he remembered my lusting after them when he first displayed them at a show some four years ago. My kids tried them out (yes, Stella did too) and the next thing you know, a few months later, I had one in my hands. It's proudly displayed in my living room, and I still love telling the story to anybody who asks.

And this one has a lot of stories I can't even begin to know behind it. See, I'm sure you could say this about any guitarist-turned-luthier: they're crafted with love and passion, and meant to be played. There's plenty of stories and articles out there about about Washday's process -- how he came upon making them in the first place ("I read in guitar magazines how poor players had to make their first guitars," he told Onmilwaukee.com's Bobby Tanzilo) but one of the things I found most endearing was that he really does endeavor to use found objects and recycled items in them.

On the day he presented me with mine, he pointed out that this guitar's neck was made with wood from his family's dining room table. He'd said aloud what I was realizing at that very moment: "Think of all the family discussions and meals and celebrations that took place on this." There's history in every one of these guitars; I'm just privileged to know the very specific history behind just one of these materials. I can only guess what kind of celebrations happened as the box of cigars that made my guitar's box were punctuated with a nice, fine smoke. What kinds of discussions or arguments, or business deals, or declarations of "It's a girl!" were joyfully shouted as the box was opened? What rites of passage took place around the Jablonowski family table? (How many times was young Johnny's orange juice spilled on it?) What stories are behind every one of these guitars? And what stories are those of us lucky enough to own one going to create with them?

I won't be able to make the Friday opening of his show (at Gallery 911, at 9th and National), but I'll pop in Saturday just to look around and take in the history. I'm going to have to miss a lot of other things Friday night due to other plans -- most notably Aluminum Knot Eye, The Hullmen and Floor Model at Kochanski's. I love Kochanski's anyway. Even when hardcore punks are playing there, it's this wonderful atmosphere that comes with the history of being a polka/concertina bar -- and every band that plays there inherits this celebratory vibe. It's probably the same level of karmic history that's inside Washday's guitars: how many polkas have been danced there? How much wonderful music has been absorbed by that tin ceiling (and truth be told, echoed back with a treble-y harshness!).

Speaking of celebrating, my birthday's Saturday night, so I'm taking recommendations as to which band to spend it with.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Taking even the trash for granted

VMR_0024 by V'ron
dancing with the trash, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
Yup, it's mid-November which means it's been a full two months since I've blogged. Waaaaaay too much stuff going down in my life to consider taking time out to write a well-reasoned blog post. It's not like I've hit a lot of music since the Bay View Bash anyway...

You could even call my time away from this blog a true sabbatical, since the point of a sabbatical is to chill, not do what you regularly do, and massively study something and produce something out of all that study, and that's exactly what I did. See, part of what took my time was studying for (and passing! Yay Me! #winning) the PMP exam. It's a 4 hour test that I had to study for like I was in College or something. I even took a final day off before the exam, grabbed my laptop and study guides, and headed to Sven's to study in a coffee shop like a real college student. It worked. Took the test and now I've got my life back.

I've also dealt with the two birthdays of my kids and shopping for high schools for the older one. This is a totally new concept for me. I'll brag here -- she's been accepted to the number one school in the city (uh, make that the STATE) and acceptance/denial letters for Number Two (which is a great school as well) go out in December. She's also accepted at a really good straight up city school. So, Stella will have choices now between high schools, and she will ask kids who go to her various choice why they go there, and they will give her answers such as "I like the arts program" or "There's great football here" or "They have this wonderful engineering track" or something of that ilk. Whereas, if somebody asked me "Why did you go to Rich Central?" I will answer very simply, "Because I lived South of 184th Street." The End. We didn't have to apply to get in, and RC was an excellent high school that served the needs of a wide variety of students, from college-bound kids to those who would hit the jobforce upon graduation, from artists and musicians to cheerleaders and jocks. So this brings me to a rant about why we even have to worry about this at all: really, why do we have to worry about getting our kids into a good high school. Shouldn't all high schools be good high schools? Shouldn't every kid have a chance to get into a high school that's going to meet their needs, be they academic or whatever? I didn't have the opportunity to go to Rich Central because I had good test scores or because I "showed potential." I got to go to Rich Central because my family were taxpayers! That was it! We just took it for granted. This whole worrying about if I'm going to get in was not something I was going to have to deal with until college. So maybe this is just getting me used to this idea.

Still, there was election this week, and the candidate who believes that we should invest in education won. I declared my politics in this blog a long time ago, and I spent this past Tuesday night watching CNN (with the kids) like it was (thanks for the analogy, Lisa) the Super Bowl and my team won and won big. And I have to say, my favorite moment was Megyn Kelly's "Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?" question to Karl Rove. The look on her face, right before she got up and walked down the hall to talk to the number-crunchers to get the actual facts of the situation was a look of this sudden epiphany, as if to say to herself, "Wait, wait, wait.... I took a class about this in college once.... we had to do things like get the facts and then we had to tell people the facts no matter how much we liked or disliked the facts.... oh, what was the name of that class.... there was a whole department at my school of professors who taught this stuff like it was something that required discipline and practice... oh, right, it was JOURNALISM! That was a fun class! And I'm gonna do it right now! I'm gonna go get those facts!" I kinda felt sorry for her at that point. She looked like, at least for that moment, she really wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist, and to do that she was gonna have to piss off some people and tell people who had taken this election for granted their bad new. Girlfriend, you didn't just report on a school bus full of children being firebombed. That's bad news. That's something you put your pen down, dip your head in respect, and sadly report the horrifying facts. No, Megyn, your boss' guy lost the election, that's just news. Look straight into the camera and report the breaking story.

My kids both had birthdays and their inching toward adulthood is kicking me in the ass. I kind of took their childhood for granted.

Musically, I'm embarassed to say I didn't see much. I shamefully missed the Steve MacKay show at the Jazz Gallery and reports say it was as transcendant as the last time he hit town. Missed Kneel to Neil the other night at Linneman's but heard it was good. How could it not be? You're doing Neil Young all night, you can't really go wrong.

I did make it to Trash Fest, as i had missed it last year and I didn't want that trend to continue. The regulars all gave me the warm fuzzies: The Nervous Virgins were dependably trashy to open, and Rob McCuen closed the night with Cheap Dick (a Cheap Trick "tribute" band) but played a lot of Cheap Trick's more obscure stuff without hitting even so much as a chorus of "I Want You to Want Me." Really, Rob, the rest of the Greatest Hits were trying to ensure Mark Shurilla's legacy across town in a Buddy Holly tribute show, and here you were, violating the Rule of Shurilla: PLAY THE HITS! YA GOTTA PLAY THE HITS! Mark GE and his band of XPosed4Heads reprised their Lest We Forget shows and well, they're practically re-formed. Dr Chow branded themselves as Zombie Apocalpse Now, dressed in camo and singing Zombies hits. Paul Setser and Lemonie Fresh covered ELO trashily, and Peder Hedman reunited the mighty Detroit Jewel for a wonderful set.

I basically take all the above bands/acts/pieces of trash for granted, so it may seem like they weren't their usual stellar selves (and indeed they were) -- but it was more of a matter of I just *assume* they're going to be wonderful. Because of this, the highlights of the night for me were the return of Nevenka Crnjovich (someday I'll learn to spell, and maybe even pronounce, her surname correctly) who wailed her blues with the same intense concentration I remember from that time 20 years ago I saw Blue Room in the back of Quarters. Also returning to the fold after too long an absence -- Tony from the Moths, back with a man in black tribute band called Cash Removed Nightly. A bunch of kids (literally) called Cala Raquette turned in a great set of straight up, earnest rock too early in the night for the size of an audience they deserved, and Lemonie Fresh also spent a set as Melatomica that worked wonderfully. The "Oh, this isn't just a trash fest act, they actually are a REAL band!" award goes to November Criminals, whose set confounded me until I finally realized what they were earnestly doing: Hip-Hop POLKA. And it works -- they grab hold of the "hey, we're all together, let's PARTY" essence of "Roll Out The Barrel" and twist it up into an all-out Hip-House bash, complete with samples, rapping, cordless mics, and accordion. They're definitely on my must-see-this-again list. Here's photographic evidence of the entire night.

A couple of weeks later, I finally made it to the Bay View Pumpking Pavillion (after years of saying, I really have to get out there) and the band that night was the Dick Satan Trio, whose surf ("We're not a surf band, we're an instrumental lounge act," Mr. Satan himself insists, whatever...) stylings fit the fun of the season. Really creepyass makeup completed the picture. Another band I'm starting to take for granted.

So here we are, a week away from Thanksgiving, and here I am taking way too much for granted. I think the cure for that might be to go out and see some more bands.....