Monday, July 23, 2007

Guess I Picked the Wrong Day to Give Up Advil


joann of the barrettes
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
What a mixed up day Saturday was. From beginning to end.

It started out lovely: Stella and I woke up, fresh from our Harry Potter experience, and grabbing Sammy to tag along, trundled over to South Shore Park for the farmers' market. I downed a cup of Stone Creek Coffee, followed by another cup from Sven's Café (making their debut at this farmer's market) when I forgot that neither Stone Creek nor Sven are known for their weak coffee and POW! I was wired. We picked up some bread and goodies, played at the playground for a bit, visited Stella's favorite tree and zoomed home. I'd hoped to get a bike ride in when I saw that for the first time ever, I had a flat front tire and that just started my whole bad mood. (Faulty valve finally gave out, the boys at Wheel & Sprocket fixed it up and doctored up the works and told me assuredly -- because this is my third flat in as many weeks -- "I'll be surprised if THIS one goes flat." We shall see, gentlemen, we shall see.) Bike ride was good, did my north shore route and came home and I'm still wired. Thank you Sven. Then I'm dealing with a series of phone calls and emails from a variety of subjects and issues that basically, without divulging personal business here, were a series of stress inducers for me, and in a fit of coffee-fueled, pre-menopausal rage custom-made for extra-strength Motrin, I probably alienated a few friends and business associates. If there was ever a night I needed no-wave punk from some smart and uppity rollersk8r grrls, this was it.

But first, I had to wait while Brian went with Darrell "Da Brainz" Martin to the Zappa plays Zappa show at the rave. Brian's a lifelong Zappa fan. I pretty much only know the hits, am familiar with his wit and intelligence, and did a cover of "I'm the Slime" with Loblolly for a tribute record produced by Jeff Hamilton and Paul Kneevers at the old Junkyard Studio which never saw the light of day (hey, whatever happened to this, guys?). I'm also happy to pass on my knowledge, based on personal experience, that "Return of the Son of Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar" is a very good CD to put on during 2nd stage labor to endure that part when its too early to put in the epidural but you need something more complicated than sappy new age music to help you concentrate on how you're going to survive gut-wrenching contractions. But Brian's the Zappa head, and he needed a night out too. He files this report: Dweezil dug deep into the catalouge and had a crew of relative younguns to play his dad's music. A few times during the show they showed and played along with video of FZ himself, Brian says this was kind of odd. Sort of like that experiement they did with Elvis and that reunion show they did with the old backup bands and the Jordanaires playing "with" Elvis on a video monitor. Anyway, Brian saw all the Zappa-heads he expected to see there: Frank Chandik, Whispering Jeff, etc. and all were pleased with the performance. There were plenty of free tickets given out to ensure a packed house. (Note to places like Vnuks: this is a tested and true strategy for a show that didn't initially blow you away with ticket sales. Flood the market with free tickets. It will ensure that the artist doesn't leave with Milwaukee -- and your club -- as an unhip place, thus spreading the word about. It's money you'd never have gotten at the door anyway, and now at least your bar till might make up for the door money you lost on a poor-selling show. Turns a lose situation into a winner. Try it next time Candye Kane comes to down, Dave.) While Brian was gone I got all domestic and did laundry, loaded the dishwasher, and picked up. Almost vacumed. Yes, I was grouchy and teed off and ready for the Barrettes.

Yes, the Barrettes pretty much justified the buzz about them. Four women, all of whom have a terrificly smug (and smug looks good on them) confidence. Very British early girlpunk influences popped in my head: picture the Raincoats or the Slits but with much more musical competence and frankly, more cohesive songwriting skills, but with the hard-driving energy of that same era's X-Ray Spex, with touches of Gang of Four funkieness, albeit with a sense of humor. The lower end is supplied by a cello rather than a bass which brought to mind Rasputina not in aesthetics but in attitude -- they don't have Melora Creager's midnight-ghosts-in-the-heartland roots. But the cello is another piece of evidence (besides the electronic ukeleles and miked melodica) that this band knows what they need to do to distinguish themselves, and use these instruments as tools -- not as crutches just to be different -- to explore their songs in places you normally wouldn't expect the music to take them. Critter on cello slides not only up and down the neck, she fingers all around and behind, all with a look on her face that is fully aware that she's in a rock band, not an orchestra, and a smartass rock band at that. Joolz on the drums is ferocious and authoratative, but of course, the frontwomen of this band, founders Joann Riedl and Joey are the focus points, clad in resale-shop mini skirts and badass star studded boots. They trade off vocals and attitudes, from brashly snotty to earthly friendly with their audience, which was clearly dominated by their tighly knit clique of fans.



joey of the barrettes
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The set was, however, disappointingly short. Granted, I missed the first couple of songs, but this was a CD release bash and I expected them to have a longer set. Toward the end, they toyed with playing a new song, made ironic excuses for its draft state and actually began playing it, but abruptly stopped and went into their planned set-closing cover. Ah, they might as well have played it: they had this crowd in the palm of their hand and could have read them the phone book to adoring cheers. But instead they rev up the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" with a raw energy that Susanna Hoffs herself had in the early days and I suspect, wishes she still had. Seemingly at the last minute at the instrumental break, Riedl whipped out the melodica again and spat out that intro melody line in a wonderfully atonal way. Short set or not, they accomplished what any good band should -- left me wanting more. I gladly dropped $5 on the CD, and decided to check out the next band, as I had already given the doorman $7.

I need to give Juniper Tar a fresh viewing on a different night. Their sound -- (and this is a compliment, not a snide indie insult) is sort of a psychedelic heartland answer to the question: What if John Cougar Mellencamp was a stoner? They had these kinds of wistful, earnest, guitar-driven songs that would sound great riding shotgun in a car (not driving), barrelling down I-57 or I-65 (as in, in Illinois or Indiana, not Wisconsin) on a windy summer day, staring out the open window at the cornfields zipping by, being blinded by sunlight. They opened their set with a flawless acapella four-part harmony tune, and then drifted into some organic psychedelia that exploded into hard driving American shoegazing emo. So in theory, I should have loved them. But they had a few things working against them this night, two of which were beyond their control. 1) Between my rollercoaster of a stressed out day punctuated by a caffeine headache that had just kicked in, and the fact that they were preceeded by some hardass broads whose stage presence was knowingly cynical, (and I had Grandfather of Cynical, FZ on the brain), I was absolutely in no mood for the most earnestly sincere bunch of boys I've seen on a Milwaukee stage in a long time. This was a bad booking. If I had to put a guy band after the Barrettes, I'd have opted, for, say, The Mighty Deer Lick (who will be at Points East this coming weekend.) Not these guys. 2) They weren't being mixed well. This took me a long time to figure out, because I'd spotted local musician/writer Blaine Schultz in the audience, who'd stopped in to catch Juniper Tar after he himself played a private party with his roots rock band, Deadman's Shoes. I told Schultz, "These guys are putting me to sleep," and he advised me to stick around: "They'll grow on you," he said, and if I've learned anything in this town, its when Blaine Schultz says to give a band a chance, it's worth your time and caffeine to do exactly that. So I grabbed myself a hair-of-the-dog diet coke, listened carefully, and realized I couldn't hear the guitar player for shit.

And that's a problem when your formula is as follows: drift gently into your song(s) with a building, anticipatory coagulation, crash into your emotive, sweet, almost folksy verse, chorus (throw in a bridge now and again) and verse, then instrumentalize your chorus with a slowly building creshendo that lands gently standing on your sweet verse for one more line to taper off. This works when either when you don't do this on practically EVERY SONG or when your intense instrumental build up (it's too sweet and emo to be raveup) includes an equally compelling instumental run. And that's why we can blame the sound man for this. I saw the guitarist exploring his entire fretboard, I saw the guitarist aiming for his pedals and his amp, tweaking his feedback and his edges, I saw him intently interacting with the bass player to ensure a cohesive sound rather than a pointless jam. But I couldn't hear him for shit.

So yeah, I need to see these guys again then they're mixed better, and the mix of bands is more cohesive, and not at a state where I would sell my grandmother off to the gypsies for 800 milligrams of ibuprofen. Rusnak out.

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