Friday, March 30, 2007

Where I'd be this weekend if this nasty sinus infection I've got suddenly miraculously cleared up

Tonight (Friday) I'd be at Vnuk's to see the skapunk of the Invaders.

But tommorow (Saturday), I'd also be at Vnuk's, for the annual Spoof Fest. I'm particularly disappointed that I'm probably unwell enough to do this for several reasons.

Binky Tunny as Sebastian Bach and Skid Row. Period.

I've never gone to Spoof Fest, because for whatever reason, I had other commitments, etc. I've never missed a Trash Fest, but I just never made it around to Spoof Fest. There's a difference, subtle to be sure, but a difference. For one thing, lots of Trash Fest bands aren't kidding. This is the way they are all the time. Now and again, there's parody at Trash Fest, but it's sloppy parody, a sort of meta-parody, that actually apporoaches satire. Trash Fest parodies lean toward bands the perpetrators loathe, and their purpose at Trash Fest is to drive them into the dump where they belong. Every now and then, though, a parody comes through at Trash Fest that I can't tell whether it's parody, satire, or loving tribute. The Aimless Blades doing Neil Young's "Hurricaine" for their full alotted 20 minutes several years back comes to mind, as did lead singer Blaine Schultz's candid admission when I called him on it: "Probably a little of all three." Didn't even blink when I asked him, he 'fessed right up.

But from what I can tell of Spoof Fest, that's exactly what you get. A little parody, a little satire, and a LOT of genuine, albeit jokey, tribute. I've googled around, and I see that a lot of the acts that dressed up (to the nines, in many cases) as the objects of their spoof no-so-secretely are living vicariously through the spoof. As such, expect the accuracy that good parody demands. Expect the knowing self-consciousness that goes with satire. And expect the fun that a loving tribute delivers. Also on the bill: bands spoofing Cinderella and L7.

Metal bands, especially hair bands, seem to be a common target at Spoof Fest. That makes a lot of sense. Hair bands are ripe for parody, almost too ripe, they are the low-hanging fruit in the Orchard of Parody. At the same time, there's a lot of people who secretly loooooove hair metal. Spoofing it is a great way to indulge this guilty pleasure, while at the same time smirking all the way through: "Hey, I'm not really into this. I'm just spoofing it. See me smiling? I'm onto this shit." Oh yeah? Well, I'm onto you. 'Fess up. You love this shit. We in the audience do, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Thinking Man's Cock Rock Band

Rear View of Cocksmiths
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So, how best to follow up an evening at the ballet Friday night? At the Cactus Club with the Cocksmiths!

I know this is going to sound like an oxymoron, but the Cocksmiths are the Thinking Man's Cock Rock band. But really, that's exactly what they are. They are not ridiculous, they are not a single bit self-conscious (or even ironic, as was, to a very slight extent, opening band Chief). Jesus, even their huge pedal racks scream "Cock Rock" -- and this particular one is the bass player's. They have got this Cock Rock thing down to unapologetic perfection: these guys are the Cocksmiths, yes, they are smiths, they are craftspeople indeed. Why does it work so well? Because for one thing, I think they secretly know what they really are. They're glam --because Cock Rock is basically Glam Rock made by people with Kinsey/Klein numbers less than 1. So since they're really glam, they're not afraid to show their emotions, to sing about both sex and love, because that's all in the dramatic package. You don't even have to talk to them afterwards to know that these are cock rockers with hearts -- but you can because they are regular guys, easy to talk to, and they don't downplay or escalate personas on or off the stage. They are sincere and unapolgetic about this music they play that won't get them on any critics' darlings lists anytime soon. But that's because to call them "darling" would be absolutely wrong for the package they pack.

And pack a package they do: no matter what your taste, there's a Cocksmith for you. Looking for the introspective, yet sincerely frantic guy? Matty Gonzales on guitar and vocals. Like 'em grungy, "I like Soundgarden AND Van Halen"? Lead guy Ryan Daniels fits the bill. Need an exotic guitar god with a history from funk to metal? Paris Ortiz is the man with the foot pedals held together with duct tape so he doesn't kick them apart while he wails away on his axe. Want a meanacing load of tattoos topped off with a goatee that strecthes beyond the chest but doesn't approach the ridiculousness of ZZTop? Bass player Jeff O'Connor, with his bass strapped high on his chest because he already knows he's a badass so he doesn't have to sling the four strings down to his knees. Or do you just need a regular guy with a regular haircut but the mental anguish that goes with being a drummer? Bill Backes, taking time away from his other gig, the Uptown Savages. That's the thing: these guys don’t look like they'd all be in a band together at all, and you'd think that with all this variety of look and style, it would be a band of exploding egos that in theory, shouldn't last more than three songs before implosion. But they appear to have a sensibility that they are greater than the sum of their parts, and that each of them brings something to the table that doesn't detract from the others, they are not threatened by each other, and instead feed each other's egos.

Chief singer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Opening this glorious double bill were relative newcomers Chief, who rocked the house, and they came pretty damn near close to knocking the 'smiths off the stage -- only a smattering (and that's a SMATTERING) of self-conscious irony kept them from toppling the masters. Still, heart-pounding stadium anthemic rock scaled down to fit a bar, but with enough endearing ego to fill the Bradley Center if called upon. Lead singer Chris Tishler, has inherited all of the bravado (not to mention the sparingly but effectively employed vibrato) he needs from his second cousin twice removed, Tom Jones. He has a vocal range that grabs the ends of his toothsome tenor but never falters. Bass player Dave Benton, with studded gauntlets that somehow avoid scratching up his instrument, is beyond O'Connor's meanacing: he's downright fucking scary, but approachably so.

The songs themselves are torn (viciously torn) from the pages of Mott the Hoople's catalog, but with more of that uniquely American thumping bravado that the British glam guys just couldn't get. A perfect band to open for them would be the slightly more self-effacing band from Chicago, I Love Rich. Except that the reason the Cocksmiths work so well is that there is no self-effacement here, and Chief's is so transparent that you don’t care that they kind of know (and want you to know that they know) they're not dealing with high art here. But that's back to the greatness of both these bands on the bill. They're not art-TEESts per se, they are craftsmen, and extremely skilled craftsmen at that. Sign me up for the fan club!

One final thing: Eric, the smoke eater at the Cactus Club isn't working. Thank god I wasn't wearing my contacts. But look at tonight's "self portrait in rock and roll restroom." I had to cut out the red just so that my cigarette-bloodshot eyes wouldn't get me arrested.

Dancing, Storytelling Idols (or, No, Really, I Thought This Before Everybody Else Decided A Winner)

You all probably think I'm a spineless wuss for not posting my comments about the Genesis International Dance Competition hosted by the Milwaukee Ballet until after the results were published in the Milwaukee Journal, but honestly, I've been swamped. Really. I'm not going to write that I enjoyed Nelly van Bommel's piece best AFTER it turns out she won just so that it looks like I have the same elegant, informed taste as the judges. No, and it's really going to look like I copied Journal Sentinel critic Tom Strini's comments about how the last piece seemed discordant. But Stella liked it, and she voted for it. I was really looking forward to, as artistic directory Michael Pink playfully referred to it at the last show, a sort of "American Dance Idol" where the audience would play a role in voting for their favorite.

So let's just get on with the post already, and if you don't beliefve that I've simply been too busy to edit and post this unitl today, whatever.

Stella and I started out our Friday evening at the Safe House, and we were joined by Talia The Hip Babysitter and her friend, who ended up having seats near us for the show. Stella figured out how to get into the place without any help from me, which is good, because I'd kind of forgotten everything but the password. The Safe House is a fun place to take an inquisitive 8-year-old kid, but be prepared to answer questions like "What was the Cold War? Why did they call it Cold? Why didn't people just climb over the Berlin Wall?"

After dinner, we walked over to the Pabst Theatre: the Milwaukee Ballet has some kind of contract with the Pabst where they do one show there a year, and of course, its going to be one of their edgier selections (as if dancing to music by William Shatner and Ben Folds last month wasn't edgy.) This year's offering was indeed the Genesis International Dance Competition, featuring three up and coming choreographers, who got 8 Milwaukee Ballet Dancers, a few weeks of time, and basic ingredients to put together something that would impress the judges enough to award the winner the opportunity to choreograph a full-length presentation for next year's series.

First up was van Bommel, and as you know, it turned out to be the winner. It was the longest. I knew this because Stella's root beer came calling, and she squirmed through a good portion of it. I liked it, even though it didn't scream "ballet" at me -- it was more gymnastic, but really precision choreography (and I love gymnastics, too!). I noticed that none of the dancers wore pointe shoes, and the piece never called for it. It was very athletic -- I can very easily picture van Bommel being asked to put something together for a Cirque du Soleil show if they ever got that complex. While it was long, I got the feeling that I'd been given a Cliff's Notes version of the history of a village or something: with changing alliances, changing love affairs, cause and effect, over some 20 year period. But it wasn't heavy -- it was very playful, and at times, playfully erotic. I did get annoyed at the use of dance in the silence --no music, just movement in the hushed hall. The first two times it was effective, but like a writer's italics such a device should be used sparingly. What I didn't know is that apparently this must be the hot new attention-getting dance device, because all three choreographers used it, and unfortunately for and by the third entry, it had gotten old to me. At intermission, we actually ran into van Bommel herself in the lobby. She was bubbly and vivacious, and extremely gracoius as a shy Stella came out of her shell to tell her what she thought of it. We got ourselves a soda, noting the sign that said "Of COURSE you can take your drink in the theatre!" and took a seat. (Man, have I mentioned how much I love the Pabst Theatre? Does anybody NOT love the Pabst Theatre, a place where no architectual feature goes unadorned? You have plenty to look at and take in well before the show starts, and the people managing the place are bringing in some of the best stuff to hit this town in years.)

Next up was Jozsef Hajzer doing a bit that turned out to be the audience favorite, but not big with me. "This music is really severe," Stella agreed with me, bringing to mind the last time we saw the Milwaukee Ballet, and their performance of Balanchine's Agon, set to, as I'd written, severe Stravinsky music. This was music from the same neck of the woods, and the piece was just as severe. I know this was supposed to be music from the country, but I didn't get the sense of that. I didn't like "Agon" and since this reminded me of this, that might have predjudiced me. I liked his ideas, though, I hope we'll see more of him in the future.

Finally, the last piece by Victor Plotnikov. I think Stella liked it best because of all the non-dance additions that made for a visually stimulating piece. The Journal Sentinel Critic didn't like it, and I didn't like it as much as vanBommel's, but it was interesting to watch, nonetheless. I was jarred by it. There was this open book in a spotlight that made an appearance throughout the piece at different positions on the stage. Talia pointed out that perhaps this was a person's intrepretation of reading a book and having the characters come to life, or possibly turn up in a dream. The dream idea makes more sense, because it was really messed up. You had these dancers all decked out in "Puttin' On The Ritz" type outfits, but neither the music or the dance itself suggested Gary Cooper - Super at all. Then they have a costume change to dockers and regular day shirts, and vascillated back and forth between that. And that's how dreams go, I guess. One minute you're at the Beverly Hills Hotel snacking on caviar, the next you're waking up at your desk making plans to hit a Brewer game. But the transistions between each didn't flow for me. Still, I liked the lighting, the focusing on one single element at a time, the book (that the Journal Reviewer hated) that actually tied the whole thing together. But after Stella told me she was voting for it, I decided, in American Idol fashion, to finally cast my vote for Nelly, since my very close second place winner already had a hanging chad from our family.

So I read the results in the paper this morning, and was quite pleased with myself that apparently, I have the same taste as world-renowned dance experts. I'm like new art patrons as regards dance: I really don't know the subtleties of what makes it good, I just know what I like. And I guess even when its abstract, I like a good story and van Bommel told a good, soapoperatic story. And I'm really glad that I renewed my season tickets to the Ballet next year, so I can see what she can do with some more time, money, and the resources of the full Milwaukee Ballet Company. Next up: Romeo and Juliet in May. Stella's really looking forward to that. I've got to work up the heart to brace her for what a really sad story it is.

Monday, March 19, 2007

McTavish, part deux. I know, that's French, not Irish. Whatever.

You can the same band two nights in a row, in the same town, but put 'em in two different venues and you're going to get two different flavors. First, a little backstory: this actually was the third time they played this weekend. They did Friday night on the south side, then crashed, then piled in the cars and vans first thing in the morning Saturday to schlep it all the way up to some suburb of Wausau to play an afternoon show, then back in the vans for another 250 miles to play at the Uptowner.

Understatement of the year: thems boys was strung out. But in a good way.

Sometimes when you're completely strung out, all you've got left is music and mayhem, and the Uptowner is the correct bar to host such a thing. Totally different feel: more of the kind of loud, high-ceilinged, corner tap you'd expect this kind of band in. Being in Riverwest, it has a touch of artsiness, and it's loaded with Riverwest characters.The names change, the roles don't: local artsy girls, the neighborhood drunk, the up and coming scenesters, the old hippies -- they all put in an appearance at Steve Johnson's establishment at least weekly, if not (in the case of This Decade's Drunk) nightly.
Artwork from, among others, Mike Fredricksen on the walls, an ever changing bathroom, a 1960s cigarette machine back by where the band plays (which used to be an old style barbershop), and the likelihood that there were people there even more strung out than the band (but for different reasons).

This by nature was a louder crowd, and a more demanding one, but the McTavishes pushed through their exhaustion and delivered the goods. Their forays into recognizable rock tunes were even more desperate --Cotter's rendition of "London Calling" was hoarsely and effectively still on key -- and Mullen took his twelve-string into another dimension on "Sky Pilot." Bob Jorin did all he could to keep from completely morphing into John Enthwistle on this one song that I could swear was "Substitute"( with maybe a slight bridge change and different lyrics), and when the hands were called, Brian Kurzinski put down his tin whistle and answered the question "What if Clarence Clemons sat in with the Pogues for a few nights?" And Shurilla? Here was a place where Shurilla can be Shurilla, because he is expected to be Shurilla at the Uptowner : going off on tangents, cracking inside jokes that everybod in the room got, introducing the band with terms that could be endearing only for people who know 'em, dropping Johnson's name every chance he could get, and keeping his cool when said neighborhood drunk tried to take it too far toward the end.

Ripping off JMF
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I took it easy on the drinks, and spent the night more closely working on dealing with photographing them, admittedly leaning on my film camera more than the previous night. The crowd here danced more, they sang along more, they shouted more, they drank more, which I think gave the band the oomph to make it through this marathon of music. If the Groove was our living room, the Uptowner was the rec room. A few people walked in with stupid plastic green derbies, but overall, as you can see, this crowd did the wearin' of the green stylin. See picture of Myles above: I was kind of touched he did the awful kelly green two nights in a row. Maybe I'm cute when I'm pissed off or something.

Oh, and spotted in the audience, my worthy replacement in the Psychobunnies, Brian Wurch recruiting bands for MOMBOB2 -- the Milwaukee Original Music Battle of the Bands. Rock on, Rev Leisure!

Bucks: Wearin' o' th' green

We have the Real Coach K
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Game two, with, as the fan pictured here puts it, "The REAL Coach K" on Saturday night. (Especially nice since Duke lost their first round game. I had Duke winning, but not going further -- I didn't want to have to pull for them, but conventional wisdom says one should always give Duke at least one win in the bracket -- but had I known I wouldn't have to cheer for them at all….). Anyway, there's a nice energy here. I think there might have been some tension between The White Shadow and certain members of the team, but of course, nobody is going to go on record to say anything. The Bucks take the court, in, as they promised, their dominant-green away uniforms, to celebrate the wearin' of the green. And the whole night is green-themed, from Bango the Buck wearing a kilt (well, its British Isles, anyway), to the Energee Girls in little green and white T-shirts, to the Trinity Irish Dancers at halftime. I'm not big, however, on the one green sock and one black sock (or was it a black brace over a white sock, nevertheless it looked STOOPID) look Andrew Bogut sported. But good tight game all the way through: for some reason I just kind of knew they were going to pull this off, despite not leading most of the game. We snacked on Heavenly Roasted Nuts and Brian enjoyed a Black and Tan before heading over to the Uptowner…..

Rocking brogue accents, vol 1

Mark and Paul
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The McTavish boys were in fine form Friday night at the Groove, a bar I didn't really picture them in, frankly. The Groove, on KK in BayView, is a well-named place. It's groovy with very dark ambient lighting, red painted walls, hip art on the walls, a sofa (in good repair, not a beat up old thing) about. Great beer and liquor selection and cool (but not hipper-than-thou) bartenders who can whip up any kind of requested drinkie-poos. Great place to meet somebody, but I never really pictured a band in here, much less rowdy Irish rockers on the eve of St Pat's.

Nevertheless, they fit in well because despite some accusations of them being not a "pure Irish musical endeavor," they capture the spirit of the holiday beyond tacky plastic green derbies and stupid leprechauns and green dyed beer, especially at this hip little joint. The songs they did covered the full range of human emotion and fun, with the Irish stylistical accent on them (not to mention the outright Pogues and Clancys and whatever covers). There was no division between band and audience, and as I (nor anybody else) was asked for cover as we entered, they obviously were doing this show for love, not money: and the warmth and family I felt had it roots beyond the shots of Jameson's they supplied me with. They rang in the holiday at midnight with a round of those shots, and there were a few left on Dan Mullen's amplifier before I called them on this: "What the hell kind of an Irish band are you?!?! There's perfectly good whiskey just sitting there evaporating. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves." You can bet that didn't last long.

But that's the kind of night it was: a merging of the Clancy Brothers and the Clash, the Kingstong Trio and the Animals. No holding back on the politics, the language, or the emotion. No stupid "Irish I had a Beer" or "Erin Go Braless" or crap like that. Just a wonderful, musical, rollercoaster ride through Northen Ireland by way of London, Chicago, and the KK River. As predicted, I knew one of them would jar my fashion sensibilities by wearing kelly green and thusly washing out his skin tone, and I probably should have known it would be Myles. Shurilla and Cotter didn't wear green at all, Jorin did a tasteful forest green, Brian Kurzinski had a snappy green cordoroy sportscoat on and Animal, Terry "The Animal" Garguilo just wore this stylin printed shirt. Thanks Miles, for fulfilling my prophecy: I knew I could depend on you.

Seen in the crowd and a touch of gossip: First, McTavish drummer emeritus Rob McCuen, who sat in a copule of numbers. Also, Annie Chase and her beau James, who occupied the couch in front of the stage and shared a spot on it with me. Gave us the feeling that we had our own little private McTavish audition right there in our living room. Horror and television writer (the two aren't related, but on second thought, perhaps they are) Elaine Bergstrom popped in for a few, and man-about-town Chris Lehmann, who told me that the Bugs are retooled, but that wasn't public knowledge yet. Well, then, explain the broadcast bulletin from their Myspace account, announcing all this, including a spell check on the retooled name: The Buggs. Geez, Chris, if you're going to give me a scoop, let me run with it for at least a day! Lehmann (and the myspace bulletin) promises they'll be even more over the top than they are, but :ehmann told me this, it was in an almost apologetic voice, like it might be a tad too much for me. Oh, puhleaze. It's like the time I met the legendary Bob DuBlon. "He's going to overwhelm you," I was warned. "It takes a lot to overwhelm me," I replied confidently. Well, I was overwhelmed, but I came away still standing. Same thing here. Yeah, I'm sure the Buggs will blow me away even more than they did that one night, but then again, flatten me? This is me, remember. Ever since I got hit over the head with Iggy Pop's mike stand in Champaign back in '82, I've pretty much assumed that great punk just gets more effective as it ages and grows and if you don't like it, just don’t go back. Well, I can't get enough of it.

And even if I wasn't hired to shoot McTavish the following night, I'd have gone back anyway. I've got McTime to make up for: I guess I'd forgotten just how much I can't get enough of great punk, no matter what kind of accent it has.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Forest green for us Slovak Poles and erzatz Celts

Irish Soul Food
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I'm not Irish. Not one little bit. Maybe, if you dig deep into Celtic history (the part where the Celts were floating around Germany and parts of Eastern Europe) you might find a drop or two of Celtic blood in me, but really, I'm Polish and Czech through and through. And I look really washed out and fallow in kelly green. Actually, lots of people look terrible in kelly green. Especially the Irish with their fair, ruddy complexions and red hair. Forest green looks great on 'em, but not kelly green. Even emerald green looks better. So why do they insist on kelly green being the national color? You need to have jet black hair, and perfect white skin --or just be black -- to look good in kelly green. (So, OK, Sherilyn Fenn looks good in kelly green, but then again, Sherilyn Fenn looks good in a potato sack.)

But I'm a lapsed Catholic, and this Saturday is a Saint's feast day. I know, I'm reaching here, but I need an excuse to go out and enjoy McTavish on both Friday at the Groove on South KK, and Saturday night at the Uptowner in Riverwest.

Actually, I have plenty of excuses:

  • First and foremost, the reason I know at least half my friends and colleagues in the Milwaukee music crowd is directly because of Paul Cotter and McTavish. About 15 years back, Cotter, being the orgainzation man that he is, introduced me to the guy who would become my guitar teacher, bass player, and general antagonist, Dan "Myles" Mullen. It was my job to gush over Myles as he tinkled on the mandolin, suggesting that "I know the perfect band you should play that in. My friend Paul here is forming an Irish band and you would be soooooo good in it. Do you know Paul? Paul, Myles. Myles, (that's your name, right?) Myles, this is Paul. Now that you've met, you have to do this! Oh my god, you are SO good. Oh, please say yes, that you'll do it! I'm sure you're busy with that Plastic Band thing you do, but you must do this!" That gushing blond girl crap always works on guys, doesn't it? Anyway, between Mullen and a few other people I met that same fateful evening, by the time of the premiere of McTavish I had met a gaggle of people I consider my dear friends to this day. (BTW, the same crap worked when I wanted to learn to play guitar: "You have to teach me everything you know because you are so good at it! OK, so this is an E chord! Wow, you are the best guitar teacher EVER!")
  • I kind of like the fact that some Irish music purists don't like McTavish. The crowd reaction to them at Irish Fest some years back was extremely mixed. They're too rowdy, they're too barroom-brawlish, they're too politically charged on the IRA side, and they like their Jameson's. They're not pretty and elegant. Except for the fact that Cotter has obviously had access to a Marquette-trained dentist, they're beautifully dirty. For some reason, there's Irish purists who don't like this, like they're trying to hide the fact that people have a good time drinking and singing the European equivalent of the blues in a bar to share their triumphs and troubles. WhatEVER. I like it.
  • After I've had my fill of Pogues covers and classic folk songs and drunken singalongs they do "Sky Pilot." That's right. They cover the Eric Burdon and the Animals, doing a song that features a psychedelic escapade into a scottish war chant. And they do it well!
  • I've been asked to shoot both shows, so I'm actually kind of working.
  • These are guys who know their fashion sense generally. So after a night at the Bradley Center where there will be too much green, (the Bucks will be wearing their forest green-themed away uniforms) I won't be all jogged out of shape with kelly green. If anything, the McTavish guys will wear a shade of green that suits them. I trust Cotter's fashion sense on this, and he'll whip the rest of the band into shape if he knows what's good for him. That's forest green you look good in, boys, in case you forgot. I know one of you might wear kelly green just to piss me off, but I'll deal. And I'll photograph it and I won't fix your resultant washed out skintones in Photoshop, so that's your image you're messing with, not mine.

    Oh, and seafoam green is right out. Don't even think about it.

So anyway, that's my pick for the weekend, despite the plethora of choices we have, and I'll find some forest -- not kelly -- green to be Irish for a day. I can see the alternatives any time, but McTavish season -- as Myles refers to St. Pat's day, comes but once a year, and I've missed them the past few years so I have some catching up to do. But if you're not up for the celtic cacophony that is Mc Tavish, there's a few other choices Saturday night:

  • Personally, I think County Clare blew it by letting the Five Card Studs go. For whatever reason, their gig at County Clare was moved to Club Lulu instead Saturday night. I would have really considered seeing the Five Card Studs present a Sexy, Sexy St. Patrick's Day at a traditional Irish Bed and Breakfast/restaurant/bar. I would have paid good money to hear Cesar Palace, on the Irishest of Irish nights, at one of the most Irish of Irish bars, do "Danke Schoen" followed by "That's Amore!" And whereever the 5 Card Studs are, there's guaranteed sexy sexy songs for the ladies, no matter what you're drinking. With them, it will be cocktails, not shots.

  • There's always time for Chow. Celebrate your Teutonic roots with Dr. Chow's Love Medicine at the Port of Hamburg on South Howell.

  • There's a U2 Tribute Band over at Points East! There's other "Irish Themed" stuff going on there, but if you want Irish, but not exactly Celtic, go and listen to a Bono wannabe wail out "I Will Follow"!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Oh and one more thing: to celebrate

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Spring is here!!!!!!! Daffodils poking out of the snow (which has since melted). I was all jealous of Cynthia at The Sandwich Life, in her Gardening Zone 6 location, posting about seeing the daffodils poking out a week or so ago. And now that the snowdrifts have melted, I have my own! I went for a bike ride yesterday it was so warm!

Spring is finally here!!!!!

The White Shadow: Cancelled!!!

This just in: Terry "The White Shadow" Stotts has been "relieved ... of his head coaching duties, General Manager Larry Harris announced," according to an email I just got from the Bucks.

March 14, 2007 - The Milwaukee Bucks today relieved Terry Stotts of his head coaching duties, General Manager Larry Harris announced. An interim head coach for the remainder of the 2006-07 season will be named prior to tomorrow night’s game vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
“Terry has done the best he could in a difficult situation, especially with all of our injuries,” said Harris. “I felt it was in the best interest of our organization to make the decision now and move forward, rather than wait until the end of the regular season. I want to thank Terry for his hard work and dedication to our team, and wish him well.”

Well, that explains a bunch. It explains Coach Reeves' wife finally losing it and telling off some hecklers Monday night. It explains Stotts not going off on the bender he should have after having to deal with Felix Unger's Dumber Brother's terrible calls. It explains all the bad juju. Maybe they were so busy dealing with termination papers (ask your friend in HR -- canning somebody is an administrative nightmare!) that explains why they forgot to book somebody to sing the anthem.

Here's the official press release in its entirety. If I wasn't so tired, I'd listen to sports talk tonight just to hear all the armchair pundits saying I Told You So. I'm gonna miss The White Shadow, but then again, maybe I just liked him because he did remind me of ol' Coach Reeves.

Oh well. I've got Bucks tickets for Saturday night, but let's face it. With The Tournament starting this weekend, nobody gives a crap about the NBA, least of all a team that should be at least playoff contenders. We'll all be watching The Tournament, scouting out the talent, because hey, at least with this crappy record, the Bucks have a good shot at some killer draft picks.

Bucking the Anthem?

We've been so busy lately that I haven't reported in.

Brian did indeed go to see Fu Manchu at Vnuk's Saturday night. The report? Well, Fu was Fu. No "Godzilla" but devastatingly heavy all night. Apparently it was a huge (four band?) bill; Brian arrived in time to catch the openers Artemus Piledriver. "Artemis?" I asked later, "The Goddess of the Wilderness?" No, Brian said. As in Artemus Pyle, from Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Sorry, I guess I'm just not up on my Skynyrd history.) However, that pretty much paved the way for Brian's description of them: What if Ozzy Osbourne fronted Skynyrd instead of Sabbath? Brian's not Mr. Rock and Roll Essayist like me, so that's pretty much the report: Fu Manchu rocked a packed house. A few notes for Vnuk's, though. First, if you have a sold out show, it would probably be a good idea to schedule more than two bartenders to work that shift. Second, if you're going to have a giant, vintage BLATZ sign out front, you should probably have a supply of (cheap) Blatz to serve to your customers.

Sunday night, after I rehearsed with my band, I took in a hour or so of the Low-Fi DJ before heading over to the Stone on South Howell, where Paul Cotter runs a open stage on Sunday nights. No open stage this night, though, because the project closest to Cotter's heart, McTavish, was busy warming themselves up for, as mandolinist Dan Mullen refers to it, "McTavish Season," otherwise known as St. Patrick's Day weekend. (More about them later this week, suffice to say that's where I'll be this weekend.) I'm generally not a whiskey drinker (as a polack, my hard poison is Vodka) but when bassist Bob Jorin slapped a $50 bill on the bar and shouted "Whiskey for my friends," I knew I was going straight to Purgatory if I didn't begin to prime my liver for the upcoming weekend by downing a shot. Yes, complete with Terry "The Animal" Garguilo, McTavish is basically Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits with Special Guest Star Paul Cotter, being the American Pogues they always wanted to be. Inconspicious by his absence: Mark Shurilla. Conspicuous by their whiskey presence: Paul "The Fly" Lawson, who will be busy with Dr. Chow's Love Medicine Saturday night, Chris Lehmann working the sound board, and McTavish Alumnus Paul "Waitin' For the Gin to Hit Me" Setser. Should I just bold all these "spotted in the crowd" names so that I come off as a rock and roll Boris and Doris or what?

Monday night with the Bucks: Everybody's getting all bent out of shape over Bogut flipping the bird at a fan. I say, its about time Bogut starting flipping people off, over the way he's being played, over the way he has to listen to "Down Under" every time he DOES hit a shot, over people getting on his case. Terry "The White Shadow" Stotts should have tried to earn himself a technical -- I've never seen such horrid officiation in my life as I did Monday night. But Stotts isn't exactly an emotional guy, I'm learning. Last season I thought he seemed bemused by it all, now, even with bad reffing, he only seems mildly annoyed. If I were head coach, I would have gotten myself thrown out of the stadium over some of these bad calls by this ref who looked like a young Felix Unger, perhaps even fined by the league. I normally don't like to blame bad official calls for a game loss (they're certainly not going to make up for the deficit the Bucks lost by), but you'd think you were at a Troma Film festival the many times this crowd groaned. I'm even going to show you a picture of #56, this terrible ref who mustv'e just liked the feel of a whistle in his mouth, he used it so much. And afterwards, we're driving home and listening to the call-in show, and some fans are reporting that Stotts' wife, (Mrs ReevesI'll call her), went and confronted some hecklers with the ol' "Well what do you suggest?" Oh, Yoko, please don't get involved with your husband's public life.

Very odd promo tonight: they gave out inflatable Bango the Buck toys to all the kids, but during the fourth quarter, they released a whole bunch of them and they fell from the ceiling like some kind of commando landing. It was fun, but given all the weird feeling going on, it was strange, like they were attacking us.

I think this game started out with bad juju the moment we realized there was no anthem. Since the visiting team was Toronto, we were looking forward to hearing both the Canadian anthem AND the USA Anthem. What a fun critique that would have been! But they did countdown to game time (and they've changed the opening montage for the better, I'll discuss more at my next game wrapup) and I'm waiting for "Please rise for the singing of the national anthem" and, no. They go straight to the montage and the game. What happened? Was Tom Green scheduled to do this (if anybody could have successfully pulled off two anthems, it was the late, great Tom Green) and they coulnd't find anybody, not even Warren Wiegratz, at the last minute? What, do we not have anybody in Milwaukee who knows the Canadian National Anthem? No wonder the night was full of bad calls from Felix Unger's Dumber Brother, disgruntled fans, Mrs. Ken Reeves thinking she could win an argument with hecklers, and Bogut losing his cool. It all started when they skipped the anthem. That's just not right.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Things to be bummed about

At least it's been sunny and the temperatures are rising, and we'll have longer days. Because a few things have gotten me down as of late:

  • So I'm finally catching up on news this week, and reading through the paper, learn that state's premier Elvis impersonator, Tom Green, has died. Actually, according to the Journal-Sentinel obit, he died a week ago; somebody paging thorough death certificates must've come across his at St. Luke's.

    Quick flashback to all those times when I saw Green, either being Elvis, or just being himself with that lovely operatic voice. I remember thinking, "Elvis Impersonators, dime a dozen," until I saw Green. You could tell the man loved Elvis, loved channelling Elvis, and not as parody, or cheap imitation. And nobody in this town could sing the National Anthem before a sports event like Tom Green.

    It's so tempting to say "Tom Green has left the building" but I'm so genuinely sad about this that it's no time for snotty (and unoriginal, to be sure) jokes. Save that for his tombstone.

  • The Jewel store at Howell and Oklahoma was sold to Sentry. First off, I loved Jewel primarily for a reason my other Jewel-loving friends may not share with me: Jewel was my little piece of Chicago, just a few blocks away from my house. They carried Scala Italian Beef in the deli. Tabatchnick frozen dinners in the freezer. According to Wikipedia, 80% of all Chicagoans are in a Jewel at least once a month, and so any minute I was expecting Cubs paraphernalia to be sold right next to the "Green Bay Football" sweatshirts. (Dontcha love how they got around having to pay royalties for the Packer's registered trademark?). But there was something about our Jewel that my Milwaukee born-and-bred friends loved. It wasn't trendy and never tried to be. You want organic food? You want obscure ingredients? Jewel was NOT for you. Jewel knew there were plenty of other niche places, (and knew this better than Pick N Save, that's for sure). People who are hardcore about BGH-free milk are going to Outpost or Whole Foods, they're not going to Pick N Save, and they're certainly NOT going to Jewel. So Jewel didn't even try to have shelf space for it. Jewel did have a great deli, with your meat sliced to order (which kept it fresher longer) and you know people loved that because now everybody slices deli meat to order. And who didn't love the giant reach in freezer with this week's meat deal? When was the last time you bought a whole beef tenderloin? I'll tell you: when it was $2 a pound in the Jewel meat deal freezer just across from the deli, that's when. I know, under what scary biological and chemical conditions did $2 a pound whole beef tenderloin get produced? I don't know, but as Rick Lisko of Fond Du Lac said about his seven legged transgendered deer meat, "It was tasty."

    Where did you get those resin lawn chairs for your spring party? At Jewel, where they were five for ten bucks that one day last winter. Where did you get your own deep freezer? At Jewel, where it came with a gift certificate for $300 worth of meat to put in it! Where did you get those hideous but functional tiki torches? Where did you get those atrocious light up Christmas lawn ornaments you so ironically planted in front of your house? Where did you get those off-brand "beanie babies" you stuffed in last years' easter baskets? Jewel! And the union employees who worked there were such a refreshing change from your regular bitter grocery store employees. They had a clue about customer service and they didn't hate their jobs (or at least, they didn't act like it). I have a friend who has custody of his four year old daughter every other weekend. Ever since she was a baby, part of their ritual was to go grocery shopping at Jewel every week, to the point where she misses it if he doesn't need any groceries. Everybody at Jewel knew them, and it was almost the old neighborhood store to go there. I hear this story and I'm really sad, because I know its not just me. We all loved our Jewel, and we're going to miss it, even if we're not all ex-Chicagoans. And what are we getting in it's place. A Sentry. A regular old Sentry, with the smell of overcooked broasted chicken wafting through the entire store and employees that never seem happy. Maybe I've just lived near too many crappy Sentries -- that dingy one at Oakland and Locust, the downtown one (where Pick N Save Metrosexual Market is now) with the rude help and the expired milk, that really raspy one on South Howell. They have some proving to do for me, especially since they're replacing my little part of Sweet Home Chicago.

  • If you work in IT, and specifically, if you're on a help desk or you're an Exchange Administrator (and if you work in IT at all you even know what an "Exchange Administrator" is), thanks to that extended Daylight Savings Time, it sucks to be you. What genius at Microsoft thought it would be a good idea to HARDCODE daylight savings time dates into Outlook (and by extension, Exchange) for the next ten or so years, given our energy issues and our wonderful administration? At least with Y2K we had ample warning. Can't we just make this go away by blasting Pauly Shore and Courtney Love off to outer space?. And then, I get to get up Monday morning in the dark again. Ugh. Don't get me wrong, I love DST. In the summer when I can sit on the patio with drinkie poos at 9 pm and still watch the kiddos wear themselves out to the song of crickets. But right now, all that extra hour of sunlight in the evening is going to do is piss me off that it's too cold to go out and play. Oh well, I'll get the bummer of delayed morning darkness out of the way early, I guess.

So I'm probably going to hang with my friend MJ tonight with the kids, and mourn Tom Green, Jewel, and my IT colleagues' frayed nerves. Brian's going to see Fu Manchu at Vnuk's this evening, a show he's been looking forward to for quite some time. Fu Manchu? Here's how heavy they are: the cover Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" even slower and sludgier than the original but without succumbing to Cookie Monster vocals to do it. They're really good; we just couldn't get a sitter for the night. I've asked Brian to file a report tomorrow. History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man, eh?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Rev's Online Redemption: Take that, nonbelievers!

About a half hour into their set at the Miramar last night, the Reverend Horton Heat's frontman, Jim Heath, went on a tirade about all the people on his band's forum (as well as bloggers) pissing and moaning about the setlist. "We don't have a setlist," he said, motioning to the ground. "Do you see any taped up lists here?" Sure, he explained, there's some songs they play a lot and string together, but they sure as heck didn't have a bona fide setlist (and he did indeed affect an attitudinal voice each and every time he said the word "setlist.") And to prove it, the band took requests for most of the rest of the show. There were obviously a few tunes they did you could tell they wanted to play anyway, but by and large, they easily handled pretty much anything the crowd threw at them. Take that, collector scum!

Everything I expected from the Reverend was delivered. The amazing thing is that he makes it look all so easy, snapping off incredible little licks and riffs from his big ol hollow-body Gretch, dressed in a white suitjacket emblazoned with fiery appliques. And he just as seemingly easily molds and contorts his versatile voice to fit each and every song, like the subtle difference between smooth and crunchy peanut butter. Jimbo has gotten a new, gorgeous bass that is some kind of lighter wood (maple?) with beautiful cross-grain waves, topped off with a flaming paint (or probably stain) job that didn't obscure the wood's natural beauty. Still plays it like he was ready to schtupp it, though. The Miramar room was hot, hot from the music and physically warm; I had to step out every now and then to catch some cool air, but overall, I like seeing bands here: you've got a main floor, but you can also sit in theatre chairs if you wish.

The Rev hasn't let me down with amazing opening acts: that's how good the Rev is, confident to book a mind-blowing band to open for his without stealing his thunder. Last night's offering was Murder By Death, a quartet from Bloomington, Indiana that started out Americana, but then gave us intricately-crafted songs that brought to mind everything from Nick Cave to maybe even some european goth and prog influences. I found myself unable to take my eyes and ears off of keys and electric cellest Sarah Balliet, her precision flailing about recalling Rasputina's Melora Creager (not to mention her use of effects that really bring out the grind of intense cello playing), her perfect side-parted blond hair pointing out her waitress-waiting-for-her-big-break eyes. Almost completely stole the show from lead singer/guitarist Adam Turla, whose rich, soulful voice had a touch of Elvis (or maybe Nicholas Cage doing Elvis), which is why the prog elements work: big ideas backed up with a voice that can hold them up. Those Indiana folks, though, they sure do love a good anthemic coda! Except unlike Axl Rose, their codas are not like hanging a hat on a horse (hoping a full blown orchestra can make up for an essentially weak song, and thus pretentious). No, Murder By Death's codas are buttercream icing on a red velvet cake, and I'll definitely be having seconds when they come through town again.

No pictures from this show -- the no camera policy was being strictly enforced, right down to cameraphones being pointed out. So as it is, the visual I can give you is vintage. This is a picture of the back my Reverend Horton Heat T-Shirt that I bought back in '91 at that fateful night at the Toad Café. The front is simply "The Reverend Horton Heat" in block letters. I had blown all my cash paying cover and buying a few beers, and get this -- they let me write a postdated check made payable to "Jim Heath." (And the check was good!) I still have that cancelled check somewhere, and when the Reverend has achieved the World Domination he so richly deserves, I have my post-dated brush with greatness to hold onto. And now you know how much Elvis weighs on Uranus. Wasn't this bugging you?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hey, I like it! Hey Mikey!

Last night I went to see some music in generes you probably don't expect me to enjoy, and came out pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed them.

As I said I would, I popped into Caroline's to see Julie B, pretty much by herself. I really have got to get out and see her heavy prog combo, the Quark Quintet. She's really learned to play her voice as well as her keyboard, and writes the right kinds of songs to showcase this talent. I'm not a fan of singer-songwriter-y stuff though, but these are songs that can hold up under the weight of a full-blown prog band and its about time I expose myself to that. Still, Julie can work a small room wonderfully, not overhwhelmingly, and the songs work because they're well-crafted pieces to begin with.

My only comment: seems to me if you're going to play a jazz club, you had better be ready with more than one remotely jazz tune to cover. She apologized as she introduced her jazz cover, like she was anticipating some hardcore jazzbo snorting "Oh, look at little prog girl trying to move into our world." But there was none of that going on and therefore nothing to apologize about the fact that it might have been a "common" song for such a seemingly purist jazz joint like Caroline's. Does a band at the Cactus Club ever get booed off the stage for breaking into "Teenage Lobotomy" or "Pretty Vacant"? No, they don't. It’s a sign of respect for the clientele that you at least do something you know they're gonna recognize, if not like/love. And you really can't go wrong with a standard, especially one Julie renders as well as she does "Someone to Watch Over Me." But you've got the chops, Julie, so be sure you can break out a few more to pull in the jazz fans and curious that inhabit a joint like this.

Up next was a band I didn't even know was playing, The Flying Calarco Brothers, with drumming virtuoso John Calarco and his overlooked brother Frank, (who looked like a cross between Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen). They played late 70s, early 80s jazz fusion, and here's how good they were: I stuck around and listened to them for a few songs desapite two huge factors: 1) I was dead tired and still wanted to stop in at the Cactus Club to touch base with somebody and 2) I generally loathe jazz fusion. Kind of. Sort of. Here's where I'm coming from on this: There were a few jazz fusion records from that period which I actually love and still listen to. Anything by Jeff Beck (especially Live with Jan Hammer -- who doesn't love "Freeway Jam"?), anything by Stanley Clarke, and get this -- that one Pat Metheny album with "San Lorenzo" on it. But the thing about jazz fusion is that it teeters dangrously on the edge of middle of the road-ness: not reckless enough to be the rock that the jazz is fusing with, not experimental enough to be the jazz the rock is refining itself to be. Very few people get it right, and most of it thusly ends up as corporate cocktail party music or soundtracks for Aaron Spelling soapoperas. The Calarco brothers, with Drew Rittgers on Chapman Stick get it right. Probably because John Calarco is such a hot drumming commodity that he's got plenty of outlets to play, so this is a band he can do whatever he wants to and it won't ruin his career, and he can take some chances and really go up into another realm and therefore the passion is there. And we all know the difference between good and great is passion. That's my guess, but whatever it was, they drew me in with hypnotic rhythms, dorky little melodies that took on a sense of danger once established, and how often do you get to see a Stick player around these parts? How often, period? They even introduced Rittgers by emphasising lack of hair on his head, pointing out that only bald guys are able to play the Chapman Stick. And it's probably true. Quick, name all the Stick players you know of. This Drew guy I just told you about and Tony Levin, right? But they were good: they drew me in and I found myself actively listening and enjoying them. This just reinforced my musical philosophy: I've often said that while I have my favorite genres, I enjoy music that's played well by passionate musicians, no matter what the framework. And when I find myself liking music in a genre I hate, that's when I know I'm in the presence of players.

And I did pop into (speaking of) the Cactus Club just to see what Karaoke at the Cactus Club would be about. Go back and read that phrase one more time, say it out loud (slowly) and let it sink in: Karaoke At The Cactus Club. No, it wasn't an evening of ironic smirking. There were non-regulars there, the (and until this point, I didn't know it existed) hardcore karaoke crowd. They mixed nicely with the normal Cactus clientele of tattooed and pierced and goateed tweeners, X and Yers. I walked in right when some regular guy with a Axl Rose gritty voice was belting out some new-metal hit I wasn't familiar with. He was followed by some perfectly middle class dude who did some country version of "Let's Stick Together" which probably sounded way better than (whatever Nashville producer thought would be a good idea to take a classic soul hit and water it down with) nu-country blandness. No, this guy put the soul back in it, whether he intended to or not. Caught one final memorable young, blonde, tattooed, dreadlocked thang channelling Grace Slick for "White Rabbit," albeit a bit flat on the long notes. I was still exhausted though, and having satisfied my curiosity, went home to start resting up for the Reverend Horton Heat.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Rockabilly Redemption this weekend

Oh, I think it was 1991 or thereabouts: the first time I encountered The Reverend Horton Heat. The Toad Café was still open, it was an otherwise uneventful Sunday night, and I'm walking downtown to catch a bus home, when friends of mine drive past, lean out the car window and call out, "Why are you going home? There's rockabilly at the Toad tonight!" What the heck, might as well pop in.

My friends and I turned out to be four of the seven people in the club to witness some severely great psychobilly. They didn't give a hoot that they didn't have a full house; the Reverend still played it like he had a full house. Bass player Jimbo crawled all over his black-painted stand up bass like he was making love to it, and to this day I still don't know how drummer
Paul Simmons keeps up the frenetic pace he lays down, especially during songs like "Psychobilly Freakout." Besides one of the best shows I'd ever seen, it was also one of the last times I saw the friend who called out to me from the car alive -- fucking cancer got her, and I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Reverend for the absolute lust for life he soundtracked for her on one of her last nights out.

I've tried each time they hit town to catch them again, sometimes I make it, sometimes I don't. Last time I made it was around my birthday in 2004 -- and the amazing Split Lip Rayfield opened for them at Shank Hall. What a double bill of moonshine soaked hillbilly madness that was! (And dammit, fucking cancer strikes again. Raise a shotglass full of filthy roadhouse whiskey to SLR's Kirk Rundstrom who lost his battle last week, but went down in a blaze of glory, playing out pretty much right until the end and sticking it to cancer on his own terms.)

I don't mean to associate the Reverend with death. He's too full of life -- put your Big Red Rocket Of Love in full gear and floor it life -- life that knows death's coming (and hell and damnation may follow) and spits in its face. He growls, he screams, he wails the blues, and he preaches the gospel of psychobilly that's either going to save us all or throw us directly into Satan's arms. Oh, am I just talking about his voice? His guitar is on fire! Sinful, brimstone laced, you're-going-to-get-in-trouble-if-you-stick-around fire. I knew he was good that night at the Toad Café, but didn't realize just how amazing he was until I picked up a guitar myself and attemped to play psychobilly with the Psycho Bunnies a year later. (It's sort of how you have an idea that Hendrix was good, but didn't realize to what extent until you learn your three chords and then you just accept you're never going to be Hendrix.). I missed the Reverend in 2005, and there was no 2006 Milwaukee appearance, so I'm due.

So, that's my major destination for the weekend. Accept that you're not Hendrix, that you're not Jim Heath (The Rev's "real" name), and that you're going to be a worthless piece of protoplasm on Monday at work after you drag your sinful ass down to the Miramar Theatre Sunday night to find redemption in the Full Custom Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat.

  • Other recommendations: Go see Julie "True Heart" B at Caroline's on S 2nd Friday night for some good prog that isn't about post-apocalyptic dystopian disaster. Yeah, I liked ELP and Rush too when I was in high school. Julie B has since been to college, where she obviously learned that writing complex songs about the here and now works well. Early show, starts at 9, and you'll be out of there in time to go sing Karaoke at, get this, the Cactus Club. You thought they were too hip for that, huh? You were wrong.

  • Or brave the drive down to Racine and go to the Y there to see Snooky play an all-ages show with something like 5 other bands Friday night. It's a benefit food drive, so its a good cause.

  • Saturday night Dr. Chow's Love Medicine is making up for the fact that the snow did us all in last weekend, so let's try this again, folks. Again, stop into the House of Hamburg, right by the airport, and buy me a weissbier to thank me for turning you onto the medicinal blues that is Dr Chow.

By the way, if you've had it up to here with burying wonderful people because of goddamn cancer, and you don't hold a degree in biomedical engineering so you can actively work on stopping it, the next best thing you can do is throw money at it. Join me in sponsoring my sister-in-law as she walks/runs for the American Cancer Societyin Madison. And as many of my breast-cancer surviving friends plead, don't forget those self-exams, ladies!