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