Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sometimes I Need To Just Be a Fan and Not a Photog

I've got a load of stuff going on at work I shouldn't get granular about(like I ever get detailed about work in a public blog anyway, I'm not an idiot) and I'm massively stressed. I booked a massage and facial for Janaury, because that's the first time when I'm going to have three hours free to do this, but I need it now. A Mighty Lumberhorn show will have to do for this week. I always get a crack in my neck when I go see them. Last night was no exception: great playing accompanied by jokes and stage banter that had me groaning from terrible puns, really stinker jokes, and just all around debauchery. They're doing this kind of regularly at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg -- the last Tuesday of every month. They're done by 10, so that people who have to work won't be too bleary eyed the next morning. I've shot them enough that I didn't even play photo hound last night. I've shot them with every camera I have in my current arsenal (my film SLR, my digital point and shoot, and my digital SLR) except my cell phone camera with its 352x288 pixel resolution (not even enough for the mega- prefix!) I decided to shoot them with that. Partially because with the light in there, I wasn't going to improve on anything I've shot with this band anyway with my SLR, partially because I'm in an "artsy" mood, but mostly because, when I boot up my SLR I'm "working." I assume a professional attitude, I don't really talk to other people, I listen to the music, but I'm going for images, and its work. Don't get me wrong, I love this work, I feel great doing it, but I needed to not "work." I needed to just sit there, suck down a diet coke, laugh at terrible jokes, watch the Bucks get killed by Ashton Kutcher and the rest of the 76ers, and kvetsch that they didn't change to channel 12 after the game was over so that I could see Helio Castroveves' triumphant victory over Scary Spice and Marie Osmond (well, it wasn't hard to beat Marie) on Dancing With the Stars. I was partially expecting Helio to climb the walls upon winning, but Brian assured me that at least somebody in the audience did indeed present him with a chug of milk. "You were serious? We thought you were joking," Tim O'Keefe told me afterwards. No, I am a pop culture junkie and you can't put a charming Indycar driver, an aging spice girl, Donny's little sister (not to mention, earlier in the season, the owner of the Houston Rockets, a prizefighter, and a couple of soap opera stars) on a dance contest and not expect me to be riveted. Please.

But yeah, as much as many people have produced interesting art with their cell phones (which are getting to be the Holgas and Lomos of the digital age), I just can't take myself seriously as a photographer with one. I know, I know, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools, but oh well. This way, I could still shoot the show but not at all be expected to produce anything worthy. Nice compromise. When I decide not to be Lynn Goldsmith, I can enjoy the music even more, especially on a night I've got too much on my mind. And the Lumberhorn is perfect for brain dump. There's a song they do where they (and anybody in the audience) tells a wretchedly bad joke during one of several breaks and it was he kind of low budget, lowbrow entertainment that served my needs. Then, when they're done, they jump into well executed bluegrass reminding you they really do have their act together and they are anything but lowbrow.

Anyway, cultural lineup for the weekend: Bruce Springsteen cover band at shank, Canyons of Static at Points East, but really, not a lot going on this weekend in the clubs that I haunt. I think everybody's getting ready for their holiday extravaganzas. Slice of Ice -- free skating downtown -- doesn't even open until next week. So the thing to catch might be Wild Space's "Balancing Forces" this weekend and while we're near the PAC and in that dance mood, we'll pick up our Nutcracker tickets.

Then again, there's always the Five Card Studs! They're at Lulu Thursday night (for some calendar release party) and at County Clare on Friday. We have the Bucks/Detroit game Saturday night and hopefully last night's debacle will wake them up. But my not knowing what's going on musically reminds me of the first of a few random ramblings I'll end today's entry with:
  • Bands, myspace is good, but you're depending on it way too much. For one thing, for a lot of people, myspace is NSFW. For me -- and many other people in corporate america -- it's simply unavailable (along with YouTube, etc.) Lots of companies block myspace, partially because it's NSFW, but mainly because it and YouTube are bandwidth suckers, and very
    few corporations need myspace to conduct their business. So, find a vanilla board (yahoo and google can set you up), and post your schedule and news there too. Oh, and remember, there's lots of your fans who aren't on myspace but still have email. Remember the ol email distribution lists? Sure you do! They were what you did before ol Uncle Myspace Tom gave you your free (as in, you get what you pay for) web home. Plus, there's enough hotdogs on myspace who think that the best way to keep in touch is to send out a freaking bulletin every time they hear a bad joke. If you have a bad joke to tell, go see the Lumberhorn -- they'll be happy to give you 15 seconds between stanzas. Plus, if you're playing out soon, tell me and the rest of your fans a couple weeks in advance, and remind me a few nights before. Day of Show is not a good time for anybody to first hear about your gig -- most people have already made plans. Oh, and one more thing. Just because you CAN modify the layout on myspace doesn't mean you should. Placing a repeating graphic on your page that's 2 gig to begin with only makes it impossible to scroll down the page to actually see any news about you. Green on Red, while a great band, is a terribly difficult-to-read combination for text. Don't you actually want people to be able to read your page? Go to somebody's house that has dial-up and try to read your page from there. Better still, go to the library. If you can't read your page, or the scolling takes forever (or even locks up) that's probably a sign that maybe you might want to consider the default layout. There's nothing wrong with it other than the overall uglieness of myspace itself. If its good enough for Robyn Hitchcock -- whose artwork and graphical sense nobody denies -- it's good enough for you.

    Summary: myspace is butt ugly to begin with, and very few of you have successfully hung a hat on that horse. If your band sucks and your text is boring, no amount of flashy graphics is going to change that, and if your band is great, the default butt ugly (but at least scrollable and legible) text will get your point across.

  • Speaking of graphics, people, if you're going to use my photographs -- or anybody's for that matter -- could you have the class to credit the photographer? Actually, it's a good idea (not to mention the LAW) to ask them permission first to even use it at all. Unless there's a Creative Commons Public Domain notice on the shot, its copyrighted. It doesn't have to SAY it's copyrighted. It just is. Look, photogs aren't being jagoffs by asking you to do this. If their pictures are good enough for you to use, its because they've taken the time, care, and practice to render an image. Hey, can I use your music on my page without even telling anybody who made it? And possibly implying that I'm the one who made it? No? That wouldn't be cool? Then why is it OK for you to just snag my pictures without crediting me? Or even telling me? Ask anybody who's taken the 30 seconds to drop me an email to ask for permission -- chances are 99.9% good you'll get it, from me, and from most photogs. Photogs are just like you, band people. They're struggling artists who need exposure and their name out there. Look, I don't have the time or $$$ to hire an attorney and crank out cease and desist letters any more than you do. Just recognize that visual artists need, deserve, and are legally entitled to the same credit, compensation, and plain old courtesy that musicians need and deserve. (For the record, I've never illegally downloaded ANYBODY's -- music. Not even Metallica's.)

OK, getting down off my soapbox. If I seem crabby, can you tell I'm totally stressed out this week?!?!?!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thankful for things that work out

Brian tending the fire
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Long weekend, and amazingly enough, things all fell into place and worked out. To wit:
  • The Trash Can Turkey. We decided there wasn't any ground we were willing to kill perennials on, so we just jurrigged up our regular Beer Can Chicken Holder for a Turkey (we got some tall boy imports to balance the turkey on) and used the other vessel to place parsley, sage, rosemary and Blatzfor extra moistness and flavor. It worked perfectly. All the online instructions say it takes only an hour and a half for a 15 pounder, but I've undercooked too many birds, so we let it go for two hours, and it was perfect. Besides basically making the turkey in a Red Green-style convection oven (although we all agreed it wasn't a true Red Green contraption because it had neither duct tape or any moving parts), it freed up my real oven to make side dishes as well as fresh bread and that popover recipe that finally worked out. Everything came together on time, the Packers won, and we had plenty of leftovers to keep me from having to cook until at least tomorrow.

  • In keeping with my own tradition, I didn't buy a dang thing on Friday. Instead, I went with my Girl Scout troop for a lovely tractor pull ride out at the Shalom Nature Center near West Bend. It was a short ride (only an hour, some of their tours go for two hours, I'm told), but that was OK because it was chilly. Fun Santa theme, so it wasn't as educational as usual, but the girls didn't care. They just liked getting out of the house and spending some time with their girlfriends. I learned that there are Lynx in the Wisconsin wild! I knew there were bison and foxes and all those kinds of critters, but I didn't know we had wild cats out here. The Shalom Nature center has, of course, a nature and native american theme in its decor, but I haven't decided if I was creeped out or intrigued by this ceiling. On one hand, what else are you going to do with all these antlers? On the other hand, its got that deserted, only bones to be found here, look you see in introductory scene-establishing shots of movies where you want to convey that there was once the living here, but no more...

  • Jason of the Danglers
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
    After I put the kids to bed, I put on warmer clothes and headed over to Points East for a rare show from the Danglers. Damn, they're good. Sometimes the Danglers bring their electric instruments (as in guitars, etc.) but tonight it was simply a violin (and Jason Loveall was beating up the bow strings...) double bass (and Dave Gelting was beating that up) and drums (and John Sparrow was NOT beating those up, simply playing them elegantly.) I think lots of people would want to call them prog, but there's too much passion poured into this music to risk calling it prog and having people think they're too technical. Anywhere else, the technical prownness of the players would have been the calling card. But they don't rest on their laurels at all. Here the passion takes front and center, and then it sinks in that, "Oh, these mofos can play." What drives that point home is not only the well-constructed and comples originals ("Aphrodite's Thighs" has been sticking in my head lately) but the variety of composers they choose to cover: Hendrix, Coltrane, Syd Barrett and Slayer, and did them all with their own stamp on them, but retaining the spirit of the originals.

  • Saturday, I got a workout in, and then, since it was going to be loud in our house, (F/i was rehearsing!) I took the kids to the movies and we saw "Enchanted" -- a film a friend of a friend actually helped write. I'm agreeing with the critics on this one, it's Disney sweetly paroding itself and its done well. Amy Adams' sweetness is so genuine you don't get a diabetic blackout from her: you're cheerig her the whole way through. The kids loved it, and there's enough pop culture references in it to keep pop culture junkies like me happy. And I didn't even recognize Susan Sarandon as the evil stepmother until the very end!

  • We got home in time for me to welcome the sitter, put on my makeup and hair and rockstar clothes, load up the car, and head over to the Stonefly to do our show. Loblolly -- my band -- was first, and this was much better than our Points East offering. I think we covered our mistakes (Wups, did I say we made mistakes? No, not at all.) But note to self, I need to stop being vain and stop wearing my contacts. There's not a pair of reading glasses made that works when I'm wearing my contacts, and that's a problem when part of your schtick is reading a newspaper story. >Oh well, I'm told my rant still worked.
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    Roni of Guido's Racecar
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
  • Up next Saturday night was Guido's Racecar, with a fairly new lineup that includes the Buggs' Lane Klozier on drums, Johnny Washday on bass, and uberproducer Mike Hoffman on guitar. Fronting this outfit is Roni Allwaise, dressed as a sort of punk burlesque queen, with a Billie Holliday quality to the back tone of her voice. They play a sort of underground Americana blues -- and Allwaise's songwriting would fit in nicely with, say Exene Cervenka's LA-by-way of the midwest blues. This is a good backing band for her, from Hoffman's EIEIO cowpunk credentails to Washday's pop punk sensibilities. And Allwaise has the stage moxie to pull off her vaudeville/burlesque queen look, with expressive eyes that pop out to emphasise her lyrical points. I need to go see these guys again when I'm not coming down from my own performance. They finished their set with a favorite i rmember from the last time they played a few years back "When People Die in Nebraska."
  • My own sweat had finally dried when Dr Chow's Love Medicine took the stage to finish the night, and they filled their slot with mostly originals -- instead of mixing in almost as many covers as they have. Great version of "Sea Creatures" again, and they played for almost an hour and a half. So that worked out nicely as well.

So now the holiday season is upon us, and a regular work week is upon us as well. Plenty to do and see this next month, so I'm going to go rest up for it. Rusnak out.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm Thankful For Blowing Things Up

winter fireworks, originally uploaded by V'ron.

I'll tell ya, I've never lived in a town that loved its fireworks the way Milwaukee does. Before I moved here, I just assumed that fireworks were simply for the 4th of July, and the occassional Grand Slam home run at Comiskey Park. Not Milwaukee. Festa Italiana? Fireworks! Festa ANYTHING? Fireworks! New fa├žade at City Hall? Fireworks! New giraffe born at the zoo? Fireworks! Brett Favre has a successful bowel movement? Fireworks!

Anyway, the kids and I decided to have a family outing at Pere Marquette Park last Thursday for the Holiday Lights Lighting ceremony. On one hand, can't we wait until Thanksgiving to start in with the Ho Ho Ho of Christmas? (My way of protesting this is not to write about it until today, Thanksgiving proper. And I don't ever buy a thing on "Black Friday.") Stella even said, in a voice that was sitcom sincere, "Mom, it's not even Thanksgiving and the Christmas lights are all up and they're singing carols. This is absurd. Why do they even do this, anyway?"

"Because they need to get people excited about Christmas and get people to come downtown and start spending money, because Christmas season is really the season that makes or breaks a lot of stores and other things like restaurants."

"Seriously? Is that really the reason?" Stella asked. "Or is that you just being, what's the word for being like you…."

"Cynically sarcastic," I told her. "Yes, it's a cynical reason, but I'm not being sarcastic. That really is the reason. But the lights are still pretty and it's still cool that they have a big ol ceremony in one of our favorite parks, and free hot chocolate and other kids to play with while we wait in this cold, so let's just enjoy a lighting ceremony for what it is."

And being Milwaukee, "what is is," is another reason to shoot off fireworks! This wouldn't have been a Milwaukee event without 'em. And these were particularly cool, because they were shot off from across the river from Pere Marquette Park. They were low key, so the lights were bright and twinkly as they reflected across the water. Nevertheless, the fireworks of course made the actual lighting of the electrical lights kind of anti-climatic, but that will look a lot prettier once we get a snow. Yi was there, accompanied by the Bucks Energee Girls to usher in the season in his thick Chinese accent, and to assure us all that now that he's here, he's going to be part of the community. Every sponsor and their dog had a presentation, a couple of DJs from some radio station that promises, from this moment on, "All Christmas Music All The Time." I have purposely forgotten their call letters and frequency because I am not one for all-anything all-the time, not even Elvis. Anyway, we consciously bought into my cynical reasoning for eing pulled downtown, and headed to the Rock Bottom Brewery (one of Stella's favorite grownup restaurants --we've often grabbed a bite there before the ballet) to warm up, and put some money into the downtown hospitality industry's coffers. The Christmas Spending Season is what it is, and it's not all bad: one night when I not only didn't have to cook, but I didn't have to clean up, and the kids ate everything on their plate. Let's see if that happens today!

Retiring the Lakers

I really hate the Lakers. I hate Phil Jackson, I especially hate Kobe for getting acquitted of rape. I hate the Lakers. I think I just hate L.A. in general. I've been there once. Flew in from San Diego, did a business meeting, and flew out that very afternoon (which in and of itself seemed a very L.A. thing to do.). Maybe I should give the city another chance. I've read Sandra Tsing Loh and if anybody that cool and funny lives and loves L.A. like she does, then maybe I should give it a chance. But I still hate the Lakers.

And I especially hate that the Lakers got Kareem for the second half of his career. But, at least he led the Bucks to their only championship, and yes, he is one of the greatest players of all time, (not to mention the classiest) and, really, did we have to wait until NOW to retire his number? I guess. It fits in nicely with the whole 40th Annerversary year stuff. Jon McGlocklin was there, almost teary eye, and Nobody's Senator But Yours classily presented him with a Milwaukee Bucks jersey in current team colors. The montage of historical clips made me long for the days of short shorts, tho.

And it was really delicious to see the Bucks not only give L.A. a good game all the way through, although L.A. might have been cocky too early. The Lakers led (not dominated, but comfortably led) most of the first half -- Bucks squeezed in a two second lead near the end of the first half but LA sunk one to lead when the buzzer went off -- but neither team --- especially the Bucks were shooting for crap. But they moved. And I'm going to take back what I said about Bogut -- the man is hustling now on defense.

Yi. I like him. Supposedly his folks were here tonight, as guests of the Senator, but I didn't see them, and with all the Kareem stuff going on, they were fairly inconspicous. But the guy really hustles and he really digs in there for defense. He's young, needs some polish, but I'm going to disagree with his manager and suggest the perhaps Milwaukee is the perfect team for him to hone his skills with. He's getting lots of court time, and you can see improvement with every game.

By halftime, the Bucks and the fans are believing they're going to win this. Larry the K is actually jumping around like a fan himself when, with 8 minutes in the game left, the Bucks take back the lead and never let it go. By the end, with maybe 20 seconds left, they're ahead by some six points and Phil Jackson is dragging it out, using every time out they've got let, only to give the Bucks a chance to improve on their miserable free throw percentages tonight. We ended up leaving, satisfied.

Anthem this evening: a lovely girl named Karn Orner, who sang it like a sweet lullaby. Orner has one of those voices that if she'd had an Irish brougue accent, would be perfect for one of those "The Relaxing Magic of Celtic Fairy Music" CDs you buy for the kids to chill them out. Nice voice, unpretentious delivery, though it's like listening to "when the bough breaks the cradle will fall." I mean, you have this beautiful voice and lilting delivery, and its a battle song! Cub Scout Pack 72 presented the colors.

Funny side note about pre-game introductions: first they introduce the Lakers. Obnoxious Lakers fans sitting by us were annoying all game, but didn't indicate how ridiculous they'd get (near the end, they're calling Bogut a "homo" when he fouled out -- little do they not realize that even if he was gay, a) that's not an insult you ignorant homophobic pricks and b) in the process of fouling out, Bogut knocked the wind out of L.A. you ignorant homophobic pricks.) Anyway, Before introducing the Bucks, our announcer goes, "And now to introduce this evening's entertainment ..." (pause) (and Brian and I are both thinking, "Wow, while true, that's an odd way to introduce the home team") "Meet Bango, the Rim Rockers and Energee!" Then they bring out the home team. OK. That's better. And no more flash pots, thank God. We're theorizing that the dust from them might have been messing up the floor.

Looks like they're easing Andrea Williams back in, let's hope so. She walked past us with T-Shirt Guy and brought him upstairs. He turned out to be the "Extreme Fan of the Game." Heck, he's the Extreme Fan of the Season! He doesn't wear green paint on his face or anything, but he does go through the trouble to come up with a different T-Shirt every single game. I wonder what he does with all of them.

Oh, and if you have nowhere to go for thanksgiving today, since the Bucks won with 100 points, you can pick up a Quarter Pounder With Cheese today (the promo says the ticket's good for the next day) with your Bucks ticket stub. Nothing says "Thank You for the American Bounty" like a Royale with Cheese, eh?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm so swamped I can't think of a clever headline, or What Would Martha Stewart Do?

What Would Neil Young Do?
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Well, this weekend was so busy I am just getting time to log in with what the family say. So, here's a bullet point report:

  • Brian happily reports that the version of Plasticland that opened for Blue Cheer was good. "Glenn's revisiting his Stooges-era youth," he said of the sound, which means they're more rock, punk, than psychedelic. Now I'm sorry I missed it. "Sammy Hagar" (known to everybody else as Leroy) isn't a psychdelic-trippy and effects-laden as that other guy, but his guitar style fit in well with what Glenn Rehse is writing these day. "Lots of new songs, good to see," Brian reports. This must have boded well for the headliner, Blue Cheer, who by all accounts still has "it." I suspect most people expected a rehash of the hits, and an audience of people who were just glad to be able to say they caught Blue Cheer once in their life, but according to Brian, they didn't rest on their laurels and put forth a damn fine show.

  • So after an afternoon of pre-Turkey day errand running, I donned a simple outfit (my typical going out wear would have been inappropriate) for "Kneel to Neil" -- the Neil Young tribute/birthday/fundraiser at Linneman's. I really had intended to stay the entire evening, but it was so dang smoky in there my eyes were burning and I was actually getting a headache. This hasn't happened to me before at Linneman's. Either the place was really packed and it didn't seem like it, the smoke eaters or ventilation weren't working, or perhaps the propensity to smoke is just statistically higher amongst Neil Young fans. I'm going with the latter -- seemed everybody in there was puffing away. Either way, I caught plenty of excellent sets, but by the time Knit Delicate/Testa Rosa were getting ready to hit the stage, not even a few minutes outside could shake my secondhand nicotine headache. Nevertheless, there were plenty of good performances, interspersed amongst the numerous versions of "Helpless" "Cinnamon Girl" and such. (Stage door bouncer Craig Fansher and I had a snarky time counting the "After The Gold Rush"s and the "My My Hey Hey"s. Come on people, Neil Young has this gigantic catalog of gems and, well, couldn't you have all just gotten together and agreed who was going to do what so that there were no repeats? I like a chorus of "Old Man" just as much as anybody, but I think once every three hours is my limit.) I got there in time to catch Smile Machine and Vega Star and socialize a bit with artist-musician Mike Fredrickson, whose set I shamefully missed, but I got him on camera anyway.

    The stage room was set up like a lecture hall -- rows of chairs with no tables and I'm not sure what the point of that was. It seemed to strip away the rockin' portion of Young's music, and turn it into a dry lecture for me. I thought the poster that hung stage left reading "What Would Neil Young Do" was perfectly ironic -- I'm pretty sure he wouldn't set up a show to be like this.

    Nevertheless, the band I fully intended to see and shoot -- the Aimless Blades -- did not disappoint. In only 20 minutes they managed to convince me that Neil Young is a good starting point to incorporate Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and good ol' Milwaukee underground music know-how into a compelling act that stands on its own. I am really looking forward to a full night of them when they release their CD, which guitarist Blaine Schultz assures me should be in the next month or two. (Artwork's finished, a few other things to tie up, and the official scheduling of the CD release party should be on the books soon.)

    The smoke was killing me so much, after that set I was ready to go, but something told me to stick around and see the next act -- something about the familiarity of the name Wendy Bugatti and then bam -- I remembered. Could this be Wendy of Bugattitype 35, a band I once opened for back in the mid90s? Three words into her set and the I could tell by the strong voice and confident electric playing that this was! And she started with an atonal, but angrily rocking take on "Helpless" that made me forget all the acoustic versions I ever heard. I shook her hand on the way out -- she didn't particularly remember my band but we both talked about how we haven't played out in a while. I sure hope this is the beginning of seeing her play out more often. Before I went home (and fished out that CD she put out with Bugattitype 35 and marveled at how great they were), I stuck around for Juniper Tar's set and yes, Blaine, they've grown on me. Much more together, much less meandering, much more vaired dynamics. Good job, gentlemen.

  • I spent that dreary gray cast of a Saturday running errands and getting all my ducks in a row for Thanksgiving, since it's our house playing host to the family. We've decided to take a crack at trash can turkey -- which should free up my oven for various baked goods (including a recipe for popovers that I tested and while too salty, had the texture of those ones you get at Coast on the Lake). It's all a part of my self-styled role as The Punk Rock Martha Stewart. Of course Home Despot doesn't have metal trash cans. So I ran over two blocks to the Bay View Ace Hardware and learned why they're still in business despite being a stone's throw away from a big box discount place: customer service. They didn't have any metal trash cans in stock, but instead of just shrugging it off and giving me a look as if to say "And why would you want one anyway when we've got these 55 gallon Rubbermaid bins?", they instead got on the horn, confirmed that the 13th and Burnham location had them, and told them to hold one for me. Anyway, everybody who's done Trash Can Turkey insists it's the best turkey they've ever had, and the process seems simple enough. "Plus," Melody at work (who told me about it to begin with) said, "It gives the men something to do."

  • I was ridiculously tired after a day of running around, but still managed to rustle up the energy to at least catch a couple of bands at Points East, and I'm glad I did. For one thing, it confirmed to me that Crumpler really is that good -- they were as consistently engaging and fun to watch and play and try to figure out what the hell their genre was as they were that night out in Waukesha when I drove out only to find I missed the band I wanted to see. Amy from Independent Idols was also there, and also to see her old bandmate Binky Tunny crank out a solid set of songs that should be hits. (They'd run out of "I Am A Delicate Flower" bumperstickers by the time I arrived.) Binky has a great combination of stage presence, musicianship, and songwriting skills that range from funny to angry to sexually charged, and I really don't know why she's not at least a regional fixture yet. Maybe the right person hasn't discovered her yet, but I suspect its only a matter of time, something I have precious little of these past days.

  • And why am I so short on time? Partly because my band, Loblolly, is getting ready for one of our rare performances. Mark your calendar, this Saturday the 24th at the Stonefly. We're going on first, so get there early. After us is the all-fresh Guido's Racecar, and then Dr. Chow's Love Medicine. Rest assured I'll be plugging this right here in this blog all week. We had a deadly rehearsal on Sunday and Binky has inspired me to kick your aaaaaaass, maaaannnn.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bucks: Settling In

Well, the Bucks are now 3-0 at home, and the game against Memphis last night is proving a few things the pundits have been saying all along: 1) Michael Redd is solid as a rock. 2) Yi is turning out to be worth the trouble this summer. He is an aggressive defender and he's a joy to watch play. I think he's settling in, still plays like the rookie he is, but a darn good rookie. 3) Bogut needs to step it up a bit on defense. I wonder if he's feeling a little ignored, like the older brother of the new baby who's now the center of attention, because he appears to be throwing a tantrum. I noticed this during one small, but telling play last night: Memphis scored and the rest of the team scurried to the Bucks' basket, and Bogut hung back by the Grizzlies' basket, but the look on his face didn't indicate that this was strategy it was more he just didn't feel like schlepping it down the court. And if you thought it was strategy, you'd have been proved wrong when Memphis stole the ball and headed back to their own basket within seconds, and Bogut -- who was there and coulda/shoulda be right on them, wasn't. They all too easily slipped right in and popped a basket. Offensively, he's doing good, but I still don't get this feel of 100% from him. Still, he did score well last night, and contributed to a Royale With Cheese victory.

The Bradley Center is still feeling out how to keep the audience entertained. Anthem tonight from the Mapledale Vocal Ensemble -- a chorus of elementary aged kids who were life-insurance-company-commercial cute. They sang it straight up, without even attempting harmony, but they hit the notes and stayed in tune, which is all you can ask for. Thus, it was unpretentiously stirring. The stadium is still playing with an intro montage. There's two now: the pre anthem, which starts out with a bit of "Enter Sandman" (you know, that acoustic guitar intro part) accompanied by a video slideshow of a 40th anniversary retrospective, with very Nine Inch Nails video production. Then, while they're introducing the visitors, we hear "Darth Vader's Theme," they introduce the coaches, and they we hit the lights for the starting lineup. OK, I'll go with hitting the lights, but they're still brining out the flaming flashpots (and for Michael Redd, they use RED flame). You get a montage that looks like the trailer for some psychological horror thriller on the Fox Movie Channel, complete with still shots of the stars that looked like they were rendered with a Lensbaby. But at least it's short.

cymbol of a drumline
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'll edit this post later tonight when I've had time to process the load of pictures I shot, especially of the wonderful halftime entertainment, the Chaotic Drumline from the (rougher) Chicago South Side. These kids take a marching band drumline to the next, highly choreographed, level. Chaotic they are not, they're tight, they're clearly well-rehearsed, and the cadences they render often play with unconventional time signatures while they break dance around their drums. Heartwarming backstory, too: leader Jamie Pointdexter started Chaotic Drumline to get kids in his neighborhood off the street. According to MSN News, he requires the kids to pull good grades, be polite to each other, all those good things you'd find in a Boys and Girls Club mission statement. In return, the kids have a safe haven ("If I wasn't here, I'd be out getting beat up," one tells the MSN reporter), they learn a skill, they learn to be part of a team effort, and they get a chance at the kind of NBA legendary status the Jesse White Tumblers have.

The Bradley Center has a whole pile of new Game Day Hosts (the people who introduce the promotions and do fun things with the fans during timeouts and breaks) settling in, and the most dominant is (I think his name is) Ronnie Taylor. At least that's how I understood it. He's asian, and clearly part of a major effort to capitalize on the interest in that community that Yi brings. First game, he was a little rough: he needed to get used to speaking in a mike and the delay you get in such a big room. But last night he was better, seemed more comfortable with it after a few home games under his belt. They've also got a couple new ones -- they're so forgettable that I'll call them Todd and Lisa -- that give away pizzas. But what of Andrea Williams? She of the perpetual smile, the comfortable-with-any-ridiculous-promo-they-throw-at-her delivery, the "I'm not a Energee Girl anymore so now I actually have time to boogie" approach, and the ample (J-Lo's Got Nuthin' On This) backside? She got just one intro telling people about the new exclusive bar and grill where some corporation's suites used to be. That's it. Are they phasing her out? She used to do almost all the promos, and here she is just inviting you up for a drinkie poo, not even giving away a gift certificate for a Palermo's pizza. I will keep an eye on this. It's just not a Bucks game without AHHN-dree-a Williams.

Speaking of promotions, new game that's kind of weird, then disappointing. There's two parts: first, the contestant is presented with five items one could buy at Pick 'n' Save, and in The Price Is Right fashion, they have to order them from cheapest to most expensive. (Girlfriend, I even knew that the pack of 50 trash bags -- while a generic brand -- was going to be more than the box of Oreos.) Then, in a totally unrelated part two, the contestant has to shoot a basket from the three point semicircle. I'm unclear if you had to do both to win the prize (she blew the ordering, and she blew the three pointer) but that's the weird part. Maybe they're hoping that the kind of person who knows their way around a grocery store probably doesn't spend a lot of time at the basketball park. I won't even get into the sexist assumptions that feed that conclusion. However, that might be a valid philosophy if you were really worried that somebody might actually win the prize, like the car the Chevy SuperShot gives away if somebody actually hits one from mid-court. But get this: here the prize turns out to be a $40 gift certificate (Bucks' 40 year anniversary, get it?) at Pick 'n' Save. Forty bucks? That's all you get for knowing that a whole salami costs more than some (albeit designer) shampoo and then being good at a round of Horse? I'm sorry, but if I'm gonna sink a three in front of a stadium of basketball fans, I want more than a nickel bag to show for it.

So, onto the weekend

Tonight, Brian's going to see Blue Cheer at Shank Hall with "Plasticland" opening for them. I've got the name of the opening band in quotes purposely. OK, I know that it wouldn't have existed without frontman Glenn Rehse's songwriting, fashion sense, stage presence, charisma, not to mention mellotron. I realize that. No band could call itself Plasticland without at least his blessing, much less his presence. And by the same token, former lead guitarist Dan Mullen's departure wasn't the catalyst for any sort of disaster, although I still refer to anybody filling that position as "Sammy Hagar." Think Van Halen without Diamond Dave. Still a good band. Still good songwriters. Still has Wolfgang's dad in it. But I wouldn't necessarily go see them.

Friday: Oh, decisions decisions. The Mistreaters are at the Cactus Club. EIEIO and the Bryan Cherry Band are at Shank. I'm hearing pieces of the new EIEIO recording and I'm impressed. They're keeping their foundation of well-executed cowpunk, but building some really interesting music on top of it. Friday is also Neil Young's birthday, which means there's a party at Linneman's with a pile of bands that I'm referring to as the Anti-Trash Fest, since they all get exactly 20 minutes, the difference being that they're all good. Mike Fredrickson starts the night off, and finally, finally finally, I'm going to see the Aimless Blades for the first time in years. I've written before that I need to give Juniper Tar another chance, and a 20 minute sampler platter offering from them, mixed by somebody who doesn't have his head up his butt might make this the night to do that. Also on the bill, KnitDelicate and TestaRosa, Melanie Jane, and the Carolinas will play until last call. That's not the entire bill-- it's just the people I've heard of and want to see. If quality by association is true, this should be quite a night. I might be driving around a lot.

Saturday night is just as packed. The Barrettes are at the Cactus Club and the Buggs are at the Stonefly. And there's ROCK at Points East: Binky Tunny (who's also starting up a female fronted Guns n Roses tribute band, oh dear God) headlines a bill with Mutt Junction, and that band I stumbled upon last week, Crumpler. I'm leaning toward Points East, despite the rats in the basement. I'll see Buggman Lane and his crew next weekend when my band, Loblolly, opens for Guido's Racecar, where he plays drums, and me shameless promoting my act any chance I get. The Barrettes have a great triple bill in December with Pillowfight and another band which I'm going to presume is another chick band. But I've been on a rawk kick lately (Chief CD in stores this week, along with the Cocksmith's latest offering) and I think I need a delicate flower like Binky to get in that Thanksgiving mood.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Night of the Scorpions

birthday boys
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
You've heard enough about Dr Chow and Mr Wrong in this blog, so I'm just going mostly blog about Chicagoans Cooler by the Lake, who turned quite a few heads at Frank Chandek and Tim O'Keefe's birthday party (night of Scorpions!) at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg Saturday night. There was also some garden variety blues band that was competent and agile, but nothing you don't hear in a hundred other Milwaukee taverns. Good party music, though.

Between four bands, I don’t think they've ever had this much gear in the house!

Cooler By the Lake might look like a put on act, but the band is dead on for real. People don't know what to make of them when they first see them, eight people crammed into the tiny stage area at O'Keefe's, but two minutes into it you're aware that among the 70s rock and prog influences and 80s melodies, this is a group of people at least inspired by Frank Zappa, especially Zappa's 70s-era shows. It's some kind of surprise soup what comes out of it: this picture of woodwind player Johnny "Jingles" McCann really summed up for me what they were about. The guy's dressed in butt-kicking black leather like he just walked out of a biker fight movie, and he's playing the flute -- and he's playing it elegantly and tastefully. The drummer looks like he came from the same movie, except he's the heavily bearded sage who sits at the picnic table studying maps over a whiskey bottle. Two guitar players flank the rest of the band, their bass player plays a vintage Rickenbacker with the sound you'd expect, and keyboardist Rogina Bogatitis adds both an aural and visual touch, wearing a Twisted sister T-shirt and a look on her face that says, "As long as I've been here, I still can't believe I'm in this wacked out band."

Rory "Cooler by the" Lake
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Lake himself is all over the place, limited only by the 10-foot patch cord attached to his microphone. Two costume changes (one into a kung-fu outfit, the other into a black shroud) aren't necessary: the crowd is already blown away by the musicanship and the visuals were only needed to get our attention in the first place. They were tight, they were interesting players, and amazing arrangers. They won over a crowd packed with musicians who you'd normally think were too hip to appreciate a UFO Cover ("Doctor Doctor") but played it as though they were rehashing their opening slot for Asia (yes, they opened for that Asia back in July), with a transformative progggy lead in with the intensity the Asia guys probably wish they still had. Perfect, because Saturday night was not only Frank and Tim's birthday, but Asia lead singer Greg Lake's. They had catchy melodies with enough quirky hooks to pull in even the most jaded of punk rockers. Nobody wanted them to quit, and they seemed to enjoy the Milwaukee crowd. In fact, Rory Lake figuratively and literally smashed the blockage between Illinois and Wisconsin by ceremoniously karate chopping a brick of government cheese with his head. "Now we can be together, Cheeseheads and Flatlanders," he said, wiping bits of generic Velveeta off his brow and jumping into the next song.

OK, OK, Dr Chow delivered as usual, despite all the libations for the band flowing about. They've dug out an old original, "Sea Creatures" that I was glad to hear -- it was one of my favorite early Chow songs and I'm glad its back in the rotation. Mr Wrong was the correct band to start the evening and set the tone of quality free-for all music. They brought the guitarist from Tom Leisons' other band, FSFI, (could "Frank" be Frank Chandek?) for a round of "I'll Pick You Up."

Marlavous Marla Rothenberg was there, and I learned from her and Amber Lawson that I missed one amazing night of Karaoke at Marlavous' Karaoke Friday night. Seems Frank and Fly and others chose to begin the birthday weekend at the Bavarian Inn and I'm really sorry I missed a rendition of "I Got You Babe." Apparantly the guest list included Binky Tunny, Frank Chandek and Amber Lawson, and the Usual Suspects. Maybe when I get over this Post Viral Cough (that's what the doctor calls what I've got, and of course there's nothing I can do about it except ride it out) I'll show up again.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dead Basil Weekend Coming Up

Dead Basil: Sign of the First Frost
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The basil died this week. It is officially winter as far as I'm concerned. That, as I've said before, is my gauge. Basil died, irreparably, once there's a frost. I woke up Tuesday morning to see the wilted leaves on my now pathetic looking plants. Went back in the house and reluctantly fished out the winter jacket. Because of regular standard time, the sun is up when I wake up for work, and I'm preparing for at least watching for spectacular sunrises while I check my morning email at work. I'm kind of refusing to put the bike away quite yet, though.

So, for the first weekend among the dead basil:

    I'm going to a "speed networking event" hosted by Citigal Magazine tonight. Networking is exactly what "speed" things should be about. I remember when the concept of "speed dating" was hot and it seems to have died down. Maybe because I'm married -- and out of the market per se -- but I guess the concept of "speed dating" just never clicked with me. I've read a lot of the research, and on paper, it makes sense. It's efficient, it's based on the premise that many people just know when they've found Mr/Ms Right. I've read Gladwell (and I like a lot --not all, but a lot -- of what Gladwell has to say) and I think his Blink makes a lot of sense, especially based on my personal experience. The greatest roommate I ever had -- Deirdre Fellner -- I knew I liked instantly the minute we shook hands. Some of my best friends and I just clicked the minute we agreed on the greatness of Robyn Hitchcock or the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. It just seems so wrong when you try to orchestrate and quantify and time something like this. "Blink" happens because it's organic, not because it's staged.

    However, the concept of speed networking really sounds like it's tailor-made for business. It IS all those things: it's efficient, you go in with an empirical goal (and criteria), you measure your success in an almost Six Sigma sort of way. It -- like a well-run business-- should be planned and staged and quantified. I guess when it's personal, I want to take my time and let "feelings" take over, and give it room for second thoughts and reflection. I want to get to know the real person behind the five minute presentation they choose to show me. But when it's business, naw, I don't want to spend a lot of time on this. I'll take the PowerPoint version of what you're all about. Give me the elevator speech, because that's all the time I've got for you. That's what bidniz is -- efficient, cost-effective, empirical. So we'll see how it goes tonight. I'm looking forward to it. It's a lovely north shore establishment -- perhaps they'll have some kind of Italian-basil frosted appetizer to nosh on.

  • Friday night -- are you sick already of hearing about the big Yi-Yao game, aka Bucks v Houston? I'm almost glad we didn't get this game in our 22-game season package. According to The Bratwurst, over 100 million Chinese tuned in to Yi's NBA debut, and I heard on Cramp and Adler this morning that the big matchup is poised to draw more viewers in China than Americans who watched the Super Bowl. Thing is, Yao is a seasoned all-star veteran, and Yi is a competent rookie. This is NOT going to be an even matchup. However, the game should be good -- because the two teams are indeed a good matchup. I think I'll watch it on TV curled up with the kiddos. Dinner of course, will be some whole wheat pasta tossed with that homemade pesto I made two weeks ago.

  • Saturday night is a big ol Birthday Party for Dr Chow's Frank Chandek as well as O'Keefe from (and at) O'Keefe's House of Hamburg. This is going to be one of the few Nights of Surreality that doesn't involve Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits. Why? It's not necessarily the music. For one, besides Dr. Chow's Love Medicine (of course, Frank will take the stage as he ages a year), a band called the Tempermentals is playing, along with (speaking of Speed Dating) Mr. Wrong. Then, up from Chicago comes that band they played with at the VFW post, Cooler by the Lake. They mix up a whole load of genres with a look so sincere you can't believe it's real. I'll be talking to lead singer Rory Lake because he's apparently got some kind of rock and roll story and connections that tell a lot about where he gets his interesting stage presence from. I remember thinking that day in Chicago: WTF? What is this guy's story. Well, I'm gonna find out.

    But that's only the cake. Here's the icing: due to a double booking incident, this party almost didn't get the back room at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg. (You didn't know there was a back room at O'Keefe's, did you? Neither did I!) There's some karate kung-fu club that was planning their periodic meeting/sparring that same night. O'Keefe didn't want to cancel either (the club is a group of regulars), and Cooler By The Lake already make plans to come up from Chicago, and already got their Friday night Racine show axed for reasons I frankly don't understand. I've heard the plan, then, is to clear our the front of the bar for serious Kung Fu Action, and that back room will still be the place to party with Dr. Chow. So when you show up at the House of Hamburg, don't be freaked out if some Uma Thurman and Bruce Lee wannabees come flying into your lap. Just brush them aside, order yourself a fine German brew from your Irish proprietor, head to the back, and let the psychedelic garage blues prog metal party begin! I'll bring some pesto dip left over from the package I defrosted from dinner Friday.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Should this work? Will it work?

first home game, first win
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, you've read the paper, and Coach K even admits it was a butt-ugly win, but a win is a win, and it's a good way to start off the home season. Coach K is straight up, and while many aren't sure this experiment of hiring a guy with his limited experience to be head coach, it's a question of whether it shoudl work or not. I think it might.

Let's just do a quick survey of what's new and what's not at the Bradley Center. The year is still young; I'll get more detailed later:
  • Energee girls have new uniforms, but nothing really radical. Possibly a little less slutty, but still cute. And they apparently have some new girls who can actually throw. Last year, it would be so annoying during giveaways, when you'd have Bango and the Rim Rockers throwing T=Shirts and souvenier balls out to the audience, and then you'd have some Energee girl in front of your section, bouncing around and finally when she did throw it, couldn't get it more than, say, five feet. What, do they think guys are going to be theatened by a chick who can throw? Will it make her breasts smaller or something? No, this year we actually have a girl by our section who can get the freebie in, well, not exactly the cheap seats yet, but at least in some seats you can get without having to know anybody.

  • Speaking of the Rim Rockers, supposedly they're full-time with Bango now. It's early in the season, so I'm not going to get on them yet about too many missed shots.

  • I'm not going to judge the opening montage yet, because as the first home game, I'm not sure if it's the permanent one (and they need to get more footage) or not. Plus -- and I'm hoping this was because it was the home opener -- there was a lot of obnoxious stuff going on the court. Flares and fireworks, and these two giant flaming torches that spewed off as each player was introduced. I really hope this was an opening night schtick. If not, we were playing the Bulls, whom I've speculated before in the blog are the team we have to blame for this over-the-top-ness of simply introducing the team before a regular ol' season game.

  • YI! He shoots, he scores! He hustles! He's young, but I think he's going to prove he was worth the hassle. He better.

  • Bogut, time to hire a new stylist. My caption on this photo of Bogut is all i have to say to him right now.

  • T-Shirt Guy is back, predictably, and comfortingly so. I'm looking forward to reading his shirts every game. T-Shirt Guy, if you're not familiar with him, has a different T-Shirt for every Bucks game, and it's usually germane to the latest news, so it's always worth looking for him in the crowd. He's not hired by the Bucks or anything. He's just a fan, a good ol Milwaukee style fan. Nice to see him again.

That's all I've got for now. Halftime show was the wonderful Jesse White Tumblers, and the anthem was delivered by a guy (whose name I didn't catch) who looked like Ruben Stoddard had lose some (but not all) his weight and souned like it too.
After the game, I headed out to the Main Stage in Waukesha to catch the Independent Idols, only to walk in right as they finished their set. I'd schleped all the way out to catch them, so I stuck around for the other band, and I'm sure glad i did.

Crumpler bassist
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
They were called Crumpler, and it took me about four songs to come up with this descrption of them: Proggy dark metal pop. Another in a series of concepts that shouldn't work, but does. This picture should help tell the story: look at this bass player. Every mother's son, right? Tells corny jokes between songs, some really bad groaners, as a matter of fact, with a gee-whiz look on his face? Does his bass playing sound like, say, Paul McCartney's? No, Lemmy himself couldn't sound as sinister. This guy plays a crunch, distorted bass that normally comes from a guy with hair down to here and a questionable hygeine regimen. And that pretty much describes this whole band's approach. Are they metal? Are they prog? Are they (god forbid) metal prog? No, they're too poppy. But their pop isn't sugary pop, it's not Poison or any dreck like that.
Maybe another explanation can be found in the fact (as was pointed out to me by Amy from the Independent Idols) that the lead guitarist's other gig is Beatallica. Here's a band full of guys who understand the greatness of the Beatles, but don't want to give up their sixteen-effect stomp boxes. It makes perfect sense now. They love pop, they are well-trained musicians, but they also love a good distorted (but not grungy) crunch and metal guitar run. It works, but it shouldn't. I'm sensing a trend here -- combinations that shouldn't work but do (see aIso IROCKZ) and I like it. Hope it works for the Bucks, too.

Robyn Hitchcock gets a life

Robyn Hitchcock
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'm not the rabid young Robyn Hitchcock fan I used to be, that's for sure. He's put out two whole albums I don't have yet (never mind one won't be in the stores until next week, but that's beside the point), and he played in Chicago and Madison this weekend, and all I did was see him right here in Milwaukee. Naw, in the past 25 years I've -- as my other hero William Shatner would say -- gotten a life.

But then again, Hitchcock isn't the rabid young psychodelic musicual he used to be, but he too has, in a sense, grown up and gotten a life. And so a Hitchcock tour isn't so much a proving ground than truly a tour -- stopping by old haunts and checking in with the local friends, and introducing his latest friends of his own. That's how Friday night at Shank Hall felt.

The most recent of these finds was opener Sean Nelson, who later provided harmonies for Hitchcock's set. He had a lovely droll sense of humor and can write great little poignant songs that you would normally expect to hear from a guitarist in a coffeehouse -- except he accompanied himself on piano. He had a charming, self-effacing introduction to many of his songs, which unfortunately wore thin after awhile. He'd said that this attitude wasn't an act, but it's kind of hard to believe he's been on the road with Robyn Hitchcock, singing well crafted songs like this, and still hadn't worked up some measure of self-confidence. As such, his 30 minute set was just long enough before I could get sick of him, which I was in danger of doing.

Hitchcock took the stage and was simply wonderful, proving my earlier writing that he could read the phone book and i'd be happy. He had an acoustic guitar and an electric, but it was clear he hadn't planned on doing too much with the electric. I actually like when he plays solo electric -- he seems to get more ambitious and it accents his style nicely. He'd broken a string on his acoustic early in the set, and whoever was changing it for him took forEVER -- what, was the guy building an entire new guitar for him or what? Then, after two songs, it's still not ready, so Hitchcock grabs his electric and plays a few tunes from that. Then, the acoustic is finally "ready" -- b ut not quite. After all this time, the tech hasn't even tuned the damn thing.

For anybody else, this would have been an annoying disaster that might even result in a "We're going to take a short intermission and be right back" but not Robyn Hitchcock. Instead, the onstage tuning -- normally a nuisance for an audience -- became fodder for one of his many surreal and absurd monolouges. I've often wondered if Hitchcock's stories are rehearsed, because they sound so off the cuff. But this one -- which had to have been on the spot -- had the same metre, the same flow, as any of his other tomes, and it was at that point I realized (or was simply reminded) we're dealing with a verbal genius, a man who can put together those kinds of sentences which on the surface sound like the random explosions of a man gone insane, but actually are lucid, brilliant observations that make more sense than anything else going on in the planet. But its not just his words, it's his delivery and phrasing, which is why I still maintain he could read the phone book and it would be entertaining, if not enlightening.

The set was full of songs from those last two albums I don't have, but they felt like old songs anyway, since his songwriting style really hasn't changed much. It's still good psychedelic folk, lots of guitar arpeggios, chord progressions that shift from triumphant to brooding. It doesn't matter if he's singing or talking: he speaks musically, and he sings narratively. There's not much more i can say: I'm a fan, and the man can do no wrong by me. Robyn Hitchcock both has and gives a great life, and that's the most we can ask of any artist.

Afterwards, he and Nelson were gracious with fans, including myself, and actually allowed photos with silly little fans like me. I had nothing for him to autograph except my ticket stubs, and in my gushing, I think I left them there. I've already had my copy of Underwater Moonlight autographed by him, so I don't need more. He did seem more approachable than he has in years past, and it seemed like as good a time as any for both me and my friend Annie to thank him, simply for writing songs that gave us such intellegent joy. Ten years ago, I would have felt too self-consciously hip to ask "Would you pose for a picture with me," now it's a fun little request of an artist who might just start to be realizing the impact he's had on some people's lives, and it was a nice moment for me.

Afterwards, after promising me that I can play through The Amplifier That Robyn Hitchcock Played through, my bass player Miles (who again supplied the infamous Fender Twin Reverb that has also been used by Jonathan Richman) met Annie, Brian, Annette, Mark and other hardcore Robyn fans for a nightcap at the Groove on the south side over a beer to gush, talk about the seventeen thousand other times we've seen Hitchcock, and to speculate about when we'll see him again, what friends he'll bring with him, and what stories he'll tell. When you're among friends, the conversation happens so easily. Maybe that's Robyn Hitchcock's true secret.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Executive-Version Shakespeare

"OK," I put the challenge to our friend Annie as I picked her up on the way to the Milwaukee Ballet's season opener. "Summarize 'Hamlet' in 30 seconds or less so that an -- albeit academically gifted -- 9 year old kid can understand." And kudos to Annie, she did it: "Hamlet is told by his father's ghost to avenge his murder, but the new king is the killer, so that makes it hard to do." And Stella wrapped it up herself, "I told [my writing teacher] I was going tongith and she said, 'Everybody dies.' "

Then we read the ballet sypnosis and we all agreed, Wow. This is "Book 14 of 'A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Then, two minutes into the show, with its brushed steel and glass-like sets, those Armani suits everybody's heard about from the get-go, and the urbane feel of it all, and I've decided we were watching -- both in style and in length -- "Hamlet -- The Executive Version." All the backstabbing, madness, trust-no-one-not-even-your-own-mind, could have been filmed as the sequel to Wall Street, but summarized for quick review by CXO types who don't have time for the verbose text version.

New guy Patrick Howell as Hamlet sets the tone from the get-go: he's sitting on what eventually becomes his grave, staring at the audience in confusion and bewilderment, and his debut with this company caught my attention. He has a great and varied approach to using his body to convey inner conflict -- it's as though you could see his brain fighting with his muscles on what he wanted them to do as opposed to what they should do, and like his character-- this conflict is pulling him in all sorts of directions, not knowing who he can trust. (Uh, nobody, you ol Melancholy Dane, the whole freakin family is NUTS). But so it goes in New York Metropolis, USA, where this seems to have been set. Right down to funky street performers set up to suggest Hamlet's theory about how his father really went down, all the way to Old Hamlet the Elder himself, looking a bit like a weary Bill Clinton on his way to his office in Harlem.

I was surprised at how much of the Phillip Glass score I specifically recognized, as opposed to thinking, "Yeah, that sounds like something Phillip Glass would write." I'm not sure if some of it was used to recall context (but then again, who would put all this together except huge fans of both Glass and popular culture.) However, I found myself several times thinking to myself, "I've heard this. Where else was this music used?" The times when I was able to answer that question were the times I wondered if it was intentional. The most notable was with the music used in the scene where Ophelia shows Hamlet his torn up love letters, and makes a feeble attempt to convince Hamlet that she's faking and is torn on what she's feeling inside. Hamlet chooses to believe the surface lie. It's the same music used in the chilling scene in The Truman Show where Truman's "best friend" is trying to convince Truman that he's NOT faking, and is torn on what he's feeling inside. But Truman chooses to believe the surface lie. This was one of a few times I had to wonder if the particular music was chosen not only for its evocative mood, but for the referential value as well.

Personal and audience favorite Luz San Miguel as Ophelia almost steals the show from new guy Howell during her madness and death scene, which is not only choreographed wonderfully, but was staged chillingly as well. They used a silk screen to provide a moire effect softening other dancers' simulating Opheilia's thoughts in a dream state, while she physically went through her descent into psychological hell, attacking a pool of water at the front of the stage. The screen then is used effectively to suggest Ophelia's watery grave, and made the perfect point to end act one and give us a chance to exhale during the intermission.

Read the review this morning from Strini, he didn't like it. Said it was too choppy, and he's got a point there, but I thought Act one flowed very well and told the story with a great moderinistic twist. I do have to agree with Strini's complaint that it might not have seemed the dancers had quite settled into their parts. Specifically, there were portions where Hamlet or Ophelia were being followed around by people mimicking their moves (Strini didn't get the point of that -- I intrepreted it as the conflicting inner thoughts personified as other characters and I thought was effective) that I think needed a bit more polish. When they were mimicking the moves in a musical round, it looked great and I enjoyed it. When they would do it in unison, however, it revealed that it needed some more work. If you're going to do a unison dance -- especially one in a production that so fashionably screams "NYC" -- it really calls for a precision befitting Radio City Music Hall, and that wasn't always there. My other complaint was the Act II was short, and somewhat disjointed. Act I laid down the characters, their conflicts, and built a tension. Act II seemd to wrap it up much too quickly. I know that to cut down Shakespeare's orginal 4-hour script choreographer Stephen Mills had to delete a few characters and their plotlines, but maybe he should have left Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the plot -- I think they would have beefed up, and perhaps sewn together, Act II, even if, as Stella's teacher warned her, they would just be two more people who end up dead.

But overall, I enjoyed it. It was cool and hip, but still substantial because they're dealing with great old story that stands the test of time. In fact, that's been the strength of the Milwaukee Ballet as of late: they're taking chances, they're approaching cool and hip, and like anybody who takes chances, yeah, they're going to trip once in a while, and I'm fine with that. It's the difference between good and exciting, and I prefer exciting. While there's plenty of North Shore Nancies that would be happy if all they did were safe little Balanchine rehashes all seasons long, what's bringing in me -- and I suspect many others in my demographic who appreciate classical arts but are intrigued by taking the next step -- in are edgy, riskier ventures such as this. For the traditionalists, next up is the good ol' Nutcracker -- which has become a comfortable tradition with Stella and me, but then Shakespeare comes back, followed by the winner of last year's Genesis Competition, so this season looks to be a good cross section of classical dance.

Other Friday random ramblings:

  • We continue on with the Anglo weekend, as Robyn Hitchcock is at Shank Hall tonght. Just got email from WMSE -- Hitchcock's going to be on live for the pledge drive today (on Buzz's show?!?) and reminds me I need to decide during whose show are we going to call in our annual donation? I know I want the WMSE Cookbook -- and BTW -- if you pledge quickly and are one of the first to report that you want to take her up on this offer, artist-Boulevard Ensemble Executive Director and general woman-about-town Chris Ward has offered to make you one of her recipies from it! But we usually contribute more than the minimum $30/$40 to get a T-Shirt or cookbook. It's not a matter of if, or even how much, we'll contribute. And we're not doing it just for the cool premium gift we'll select, but at the same time, since we get one anyway, we want to pick carefully!

  • I have had it up to here with Microsoft. That wonky Outlook bug that can't undetstand that we held out Daylight Savings Time for another week is wreaking havoc on my calendar, which syncs with my Palm Treo. It's already resulted in my entries for the Ballet, Hitchcock, and tomorrow's Bucks game to look like they go over two days. Daily appointments are falling off, and fortunately I didn't have a lot this week and the ones I did were regular recurring meetings where I had (leftover from last spring's debacle) "NO REALLY, THIS MEETING IS AT 10 AM CENTRAL TIME, HONEST" in the subject line, safely away from the bug's havoc-wreaking reach. I know better than to blame my company's exchange administrator for this, but I know that not everybody knows this isn't a local issue, but an "anybody who uses Microsoft and lives in the continental United States" issue. And I also know that maybe I shouldn't be so tethered to my calendar and subsequently my Treo that such a thing ruins my life. But, you, dear Blog Readers, have often commented to me (usually privately) that you don't know how I manage such a busy life, and really, its about being organized and having good tools to do so. But if your tools fail you, what do you do after you've already sent your overworked exchange administrator a box of Crawford's Molasses Cookies? I'm telling you, all you people at my office, all you "We're a Microsoft Shop and you Mac and Linux Users Are a Pain In Our Keyster" admin types. I'm so Done with you teasing me with your "You're a Mac user at home! Traitor! You've gone to the dark side" crap. Hey, guess what? It works. I've never been blue screened. My appointments are all fine on my Mac, thank you. Not to say that Apple doesn't have its issues, but dammit, basic stuff like Daylight Savings Time works. So, Microsoft Certified System Administrators, I'll cut you a deal. I won't blame you for this stupid wonky bug that's ruining my life at work (and I suspect, yours too to a greater extent), and you don't give me any crap for being a Mac user at home, where I enjoy the ability to relax at my computer. Hotay?

  • Mark your calendars, honeys, my band Loblolly is booked for one of our rare appearances, this time, Saturday 24 at the Stonefly. We're opening for Guido's Racecar -- a bnad I've been wanting to get out and see for a long time anyway -- and Dr Chow's Love Medicine. No, we didn't get this gig because I'm married to the rhythm guitarist in Dr Chow. Guido's Racecar simultaneiouly invited us and Chow to fill the bill. And if I do say so myself, it’s a great bill and you should make plans. Look at it this way: you will have had your fill of Thanksgiving dinner and your straight up family. The next day, if you don't work in retail (and will be ready to kill sombody by the evening) you will want to stay home and just not deal with all the "I MUST HAVE A NEW DVD PLAER FROM WALMART AND I'LL WAKE UP AT SOME UNGODLY HOUR TO GET THIS" psychos on the roads ruining a potentially otherwise lovely day off work. But by Saturday of that long weekend, you will need to get out of the house. You will need somebody to bring you back underground, you will need to hear psychedelic, americanic, punked out garagey bluesy surfey rock and roll cacophony, and we three bands are just the delinquents to do it!