Monday, September 07, 2015

Thank you, Kenocore

After hitting "post" on that last (depressing) blog entry, I have to admit, I was depressed about the state of music. I needed something to pick me up, to remind me that there are plenty of artists of all ages that aren't selling out or going batshit crazy or whatever. And as this Labor Day weekend was coming up, I knew there was only one thing I could do.
The Scraps
Take a trip down I-94 for the annual KenoCore Punk Piknik. They've been doing this for at least ten years; the first time I stumbled onto them was back in '07, before Beautiful Bert died. I dropped in last year, too, and was happy to see that the same level of peaceful mayhem was still happening. Since Bert died, Pistofficer's Frank Lefensty has helped keep this community together and growing. I always see events being posted that keep the local punk bands and club going in Kenosha. The Piknik used to be in the city of Kenosha proper, but Kenosha Blue has never been friendly to the punk scene, and rather than bait them, Piknik organizers figured, "oh, fuck this, we'll just find a friendlier local for our music" and found someplace outside of city limits. 

The Wasted
The first year,it was this farm (beset by mosquitos) right across the state line; for the past few years it's at least in Wisconsin, on a nice stretch of property just off I-94. They enforce the law pretty well themselves, thank you, and it's a genuinely family-friendly event that attracts all ages: from 6 month olds to 60 year olds. Folks pitch tents as a respite, most folks bring their own food and drink but there's a fire pit raging all day with local corn. Truly not a scene most mainstream folk would associate with the phrase "hardcore punk." It's a free event (I kept looking for a donation bucket or something -- getting a sound mix, not to mention port-o-lets isn't free) and open to anybody who's willing to follow the rules: no fighting, no excessive drinking (by the time I arrived, somebody had already been kicked out and there was an announcement over the PA looking for that somebody's friends), no underage drinking, and if there was any weed being smoked I sure as heck didn't smell it. 

I'm getting too old (and with too many other obligations) to do a full 10 hours of hardcore, but I do like to stop in and check out the scene. I got there much too early for perennial favorites Pistofficer, but I caught five bands that made me smile to myself, knowing that tight, aggro, thrashing hardcore punk will never die. It was like trash fest in that each band got a short set (there looked to be over 20 bands on the day's bill -- you'd have to keep it to 20 minutes plus maybe 10 to set up. All used the same amps and drum kits). The five:

The Blue Collar Brawlers
The Scraps: older, seemingly seasoned pros for whom a complicated rhythm bit isn't out of the question. Lead singer with cookie monster vocals, tight rhythm section. 

The Wasted: Classic fucked up angry and, of course, wasted punk. Lead singer is impossibly tall, and the bigger the are, the more spectacularly they fall, but this guy didn't miss a beat, even when bloodied by a mike getting shoved in his face while mashing. 

The Blue Collar Brawlers: Of course Milwaukee gets represented by a band whit "blue collar" in their name. Also nice to see some female representation. If you think there's not a lot of women in rock (even in proportion to the rock-listening population), there's even fewer in punk, and even fewer in hardcore punk. And rest assured, there's plenty of women who are into punk, if the attendance at the Piknik is any indication. 

Anyway, the Brawlers have some good songs: pointed lyrics, and even a variety of melody and rhythm. I think they need to get a few more shows under their belt and then they'll build the following that will know and recognize their songs. They should fill an active mosh pit in no time. I'd like to check them out in our hometown. 

Rechid: Now here's a Milwaukee band that's been around for some time, and I'm embarrassed to say this was my first exposure to them. Lead singer/bass player come out looking like Alex deLarge without the codpiece but just as menacing. This band gets old school hardcore despite their seemingly youthful appearance. They even throw in a bit of ska, but just a bit. Lots of jumping around, a voice you can understand, guitar playing a bit more complex. Unfortunately, that's kind of a guess on my part. 

The afternoon was plagued by something wrong in the guitar channel that resulted in way too much constant high end feedback. At first, I thought it was the Wasted being obnoxious, but all the bands I saw seemed to have suffered from it, so I'm guessing it was a crappy patch cord somewhere. Nevertheless, I'm glad I keep high end filters in my purse. They play a lot of shows with the Blue Collar Brawlers, so it will probably be easy to catch them on a night where I'll be able to hear them all. 

Wake Up
Wake Up: I'm glad I stuck around for just one more band, and Kenosha's Wake Up fit the bill of snotty loud sonsofbitches I love about hardcore. Despite the t-shirts, they looked more like hippies, or anthropology majors, but they sounded like they belonged here, and they have quite a fan base. I took another lap around the grounds before I left: impossibly skinny guys slam dancing, tattoos you'd never expect from this crowd, kids getting their t-shirts autographed, couples chilling out, indeed the Punk Piknik was everything I needed to feel good again. Punk was the protest music of my youth, and it just makes me as happy as a little girl to see it pulsing just as strong. I climbed into my car and headed back north, ready to go back to work in two days, glad to know somebody picked up the torch. Thank you, Kenocore. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Kill Yr Idols

Well, let's get this out of the way: The Grovelers were promised to be an excellent opener for the free X show at Sprecherfest last Friday and they delivered the goods. The very goods. It's not like they're normally not on fire for a show anyway, but when you're opening for legends, that's going to pour a little more gasoline on things.  Rain didn't put this fire out, that's for sure: and maybe because they were opening for X, they pulled out their psychobilly roots and put them on display: the whole set felt very Cramps-like, like what if the Cramps were from North of the Mason-Dixon line, and what if they were Catholic instead of protestant, and what if the psycho part of their influences was psychedelic? Oh, and their version of "Do The Hammerlock" (which is getting to be sort of a Milwaukee standard on par with covering a Violent Femmes tune or even Mustang Sally at Summeriest) got people to close their umbrellas  and bring out their inner Crusher. They all stepped up to the task, and the albatross of opening for X seemed to float off their backs by the fourth or fifth song. The set got cut a little short, because the promoters saw more rain coming, and they wanted to get the LA team on stage before the rain might have even ruined things more.

This will have been my third X show. First time I saw them was at the Park West in Chicago, for the "Under the Big Black Sun" tour. They were loaded with energy and I spent a lot of time getting jostled in the mosh pit (I honestly can't remember what we called that then, I think it was just "getting tossed by the slam dancers"). We were all basking in the glow of young greatness. Then, about 10 years ago I saw them at the Rave on this reunion tour and I'm sorry to say the glow had faded. I'd written that it seemed Exene was phoning it in, but learned later that she'd been diagnosed with MS, and that might have explained things. This past Friday, though, they seemed to find their spark again, and put on a blisteringly solid show, despite the absence of Billy Zoom on guitar. Standing in for him was Jesse Dayton, who thankfully didn't hold back with some kind of false "I won't try to be Billy so I'm just going to be humble" bullshit. No, he didn't try to fill Zoom's shoes: he wore his own and he fucking rocked with X.

OK, if you love X as much as I did, and you particularly worship Exene (as I used to), you'd better stop reading now because I'm going to bum you out. If I were evaluating the band solely on the musicianship and the songwriting, yes, they were great. Yes, they fucking rocked. But I didn't have a good time. There was a nagging question weighing me down like that albatross that flew off of The Grovelers and landed on my back, and that question is this:

What kind of a bitch compounds the profound grief of a family who's lost their son in a horrible mass shooting by accusing the parent of faking the entire incident just to supposedly advance a political point of strengthening gun control?

Answer: the lead singer of the band I just wrote a glowing review for.

Normally, I can separate the artist from the art. God knows there's a lot of artists whose political views I disagree with. (And there's plenty, I don't even bother because both are wastes of time -- case in point, Ted Nugent). But I enjoy the films of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis, both Republicans. And the Ramones were a mixed bag. And Alice Cooper's stuff is legendary. But here's the thing: they didn't get personal about it. They didn't single out specific people and hurt them. They don't lob personal insults that detract from the issue at hand. They are all simply fellow Americans with whom I disagree about the best way to solve this nation's problems.

Now, we are all aware that Exene's life has had its rough spots. And I know plenty of people who have stories about her drunken incoherence sometimes. And having MS (or maybe not) will take its toll on a soul. And there's a lot of stuff out there that indicates that, well, she may be just batshit crazy. Even when I interviewed her after that Park West show in '83, I came away thinking that maybe she wasn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, but god she had charisma and could write killer rock and roll songs. But while I can laugh at her when she goes all truther conspiracy theory on us, or sigh "oh really" when she gets all anti-vaxxer, (just that morning I'd taken my 12 year son for his painful tetanus booster shot) and even "Oh for cryin' out loud, first Moe Tucker and now this" when she gets all pro-gun bumperstickery and repeats "An armed society is a polite society" it gets a little hard to laugh or even feel sorry when she gets personal. When you accuse a grieving father of faking it, or accuse the parents of the Sandy Hook children of being privy to a conspiracy, you are now in Ann Coulter territory. Fuck that, bitch. And sorry, but your
"apology" doesn't fly. You're only sorry you used the word "hoax" and now you're shocked --  shocked -- that it generated such a negative response. What the hell did you expect, Exene?

Then again, it's not like we ever looked to X for political commentary. That's what the Dead Kennedys were for. No, X, was a band that was more about raw emotion, and they were great at it. She and John Doe opened up their relationship to the world, with its ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster ride that it was. But you can't decide critical public policy based on emotion alone. And that's what her recent politics are based on: emotional reactions not based in fact. Consider her tweet about Obama: basing her opinion on her perception of his appearance and perception of Executive Orders.  Seriously, let me Google that for you: Obama's use of executive orders is less frequent than any 20th or 21st  century president. And you don't like his robotic eyes? Oh, that's a basis for sound public policy. I guess I shouldn't be surpreised. Again, her core competency has always  been expression of emotion, but that's inappropriate here.

So I woke up the day after, contemplating that feeling of letdown when you learn that an artist you admire is kind of batshit crazy, and I log onto the internet, and there's Chrissie Hynde: animal right activist, witness to the Kent State shootings (Hey, Exene, s'pose that was a hoax, too?) and rape apologist. "If I'm walking around drunk and in my underwear, who else's fault can it be?" Um, I don't care how vulnerable the victim is. The vulnerability of the victim is not the issue. The rapist committed the crime. IT'S THE RAPIST'S FAULT. DUH. Rape seems to be the only crime where it's acceptable to blame the victim. Hynde also tries to make a differentiation between the man-in-the-bushes kind of assault and the girl at a party who's in a vulnerable situation, the ol "Well what were you thinking going to a party with men there dressed like that" excuse. They're both rape, not to mention those rapes lots of people write off: marital rape, date rape, etc. Hynde defends her comments by saying there's worse issues in the world (she points to the refugee crisis) and why are we even worried about her asinine comments? Because I will submit that rape is ALSO one of the biggest humanitarian crises in this world, and if we're still having trouble in the United States getting people to understand that its not the victim's fault, dammit, we're a long way to solving the problem worldwide.

But here's the thing. Musically, I thought those first two Pretenders albums were great, and I thought Chrissie was a badass, but she kind of lost me after those albums, and after her hijinks.  And while I though she was cool, this didn't break my heart. No, it just pissed me off.

Now let's open up this institutional sized can of worms now. Because Chrissie Hynde wasn't the one that made me want to pick up a guitar and play rock and roll, and understand that women/girls want to ROCK. No, that would be Joan Jett.

Joan Jett. Feminist. Spirtual mother of the Riot Grrrls, and producer of half the albums put out by them. Intrepreter of rock and roll standards, including "You Don't Own Me" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Author of the Number One Badass Chick Anthem "Bad Reputation" and co-author of its predecessor, "Cherry Bomb." And a couple of months back, a story broke that she stood by and did nothing while her bandmate was being publicly and violently raped by Kim Fowley.  Ugh. Of all the women working rock and roll, Joan Jett did this? Say it ain't so, Joan!

Well, she did say it wasn't so. She denied remembering being there. She and Cherie Currie denied being there when interviewed for the story. God, we didn't know what to think of this. And of all the people I just wrote about today, I have to admit, she's the one I'm most willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Maybe it's because she's the one who influenced me the most. Maybe it's because she's since done (and continues to do) the most for women artists in general. But maybe, it's because there's a possibility she's telling the truth. Let's face it, she was 15 at the time. And she was in a scene where there was plenty of alcohol and drugs going. It's entirely possible she genuinely doesn't remember being there because she was fucked up. And as badass and tough as she wants to be seen as (and I'd like to be seen as), if I'd witnessed something so fucked up at that age, I can't say I wouldn't do everything to block it out of my mind and tell myself it didn't happen, and tell myself enough times that I finally believed it. And remember, who was the rapist? Was it Joan? No, it was Joan's employer, Kim Fowley. It was the person who held the keys to 15-year-old Joan's career. It was a person in Joan's life who was older and physically stronger than her. It was a person skilled at emotional manipulation, and used it to turn bandmates and friends against each other.  Who had the power in this relationship? It sure as hell wasn't Joan, or Cherie, or the victim, Jackie Fuchs.   Let's not forget that it wasn't Joan or Cherie who raped Jackie. Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs, Chrissie, despite the fact that Jackie was dressed a little more revealingly than a Duggar Wife, that she'd been drugged before she was assautled. Jackie was raped. Jackie was a victim, and her bandmates were victims of a different sort too. KIM FOWLEY WAS the RAPIST. The end.

But the whole thing hammers home that our artistic idols cannot be held as human idols, or at least not all the time. The challenge comes in seperating the artist from the art: and if that's possible or even appropriate. I'm struggling with this. I'm even considering that my headline for this post is ripped from a Sonic Youth album, you know, that band whose guitarist cheated on his wife of a couple of dozen years (and a perennial nominee for Coolest Girl In Rock) in a mid-life crisis for a younger, cuter thing.  But I always thought Thuston Moore was a pretentious blowhard anyway. So, yeah. Kill yr idols.

Trash Fest, like Christmas, came early this year

This thing will outlast nuclear holocaust.
I’m told that the Testa Rosa CD release show at Shank Hall last Saturday night was (unsurprisingly) transcendant. I’ve heard enough of the new recording to know that between the fact that the band is comprised of some of the best players in town, and fronted by the beautifully clear voice of Betty Blexrud-Strigens (comparaisons to Karen Carpenter are apt), the whole night was probably dripping with elegance and beautiful music. Especially worth noting is that this CD took over a year to produce (and who can expect more? Blexrud-Strigens had a Patti Smith tribute show to curate!) and it sounds like that level of care went into it.  If my FB feed is any indication, all the cool and classy people in town were there.

However, nobody ever accused me of being part of the cool and classy crowd. And to prove it, I wasn’t there.

Duh, I was at Trash Fest.

I missed the start of last year’s Trash Fest, and for the first time in memory, the perennial Nervous Virgins weren’t the opening act. (Maybe they were at Testa Rosa that night). Instead , we got a pile ‘o’ Jorins giving us their take on Jesus Christ Superstar, which I admit was was skeptical of. I still have Steven Christ Superstar in my memory from the early 90s, with Steve Whalen belting out “Heaven in Their Minds” over that that guitar line that nobody denies kicks ass. But not to worry. You haven’t heard the JCS overture until you’ve heard it on accordion, courtesy of Tyler Christ Superstar, with Judas Iscariot Priest singing the lead, and a motley crew of whoever they could get wondering what the buzz was and when DO they ride into Jerusalem? Before a pie in Jesus Ted’s face ended the set, Voot Warnings sidled over to me (wait wait wait! There was a VOOT SIGHTING AT TRASHFEST!) and asked me “So…. Best Trash Fest opener EVER?” I’m reluctant to be that absolute, but I’ll put it in the top five, for sure.

Soon afterwards, a couple  of geeky science guys in  Fermilab-issued white lab coats and safety lenses, accompanied by a drummer who looked like he was their financial sponsor approached the stage and proceeded to set up their experiment. Their hypothesis was explained thusly: That, if one were to strip out synthesizers from 80s NuWave (and, frankly, mainstream) hits, one would realize that these songs actually were great songs, and further, that they rocked. And, the proceeded to prove it by running through Tainted Love and even slipping in a 70s Roxy Music tune. The audienc reaction would confirm the hypothesis.  I’m concerned, however, that I did not see any IRB approval documentation in the research venue, and further, that we as the test subjects had not been offered the opportunity to give informed consent to participate in the research. Perhaps the Principal Investigators had obtained an exemption based on expedited review, but I’m skeptical. However, as best as I could tell, none of the research subjects sustained any kind of physical or  psychological damage, and, they proved their hypothesis. On to the next act.

Which turned out to be Gil Massen and the Rockabilly Douches, and they were pretty darn douchey.
They bothered to actually lug in a standup bass (what's a rockabilly band without a standup bass), all their songs were I-IV-Vs (what's a rockabilly song if its chord progression is anything else), all they lyrics were about how they play rockabilly ("We're rockabilly! Rockabilly!") and they were all in the same key: "Hope you like rockabilly 'cos this one's in A!"

We had a really uncomfortable wait for the next band. It seems like somebody didn't show up. Oh, gee, that never happens at TrashFest. To the rescue were a lovely group of people who handed out what appeared to be flyers but then we realized they were BINGO cards! Hoo! A trashy game of Bingo! With prizes and everything! The prizes were bite sized Snickers bars and Mexican wrestling masks (not real ones, just paper party ones, but still...) Bingo! Prizes!

This gave time for the Yacht Core ship to come into port. Paul Setser gave us a feel for what awaited us, with a stirring version of "Feelings," accompanied by Desmond Bone (not sure if that was planned or not) and then accompanied by Mike "I can read Walker quotes with a straight face" Nelson (pretty sure that wasn't planned), but everybody has "Feelings." (Wait wait wait: 30 years of Trash Fest and this is the first time anybody's done "Feelings"? How did we miss this?)_ Then the rest of the band floated onstage, including these two bearded women, one of whom was drinking champaigne out of a hot water bag, both of whom lovingly mellowed us out with "Margaritaville" and "Love Will Keep Us Together" and other shit you'd expect to hear on Judge Smalls' yacht. At first I though it was called Yacht Porn, and that would have been just as appropriate.

Then it was time for some wholesome family entertainment, as children's chanteuse Marlavous Marla
and her puppet friends took the stage and led us in childhood classics like "The Wheels on the Bus." Seriously. They did this straight up. And the crowd had enough liquor in them to reduce the collective intellect to the level of a classroom full of K-4 kids on the first day of school. So of course, we all loved it. You know what I love even more? The fact that this isn't just a Trash Fest act. This is a real gig for Marlavous: she makes good money doing this on the children's stage at Summerfest. God, I love Milwaukee.

Then what's starting to become a perenial act at TrashFest -- Cheese of the Goat oozed onto the stage. They're  this cross between GWAR, Frankie Yankovic, and the cast of Zombieland. And that damn accordion from earlier in the evening is back. Well, it had to be: these guys were playing death metal polka with cookie monster vocals.

This year, the requisite noise band was last instead of first, and Hideous Replica did their job: they pretty much drove everybody out of the place. I'm not a fan of noise bands to begin with, but these guys really were perffect for Trash Fest in that they were completely devoid of melody, rhythm, lycial content, or anything even approaching a "pleasing" (or even a n arresting) aesthetic. I just want to know if they were a replica of something, what the hell was the original? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Waking up, not Chilling, on the Hill

I've seen a lot of great music over this past year, but anybody who follows me knows I haven't been writing. Partially because half the great music I've gone to see has been tried-and-true bands -- acts I've seen (and written about) over and over and writing about them again would get, well, redundant. You already know that I love Floor Model and Voot Warnings and the Northside Creeps and, well.... Chief and the Hullmen.

But I haven't been writing also because, this having a teenage daughter, adolescent son, and a lot going on (car repairs house repairs body repairs) is getting in the way. Sometimes I have this choice: do I sit down and write (a blog post, or a song, or even more than a pithy twitter post) or do I just watch this episode of Star Trek (TOS) I've seen a hundred times already. And lately, I've been choosing the latter, despite the fact that there's some really good band like the Grovelers at the Circle A right when Mr Spock is walking in on Kirk seducing some space alien.

But, the kid likes to go to Chill on the Hll, and there's always a good band there. Thing is, while I won't ever deny that the lineup is always top notch, I will have to admit that the lineup is usually safe. It has to be. It's in the middle of a neighborhood that's trying to maintain a family friendly, urban (and let's not forget somewhat hipster) feel to it. And they're a hellava lot more edgy than Summerfest, that's for sure, but they have an extremly wide swath to cut in terms of selecting bands that are going to be crowd pleasers. They manage with some good themes (last week was a sort of country/Americana thing going, the week before was "Kids Night.")

But I'll admit it, I've been lazy. I need somebody to wake my ass up. Enter the Size 5s. They played in the middle of a lineup between the Hullmen (another favorite band that tuned in a nice set at Kochanski's earlier this summer) and Chief (who's been away too long), and when I say "in the middle" I mean that literally. I heard music, but saw nobody on the stage. Well, that was because they set up about halfway up the hill, right behind the soundboard, and we were ready for some punk, people. It was jarring, like a good punk band should be -- again, this was literal: this was how you noticed that there's a bit of delay between what's going into the PA and when it comes out. After a couple of songs, everybody except lead singer Juan Avilos made their way to the stage, where he eventually joined them for the rest of their anthemic punk set that had some elements of ska floating in and out of it. Finally, a new band I wasn't aware of before that made me actually want to take some pictures and write about them.

Weather wise, it was crappy out, and I'm hoping that's why the crowd was thinner than usual. In fact, the return of Chief to a big stage (which is where their balls-out rawk belongs) had to be cut short because of the severe thunderstorms that were rolling in, despite a newer tune called Sky Killer. I really hope that the Chill folks take into account that the threat of rain, and the overall dreariness contributed to the smaller attendance, and not the harder, heavier, wake your ass up nature of the musical offerings. Frankly, having Chief and the Hullmen on the bill was why I risked getting caught in a storm, and the happy suprise of The Size 5s made me glad I did. It was good to see, as Chief advertised it, the "Thrill on the Hill" and seeing bands the rocked out in three great ways. C'mon Chill organizers, let's see more of this!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alma is back -- and so am I

Ugh. I should call *this* blog "This time for sure, Rocky!" (which is what  I call my other blog, simply because this will be the umpteenth time I've  tried to fire it up again and begin with "well, it's been a long time since I've written...." )but I probably need to accept that enough in my life has changed such that this isn't going to be exclusively about my going out and rating pre-buzz bands and seeing basketball games and such. So having said that, I'm just going to write blog entries (people, it's 2015 -- a blog post isn't a whole "blog" -- it's simply a post, so quit calling it a "blog") and do what the original terminology of a "blog"was suppoed to be: a web-based log of a persons life/activities/etc. So this will be a long blog post, and I promise that later ones won't necessarily be, but I have a lot to get out of my head over a couple of days.

So just this weekend, I braved the cold and took a trip to Champaign, IL, ostensibly to take Sammy to a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Bloomington, but really to just get in a visit with Cynthia and Ernie and their family -- friends of mine that I actually got closer to many years after I knew them IRL during our undergrad years at the University of Illinois.  Yes, I do love watching my buddy do his TKD, and I'm perfectly willing to drive him a few hours to compete, but I can't say I would have jumped so easily into the car on a sub-zero day for four hours through Chicago traffic without the added bonus of arriving at the warm home of friends.

And I almost always do a drive-by of campus, simply because I will forever associate good feelings with that part of the world: where I met people I know and love to this day, where I finally found--  and started to feel good about--myself, and where, as I tell my kids and  anybody else who cares to understand what I mean by this, where I learned to read. Really read.  Europeans often refer to where they went to postsecondary school not as "I went to Oxford" but as "I read physics at Cambridge" or "I read poetry at the Sorbonne" -- well, I read English Literature at UIUC. Sammy wanted to climb on the Alma Mater statue like he did the first time we came here, and I was happy to oblige. Alma has returned -- she was out for the past year or so  for repairs, and now she's back and ready for another fifty years worth of oxidation.

And yeah, I know it's been 30 years, and I should expect change. But it's kind of depressing that Green Street -- the main drag of Campustown, is more loaded with chain stores than locally-based joints. Even the Illini Union -- which used to  play host to a basic cafeteria  (on Fridays, they featured a clam chowder that -- legend had it -- the cook would chase everybody out of the kitchen while she prepared it so that nobody would be privy to her secret recipe) is just a food court of corporate rented stalls of Jamba Juice, Einstein Bagels, and others. I'm sure there's some clam chowder once in awhile, but not the stuff we lined  up for.  Fellow alumni -- the Co-Ed Theater is gone. So is Mabel's. So is that gnarly little drugstore where we used to be able to cash checks when the Union was closed. Garcia's Pizza in a Pan and Papa Del's have lost their prime campus real estate across from the quad (both are a fair schlep from campus). The Deluxe Lunch and Billiards -- once heralded as a top spot in the midwest to shoot pool, and the Friday fish fry has never been equaled -- is long gone, replaced by some damn sports bar. And to add insult to injury, one of the few places that has survived is Kam's -- that fetid frat boy dive where roofies were probably developed, and of which ObiWan probably once observed, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."  But I'm not bitching about losing my memories. I'm more bitching about losing -- and this is happening on campuses and towns and etc across the country --  any kind of local (literal) flavor. When I eat out out of town -- I want to get something I can't get anywhere else and that you make better than anybody else. I want to listen to music on a radio station that I'm not hearing in other cities. I expect change -- but I was hoping to see more uniqueness. At least I can still drive a hundred miles north and get an Aurelio's pizza.

But on the bright side, besides just being wonderful people who are always loaded with good conversation, Cynthia and Ernie are consummate hosts. Cynthia is one of those cooks who can open the cabinets and say, "Hmmm, I've got some corn, and Ernie's bringing home a smoked chicken, and here's some lettuce and olives and some dressing for a salad and there's some noodles I can toss with some sesame oil, peppers and soy" and voila! Martha Stewart-worthy meal! I might be mixing up the meals; the next night featured oven-fried thighs with some curry infested crust ("but I didn't have as much curry powder on hand as I thought so I just made do....") and other stuff. Plus a couple of other delightful guests who seemed to be as comfortable with me as I was with them. As in, instantly.

But there's a time when I need to go down for something other than a TKD tournament -- and that's for one of their House Concerts. There's a wonderful little scene of people littered across the country who host House Concerts -- musicians who don't necessarily draw hundreds of people, but can fill a moderately-sized living room and fit in perfectly with a preceding potluck and subsequent housefull of  guests who just love music and conversation.The artists are usually the kind who would play places like the Circle A or maybe Frank's Power Plant -- except because of the neighborhood nature -- maybe not the louder hardcore bands that the Circle A sometimes gets. It's usually the singer-songwriter types, the ones that are excellent (musical) storytellers, but I wouldn't say they're all folksingers.
It was looking at all the posters for the shows they had in the media room that made me remember that I *did* see some excellent obscure music in the past several months, which I'll run down now:
Jeff Kerr reading his stories
Jeff Kerr & The Hard Ballad Medicine Show (featuring Jason Wietlispach and Joshua Lesniak) opened for Aluminum Knot Eye the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I knew nothing about Kerr, who describes himself as a "Man O' Letters" -- but learned he writes poetry and prose from deep in the heart of Appalachia. His delivery has an almost storefront baptist church feel to it -- he clutches his small-press book of words as though it were his bible, but there's nothing Godly in those stories of alcohol, being dirt fucking poor, but feeling, feeling like salvation is just around the corner, just out of his grasp. He's like a June-less Johnny Cash. His backing band is a bass player with six bazillion floorpedals with which he squeezes equal parts horror and beauty out of electronic notes that shouldn't work with this setup, but do. His drummer keeps time, but not in a traditional  drummer's sense: rather, this guy speeds  up and slows down in rhythm to the story, using any number of things to produce a sound besides sticks,& drumheads. To say the whole thing was riveting and intense was an understatement. I needed the relief of Aluminum Knot Eye afterwards to bring me back to Milwaukee after this unexpected darkness of South Carolina. Although, AKE was kind of in a Gang of Four mood that night-- dissonant (duh, this is AKE after all), hard hitting, and ultimately satisfying. I left the Circle A with plenty to be thankful about.
The Grovelers at Kochanski's: Finally, finally, finally got out to see this band, and I'm glad I did. Lemonie Fressh is the bass  player here, and she's been in a pile of good bands,but sometimes it takes a while to find the right band for the right player, and this is it. Her melodic but psychedelic  style and sensibilities are exactly the right fit for this band, and this is the right band for her: this really neat combination of garage trash and Americana (I don't want to call it country, but maybe it is), played by people who have also heard of Devo and the Residents. They're set for a triple bill with Couch Flambeau and Go Go Slow (another  band that's on my "why haven't I seen them yet?" list) later this month. I can't wait. 
So, I went to Riot Fest last September with Stella, and that probably would have warranted its own entry, but frankly, you don't need to hear from me how transcendant Tom Verlaine and Television were, how nice it was to finally see Patti Smith in the flesh, how fun it was to be rolled over by Wayne Coyne's big plastic bubble during the Flaming Lips, how fun it was to hear Cheap Trick, and how great the pile of hardcore bands were. (and how joyous it was to see a happy Stella not only see the Descendants, but to meet the guitarist and get an autograph on her hand!) No, you want to hear from me about the guys who got shoved at 11 am on the side stages were. So, when they come through town, go support the following: Kurt Vile: who was this combination of twangy, southern, psychdelic stoner rock. Nolstaghia: this duo of women who are picking up Kate Bush's baton with an upright electric cello and the drama such a comparaison demands. And finally,  the Grizzled Mighty who woke my ass up on a Sunday morning. You're going to compare them instantly to the White Stripes because they have a mindblowing guitarist (who probably listened to a lot more of the MC5 than Jack White did) and a female drummer. 

The Grizzled Mighty
Except, comparing Lupe Flores to Meg White is like comparing M'Shelle Ndegeocello to Kim Deal. Seriously -- when people talk about "female bass players, oh Kim Deal!" I want to scream, "NO! There are women who can actually play the damn bass!"Same thing here. "Oh, women drummers! Meg White!" I want to shake my head. No, there are women who can seriously play the fucking drums and Lupe Flores plays the living shit out of them. Barefoot. She and her partner in crime, Ryan Granger came barreling into Chicagoland despite car troubles and forgetting their merch (else I would have  bought it all up) and getting maybe two hours of sleep and they took it out on their instruments with heavyness that overwhelmed the tiny stage they were relegated to. I'll be back, that's for sure. And not just to see bands. Alma is back and so am I!

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 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.
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:

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 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!