Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Breeders' song running in my head...

Riding my bike to work today, my iPod on "shuffle", and I hear the perfect song: The Breeder's "Saints" with Kim Deal's anthemic cry: "Summer's Ready! Summer is ready when you are…. I like all the different people, I like every kind of fair, In the crowd, you bet I'll be there, walking' around going nowhere, seeing sooey and saints, at the fair -- Summer's Ready, Summer is Ready When You Are!"

Indeed it is. Friday night is Riversplash, and thus begins my conundrum of outdoor summer festivals. I've written before that basically, the summer festival season is basically the Summer Cover Band season, sprinkles with a few gems, and I reluctantly admit some of those gems are cover bands. And among them are the so sexy its alive sounds of the Five Card Studs. Suspiciously coincedentally, they start at 9:30, and the fireworks begin at 10. Hmmmmm. I'll have to miss Pat Travers at Vnuk's. (Back up. Pat Travers, Pat, "Boom Boom Out Go the Lights" Travers? Pat "Snortin' Whiskey, Drinkin' Cocaine" Travers? Yes, that Pat Travers. God, I'd rather play the Waukesha Taste of Summer or even a Church Festival rather than a small room like this if I had a perennial Stadium Rawk hit in the rotation at Lazer.)

Saturday -- Speaking of church festivals, I'm reminded of the Peder Hedman Quartet at St. Robert's Church festival Saturday on East Capitol. Right after mass, remember? 5ish. Bring the kids. Peder has a kid of his own, so he understands "family friendly." Besides, this is a church festival. A hip church festival to be sure: why this is the "St Robert's Fair" with bands like King Solomon, the Jill Jensen and Jack Grassel Jazz Quartet, and the B-Side Apostles all on the bill. Well, that's what you get for an East Side/Shorewood parish, no?

Hopefully that will wear the kids out so I can finally go to see Snooky, at, speaking of, Vnuk's! Snooky, as you may recall, has Tony "Francis" Rogan on drums; he played in a snotty little jazz-tinged punk band called the Moths who I have a musical crush on to this day. He brought the attitude with him to Snooky, who is more on the metal/rock side of things, but they still have intense little melodies that make them a treat. As they are more from the Racine/Kenosha area, they just don't play Milwaukee County as much as I'd like. They're on the bill with some 6 other bands (with names like "Shit Outta Luck" "Sky and the Execution" and the lead band is some outfit called "Carbellion."), so it's going to be a long night at Vnuk's.

I'll probably cut out early, because the family unit is racking out of bed to do the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts Sunday. Stella insisted, after last year, that 15 miles was too short, but now she's having second thoughts about doing the entire 25 miles she insisted we sign up for this year on her bike. Sammy doesn't care -- he'll be in the trailer. I have to wonder how long we can stretch out using the trailer. Its nice to have, not only to cart around the kids, but to cart around the beverages, extra food, and extra provisions that you can dump in the back. It's like giving up the stroller when the kids get too old. Contrary to popular belief, carting the kid around was only one reason you had a stroller. It became a little shopping cart for whatever you wanted to schlep around at festivals, zoos, parks, etc. Not having a tired toddler or little kid takes away your license to drag four wheels around; now you just look like a crazy bag lady. A bike trailer does last longer for this purpose. Kids love it until they're about 5 or so, then they start to get a little big for it. But I suppose instead of dreading the day I finally have to post it on Ebay, I should enjoy this summer of popping a helmet on Sammy's head, (that he picked out -- it's got red and orange flames on it! Fire! Woo!) strapping him in, and wheeling away. And we might wheel away back to Riversplash after the 25 mile ride. Why, there's all sorts of kid attractions, plus the Studs have a 2:00 set scheduled at The Harp. Nothing like a little Studly Afternoon Delight at the beginning of the summer.

Next week, the Summer really starts to kick in. Every cover band in the universe is converging on the Waukesha Taste of Summer, including my friends Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits. I dunno, though, might have to see "Hotel California". Not. But Local H is onstage later in the night. Might want to go see Mickey Dolenz there on Friday next week. (Mickey was always my favorite Monkee -- Davy was too short and kind of a dork.) Really, Check out this lineup. What a weird mix. Wow, is that really Eric Burdon? He can't possibly look that good. God bless Adobe Photoshop. Is he going to do "Spill the Wine" or just stick to Animals hits? And the Cowsills are putting in an appearance! Will Susan be there? With hubby Dwight "Iiiiiiiiii'mmmmmm ooooonnnnnnnnn Fiiiiiiiire!" Twilley? I never thought anybody would ever need Pat Travers, but this is one festival that could really use some Pat Travers. Maybe they could work something out with Vnuk.

I'm ready. So is summer. Bring it on!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wanting to throw Tantrums All Weekend

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
As I said, I decided to drop in on a band I knew nothing about, and the Tantrums turned out to be the kind of band that was perfect to begin a weekend with. Three guys, probably my age (or not substantialy younger), if I were going to judge by the selection of songs on the set list. They weren't quite novelty or even bubblegum, but they did fun 60s era covers, like "Come On Down To My Boat, Baby" and "Hanky Panky." These Fox Valley guys understood that it takes just as much sweat and garage angst to cover Boyce and Hart as it does Glimmer Twins. Bassist Tim Buechler looks like what Brian Wilson might have looked like had Murry Wilson and Mike Love not beat the sparkle out of him by the time he was 30. As such, he looked very much at home, underneath the Circle A's watchful Ramones poster, cranking out "Let's Talk About Girls" in a way that both Joey and Brian would have approved of. Drummer Ronny Johnny Kipsert looks annoying familiar, but since they are from the Fox Valley, I know its impossible that he's this guy they just hired for the help desk at work. I was sitting right behind guitarist Jamie Shimon all night, so i didn't get a good look at anything but his shoes and if you haven't yet gotten a feel for how enjoyably garagey, fun, and with a little touch of the raw punk that goes with garage they were, the brand name on Buechler's ampshould tie it all together. They've been together for some 10 years now, so I suspect theyr'e in it for the love and for the long haul. Then Lemonie Fresh arrives, with plenty of 60s vinyl to finish off the night. Andy Pagel dropped in on his way to Marlavous's Karaoke at the Bavarian Inn, and I exchanged pleasantries with Brian "MOMBOB" Wurch before following him. Pagel got to hear a Marlevous rendition of Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" before leaving, and missing me channel Cher once again on "Bang Bang." (Although admittedly, I did a little of Nancy Sinatra's Kill Bill worthy phrasing as well.

Saturday night Brian and I picked up the sitter, and decided to head out to catch a real down home dinner before seeing some bands. I had to keep myself from throwing my next tantrum: we chose the Palimino for dinner, and remembering only after sitting down (and even the menu apologises for this) that they're not the fastest food in the world. Worth the wait, though: if you want unpretentious food and you're not counting Weight Watchers points, the Palomino is the place to be. My chicken fried steak was indeed fried in hot enough oil to retain a crispy, flavorful cornmeal crust that held up even underneath a dollup of chicken white gravy. Yum. Brian's bacon cheeseburger was perfect, and huge. We waddeld out, and across the street to Club Garibaldi to see what mightyness we'd encounter before heading to Shank. Not to worry about the food taking forever, the band was running late too.

Will Not Play Freebird For Cash
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
We got the Lumberhorn. But here comes my next tantrum. You ever go see a band you really like, and you know the soundman isn't interested in the one aspect of the band you really really like? (This happens to Brian all the time. Brian's in F/i, which has all sorts of neat-o sci-fi synthesisers, so sound guys end up thinking they're a synth pop band. Only people who get what F/i is all about get that what makes them DIFFERENT from synth bands is that they have a live drummer, guitarist, and bassist, all of who kick butt and all of whom should be heard. But noooooooo. Sound guys assume you came to hear synth, and nothing but synth. OK, I digress.) The thing about The Mighty Lumberhorn that makes them stand out is that they are verbally clever. That means pot up the vocals, Mr. Sound Man. Please. They asked for more vocals in the monitors, I hollered for more in the house. Don't know if the Lumberhorners got their monitor wish, but I didn't get mine. Yeah, they can play, and yeah, they're visually good, but this was a freebie, a party for a guy I've talked to all of twice in my life (we have many mutual friends), and we were cutting out early to catch the next act on our docket, so I wasn't going to throw a tantrum, but still. OK, they have the bass drum made out of somebody's old American Tourister luggage. OK, they have the bass made out of god knows what, plywood? old piano wire? WTH? And that headstock that looks like its should be on some concert viola? So, I guess if I'm a soundguy, I'm assuming (there's that word again) those two things are the feature thing about this band, and I'm going to be fretting about how I'm going to make them sound right. But I the listener wanted to hear what they had to say/sing, because that's what makes me come back again and again (with friends) and I couldn't hear or pick our words. Oh well, if they weren't captured properly aurally, I think I captured them visually if I do say so myself.

OK, over to Shank Hall, to finally see "Substitute." Juggling guy was just finishing up (this was the Rock and Roll Circus, after all) , and a sinister guy came out to say "Dig Substitute" just like Mick Jagger intros the Who on the real R&R Circus. They open with something forgettible, but then they start firing off the hits. None of 'em really look like their tribute counterparts, but they evoke them perfectly. Don't know their real names except for my drummer, Andy Pagel who pretty much validated me Saturday night: I must bring something to the table if a drummer who can successfully pull off Keith Moon will play with me. Really, you can fake drumming until somebody says "OK, badass, let's see you get all the way through Baba O' Reilly" and that pretty much seperates the men from the boys. The Entwistle pretty much entwistled well all night: barely moving, letting his fingers do the walking. One biff, and he knew it, and rolled up his eyes -- the part in "My Generation" that everybody plays air bass to: do de do-de-do dooooo, doodely do-do -- and he at least got that final run in. The Daltrey didn't look a thing like Roger, and didn't exactly sound like him, but he moved like him, he strutted like him. I think the only reason he didn't attempt whipping the mike around was that the ceiling at Shank Hall was too low. Ah, the Townsend! Windmill guitar flaying. Jumping in the air several times. The whole bit. So they evoked the Who, to the point where by the end of the night, the shy audience had migrated to the stage, singing along, playing air drums/bass/guitar with the band. And to cap it off, because this is the Rock and Roll Circus, they pull through a perfect rendition of "A Quick One While He's Away," the whole thing, the Who's Side Two of Abbey Road. Lots of fun overall, and perfect for the Summerfest gig they landed.
After Substitute, "Shattered" the Rolling Stones band took the stage. I guess its a little harder to do the Stones. What era do you pick? To dress? Which guitarist do you try to evoke, Brian, Mick, or Ronnie? Maybe because I know a guy in Substitute, that might show my bias, plus I've always loved the Rolling Stones (they were my first concert when I was 16 after all) but I didn't get the feeling that these guy were even trying to evoke. The Keith had the 80s look pretty good (except he looked way too healthy!) and the Mick had the moves down. But that was about it. Heck, the real Stones barely sound like their 1968 selves anymore, so maybe I'm being hard on these guys. But the wanting to throw a tantrum kicked in about the third time they tried to give "Substitute" a hard time about doing such an obscure piece like "A Quick One" -- the Mick kept on singing the first line, joking that he couldn't believe they did it. Why not? This was the R&R Circus after all, and that's what the Who performed then. It's a tough obscure hit, but really, anybody who's going to pay $7 to see a Who tribute band probably knows "A Quick One" and is happy to hear it, because anybody who loves their Who is happy to look around, and know that everybody else in the room knows this medley of little songettes. So shut up Mick, and concentrate on your own band's schtick, because you need more schtick to make this tribute band thing work. You have your hands full with trying to cram a 40 year career into 40 minutes.
Finally, a nitecap at the Circle A Cafe, spun by Paul Host. Brian and I ran into half of Dr Chow's Love Medicine, where we gossipped with the remaining Chop Top Toronados who were still there. We all discussed the (un)likelihood of this being Danica's year, and knowing we were going to get up the next morning early for racing, we called it a night before I could throw another tantrum.

Today, I'm recovering from a terrific racing party, where me and my girlfriends planned our next big obnoxious event, and consumed enough girly drinks to avoid any tantrums, hair pulling, or name calling. Stay tuned for more info.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

God, I love the weekend

It's International Tiara Day!
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
First of all, thanks to Miss Annie Chase, I have been made aware that today is International Tiara Day! This is significant, because Miss Annie, along with myself, Miss Amy Waldman, Miss Linda Beckstrom and Miss Amber Lawson are in need of Tiaras for an upcoming event which I will certainly promote here. But in the meantime, we are now going to form a local chapter of the Secret Order of the Tiara. Watch out boys. We are women, hear us roar. But this is the new millenium and we are middle-aged. We roar with a drinkie poo in our hands and a tiara on our heads. God, I love the New Feminism.

Also, to explain this picture, I belong to a group on Flickr called It's Thursday So Take A Selfportrait Under Your Desk." So since it's International Tiara Day, I downloaded the make your own tiara and did just that. (Honestly, there's a Flickr group for everything. Remember all those loud shirts from earlier this week? Guess where the pictures are -- in a group called "Wear it With Aloha.") God, I love Flickr.

On the rock and roll agenda for this weekend:
  • The fabulous Lemonie Fresh spins records Friday night at the Circle A, after some band I know nothing about called the Tantrums plays the early set. I like the name. What the heck, let's check them out. Anybody know the scoop on them? Who are they? Where are they from? What's their story? I'll get the facts Friday night and report back here, and as usual, I'll let you know if they were any good.

Saturday -- busy busy busy.
  • The Chop Top Toronados, who I gushed about last weekend, are playing an early set at the Circle A, followed by the legendary Paul Host on the turntables. But, alas, my docket already is fililng up, and for various reasons, I happen to know that there will be plenty of opportunity to catch these talented boys again soon.

  • There's a 40th birthday bash for promoter/constructor/saver of cool buildings/restauranteur Bill Brunke at Club Garibaldi Saturday night. I've looked all over to get the lineup for this, but only know about the bands who happen to be my Myspace friends, and they are among the mightiest: the Deer Lick and the Lumberhorn. All we need for a truly Mighty lineup are the Lemon Drops and the (so mighty they had to name them twice) Bosstones. No clue when either the Deer Licksters or the Lumberhorners are going on, and who else is there, so it will be a crapshoot if I'll get to see them. Still, I've never had a bad time at Club Garibaldi.

  • However, flashing like a big nose on a clown is the date circled on my calendar for weeks now, the recreation of the Rock and Roll Circus at Shank Hall by a pair of tribute bands, "Substitute" and "Shattered." This should actually be more fun that watching those old clips on VH1 again and again, and if you need me to tell you which band is tributing whom, you need more than me in your life. Normally, I would pick original music over tribute any day, but my drummer is the Keith Moon of the bunch, and he loves, I said LOVES the Who. Most drummers love the Who, but Andy Pagel really massively loves the Who. I've been hearing about this project for a year now, and there's always been a conflict for me to be able to see Pagel in his element, closing his eyes, tapping his feet together and saying "There's no place like Tommy's Holiday Camp." So I've had the sitter on the books for a month now so that Brian and I can finally see this.

  • I'd be at the annual John Lennon tribute at Linnemans (especially to see the debut of the new Buggs) but it's race day, and we have friends over to watch 1300 miles of Asphalt. We get up in the morning and watch ridiculously expensive ferraris zip through the streets of Monaco, which knocks off about 200 miles, give or take a few k because they have the metric system over there, Jules. Then we watch Jim Nabors sing "Back Home Again In Indiana" to herald the Indianapolis 500. Then we fire up the grills, turn on the NASCAR race, which I don't necessarily care about, and party well into the evening. The NASCAR race is 600 miles: do the math to get us to 1300.

  • But back to Indy. There's three, count 'em THREE women racing this year. For once, Mari Hulman George is going to get to pluralize the Lady in "LadIES and Gentlemen, start your engines!" While Danicamania makes Patrick the girl to beat, I've always had a spot in my heart for Sarah Fisher. No, she's not posing on the cover of Maxim, and she's delusional in this whole "It really shouldn't matter what my gender is" thing. She's right, it shouldn't matter, but it does. Sarah honey, quit pretending it doesn't, get yourself a tiara, put an umbrella in your glass of milk should you win, and embrace The New Feminism, girlfriend.

  • Parades

  • Sleep in

  • Water the garden

  • Chill out

God, I love Memorial Day Weekend

Monday, May 21, 2007

Loud Shirt Night: A Sixthstation Contest!

My first contest! Match the Loud Shirts to the Loud Men Wearin' Em!

Step 1: Look over the list below.

Step 2: Go to my Loud Shirt Night in Milwaukee Set in flickr, and, well, match the loud shirts to the names below of the stylin' men wearning them. (This isn't sexist. Women wear bold loud prints all the time. Even boring women do this.)

Step 3: Email me, with your guess. The first person to get them all right will receive high-quality 8x10 prints of three of his/her favorite loud shirts. If you're wrong, I'll email you back, but I won't tell you which ones are wrong. Look for hints elsewhere in my Flickr photostream.

Here's your list of loud shirt-wearin' men:

A) Dan Glaser
B) Brian Wensing
C) Paul "The Fly" Lawson
D) Paul "The Fly" Lawson's Fender Amplifier
E) Andy Aeros Kaiser
F) Bob Jorin
G) Ted Jorin
H) Ken Meyer
I) Frank Chandik
J) Don Turner
K) Jonny "Z" Ziegler
L) Don Nelson (not the former Milwaukee Bucks' coach)
M) Eric Knitter
N) Dan "Mylz" Mullen.

Bonus Tie-Breaker: Come up with a name for the love child of #15, the mating shirts.

Weekend of Loud, Part II: Diamonds in the very rough...

Wear it!
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Whenever I get ready to go out and see a band that I'm going to photograph and eventually write about, sometimes I have an idea what I'm probably going to say, or at least some kind of "theme" comes through fairly early in the evening, and magically enough, things drop into the theme. Sometimes I have no clue: Friday night was a great example of enough surprises thrown at me that what I thought I might write and what I ended up reporting were two different things. Few nights have proved this as pointedly as Saturday night.

We started out knowing there was going to be a touch of novelty to the evening: Brian put on a loud shirt, we hit a friend's party, and then it was off to Bar Lulu for the Bikini Beachcombers, who turned out to be exactly what they said they'd be: four men with ukuleles and Jonny Z on stand-up bass who play Hawaiian tiki-bar music with sincerity and aplomb. One of them even had a ukulele all tarted up to look like a pineapple. They had big-band style music stand boards with a war mask motif, and their name across the top in a font probably called "SpongeBob." They got Johnny Noble's Hawaiian War Chant out of the way early in the set, and did it respectfully and well -- and Little Brown Gal, and the requisite Elvis covers made the cut as well. It was fun, but respectful. They're not making fun of this stuff -- they're having fun with it. They're fairly new, so I'm expecting them to jell even more in the future: I'm hoping with some of the talent here pulls from their rave-up background and cuts loose with it, later in the evening when the Mai Tais have kicked in and people aren't afraid to sweat.

Of course they had loud Hawaiian shirts on, and so did plenty of men spotted in the audience. Among them: Buzz of Buzz' garage, who, besides the band, is probably the only other person there who didn't need to be told that Hawaiian War Chant is a 100 year old tune. Also, tenor ukeleleist Ted Jorin's uncle Bob, who followed Brian and me down to O'Keefe's House of Hamburg, where the wearin' o' the Loud Shirts continued. That's when I realized Theme Number One: I found myself snapping close ups of the detail work on all these loud shirts, and wondered aloud if Saturday, May 19 had been declared Loud Shirt Night in the City of Milwaukee.

Was it the guitar?
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
But oh, dear reader, I'm going to have to do something I've done before, and have to do again: I'm having to report on a less-than-100% night on a band that is usually 110% excellent, populated by friends who might think "With friends like V'ron…." But then again, if I don't tell the truth here, you're never gonna believe me about anything else. Let's just say sometimes when you start partying early in the day, that second wind doesn't come blowing through until later than you need it to. Especially when you have to play. I'm not going to mention names, you know who you are.

Thing is, it wasn't a total disaster, really. There were moments of brilliance, strung out psychedelic brilliance, that stuck out like diamonds scattered amongst crumbled up urinal cakes, worth picking through (but not with bare hands). We walked in, and the first question I asked (besides, "Whew, is it National Loud Shirt Night") was "Lordy, who the hell is out of tune?" I've been there: no matter what you do the damn thing keeps slipping out of tune, and frontman Frank Chandik kept begging Fly to just kill that ailing beast already. I was ready to beg Brian to grab that guitar and tune it, but Jorin assured me, "The guitar isn't the problem. I've seen him tune it [with the stage strobotuner], that thing's in tune dead on."

They took a break, and a lot of people went home; it was getting late, after all. But the band thought it was because they drove people away, and I couldn't tell you whether or not that was true. This I know: 90% of the people left were friends, and somehow that turned it into a party and lifted an albatross off their collective necks. Jorin and I hollered the chorus of "When I Win The Lottery" into Frank Chandik's mike and as though I had won the lottery, I didn't give a damn whether or not they were in tune. Nobody did. We were all sore from laughing so much, funny only because as godawful the biffs were at times, like a 4-year old playing a stratavarious, we knew that on their night, they can blow any of us away. This just wasn't their night.

They were going to quit after about five songs when I looked around and hollered, "You might as well keep playing. Anybody who's still here isn't going anywhere." I don't know if that was the reason they kept on playing, or not but the bar owner (O'Keefe?) announced that everybody in the place had a shot of their choice on him, and the band clumsily stumbled into "Psychotic Reaction." A few aborted attempts to start it frustrated the daylights out of me, and then the engine finally turned over and they were back on the road the Count Five built. By the time the rave up jam went, that aforementioned second wind kicked in and that's when they began to reworthify. And then, by the end of the night, they had reached deep inside their songbook and pulled out not only a (likely unintentionally) John Zorn-inspired version of "Foxholes," but piled on the Frank Zappa and managed, through this trainwreck of an evening, to pull diamonds out of their collective ass. "Mary Ann Is Insane" took on deeper meaning, and only our commitment to drive the sitter home afterwards kept us from closing the place.

OK, after all this, my original theme of "loud shirt nite" seemed to have taken a back seat to the carnage of the night, but nevertheless …..

Weekend of Loud, Part I

So Friday night, I walk into the Miramar Theatre only to find that Mr. Peabody had set the controls of the Wayback Machine to London, 1977 by the looks of the mohawks, black lipstick and eyelines, and don't-even-try-to adjust-the-horozontal-hold-on-the-TV plaid pants with numerous questionably functional but visible metal zippers. These kids are here to see first act the Brutal Dildos, about as power punk pop as you can get. They have all the ingredients: jokey, trying-to-shock-you name accompanied by cartooney-logo of anatomically near-correct anthropromorphic artificial penii harassing an overly developed end user. Lead singer with a T-shirt telling you just how he wants it, but otherwise clean cut, competent musicians who can put together a good chorus, bridge, and fist-raising anthem, and know more than 3 chords. Nice to see that the kids are keeping the genre alive. On appearance alone, the lead singer reminded me of a young, straight Jon Ginoli but I didn't catch enough of the lyrics to see if the Brutal Dildos were gay, straight, mysogynist, or whatever. But musically, that's were they were at: What if Pansy Division were straight?

Rhythm Section of the Chop Tops
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'm at the Miramar primarily to see the band up next, the Chop Top Toronados -- and wow, I'm glad. It would be lazy to call them cowpunk or alterna-country or whatever. Guitarist Chris "The Colonel" wears a turned up straw cowboy hat, plays an ol hollow-body electric, and faithfully covers (but not note-for-note, he's got his own thang going on) the Rev Horton Heat's Marijuana. Sometimes he goes down-home to play striaght up git-tar, sometimes he goes and visits his lookalike's Robert Quine's neighborhood. Singer Mark E Lee, clad in a Nashville Pussy T-shirt bellows and croons out some kind of down-home country blues, but that's only telling you half their influences. Bass player Jeff O'Connor, taking a break from cock rockers the Cocksmiths, has metal and glam (and I also heard definite prog) roots that make full use of his five-string bass and eight-box effects rack. It's like you had these cowpunk kids, but they didn't fall asleep during classical music class when they played Aaron Copland. "Wait, you mean I can be Americana and musically complex? Hand me that guitar!" The skill here, though, is adding all these touches in the right doses, not to show off that you can, but to use it when it's called for. So you get a wailin' country blues with some minor dimished scale thing that adds more than just the typical murder shack danger zone. I actually wanted to rewind and hear it again, just to see where they were going musically with it. This is one of those few bands that on the surface, is a great act to see live because of the energy put forth on stage. What makes them stand out is that I'm betting that on record, they're going to be on of those bands you'll listen to again and again, finding something new in each go-round. "I don't know how to describe us, either," says O'Connor afterwards. We're both showing each other our new toys: he's got a new bass, I've got a new camera, and we're still getting used to the feel of each. I know, I'm probably making them sound a lot more serious than they are: oh, did I tell you they ROCK? And theyr'e fun? Well I did now. Why did I wait so long to catch them? Because I thought they were going to be yet another rockabilly band that smriked all the way through ironic renditions of inbred-o-rock. As Simon Cowell so rarely admits, "I was wrong."

Wanda Chrome continued
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Then, I had no clue until I talked to Miramar proprietor Bill Stace not an hour before, but next up is a rare local set from Wanda Chrome and the Leather Pharaoahs! They don't play around their Milwaukee home because, well why? It's not like Europe, where their MC5-style loud kick-your-ass rock is revered for its unpretentious straight up power. No, here at home they're all but ignored by the press (even the underground!), taken for granted by the locals, and some club owners don't even realize they're still around. But they are, and they are a rare, I said rare execption to one of my most headfast rules: don't be in a band with your significant other, or don't make somebody in your band your SO. Either the band will be lame or the relationship will suck. Often, both. (Sonny and Cher? Divorced! Timbuk 3? Lame! Fleetwood Mac? Divorced, messed up AND they got lame! I rest my case.) But Cliff and Marie Ullsberger-- they've been together forever and so has Wanda and neither show any signs of suckieness or lameness. Quite the contrary: I don't know them personally well enough, but Wanda Chrome the band just gets better and tighter. Oh, and louder. Jesus, they were loud. Freaking loud, man. Cliff gets on stage and starts pounding power chords through his Marshall stack and he can't hear himself through the PA, but no matter. Marie, one of the top ten coolest women ever to walk on stage, starts laying down the foundation and there they go, delivering the goods. Of course they do "Jet Black," which Cliff points out was originally recorded with Stace in Walls Have Ears' original studio, down the street in the basement of Stace's old house. And because its about how "She used to wear Jet Black," it hasn't aged a bit, it's gotten even more poignant.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So I get in my car and drive over to the Uptowner, for acoustic goodness with Mr. Wrong, on Tom Lesions' (53rd) birthday. Wait, there's 53 year olds who know "Take the Skinheads Bowling." Oh shoot, I'm getting old, eh, when fiftysomethings stir up songs I thought were clever-dick youth kissoffs. Yes I am: I wear bifocals, drive a station wagon, and I'm grateful for the (relatively) quiet acoustic set that still has edginess and fun. By the time I'm there, the table full of birthday munchies is picked away, leaving a cheese selection that's starting to form a crust, though I do agree with drummer Chris Lehmann that its not bad. I only catch about five songs, so I just accept that I'm here for picture snapping and catching up with gossip. Among the crowd: Dr Frank "Chow" Chandik and mate Amber Lawson with buddy Eliet Brookes. Lehmann is plugging the new Buggs (dates, Chris?) and Tom is all insulted because when he offered to buy me a drink, I only asked for a diet coke, but later accepted a beer from Chandik. Sorry Tom, you were the first guy to offer a free throw, and I have a habit of starting off the night at least intending to stay within Weight Watchers points. Also stopping in is horn player Dave Cusma (I've given up trying to correctly name exactly what horn -- baritone? Tuba? -- he plays), fresh from that Eat The Mystery Bremen Café gig that did indeed turn out to be this evening.

Steve Whalen is also in the crowd. He reports that master garage songwriter Peder Hedman has a new thing going (and Whalen is in on it, of course): The Peder Hedman Quartet. (It's about time Hedman just started using his name. He's got the cred to do so -- and how many great acts have I missed because I didn't know they were a Peder production?) Hedman of course plays guitar and sings, Whalen's on drums, steel guitar virtuoso Tim "Otis" Taylor is there, and some guy I'm not familiar with named Kurt Bauer is on bass. I'm sure he's good, as Whalen pointed out, he wouldn't be in this lineup if he wasn't. Next gig? At St. Robert's Church Festival, 5 p.m. June 2! Right after mass! So here's your schedule -- begin fasting at 3, go to mass and get your Sunday obligation out of the way, receive Holy Communion, and then commune with the Peder Hedman Quartet. Perfect.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You know the summer music season is coming when you can't decide what to see...

Dick Dale
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Its getting harder and harder to decide where to spend my musical dollars. It's bad enough exhaustion forced me to skip Dick Dale at Vnuk's last Sunday. Me, missing the King of the Surf Guitar, unheard of. Especially since I gushed so much about Los Straightjackets last week. Especially since I've written so much about my ongoing love affair with the power and beauty of instrumental surf music. So I'm posting this shot of him, just to remind you all how much I love his music. Shot this at the Miramar Theatre -- one of my favorite local venues-- a couple of years back.

  • If I do nothing else this weekend, I am going to see the Chop Top Toronados Friday night, dammit. Speaking of the Miramar Theatre, that's where they'll be for a relatively early show with the .357 String Band, another group on my "I really should see these guys" list. Then its off to the Uptowner for a night of an acoustic rehashing of old punk and newwave classics with Mr. Wrong, and it's The Wrong Man's Tom Lesions' birthday to boot. So I'm expecting a cadre of oldschool Milwaukee riverwest to be around.

  • Eat The Mystery is at the Bremen Café, but frankly, I'm not sure when. Bremen Café's website says Friday, but email from Paul Setser says Saturday. Aw heck, I know for a fact I'll see them again in less than a month at Bucketworks, so I'll have to miss them this time around. And judging from what looks to be a scheduling snafu, I won't be the only one that misses them. What is this, the Shepherd Express?

  • Anyway, Saturday. Catherine Cowling, the Garden Girl, is hosting a lovely garden party, and if anybody knows how to cover every square foot of a postage stamp of a yard with natural beauty, its her. Just to go and shoot photos of her garden, I'll be there with my new camera and macro lens. I'll come home to the South Side, first to catch the near debut (missed the official one two weeks ago) of the Bikini Beachcombers at Lulu -- ukelele-strewn hawaiianness (I just made that word up, but it sounds soooo good) at a bar where I know if I ask for it, I can get umbrellas in my drinkie poos to go with what I'm sure will be some of the most atrocious floral print and bamboo-themed shirts I will ever see. Then its back to the Port of Hamburg (or House of Hamburg, or whatever the hell they're calling it) for yet another night of Dr Chow's Love Medicine. I just cannot get enough of Frank, Fly, Andy and the gang. And by the gang, I'm not just talking about the rest of the band: Chris and Dan. The whole Dr Chow vortex is packed with interesting artists, guests, fans, that I'm always happy to see and mingle with.

    And now, they've just come out of the studio with the Brew City Bruisers (next time you do such a thing, gentlemen, please call me and my camera, this needed to be visually documented!) with a new tune on which the lovely sk8r grrls sing backup. Their swirling vortex of fans, associates, and hangers-on is growing, and in the right direction. I can't wait until this gets released. Hear me? I.Can.Not.Wait.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Binky is a Delicate Flower

Binky is a Delicate Flower
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Some years back, in a totally different context, I was asked if I was a Joan girl or a Lita girl, and my reply was "The fact that I even understand that question should tell you the answer," implying, of course, the correct, indie-cred-assuring answer, Joan. But honestly, I was sort of lying. I don't think liking, being influenced by, (or at least respecting) Joan and Lita are mutually exclusive. Sure, I lean Joan. I heavily lean Joan. But there's always been a place in my heart for a badass like Lita.

I'm pretty sure Binky Tunny heavily leans Lita. Like Lita, she's a glam metal chick with impressive guitar chops and an arresting voice that works with whatever dynamic is called for. But Binky doesn't hate Joan and the whole alternascene like Lita does. Binky covers the Ramones. Binky covers Courtney. Shit, Binkly out-covers Hole's "Celebrity Skin" and lists Liz Phair among her influences. Binky's a guilt-free metal treasure for us Joan girls. Heck, you know where she was before she loaded in her gear Saturday night? At the Morrissey show that I was debating on going to!

I finally got my ass out for the Binky Tunny experience at The Main Stage in Waukesha, which was the correct context to see her and the current incarnation of her band, The Farmland Chokehold. Typical Saturday night at a typical rawk bar. Apparently half the crowd is there not to see the band, but because The Main Stage is a hangout where the folks can count on not having to hear Michael McDonald but still shoot a few games of pool. I caught the last three songs of Spiral Trance, a death metal outfit that's got a pretty good SW Wisconsin following (not to mention staying power, how long have they been slogging it out?) Hmmmm, did I say death metal? Based ont the numbers I heard, I need to add a few more adjectives. Power death metal. Melodic power death metal. And based on their stage demeanor, Fun. That's right, fun, almost playful death metal. You could tell by their faces these guys don't sit at home brooding about how much the world sucks and we're all not going to hell because we're living it here anyway. No, these guys love life, and love overdriven guitars and love performing on stage, and love heavy fucking metal because its fun. Maybe I'm lightening them up too much, since I only caught three tunes, but they seemed to be having a good time, their fans (lots of braless metal chicks bouncing about) are having a good time, and the lead singer almost winks at you with his nod to Alice Cooper stage demeanor.

I'm not morrissey dammit
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So Binky is up. She opens with some power ballad and everybody incorrectly assumes she's some slender Nancy Wilson wannabe and goes back to shooting pool. Wrong answer. Binky is here and she's just getting warmed up and she is going to rock your world, motherfuckers. But because she wasn't the band the fans came to see, they don't even hear her as she begins to taunt them, they don't even know that the billiard playing dudes are being referenced as "boys just playing with balls and sticks." Not to worry, though, she still pulls out all the stops: she growls into the mike, she snaps off noodly arpeggio riffs, her face contorts as the rest of her body bends and breaks and wraps itself around her guitar. Then, she grabs a beer, recites some Morrisey that is lost on 80% of the people there, and goes into some poetry of her own as she steps down from the stage and literally begs the crowd to listen to what the hell she's saying. Except it's not Morrissey's brooding melancholy, it’s the song that should make her a cult heroine: "I Am A Delicate Flower." Do I need to tell you that this isn't exactly sung like she was Lisa Loeb? No, Binky is a delicate fucking flower who's going to splatter pollen all over your damn face if you don't tell her she's pretty.

OK, she's got some people's attention now. A birthday gift to one of her friends that's in the audience is a trio of Ramones covers, and then she's back to her metal roots. And what would a metal band be without a song about how exactly you want yer lovin? Binky's entry, which shamefully went right over the heads of most of the guys with their sticks and balls, is "Love Me Like A Pussycat," complete with girls invited to come on state and meow at appropriate times, and Binky spelling it out for you the virtues of Pussycat Love and singing to you the female version of that old joke about why dogs lick their balls. There's no subtlety here, and judging by the crowd tonight, they needed to be clubbed over the head on the issue. And then, as stated previously, she covers Hole, after a quick debate as to whether Courtney killed Kurt, was simply in on it, or (audience consensus) was covering for Dave Grohl. By the end of the set, she's back in Lita-world, rolling about the stage and firing off Yngwve Malmsteen-esque guitar runs. This is a woman feminine enough (and confident enough in that femininity) to pull off testosterone-fueled music and stage demeanor, and beat guy rockers at their own game. Why does a dog lick his own balls, indeed?

The set is over and I'm exhausted from a long day (which included a grueling session at Bucketworks helping plan their impending move). Plus, I have to drive all the way home from Waukesha, so I wave to Binky, who looks a tad tired herself. She's just poured out a show deserving of a packed house at the Rave to a bunch of disinterested boys playing with their sticks and balls.

Mother's Day Rambles....

Mother's Day was actually Mother's weekend for me. The family kind of understood that I probably wanted what most moms really want: some freaking time to myself, and god bless 'em, they gave it to me. I spent the weekend riding my bike and playing with my new toy. I helped facilitate a planning session at Bucketworks (they have to move, you should help….) and I got most of my garden planted while I enjoyed the last bits of the tulip blooms. But part of Mother's Day is not just honoring your mom. It's being a mom and savoring the precious things about it. To wit:

  • Stella's school does a Mother's Day Tea every year. Last year I was late and when I arrived, Stella had tears in her eyes because she thought I blew it off. This year I took the whole afternoon off work Thursday to ensure that I would get their early and spend a lovely afternoon with my beautiful girl. Like a waitress, she asked me what flavor of tea I preferred (I chose the Berry Zinger!) and she prepared and presented it as though it were the Eucharistic offering. It was accompanied by lovely little cucumber tea sandwhiches and fruit kabobs made by her class. The classroom was decorated with flower arrangements, both real and pipe-cleaner/wrapping tissue varierty. I felt like George Watts' Tea Room had "Put Your Kids To Work" day. My gift? A coupon book from Stella, with copuons good for, among other things "Telling Stella to clean her room without actually telling her." Afterwards, we hit the garden centers to pick up the stuff we'd be planting over the weekend. We agreed on a theme: hot tropical colors, and we picked out lots of hot pink and orange impatiens to brighten up our shady patio. Overall, a lovely girls' afternoon out, followed by a smashing following evening at the Ballet.

  • Then on Friday (which I also took off), my sweet little boy Sammy comes home from school and drags his backpack over to me. "Mommy," he says, flirtaciously, "I have something for you in my backpack," a facial expression that implies that this isn't going to be just some field trip permission slip I have to sign. He slowly unzippers the top, and produces a gift wrapped in leopard-skin tissue paper. "Is this for me?" I ask. "Yes! It's Mother's Day!" he nods his head, his anticipatory smile almost splitting his head in half. I carefully and slowly unwrap it -- wanting to make this moment last for both of us, because I think at 3 1/2, this is the first time he's really been cognizant of the fun of planning, making -- and then giving -- a surprise gift to somebody. It's a tealight candle inside of a jar that's been hodpodged with tissue paper for a clumsy stained glass effect. It's precious. "Did you make this?" I ask rhetorically (although there is no such thing as a rhetorical question when you're dealing with a little kid), and he replies, "Yes! I made this for you! It's for movies!" (when we watch DVD movies, we turn out all the lights and light candles). "Oh, thank you!" I said, giving him, as we call it, "a big squeezy hug" followed up with smothering kisses and, our little phrase goes, "a raspberry on top." I know that some day I'm going to wake up and find that my cuddly little buddy sweetheart has turned into a mouthy adolescent who scowls at me and gets angrily embarassed if I so much as show him an ounce of affection in front of his pals, but for now, I have a question. Am I the only mom who has visions of herself in the Emergency Room, sheepishly telling an EMT, "Uh, I think I hugged him too hard…"

  • Oh, and two more precious Stella moments: On her little card she made me, there was a question: "What are moms made of?" Her answer? "Lots of love and White Chocolate." On Sunday, Brian made me one of my favorite things: pizza on the grill. Stella hates grilled pizza. It's too crispy, its too wood-fire smoky, it's too grownup. But she said, "I won't whine about this because it's mother's day, and I know how you hate whining, so as a gift to you I'll just eat it silently and try not to make a face." God I love that girl.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Romeo and Juliet: being loyal to the story may mean being a tad disloyal to a discipline

So, with tickets to the Friday night performance of the Milwaukee Ballet doing Romeo and Juliet in hand, I'm reading Tom Strini's review in the paper, and he didn't like it. And I have to admit, I had my worries. After all, the story is as old as dirt, and the original telling of it was by a guy generally regarded as one of the greatest wordsmiths ever, and Shakespeare's version still holds up. So I'm wondering how to nonverbally tell a story that, well, is famous for its beautiful wordplay.

Strini's main complaint was that there wasn't enough dancing. Oh, this is going to sound cliche, like I'm one of those Rick Springfield fans who got mad at the rock critic that hated the Rick Springfield concert, but really, I think Strini and I saw two totally different performances.

Or maybe the thing is that Strini's a dance critic, and I'm -- as I've often said here -- a lover of a good story, well told, no matter what methodology is used. So I'm not measuring exactly how many bona fide dance steps there were. I'm measuring how well the story was told, and if Artistic Director Michael Pink has to veer away from pure dance for the sake of the story, so be it. And honestly, I don't think he veered that far.

As Strini commented, Act 1, where we pretty much establish everybody, is really dancey. The part of Juliet was danced by Julianne Kepley, on loan from the Joffrey Ballet. Apparently Pink had choreographed his Juliet for her, and you can tell why: this woman was successful at establishing from the get go the uncontrolled passion and lust for life a teenage girl has, and at the same time, Kepley radiates a gracefulness that explains exactly why anybody -- Romeo, Paris, Joe Blow on the streets of Verona -- would fall for her instantly. But here's the thing, in Act II, there's cacophony: a carnival interrupted by violence and swordplay. The Quentin Tarantino fan in me didn't think there was enough fighting! And the Quentin Tarantino fan in me knows that the person who coordinates the fight scenes is called the fight choreographer. And that's why I disagree with Strini. The story at this point isn't about beautiful elegant dancing. The story is about bloodshed and violence. It called for swordplay. The story called for a fight choerographer. OK, so they didn't bring in Jackie Chan to choreograph the fights. This is the ballet, after all! It was as dancey as one could get without diluting the impact of the events on the story.

By Act III, it all comes back, and its the part where I really think Strini and I saw two different shows. Romeo and Juliet's one night together is wonderfully, beautifully, and erotically danced. Its a wonderful transformation, especially for Douglas McCubbin's Romeo, who, up until this point brought to mind a giddy, happy, Justin Timerlake boyish charm. They get out of bed and you're like, Wow, Justin Timberlake has been lifting weights! When did HE turn into a man? And Kepley's brilliance as a dancing actress shines through, as her Juliet goes absolutely stiff when being courted by the clueless Paris. (You kind of feel sorry for Paris: he's not evil, he doesn't know what's going on, he just wants to marry Juliet and just two days earlier she had no objection to this idea at all!) You can see Juliet simply going through the motions, and while she's graceful, she's just not into it. You feel for her trying to fake it, and finally giving it up.

And there are wonderful snippets of all the side stories that, even without words, scream Shakespearian trademark. You don't have time, in dance, to tell them all, but if you've studied ol Bill for any length of time (as an English major, I pulled my required two semesters of the Bard), you know that half the fun of any Shakespeare is the subplots. The relationship of Lady Capulet to Tybolt -- is Lord Capulet (danced by badass Christopher Fellows) onto this? The friendship of Romeo and Mercutio -- are they just friends? Is Juliet's nurse more of a "mom" than Lady Capulet? And what's up with all those monks? The whole thing reminded me of Pink's Dracula in that I want to see it again to catch all these subtleties I missed.

So, sorry Tom, and other dance purists. I thought Pink's telling of the story was loyal to the story, and thusly, I loved it.

Stella was enthralled. She knew going in this was a sad story, but I kind of made bit light of it so it wouldn't be so heavy on her: "So yeah," I'm telling Stella over a pre-dance dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery, "Juliet has this 'brilliant' idea to drink the fake poison and fake everybody out, but she doesn't bother confirming that Romeo got the message and was in on the plan, so Romeo thinks she's really dead, he kills himself in grief, and Juliet finds out he did that and, well, [homer simpson voice]DOH!!!!!![/homer simpson voice]" Except that now I seem to have left Stella with the wrong lesson, not that "It's stupid for families to hold a grudge when they can't remember what they were pissed at each other about", no, this lesson is more about "Make sure everybody on your team is on the same page before you (literally) execute your plan." Then again, the former lesson is one wise people have been trying to pound into humanity's heads for centuries, and few people have learned it, while the latter is something that's, well, easily implemented.

So ends another season of the Milwaukee Ballet. After Shatner, we confirmed that we want another season of this, that's for sure. And Tom, they're starting off next season with the Bard again (Hamlet), so don't get all bent out of shape if they actually pause to make sure the story makes sense. I'm actually curious to see how the "To Be or Not To Be" soliliquy is going to get read nonverbally.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Viva Los Straightjackets con "Big Sandy" y Los Hermanos Mezcal!

Camera policy at Shank Hall on Sunday night: no flash! That means I can bring my camera, and just don't use the flash. Fine! Yippie, this is my first time in awhile bringing the camera to Shank Hall, so I quickly duck in the restroom and snap a self portrait there while I've got the chance. I emerge to see the opening band which at first seems like garden variety rockabilly, called the Mezcal Brothers. As I am still recovering from an exhilerating Rev Horton Heat show, I'm admittedly missing the finer points of the precision playing this opening band has, because they're not out of control. They're much more contained, and have plowed all their energy into tight songwriting and playing. Americana all the way, though. Lead singer Gerado Meza looks like a cross between Johnny Cash and Martin Scorsese, and sings like it too. Guitarist Benny Kushner is a dead ringer for Buddy Holly, down to the toothy grin that only Gary Busey could approximate. Drummer Shaun Theye never takes off his sunglasses, never breaks a sweat, never stops hunching over his snare, and never misses a beat. I'm not even fishing out the camera until I see, what's this? What the hell is that on Charlie "Fireball" Johnson's bass? It's not just sparklies on the edges. It's not just his name, Charlie, painted on like it was a sprint car. It's not just a pair of huge rhinestones above the S-holes. Ohmigod, those are strobe lights, jimbo-lustworthy strobe lights on this guy's bass, that flash and flicker when he carefully balances on top to prove that yes, they can get psycho and wild about it when the need arises. Finally, I put it all together. They're from Lincoln, Nebraska. They just don't drink as much as they do in Horton and Jimbo's Texas. When they get out of control, it's because they choose to, not because they drank too much. Johnny Scorsece keeps the stage banter dry and witty between songs, Buddy Holly's playing and dancing right along, and suddenly they've won my heart because even in the dry heartland, they understand rock and billy and put it together, and still get the little girls feeling like they want to get in trouble. But they didn't have to get me drunk to do it. Bravo!

Los Straightjackets y "Big Sandy"
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Pero, Los Straightjackets! Viva Los Straightjackets y estrella de huésped especial "Big Sandy"!! That's pronounced "Beeg SANdee" and after a lovely instrumental offering from the Straightjackets, Big Sandy makes his big entrance, surveying the crowd like the hispanic Jake Blues his stocky build, freshly pressed black suit and ray-bans bring to mind. His attitude and delivery remind one of Belushi, too: he's got the goods, he's going to deliver them, he is here to entertain you. Except he's the vocalist Belushi always wanted to be, so you don't think he's a Jake Blues ripoff. He's got his own thing going, he can sing, he can drink (somebody bought a round of tequilla for the entire band, but not everybody in the band was up for it, but Sandy did not let good tequilla go to waste) and the ladies love him.

Los Straightjackets were everything I knew they would be, so I had to judge them in that context -- they are so good that unfortunately I'm not surprised anymore that they were as good as they are. They still have the surf thing going, but now they're on a general early rock hits kick, with a schtick that takes early pop hits, translates them to Spanish, and then plays them. It sounds like a kitschy joke, but really, the translations work. "Hang On Sloopy" becomes "Hang on Lupe" and it even works better because in English, what or who the hell is Sloopy? But in Spanish, Lupe is a common woman's name, and it makes all the more sense now. They still are mysteriously hidden behind those ridiculous mexican wrestling masks, with matching guitar straps, and, well, matching guitars! Matching custom built sparkly guitars, a glowing bass drum light, and matching suits! Only Big Sandy is speaking English to the crowd: Los Straightjackets keep the stage banter in spanish, quickly spoken only to emphasize the ridiculousness of English words like Milwaukee, and Shank Hall poking though and the names of their albums.

This apparently is a formula that's working well for them. If Sunday night's Shank Hall crowd is any indication, people just don't get up and dance to instrumentals for whatever reason. So they get a charasmatic frontman for a tour (last time I saw them, they were leasing the Fleshtones' Peter Zaremba), and the vocalist's very existance entices people to the dance floor. When they don't have the vocals, they make up for it with choreographed guitar dancing, and musicians in the audience keep their mouth open as they whip off surf and americana guitar runs with apparent ease. They pick and choose their mashups: doing the Munsters Theme not only as a surf number, but with a Ventures' "Walk Don't Run"-esque intensity that isn't lost on dangerous surf devotees like myself.

Maybe it's good that this was a Sunday night, and I -- and many others in the room -- were burnt from the weekend and had a Monday morning at work staring us down. Because both Los Straightjackets and the Mezcal Brothers are great at face value, and actually, you might gloss over their finer points if you were too Saturday-night crazed up. Lots of bands can rave up the rockabilly and surf, but both bands on the bill tonight had subtleties that went appreciated by me because I wasn't toasted. The flourish of the guitarists' hands, the thoughtfulness of the song arrangements and choreography. Both these bands were an exercise in passion directed at precision, not out-of-control craziness. Another couple of bands on a growing list worth being worthless at work on Monday for.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Day at the Ballpark...

Everywhere you go, there he is. Warren Wiegratz and his saxophone, pining to be the white man's Bleeding Gums Murphy. At least he didn't hotdog it as much as he usually does at the Bradley Center.

We're at Miller Park with the kids' school tailgate party, the ticket taker at the gate directs us up the wrong elevator so we have to walk three-quarters of the way around the place (with Sammy, The Pokey Little Puppy, in tow). We get all settled in and then it's time to rise for the national anthem, played, overplayed by Wiegratz. This is a wartime drinking song, Warren, not a Midwest Express Best Care in the Air Commercial.

"So," I ask around, "Tell me about the Brewers. I haven't followed a thing in baseball. What's up with them? Do they suck? Do they rock? Will this game be worth watching?" And the scuttlebutt is that the Brewers indeed rock this year. They prove it: by the second inning they're on the board, they've blown an attempted two base steal (some would say he should have just stuck with one stolen base; I say, no guts, no glory!). Pittsburg has a ferocious 7th inning and makes it a game, but an inning and a pair of pinch hitters later, the Brew crew has sealed it up. And so has Miller Park. Sunny, but chilly day, so the roof is closed. It's a nationally televised game, so of course, we're sitting right behind the fellas who have accepted that they'll never get their fifteen minutes, so if they could just have 15 seconds on FSN they can die happy, but to do so, they need to hold a big ol' sign right in my field of vision. Sammy is happy if he can just have some Dippin Dots, Stella is happy because she's hanging with her posse from school, Brian is happy because his fantasy league guys are kickin butt, and I'm happy because I have finally seen the Brewers win at Miller Park. Really. Every time I've gone there, they've lost. I was starting to think it was some chemical displacement between me and this new stadium -- I never saw the Brewers lose when I went in person to see them at ol County Stadium.

I went home and took a nap to rest up for Los Straightjackets.

Americana STUDies

Well, iffn Friday night wasn't a great night to take a bath in my generation's pop culture, no night was.

As predicted, I started off at Frank's Power Plant in Bay View to check out Marlavous Marla Rothenberg sitting in with Blue Valentine, as they described it (and it was pretty accurate), an "eclectic mix of country, swing, blues, with a touch of alt-country.) Covers all night, but good ones. They open it up with a take on "Ice Cream Man" that recalls niether Diamond David Lee Roth or John Brim. Still nice. Marla joins them for classic renditions of Ballad of Billie Joe and such, but she finds her own way on Gershwin's "Summertime" and doesn't have to recall Janis to make us drop our jaws. Then she's got to duck out (she has a karaoke to run, you know), and Kathy Walker takes the girl singer spot on stage, opening with a great little ditty called "Kathy's Blues." Rothenberg's voice is a higher and richer register, where Walker's got more of a laid-back, but bluesier style. I liked them both, but I too had to duck out, because, well, babies, the Studs were at the Ale House and I've had a stressful month, and this girl needed herself some Studs.

Ah, the Five Card Studs. "Novelty Act" -- pshaw! No, "novelty" would be the word if they did faithful renditions of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or something equally annoying. But no, these fine gentlemen perfectly nail the Las Vegas vibe, where the 70s isn't considered "nostalgia" and being sexy sexy sexy never went out of style. But all of us are in on this, aren't we? We know they're wearing hairpieces (or at least some of them are), don't we? We know that Mr. and Mrs. Spumanti didn't really name their kid Asti, don't we?

The correct place to see them indeed was the Ale House. It was somebody's birthday, and this was a band to celebrate you 30th birthday for sure. I bumped into Chris Lehmann, enjoying some locally brewed beer, as we couldn't wipe the grins off our faces. Lehmann is resting up for the return of the Buggs later this month, but he still gets out to check out a fine band now and again. The Studs? They plowed through a setlist that included everything from "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" to "Cherry Hill Park" to "Ride Captain Ride" and honestly, I'm pretty sure there were some people in the audience who weren't necessarily onto all this as an act. First off, I'm noticing that a lot of girls are on the dance floor, shaking their groove thangs in an obvious effort to catch the eye of one Mr Cesar Palace or another Mr. Reno Nevada. Within one minute of the song, their boyfriends/dates found their way to the dance floor, dancing awkwardly, but nevertheless making sure the girls remembered who bought their drinks this evening.

While the schtick is a put on, the musicianship is not. These guys are dead on, tight musicians, who obviously listened to everything in the 70s, not just lounge lizard fodder. Witness the set-closing rave up of Diamond's "Kentucky Woman", which ended up featuring Spumanti doing a Keith Emersonian keyboard run before bringing us back to the yuppie-soaked club atmosphere of the Ale House. I'm a fan anyway. It all started a few years back, when I woke up one morning, and realized, "Wow. I just had to order my first pair of bifocals. I own and drive a station wagon. It's just hit me that my favorite CD right now is this copy of Tom Jones' 'Reload' that i just picked up. Oh, dear God, I'm 40." Thank that same dear God for the Five Card Studs.

So I pop over to Points East to catch a set of the Chop Top Toronados, a band I've been meaning to see for months now, but it was not to be. They went on first which meant I missed 'em, so that answered my question as to where I was going to finish the night. At Old Heidelberg Park, with Marlevous Marla's Karaoke.

This Marla Karaoke thing is taking on a surreal life of its own. I walked into the Bavarian Inn to see Marla serenading a older couple celebrating their 60th Wedding Anniversary, although the wife had already gone home (the daughter and her husband were still partying with daddy!). Marla congratulated them with a hearty "Mazel Tov" and the poor goys had no clue what she meant. Marla, ever the gracious hostess, explained that it was a hebrew expression that..... well, she ended it reminding everybody, "Well, I'm a nice Jewish girl here at the Bavarian Inn...."

You never know who's going to pop in. Last week we had Brian Wurch and Brian Kurzinski, this week Mark Shurilla made an appearance, as did Binky Tunny. It's like this place to test out new songs you might hear these guy doing on a real stage with a real band later. Binky covered Bono for us; Shurilla joined me and Dave for a run-through of Alice Cooper's "Hello, Hooray!" I grabbed a handful of popcorn, and sipping my diet coke, went home to rest up for today, driving home and realizing that you know when you've finally grown up when everything is hip enough for you.

Brian was going to follow up tonight and check out Chief at Lulu, but it was not to be, either. Why not? Because we spent the afternoon with our friends Linda and Ken, homebrewing enthusiasts, and local contacts for the National Homebrewing Association's national Big Brew. The idea, of course, is that thousands of people agree to brew the same recipe (this year's was a doppelbock) and have fun doing so. We've been going to this for years now, even since before Stella was born. The folks who attend every year have pretty much seen Stella grow up over the years, climbing in Linda and Ken's beautiful magnolia tree, and of course lots of "Look how Sammy has grown!" I love it when people throw "annual" parties: its such a nice little baseline to keep in touch with our friends.

Well, you can't hit a brewing party all day, chasing kids around, and expect to have energy to catch even a hot band like Chief, so we'll have to catch you next week, boys. In the meantime, I have to rest up for Los Straightjackets tomorrow night.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cinco de Mayo Weekend: Decisions, Decisions

Oh dear. It would seem that I'm not the only one who's de-wussified for the summer. The bands are coming out of the woodwork this month and I just don't know what to do!

Friday night my conundrum begins:
Marvelous Marla sings a variety of genres with Blue Valentine early in the evening at Frank's Power Plant. She and her crew will head up to the Bavarian Inn in Glendale to host caraoke. In the meantime, I don't know if I'll head up North myself, at least to Points East to catch the Chop Top Toronados (one of those bands I've been meaning to catch for months, now), or just stay in Bay View and enjoy the vegas-style stylings of the Five Card Studs. I'm really overdue for a sexy, sexy evening. I think its time for the Studs!

Saturday Night it's going to be even harder to decide. I've ruled out the Cocksmiths, despite Paris Ortiz's cheeky subjectline of an invitation: "Como estan beeetches!" But they're in Racine, and I'm not making the schlep, even for them, when there's so much of a choice here.

Eat The Mystery starts an early show at Café Brucke, Floor Model is at the Pub, Chief is at Lulu, and I got this email from Ted Jorin (that's the Mighty Lumberhorn's Boy Howdy to you, bub) and he's got a new project. He's strapping on a ukelele, donning a hawaiian shirt, and joining up with (among other people) the previously incognito Don Turner for an outfit called The Bikini Beachcombers. They're at Jose's on Saturday, but they seem to have a packed schedule already through the month and I will get out to see them. I trust Johnny Noble's arrangement of "Hawaiian War Chant" will be on the setlist. If not, google up "ukelele_tablature_hawaiian_war_chant" in time for me to catch you later this month.

And since I can never get enough of the beach, this Sunday night Los Straightjackets are blowing into town and hitting Shank Hall. Can I tell a wonderful story about them? Back when Stella was about 4 or so, and the Journal-Sentinel still sponsored free "Rainbow Summer" concerts just outside the Performing Arts Center, Los Straightjackets treated us to a magical night of bonding between a surf-guitar loving mama and her little girl. The Fleshtones' Peter Zaremba was a guest vocalist on a few songs, and overall it was a magic night.

Los Straightjackets' schtick is that they play surf music decked out in Mexican wrestling masks and outfits. They don't speak a word of English, but as we all recognize that surf music is a fairly universal language, they don't have to. When they played that wonderful summer night four years ago, they spewed out their stage banter is obnoxious Spanish, somehow we understood every word.

As you may know, the stage at the PAC's Peck Pavillion is large, wide, and had something of a space between the regular seating and the stage for those who might want to get up and dance. Two songs in, and I wanted to be there, but 4-year-old Stella was a bit shy. I had my camera with me, but as a parent, I wasn't necessarily willing to let go of my little girl's hand in a crowd like this. So I shot the show single handed, but sometimes got both hands to focus because I knew where Stella was -- clutching onto my leg. Los Straightjackets pumped the surf all night, and didn't just rehash Ventures and Dick Dale classics. They went everywhere with it. I heard a familiar melody, felt the little hands come off my leg, and watched my baby girl's face light up with the joy of recognition: "Mommy," she cried, "This is the Batman song!" And her face said the rest of it: Finally, a kid's song! And it's cool! And everybody is dancing to it just like me and you think it's cool and you're not doing this just to humor me! Sweetheart, I thought to myself, Batman has never been uncool. You can't even begin to understand how utterly cool, wonderful, and timeless this is.

They didn't just transcend my age. There were some even older faces in the crowd -- I'm talking 60s and 70s -- which also lit up in joyful recognition when the band jumped into a surfing, but nevertheless faithful take on the old Tommy Dorsey big band classic, "Sing Sing Sing." The younguns were on the dance floor sweating it up during the pulsating drum solo on the toms, and the old folks were probably sitting there thinking the same thing I wanted to tell Stella, again, "you younguns don't understand just how utterly jivin', wonderful, and timeless this is." Stella and I swang and slammed, arms flailing about, losing ourselves in the hypnotic beat, coming right down to a moment so universal across generations.

That, as I'd written about Los Straightjackets (and music in general) is what I hope to pass on to the kids: this love of music that sets you free, whether its on the stage or the dance floor, how it releases you from worrying about anything else that goes on in the rest of your life, how the great stuff truly bridges generations and makes you forget how old you are, because your're never too old or too young to understand while you sing, sing, sing and dance, dance, dance. Haven't seen the Straightjackets since, but I'll be at Shank this Sunday to be sure.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Summer De-Wussification

summer de-wussification
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
This is my first sunburn of the year. Yippie! I'm not into pain or anything like that, but there's something about that first real tingle of sunburn whose pain I welcome. Its like, OK, finally, winter's over! I've got a sunburn! Woo, that feels great!

I am a wuss in the winter. I stay in most of the time because of the cold (unless its prime sledding weather, which we did not get much of, to the kids' chagrin) and it takes a while to get de-wussified for the summer.

De-wussification takes a few steps:

  • Get that first nasty sunburn out of hte way and prime up your skin. Check.
  • Get caught in the rain on your bike. That happened in the cloudburst at 6:05 this morning. Check. (I look really great for work right now).
  • Have a feocious wipeout and skin your knees something ferocious. Check. (extra credit -- I blew out my ankle in the process).
  • Get summer haircut to avoid embarassing helmet head. Check.
  • Stock up on natural charcoal, really clean the grill off, for grilled food is pretty much my summer diet. Check.

Still to do:
Stock up on sunscreen, triple antibiotic, and H20. Get the bike tuned up, get new running shoes, get new water hiking shoes (my tevas are totally trashed). Tune up the GPS, start downloading geocaches. Begin to de-wussify the kids.

Sing along with the Breeders:
"Summer's ready! Summer is ready when you are."

Bring it on!