Monday, December 31, 2007

Coming up on a Happy(er) New Year

Tommy can you hear me?
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, I lied. I *am* going to step out a bit tonight. Have a couple of kid-friendly parties to hit, plus I totally forgot about the wonderful New Years' Eve around the world schtick they do at the Safe House. Stella loves the Safe House anyway -- we've had a few pre-ballet dinners there and she associates the place with good friends and good times.

But I did see a lot of favorites, old and new this weekend. Starting Friday, the snow died down and I trudged out to see Chief, who brought the rock as only they say they can, at the Stonefly. Aesthetically, I love that room. It's fun to photograph in, it's roomy (so the smoke doesn't get to you), the beer selection (including the house brews) is wonderful and reasonably priced, seating is comfortable and plentiful. Acoustically, it's a nightmare. God, how did Loblolly fans put up with my already high reliance on high end? That room, with its high solid ceiling and cement floor, is a high-end horror. Bounce bounce bounce goes the sound, and this isn't a diss on the sound guy, either. I'm talking to Buggs drummer Chris Lehmann, and we both agree, what a "challenge" to try to mix in this room.

Nevertheless, Chief brought the rock, ending a year when I learned about them on a lark and now I'm a fan. I like them because they are so unabashedly in love with their kind of music, and have won me back to straight up, pulsating Amerikan Rawk And Roll because of this enthusiasm. They're fierce entertainers, and they will
put hair
and metal spikey things on or around your chest.

Revolush was next. I'd met Tommy from Revolush at a Kneevers' Compound party, he handed me their CD, and I listened to it. The CD does not seem to represent this band's sound -- or maybe the band's just reinvented themselves since they made this recording, because the band on stage was this powerful, almost glam poppy metal combo, rather than just the power pop on the record. Singer Tommy has the vocal and dynamic range of Ronnie James Dio, and he uses it well, combined with a stage presence that was meant for a bigger room, that's for sure. He fronts a band that's tight, and knows how to write a variety of songs that compliment each other, but still maintain a cohesive sound. Not a dancin' band, to be sure, but a good headbanging band with a lot of emphasis on hooky, catchy melody.
Rounding out the night were the Buggs, with special guest melaniejane (lower case intentional) on electric cello, and it sounded great. Not that they need her, but her cello is a George Martin-ish frosting on the punk cake the Buggs mix with Lennon-McCartney. It was a nice way to end the evening as well -- after so much rock, much of it new, it was nice to end with something familiar, some Milwaukee punk stalwarts easily and comfortably rendering great pop from my youth. The set unfortunately got cut short because bar time was looming near, so I didn't get to hear "Edmund Fitzgerald" (which I peeked and saw was on on their setlist), but it was still a warm and fuzzy way to spend an evening with friends. Spotted in the crowd: Janna Blackwell, coming down from her set at Potbellys, Roni Allwaise, coming down from her set at the BBC, Paul "The Fly" Lawson, coming down from the big tattoo show at the BBC (where Allwaise's Guido's Racecar played with Binky Tunny and others), and earlier in the night, Blaine Schultz stopped in earlier proudly bearing copies (finally!) of the new Aimless Blades CD, which I can tell you sounds great in the car. (Full review later -- but overall, it's happy(ER) than you normally get from them. You could almost say upbeat.)

I got some knitting done, watched the rest of my Christmas gift from Brian (a copy of Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof"), and went to get my overdue Mighty Deer Lick at Club Garibaldi. The place was packed, but a lot of it was with DJs. I can see a DJ in a club in the bar part, but I just don't get putting them in front of the stage and just watching them. Especially when the band following them is a punk outfit.
Thank God for the Mighty Deerlick. They're just as snotty, off-the-cuff clever as usual, and it was a "Pseu Year's Eve" party, complete with leis, noisemakers, and silly party hats. Only four T-Shirt changes on Dave tonight, though, and I've shot him enough (he is visually fun for photogs, tho) that this blog around, I'll feature Guitarist Bob, who admits he's the "new(est)" guy in the bunch. Bought Czelticgirl that beer (a goodone Anne, don't make me buy you one of those Miller Lites you otherwise drank all evening -- pshaw!).
Another bathroom anomoly I noticed while taking a "Self Portraits in Rock and Roll Restrooms group portrait, was the fact that apparently the kitchen may not have it's own dishwashing station, as evidenced by these instructions in the women's restroom. Oh well, I'm not going to get on their case about this: they had enough issues with a sudden demand to show IDs, as if every bar in Bay View isn't already walking on eggshells over the holiday weekend step-up in liquor law enforcement.
As for tomorrow, lots of people are gearing up for the annual Polar Bear Swim near Bradford Beach, but that's almost old news. I'm not even shocked by that anymore. Bay View to the rescue with something even crazy(er). Meeting at the Palimino at 11 am tomorrow, a group of bicyclists purport to one-up the Polar Bears by riding their bikes into Lake Michigan. At least that's what the poster at Garibaldi says. I'm not clear if they're going to cowabunga off some dock, or just ride slowly off a boat launch or what, but here's the best part: they've done this before. This is the 2nd Annual Bicycle Polar Plunge. Just when I'm wishing I still lived on the Fashionable East Side, somebody down in Bay View re-ignites my southern pride.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Xmas is over. Now is the time to rock.

Xmas With Ozzy
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Ah yes. The weekend before New Year's Eve. I just don't go out on NYEve anymore. Maybe I'm getting old, but it's not worth the risk of driving with all the drunks on the road, the overpriced dinners and drinks, and the impossibility of finding a sitter. If I find a house party that will allow the kids, maybe we'll hit that.

The weekend before is a different story entirely. Friday night, there's two really good choices. At the BBC, you have Guido's Racecar at a show sponsored by Intense Ink Magazine, and there will be tattoo giveaways! Binky Tunny is on the bill too, along with three other bands. But I think I will probably end up at the Stonefly Brewery, not just to see two sixthstation favorites (Chief and the Buggs), but to check out a band called Revolush. Apparently they've been voted Best New Band or something like that in the Shepherd, and the first I'd heard of them was at a Paul Kneevers Compound Party where they handed me their CD (good power pop) and I decided I needed to see them live. So here's my chance.

Saturday is a tough call, too. The Five Card Studs are at Cali's in Brookfield, and if there's one place I really want to see the Studs, its there. It's a great little hotel lounge, just the perfect place for Cesar and Asti and Reno and the boys. Problem is, it's supposed to snow like a mofo, and I'm not in the mood to drive clear out past Highway A Hundred to see a band I could easily catch on a better day.

Plus, I have another chance of gettin' me some Deer Lick. You may remember they played out during the last snowstorm, and it wasn't the snow that kept me away, despite this little paragraph in their recent email:
It’s a Deerlick Do-Over! Listen up everybody. On December 15th, the evening of the Mighty ReinDeerlick's annual Xmas Xtravaganza, the snows came -- laying waste to our best laid plans that evening to rock as many of you as possible. Oh, we were there, and the hardy souls who braved the white death were indeed duly and vigorously rocked. But many of you were not. So we’re doing it all over again...just for you!

No, it wasn't that, guys. I told you, i had an advance screening of Alien Vs. Predator going on in my gut, and I was in no condition to make it to another club. And I regretted it. But this new show is perfect for New Years snobs like me who refer to those who do go out January 31 as "amateurs" and their email nails it. To wit:
What’s that, Mighty Deerlick?" you are no doubt asking. "Pseu-Year’s Eve?" That’s right! We’re going to pretend it’s New Year’s Eve, oh yeah! You know those people who don’t want to go out on the actual New Year’s Eve -- perhaps you are one yourself: "Oh, New Year’s Eve is amateur night. We’re just going to stay home that night and eat shrimp and watch Seacrest." Well, this is New Year’s Eve for you -- the Professional. We’ll (hopefully) have a food spread, a midnight champagne toast to celebrate the arrival of December 30th, amusing party favors, the whole shebang. All right then, we’re all good? See you there!

Indeed you will, gentlemen. At Club Garibaldi Saturday night. Seacrest Rusnak out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Catching up in the lull of the afternoon

john sings
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Right now, as you can tell from the timestamp, its that part of Christmas day when the presents have been opened, we're all coming down from the initial high of the day, and it's not quite time to set out to our friend's house for her annual evening Christmas party. So here I am, remembering that amidst all the hubbub, I have a blog to maintain!

Saturday night we hit that Bucks game, and it was a good game to hit. Maybe the "60's Night" love an peace aura wa about, because it was good vibes all around. T-Shirt Guy had his order in to Santa, and enough of the Bucks, including Yi and Redd had the good humor to pose as they would have looked in the late 60s for their introductory shots.

We got there early enough to catch the Small Fries Game, from Riverdale School, and these kids could play. Not the greatest shooters, but there was one kid on defense that made up for it -- lots of hustle. The game almost ended in a tie, but a buzzer beating basket (well, if this was the NBA it wouldnt have counted) broke the tie, to cheers from the crowd. Then the anthem -- given to us by the Park Hills High School Choir. It was OK. Thing is, this is a high school. You'd think by high school some of the kids would have developed bass and soprano pipes, but either there are only altos and tenors in the PHHS Choir, or their music teacher didn't score their soprano or bass parts, because I only heard a mid-range, two-part harmony there. If you're only going to do that, you're a chorUS, not a choIR. I know, I'm getting nit-picky here, but when somebody says "choir" I expect 4 part classically trained harmonies.

Anyway, the game! Good Christmas gift to the fans -- and Yi is on fire, hitting almost all his shots and just being there where he needed to be. Michael Redd seemed a bit tired tonight, and Bogut is out there, because he has things to prove. Yi is definitely stealing his thunder and he's got to get it back. This is good to see.

The "60s'" entertainment at halftime was Chubby Checker. OK, Checker is actually early 60s, but technically he's still 60s. Thing is, everything else about tonight was themed mid to late 60s-- very flower power, all the way down to Bango trouncing about with a 'fro and Hendrix-style headband. So Checker comes out with one of his "new" songs, and followed by the twist, of course. He's not so chubby anymore. In fact, he looks more like a guy
who used to be slim, but as he aged, put on a few pounds 'round the waist but still looks darn good.
Still, couldn't be happier with the Bucks. They need to keep this up.
Headed to the Highbury pub afterwards for the perfect pre-christmas band, John Kruth and the Eva Destruction band. Lots of duality in that place. Let's start with the Highbury itself. It's clearly a european soccer fans' joint, with club flags all about. There's a gorgeous old world chandelier next to some track lighting not too far away from a disco ball by some exposed ductwork. Onstage, there's all this soccer paraphrenalia surrounding John Kruth himself, who's playing a mandolin like he'd been kicked out of a Jewish wedding and stumbled into CBGBs. He and his Greenwich Village vibe is surrounded by the Milwaukeeness of Paul Kneevers and Jeff Hamilton, and that one guy from IROCKZ and other musicians he got to blow through the midwest these past couple of weeks with him. So I'm feeling like I'm partly in some football supporter's pub outside of Manchester, partly like I'm at Folk City in the Village, but constantly reminded that I'm really in Milwaukee, listening to musicians who have that wonderful eclectic of down-home Milwaukee wonder and love of music. There's friends and acquaintances packed into this pub from all genres of art and music, and the music itself is a wonderful cross of folk and gypsy and psychedelia, and prog and poetry. It was the perfect sendoff to the holiday weekend.

Stella and I braved the snow sunday for the Nutcracker, and it was lovely as usual. I like that Michael Pink is giving a lot of the new dancers major parts (but did save the fabulous Luz San Miguel to dance Marie.) A bit of a change near the end -- they didn't bring us back to the Tannenbaum's living room, just left Marie and Clara in the land of sweets, and maybe that's where I wanted to stay, too.

So yesterday I ran last minute errands, listening to Paul Host's Christmas show in the car, and then we drove out to Madison for family Christmas. We're coming home and there's this awful Christmas parody on the Madison 91.7 that just didn't sit right with me. It's not that I don't appreciate parody and satire (and nothing is sacred with me, you should know that), but it wasn't even funny. It was more there to try to shock, as opposed to Jimmy Von Milwaukee's craft show -- which was shocking AND funny. (Ornaments made of crack pipes, cookies in the shape of internal organs, and wonderful photography with "Santa" stood out.). The radio program was just there to be angry with Christmas, and there was no warmth to it. This is different from Paul Host's show -- which includes parody, satire, warmth, and musical takes on Christmas from just about every genre you could hope for.

That's what I really hope for from Christmastime, absent of any arguments about what the real meaning of the season is, whose birthday it is/was, what day it all really went down on, what the pagans were doing at the solstice before the Christians came along, etc etc etc. I'm all about inclusion, and seeing what everybody has to offer the world during an otherwise cold, dreary, hopeless, dead time of year. There was nothing any cynic could do to dull the thrill of Sammy opening his gifts this morning, amazed that both us and Santa knew his wants and needs as well as he did, and Stella, looking up from a gift she knew was expensive and saying, "I didn't deserve this," and my answering her, more than you know, you deserved this only if it makes you happy. Because kids deserve a irony-free day, a day to just be happy about giving and celebrating and hanging out with family. Yesterday we hung out with the family we were born into, tonight we hang with the family we chose -- and both are worth putting up with stupid retail shoppers in the weeks preceding.

Happy Christmas, my friends.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why Does It Hurt When I Eat, much less Pee?

dirty sax and bass love
Originally uploaded by V'ron
There's a nasty stomach virus (feels a touch like crypto -- 10 minutes after I ate anything I felt like I was in labor) blowing through the area, and it knocked me on my heinie Saturday night. So much so that I could barely enjoy the 1st brithday party of my friend Elaine's grandson. So much so that I could barely go out this weekend at all. So much so that I couldn't fully enjoy the Zappa Fest going on Saturday, although all four bands sparkled and twinkled so much you could almost feel FZ himself in the room. The lead singer of the Tempermentals even sounded like him, to the point where Brian came up from the green room because he thought he heard the house music and that was his cue to get his guitar tuned up and ready for play. That's how well everybody -- humbly to be sure -- approached the event.

I've written before that I'm not exactly a Zappa freak, but I do understand the man's greatness, and after Saturday night I understood it a little better -- as I realized that here was an (as he wished to be remembered) American Composer whose music could be played and enjoyed by any kind of musician or music fan. Some tunes I barely recognized-- all tunes I enjoyed. If I leaned anything that night, its that this is a body of work I am definitely going to need to more fully acquaint myself with. And anybody who knows Brian probably is in shock that we've been married this long and I haven't done this already, especially since I walked down the aisle to "Watermelon and Easter Hay" and our recessional was "Peaches en Regalia" (known to Stella as "Theme from the Jules Show.")

The Tempermentals -- lead by a guy who sounded like FZ himself, in both vocal tone and phrasing, otherwise gave this vibe of "The Georgia Sattelites jam with the Mothers of Invention" sound. "Nice treatment," I heard another guy in the crowd say, clapping appreciatively. That's the kind of crowd this was: they didn't want to hear note-for-note covers, but rather intrepretations that captured the spirit of the man's work. And Dr Chow's Love Medicine, who was on next, delivered that. The Daves from Eat the Mystery joined them on horns ( and that includes bullhorn!) and like many bands, played selections from their regular set -- and it just so happens that Dr Chow has a lot of Zappa in their regular repertoire. "Dirty Love" stood out on this particular night.

Skirt followed, and what was this? Judy Garland (and this is not Dorothy, but cigarette-smoking, Let-Me-Run-Over-That-Clanging-Trolley-Already, Judy) sings Zappa. Picture that clear, showbiz, trained, perfect voice singing "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee" and you'll get the idea. Another nice treatment of the work. And then finally the Danglers, going electric, (Dave on electric 4-string bass, Jason with a guitar), pointing out that since they don't rehearse 7-days-a-week like the original Mothers did, they would fall short of the greatness, did anything but fall short. In fact, I expected them to excel, and they did. The only reason I can't write more was that it was all I could do to hold a conversation with friends while a blocking rehearsal of "Alien Vs. Predator" was going on in my intestines -- and we ended up leaving halfway through the set. There will continue to be Zappa fests, and I know the Danglers will continue to be part of them.

Sunday I started to feel better, and so we trudged out to our family's favorite xmas tree lot to pick ours. We always go this late in the season for a couple of reasons. 1) We have our Christmas party in January, and we need the tree to not be a fire hazard by then. 2) Our other tradition is that the tree stays up as long as the Packers are "still in it" (or in some years, until at least Christmas, whichever comes last.) This year, it still might be around for the Super Bowl, so the week before the actual Holiday seemed prudent. 3) Our family never used to put up the tree until about a week beforehand. We refuse to get caught up in this whole "Christmas Time Starts in August" retail thing. And when you have kids, the tree just keeps reminding them about Christmas and all the presents they want, and it's nice to put off that nagging as long as possible. 4) We've just been too damn swamped and busy, both at home and at work. Saturday night, even if I wasn't sick, I had to miss a dear friend's party, and I wanted to tell him, "Please don't have a party during December. It's all I can do to remember to make dinner half the time." But we got our tree, and decorated it while watching "Family Guy." How's that for a mix of wonder and cynicism?

Tuesday night I visited Dr Lumberhorn at his O'Keefe's House of Hamburg office for my monthly prescription of irreverant bluegrass, which helped me crack my neck and ease a lot of the personal stress I've been going through. (That project at work I'm not supposed to talk about is also easing off, at least for now, and that's helping too.) In the spirit of the season, they were giving away their CDs, T-Shirts, and such, and it took awhile for this concept of "free stuff" to sink in with the crowd. "We'll give you a quarter if you take this stuff," they said, in their trademark self-depreciating way. (That of course promted a response: "If I take 8 things, will you give me two bucks?") But once it did sink in, the stocks quickly disappeared, and the tip jar was full. One enthusiastic patron took "anything on that table is free" to the letter and picked up the generously filled tip jar (you can count on good ol Catholic guilt to get people to "pay" for "free" stuff -- it worked on me!) and said, "Well you said that anything on the table was free." The band of course played along merrily (even though the looks on their faces indicated a cross between "DOH!" and "Oh Shit!"), while the tip jar taker looked dead serious and the rest of us in the audience looked on in disbelief ready to transition to horror. Fortunately she didn't take the cash, but I was a bit worried for the band. I mean, to a fellow musician, even touching The Tip Jar, even in jest, is right up there with stealing from the Salvation Army bell ringer on Christmas Eve. You just Don't Do It, I don't care how much the band good-naturedly laughs over it. Especially since none of us paid cover.

Anyway, there were plenty of folks enjoying pre-holiday fun at O'Keefe's that night, and rather than describe the show (which was enjoyable and fun as I've come to expect from these guys), I think I'll just publish this picture which pretty much summed up the evening for me:

Speaking of O'Keefe's, phone calls were made and a Dr Chow Holiday party will be going on this Friday night, which, if I can scrape up a sitter on Christmas Weekend with 48 hours notice, I'll be at. Otherwise, I'd have set out for a lovely evening with the Five Card Studs (at the Cactus Club).
Saturday, Jimmy Von Milwaukee gathers his Leo Feldman Gallery denizens for his annual Christmas Craft show at 823 N. 2nd, across from the ARCW and behind George Webb's. It's Saturday night and Sunday all day. This year's theme for the self-proclaimed "Craft Show From Hell"? Season's Geinings -- A tribute to Ed Gein! From the press release:
A Jack of all trades and master of all, Ed Gein was a Freelance Artist, Innovator, Sculptor (a Architect of bone artifacts), Performance Artist and a Outsider Artist who came from the DL (down low) town of Plainfield, Wisconsin.

Oh, and ghastly serial killer too. The press release points out (in bold type, just in case), this is an adults only show. Yeah, right, like I want to have to have this conversation with Stella real soon: "Well, sweetheart, some people have issues. You know, how those mean kids in school have issues like parents who hit them and such so they think that they need to hit everybody else? Well, there was this guy named Ed Gein who had issues. His mom used to get on his case a lot, but instead of just talking back to her, he he dug up bodies and killed women himself and made outfits and lampshades with their skin and dinner with the rest of their body parts. I wouldn't recommend this as an effective way to deal with disagreements with your mom."

Saturday night we have Bucks tickets, and then later, John Kruth is in town again, and this time we will NOT miss him. He'll be at the Highbury pub on KK, which seems to be the place for that crowd (Jeff Hamilton, Paul Kneevers, et al). I will have to catch Paul Wall and his Nice Outfit (at the Mad Planet Saturday night for a CD release party) another evening, for I am NOT missing Kruth again. But score one for the Nice Outfit -- they were on WMSE's Local/Live this week and -- passing the ultimate test of a great dirty pop band -- they sounded great on the car radio.

Sunday: Stella and I will settle in during the late matinee showing of the Nutcracker Ballet at the PAC, and if we can score tickets this late, maybe we'll make a day of Christmas Culture and hit A Christmas Carol at the Pabst.

Monday: Christmas eve, and with that brings Paul Host's Christmas Show on WMSE. Christmas eve is when we do the family thing, and there's nothing like driving over the river and through the woods, with Paul and his amazing Christmas collection on the radio.

Pre Holiday Ramblings

One Soup Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Just a few ramblings before the big weekend:
  • I've come to the conclusion that if you're a stoner, and need a job, you would do well working for one of those companies that make Vendor Holiday Gift Baskets. Short of working in product development at Ben & Jerry's, no other job would seem to be so tailor made for you. Really, who else but a stoner would come up with chocolate-covered potato chips? Who else but a stoner would realize how good it would taste to layer port wine cheese spread with pre-crushed Ritz Crackers artfully displayed in a snowflake-shaped decanter? Who else but a stoner has even heard of minty-infused white-chocolate covered dried japapeno peppers?

  • I capped off my holiday shopping at American Science and Surplus, where I could write blog entries forEVER about all the treasures one can find there. I'll just point out my favorite find this year -- a mini catapult that launches little plastic nuns. And I am the kind of person who has several friends who would indeed appreciate a Nun-A-Pult.

  • The Ice Dams cometh: why this year? What is it about this year's icicles that are really causing the issue? The sudden freeze? Or is everybody so busy this year (and everybody I've talked to say this has been one of the most stressful holiday seasons ever, so it's not just me), that they've ignored basic maintenance? Knock on wood, we've been lucky.

  • And finally, did you realize that Wolfgang Puck bears a striking resemblance to Jack Nicholson?

Friday, December 14, 2007

I'm still here.... melting the snow with the surf

beerleaders and fair warning
Originally uploaded by V'ron
"Do you miss me? I miss me too!" -- Whale (Remember them?)

And it hasn't been the holiday season that's been doing it. That project at work that I'm not supposed to talk about peaked this past week so if I had a spare moment at home, I spent it just mindlessly knitting that sweater I started. It was very zen to do and helped me clear my head. But that didn't stop me from seeing some terrific stuff last weekend, and it won't stop me this weekend either, especially since this weekend is packed with great stuff. Almost too much great stuff. I'm going to have to miss a lot because there is so much going on. It's the season to cram a whole years' worth of celebration into three or so weeks. And this weekend seems to be the "band" weekend, because nobody wants to play out on Christmas Eve Eve weekend because everybody thinks nobody wants to go out. Wrong. I always need to go out and underground the weekend before Christmas just to put things in perspective.

Roundup from last weekend:

Spent my birthday eve with Eat the Mystery, who crammed themselves onto the tiny stage at the Bremen Cafe, and added a few special guests. Among them was man-about-town Mark E Lee, who fit in perfectly delivering the Johnny Cash and playing the bass in lieu of the entire horn section the ETM usually has. (Dave Cusma was there, though, and he covered most of the horns himself). Lots of drinking of course, and they actually did a medley of their top drinking songs in Set 1, but as they bought me a birthday shot after midnight, they split them back up, or at least did a full version of "Demon Alcohol."

"You can't play this stuff up north," said Janna Blackwell, spotted in the audience joining Paul "The Fly" Lawson for a beer after her own gig at the Bayshore Potbellys. She's doing a happy hour thing there on Fridays, mostly covers, but she's still the legenday bassist I remember. She's also managing bands in the Fox River Valley, and I do suspect there's not a lot of people up there who know of half the incredible bands she laid down the beat for (including the Psychobunnies, with whom I share a sordid band past.) Anyway, good to see her.
Saturday, I took the kids to Lafayette Hill for a great session of sledding, and rested up for the Roller Derby. It was semifinals, and finally, the Sheevil Kneevils busted their no-win record with a close victory over the (well, until that night) undefeated Rushin' Rollettes. And it didn't look so good in the beginning, but this was a night to remember, and it seemed that the whole league was genuinely happy to see the upset, (except those Rollettes, of course).

jonny z debuts on guitar
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
After that, it was snowing like crazy, so we got the kids home and settled in with the sitter so we could go out and celebrate our birthdays, and stopped in at the Cactus Club to catch Transistor Royale. When it snows, nothing cheers me up like instrumental surf, and there is no shortage of great surf in this town. Transistor Royale saw to reminding me of that fact. Jonny "Chicken Shack" Z, normally a stand up bass kind of guy, debuted on guitar that night, as the rest of the band debuted period. They're all stalwarts of the surf/instrumental/americana scene anyway -- Eric Knitter, Don Nelson, a bass player I didn't recognize, and a keyboardist who I didn't recognize either but will note if nothing more than a smashing smoking jacket.. Actually, they were all dressed sharp (somebody had called out "You all look like you're going to bed!") and played to match. Mostly surf tunes, but there was one song with lyrics early in the set that was positively, psychedelically, frantically burning. Wow. Definitely friending them on myspace so I can see them again.

shake those maracas!
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
They were followed by The Nice Outfit, a well-named band with Trolley's Paul Wall behind them. These are four guys who don't look like they should be in a band together. Drummer looks like he belongs in a jazz combo, 2nd guitarist looks like he should be in a broodingly dark metal band, bass player is ready to front a new wave/shoegazer act, and then there's Paul Wall. But they all sound like they should be in a band with Wall. Together, they have his signature, "I'm not really trying to invite 'beatlesque' comparaisons but if you mention those guys in the same paragraph while you talk about me I will have done my job" sound. Good power pop that isn't dopey but isn't self-consciously "clever" either. Having the get the sitter home was the only reason we didn't stay for the whole set.

mark e lee standing in
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
And since said sitter lives in Riverwest, that was as good a reason to drop into the Riverwest Commons as any to catch a bit of Bobby Rivera and the Rivieras. But first I have to yell at you, boys. What did I just say about telling people DAY OF SHOW about your gig? I wouldn't even have bothered if i wasn't in Riverwest anyway. I'm glad I did, though, while the snow fell softly outside, you all played wonderfully and elegantly, and I enjoyed a snotty little story about how Wanda Jackson didn't like your take on one of her songs. (I have to say, it took balls to whoop her song up while you were backing her up.) And there's Mark E Lee with them, reprising his Johnny Cash number from the night before. (Actually, this gig opened with Floor Model, so the Floormodelites --oh whom Lee is one --were there coming down from their set which I regrettably missed. Speaking of reprising, they'll be reprising the exact same Linneman's lineup -- themselves, the Mandates, and FSFI -- soon, at Linneman's, hopefully with smoke eaters/ventilation in full repair.) But anyway, that was a great set to have humming in my head as i braved my birthday snow ride home.

Allright, onto this weekend:
  • Tonight, your choices are the Cocksmiths at the Up and Under, or chick night (the wonderful Barrettes with Pillowfight and a coula other bands) at Points East. Tough call. Love the Barrettes, need to see Pillowfight in more than a Trashfest set, but haven't seen the Cocksmiths in awhile. It may come down to where the parking is easier (and that nod goes to Points East.)

  • Tomorrow is really tough call night. Brian plays with Dr Chow in the annual Zappafest (next weekend would have been his 67th birthday) and the Danglers are also on that bill. All are bands who actually have Zappa in their repertoire anyway, so its not like they had an assignment to ready for. Boy, if this wasn't my husband, though, I'd have to heavily consider the legendary Dirtbombs (great garage from Detroit) at the BBC for the Onion's Christmas party. Sixthstation favorite IROCKZ opens. Then, frankly, it's just not Christmas without The Mighty (Rein)Deer Lick at Zad’s Roadhouse -- new venue at
    434 S. 2nd Street that according to Czelticgirl has Bill Brunke's aura about it in some form or another. For personal reasons, I owe Czelticgirl some kind of Irish/Slavic drinking concoction, and this might be worth a stop in to pay up on this. Place your bets as to where I'll end up.

  • And if surf music didn't melt my heart last weekend, the Bikini Beachcombers will hula my heart at the Foundation's Customer Appreciation party on Sunday night. I know they play other places, as well they should, but that tiki bar is the correct place to see them, enjoying a mai tai as you go.

  • And finally, Tuesday night, I'll have to pop into O'Keefe's House of Hamburg for what is pleasingly turning out to be a monthly dose of Lumberhorn, this time undiluted by a longing to dance with Helio Castroneves. Last year at around this time, they brought me back to sanity with Santanic satire and I suspect they will deliver the same. After being so busy I don't even have time to blog, I'm gonna need it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Just Another Day

No, I haven't written about the snow, (which I haven't had time to play with my kids in), the Bucks (who I'm ignoring until they consistently get their act together), any bands playing out (there's so many my head's spinning), all because of that project at work that I'm too dependent on my job to talk about. So, honeys, I'm not ignoring you. I'm just even more swamped than I usually complain about being. I'm even too swamped to write in my blog.

Oh, and tomorrow's my birthday. I'm feeling guilty about celebrating this, because yesterday was Brian's and, well, I didn't do anything special for it. So I feel like I just have to treat tomorrow like just another day. Which, when you're looking down the barrel of 50 (hold the stupid black balloons, I'm not quite there yet), it actually is. Just another day. And before you get yet another of Sir Paul's more dreckier moments I offer you a weekend lineup worth celebrating a birthday with:
  • Tonight the fabulous Eat the Mystery packs it into the Bremen Café for their 2nd Anniversary Show. They've been around for only two years? I thought they'd been around since 1927. Anyway, it's been awhile, and somehow they are a perfect band for the season and to drink a birthday drink to.

  • Renaissance man Jeff Hamilton and Cocksmith Matty Gonzalez crank it up tonight for a "solo" (but there's two of 'em) show at the Highbury. And it's Matty's birthday too!

  • Saturday during the day, it's Art Vs Craft at the Scottish Rite Center. This is the place to pick up the kind of Christmas gifts I like -- cool, kicky, things that had some thought put into them, local, slightly ironic. Chris Ward alerted us to this. And even if you don't buy a thing, if you've never been in the Scottish Rite Center you want to see the interior. I was there once for one of Melanie Beres' Milwaukee Rock Theatre shows and the combination of oldschool WASP with rock, art, and irony was wonderful.

  • The Brew City Bruisers have a bout this Saturday night! We're taking the kids! It's smoke free, and Stella loves it, and I'm glad she loves it: there's nothing like a feminnist mom and her girl (and her boy and husband, for that matter) in a gym full of strong, creative, powerful women of all shapes and sizes having a good time.

  • Email from the Uptown Savages: some of their members have a new band debuting Saturday night. Here's their blurb, which is all I know about this new act: "Transistor Royale will be making our debut performance on Saturday, Dec 8.
    The show is at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee. We will be opening for The Nice Outfit and Jack Raasch. [They] feature current and former members of The Exotics, The Uptown Savages, The Dick Satan Trio, The Nelsonics, The Bikini Beachcombers, The Virgins, The Nerve Twins, Forearm Smash and Death and more." OK, either there's a few guys who play in thirty different bands, or the stage at the Cactus is going to be packed.

  • Prog queen and composer royale Julie Brandenburg is set for a mellow night at the Bradford Beach Club -- she'll start out with solo songs with Eric Lundgren, and then Strange Land's Sean Gill will play some solo guitar compositions. I might need just that to come down from the Roller Derby

Sunday, December 02, 2007


OK, let's begin by kvetching about the snowstorm, shall we? Let's piss and moan all about the snowstorm as if we in Wisconsin had never seen one before. "Oh, I can't believe this! It's snowing! It's December 1 and it's snowing! Snowing like a mofo!"

Duh. Still, I have to complain, because it was in this miserable snow, on the way to that miserable Bucks game Saturday night, that I got my first flat tire in some 20 years. And I didn't even notice it for awhile, because I thought it was just the crappy driving conditions you get in the first snow. No, by the time we pulled into the garage by the municipal court (best deal near the Bradley Center), we realized, "no, this is a flat" and were bowled over by the [sarcasm on] helpful men in blue [/sarcasm off] that were crawling the place. "Uh, you have your car parked in a handicapped spot." Duh, I know. It was the only open place i could see right away while I got my bearings. Can you help us with this flat? "No, and just know your'e going to get ticketed at some point. Can't help you with the flat." Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very much, officer. Moved the car and realized, well, in this storm, the soonest we're going to get Triple AAA here might be a few hours anyway, so what the heck. Let's hit the game. That should cheer us up.


Didn't make it in time for the anthem, which is just as well. The Bucks were playing so flat, like everything else tonight, that the anthem might have been sung flat, for all we know and I didn't need to hear that. I coudn't even get a shot of T-Shirt guy, because I wasn't in the mood to shoot. My pictures would have been flat.

The new game host, Ronnie Whatshisname was phoning it in. Everybody else seems to have called in sick. Even our regular usher isn't working. (We sit fairly close to where there was some fan incident earlier this week -- we figure our regular guy , who's been there for years, probably said, "To heck with it. I have to deal with unruly fans in this weather? For the first time in 40 years, I'm calling in.") Only Andrea Williams managed to get any enthusiasm going as she introduced tonight's "Extreme Fan of the Game," some kid who looked normal, but drove in with his family all the way from Appleton. Now that's extreme.

The halftime entertainment is a demo from the winners of the Bucks pom/dance squad competition. There's two divisions: hip hop and traditional pom pom. Sorry hip hop winners, but you were flat. Maybe because their music was so nondescript: it didn't seem to have a melody, but just a mishmosh of about 20 hip house songs with about 4 seconds worth of time to each, and the routine followed suit. They were dressed in Adidas track suits and they did a lot of that annoying Britney Spears stuff where you just pull up your arms like you were in an aerobics class from the early 90s. Not impressive. It wasn't cohesive or anything. The pom pom winners, Oak Creek, were a different story. They chose a gay-bar-worthy version of "Downtown" and they trotted out in these Ice Queen blue outfits with their pom poms and, well, these kids are ready for Radio City. One song, one routine, one cohesive unit.

Back to the Bucks. Their shootng percentage is better than Detroit's but they still can't beat 'em. Like Ronnie Whatshisname, they're phoning it in and not even expecting a response from the receiving side, just like me phoning in my flat to Triple A and not expecting any kind of response. (I didn't even call. We decided to let Triple A deal with people who are stuck in ditches.) The Rim Rockers come out during a time out in the 3rd quarter, when the Bucks are down by 20, and they can't even hit half their shots. Everybody is flat. Best thing the Bradlley Center can do to put a smile on our face is to show us a bunch of Bango's Blooper reels.
We decided to stick around the 4th quarter to the first time out, and as the Bucks are still down by 20 (right when they announce the rules to the McDonald's 100 point Quarter Pounder With Cheese rules to laughter from the crowd) we decide to get a jump on our car issues. We change the tire in the trunk with the funky spare tire, and we limp home and Brian drives Talia the Hip Babysitter home in the other car. The kids had a flat night too: A lackluster game of Sorry, some popcorn that burned in the microwave, and an uncharacteristically weak episode of Cow and Chicken that I watched the end of cuddled with Stella. Brian's listening to the post-game show on the radio, and apparently Larry Kristkowiak and the Bucks made the press (those who actually stayed) wait a full hour before emerging from the locker room for the postgame press conference. I don't think I even want to have been a bug on the wall there. It would have been even more uncomfortable than we were driving on this funky spare tire in this snowstorm.
So this morning, Sammy wakes up, peeks out the window and lustily cries, "Mommy, there's snow! Awesome!" and he and Stella race each other to find their snow pants, bundle up, and run outside to start building snow animals and laying a foundation for this winter's fort. It's the same contrast in attitude I laughed at yesterday when I picked up Stella from ballet: one little girl sees the snow that's rolled in during class and says "Excellent, it's snowing!" And her Dad is like "It is NOT excellent. The snow makes for dangerous road conditions!"
But today the kids are soaked with wet wet wet snow by the time they come in so I put dry pants on them, spend an hour at the YMCA so they can run around some more, and then take them with me to run errands. Stella and I pick out our yarn for our winter knitting projects (Stella wants to make socks and a hat, I'm attempting a full blown sweater), Sammy is just happy that his boots from last year still fit. Their attitude is infectious: I no longer am depressed by the snow, I'm no longer feeling so flat. Maybe the Bucks should spend some time with some kids.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sometimes I Need To Just Be a Fan and Not a Photog

I've got a load of stuff going on at work I shouldn't get granular about(like I ever get detailed about work in a public blog anyway, I'm not an idiot) and I'm massively stressed. I booked a massage and facial for Janaury, because that's the first time when I'm going to have three hours free to do this, but I need it now. A Mighty Lumberhorn show will have to do for this week. I always get a crack in my neck when I go see them. Last night was no exception: great playing accompanied by jokes and stage banter that had me groaning from terrible puns, really stinker jokes, and just all around debauchery. They're doing this kind of regularly at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg -- the last Tuesday of every month. They're done by 10, so that people who have to work won't be too bleary eyed the next morning. I've shot them enough that I didn't even play photo hound last night. I've shot them with every camera I have in my current arsenal (my film SLR, my digital point and shoot, and my digital SLR) except my cell phone camera with its 352x288 pixel resolution (not even enough for the mega- prefix!) I decided to shoot them with that. Partially because with the light in there, I wasn't going to improve on anything I've shot with this band anyway with my SLR, partially because I'm in an "artsy" mood, but mostly because, when I boot up my SLR I'm "working." I assume a professional attitude, I don't really talk to other people, I listen to the music, but I'm going for images, and its work. Don't get me wrong, I love this work, I feel great doing it, but I needed to not "work." I needed to just sit there, suck down a diet coke, laugh at terrible jokes, watch the Bucks get killed by Ashton Kutcher and the rest of the 76ers, and kvetsch that they didn't change to channel 12 after the game was over so that I could see Helio Castroveves' triumphant victory over Scary Spice and Marie Osmond (well, it wasn't hard to beat Marie) on Dancing With the Stars. I was partially expecting Helio to climb the walls upon winning, but Brian assured me that at least somebody in the audience did indeed present him with a chug of milk. "You were serious? We thought you were joking," Tim O'Keefe told me afterwards. No, I am a pop culture junkie and you can't put a charming Indycar driver, an aging spice girl, Donny's little sister (not to mention, earlier in the season, the owner of the Houston Rockets, a prizefighter, and a couple of soap opera stars) on a dance contest and not expect me to be riveted. Please.

But yeah, as much as many people have produced interesting art with their cell phones (which are getting to be the Holgas and Lomos of the digital age), I just can't take myself seriously as a photographer with one. I know, I know, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, but oh well. This way, I could still shoot the show but not at all be expected to produce anything worthy. Nice compromise. When I decide not to be Lynn Goldsmith, I can enjoy the music even more, especially on a night I've got too much on my mind. And the Lumberhorn is perfect for brain dump. There's a song they do where they (and anybody in the audience) tells a wretchedly bad joke during one of several breaks and it was he kind of low budget, lowbrow entertainment that served my needs. Then, when they're done, they jump into well executed bluegrass reminding you they really do have their act together and they are anything but lowbrow.

Anyway, cultural lineup for the weekend: Bruce Springsteen cover band at shank, Canyons of Static at Points East, but really, not a lot going on this weekend in the clubs that I haunt. I think everybody's getting ready for their holiday extravaganzas. Slice of Ice -- free skating downtown -- doesn't even open until next week. So the thing to catch might be Wild Space's "Balancing Forces" this weekend and while we're near the PAC and in that dance mood, we'll pick up our Nutcracker tickets.

Then again, there's always the Five Card Studs! They're at Lulu Thursday night (for some calendar release party) and at County Clare on Friday. We have the Bucks/Detroit game Saturday night and hopefully last night's debacle will wake them up. But my not knowing what's going on musically reminds me of the first of a few random ramblings I'll end today's entry with:
  • Bands, myspace is good, but you're depending on it way too much. For one thing, for a lot of people, myspace is NSFW. For me -- and many other people in corporate america -- it's simply unavailable (along with YouTube, etc.) Lots of companies block myspace, partially because it's NSFW, but mainly because it and YouTube are bandwidth suckers, and very
    few corporations need myspace to conduct their business. So, find a vanilla board (yahoo and google can set you up), and post your schedule and news there too. Oh, and remember, there's lots of your fans who aren't on myspace but still have email. Remember the ol email distribution lists? Sure you do! They were what you did before ol Uncle Myspace Tom gave you your free (as in, you get what you pay for) web home. Plus, there's enough hotdogs on myspace who think that the best way to keep in touch is to send out a freaking bulletin every time they hear a bad joke. If you have a bad joke to tell, go see the Lumberhorn -- they'll be happy to give you 15 seconds between stanzas. Plus, if you're playing out soon, tell me and the rest of your fans a couple weeks in advance, and remind me a few nights before. Day of Show is not a good time for anybody to first hear about your gig -- most people have already made plans. Oh, and one more thing. Just because you CAN modify the layout on myspace doesn't mean you should. Placing a repeating graphic on your page that's 2 gig to begin with only makes it impossible to scroll down the page to actually see any news about you. Green on Red, while a great band, is a terribly difficult-to-read combination for text. Don't you actually want people to be able to read your page? Go to somebody's house that has dial-up and try to read your page from there. Better still, go to the library. If you can't read your page, or the scolling takes forever (or even locks up) that's probably a sign that maybe you might want to consider the default layout. There's nothing wrong with it other than the overall uglieness of myspace itself. If its good enough for Robyn Hitchcock -- whose artwork and graphical sense nobody denies -- it's good enough for you.

    Summary: myspace is butt ugly to begin with, and very few of you have successfully hung a hat on that horse. If your band sucks and your text is boring, no amount of flashy graphics is going to change that, and if your band is great, the default butt ugly (but at least scrollable and legible) text will get your point across.

  • Speaking of graphics, people, if you're going to use my photographs -- or anybody's for that matter -- could you have the class to credit the photographer? Actually, it's a good idea (not to mention the LAW) to ask them permission first to even use it at all. Unless there's a Creative Commons Public Domain notice on the shot, its copyrighted. It doesn't have to SAY it's copyrighted. It just is. Look, photogs aren't being jagoffs by asking you to do this. If their pictures are good enough for you to use, its because they've taken the time, care, and practice to render an image. Hey, can I use your music on my page without even telling anybody who made it? And possibly implying that I'm the one who made it? No? That wouldn't be cool? Then why is it OK for you to just snag my pictures without crediting me? Or even telling me? Ask anybody who's taken the 30 seconds to drop me an email to ask for permission -- chances are 99.9% good you'll get it, from me, and from most photogs. Photogs are just like you, band people. They're struggling artists who need exposure and their name out there. Look, I don't have the time or $$$ to hire an attorney and crank out cease and desist letters any more than you do. Just recognize that visual artists need, deserve, and are legally entitled to the same credit, compensation, and plain old courtesy that musicians need and deserve. (For the record, I've never illegally downloaded ANYBODY's -- music. Not even Metallica's.)

OK, getting down off my soapbox. If I seem crabby, can you tell I'm totally stressed out this week?!?!?!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thankful for things that work out

Brian tending the fire
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Long weekend, and amazingly enough, things all fell into place and worked out. To wit:
  • The Trash Can Turkey. We decided there wasn't any ground we were willing to kill perennials on, so we just jurrigged up our regular Beer Can Chicken Holder for a Turkey (we got some tall boy imports to balance the turkey on) and used the other vessel to place parsley, sage, rosemary and Blatzfor extra moistness and flavor. It worked perfectly. All the online instructions say it takes only an hour and a half for a 15 pounder, but I've undercooked too many birds, so we let it go for two hours, and it was perfect. Besides basically making the turkey in a Red Green-style convection oven (although we all agreed it wasn't a true Red Green contraption because it had neither duct tape or any moving parts), it freed up my real oven to make side dishes as well as fresh bread and that popover recipe that finally worked out. Everything came together on time, the Packers won, and we had plenty of leftovers to keep me from having to cook until at least tomorrow.

  • In keeping with my own tradition, I didn't buy a dang thing on Friday. Instead, I went with my Girl Scout troop for a lovely tractor pull ride out at the Shalom Nature Center near West Bend. It was a short ride (only an hour, some of their tours go for two hours, I'm told), but that was OK because it was chilly. Fun Santa theme, so it wasn't as educational as usual, but the girls didn't care. They just liked getting out of the house and spending some time with their girlfriends. I learned that there are Lynx in the Wisconsin wild! I knew there were bison and foxes and all those kinds of critters, but I didn't know we had wild cats out here. The Shalom Nature center has, of course, a nature and native american theme in its decor, but I haven't decided if I was creeped out or intrigued by this ceiling. On one hand, what else are you going to do with all these antlers? On the other hand, its got that deserted, only bones to be found here, look you see in introductory scene-establishing shots of movies where you want to convey that there was once the living here, but no more...

  • Jason of the Danglers
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
    After I put the kids to bed, I put on warmer clothes and headed over to Points East for a rare show from the Danglers. Damn, they're good. Sometimes the Danglers bring their electric instruments (as in guitars, etc.) but tonight it was simply a violin (and Jason Loveall was beating up the bow strings...) double bass (and Dave Gelting was beating that up) and drums (and John Sparrow was NOT beating those up, simply playing them elegantly.) I think lots of people would want to call them prog, but there's too much passion poured into this music to risk calling it prog and having people think they're too technical. Anywhere else, the technical prownness of the players would have been the calling card. But they don't rest on their laurels at all. Here the passion takes front and center, and then it sinks in that, "Oh, these mofos can play." What drives that point home is not only the well-constructed and comples originals ("Aphrodite's Thighs" has been sticking in my head lately) but the variety of composers they choose to cover: Hendrix, Coltrane, Syd Barrett and Slayer, and did them all with their own stamp on them, but retaining the spirit of the originals.

  • Saturday, I got a workout in, and then, since it was going to be loud in our house, (F/i was rehearsing!) I took the kids to the movies and we saw "Enchanted" -- a film a friend of a friend actually helped write. I'm agreeing with the critics on this one, it's Disney sweetly paroding itself and its done well. Amy Adams' sweetness is so genuine you don't get a diabetic blackout from her: you're cheerig her the whole way through. The kids loved it, and there's enough pop culture references in it to keep pop culture junkies like me happy. And I didn't even recognize Susan Sarandon as the evil stepmother until the very end!

  • We got home in time for me to welcome the sitter, put on my makeup and hair and rockstar clothes, load up the car, and head over to the Stonefly to do our show. Loblolly -- my band -- was first, and this was much better than our Points East offering. I think we covered our mistakes (Wups, did I say we made mistakes? No, not at all.) But note to self, I need to stop being vain and stop wearing my contacts. There's not a pair of reading glasses made that works when I'm wearing my contacts, and that's a problem when part of your schtick is reading a newspaper story. >Oh well, I'm told my rant still worked.
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    Roni of Guido's Racecar
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
  • Up next Saturday night was Guido's Racecar, with a fairly new lineup that includes the Buggs' Lane Klozier on drums, Johnny Washday on bass, and uberproducer Mike Hoffman on guitar. Fronting this outfit is Roni Allwaise, dressed as a sort of punk burlesque queen, with a Billie Holliday quality to the back tone of her voice. They play a sort of underground Americana blues -- and Allwaise's songwriting would fit in nicely with, say Exene Cervenka's LA-by-way of the midwest blues. This is a good backing band for her, from Hoffman's EIEIO cowpunk credentails to Washday's pop punk sensibilities. And Allwaise has the stage moxie to pull off her vaudeville/burlesque queen look, with expressive eyes that pop out to emphasise her lyrical points. I need to go see these guys again when I'm not coming down from my own performance. They finished their set with a favorite i rmember from the last time they played a few years back "When People Die in Nebraska."
  • My own sweat had finally dried when Dr Chow's Love Medicine took the stage to finish the night, and they filled their slot with mostly originals -- instead of mixing in almost as many covers as they have. Great version of "Sea Creatures" again, and they played for almost an hour and a half. So that worked out nicely as well.

So now the holiday season is upon us, and a regular work week is upon us as well. Plenty to do and see this next month, so I'm going to go rest up for it. Rusnak out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm Thankful For Blowing Things Up

winter fireworks, originally uploaded by V'ron.

I'll tell ya, I've never lived in a town that loved its fireworks the way Milwaukee does. Before I moved here, I just assumed that fireworks were simply for the 4th of July, and the occassional Grand Slam home run at Comiskey Park. Not Milwaukee. Festa Italiana? Fireworks! Festa ANYTHING? Fireworks! New façade at City Hall? Fireworks! New giraffe born at the zoo? Fireworks! Brett Favre has a successful bowel movement? Fireworks!

Anyway, the kids and I decided to have a family outing at Pere Marquette Park last Thursday for the Holiday Lights Lighting ceremony. On one hand, can't we wait until Thanksgiving to start in with the Ho Ho Ho of Christmas? (My way of protesting this is not to write about it until today, Thanksgiving proper. And I don't ever buy a thing on "Black Friday.") Stella even said, in a voice that was sitcom sincere, "Mom, it's not even Thanksgiving and the Christmas lights are all up and they're singing carols. This is absurd. Why do they even do this, anyway?"

"Because they need to get people excited about Christmas and get people to come downtown and start spending money, because Christmas season is really the season that makes or breaks a lot of stores and other things like restaurants."

"Seriously? Is that really the reason?" Stella asked. "Or is that you just being, what's the word for being like you…."

"Cynically sarcastic," I told her. "Yes, it's a cynical reason, but I'm not being sarcastic. That really is the reason. But the lights are still pretty and it's still cool that they have a big ol ceremony in one of our favorite parks, and free hot chocolate and other kids to play with while we wait in this cold, so let's just enjoy a lighting ceremony for what it is."

And being Milwaukee, "what is is," is another reason to shoot off fireworks! This wouldn't have been a Milwaukee event without 'em. And these were particularly cool, because they were shot off from across the river from Pere Marquette Park. They were low key, so the lights were bright and twinkly as they reflected across the water. Nevertheless, the fireworks of course made the actual lighting of the electrical lights kind of anti-climatic, but that will look a lot prettier once we get a snow. Yi was there, accompanied by the Bucks Energee Girls to usher in the season in his thick Chinese accent, and to assure us all that now that he's here, he's going to be part of the community. Every sponsor and their dog had a presentation, a couple of DJs from some radio station that promises, from this moment on, "All Christmas Music All The Time." I have purposely forgotten their call letters and frequency because I am not one for all-anything all-the time, not even Elvis. Anyway, we consciously bought into my cynical reasoning for eing pulled downtown, and headed to the Rock Bottom Brewery (one of Stella's favorite grownup restaurants --we've often grabbed a bite there before the ballet) to warm up, and put some money into the downtown hospitality industry's coffers. The Christmas Spending Season is what it is, and it's not all bad: one night when I not only didn't have to cook, but I didn't have to clean up, and the kids ate everything on their plate. Let's see if that happens today!

Retiring the Lakers

I really hate the Lakers. I hate Phil Jackson, I especially hate Kobe for getting acquitted of rape. I hate the Lakers. I think I just hate L.A. in general. I've been there once. Flew in from San Diego, did a business meeting, and flew out that very afternoon (which in and of itself seemed a very L.A. thing to do.). Maybe I should give the city another chance. I've read Sandra Tsing Loh and if anybody that cool and funny lives and loves L.A. like she does, then maybe I should give it a chance. But I still hate the Lakers.

And I especially hate that the Lakers got Kareem for the second half of his career. But, at least he led the Bucks to their only championship, and yes, he is one of the greatest players of all time, (not to mention the classiest) and, really, did we have to wait until NOW to retire his number? I guess. It fits in nicely with the whole 40th Annerversary year stuff. Jon McGlocklin was there, almost teary eye, and Nobody's Senator But Yours classily presented him with a Milwaukee Bucks jersey in current team colors. The montage of historical clips made me long for the days of short shorts, tho.

And it was really delicious to see the Bucks not only give L.A. a good game all the way through, although L.A. might have been cocky too early. The Lakers led (not dominated, but comfortably led) most of the first half -- Bucks squeezed in a two second lead near the end of the first half but LA sunk one to lead when the buzzer went off -- but neither team --- especially the Bucks were shooting for crap. But they moved. And I'm going to take back what I said about Bogut -- the man is hustling now on defense.

Yi. I like him. Supposedly his folks were here tonight, as guests of the Senator, but I didn't see them, and with all the Kareem stuff going on, they were fairly inconspicous. But the guy really hustles and he really digs in there for defense. He's young, needs some polish, but I'm going to disagree with his manager and suggest the perhaps Milwaukee is the perfect team for him to hone his skills with. He's getting lots of court time, and you can see improvement with every game.

By halftime, the Bucks and the fans are believing they're going to win this. Larry the K is actually jumping around like a fan himself when, with 8 minutes in the game left, the Bucks take back the lead and never let it go. By the end, with maybe 20 seconds left, they're ahead by some six points and Phil Jackson is dragging it out, using every time out they've got let, only to give the Bucks a chance to improve on their miserable free throw percentages tonight. We ended up leaving, satisfied.

Anthem this evening: a lovely girl named Karn Orner, who sang it like a sweet lullaby. Orner has one of those voices that if she'd had an Irish brougue accent, would be perfect for one of those "The Relaxing Magic of Celtic Fairy Music" CDs you buy for the kids to chill them out. Nice voice, unpretentious delivery, though it's like listening to "when the bough breaks the cradle will fall." I mean, you have this beautiful voice and lilting delivery, and its a battle song! Cub Scout Pack 72 presented the colors.

Funny side note about pre-game introductions: first they introduce the Lakers. Obnoxious Lakers fans sitting by us were annoying all game, but didn't indicate how ridiculous they'd get (near the end, they're calling Bogut a "homo" when he fouled out -- little do they not realize that even if he was gay, a) that's not an insult you ignorant homophobic pricks and b) in the process of fouling out, Bogut knocked the wind out of L.A. you ignorant homophobic pricks.) Anyway, Before introducing the Bucks, our announcer goes, "And now to introduce this evening's entertainment ..." (pause) (and Brian and I are both thinking, "Wow, while true, that's an odd way to introduce the home team") "Meet Bango, the Rim Rockers and Energee!" Then they bring out the home team. OK. That's better. And no more flash pots, thank God. We're theorizing that the dust from them might have been messing up the floor.

Looks like they're easing Andrea Williams back in, let's hope so. She walked past us with T-Shirt Guy and brought him upstairs. He turned out to be the "Extreme Fan of the Game." Heck, he's the Extreme Fan of the Season! He doesn't wear green paint on his face or anything, but he does go through the trouble to come up with a different T-Shirt every single game. I wonder what he does with all of them.

Oh, and if you have nowhere to go for thanksgiving today, since the Bucks won with 100 points, you can pick up a Quarter Pounder With Cheese today (the promo says the ticket's good for the next day) with your Bucks ticket stub. Nothing says "Thank You for the American Bounty" like a Royale with Cheese, eh?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm so swamped I can't think of a clever headline, or What Would Martha Stewart Do?

What Would Neil Young Do?
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Well, this weekend was so busy I am just getting time to log in with what the family say. So, here's a bullet point report:

  • Brian happily reports that the version of Plasticland that opened for Blue Cheer was good. "Glenn's revisiting his Stooges-era youth," he said of the sound, which means they're more rock, punk, than psychedelic. Now I'm sorry I missed it. "Sammy Hagar" (known to everybody else as Leroy) isn't a psychdelic-trippy and effects-laden as that other guy, but his guitar style fit in well with what Glenn Rehse is writing these day. "Lots of new songs, good to see," Brian reports. This must have boded well for the headliner, Blue Cheer, who by all accounts still has "it." I suspect most people expected a rehash of the hits, and an audience of people who were just glad to be able to say they caught Blue Cheer once in their life, but according to Brian, they didn't rest on their laurels and put forth a damn fine show.

  • So after an afternoon of pre-Turkey day errand running, I donned a simple outfit (my typical going out wear would have been inappropriate) for "Kneel to Neil" -- the Neil Young tribute/birthday/fundraiser at Linneman's. I really had intended to stay the entire evening, but it was so dang smoky in there my eyes were burning and I was actually getting a headache. This hasn't happened to me before at Linneman's. Either the place was really packed and it didn't seem like it, the smoke eaters or ventilation weren't working, or perhaps the propensity to smoke is just statistically higher amongst Neil Young fans. I'm going with the latter -- seemed everybody in there was puffing away. Either way, I caught plenty of excellent sets, but by the time Knit Delicate/Testa Rosa were getting ready to hit the stage, not even a few minutes outside could shake my secondhand nicotine headache. Nevertheless, there were plenty of good performances, interspersed amongst the numerous versions of "Helpless" "Cinnamon Girl" and such. (Stage door bouncer Craig Fansher and I had a snarky time counting the "After The Gold Rush"s and the "My My Hey Hey"s. Come on people, Neil Young has this gigantic catalog of gems and, well, couldn't you have all just gotten together and agreed who was going to do what so that there were no repeats? I like a chorus of "Old Man" just as much as anybody, but I think once every three hours is my limit.) I got there in time to catch Smile Machine and Vega Star and socialize a bit with artist-musician Mike Fredrickson, whose set I shamefully missed, but I got him on camera anyway.

    The stage room was set up like a lecture hall -- rows of chairs with no tables and I'm not sure what the point of that was. It seemed to strip away the rockin' portion of Young's music, and turn it into a dry lecture for me. I thought the poster that hung stage left reading "What Would Neil Young Do" was perfectly ironic -- I'm pretty sure he wouldn't set up a show to be like this.

    Nevertheless, the band I fully intended to see and shoot -- the Aimless Blades -- did not disappoint. In only 20 minutes they managed to convince me that Neil Young is a good starting point to incorporate Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and good ol' Milwaukee underground music know-how into a compelling act that stands on its own. I am really looking forward to a full night of them when they release their CD, which guitarist Blaine Schultz assures me should be in the next month or two. (Artwork's finished, a few other things to tie up, and the official scheduling of the CD release party should be on the books soon.)

    The smoke was killing me so much, after that set I was ready to go, but something told me to stick around and see the next act -- something about the familiarity of the name Wendy Bugatti and then bam -- I remembered. Could this be Wendy of Bugattitype 35, a band I once opened for back in the mid90s? Three words into her set and the I could tell by the strong voice and confident electric playing that this was! And she started with an atonal, but angrily rocking take on "Helpless" that made me forget all the acoustic versions I ever heard. I shook her hand on the way out -- she didn't particularly remember my band but we both talked about how we haven't played out in a while. I sure hope this is the beginning of seeing her play out more often. Before I went home (and fished out that CD she put out with Bugattitype 35 and marveled at how great they were), I stuck around for Juniper Tar's set and yes, Blaine, they've grown on me. Much more together, much less meandering, much more vaired dynamics. Good job, gentlemen.

  • I spent that dreary gray cast of a Saturday running errands and getting all my ducks in a row for Thanksgiving, since it's our house playing host to the family. We've decided to take a crack at trash can turkey -- which should free up my oven for various baked goods (including a recipe for popovers that I tested and while too salty, had the texture of those ones you get at Coast on the Lake). It's all a part of my self-styled role as The Punk Rock Martha Stewart. Of course Home Despot doesn't have metal trash cans. So I ran over two blocks to the Bay View Ace Hardware and learned why they're still in business despite being a stone's throw away from a big box discount place: customer service. They didn't have any metal trash cans in stock, but instead of just shrugging it off and giving me a look as if to say "And why would you want one anyway when we've got these 55 gallon Rubbermaid bins?", they instead got on the horn, confirmed that the 13th and Burnham location had them, and told them to hold one for me. Anyway, everybody who's done Trash Can Turkey insists it's the best turkey they've ever had, and the process seems simple enough. "Plus," Melody at work (who told me about it to begin with) said, "It gives the men something to do."

  • I was ridiculously tired after a day of running around, but still managed to rustle up the energy to at least catch a couple of bands at Points East, and I'm glad I did. For one thing, it confirmed to me that Crumpler really is that good -- they were as consistently engaging and fun to watch and play and try to figure out what the hell their genre was as they were that night out in Waukesha when I drove out only to find I missed the band I wanted to see. Amy from Independent Idols was also there, and also to see her old bandmate Binky Tunny crank out a solid set of songs that should be hits. (They'd run out of "I Am A Delicate Flower" bumperstickers by the time I arrived.) Binky has a great combination of stage presence, musicianship, and songwriting skills that range from funny to angry to sexually charged, and I really don't know why she's not at least a regional fixture yet. Maybe the right person hasn't discovered her yet, but I suspect its only a matter of time, something I have precious little of these past days.

  • And why am I so short on time? Partly because my band, Loblolly, is getting ready for one of our rare performances. Mark your calendar, this Saturday the 24th at the Stonefly. We're going on first, so get there early. After us is the all-fresh Guido's Racecar, and then Dr. Chow's Love Medicine. Rest assured I'll be plugging this right here in this blog all week. We had a deadly rehearsal on Sunday and Binky has inspired me to kick your aaaaaaass, maaaannnn.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bucks: Settling In

Well, the Bucks are now 3-0 at home, and the game against Memphis last night is proving a few things the pundits have been saying all along: 1) Michael Redd is solid as a rock. 2) Yi is turning out to be worth the trouble this summer. He is an aggressive defender and he's a joy to watch play. I think he's settling in, still plays like the rookie he is, but a darn good rookie. 3) Bogut needs to step it up a bit on defense. I wonder if he's feeling a little ignored, like the older brother of the new baby who's now the center of attention, because he appears to be throwing a tantrum. I noticed this during one small, but telling play last night: Memphis scored and the rest of the team scurried to the Bucks' basket, and Bogut hung back by the Grizzlies' basket, but the look on his face didn't indicate that this was strategy it was more he just didn't feel like schlepping it down the court. And if you thought it was strategy, you'd have been proved wrong when Memphis stole the ball and headed back to their own basket within seconds, and Bogut -- who was there and coulda/shoulda be right on them, wasn't. They all too easily slipped right in and popped a basket. Offensively, he's doing good, but I still don't get this feel of 100% from him. Still, he did score well last night, and contributed to a Royale With Cheese victory.

The Bradley Center is still feeling out how to keep the audience entertained. Anthem tonight from the Mapledale Vocal Ensemble -- a chorus of elementary aged kids who were life-insurance-company-commercial cute. They sang it straight up, without even attempting harmony, but they hit the notes and stayed in tune, which is all you can ask for. Thus, it was unpretentiously stirring. The stadium is still playing with an intro montage. There's two now: the pre anthem, which starts out with a bit of "Enter Sandman" (you know, that acoustic guitar intro part) accompanied by a video slideshow of a 40th anniversary retrospective, with very Nine Inch Nails video production. Then, while they're introducing the visitors, we hear "Darth Vader's Theme," they introduce the coaches, and they we hit the lights for the starting lineup. OK, I'll go with hitting the lights, but they're still brining out the flaming flashpots (and for Michael Redd, they use RED flame). You get a montage that looks like the trailer for some psychological horror thriller on the Fox Movie Channel, complete with still shots of the stars that looked like they were rendered with a Lensbaby. But at least it's short.

cymbol of a drumline
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'll edit this post later tonight when I've had time to process the load of pictures I shot, especially of the wonderful halftime entertainment, the Chaotic Drumline from the (rougher) Chicago South Side. These kids take a marching band drumline to the next, highly choreographed, level. Chaotic they are not, they're tight, they're clearly well-rehearsed, and the cadences they render often play with unconventional time signatures while they break dance around their drums. Heartwarming backstory, too: leader Jamie Pointdexter started Chaotic Drumline to get kids in his neighborhood off the street. According to MSN News, he requires the kids to pull good grades, be polite to each other, all those good things you'd find in a Boys and Girls Club mission statement. In return, the kids have a safe haven ("If I wasn't here, I'd be out getting beat up," one tells the MSN reporter), they learn a skill, they learn to be part of a team effort, and they get a chance at the kind of NBA legendary status the Jesse White Tumblers have.

The Bradley Center has a whole pile of new Game Day Hosts (the people who introduce the promotions and do fun things with the fans during timeouts and breaks) settling in, and the most dominant is (I think his name is) Ronnie Taylor. At least that's how I understood it. He's asian, and clearly part of a major effort to capitalize on the interest in that community that Yi brings. First game, he was a little rough: he needed to get used to speaking in a mike and the delay you get in such a big room. But last night he was better, seemed more comfortable with it after a few home games under his belt. They've also got a couple new ones -- they're so forgettable that I'll call them Todd and Lisa -- that give away pizzas. But what of Andrea Williams? She of the perpetual smile, the comfortable-with-any-ridiculous-promo-they-throw-at-her delivery, the "I'm not a Energee Girl anymore so now I actually have time to boogie" approach, and the ample (J-Lo's Got Nuthin' On This) backside? She got just one intro telling people about the new exclusive bar and grill where some corporation's suites used to be. That's it. Are they phasing her out? She used to do almost all the promos, and here she is just inviting you up for a drinkie poo, not even giving away a gift certificate for a Palermo's pizza. I will keep an eye on this. It's just not a Bucks game without AHHN-dree-a Williams.

Speaking of promotions, new game that's kind of weird, then disappointing. There's two parts: first, the contestant is presented with five items one could buy at Pick 'n' Save, and in The Price Is Right fashion, they have to order them from cheapest to most expensive. (Girlfriend, I even knew that the pack of 50 trash bags -- while a generic brand -- was going to be more than the box of Oreos.) Then, in a totally unrelated part two, the contestant has to shoot a basket from the three point semicircle. I'm unclear if you had to do both to win the prize (she blew the ordering, and she blew the three pointer) but that's the weird part. Maybe they're hoping that the kind of person who knows their way around a grocery store probably doesn't spend a lot of time at the basketball park. I won't even get into the sexist assumptions that feed that conclusion. However, that might be a valid philosophy if you were really worried that somebody might actually win the prize, like the car the Chevy SuperShot gives away if somebody actually hits one from mid-court. But get this: here the prize turns out to be a $40 gift certificate (Bucks' 40 year anniversary, get it?) at Pick 'n' Save. Forty bucks? That's all you get for knowing that a whole salami costs more than some (albeit designer) shampoo and then being good at a round of Horse? I'm sorry, but if I'm gonna sink a three in front of a stadium of basketball fans, I want more than a nickel bag to show for it.

So, onto the weekend

Tonight, Brian's going to see Blue Cheer at Shank Hall with "Plasticland" opening for them. I've got the name of the opening band in quotes purposely. OK, I know that it wouldn't have existed without frontman Glenn Rehse's songwriting, fashion sense, stage presence, charisma, not to mention mellotron. I realize that. No band could call itself Plasticland without at least his blessing, much less his presence. And by the same token, former lead guitarist Dan Mullen's departure wasn't the catalyst for any sort of disaster, although I still refer to anybody filling that position as "Sammy Hagar." Think Van Halen without Diamond Dave. Still a good band. Still good songwriters. Still has Wolfgang's dad in it. But I wouldn't necessarily go see them.

Friday: Oh, decisions decisions. The Mistreaters are at the Cactus Club. EIEIO and the Bryan Cherry Band are at Shank. I'm hearing pieces of the new EIEIO recording and I'm impressed. They're keeping their foundation of well-executed cowpunk, but building some really interesting music on top of it. Friday is also Neil Young's birthday, which means there's a party at Linneman's with a pile of bands that I'm referring to as the Anti-Trash Fest, since they all get exactly 20 minutes, the difference being that they're all good. Mike Fredrickson starts the night off, and finally, finally finally, I'm going to see the Aimless Blades for the first time in years. I've written before that I need to give Juniper Tar another chance, and a 20 minute sampler platter offering from them, mixed by somebody who doesn't have his head up his butt might make this the night to do that. Also on the bill, KnitDelicate and TestaRosa, Melanie Jane, and the Carolinas will play until last call. That's not the entire bill-- it's just the people I've heard of and want to see. If quality by association is true, this should be quite a night. I might be driving around a lot.

Saturday night is just as packed. The Barrettes are at the Cactus Club and the Buggs are at the Stonefly. And there's ROCK at Points East: Binky Tunny (who's also starting up a female fronted Guns n Roses tribute band, oh dear God) headlines a bill with Mutt Junction, and that band I stumbled upon last week, Crumpler. I'm leaning toward Points East, despite the rats in the basement. I'll see Buggman Lane and his crew next weekend when my band, Loblolly, opens for Guido's Racecar, where he plays drums, and me shameless promoting my act any chance I get. The Barrettes have a great triple bill in December with Pillowfight and another band which I'm going to presume is another chick band. But I've been on a rawk kick lately (Chief CD in stores this week, along with the Cocksmith's latest offering) and I think I need a delicate flower like Binky to get in that Thanksgiving mood.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Night of the Scorpions

birthday boys
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
You've heard enough about Dr Chow and Mr Wrong in this blog, so I'm just going mostly blog about Chicagoans Cooler by the Lake, who turned quite a few heads at Frank Chandek and Tim O'Keefe's birthday party (night of Scorpions!) at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg Saturday night. There was also some garden variety blues band that was competent and agile, but nothing you don't hear in a hundred other Milwaukee taverns. Good party music, though.

Between four bands, I don’t think they've ever had this much gear in the house!

Cooler By the Lake might look like a put on act, but the band is dead on for real. People don't know what to make of them when they first see them, eight people crammed into the tiny stage area at O'Keefe's, but two minutes into it you're aware that among the 70s rock and prog influences and 80s melodies, this is a group of people at least inspired by Frank Zappa, especially Zappa's 70s-era shows. It's some kind of surprise soup what comes out of it: this picture of woodwind player Johnny "Jingles" McCann really summed up for me what they were about. The guy's dressed in butt-kicking black leather like he just walked out of a biker fight movie, and he's playing the flute -- and he's playing it elegantly and tastefully. The drummer looks like he came from the same movie, except he's the heavily bearded sage who sits at the picnic table studying maps over a whiskey bottle. Two guitar players flank the rest of the band, their bass player plays a vintage Rickenbacker with the sound you'd expect, and keyboardist Rogina Bogatitis adds both an aural and visual touch, wearing a Twisted sister T-shirt and a look on her face that says, "As long as I've been here, I still can't believe I'm in this wacked out band."

Rory "Cooler by the" Lake
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Lake himself is all over the place, limited only by the 10-foot patch cord attached to his microphone. Two costume changes (one into a kung-fu outfit, the other into a black shroud) aren't necessary: the crowd is already blown away by the musicanship and the visuals were only needed to get our attention in the first place. They were tight, they were interesting players, and amazing arrangers. They won over a crowd packed with musicians who you'd normally think were too hip to appreciate a UFO Cover ("Doctor Doctor") but played it as though they were rehashing their opening slot for Asia (yes, they opened for that Asia back in July), with a transformative progggy lead in with the intensity the Asia guys probably wish they still had. Perfect, because Saturday night was not only Frank and Tim's birthday, but Asia lead singer Greg Lake's. They had catchy melodies with enough quirky hooks to pull in even the most jaded of punk rockers. Nobody wanted them to quit, and they seemed to enjoy the Milwaukee crowd. In fact, Rory Lake figuratively and literally smashed the blockage between Illinois and Wisconsin by ceremoniously karate chopping a brick of government cheese with his head. "Now we can be together, Cheeseheads and Flatlanders," he said, wiping bits of generic Velveeta off his brow and jumping into the next song.

OK, OK, Dr Chow delivered as usual, despite all the libations for the band flowing about. They've dug out an old original, "Sea Creatures" that I was glad to hear -- it was one of my favorite early Chow songs and I'm glad its back in the rotation. Mr Wrong was the correct band to start the evening and set the tone of quality free-for all music. They brought the guitarist from Tom Leisons' other band, FSFI, (could "Frank" be Frank Chandek?) for a round of "I'll Pick You Up."

Marlavous Marla Rothenberg was there, and I learned from her and Amber Lawson that I missed one amazing night of Karaoke at Marlavous' Karaoke Friday night. Seems Frank and Fly and others chose to begin the birthday weekend at the Bavarian Inn and I'm really sorry I missed a rendition of "I Got You Babe." Apparantly the guest list included Binky Tunny, Frank Chandek and Amber Lawson, and the Usual Suspects. Maybe when I get over this Post Viral Cough (that's what the doctor calls what I've got, and of course there's nothing I can do about it except ride it out) I'll show up again.