Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Random Thoughts, on this, the first day of the Milwaukee Journal's New Design

  • If I wanted to read a paper that looked like this, I would move to Indianapolis, because now it looks like the Indianapolis Star.

  • On second thought, strike that. With all due respect to Indianapolis, it's just a little too, too, protestant for me. Even the Catholics are Protestant there. Hell, even the Jews are Protestant. Oy. And the Indianapolis Star is a fine newspaper. And its a fine town. Great racetrack. But they don't have summerfest, and they buy their brats pre-cooked. No self-respecting Catholic cheesehead would consume a pre-cooked brat. Fie!

  • Actually, it's looking like USA Today. Does anybody actually really read USA Today? Or do movie ads just quote it? There's nothing of importance in USA Today that you can't get in your hometown paper. I might be wrong: USA Today readers, please weigh in on this. USA Today Readers? Anybody? Bueller?

  • Hey, maybe it might fit in the Journal Sentinel box more easily now, facilitating easy drop off where the customer wants it. You can totally change up your presses, totally redesign it with easy to read fonts, but you still can't get it in a box. (I know what you're saying: Give it a rest, V'ron.) But still. This not being able to put the newspaper in the box by our door thing got really old once winter temperatures finally kicked in.

  • I know this has nothing to do with the paper, but Brian and I went to see Lewis Black last Friday, and believe it or not, he was only political for about 25% of a 90 minute set during which I continually laughed, full-on belly laughs originating from the diaphragm. I've just been so busy this past weekend with family and friend stuff that I haven't had time to write about it. But he is such a breath of fresh air in a world full of people who have totally lost common sense. I just had to say THANK YOU publicly. Thank you for existing, Lewis Black. And then, thank you Dr. Chow's Love Medicine, for being the only band in town I could go see to follow that.

  • OK, back to my newspaper rant. The editorial page looks like the New York Times now. All they have to do is start referring to people by their courtesy articles, ("Mr. Dahmer was convicted of first degree murder" "Miss Figuroa said she served Mr. Norquist an apple between her legs") and they'll be all set.

OK, tickets to a Bucks game Friday. This should be interesting. Half the team's injured. I think this is a blessing in disguise. It's getting guys who normally don't get the NBA experience they need out on the floor. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Its not too late for Awesome Christmas Cheer

As I still have Christmas cards to send out and a party to throw, I just had to spread one bit of Christmas Cheer.

As Stephanie from About the Girl points out, the link referenced in her post here is the most terrifically awesomest (Christmas) thing ever.

And you know how I hate that word "awesome." Its the most awesomely overused word ever. Most things that are described as "awesome" are usually only "excellent." Awesome means, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing things. Coalmine sulfer-emblazoned sunsets in West Virginia are awesome. Sightings of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a run-down grotto in the slums of Prague are awesome. Childbirth is awesome.

But I'm sorry, that pizza you had last night from Pepi's wasn't awesome. It was simply delicious. Tommy Lee Jones' performance as Dolittle Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter" was excellent, but it was not awesome. That Cher concert was fabulous, but it was not awesome. The fact that I could give you a lift home because I was going that way anyway and now you don't have to wait for the bus in the rain is not awesome. It is simply a fortunate coincedence.

But the thing Stephanie's post links to, yes, my jaw hit the floor when it loaded. Yes, I shook my head several times in shock and awe. It was indeed the awesomest thing I've seen all year. Granted, the year is only 17 days old, but it was still the most awesome thing I've seen yet. Merry Christmas, indeed!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dark Horse on a Dark Night

The Bucks had to cancel their game tonight; seems the other guys couldn't get a flight out of Oklahoma to get here. Driving this evening wasn't terrific here in Milwaukee either, but as midwesterners, we're used to it. What I'm not used to is spending a half hour driving in circles at North and Farwell looking for a parking place. I'm especially annoyed because doing so forced me to miss half the first band of a terrific three-band set at the Bradford Beach Club (the BBC) tonight.

That first band turned out to be an 3-piece called Ramova, out of Chicago, who won my heart if for no other reason than the vintage "The Loop - where Chicago Rocks!" t-shirt sported by bassist January Overton, who later told me she'd had the shirt since she was 13. I admitted to her mine doesn't fit me anymore, but I still have mine, a lovely reminder of a great summer I spent as a news intern at the former home of Steve Dahl. Punk attitude, with more competent guitar playing than you usually get with these kinds of outfits. In fact, almost metal guitar playing, on top of this fast and furious 2-woman rhythm section that had a Charlie Watts dependability. It just made me grouse more that I had to miss more of their set because of the stupid parking situation on the East side.

Up next, The New Loud. They seem to have come out of nowhere. One day, I'm sitting at home, updating my myspace page when I see they "want to me my friend", the next they're everywhere complete with a packed tour schedule, a pile of great reviews, a pro-looking press kit, and a new-wave look smack out of 1982, which is about as old as that Loop T-shirt I was talking about. "They are hell-bent to bring back new-wave," I said to a friend in the audience, as we waited for them to set up. They turned out to be good new wave, not one-hit wonder, forgettable poppy stuff (as their look would have implied), but with touches of Gang of Four minimalism, and New Order intensity. Maybe a little too tight. They've got great songs, but you can tell they're young because they were really concentrating on things, or maybe the polished punk look implied that, but I'd like to see them cut loose a little more often. Their penultimate song was a great little number that started off with keyboardist Jessie singing sweetly about losing control, gradually it built up to a frenetic jam where she belted out a blood curdling scream and roll and roll hollered it out to the end. They don't have to do this sort of thing for everything (it would get old fast), but this is the kind of cutting loose I'm talking about that seperated them from the really compelling live show they are from the "not bad, I'll see them if I get a chance" band their recordings imply. Their dynamic songs really work better in a live context, they just need to seize the energy that context demands and project it more on stage. I'll be back.

Ah, but the act I braved this treacherous driving to see, the Dark Horse Project, met the high expectations I had for them. After all, they're fronted by (God I bet she's sick of this term) "veteran singer/songwriter" Liv Mueller, but that's what she is. Veteran and professional, and a major contrast in the level of comfort she had on stage, where she assumed command of both the stage and the audience, started out with slow, dirgy numbers, and kept us going to the end. She writes angrily wistful songs that compliment her clear, alto, I'm Not Fucking Around voice, and she wields her electric hollow body guitar with bravado and authority, snappig off riffs that fill out the three piece. I think being in a three-piece is forcing her to play that guitar more adventurously, and that's a good thing. These days, she's only letting a little of her alt-country past sneak into the Dark Horse Project's repetoire, but its there. But she's going more into her (and mine) heroine's Exene Cervenka's musical territory (she's always been there lyrically) and I Iike it. I'm hearing Dream Syndicate there as well. On occassion, she took her voice up to a beautiful high register -- don't be afraid to go there more often, Liv -- on people like Tori Amos, it's grating, on you it works. Drummer Dan Niedjiecko puts exactly the right mix of basics and complexity to her stuff, and bass player Josh Rickun rounds it out.

Spotted in the audience -- Eva the frontwoman from the long-missed Ben-Wa Beat. She's probably been back in town forever, but still good to see her out and about. Also Julie Brandenburg, there to cheer her drumming brother on, and agree with me about Liv.

Liv Mueller is an object lesson in the stupidity of the record industry, because if there was any justice in the world, she'd be at least a mid-level star by now, playing rooms the size of the Pabst or Riverside, even if they're only "$10 shows." How many Liv bands have I seen and heard where I thought to myself "She's better than anybody else doing [this genre]. Why isn't she rich and famous?" I said this -- and I wasn't alone in Milwaukee in thinking this -- about the Lovelies. We said this about the Screaming Lillies even. She's beautiful, she has a stunning voice, she knows her way around a guitar and stage, she writes great songs, she freaking rocks -- what is wrong with the music industry? Maybe that's where the "Dark Horse" part of their name comes from. This one's definitely a winner, even if there aren't any A&R guys smart enough to be betting on it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Happy Birthday, Baby Elvis!

judging the elvii.jpg
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I've watched all those documentaries about Elvis impersonators, and knew that going to the Northern Lights Theater at Potowatomi Bingo and Casino was going to be surreal, but it was still even more surreal than I thought. Being the cheap-o that I am, I didn't go to the paying show, I just sampled an Elvis competition in the late afternoon, with 7 Elvii vying for a spot in the (paid for reservered seats) finals later this week. I didn't even see the whole show -- I got there late to catch three Presleys: one who had some kind of vision impairment (I won't assume he was totally blind, but he did have assistance getting off stage), and two others. It was almost karaoke Elvis -- they'd go onstage, fire up the music, and go. They'd introduce themselves in Elvis' voice and mannerisms, (thank you very much), and then intro the song.

This is the greatness of Elvis. Even among the three, each had picked a different Elvis era to do, and there's plenty to choose from. Problem is, a lot of Elvis impersonators are getting up there, in age and in weight, so they're kind of locked into Vegas Elvis. There were a couple who attempted -- and succeeded -- at 10 Million Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong Elvis, or Jailhouse Rock Elvis, but White Frinded or White Rhinestone Vegas Elvis reigned king. No attempts at Leather '68 Special in this pack. The fact that Elvis has at least as many eras/looks as Madonna explains why people love Elvis. There's an Elvis for everyone. Musically, they all love doing either Elvis' gospel stage, or at least doing "Hurt" or "Unchained Melody," because they get to go Tom Green operatic and show off their voices (or, in a few cases, unfortunately expose their weaknesses). In fact, one of 'em claimed the music for his song had been unavailable (either he forgot it) so he was going to attempt a capella. No, we're on to you, dude, you had completely planned to sing "Unchained Melody" a capella, just like you said Elvis had to do once. A few biffs there, but otherwise not bad. Elvis Number 7 came out in a wonderful gold lame sportsjacket and sounded great, and then changed on stage into Jailhouse Rock Elvis -- but he voice seemed to get timid and it ruined the effect.

I missed Elvis Number 2, the winner in this round. He had a good early 60s Elvis look to him, and was probably the best looking (except for maybe Gold Lame Elvis) of the bunch. One last look before the judging would officially commence included them all turning around so we could get a comparative gander at their pelvises. But the surreal part was watching this comic emcee try to egg on the crowd. Mostly female, and middle aged, these were people who knew their Elvis and you could hear whispers of just how accurate the hip wiggling is and while they joked with him, they were impatient with him.

As this was a semi-final, the announcement of the "winner" seemed anti-climatic. Ol' Numbah 2 got the award, and they all shuffled off to catch some rest before the big show at night. I made my way through the casino, past the creepily hypnotic slot machines (they don't ding and yell, they just play gentle happy music to draw you in), and over to where the shuttle bus carts casino-goers back to parking. One of the Elvises was waiting for his valet to bring his car to him. You could see he was tired from a hardworking day, with a couple of extra outfits in the back to Take Care of Business in the back. All in a day's work for an Elvis Impersonator, I guess.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bucks: tired from all the holidays?

filming for a jumbotron shot
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

What, too much partying over the holidays, Bucks? Brian and I had a dry spell of going to games while the Bucks were on a hot home game winning streak, and we come back, and its looking like it's going to be another barnburn of a great game. Both teams come out strong, and the Bucks even go into halftime with an (albeit small) lead but what happened after the third quarter. They were almost leading by 10, but in the fourth, they went some 8 minutes while scoring only four points. They were those awful kinds of shots where they swirl around the hoop but don't go in, or else they were flat bricks. Worse yet, Cleveland comes back from the aforementioned 8 point deficit and beats us by about as many. Especially humiliating is that again the damage was partially done by Ilgauskas, again, looking particularly terrible in those horrid black socks, like some attorney on his lunch hour who couldn't change into white tube socks. (I haven't been ranting about the terrible NBA fad of wearing don't-I-look-like-an-old-mann-cutting-the-grass black socks this year a whole lot, because my seats are closer to the floor than they were last year and I really don't see them all that much. But they look particularly atrocious on Ilgauskas, so I had to comment.) And LeBron only scored 8 agains the Bucks and the Cavaliers still beat 'em. Ugh. I'm starting to really think Charlie Villenueva's injury absence is really hurting the Bucks. He's got an energy/intensity that they needed the fourth quarter when they otherwise petered out.

Fortunately there was plenty of other entertaining stuff going on tonight. Lots of gymnastics about: some dance team girls before the game, who were very athletic, and at one of the officials' timeouts, these break dancing boys that were beyond break dancing: these guys were downright gymnasts who happened to have a busload of rhythm to boot.

Anthem tonight: the Hartford University School choir. If any of these kids were over third grade, I'd be shocked. As such, they were delightfully out of tune and nervous as hell, but their pluckieness more than made up for it. They were a little timid on "rocket red glare", but I mumbled under my breath as they were approaching land of the free, "don't be afraid of it kids" and they used full diaphragms to hit it, to of course approvingly thunderous applause from the crowd. We'll take earnest effort over showboating accuracy any day.

But what took my mind off the terrible fourth quarter was the teenage cadre of two girls and their dates that sat by us: They were simultaneously delightful and annoying. We had to yell at the boys a bit, because they were rattling on the bar in front of us, banging our knees just a little too much. At the same time, though, it was clear they were basketball fans -- these weren't girls who were dragged out by their dates and knew nothing. They were fully decked out in sparkly, breast-cancer-awareness-pink Bucks jerseys, caps in last year's team colors (I'm holding on to my purple Bucks wear, too!). You'd think they were Fred Willard, asking everybody around them to take pictures of them (with their cameras). They boys treated them respectfully, and it was overall fun to watch teenage girls having a good ol' girly time, screaming and yelling, but still aware of what was going on the court. Because they were young and nubile, you can see they certainly made it to the jumbotron for a perfect-teeth-smiling, cute girls on a date with their boys, "we're back at the beginning of the fourth quarter" TV shot. But the funniest part for me was, earlier in the night, they tried to buy some Miller from the beer vendor. Of course, he asks for ID, when everybody in the section (including him) knows they're clearly underage, but these girls still think they're going to get away with it. They pretend to search in vain for the ID they they "just can't find, can't you take our word for it?" Beer vendor smiles knowingly and sells me and Brian a $6 Genuine Draft. Later in the game, he comes back, and, brushing past the girls, goes, "Hey, did you ever find your ID?" No, they shake their heads. "Too bad," he says knowingly. "I would have bought you one if you did." I couldn't stop laughing until I realized the Bucks had blown their lead.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve in London

Table edge at the Safehouse
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Thanks much to Elaine Bergstrom, who turned me and my pals on to the sanest way to spend an New Year's Eve, still get a party in, and be safely home before all the amateur drinkers hit Water Street: the "New Year's Around The World" schtick at the SafeHouse. Perfect. After humiliating myself to get in (I haven't been to the Safehouse in years) I remembered the password and was granted entry, to the "we've all been there" clapping of the crowd who'd watched my bewildered attempts to get in.

Here's the thing: every hour they rein in the new year from around the world. I'd just missed Athens, at 4:00 Central Time, but still got treated to lovely greek hors'o'deurves. 5:00 was Paris and Rome, and that called for escargot-stuffed mushrooms, smashing puff pastry, and really cheesy italian crostini. Had one final toast to London, 6:00 Central time, bid adeiu to my pals, and went home to watch some of the Packer Game followed by a James Bond Marathon at home with Brian and the kiddos.

I saw in the paper this morning that a few other places (the Pettit Center being one of them) do an hourly ring-in, but the food at the Safehouse was the crowning touch, plus, its that bar atmosphere you miss by being an old fuddy-duddy like me and watching the year turn over with Dick Clark (and now, Ryan Seacrest.) Its still afternoon, but in the Safehouse, it might as well be midnight, as there are no windows. A few kids running around, having fun, too. Perfect. Next year I'll actually plan for this.