Monday, May 21, 2007

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.



DSC_0674
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.

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