Sunday, September 30, 2007

Baptism by Flambeau

hangin' with flambeau
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

This weekend was a simply wonderful weekend to send September off with. It would have been better without this darn virus that's going around, but nevertheless, it was a good weekend.

We begin with Friday. I stayed home to nurse this virus; Brian went to the Circle A Cafe to see the White Hot Tizzies and an outfit out of Green Bay called Ivan and the Terribles (yes, named for the "house" band in the cult classic, "Motel Hell" (1980, dir. Kevin Connor) but no word on whether they were able to cover "I've Had Enough of You." Still, Brian reports they were terrific. He says the general consensus was that it took them a bit to get going, but once they found their stride they rocked the joint. Supposedly they're a "Green Bay All Star" band of Brown county music denizens; and that pretty much explains the slight delay in finding a voice.

The White Hot Tizzies, according to Brian, kicked it. Anybody who knows Rob McCuen knows he's going through some pretty heavy crap these days; Brian says it's obvious he's working it through the music, and the results were exhilarating.

Saturday, earlier in the day: Before heading over to the Cactus Club, I stopped into the George Washington Post in Bay View to catch a bit of a sock hop with Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits. Not much to say here: as usual, they cranked out the 50's and early 60s rock and roll with appropriate reverence and necessary irreverence. They have a multitude of guest stars when they do this thing, and the guest stars can be hit or miss, but overall I prefer them straight up. The guest stars are often too straight up. However, Claire Sardina delivered a couple of Pasty Cline covers that (and I've said this about her before) show the direction her talent should be taking her. But the highlight of the evening for me was the Pink Ladies: two women in satiny pink jackets who paraded around song titles for the guest stars. Once again, whenever I need to feel like I'm in a David Lynch movie, I go to one of these shindigs.

I didn't catch their third set (with Marlavous Marla being a sort of Ronnie Spector presence) because I was not missing one moment of the Couch Flambeau and Chief show at the Cactus. And Chief was the perfect band to open for Flambeau, in that even though they have a tongue planted firmly in cheek (I think), they still deliver the rock. On one hand, you can't help but gigglesnort when you get emails like "Your plate of rock will be served piping hot and you will devour it like a ravenous beast" announcing their shows. On the other hand, they do serve it up piping hot and I do devour this stuff like a ravenous beast. Chris Tischler on lead guitar and vox doesn't hide his love for their style of American rawk, and bassist Milwaukee Metal Dave Benton, when not busy writing erotic horror stories, picks and fires his 5 string bass. Matt Liban seems to be having the time of his life on the drums, and none of them are apologetic, not one single bit. The genuine gratitude from Tischler upon being presented with a new bitchin' BC Rich guitar, a gift from his bandmates, should tell you exactly where their line between parody and sincerity is.

This set the stage for Flambeau, who went out there and and put on a show that was clearly for the "family." I know there have been shows at the Cactus since they opened a couple of weekends ago, but this seemed to be the homecoming show, the true grand opening. If the birth was a couple of weeks ago, this was the baptism, by fire. Flambeau fire, to be specific.
Flambeau knew they had an audience of friends (and being the seasoned pros they are, even if not, they would have been great), but there was a feeling of community and warmth not normally associated with the cynical, ironic humor that Couch Flambeau is known for. Cactus Club proprietor Eric Uecke was relaxed in the audience, looking more like a fan who got one of his favorite bands to play in his living room than a club owner needing to get x number of people through the door to pay the bills. Neil Socol veered between smirking and outright smiling. Rusty Berg, gets drum face even when not trying. And Jay Tiller still can tell a story with knowing incredulity -- he's both making fun of the old tootsie roll commercial while making it clear he still understands all about the deliciousness of a Tootsie Pop. Its the rare talent to straddle the line between wide-eyed wonder he still doesn't (can't) hide while reminding you that he's onto it. He's onto it all. You don't need a song-by-son rundown. They did all the hits from every era. They broke in the new stage as best as anybody could. And I'll betcha some of them were in the Cactus Club today (Sunday), watching the Packer game, as well they should be.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Misses and more misses and a few hits

There is certainly no shortage of great stuff I'm going to have to miss tonight. Everybody else has probably told you about the Mekons show (the music's at the Pabst, the art is at Hotcakes) so there's no new news here. But just yesterday in my myspace bulletin box I learned that the fabulous Barrettes are opening a Stonefly show tonight headlined by Detroit's Gore Gore Girls. Oh, if I didn't have a previously can't-miss personal engagement, I would be there. Its really seeming like a groundswell of great grrrl rock is coming back, and I'm hoping this points to more. On Friday night, I'm also going to have to miss Nick Lowe at Shank Hall, but honestly, as good as he is, I've liked the work he produced for other people better than his own stuff.

Saturday I am not missing the Couch Flambeau 25th Anniversary show at the Cactus Club, and the music is only one reason. This is really full circle at that place. With the new remodel, the Cactus Club hopes to bring back a lot of the people that helped establish it as a destination for edgy but great underground music-- and frankly, those people are Flambeau's age and contemporaries. People come out of the woodwork whenever Jay Tiller, Neil Socol and Rusty Berg get together on stage (as well they should) and I think those people, (who used to cheer on the Packers on Sunday afternoons with Eric Uecke but acquired the increasingly complicated lives that accompany their age) will like what they see when they venture out: clean bathrooms, slick bar design, good beer, wine and top shelf liquor selection. At the same time, there's posters and artwork around to remind us all what great stuff went down at the club and what promises to go in the future.


  • I participate on a mom's forum at MilwaukeeMoms dot com, and while you may or may not be interested in the general discussion, there's an obscure thread running about my Number One Wisconsin Pet Peeve: the lack of use of turn signals around here. Is this not the law? I'm beginning to think that turn signals aren't even required equipment on vehicles operated in Wisconsin, much less their use mandated for turns, lane changes, etc. It's driving me nuts. My (shameless name dropping) friend Miles Harvey used to comment on people who didn't use their turn signal to warn you they were turning, rather, he'd say, they would flip it on at the last second, admitting they were turning. Wisconsin drivers don't even seem to admit it. They're in total denial.

  • The Brewers. I'm not even getting my hopes up. Even if I did, I would be such a hypocritical johnny-come-lately to this whole thing. There's a part of me that silently cheers for the Cubs. I think even if the Cubs did it and not the Brewers, Brian wouldn't be totally despondent. I mean, who doesn't like the Cubs? You can get annoyed with them (as a Chicagoan, we're constantly annoyed with them), you can try to curse them out, but nobody really hates the Cubs. It would be like hating the the Smurfs. (Wait a second. I hate the Smurfs. Excuse: I'm too busy right now to come up with a better analogy.)

  • But I am gearing up for hoops season. Tonight we pick up our half-season ticket package, so I'll know which games I'll be hitting this year and writing about. Found a great local blogger who specializes in the bucks by the name of the Bratwurst who I don't always agree with, but he's good at spilling the news and gossip and that's why he's now on my blogroll. You know me. I don’t just write about the Bucks' playing. I critique the food, the halftime entertainment, the cheerleaders, the singing of the anthem. You know, the stuff Jon McGlocklin isn't telling you about at the game. But this should be some interesting season. Yi is signed, so is Charlie "Ring My" Bell (I'm already listening to that song three times a day to build up aural callouses against it, God I hate that song) but Ersan "International Man of Cuteness" Illysova is gone! And now we have Larry the K running the show with his deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. Can't wait for that first tipoff.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Four years ago this moment...

He tastes every delicious moment
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I remember when I first saw Sammy on the ultrasound and the tech said, "Oh, that's a boy allright" and I panicked. What was I going to do with a boy? Was this boy going to feel left out because I love shopping and cooking and laughing with my girl, my sweetie poo, my Stella? Was I going to be able to love a boy the way I loved my little girl? What does a little boy need? What kind of mommy would this guy need to thrive, to straddle those thin gray lines between wimp, gentleman and thug?

While filling out paperwork at work, I remember the head of HR congratulating me on my impending motherhood of a boy. She has a girl and a boy too (hers are both grown), and she imparted some wisdom that I never forgot: "Oh, there's that mother-daughter relationship that nobody can penetrate. But you're going to be knocked over by your boy. There's a special kind of love a mother has for her boy, and he's going to bring you a different kind of love you'll always treasure."

The minute I saw him in the hospital I knew she was right. I knew instantly he was an old soul, and the telepathy that mother and baby have (because its not like we'd have even differentiation of cries for at least a few months, much less conventional language for a year or so) indicated he had stuff to teach me. Namely finding the boy inside me and loving him for it. It's like I told a friend a couple of weeks ago: "Sammy is basically mini-me with a penis" only to be answered with "But V'ron, you already have a penis!" And so in falling in love with my baby boy (which happened very shortly after noon four years ago) I learned to love myself.

I watch and marvel as Stella gracefully dances in her ballet slippers, but I can only be amazed that such a thing came out of me. With Sammy, on the other hand, I can spar his kung fu with him, I can play linebacker as he barrels over me, we scream monster noises at each other. He's brought out my inner boy in ways I never knew existed. We nicknamed Sammy "little buddy" (and many permutations: "Budski" "Sama-Lama Buddinski") and he's lived up to the Buddy name. He really is my little buddy, temperamental, demonstrative, physical, but with a heart so big I don't know how his body contains it. Out of the clear blue sky he'll walk into the living room and declare "Mommy, I love you!" and then take his dishes to the kitchen. Sometimes he is a massive pain the the butt; yet not once has the question "Is he worth it" ever crossed my mind. He tells me silly little boy jokes, and he amazes me when he gets some remark I make that I thought was over his head. Like Stella, his intelligence floors me, even when it means I can't hide things from him, and as we did with Stella, Brian and I shake our heads in resignation of the difficulty of it all: "Well, at least he's not a stupid child." Every day I see him discover something new, every day he throws his arms around me for a "big squeezy hug," every time he calls me on some adult inconsistency or hypocrisy my heart explodes with gratefulness and joy that this little buddy is in my life. Like the song goes, thank goodness for little boys.

Happy birthday Sam-A-Lama Buddy Buddinski!

Center Street on Schedule

Kids, behind the white line NOW!
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, so it was a bit disorganized, Center Street Daze was. Everything crucial was in place, we just really didn't know who was playing when unless you happened to know sombody in one of the bands, and organizer Whispering Jeff, I'm sorry, but I shouldn't have to be sleeping with a guitar player just to find out when the band's playing. (To be fair, Jeff Platt organized the "big picture" stuff -- getting permits, vendors, etc -- it was up to the individual stage sponsors to promote their stages.) But as I kind of predicted, Center Street Daze wasn't about the music. It was about the neighborhood. It reminded me much more of what the Locust Street festival was, say, 20 or so years ago: a bit disorganized, a bit mish-mosh, a very counterculture feel to it, and a lot of fun. I'll even go so far as to say that while Locust Street is now the establishment, Center street is the hip, irreverant outsider. They had all the necessary elements: a great mix of music (old and new, cover and original, rock and punk and funk), plenty of visual and performance artists, excellent food and drink selection, and attracted a mixed up enough crowd to satisfy the most jaded of people watchers.

The pushcart races, emceed by Dr. Chow's Frank Chandek, set the tone, with entries showcasing the wide spectrum humor and imagination of the neighborhood's residents, if not an object lesson in the value of considering function over form: the most interesting looking entries weren't necessarily the most efficient racing machines. A late rule change resulted in two separate lanes with the excitement coming at the turnaround point, where the entrants were almost guaranteed some exciting crash action. I should have put two and two together when I heard a member of the "Hell on Wheels" pit crew ask a friend of his (standing near me in the audience) to "hold this blanket, and if anything goes wrong, just drop this on it -- you know, like stop, drop and roll." Hmmmm. Stop, drop and roll. Isn't that what the firemen tell you do do when there's a fire? And fortunately, "Hell on Wheels"'s opponent in that (carefully selected word here) heat was "Rubber Duckie" -- a pushcart which features a tub of water (complete with bather in it!) so at least there was water available. I finally did the math and realized what was going on -- as Hell on Wheels sped off, I noticed some liquid being spilled in its wake -- three seconds before somebody lit a match and suddenly I grabbed hold of the kids and really enforced the "You stick by me behind this white line dammit" rule. Whispering Jeff clutched anxiously to the liability insurance documentation in his pocket, and I figured now wasn't a good time to give him a hard time about the lack of a posted band schedule.

Nevertheess, it was all good clean fun. The Polka Playing Pushcart showed up not only late, but didn't switch lanes and that brought on a Judges' conference, which resulted in the crowd voting to have three teams all at once in the finals. I don't even remember who won, and I'm not sure anybody cared. We all won, having cheered and laughed along with the teams, and scattered about for post-race festivities.

I missed Dr Chow's Love Medicine anyway, despite my relationship to the second guitar player. I had a kid to schlep to and from ballet, where I ran into another rock and roll parent who asked me to make sure her husband knew he needed to be home early. This message I passed on, while he was on stage.

The Fabulon Vootometer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Voot? Is Voot playing? Depending on what time of day it was, and who you were talking to, different answers abounded, but if Voot Warnings was going to play anywhere, we knew it would be his haunt, Center street anchor The Uptowner, home of the Beautiful People. And beautiful he was, with Dave Rake on guitar and Vic Demechei on drums, inspiring the name The Fabulon Vootometer. Oh, if this wasn't a time for "spotted in the crowd" Boris and Doris-ness, no time was. There was pool shark Mary Ellen Freundl, powerding up her cue for the billiards tournament. There was Steve Whalen -- spotted in the crowd, pshaw! Spotted on STAGE! There was Rusty Berg, who heard "Crippled Mentals" from his apartment and thought to himself, "Hey, is that Voot?" and ventured out. And there was Russell "Rustle of Luv" Martocci, who I heard actually played on stage earlier. Damn you, people too lazy to put out a schedule, did I have to miss that? Rustle of Luv was a wonderful troubador-style busker whose choices of covers and terrific originals used to be such a fixture on the scene. He dropped out to attend to higher priorities, but it was great to see him back. Chatted with him briefly: he's painting now, incorporating semi-precious stones into his work ("that should give it some value" he jokes) and I'm looking forward to seeing what he puts forth. And clearly I wasn't the only one glad to see his face. All reports say his set sounded great, that despite it being a long time since he's played, its like he never left. Rustle -- let's see more of this!

Back west, we camped out on the lawn of House of Frank n' Stein for another set from favorites of this blog, Floor Model. This one had special guests on trumpet and poetry reading, across the street from an artist by the name of J. Bird (but he pronounced it "jaybird") beginning a mural paying tribute to businesses that are making Center Street a destination. Further across the street a renegade band played on the porch of a house, another ad hoc band formed to jam the blues at the Uptowner, Circle-A-Café bartender Sarah Wilson good-naturedly got herself dunk-tanked for charity, and Stella got to sit on a luxury motorized couch which zipped up and down the street shortly before the sun set and we headed over to the tiki-bar-extrordinaire The Foundation for an acoustic set with the Bikini Beachcombers.

You couldn't have told me it was September in Wisconsin when the family settled in for a few songs on Bremen just north of Center. Tiki Torches? Check. Hula Dancer? Check. "Tiki Road Trip" author James Teitelbaum autographing copies of his book? Check. Hawaiian Ukelele Band The Bikini Beachcombers? Check. OK, order up a Mai Tai and let's go. Admittedly, we couldn't stay too long (and had to miss the Cocktail Preachers, who reportedly turned in a terrific set later that night). The Beachcombers do need to have a bit of amplification -- while we could hear them, there's only so much volume that can come out of an instrument the size of a breadbox, and sometimes the ukeleles were overwhelmed by Jonny Z's stand up bass and their own voices. Sometimes I got the idea that even they might have had trouble hearing each other. But overall, all the pieces put together point to a group of people who both love the Tiki misc-en-scene and know where the irony stops and the culture begins. I'd like to blame us having to leave on the increasingly tired and cranky kids, but we were pretty dragged out ourselves, plus we had a birthday party to rest up for. We'll be back next year. That's a full year to get a schedule published, guys. Get on it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wild Space at LakeShore Park

Wild Space at LakeShore Park
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Wow. There's not much I can say about Wild Space's performance of "Vanishing Point" besides, well, What a cool town I live in.

It wasn't just the performance -- which seemed more "performance art"-y than dance I'm used to (especially since I usually associate dance with music, and this had no music.) It was the audience as well: all gathered at the new park to see what Wild Space was going to do with it, on a perfect indian summer evening with just enough leftover fog and clouds to make the lighting that more ambient.

We gathered on the bridge to begin, and waited for the ship to come in, delivering the dancers. The cool thing about this performance was that it took us on a tour of the park. As one ensemble would finish their bit, we'd walk a couple dozen yards to see the next part. So Wild Space did what I'd predicted they'd do: they showed me the bauty fo this park.

Dancers frolicked on the rocks, they climbed on bridges. One of the more compelling segments was a group of figures dressed in ghostly white who moved across a rocky prairie so slowly you didn't really see them move. They simply just got closer. They eventually turned away and seemed to vanish into the inner pool of water.

There were humorous moments, as well, as dancers simulating fishermen made us laugh, and moments of romance as the piece ended where it started (having brought us around the circular trail of the park) on the dock.

Wild Space director Debra Loewen came out afterwards, to applause from the crowd, and thanked us profusely for coming, gushing that she was so glad to live in Milwaukee, a city that would support and appreciate a show such as this. I think we all are just as glad to live here, for much the same kinds of reasons.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Overdue this weekend....

Lakeshore Park Bridge Detail
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
This should tell you just how ridiculously overdue I am to see a Wild Space Dance company production: the last one I saw took place at the Gordon Park Pool. That's right, Gordon Park used to have a pool, and it had been drained and dry, and Debra Loewen and her crew went in, some, if I remember correctly, on roller skates, and turned that eyesore into a stage for compelling dance. I was enthralled, and almost giddy that we had such out of the box thinking working here in M'Woky.

Pushing the envelope doesn't begin to adaquetely contain what Wild Space does with their dance. For whatever reason, every time they have something going on, I have a conflict. Not this time. And to bring me full circle, it's at Lakeshore State Park, which, quite frankly, while it's "done" and "open," hasn't quite filled in nicely yet. The design is nice, the infrastructure is downright cool, but since the prairie hasn't filled in yet, and like that old pool in Gordon Park, it's an eyesore. But I'm quite confident that Loewen will show me the beauty of a place formerly used as a milorganite dump. Shows start at dusk Friday and Saturday, there's a (deservedly front page) story on the performance in today's Journal-Sentinel.

Saturday? Why, it's Center Street Daze. But here's the thing. The only reason I know that even one band is playing there is that my husband is in it. Dr. Chow's Love Medicine goes on at 12:30, or whenever the push cart races (which begin at 11) are done. I've googled up "Center Street Daze" "Center Street - Milwaukee" and countless other keywords for you in an attempt to try to figure out who else is playing and I came up short. There's no schedule published, and even half the bands booked for it don't know when they're playing. Really. When you google up "Center Street Daze", you get a bunch of hits, and lots of them say something to the effect of "We're playing Center Street Daze, but we don't know when we're going on yet." So I hope the people behind the extremely well organized Rockerbox forgive me for confusing their event (which also took place on Center Street) with this. I have no clue what's going on. OK, let's give the organizers the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant for this to be ambigious -- that they're just hoping people turn up not just to hear a particular band but to just take it all in. Ambigious marketing is always a crapshoot. I know if Brian wasn't playing there and I didn't know who else was, I might not even bother. So if you want to talka about overdue, the organizers of Center Street Daze are overdue for a schedule.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The World in My Neighborhood

17 Hippies (photo by Brian)
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
OK, I've piled through my 800 shots, and whew. I'm here to tell you that the Global Union was so fabulous that I just couldn't stop shooting, which is a lot to say about a MUSIC festival. I'm not sure if I can adequately critique this music on a sophisticated level, because it's not the music I grew up and am familiar with. A lot of this is going to be, "I don't know what it is, but I sure do like it" and maybe that's the point. I say this so many times, but music played passionately by people for whom music saves lives is great, no matter what the genre, place of origin, or language, and Global Union demonstrably clubs you over the head with that fact.

Actually, one of the wonderful things about this festival is that it happens at all. It's not a tour, with Milwaukee as its heartland stop or anything. No, this thing is put together by Alverno College at what time and expense I can only imagine. Since last year, the vendor booths have doubled (the were only lining the south side of the Humboldt Park Band shell last year, now it's both sides), and the sponsorship has increased. WMSE-FM was the chief radio sponsor last year, now it shares that duty with 88.1 Radio Milwaukee. Sponsorship was important because it was free. World class musicians playing in the park on two lovely afternoons for free-- can you beat that?.

And best of all, it was in Bay View! Not the Fashionable East Side, not Cosmopolitan 'Tosa, but the good ol plebian, polack-infested South Side! (I can say the P word because I'm one of 'em.) Not one month ago the American Legion Band was playing the classics, and now we have 17 Hippies from Germany playing gypsy-coated jamming folk music. The crowd was larger than last year, methinks a wonderful new tradition has taken root, so I hope the folks at Alverno realize this and continue to recruit whatever help they need to pull this off every year.

I missed the Hippies, and I regret that, but Sunday I laid down my blanket, chased the kids all about, and settled in for some terrific vietnamese egg rolls and an afternoon of World Music that rises above the usual "well we found somebody with a cool name so we'll play this and call it world music without editing for quality" that you often get with these things.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Starting with Haale, a poet/singer of Iranian lineage, it was clear that this festival is heavily curated. She was a good opener for the afternoon. Very intense vocals, and she had that gift of speaking/singing in her native language and yet still imparting meaning to the English-speaking crowd. At one point, she recited some poetry that sounded beautiful just for the sounds of the words (although I wished there were subtitles). She then explained a translation, and nothing seemed to be lost. And that's why she was a perfect beginning for Sunday: she set the tone of the music being a universal language as she sang, played instruments I admittedly can't name, and grabbed hold of a beautiful summer day for us.

this guy made clarinet hip again
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Up next, Ismail Lumanovski & The NY Gypsy All-Stars. Lumanovski is from Macedonia, the rest of the band by way of his adopted home of NYC. My first instrument was the clarinet, and so I could personally appreciate Lumanovski's virtuosity on the instrument: this man and his embouchure made it cool. The music itself sounded exactly like the band's name would imply -- very middle eastern filtered through Brooklyn and Queens. There were all sorts of percussion, as well as (I think) a bazouki played by a guy who was a handsome version of Gilbert Gottfried. At times, I felt like I was at a Jewish wedding, and clearly the crowd did too as they joined hands for a circular dance that seemed choreographed to the music. To bring us back to the Middle East, they brought out a belly dancer whose veiled dance took at least some of the visual focus off the band, but actually underscored how interwoven the music is with the culture.

Maurice El Medioni
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Roberto Rodriguez & Maurice El Medioni, from Cuba and Algeria respectively, took the stage next. At this point, I felt transported to some kind of Havana nightclub, perhaps in the pre-Castro days, reflecting the Afro-Cuban mix of culture that gave birth to samba, salsa, and a bazillion Ricky Ricardo reference. I don't know much about these two musicians per se, but knowing their ethnic backgrounds explained this cross between salsa with touches of Arabic scale flourishes. The lit on them indicates that this is a special project between the two of them: I did indeed get the impression that they admired each other's work and background and thought it would be interesting to see what they would do together. The results were indeed interesting and fun.

Dobet Gnahore
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
We all have to admit, the show's closer, Dobet Ghanore, was the finale to the festival that blew me and my companions away. The daughter of an Ivory Coast percussionist, she opened the show with an arresting a capella vocal chant with a tonal quality that hinted at Youssou N'Dour, except it was a woman's voice. That was only the beginning. Her training in dance, percussion, speaking, and all were seamlessly on display for an audience captivated by all her talents, not to mention her stunning physical beauty. Girlfriend is drop dead gorgeous, with a voice and a beautiful personality to match, and not long into the set the area in front of the stage was packed with men, women, and children drawn in to get a closer look. I shot some 400 pictures of her, hoping to capture her devastating presence. She led us in songs, and she told stories with an unnecessary apology for her English -- French is her more comfortable language, but we understood her perfectly, thanks to the tone of the day Haale set. She jumped, she danced, she played all sorts of drums, she traded licks with her band, she entertained the children, at times nearly had me crossed between tears and laughter, with that rich, warm African music that is really a fundamental ancestor of most of the music I love today. She left me making a point of noting her name and promising myself I would never miss a chance to see her again. Thanks Alverno and WMSE (and that other station) for bringing this all less than two miles from my whitebread neighborhood.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bay View throws the best parties

Anybody who at all questions the claim that Bay View has on the term "The OTHER East Side" only needed to turn up at Kinnickinnic Avenue on Saturday to know that Bay View has all the vibrancy, hipness, and community spirit that its fashionable city sister has, and puts on a darn good festival. Yes, I'm biased, I live on the South Side, but I daresay that the Bay View Bash was as good, if not better in some respects, than the venerable Locust Street Festival (which I'll go on record as saying is the definitive East Side Festival). As we were walking up the street and approaching the festival, it was Sammy who pointed out one of the ways in which it excels: "Mommy, they DO have jumpy things!" They had a kids' area, with things for the kids to do (including free inflatable jumping rides set up), things to color, games to play, cool things to see, and prizes.

It's going to be hard to describe the music, because, like any festival, there were several stages, and I had a 4 year old boy to keep tabs on. (Stella cut out early for a slumber party with her girlfriends. Great tangent here though: she reported to me later that after lights out/quiet time, they continued girl dish activities by texting each other on their Nintendo DSs. That's the new millennium for ya. Do I tell her that we KNOW they don't really sleep that much only because we didn't as kids either?) So if I managed to see, much less shoot more than the two bands I really did see/shoot, it would have been something of a miracle. I also missed the strongman competition and a lot of the skateboarding, but Miles and his camera were there , and he brings it to you in glorious oversaturated color in his flickrstream.. OK, I missed some stuff.

But I can't blame this all on Sammy, either. Every time I turned around, there was a friend to connect with, to run into again as we went up and down the avenue, noshing on Groppi's homemade sausages, really good Italian Beef, some of the best popcorn I've ever had, and enough penny candy (which cost significantly more than a penny, Sammy) to land me on National Dental Association's Worst Mother List. And I'm not able to list my usual "spotted in the crowd" because, frankly, everybody was there. If you've seen their name in this blog, they were all there. So it was walk, eat, drink, stop, say hi, gossip, tell them which band they MUST follow you to see, gossip, drink, walk, stop and watch band, check out booth, take kid to potty, go potty yourself, walk, stop, see other friend you just saw last week but gush over seeing them here anyway, gossip, comment on band you're looking at now, go potty, look at street merch, repeat after me "I have enough street festival jewelry I'm not buying more," walk, eat, jam, gossip, kvetch, dish, comment on cold weather at this time of year, panic when 4-year old escapes your clutches, stop, try to remember the name of that that person who remembers your name without flat out asking "Who the hell are you and why do I know you?" walk, eat, drink, party, go home, crash.

So I'll just succumb to bullet point highlights on the bands, because it was a great festival:

  • Brian reported (while I was getting Stella from ballet) that the 17 Hippies (over at Humboldt Park for the Global Union Festival, which I shot Sunday and have 800 pictures to comb through and edit out, and which I'll report on once I complete that mammoth task) were absolutely terrific. They were pretty much what you'd expect from a German hippy band: great hippy music, Euro style. Grant Richter picked up their CD, and we could swear we saw at least seven of the hippies wandering along Kinnickinnic.

  • At the "kids" stage (the stage right by Bella's Fat Cat, where up and coming youth bands test the waters), the first band we caught were a bunch of metalhead dudes called Neverending Circle with a Cookie Monster guy on lead vocals. I'm not into that stuff, so I can't say they were any good, but one piece of advice, kids. Tune your guitars BEFORE plugging them into your amps. Nothing screams amateur like blasting EADGBE through a Marshall stack.

  • The stars of the youth stage, in my opinion, turned out to be chick rockers the Roves. They looked hott, they played tight, they had great little girlrocker tunes that teetered on punk/new wave and they had attitude. All dressed in foreboding black, but they smiled on stage, so they weren't pretentious about it.

  • Brian checked out Knit Delicate with Sammy while I was delivering Stella to her slumber party. "They were good. I'm telling you, Bill Backes is in the running for most thoughtful drummer in town." I've said it before: I'm totally not into sensitive guy power jangle pop for more than 10 minutes, but there's something about them that makes you listen, if only because they're all really good musicians, and good musicianship often makes converts out of people who don't like a particular style.

  • Championship turned in a nice couple of songs folky countryish rock that I regret not seeing more of.

  • Dropmore Scarlett was a breakout band that impressed me. Another chick band, but obviously older strong popsters, with a touch of country twang, KD Land by way of the Go-Gos style. Lead singer had a great, clear voice that works well with this genre, and two guitarists who traded good progressions and modified arpeggio leads with each other. They're on my watch list, that's for sure. I had only one complaint. Their last song was a good song, but they either needed to rave it up more, or not have it be their last song, because it wasn't the kind of song you end an otherwise impressive set with. They should have used their second to last song, which had that kind of "OK, that was us ….NEXT" confidence that a set-ending song needs.

  • Lane's Called Shot
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
  • The Buggs had a great time with their audience, and having a ton of your Beatles songs on your setlist guarantees at least a few turned heads, but they deliver them well with the soul that covering the Beatles requires, but with the loud rowdy fury that a street festival warrants. (Nothing bores me at a street festival than some scraggly ol folksinger toiling away at "Blackbird" or "While My Guitar Gently Weeps") Lane Klosier kept the festival vibe alive by swinging a whiffle bat and balls at the audience while the rhythm section thumped away at a neverendingly repeated chorus. They looked like they were wrapping it up, and Restless Sammy (as well as restless parents who really wanted to finally check out Decibully) forced us to make our way up the street, so we missed melaniejane and her cello, but I heard it made for a great "Eleanor Rigby."

  • The aforementioned up and down the street interruptions prevented me from seeing Decibully. Brian managed to catch a song or two, but I'm beginning to think there's a conspiracy against my viewing of Decibully. Dammit, I'm going to see them sometime. The buzz on them, combined with the clips I've heard on their myspace page, have me believing I'm going to like them. Oh well. Sammy is only going to want to spar Kung Fu with me for so long.

  • Plenty of hippy acts on bongos and such were on the central stage, (including a very interesting blonde rasta woman picking away at her bass) but a happy surprise was seeing The Western Box Turtles' Danny Smith with an act called Avalon 4 at night, turning out nice beer hall dance music frosted by Smith's busy fiddle.

  • E.I.E.I. WHOA!
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
  • The highlight of the evening, many agreed, was the E.I.E.I.O. reunion that closed that south stage (Although Brazzaville, I'm told, brought down the North Side stage). I remember the first time I saw EIEIO: when I first moved to Milwaukee, didn't know any of the locals, and caught them at Summerfest, playing through a torrential rainstorm and not leaving, because they were so fun and rocking, despite rain that was up past my ankles. And it was like they never quit playing. They were tight, they were fun. Lead singer Steve Summers seemed right at home, whether donning a space cadet hat, or just jumping all over the stage, having a good ol time. And you have to love anybody who sports a guitar with these autographs, not to mention the fringe. Lots of old scensters were in the crowd checking them out, which made for another round of "Hi! How are You! What are you doing these days! Can't hear a damn thing over this music! We'll talk later!"

Like I said, I'll report on the fabulous Global Union World Music festival later when I whittle down the 800 shots I took. Rusnak out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The first fall weekend -- with an open Cactus Club!

Well, I'm starting to see advantages to fall. For one thing, I'd forgotten just how gorgeous the colors are at sunrise, and how you don't get these colors any other time of year.

But Brian drove by the Cactus Club last night while running errands and he reports that finally, finally, finally, it looks OPEN! Brian says the sign said "open" and there looked to be a lot of cars parked. Yay! As buildouts go, I've never seen one that went perfectly on schedule, but this one was especially plagued by unexpected crap. So I'm glad to see that Eric Uecke can now open his doors and finally start ringing up the cash register! I dropped by after work to see if it was really true, and it was! The back room, where bands play, still has some work, so we're still looking at another week at least before they fire up the PA and start to rock. But I arrived in time to see the finishing touches --artwork going up on the walls -- and it looks great. It's not the ol rock and roll dive (as much as I liked that ol rock and roll dive) it was. Now its a nice, upscale joint I can hang in while waiting for a favorite band to hit the stage. I ordered a beer, and headed off to christen the newly remodeled bathroom with a "Self portrait in rock and roll restroom" and Chris Lehmann did the honors in the men's room. So now that it's open, drop in and put some money in Eric Uecke's cash register and have him pour you a top shelf drink.

The South Side/Bay View is going to be the place to spend this weekend.

The Bay View Bash is this Saturday. Now there's a street festival that's grown wonderfully since its inception a few years back. Plenty of good bands will be scattered up and down Kinnickinnic Avenue: I'm looking forward to finally catching Decibully, and I always enjoy a set from the Buggs. This will give me another chance to check out Knit Delicate, and give them a chance in a context other than the last time I saw them. I think bicycling is going to be the way to do this: because a few blocks away in Humboldt Park (a good bike ride, but a rather long walk, and what promises to be a painful parking cluster would rule out driving) is the Global Union Music Festival. That goes through Sunday, and my pick includes Haale (from Iran) on Sunday, and 17 Hippies (From Germany, this should be good) on Saturday afternoon.

So yes, I have accepted that it is no longer summer, and am embracing fall. Mostly because it's killed off those dang mosquitoes, and the weather has been crisp and beautiful, perfect for these two festivals. In fact, the bright spot is that this is perfect leather weather, and on my last excursion to the Kenosha outlet mall, while it was hazardous to my wallet's health, I wandered into the Wilson Leather outlet. Hazardous indeed. I got a new wallet, for one thing! And we were about to walk out when I spotted the coolest, most badass jacket that I was ever going to see for only $50. It's not heavily lined, it has no pockets, but it looks good and sometimes its fun to sacrifice function for form. It will be wearable for a grand total of maybe 14 days of Wisconsin weather. And the next two weeks look to be those 14 days.

Editd to add, because THIS JUST IN: that set from the Buggs will include an appearance by Melaniejane on cello. Hmmm. That's going to be something else.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Its going to be a long two months away....

One fateful day back in the early 80s, I wandered down to my favorite record store in Champaign, a great little independent joint called The Pop Shop, run by one Steve Scariano (at the time, bass player for the B-Lovers) and Paul Rock (Beach Boys fan extraordinaire). It was the kind of great little record shop that learned who you were, what your taste was, and then would suggest things to you that they thought you might like. Yes, they did it to increase sales, of course, but you could tell they they really got off on turning people on to some new artist (or at least new to the consumer) and sharing that music. So on that day in 1981, freshly cashed McDonald's paycheck in hand (Yes, I worked my way through college flipping burgers) I walked in, and there was Paul's smiling face with an album in his hand: "Here you go. The album that will change your life." It was a hard-to-find (at the time) copy of The Soft Boys' "Underwater Moonlight" and he was not kidding. I can't tell you how much money I have since spent on the creative output of Robyn Hitchcock. I have seen him perform in every town I have ever lived in. A great set with the Egyptians in the mid-80s at Washington's 9:30 club was especially memorable. I sat through a hot sunny day of forgettable bands at summerfest (although Liquid Pink turned in a nice set at sundown) to be in the front row at the Rock stage for him (he'd just put out Queen Elivs). I stood in line, and then sat on a gross floor (I was pregnant, I couldn't stand all night) for the Soft Boys reunion at Chicago's Metro.

But I have to say, my favorite place to see him, and my favorite Robyn performances have been at ol' Shank Hall. His "guitar and a car" tour for "Moss Elixir" was a night of 12-string heaven accompanied by Tim Keegan (a nice earnest chap): and I finally met him that night and got my copy of that album Paul Rock sold me (and learned it was an Italian pressing to boot). The last time he cam through, he delighted the oldschool fans with renditions of "Only the Stones Remain" and blew me away by playing "Freeze" -- a song whose dissonance and complexity I didn't think could survive without a full band, but it worked. And I'll credit that to the room. I don't think it would have worked at the Rave, that's for sure. The acoustics and ambiance at Shank fit him. He comfortably walks through the audience, and the room is big enough to hold all his fans, but small enough to make up for the fact that he's usually alone. And that suits his style. You can hear every word he sings and says, and to a Hitchcock fan, that's crucial because he is a master wordsmith and storyteller. Even if he never played a note, I'd be happy to pay to just listen to him talk all night (and most Hitchcock fans would be perfectly content with a spoken word tour). But then he'll pick up his guitar and sing, and play (and he's fashioned himself into quite the interesting guitar player over the past quarter century) and I'm in heaven for a couple of hours. I don't know who (if anybody) he'll have with him. Last tour he had in his band, among other people, Peter Buck, but if that's what he needs to draw in the bigger cities, so be it. Plus, girls, even with his graying hair (he's aging gracefully and wonderfully) he is my all time favorite piece of rock and roll eye candy, and while its shouldn't matter to this married mother of two, that is the icing on a very rich, complex, and ultimately satisfying cake.

Anyway, Brian calls me yesterday and lets me know that I've got an alert from Ticketmaster, that Robyn tickets for 11/2/07 go on sale. I checked the calendar -- oh dear God, CONFLICT. I have tickets to Hamlet at the ballet (and that's going to be fabulous as well: Armani suits and music by Phillip Glass!) and my ballet season tickets are my dates with Stella. No fear, I call the ballet's office and as a season ticket subscriber, they're only happy to swap out my tickets for a different evening's performance. OK, ballet taken care of, email to sitter to reserve the Robyn night!!! OK, let's not risk a sellout. Here I go.

OK, that first weekend in November is shaping up quite nicely. Thursday with the Ballet, Friday with Robyn Hitchcock, and so I put out this challenge: Who's playing Saturday the 3rd to make it a perfect long weekend?

Edited to Add: my bass player, Dan "Myles" Mullen, reminds me that the last time Robyn came through town, Hitchcock played through Mullen's Fender Twin Reverb guitar amp. I don't know the circumstances, did Hitchcock's break or get stolen -- I just know that I would be most honored if Myles let me plug into that amp next time I'm at his house for rehearsal. Hell, I've played through Mark Shurilla's amp. Why not this?

Monday, September 10, 2007

My new bike shoe laces

My new bike shoe laces
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
They're really green. They're really green and obnoxious. They almost glow in the dark. I picked up these laces because I was at the outlet mall, buying new chuck taylors, and there was a selection of green and lavender and purple, and I couldn't decide which would look best with my new chucks, so I got them all.

Stella suggested strongly that I use the green ones for my bike shoes, because she said that since I'm riding in the dark a lot, that I would be seen better with them. And she's right, but I found out later that wasn't her REAL reason. Actually, she wanted the purple ones for herself. That's my girl.

I'm bringing this all up because I'm bummed out that fall's coming and I'm just not ready for it to be fall yet. It's bad enough that my glow in the dark laces are actually something good to have because it's still dark out when I ride to work in the morning. But this morning I had to wear pants, not shorts. And a long sleeved shirt. A cold front blew in last night, and while it's made those dang mosquitoes go into hiding, I'm not ready for this yet. Summer went by way too fast. Wah.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Rolling Right Along with Notes To Self

lining up
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I know I'm late to the rollergirl party, they've been going on for two years now, but there it is. I came home from a lovely bike ride and errand run and asked Stella, who I need to spend more time with anyway, "Hey, wanna go to the all-girl roller derby tonight?" Sure, she said. What's a roller derby? I gave her a capsule description, and we both laced up our Chuck Taylors, put on torn jeans, and drove our badasses out to the SW corner of Milwaukee county to check it out.

The Brew City Bruisers are not just any old roller derby. Lots of the skater girls have their fingers in a lot of other cultural pies -- every where you go, there's their logo. They have a good thing going here -- they've started a league and they're doing what any sports league should be doing, they're getting involved with the community via participation, charity, and general supporting each others' local business interests. Their mission statement (and they're pretty true to this) points out that they are of various "shapes, sizes ages, backgrounds, attitude and skill levels." But what I was mostly delighted to see was that same diversity amongst the fans who turned out. You could see older folks who could probably remember the old Los Angeles Thunderbirds bouts on UHF many years back (were there any other teams besides the T-birds?), and there were newbies like me and Stella, program-less and trying to figure out the rules, and everything in between. It's heartening to see a great homegrown bunch of broads put together events like this; I agree with their sentiment that it makes you proud to call Milwaukee home. The cheerleaders ("beerleaders") follow these same attitudes (without nearly half the injury risk), and the halftime entertainment is a belly dance troupe. Its this giant celebration of feminine power in many forms, and its equally wonderful to see that it's huge. Stella enjoyed herself, and I'm glad she saw this.

Afterwards, I headed over to the Mad Planet and caught the end of the Mighty Deer Lick's set. They were just the opener for a couple of other bands, The Box Social (formerly of Milwaukee, transplanted to Madison by way of college acceptance) and the Saltshakers. This was the Saltshakers' CD release party, but this was also oldschool band order, with the Saltshakers being last. Old farts like me are having trouble waiting until 12:30 to see a band, nevertheless I stayed.

The Deer Lick were the old pros, and they were terrific as usual. Not much more to say about that. They have the incredible knack of making their same set list seem fresh every time.

box social singer/guitarist
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Next up, the Box Social. Good power pop, with the emphasis on power and energy. These were high energy kids, constrained only by the limitations that their hooky melodies put on them. But they explore all corners of the Power Pop spectrum and even before I talked to lead singer Nick Juncunc afterwards, I knew these were kids who listened to a lot of different things. Really nice, almost metal take on the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime" that gave a good idea of what these guys were about. (When I mentioned this to Juncunc afterwards, he told me that it was disappointing that a lot of fans his age didn't even know the song. Ah, time to drag out the "well, for some people, music is only wallpaper" lecture.) And while I don't like to describe (or judge) a band by what cover they choose to drag out, this really helped me hone in on them. They weren't punk, they weren't new wave, they weren't Pure Pop for Now people (even though friends I ran into and I agreed Bass Player Dave Griesbach, all giddy for the Packer season beginning the next day, was so Every Mother's Son), they were all these things, and in a good mix as well. You know what they are? They're college in both age and approach, and I mean that in a most complimentary way. They're not annoying college rock, they're good, energetic, thoughtful, but powerful college rock. Juncunc was an engaging conversationalist as I gladly handed over $10 for their CD. Too bad I had a difficult time the the lighting -- I just couldn't shoot tonight in the Mad Planet.

And then came the Saltshakers, and I'm going to have to give them another chance. Note to self number 1: if you're having a CD release party, don't invite a band in your genre who's more exciting than you on stage to open. I wouldn't have wanted to follow the Box Social, that's for sure, and I kind of felt sorry for the Saltshakers that they had to, because they seemed tragically upstaged by the cute intellectual boys from Madison. And another thing the Box Socialites had on them was a variety of dynamics. The four or five Saltshakers songs I was able to stay for seemed to be the same dynamic, and that would have been fine if they had followed the Deer Lick, but they had the unenviable task of following a band as experienced (young, but experienced, the Box Social already has a tour under their belt and were playing out a lot before their Madison move), and they had technical difficulties getting up on stage. They had plenty of friendly fans cheering them on, and their songs aren't bad, and they're not bad. But I had the distinct impression they weren't in top form last night, and I would have hoped for "top form" on a CD release night.

This is the second time in as many times I've written about the Mad Planet on this, but I'm going to have to lay some of the blame on the sound mix. Is it the room? Sound people, please, email me and let me know. Am I being hard on the sound man? Are the Mad Planet's acoustics just plain impossible? Or is the sound guy simply asleep at the board? Really, Czeltic Girl (not seen a Deer Lick show this year yet where she and Chrystalblue weren't in the audience) and I agree: guitar and bass are two different instruments and should be mixed as such. Oh, and I'd like to hear more than a muffled bass drum on the percussion side. I know with comments like this, I can probably forget about getting booked at the Mad Planet, but if the sound mix is going to continue to be this crappy, then Note to self #2: I don't want my band to play there. And that's a sad sentiment, because everything else about that place is great: the airy room, the good ventilation, the abundance of places to sit and chat with people, the room to see the band, the drink prices and the general management. Just fix the sound. Somehow, please, Mad Planet, either get a better PA or a better person to run the PA or something. You have too much talent in there getting muffled. So much so that I can't properly judge a band like the Saltshakers.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Random Ramblings in the first week of school

  • The mosquitoes. I know there isn't a verb in this previous sentence fragment, but no verb is necessary. These are not your regular mosquitoes. These are post-apolyptic, super-turbo-chraged, radiocative, Sam's-club-volume mosquitoes. Bug repellent does no good: these bastards drink DEET for breakfast and wash it down with a human blood chaser. They nailed Sammy, and one got him near his eye, and yesterday it was swollen nearly shut such that he looked like Apollo Creed at the end of the first Rocky movie. All the new kids in his K-4 class freaked out when they saw him. A visit to the doctor and some prescription benedryl-cum-anti-inflammatory stuff that tastes like crap has helped him considerably, but he hates his medicine and I had to convince him to take it last night. "But mommy, I'm not sick," he said, eyeing the vile potion in horror as I measured it into a medicine spoon. "But, sweetie pie, Sam-a-lama, number-one-son, you look like hell. Take the medicine already." These bugs are going to ruin any plans I had to go see Paul Cebar and his wonderful Milwaukeeans at River Rhythms tonight. High temperatures this evening, humid, and by a body of water. Love ya, Paul, but I'm going to have to pass tonight.

  • I just got an email from my friend Melanie, who runs the Milwaukee Rock Theatre company. She's built this thing from the ground up, and they've put on some impressive shows. I particularly like that instead of simply being a reperatory company that just does and re-does "Tommy" and whatever, they either put a different spin on it (their version of Tommy had a female protagonist who specialized in chess), or take a collection of songs and build a story around it. So this email was asking me to vote for them as "Best Theatre Company" in a WISN "best of" type poll. I did it because she asked, not because I like these stupid polls. I hate "best of" things in general. I voted for MiROC, but this was in a field that included other local great theatre companies, like the Boulevard Ensemble or First Stage Milwaukee, that deserve recognition, also. I won't say one's better than the other. They serve different niches and audiences, and they all do it well. If anything, stuff like this reminds me we have a lot of quality here in Mil-town, but all a stupid poll like this does is determine who's got the biggest mailing list of computer-enabled nerds willing to take time out for a few mouse clicks. The ridiculousness of WISN's poll is especially evident in the "Local Bands" category. Here's a sample of your offerings: Boogie Men, One Drum, Heidiboxer, Athas, Cue the Violins, The New Loud, Decibully, Liam Ford & The Men IN Black, Eddie Butts Band. Notice a trend here? Of course you don't. Because all these bands are working in totally different genres, clubs, shooting for totally different audiences. Some play originals, others are strictly cover bands. Again, it's going to be a contest of who has the best email network. And this one is particularly stupid because here's what you have to do to vote. 1) click on the candidate. 2) give your email address (and it's not like MKE Magazine's Blog of the Week contest, where they're only using a legit email address to avoid ballot box stuffing -- only one vote per address -- you can tell by the checkboxes afterwards you're getting on a mailing list. I can stomach MKE's Blog of the Week, because there's only three or four to choose from, you get directly linked to the competitors, it doesn't claim it's the best, simply it’s a most popular that particular week, and its user friendly. And it's turned me on to a lot of great local blogs, like Phat to Fabulous). No, then they send you an email and you have to click on the message in the email to complete your voting. FOR EVERY CATEGORY you have to do this. 3) Then you MUST comment. You can't simply vote for your favorite. You have to say why, and then wade through tons of nondescript "Oh, they're the best and everybody else sucks" comments. And did I mention how user-unfriendly this was? I have friends who can barely figure out how to comment on this blog, wait till they see this user-hostile poll at WISN. So now this is a contest of who's got the biggest email list full of people who have nothing better to do than answer polls like this and go through all these steps. Ugh. I hate pitting artists against each other to begin with. I hate "Battles of the Bands" and I hate stupid "Best Of" polls.

  • The upcoming weekend, if not destroyed by mosquitoes, looks to be a good warm-up to the last few festivals of the summer. (The Bay View Bash and nearby Global Music Festival is the 15th, following weekend is the Center Street festival….). Friday night, if I didn't have private plans, I'd be at Points East for Rev 500 (a surf band!) and Deke Dickerson and the Echophnics. Saturday night is a CD release party for a band I know nothing about at the Mad Planet called the Saltshakers, but the Mighty Deer Lick and the Box Social are the supporting acts and that alone is worth it. The Saltshakers' Cd will be given out free to anybody who shows up, and I love a good free sample anywhere.

Monday, September 03, 2007

I Should Have Known

family of hardcore
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
It's been a long time since I hit a true hardcore show, and babies, I'm here to tell you that Hardcore Punk is alive, well, and still relevant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA. Actually, this year's Keno-Core Punk Picnic was strategically inches over the state line in Illinois, due, I'm sure, in no small part to the fact that last year's picnic included a call to the cops. From everything I could tell, they overreacted. Overreacted -- as in the part in Kill Bill where Bill tells the Bride, "well, I overreacted."

No, this is a family of a scene, and I had been debating whether to bring the kids, and I learned quite early mine wouldn't be the only ones there. I should have known. Aside from the occassional falling down drunk or freaked out ODer you'll find at any festival, (even a republican nu-country fest), this was a perfectly safe place to bring the kids, pitch a tent, hang out and catch a slice of a thriving scene in a specific genre of music. I think, though, my kids wouldn't have necessraily enjoyed it. Stella's more of pop kid, Sammy would have gotten annoyed by the mosquitoes, so it worked out for the best.

Well, not completely safe. What with all the rain we've gotten, and being out in the middle of the country surrounded by tall grass and cornrows, and the sudden heat/humidity spike, we should have known that the mosquitoes, mostlty absent this summer, would be out with a venegeance. They -- not the bands or my exhaustion -- are the reason I only lasted about 2 hours. But within those two hours I caught 4 bands (two full, two half sets), that were a good sampling of the various flavors of hardcore.

I arrived to see the end of the set from the Yates Kids. Straight up punk, established mosh pit. But here's the thing: I'd written the last time I saw even a remote hardcore show (Rollins Band at the Rave) that I missed the good old days when the mosh pit was inhabited by basically rowdy folks looking to have a good time. In the 'old days,' I wrote nostalgically, whenever anybody fell down or looked to be in trouble, people would stop moshing, and help them up. And that's what was happening here! I got jostled a few times and people would even motion a sign to ask if I was OK (and I was). There was this one girl who seemed to be emceeing, and she'd found a way to sing with every band as well -- and when she fell, there was the crowd, ready to help her up. This girl has moxie, though. she needs her own band, if she doesn't already have one.
Following was Pistofficer, a well-named band. Plenty of anti-establishment fury here, great smart-alecky delivery. This is not a crowd of people who voted for George Bush (either of 'em), that's for sure. (I actually never heard of an entire genre of music devoted to trashing Bill Clinton or anybody like that.) This isn't a band that just spews out, though. Lots of thought went into these songs, good rhythm, and enough anthemic, often glam chord changes to ensure plenty of audience participation outside of the moshing. I liked them a lot -- again, not totally nihilistic, but still great hardcore. Plus, since I didn't get to see Beautiful Bert, at least I got to hear Pistofficer do a song about Beautiful Bert. Is this a great family of hardcore or what?

Offend Your Friends
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
My favorite out of the four I saw was next: Fond Du Lac's Offend Your Friends. Clearly they were the visitors, but eventually won over the crowd with their intelligent ska-hardcore fusion. (A few asked them, "Are you going to play any real ska?" but that would have probably been out of place.) The lead singers forehead was bleeding by the fourth or so song, a great little ditty called "Damn I Look Good" which wonderfully made fun of people whose priorities are messed up. They worked hard to get this crew going, but they delivered. I'd like to see them in a bar sometime, and catch more of their message. Best of all, it gave me a super warm fuzzy to see the younguns picking up the baton in this political day and age. These aren't messed up kids per se. They're angry, but intelligent people, perplexed at the general state of America, they don't understand why everybody else hasn't caught on, and they're ticked off, pissed off, like Pistofficer. But their violence is not taken out on each other, or other people. It's in the mosh pit, and that's a pretty safe place to take out your frustrations.
After Offend Your Friends was done, the organizers set up a station where anybody who felt out of place could get a quick mowhawk while the next band, Monster Bait set up. They were well-named, too. Their hardcore was a heavy, heavy monster sound, touch of Cookie Monster vocals, but very sludgy, almost metal core. They looked the part as well: long hair, older t-shirts, headbanging. I liked the change and I would have stayed for their entire set, but the sun was setting and those vicious mosquitoes were out. I coudn't take the bugs any longer, so I headed to my car, and drove north.

You wouldn't think anybody could say this after a hardcore show, but between the beautiful sunset I saw along I-94, the cute kids enjoying themselves, the kids helping each other out, the intelligent lyrics, the tight bands, the general peacefullness of it all, the self-policing against any knobs who did try to ruin it, I'll tell you, I had a major warm fuzzy. What a great scene, this little pocket of good ol' hardcore punk. They're not blazing any new ground here, but like many of the other genres I love, they don't have to. Any genre worth preserving -whether it's surf or americana or prog or hardcore, is worth preserving well, and the Keno-Core clan is doing just that. They've found a way around the local cops who don't get it, and I'd urge anybody interested in the Hardcore Scene, 2007, to take a trip to Kenosha sometime to check it out.

Just to de-aggro, and also because I promised Blaine Schultz I would finally check out one of his 37 bands, I dropped into the Circle A to catch the Riverwest Aces, a roots rock combo that serves up your Dylan, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, etc. etc. With Blaine on "assorted guitars" (including steel), Paul Setser on accordion (it works, trust me, it adds a beer hall flavour to these songs that renders them ageless), and Jeff Lauwasser on bass. I'm not familiar with the drummer and other guitarist, but maybe I am and I just didn't recognize them. Whatever, they were a good way to come down from two solid hours of aggro-rock and being sucked dry from mosquitoes. (Blaine noticed their ferociousness the prior evening at a gig the Aces had outdoors in Cedarburg; Circle A proprietor Warwick Seay told me he was at a picnic just at Doctors' Park and they were on the bloodhunt there, too. So it's not just me). The Aces were loose, fun, good. I should have known they would be.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Labour (day eve) of Surf

You should be listening
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Bobby Rivera at the Circle A turned out to be nothing less than magical. Remember, instrumental surf is probably one of -- if not the all time favorie -- genres of music that I can go and enjoy knowing nothing about the band head in, so they already had a friendly ear and open mind when I walked in. (Though this could be a double-edged sword --if you claim your are a surf band and subseqently suck, I will especially hate you because you've ruined a genre I love. But you'd have to really suck, and not even try with your heart before I didn't give you the benefit of the doubt.) But I think part of it is the intimacy of that place, where things can happen that normally wouldn't happen at a regular gig with a regular state, but this feeling of playing in somebody's rec room one gets by doing Warwick's place encourages (forces) bands to loosen up, make friends with the audience (if half the people there aren't already friends) and try them as a sounding board.

Case in point -- afer turning into a set which thrilled the dozen and a half people there (many of whom were among Milwaukee's top Americana guitarists themselves), Warwick called for an encore and Rivera said, "we'll have to make something up." And so they did. He instructed key, time signature, general beat, let his standup bass player set the tone, (and the fact that this is a standup bass player and not a electric Fender Precision should tell you a lot about the tone of this surf band -- and they were off. But it wasn't enough for a crowd whose appetite had been whet -- Warwick led a demand for yet another tune, and they complied with making yet another one up. This time, the audience was solicited for parameters ("major or minor key" -- they chose latter) and they ran with it. "These two guys (drummer and bass) are jazz-rained, you can tell them anything and they can go with it," Rivera explained to me afterwards. And Brian Wurch adds perfect kitch on his rhythm guitar and his choice of clothes. But while his finger style -- which suited his hollow body Gretsch -- may have seemed country-influenced, this man understands what surf is about and kept me fixed on the band for the whole second set. Particularly illustrative of the mixed influences was their take on the surf standard "Caravan" -- an arrangement that would have suited Gene Vincent or Duane Eddy's band, but still brought to mind Dick Dale's piece of the instrumental guitar spectrum. Very very nice overall, I had a wide smile plastered on my face the entire set. This was an object lesson in how I'm still getting back into the scene -- Rivera's apparently been around for awhile, and this is the first time I've seen him. And I'm glad it was in the friendly confines of the Circle A.

Darrell "da Brains" Martin took over on the turntables when the band finally gave up and had no more to give. Brains drove us through surf, biker, garage before I jumped on. Various friends drifted in and out through the night, so here's the sets I put out:

Wreckless Eric, "Veronica"
The Fiery Furnaces "I'm Gonna Run"
Frank Black "Threshold Apprehension"
The Dukes of Stratosphere, "My Love Explodes"
The Hentchmen, "Cars on Film"
The Sugarcubes, "F*#cing in Rhythm and Sorrow"
Elastica, "Blue"
The Bongos, "Mambo Sun"
Sonny and Cher, "A Cowboy's Work is Never Done"
Ian Hunter (for whom I now have tickets to see at Potowatomi!) "Laugh at Me"
The Thought, "Eight Miles High"
The Yardbirds, (who I just saw last week) "I Wish You Would" (had to play it since they didn't!)

Set Two

The Kinks, "Shangri-La"
Sparks, "Equator" (and somebody in the crowd asked me if I was Poly Styrene after he caught me trying to sing along with the Mael Brothers, prompting me to fish out and play the next song)
X-Ray-Spex "Oh Bondage, Up Yours"
The Pixies, "Into the White"
The Happy Mondays, "Step On" (and learned from Shurilla that this was a cover and I should seek out the original artist!)
Big Audio Dynamite, "B.A.D."
Lo-Fidelity All-Stars, "Kasperov's Revenge"
The Box Tops, "I Met Her In Church"
The Gun Club, "For the Love of Ivy"
Cream, "Spoonful"

Set Three

Paul Setser and Angie Livermore from Eat the Mystery popped in along with Lemonie Fresh, and between them and the rest of the room, I knew I had some knowledgeable enthusiasts here and I decided to make an entire set of covers and challenged them to determine song, artist, and original artist. It was fun. I started out with a little cabaret to make Angie feel at home:

The Big Mess Orchestra, doing Eno's "Third Uncle"
Tom Jones, doing Portishead's "All Mine"
Husker Du, doing the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride"
Man or Astroman, doing the Pixies' "Manta Ray"
Siouxxie and the Banshees, doing John Cale's "Gun"
Cale, doing Elvis's "Heartbreak Hotel"
Adrien Belew, doing the Beatles' "I'm Down"
The Dead Kennedys, doing "Rawhide"
EZ Pour Spout, doing AC/DC's "Black in Black"
and the night closed with Mick Ronson, doing Rogers & Hammerstein's "Slaughter on 10th Avenue"

OK, I'm putting on my gnarly thrash boots and heading down to the Kenosha Punk Picnic. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

They don't mess around at Jazz in the Park

I kept on writing last year that i was sick of Jazz in the Park, and it was probably because I'm too lazy to really get into Jazz in the Park. It takes work to go to Jazz in the Park. You can't just turn up with a peanut butter sandwhich and a schpack of Blatz. This isn't some elaborate Packer or Brewer tailgate party. No, this is the Fashionable East Side's answer to the tailgate party. These people do not mess around. They bring candles, the freshest fruit available, wine that isn't Two Buck Chuck (though this crowd isn't ashamed to admit they go to Trader Joe's). They set up elegant little tables adorned with fresh flowers. If you're not drinking wine, have a Margarita. And if you didn't bring your own fixins, you can get one at the vendor stands. There's two flavors: regular, and Chambord. I'll admit, I went fru-fru and got a Chambord Margarita. Hoo, it was good. There are some people who actually drink beer (note, however, these are not exactly PBRs, and there are people who made me feel less inadaquate with either a standard serving of fruit,, but the family was here to see Deirdre, so we spread our blanket (hey, at least we bought one of those!) out next to the playground, where the kids played happily while we scouted the food and musical offerings.

This is Jazz in the Park, people, not State Fair. Yes, there was a hot dog/sausage cart which made Sammy Happy, and Flannery's offered hamburgers and cheeseburgers. But they also had buffalo chicken wraps; Louise's Trattoria, in addition to lovely pizzas and a plateful of Ravioli, also had goat cheese arugula salads. Stella has good things to say about Louise's pizza -- she likes a good thick bread pizza and we all agreed the sauce was tangy and good. Whole Foods was handing out free samples of their fresh beef jerky (very, very good) and smoked salmon spread. I noshed all night on samples and small servings.

Blueswailin', Jazzscattin, Deirdre
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I've written about the fabulous Deirdre before, and I was glad to see her get her chance to wow the JITP crowd, and wow them she did. While it was still light, she eased in with some impro versions of standards, almost lounge, very "And now, the Vocal Stylings of Miss Deirdre Fellner," but it seemed that she got rowdier and blues wailiner as the sun went down with the alcohol. By set two, the dance area in front of the stage was packed, and her band seemed to have loosend up as well. Guitarist Steve Peplin was almost musically invisible during Set 1, during set two he'd turned my head with licks that teetered on the end of almost not finishing their phrase (but they did). Bassist Eric Hervey plays this cross between that "Theme From Seinfeld" style with a touch of Stanley Clarke.

Deirdre herself was in top form. Again, by set two she herself had loosened up and knew that her talent alone had won over this crowd, and with that under her belt adressed the entire crowd as old friends, introducing stongs, telling stories, making you think she's just one of us, and then the music starts and she opens her mouth to sing and that's when you're reminded she's something special. Her eyes are closed a good portion of the time -- she's living this music and working it out from deep inside. Maybe its why I put up with the "Vocal Stylizations" part of the set in the beginning. It's kind of showoffy (but you have to impress this crowd with those skills if they're gonig to look up from their artisan cheese plates and note your name), but then she applies these to her livelier music and it fits in so well. They don't mess around at Jazz in the Park, and neither does Deirdre Fellner. Its about time the two were put together.