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.


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