Sunday, December 28, 2008

Must be present to win

Originally uploaded by V'ron
That must be one of the rules of the Bucks' good luck charm, my Stella. Oh, yes, she was there last night, but ..... ah, I'll get to that.

Stella and I discovered a new cheap place to park near the Bradley Center (and no, I'm NOT telling the world about this -- suffice to say that it's single digit, change back from a ten-spot find, and it's not in Tosa, either), and things looked promising. Everybody under 14 with paid admission got a pair of socks, socks that still smelled like they'd been screen printed that afternoon. We took our seats, inspected the socks, and watched the opening montage, which is a countdown to game time with a clever twist -- all the numbers are shots from numbered jerseys from past and present players. It's sort of a subliminal KAREEM way of reminding KAREEM people KAREEM that there were great KAREEM players and KAREEM moments in Bucks history. Then, if you needed to be reminded that most of that greatness went down in the 70s, it's all done to a prog-rock hit from that era, ELPs "Karn Evil 9" (which most people know as "Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends....")

Back to 2008. The place is full: the weather is cooperating, people have to get out of the house, and Iverson is in town. They introduce the people who are going to render the anthem as "The Milwaukee Symphony" but somebody needs to be told that two french horns, a trumpet, a trombone and a pair of baritones does not constitute a "symphony." Good horn section, though, and they played it well. Only one question -- because these guys are top-tier, accomplished, symphony orchestra musicians, to be sure. You mean to tell me they still have to bring their sheet music to play the anthem, a song that most high school band nerds can play in their sleep? But still, what mattered was a good arrangement and flawless tone, and that they had.

OK, so tip off and the Bucks are off. It's a respectable game, especially since the last time I was in the Bradley Center to see Iverson play, it was a few years back, and Brian and I had these killer seats right behind the Philly 76ers press seats. We could hear the squeak of his shoes, and could feel the spray of sweat come off his head. We'd finally gotten respect for him as a player that night -- a night he'd broken his person record and scored some 50 odd points. So I was worried about what kind of damage he'd do to a Bucks team that is in a dangerously gray transitional phase right now. Not to worry -- they were keeping him in check, down to only 10 points by the half, and they're only down by 2 at the half.

Stella and I stuck around to watch the halftime show, but we probably should have taken the time to get the ice cream cones we waited until the 3rd quarter to get. This halftime show was Sem Cycle -- a pair of unicyclists who just didn't seem to be on their game. They rode around on unicycles and shot hoops, and couldn't make their shots! One of them gets on a cycle that extended to some 15 feet high, but then all he did was ride around on it. Stella and I -- who have seen things at halftime from the Red Panda Acrobat to the wonderful Jesse White Tumblers -- just looked at each other and said "HUH?"

We usually don't get a treat or anything during halftime or time outs because the lines are ridiculous, so we picked a lull in the 3rd quarter to go get a coupla waffle cones. For some reason, the line was ridiculous, and we were gone for quite a bit. We come back to our seats and that's when ridiculousness really set in -- the Bucks are down by 18. WHAT? How did this happen? What, we can't go get an ice cream and take a whiz without the Bucks blowing what was -- until we left -- a tight game?

"But I'm the good luck charm!" Stella said, in disbelief, as we both stared at the scoreboard. It was Bucks 53 when we went to get our cones, and it was Bucks 53 when we returned. WTH?

"Well, I guess you have to be actively in the seats, watching the game for your magic to work," I replied. Because, once we returned, Detroit didn't get much further ahead, and in fact, the Bucks actaully cut the lead to 10, which is what they ended up losing by. "Good luck charm must be present to win," I said, in a deep, Voice Of God tone usually reserved for that part of a contest commercial signifying the fine print. OK, next time, we'll get our treats at halftime or a timeout!

At least today was a picture perfect day to forget about all that, and go out to Red Arrow Park to take in some skating. Perfect temperature -- the rink held a good Zamboni-ing, the sun was out, the Starbucks seemed to have their A-list people working behind the counter, and we ran into friends while Sammy worked on his gliding skills and Stella perfected her arabesque. We took our lesson learned and instead of watching the Zamboni at break, we got ourselves some hot chocolate treats.

Final Bucks note -- there's a huge push to get Joe Alexander into the NBA All-Star break Slam Dunk competition. This would be cool for a variety of reasons, least of all being that apparently, he's a clever and funny guy, and this might be the ticket to some kind of celebrity that calls attention to him better than just playing "Hey Joe" every time he hits a shot.

Did they know it's Christmas?

betty sharpens it up
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, when you're feeling sorry for yourself, there's nothing like heading out to a benefit to be reminded that they're predicting the food pantries to run out faster than ever, and further, more people than ever before will be needing to use a food pantry. So it seemed more fitting than ever to reprise a song that was originally produced to combat famine in Africa to raise money for the Hunger Task Force.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I would have gone to Shank Hall Friday night anyway, since it's about time I caught Testa Rosa live. Thing is, it wasn't a particularly representative show for them, even though they were brilliantly beautiful. Lead singer (and songwriter) Betty Blexrud-Strigens has a voice meant for 4AD, as I've mentioned before, and their self-titled CD furthers that comparison: you can hear bits of Juliana Hatfield, Throwing Muses, and even touches of Sarah MacLaughlin in the songwriting, arrangements, and delivery.

But at this decidedly Christmastime-themed show, Testa Rosa seemed to remind us all that they (unlike much of the 4AD stable) are definitely Americans. Betty wails out Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" (a friend asked, "Wasn't that Glen Campbell?" and we agreed that it wouldn't be out of character for Campbell to sing it) with such convincing regret and authority that she could make a career out of tearful country blues. But then they jump into some of their originals -- including what should be their hit, "Weather Underground" and their place in the alterna-verse is sealed. Dressed all in black, right down to the heavy boots, she's as Cool as Kim Deal, but a lot more talented. Her husband, Damian Strigens, is overlooked in this band (most guys in bands fronted by talented beautiful women tend to be), and that's a shame. He rifles off arpeggios on his guitar, he adds subtle flourishes here and there, and he doubles on drums (and bass, or anything he needs to add). They did a newer song that kept people riveted, a storytellingly little dirge which I assume was titled "My Sin" that whetted my appetite to come see them on their own terms. Later in the set, they invited the Celebrated Workingman's Mark Waldoch to join them on stage -- they didn't need him, but his John Hiatt-like voice and delivery did add yet another dimension to the rest of their set, and forced a mental note on me to catch HIS band next time they played as well.

While the "regifting" table was being set up in the back of the room (brilliant idea -- come bring your awful gifts to exchange -- and of course it was yet another way to raise $$$ for HTF), plenty of friends of Testa Rosa assembled on the stage to recreate the justification of Bob Geldolf's existence. That crowd included your intreprid reporter, and I'm embarassed to say I'd forgotten exactly how the song went, but it didn't matter. On stage I picked out plenty of characters who appear in this blog, including Mr Chris Tishler, Dave Deerlick (and many of the rest of the Deerlick), Bill Backes, plenty of us raising a glass to Rich "Atomic" Menning (who couldn't be coaxed into joining the musicians onstage) and other people I couldn't recognize behind those Foster Grants. It was fun! I have no clue how it sounded (when there's 20 people up on stage, Todd Rundgren himself wouldn't have been able to provide good monitor) but it was fun from the stage.

Afterwards, John Sieger followed with a good set of storytelling, upbeat rhythm and blues, but even he admitted it was difficult to come on stage after a giant all-infamous-star show. So he was good background while everybody milled about, exchanging unwanted gifts, buying each other holiday toasts, and marvelling about the foggy warm weather. If we can just get through December, indeed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasonal Consistency

Back when Stella was five, and her paternal grandmother was alive, we took her to see the Milwaukee Ballet's production of the Nutcracker. Her grandmother, the late (and wonderful) Jan Wensing, who was always ready with a bit of interesting fun facts and advice, had told me that the general wisdom was that a five year old could be expected to get through the Nutcracker and retain interest right up to about where the Arabian Dance begins in Act II. While it's wonderful and magical, two hours is a lot to ask a five year old to sit still through. Stella actually made it all the way through the Sugar Plum Fairy that year as a five year old.

Ever since, we've made it a tradtion, Stella and I. While our normal ballet season tickets are comfortably in the loge, we purposely pick a different spot to see the Nutcracker in each year. This year, what with the economy an all, we had to go with nosebleed. The Ballet clearly knew this, and we took advantage of their offer for "buy one adult ticket, get up to two children's tickets @ $10." It was such a good deal that we invited our friends Emily, Lily and Lucy to join us, and it was a lovely night out.

Sammy overheard us talking about this, and he asked to go. Hmmmm, he's five, he'll last through the Arabian dance, so what's $10? And we're both glad he joined us. We briefed him on the story beforehand, and sang all the popular songs through it, and explained to him that this was where all these songs came from. ("Not the Tom and Jerry episode!" although that what he referenced.) He ended up loving it even more than Stella did as a five year old.

It works from the cheap seats, believe it or not. I wish more people knew this -- most people see that a night at the ballet can run up to at least $100 depending on the seats. But I've seen Michael Pink's version going on five years now, and it almost gets better every year. It's fantasy, it really does remove me from the crummy weather, the crummy economy, and it was a easy way to dunk my normally pokemon-obsessed, Godzilla-fighting kids into a pool of classic culture. Even though Sammy -- right on the dot -- started whining and fidgeting when the Arabian dancers did their thing, afterward he said it was awesome, which is high praise from his age group.

Stella, on the other hand, finally understands why I wait for the sensuality of the Arabian dancers, this year done by Susan Gartell and Andrey Kasatsky. As a gymnast, she finally appreciated the athleticism of that particular dance. Other standouts this time around included Douglas McCubbin's terrific Drosselmeyer, seeming more wizard-y than previous Drosselmeyers, using his entire body to communicate an otherworldliness befitting a toymaker. Ryan Martin was a particularly chivalrous Karl, and Luz San Miguel could almost be taken for granted as a lovely Marie. And Stella and I suspect that family favorite Tatiana Jouravel could spend the rest of her life dancing the Snow Queen. (Stella has a souvenir pair of autographed pointe shoes from Jouravel -- who once substitute taught Stella's ballet class and was inspiringly effusive, complete with enchanting foreign accent.)

But there was something magical and fun to watch a little boy, up in the rafters (we were in the very back row so he could do this without blocking somebody's view) "conduct" the orchestra through songs that he was so pleased to recognize. Every time a movement would begin, he'd light up like our Christmas tree in joyful recognition, and enjoyed the show way beneath. Stella, in the meantime, practiced her arabesques in the lobby during the break (and in the parking lot on the way out), and it was the loveliest cheap night out we'd had in awhile. There's no holiday tradition like consistent excellence.

In the meantime, we stayed home and watched the Bucks game from the comfort of our warm dry house. We sold out tix to a friend, and we're happy they got their money's worth -- a good, fast up and down game that culminated with a win. Terrific passing -- these guys are really seeming like a team these days, and even if they don't make the playoffs, it's good to watch them play this way.

Coming up this holiday weekend -- huge Hunger Task Force benefit show this Friday at Shank Hall -- hosted by John Sieger will be there, but the band/moment I'm going to see is Testa Rosa. They'll be fronting a (local) all-star version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" which will include, among others, Rich "Atomic" Menning singing a verse or two, a la Bono/Cyndi Lauper, et al. Shank shows are ending early, so there will still be time to catch the always entertaining Guido's Racecar at the Cactus Club. And speaking of club, Saturday night the Five Card Studs club it at Cali's in Brookfield.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready for Christmas cheer. I've had a wacked out month, and a few setbacks in my life these past few weeks, but I've also learned that I'll get through them, and the reason I'm not panicking is that I've learned that I have one pack of terrific friends and family (and those two terms pretty much merge for me these days: my family are my friends, my friends are my family). It's times like that that I think I really get this whole season: it's a time to be truly grateful. I'm grateful for my friends and family, and I thank you, dear reader, for coming and visiting my virtual home here every so often.

Finally, speaking of consistent excellence in our Christmas traditions, I'm about to sign off for now so that I can catch the rest of the 27th Annual Paul Host Christmas radio show on WMSE, 91.7. Like Michael Pink's Nutcracker, Paul Host's voice (as well as his record collection) is a comfortingly consistent element of this town -- this town that I've grown to love simply because it's packed with great music, art, and most of all, friends and family. Happy Christmas, youse!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dark, ADVENTuresome Roundup

No, dear readers, I haven't gone dark. I ran into some pals Thursday night who asked me, "Hey, has your blog gone dark? You haven't posted since the beginning of the month." Yes I HAD. But there's been some technical difficulties, and rather than bore you with the details, here's to hoping I got all the redirects right and all the backups fixed. Still having trouble with my domain (am I boring you with technical difficulties yet?) but you're here, so somehow you've found The Sixth Station. Lost a few posts in the backup shuffle, though, so I'm recreating from memory. And there was much to see in Milwaukee these past few weeks, so much that I missed a lot, and caught a lot of old favorites. So let's just round up this Advent season PowerPoint Bullet Point style:
  • Let's begin with my birthday weekend which started off with a fun, exciting, Bucks v. Charlotte game, which they almost blew, and then came back to decidedly win. It started out with a great anthem, delivered by this gospel-trained singer who just belted it out inspiring me to almost yell, "Tell it! Tell the truth! Testify!" by the time she got to "Rocket's Red Glare." She really set the tone, because there wasn't a dull moment all night at the BC. Even the Energee girls finally started to deliver -- they came strutting out in the 3rd quarter doing a routine to "Control" and they were even sassier than Miss-Jackson-To-You. Girls, this is the difference between sexiness and sluttyness. It's attitude. Keep this up. Because when you're like this, and my little girl says she wants to be one of you, I reply, "Then keep up with the dance and gymnastics training." When you act like a bunch of Airport Lounge rejects, both I (and her father) simply reply, "The hell you will."

  • We brushed off the snow (not knowing that the December 5th dusting with simply that, a brief dusting) and headed to Zad's Roadhouse to see a couple of bands for the birthday that continue to deliver. I've already written about how better Floor Model gets every time I see them; this particular evening they tried out new tunes that are reminding me that these guys are thoughtful tune and wordsmiths, who just happen to be working in the angry punk genre. Besides the fact that they do drop litererary, political and pop culture references in their songs, they musically drop plenty of cultural references too, not to show off that they can, but because it works. They played the "hits" too, and any band that can slip a Ramones cover into a set without missing a beat gets points with me.

    After the set, we shot the breeze with the boys, and I now have a macabre bet going with bassist Mark E Lee. The whole macabre conversation started when everybody (and I suspect this went on in a lot of bars where fine music is featured) started drinking toasts to Mitch Mitchell. We started wondering who would go next, and somebody had suggested Keith Richards. No, we said, not Keith. We already agreed on why betting Keith Richards to drop dead was a sucker bet but decided to roll the dice on drummers. Charlie Watts or Ringo? Who will outlast the other? I've got a free drink from Mr. E Lee that says Ringo. If Charlie outlives, I'll have to buy a round.

  • Opening that night was Danny Price and the Loose Change. He's sharpened up a lot since I last saw him, and one can tell he's been sitting in with Paul Setser and Eat the Mystery , as the songs seem to make light of melancholy. Consider the chorus of one of the earlier songs: "Take your sunshine, and stick it where the sun don't shine." Give it a happy melody, but sung by a guy who sounds like Tom Waits and dresses like a 70s TV detective. And then, give him a band that can just as easily jam out in a psychedelic way, and you have a combo that can (and should) share a gig with anybody from Floor Model to Jerry Fortier's Trance and Dance Band.

  • Stella and I trudged out to the BC on the 10th, racing after Girl Scouts was over, and got a great game again from the Bucks. Halftime entertainment were these professional trampoline artists that didn't just jump around like on the Olympics, but simulated extreme skiing and snowboarding. That was fun, but Stella was getting tired. It was a school night, after all, and the Bucks were down in the 3rd quarter, but I convinced her, "Look, if they don't make it to within 8 in the first couple of minutes of the 4th quarter, we'll go." And as you may have heard, there was reason to stay: they got their lead back, they got their moxie back, but they still lost. Her never-seen-a-loss streak came back, though, on the following Saturday, as she took home both a win and a "Luke Ridenour Growth Chart," which, as previously mentioned here, did indeed prove that he is not short.

  • So now we come to recent news. First, a huge shout-out of support to Andy Kochanski, whose concertina hall was hit by an armed robbery. According to Saturday's Journal-Sentinel everybody involved will be OK, but kudos to the JS for talking to a lot of the players in the story, and pointing out that Kochanski isn't going to let a random robbery wreck a special place. I know some people are going to be afraid to go there, but really, this awfulness could have (and has) happened anywhere in the city. Remember when Bay View was getting hit by those robberies? Did that stop people from going to Bay View for their nightlife entertainment? No, and I hope the Concertina Hall survives this, as well as "Doc" Pfaff, who was sitting in on harmonica that night, will survive his gunshot wound.

  • Friday night there was a lot to go see (including the interesting Collections of Colonies of Bees at the Cactus Club -- playing a show before going off to Japan for a tour), but my soul needed the family (well, my kind of warped family) that attending the CD release party for the Mighty Lumberhorn's "Nothing Ever Happened" provided. Yes, it's finally out! They had a wonderful collection of Riverwesterners openin up for them called "String 'Em Up" which featured a bass player who played mandolin (or was it a mandolinist who sat in on bass?). Either way, you had two ends of the musical spectrum, and it clearly influenced the sound he produced, as he played like he was very aware that there were several pieces to his band. As a result, most of the crowd agreed, he had a very sweet sounding approach to the instruments and to the genre, and it made Linneman's a very warm, friendly, and all over sweet place to be that night.

    Again, I just take the Mighty Lumberhorn for granted now. I go. I listen. They make me laugh. They make me chuckle. They make me appreciate down home music and attitude. They do songs with titles like "18 Wheels to Bethelem" and I can't wipe the grin off my face, during weather and economic times that would normally make that a difficult feat. Regular readers of this blog know I'm a fan. At one point during the show, somebody was whining that they weren't playing all the songs from the new CD: "Aw, that's an OLD one! I thought this was a CD release party," at which point I had to recite a verse from the Rock and Roll Gospel of Mark Shurilla: "You gotta play the hits." Indeed. What would a Lumberhorn show be without "What Would Jesus Drive?"

  • Oh, and traded a bit of gossip, as many of the former Wisconsin Citizen Action employees in the audience gushed about fact that Marquette and Wisconsin Citizen Action alum Mary Beth Maxwell was on Obama's short list for Secretary of Labor.
  • Finally, last night. We begin, as we have begun most of this month, with the Bucks. Last night was "Guinness Book of World Records" night at the BC. To be sure, there was a gentleman from the Guinness organization to judge and walk us through attempts to get into the book and "be a part of history." I have to ask, though, how long do you suppose one of the records we in the crowd set/broke, say, the "longest Mexican wave" (at over 6 minutes) will last? This wasn't an organic, crowd just came up with this, wave. (Oh, and yes, according to Guinness' Stuart Claxton, the "wave" is internationally known as the "Mexican Wave," BTW.) We were pretty much egged on, this crowd of us that barely filled half the stadium due at least to weather. They just led us in this until the clock ran out. How hard will it be to just go to some other NBA town, such as Chicago, and do the same thing, and just hold them out 30 seconds more?
    Anyway, the game. Anthem from the Brown Deer High School choir, and even though there were only a dozen or so of them, it was extremely well done. Standard choral arrangement, but well balanced and everybody was spot on pitch. Small, but effective group there.

    So the Bucks come out and from the get-go pretty much dominate. It's 8 points before the Clippers' bench sits down (giving up on their tradition not to take their seats until the team scores its first basket.) I'm pretty sure they never ever got within 8 of the Bucks the whole game. "Hon," I asked Brian. "I know they got beat in overtime last night, and they had to fly into this crap, but is it that? I can't tell if they suck, or if we're on fire." Answer: both. The Clippers DO suck, but the Bucks WERE on fire. You'd need both to have a 40-point lead that late in the game I guess. Even Seniorgee, the retiree's version of the Energee Girls could have probably held their own against the Clippers. Still, a win is a win, and I'll take it.

So, off to celebrate the win at Points East, where the Mighty Deerlick, (AKA known as The Reindeer Lick this time of year) had their annual Xmas show, where in addition to (recite the Shurilla verse again, brothers and sisters) playing the hits (because it's not a night with Dave Deerlick without "Choking the Chicken") they move on "Reindeer in the Sky", "Don't Believe in Christmas," and "Rasta Santa." Like the Lumberhorn the night before, I'm at the point where I just take the fact that they're going to deliver for granted. I still don't know how they do it, playing the same set and making it fresh each and every time. Opening the night was a reunion of a band called STaLL (mixed case intentional) and they did not wow me, nor did they turn me off. They were exactly that -- a good opening band for the Deerlick. I would like to have heard a bit more dynamic range from them -- they seemed to have a basic song formula that worked, so they never veered from it. Good vocals, and a terrific guitar player who knew when to stretch out and when to hold back, but maybe I need to see them in a setting where I'm NOT expecting to be shocked into laughter, which is what I pay for when I'm going to see the Deerlick.

Finally, I headed over to the Uptowner to cap off the pre-Christmas weekend with those masters of the poor stage, Eat the Mystery. Danny Price is with them, Angie is worldweary as ever, Paul Setser seems to be taking a back seat (which is strange for them), and Critter (of The Barrettes fame) is joining them on cello and fits right in. I'm there just in time for Angie to narrate on "Is That All There Is," and to be carried out in a trash bin while hollering "Good Night, Sleep Tight." Spotted in the crowd (and thus coming full circle) are Floor Model's Jeff Callesen, Mark E Lee, Marlavous and Dave, Paul "The Fly" Lawson, Lisa Mayhem, Danielle Champagne, and just about everybody else who's ever shared a stage with anybody who's eating the mystery. Neither Ringo nor Charlie are dead yet, there's a parking ticket on my car, it's blowing all kinds of snow, and it's time to go home and wrap Christmas presents, to complete this winter ADVENTure after all. As Angie sings, "Good Night. Sleep Tight. Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite." I'm off to the Nutcracker this week.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Simon Says Shoot Hoops

The Bucks' good luck charm, my Stella, joined me last night for a satisfying, if not boring win against Da Bulls last night. I'm stealing the phrase "boring" from The Bratwurst who continues to be my favorite place to get real Bucks analysis on the game, while I concentrate on the sideshows, general fashion sense of the team, performance of the Energee Girls, and such. However, we're still having fun watching the game. Right now, Stella and I are down with "that short white guy," Luke Ridnour. People, he's 6'4", he is not short. In fact, to prove the point, Saturday Dec 13 is "Luke Ridnour Growth Chart Night" so that the kids can measure themselves up against him and see that indeed, ol Luke is one tall mofo. At least the folks in the front office know that people would think he was "short." But he's a tall dude. And a fast one too. This guy hustles really well and he was on fire last night.
But yes, my Stella was there last night, and she has yet to see the Bucks lose. We had a good, straight up anthem from an operatic type guy by the name of Will Johnson. Johnson has such a well-trained operatic voice that I'm surprised they even bothered to give him a mike. Because he had nothing to prove, he didn't add any unnecessary flourishes, except to hold "La-and of the Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" out so that we could hear how big his lung capacity is, but that was it. Refreshingly well done, Will.

OK, let's whine a bit. I know the concession stands are staffed by volunteers that are making some money for their respective schools or civic groups, but would it kill management to give at least a half hour training on a little customer service? Like, if a register isn't open, don't ignore the customer standing in front of it. Try this phrase on for size: "I'm sorry sir, but that register is closed. These two lines are open, however..." Now that isn't so hard, is it?

So halftime entertainment is a -- get this -- Simon Sez tournament hosted by "Steve Max -- Professional Simon Sez Leader." What a great job! "Hey, I'm John Doe and I sell insurance." "Glad to meet you John. I'm Steve Max, the Simon Sez guy. Do you have a business card? WHOA! I didn't say SIMON SEZ!" Anyway, I have to admit it, he was good at it. He led two groups, the classic men vs. women, and I pointed out to Stella that the kids dropped out early because they just don't listen.He narrows it down to one guy and one girl, and neither of them are faltering. So he takes the easy way out and gives them both a prize.

Maybe that's what's been up with the Bucks until last night. They were waiting for somebody to say "Simon Sez." As in "Simon says quit doing those funky shots you never make" "Simon says play massive hard defense" "Simon says pass the ball a lot" "Keep on shooting from the 3 point line and count on it" WHOOPS! I didn't say Simon Says!

Tomorrow night, for our birthday weekend, Brian and I will head on back to the BC to see them beat Charlotte again, and the game's not televised. And after that, Floor Model is at Zad's with Danny Price and the Loose Change. If ever I needed a Floor Model night, it's tomorrow. I just heard that Atomic Records, after some 20 years in the business in one name or another, is closing its doors in February. OK, I have to admit, I'm probably one of the reasons why. With the kids and all, I don't have time to cruise the record stores like I used to and I've been buying my music either online, via iTunes or directly from the artists when I see them at shows. And the closing of Atomic is a symptom of a bigger loss. What a void my life would have suffered without the cool record store in every town I've lived in! -- staffed by people who were as passionate about music as I was, who learned my tastes and could always recommend something great that would change my life. I would have never known about anybody from Devo to the Pretenders to the Magazine to ..... the last piece of vinyl I bought before I bought a CD player, the Pixies' "Doolittle." And it was recommended to me by some pierced college student behind the counter at Rich Menning's Atomic Records. I wish all those guys the best and hope (and gotta believe) that they'll somehow still be in the business of moving great music from artist to consumer. Hey Rich, nobody said Simon Says!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fresh Charm School Reunion

charm school reunion
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Besides the Bucks' game (blogged below), there was plenty of music to be had once the tritophan wore off Friday morning. Friday night I finally ventured over to the "new" (geez, it's been open for almost a year now?) Liquor Sweets. It's amazing I haven't been there yet, since it's so close to my house, closer than any of the other bars I frequent.

What a concept: a combination cover band joint (the upstairs, which wasn't open), a sports bar which I have to assume normally has a fine selection of brews and then a "dance club" which is doubling as "The Globe South" -- where they're putting in original bands. It was "The Globe South" that I came for: with a three band bill I would have expected to see at the old Globe: starting off with the Mighty Deerlick. I paid my cover (which covers the whole joint) and found my way in.

You know when there's an economic recession when Dave Deerlick only sports two, that's right, count 'em two t-shirt changes. But that didn't dampen the show. Once again, they do their standard set, but Dave's onstage antics make it fresh each time. How do they do it? How do they take the same dozen songs and make them sound new each and every time?

The room cleared for Mad Trucker Gone Mad, and that's a shame, because they came in from Madison and showed us all how cowpunk is done. And it's not really cowPUNK. They were too sharp of musicians to do that. They were more just taking the idea of running country music in another direction, and added plenty of garage rock, a little prog, even, and playing it loud and fast. I'm actually surprised more Deerlick fans didn't stick around to catch the show -- these guys rocked and blew the snot out everybody's faces as much as Dave's boys do. And they've been around for ages. I'm somewhat embarassed this was the first time I'd finally caught them, but I'm glad I did. Just wish more people would have. Finishing out the night was a equally passionate set from Paul Wall's current project, The Nice Outfit. I've written about them before -- they unapologetically wear their love for the Fab Four on their sleeves, and put together perfect pop that works without making them look like the typical cute earnest boys who normally do this kind of stuff. Thus, when Wall straps on the 12-stringer, you know it's because he needed that sound -- and this was for a song that would have survived without it, but sounded just better with it.

Saturday, after the game, Brian and I arrived at the Uptowner, and in my mind I was reminded of something I've told Stella quite often: "We have two families. There's the one we're born into, and the one we choose." And much of our chosen family was at the Uptowner to see another of Voot Warnings' (increasingly rare) performances.

The good news was that maybe Voot might be playing out more, because most of both his sets last night were new songs, new heavy songs, some almost prog-heavy (and maybe that's due to drummer Vic Demechei's involvement with the Or band...), and many of them less funny and more deeply intense. In any case, it was like the old Riverwest reunion. There were a couple of younger fans there that night, (a few pooh-poohing the band, and in a state of role reversal, there was a twinge of "you don't understand") but overall I felt transported back to, say, 1992, right up to the moment when The Prodigal Son walked in after an absence longer than Michael Redd's, and took his place right in front of the stage, where he stayed almost all night.

It felt like Thanksgiving among the "family". Not everybody was there, (as many family dinners can be), but there was enough of people we hadn't seen in awhile that it was good enough. Lots of hugs, lots of smiles, and eventually, lots of songs we're heard a bazillion times. Maybe the band waited to play them because they thought that maybe they've gotten old, but like the Deerlick, Voot can play "Jesus Christ is My Wife" seven hundred time, and it's fresh each time. Kind of like that same green bean casserole you've had every year at this time. It's still good, and it's still fresh.

And most cheeseheads couldn't care less

So get this, we're walking into the Bradley Center last night with our usual wintertime grimace, and who's playing in the lobby but the one and only Uptown Savages. Brian and I are friendly faces in the crowd, they smile at us, and continue to play on to probably the most UNcaptive audience they've probably ever set up before. But they still rock, and nobody's grimacing.
So we get Jeremy Scott to wail the anthem on his sax. He's not noodling for the sake of noodling anymore -- now he's got this bit that where every time there's normally a note that would stand alone, he runs a chromatic scale up and down to get to it, so he's still in Bleeding Gums Murphy territory.

The game starts, and, well Michael Redd's playing but he's not starting. Bogut is out, but at least he's dressed in a sharp suit, he appears to have actually shaved, and he's reallystarting to remind me of Ashton Kutcher in those Nikon Cookpix commercials.

Scott Skiles does notlook happy. The team's lost (albeit, admirably, but this rooting for the also-ran is going to get old fast) a bunch in a row, and they're up against Cleveland. They probably just got off the plane that morning, had barely enough time to do the three s's, maybe get in a nap, and then go play after Bleeding Gums Scott renders the anthem. And so they're flat, sticking out so much because Scott was perfectly on key.

The whole night is flat. They're out there in their new red uniforms, and Cleveland therefore has to wear their home jerseys. Luke "The Short White Guy" Ridenour is the only one who seems to be on fire, and he's the one who gives them a chance. But it's not to be. They're almost tied, and Brian and I are deciding whether to cut out early and catch a band, or wait till the bitter end. We cut out after the deficit stretched to 8.

This year, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. Redd played, but you can tell he's not 100%. Maybe he's been working out, but he hasn't been playing NBA ball for the past few weeks. Bogut is out. Charlie V was supposed to be out, as it was, he wasn't 100%. They were putting on some big defense, but they couldn't shoot to save their lives (unless you're talking about that short white guy.)

And the crowd was flat. We're all starting to turn into Cub-like fans, I fear. We enjoy a good ball game, but we're not expecting anything remarkable to happen, and that's a recipe for horrible self-fulfilling prophecy. Rahne Taylor (I finally got a read on the correct spelling on his name), is even getting tired looking. I'm hoping that all these guys will heal up and get the spark back that almost had them beating Boston the other week, that seemed to come alive last night in the 4th quarter, that might turn them into at least a team able to give a hoot. But in the meantime, I'm trying not to be like this one cheesehead, who looked at the Uptown Savages for only three seconds before declaring he could care less.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Punk in The Pub

Pistofficer Rhythm
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Ah, "The Pub" at the corner of Wright and Fratney. It used to be called Begga's, and was the hangout for the Crazy Shepherd staff back when the Shepherd was on Wright Street as well. It was the place where Brian and I used to meet for a beer when we first started dating but weren't at the point where we were ready to "come out" to our mutual friends that we were seeing each other. (Gee, wasn't a place where the alternative press hung out a clever place to meet in secret?).

Before last night, last time I was there, it was to see Brian sit in with Dr Chow, before he became a full time member, and even then I wondered how they were going to cram a band in there. So when I got the Myspace message from Pistofficer that there would be four -- count 'em -- four bands (that would work on a bill with the band I'm going to go on a limb and call The Future of Kenocore), I really had to wonder how that was going to work. The Pub is just that. It's a PUB. It's not even as big as Quarters' Rock Palace.

Ran into Paul "The Fly" Lawson there, who explained to me that the Pub has indeed become something of a punker hangout. In fact, according to him, there's a punk house not too far away. And true to form, the punkers are good to and respectful of the joint. I was expecting it to be packed, and it wasn't really. (I was also expecting to pay cover, and nobody asked me for $$$, so I spent it on a fine microbrew on tap. At least the old Begga's attitude about beer is still there.) The musicians are generally good, friendly people, and they take their frustrations with the state of the nation out on stage.

Pistofficer was up first --and as usual, they rocked. They really are the future of hardcore in this state. Brian agrees -- "If they were in San Fran, they'd be huge. They'd be on Alternative Tentacles." While they don't sound like the DK's, they're thematically in their territory, as their songs all seem to ask a zombified, consumerist Amerika, "Will you people WAKE UP!" They've got a good book of anthemic hits, great turn of phrases, and they make the most of a stage, whether it's the 900 square feet of the Miramar or the cramped, usually-this-is-where -the-pool-table is spot in the back. I'm a fan.

Another Kenocore band was next -- I need to catch their name (I'll edit this post when I do), and they were straddling the line between punk and metal, but the did need to tighten it up a bit. This kind of music HAD to be tight, and sometimes it felt like they were behind their drummer/rhythm section. They have good attitude, and a distinctive sound -- just need some polish.

Fly had come to see a group called "Fetch the Pliers" (great name for a band) but apparently they weren't there. Instead, the third band I saw (and have to get their name too...) was a pretty good speedpunk band. I really need to bring a notebook to these things to get these names. They understood speed punk, and they had enough variety to make it work for a full set. Lots of speedpunk bands don't get this: if you're not going to vary your rhythm (which in speedpunk, is a syncopated 2/2 or even a 6/8, like a polka on amphetemines) you have to vary your melody, and this third band did. Now if I can just get their name, but here's the best part of Kenocore -- I'll hear about them eventually. This is a scene -- worked very hard by the Pistofficer boys and the other bands -- that is united enough to help each other out and promote each other. Maybe that's why it' lasted all these years. They get it -- they get that to keep an underground scene alive, you have to work together, even if it means cramming it into a tiny little pub that used to be a joint where alternative journalists used to go for a post-putting-the-paper-to bed cocktail.

FZ in Parenthesis

P - I - NKY!!!!
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, the annual Zappathing was a thing of beauty, and I'm saying this as a person who's not really into Zappa. (Despite the fact that Zappa compositions were used as both the processional and recessional at my wedding, and that I made it through the worst part of my labor with Stella by concentrating on the soothing but intricate sounds of "Return of the Son of Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar"...) But I can name about five Zappa tunes (the hits, of course, and the two I learned for a FZ tribute CD was put together by Jeff Hamilton and Paul Kneevers that maybe, just maybe, might actually see the light of day after, what, ten years when all those bands piled into Junkyard Studios to records our contributions?) and I really do appreciate the intricacy of what he did, both lyrically and musically.

So that's why the annual Zappathing was fun. (FZ is one of those artists that you don't have to be familiar with to enjoy, and maybe it was more fun for me because I'm taking the music at face value.)

Skirt continued from their offering the week before. (Another party filled with people I rarely get to see prevented me from seeing the Tempermentals, which is a shame because hearing Zappa compositions done in an almost country blues style was one of the highlights from last year.) Skirt's Jessica had on this terrific pleated polka dotted thing that belied her devotion to the music. You thought she was going to go up and sing torch songs. Naw, instead she jumps faithfully into the Mothers, backed by a band with the chops to do it.

Next up were these "kids" (whose name I shamefully forgot) who were a cross between punk and metal. They had a punk attitude (well, so did FZ at times, no?) and a metal delivery, and they did the work proud. A little shaky at first, but everybody agreed they're welcome to come back anytime.

Of course, the night finished with Dr Chow, and they came complete with a full set list, an inflatable doll for Miss Pinky (which turned the night into an almost stadium party, what with Miss Pinky being bandied about the room like a balloon at summerfest).

It's nights like these I don't mind cover bands (even though on nights like these, you remember that they're not really cover bands), but I'm still torn on these "Tribute Nights." A few days later, Linneman's had the "Nod to Bob" (a night of Dylan, of course), and a week earlier, ol Jim Linneman hosted "Kneel to Neil" (in case you haven't heard "Sugar Mountain" enough). It's almost like going to a festival of one kind of music. And when I do that, I get burnt out on it. I love Neil Young. I get Dylan. I appreciate FZ. But 6 hours of each?

I'd been talking to Milwaukee Metal Dave at the Steve MacKay show two weeks ago, and we both lamented the fact that promoters don't like to put together shows with too many different types of bands. It's always "chick night" or "glam metal night" or "folkie night." On one hand, I understand that bands want to attract people who are into the same kind of music, on the other hand, most people who like independent, local music appreciate several kinds of genres. These tribute nights, along with my conversation with Dave, sparked the idea that maybe somebody might want to try the oldschool Lollapalooza approach, selecting a pile of bands not because they all fit a certain genre, but because they're all good. I'd like to see all the bands that played the FZ night all together on a different night -- playing their standard sets. As a matter of fact, I'd like to see all the Nod to Bob bands the same way. OK, OK, OK, you all like Bob and Frank and Neil. Show me where you took that inspiration now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

FZ in a Skirt

FZ in a Skirt
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Frank Chandik and Tim O'Keefe's birthday was a great percursor to the Annual Zappathing that's happening this upcoming weekend. Like last year, Skirt's Jessica, with her Judy Garlandesque voice delivered the FZ like people never heard before. It's a voice I only get to hear on FZ night, and I told her as such. At least she knows this -- and has put together a band I hope to see out soon called Dynah Flo and the Roadmasters -- and it will feature her sweetie Chris "The Colonel" on guitar, and between the two of them, they could take the city by storm. I'd heard Skirt do "Why Does It Hurt When I Pee", but it's always a treat to watch a crowd react to that, as the gentlemen beside me mused, "Boy, I can't say I've ever walked into a bar and ever heard that song being done by the band.... and by a chick." Actually, that's what really made Skirt special. It wasn't just that Jessica bothered to learn the songs -- she knew them. She's an FZ fan and sang those songs with the knowledge and authenticity that only a fan could deliver. I'm not a huge FZ fan myself -- but like a few other people around me who agreed -- I respect the guy, like his music, and am amazed by people who can pull it off.

F'rinstance, like Dr Chow's Love Medicine, who followed, with equally precise versions of everything from Willie the Pimp to Harder than Your Husband, and of course, Dirty Love (which is in the standard Dr Chow set anyway.) I've gushed about this before, and you, dear reader, are probably tired of my writing about this band my DH plays in, but damn, they were good. Especially with special guest starts Daves Boyland and Cuzma in the horn section. The horns added a touch of class to balance out the raunchier FZ lyrics. Later, Frank (C, that is), came back for a second set of standard Chow tunes, and when it was over, we all went home and crashed from a satisfying night.

Part of that satisfaction came from the Milwaukee Bucks, who lost, but they lost admirably. Earlier in the game, they shot ahead of the world champion Celtics, who didn't get any points on the board until 3 miutes in. I knew that wouldn't last, and I was right. Despite a weak anthem from the Wausau High School Band: they were OK in a standard Hal Leonard arrangement until they hit "rocket's red glare" and the trombones just died. They went kaput. It was the worst case of going out of tune I'd ever heard. I felt sorry for them. And it was kind of the way the game went. By halftime, the Bucks seem to have died but unlike this trombone section, they got it back somehow. We had to leave (to catch the gig), but listened to the game on the radio, and heard them go into overtime. But since the band was playing at O'Keefe's, not even a silent TV was on, and I had to "watch" the game via refreshing a text update on my smartphone. Ugh. The Bratwurst covered the overtime decisions well in his blog and I'll leave it at that, since I wasn't there for overtime to give a firsthand account.

STFU Already
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The really bad part of the game wasn't the fact that they lost. I wasn't even expecting this to be a game. I am a believer now -- the Bucks made it a game and nearly beat an already hyped up and ticked off Celtic team that had already lost on the road this week. No, it was this loudmouthed, obnoxious, foul-mouthed chick that say a good five rows behind us but sounded like she was directly behind us. You know how every now and then you go to a game and there's some blowhard fan of the opposing team that's cheering them on loudly, but then at least he knows you're getting tired of it and finally shuts up? Well, make that guy a loudmouthed woman with a really grating voice, and give her the energy to keep it up the whole game. Throw in some foul language to offend the parents of the several school-aged children who were in our section, but also an intimidation factor that kept any of us from formally complaining to management. Even when Bango the Mascot came around to shake hands, we all asked him to do something about that beyotch, but she happened to get out getting a soda or something at the time. It wasn't just friendly rivalry. She was annoying, obnoxious, and ruined a lot of the game for a lot of us. We didn't pay $50 a seat to have this grating voice shouting in our ear every time the Celtics scored. So, since we felt helpless at the game, the only thing I can do is publicly humiliate her through this blog. You ruined this game for all of us, lady. Not the Bucks. Not even the Celtics. YOU did. Now go away. Please.

Finally, as promised, Czeltic Girl reports in on that Deerlick/Midget Wrestling Show that I'm now glad I missed. As she points out in her blog, it was Dave Deerlick himself who said afterwards, "I just know I'm gonna have nightmares." I love a good trashy exploitation show more than anything (and so does Czeltic Girl) but if she's having difficulty getting this one out of her head, I know it probably less enjoyable than just profoundly sad. Maybe Loudmouthed Celtic fan could help clear out the bad memories. I know she cleared out the good ones, that's for sure.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I don't understand

Well, there you have it. There were demonstrations in all 50 states last Saturday at 12:30 Central time, all coming together to say "enough is enough." Proposition 8 was the last straw. And I'm proud to have been at Milwaukee's City Hall to support this community. Hopefully this is the beginning of turning things around.

I can't put my finger on why this issue hits me so deeply. I'm not gay. I have some gay friends, but I have friends who are affected on a lot of the issues I support. Maybe I think this one just cuts so closely because people are denied basic civil rights based on who they love. It's like the ultimate government intrusion -- now you have to love the correct person and be approved for you to enjoy the same rights as others. So, as you may know, I rarely get political in this blog, but this is one issue I can't shut up about.

OK, as you were.

Garibaldi: Caroline's South for a night

Steve MacKay and apprentices
Originally uploaded by V'ron
That's what it felt like by the time Steve MacKay took the stage on Friday night at Club Garibaldi, flanked by two other tenor sax players and a baritone saxophonist. It was as though I'd gone to a genuine jazz club: well-rehearsed, yet improvisational and enjoyable for both audience and musicians.

There was a certain warmth to the proceedings, not like a bunch of cooler-than-thou jazzbos, but a group of people who'd been playing for years, though not necessarily together. MacKay's most famous credential (playing for Iggy Pop) was well-known among the audience (to the point where a few fans brought their preserved copies of FUn House for autographing) but it wasn't punk he was presenting this evening. He gracously gave each musician plenty of time to stretch out their chops, clearly confident enough in his own ability and status to be not threatened, but proud to share a stage with a group of dedicated youngones. As such, there wasn't a person in the house without an appreciative grin on their face. Not every note was skintight, admittedly, but we forgave them for the weaker moments, simply because the spirit of musicianship, experimentation, and a willingness to try to take everything a step further than they had before masked any shortcomings there may or may not have been.

I'd debated even going out on Friday -- it had been a long week at work and all I really wanted to do was go to sleep after I lullabyed Sammy down. But something told me to step out, and I was glad I did, even though the childraising duties forced me to miss opening band IROCKZ, who was just finishing up their set with a Stooges cover when I finally arrived.

Sikhara's lead guy
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Besides the other sax players who were obviously under his tutelage, MacKay had a guitarist and drummer behind him, and a gentleman who played basically a 4x4 with a couple of pieces of piano wire (or something of that sort) who'd played in the band that took the stage shortly after I arrived, Sikhara. Sikhara is probably described as half performance art, half noise, and one more half rhythm extravaganza. Lead guy Sam Lohman starts out their set by prowling all over the stage in a state of staged paranoia -- looking about like somebody's about to get him, and taking out his resultant rage on the drums. He's accompanied by tape loops (or their digital equavalent), and they're dead on. At some points he used a few props but it was up to the audience's intrepretation as to what the point was. Their set was about a half hour, which was just about the right length -- any shorter would have cut the intensity, any longer and they would have gotten tiresome.

As the night went on, it was difficult to imagine anybody having to follow MacKay, but if anybody in town could have pulled this off it was the Danglers -- and pull it off they did. They jumped almost instantly into "Aphrodite's Thighs" and in doing so, convinced the audience that it was worth it to refill their drinks and stick around. And that included MacKay himself, who joined them for an improv'd song that was so tight, so intense, that it seemed like they'd rehearsed it all week. I'm really sad that the Dangler's Tuesday night shows -- which run on a night before I have to get up especially early for work -- are almost prohibitive for me to catch, but at least I fought the fatigue and caught this. I'd have to put this entire night on the "Best Musical Nights of 2008" list (if I ever bothered to compile such a thing.). It was warm, it celebrated several ages of music, and it was a great combination of local talent and national niche.

The only downer was the size of the audience. I'd only learned about this show via some myspace bulletins two day beforehand -- and later in the weekend, as I gushed about this show to friends, the response was almost universal: "Really? Where was this? Oh, I'd have been there if I'd have known! Bummer!" I'm not sure if this was a last-minute booking, or if our press corps is just lazy, but there has got to be a better way of getting the word out on things like this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hope and Bounce and a Win

It's a few games into the NBA season and I haven't been writing my usual tomes about the Bucks yet. This is in part because this year (before we knew just how lousy the economy was going to be) we bought full season tickets (before we knew how good or lousy the team was going to be). Granted, they're in way cheaper seats, but based on the first bunch of games we've been to, it's going to be a long, albeit interesting season.

We've only seen T-Shirt Guy once this season, but maybe that's because we don't have a clear view of him like we used to. We have a clearer view of the Energee Girls, who seem to have all but abandoned any pretense of being more like a dance squad than the PG-13 rated strippers the NBA is clearly pressuring them to be. I'm waiting for them to do an interesting routine like they used to. Maybe they're just getting warmed up.

Stella and I took our seats. She's older now, and is starting to really appreciate the game, which comes in handy so that Brian and I don't have to hire a sitter every night. She agreed with me on the rendition of the anthem by the Hope Christian School Choir. It wasn't bad. They had a really interesting, almost more than 4-part harmony arrangement, and everybody sounded like they were on tune. If there's any criticism to be made, it's in a department they probably can't help: there didn't seem to be enough sopranos or tenors to carry the melody -- all I could seem to hear was the harmony, but really, it wasn't bad. It's wasn't your routine, just-sing-it-a-third-below-the-melody harmony, and it had some teeth to it. Maybe their dominant voices happen to be their altos and baritones. Get some more strong voice on melody, Hope Christian, and you'll be unbeatable.

Ah the game! Another exciting one for me and Stella -- Brian and I are wondering if Stella's the good luck charm, since every game she's hit, they've won, and when she's not there with us, they lose, and lose big. So I'm trying to figure out if she's just understanding the game better, or if, since the games are more exciting when she's there, she's just into it more.

It helps when you have an entertainment=packed package, too. Halftime entertainment, while not exactly last week's Jesse White crew, were these two performers from the Russian Circus called Bounce. And here was their schtick: jump ropes and ball bouncing/juggling. On their noses. While standing on each other. While jumping rope.

In any event, the Bucks are getting more interesting. Bogut even said about last Wednesday's (in the Journal) overtime victory that in the same situation last year, when down double digits, they would have just given up, but this year it's not over until that fat lady starts singing. We suspect it has a lot to do with Coach Stiles. He just doesn't look like the kind of guy who's bad side you want to be on. And we also are seeing this team hustle and flow and beat perfectly good teams without Michael Redd. Yeah, Redd's good, but now we're starting to wonder if he might be worth more in a trade. I need to see him play more and remind me why he's all that.

We also like these new guys. Mbah a Moute seemed to be this player who came out of nowhere (and that's no reflection on his african heritage -- I'd just never heard the name until his Milwaukee Buck-dom) and he's out to prove he's more than some prince. "And who is that short little white guy?" a colleague at work gushed, over six-two Luke Ridenour? Especially up where we're sitting, you forget that these guys are really tall, so that a 6'2" guy does look like he's just a junior at Pius IX or something. Still, he's been a treat to watch, too. And then you have Richard Jefferson (and they play "Movin' on Up To The East Side" every time he hits a shot, which was quite often at this game. "Theme from The Jeffersons," get it? Maybe we'll finally get a piece of this playoff pie yet.

On tap for the weekend:

Friday night is a tough call. There's the somewhat periodic (seems more often than simply "annual") Kneel To Neil event at Linnemans, where a pile of bands take turns taking on Neil Young. If they can promise me that I won't have to hear eight different version of "After the Gold Rush" or "Cinnamon Girl", I might make it there. Otherwise, I suspect the place to be will be Club Gariballdi. Headling will be Radon, fronted by former Iggy Pop sax player Steve McKay, this band that's touring with them called Sikara. Local support will be the Danglers and IROCKZ -- between the description of Radon, along with our local heroes, this sounds like a well=put together lineup. Then again, you have Danny Price and the Loose Change at Zad's Roadhouse with The Grand Disaster --a new (and according to Brian killer) band fronted by Floor Model and Chop Top Toronado's Mark E Lee. I think it's all going to depend on what kind of a day I have at work.

Saturday night is also packed. We're off to see the Bucks try their hand against the Celtics (if they can go the distance, I will start to believe. I'm not expecting a win here.) We'll have to miss the wonderful Bikini Beachcombers playing a set at the Foundation Tiki Bar (which I suspect won't go necessarily late anyway), but more because Brian has a gig with Dr Chow's Love Medicine, and it's at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg, and they're going a very Zappa-laden set to warm up for Zappafest next weekend. But most importantly, it's lead singer Frank Chandik and bar owner Tim O'Keefe's birthdays which means there will be Food, FZ and I'm sure plenty of drinking and debauchery.

But wait, there's more I'm going to have to miss. If you're not in the mood to see the Bucks get pounded by the Celtics, go to the rave and see the Mighty Deerlick at 7 pm get pounded by -- I shit you not -- Midget Wrestling. What the hell is this? They go into hiding nine months of the year and come out and back up midget wrestling at the rave. I will have to count on CzelticGirl-- who alerted me to this to begin with -- to provide a full report.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That's Mr. 4TA to you

That's Mr. 4TA to you
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's almost been a full two decades since my first friend (well, first friend who stuck) in Milwaukee insisted to me, "You have to come see this amazing band with me," and we trudged over to the Polish Falcon Hall to see an incarnation of the Trance and Dance Band. It was like nothing I'd seen before (and I'd seen a lot.) The VFW post atmosphere of the hall had been transformed into almost a seance -- candles flickering about, dark lighting from the ground, plenty of goth and hippie scensters floating about, and this band comprised of the standard guitar/bass/drums flanked by strings, odd percussion instruments, and a frontman who crossed playfulness with danger in a David Lynch sort of way. We sat down and within 10 minutes of their set a mutual friend whispered to both of us, "They're so good I don't want to tell anybody about them."

Needless to say, we all became presidents of the Trance and Dance Band fan club that night, and it was indeed a rare occassion when we missed one of their shows. Over the next fifteen or so years, we'd see them go through personnel (and instrumental) changes, but Jerry Fortier's songbook and presence remained constant. Their shows were always happenings, and yet their sets seemed to always be there, drifting in and out of songs. And then they just sort of drifted out.

"Hey, check this out," Brian said to me last Friday, while I was nursing a particularly nasty fever-cun-sinus infection. "Trance and Dance band at Linneman's Saturday." Huh? I immediately began concocting antihistamine cocktails of some sort (a mixture of Rhinocort along with a prescription Allegra frosted with 600-mg ibuprofen chaser ended up doing the trick) so that I could be in condition to catch the show. We had a Bucks game that night, but the Linneman's listing said T&D started at 8. "Yeah, but nobody starts at Linneman's at 8," I said, a lot more confidently than I really felt.

We ended up leaving the Bucks game early, not so much to catch the band, but because it just wasn't worth paying the sitter to see the last five minutes of Shaq getting away with ridiculous amounts of offensive fouls. (That's the thing about NBA seniority -- you don't get called on all your shit.). I dropped Brian home (he had the same thing I suffered Friday and it was peaking), ran the sitter home, and ran up to Riverwest, hoping to catch something of the set. I saw a band in the window, and made it in time to catch the last hour of what apparently was a three-hour pair of sets.

Fellow hardcore T&D fan Reed Conway was there: in fact, she was the only one I recognized. Used to be I could turn up at a Trance show and know at least 10 people. Then again, I suspect not a lot of the old crowd even knew about this show. There were only a dozen folks in the audience, and even Reed had to call Linneman's and confirm that this was THEE Trance and Dance Band, not some upstart emocore band of twentysomethings. Not to worry: 4TA was standing behind a music stand with a cheat book of his old songs, the book looking like some borrowed sacred texts with plenty of marginalia scrawled on what looked to be an entire pack of sticky notes inserted about. Chris Loss -- a longtime band member -- was on bass, ANDd guitar, AND various items including a homemade percussion thingy that he shared with Dale Kaminski, also in the band since I could remember. Kaminsky also picked up bass, and guitar, and whatever sounded right, and that's the way the whole band was.

You could tell it had been awhile since they played out; not everything sounded as seamless as I was used to, but that's not to say they've lost their essential magic. The songs still have a combination of both innocense and macabre, the band is still adventuresome in their arrangements and unconventional use of both conventional and unconventional instruments. And they still had us happy to see them on a stage again. MAybe they didn't promote this heavily because this was the first time out in a while, maybe they're like a lot of the older bands who don't promote heavily because a) they don't need to and/or b) they're doing this for the love of it, not because they expect to be the next big thing. But either way, it would probably do them a lot of good to promote the next show (and I hope it's soon) to bring in more people. They're a band that does well with the ol' give-and-take between the audence. Nevertheless, although I only caught the last third or so, I caught old favorites like "Buffalo Muskrat Show" along with either new songs, or arrangements of songs so fresh that I didn't recognize them. And that's probably what I remember loving most about this band-- the combination of familiar and foreign, so that I could be both comfortable and on guard during a show.

Glad to see you back, Mr. 4TA! Book another show soon! (Oh, and try not to make it when the Bucks have a home game.)

What WILL they play next?

Oh dear. I'm so annoyed with the new WKTI that I have to blog about this. In short, it sucks. But it doesn't suck because of the musical selection. I was already used to the same old dreck they played on KTI. In fact, as you can probably guess, if I'm listening to the radio for music, I'm listening to WMSE or WYMS. And I listen to them for the very reason KTI (now "The Lake" -- whatEVER) claims to have made the change.

Saturday afternoon I'm cleaning out my sock drawer (really, I was! And accepting that it was winter and rearranging my duds drawers to reflect warmed sweats and long sleeved casual shirts instead of shorts and tank tops) and I put on the clock radio in our bedroom just for some white noise. I normally have KTI on the clock radio because, when I wake up, I don't care what the music is (but I need some), but I do want to hear a A)reliable weather report b) reliable traffic report and c) major news headlines. Nobody else in Milwaukee could guarantee that. So on Saturday afternoon I hear this announcement: "We talked to you and built a radio station for YOU," in a generic voice over talent voice. "We heard you wanted a wide variety of ALL kinds of music. And we've even changed our name. We think you'll agree, it's 'Cooler by the Lake.' " Hmmm, I though. A commerical WYMS? And then what did I hear? Nothing I wouldn't have expected on the old KTI!

The next day, I sawCuspirin's column and learned that this is a national format known as Jack Radio. As in, they don't play jack. Ugh. There will be no voices for awhile (no DJs or announcers) and when they do return, they'll have a less prominent role.

And I gave it a chance, but every time I tuned in and heard that same generic pre-recorded voice talent say, in this voice that was trying to sound "edgy" but forgot to take off the quotation marks, "What WILL we play next?" I would holler back, while listening to Toto, "The same old dreck!"

Last time radio pulled this shit, it nearly destroyed itself and made itself prime for national takeover. I remember in the late 70s when Lee Abrams shopped the "Classic Progressive" format to stations all over the country. Control was taken out of the hands of local programmers; a strict playlist was followed, and soon, FM radio lost a lot of what made local FM radio great. And worst of all, this Jack format takes the one thing worth sticking with local FM radio for, and strips it away. It takes people out of the equation, relying only on marketing surveys and shoving them into some kind of computed algorhythm to tell them they need to play the Beatles followed by the Dave Matthews Band. No weather, btw. No traffic. No news. No reason to have them on your clock radio during drive time.

I mean, I'm no big fan of WKLH, with their "classic hits" programming and their "We don't play any of that [insert any genre of music that didn't sell 10 million units in the past 30 years]!" promotions. But at least they have Dave and Carol -- people who have Milwaukee accents, who seem to take part in the city's life, and such. And as for the other commercial stations -- they all have their local DJs and announcers, and they have personality. They actually like -- and are somewhat knowledgeable --about the music they play. They co-sponsor live shows featuring their chosen genre's stars, and ensure them coming to Milwaukee. Yes, I know that a lot of them are dealing with nationally-dictated playlists, but at least there's a certain level of Milwaukee among them, and they deliver what they claim to be. WKLH is, well, it's the Baby Boomer's Hits Station. FM106 plays nu-country -- if you like that stuff. WRIT plays the "golden oldies." Rock 102.1 is about the best possible commercial alternative station you could hope for (they do manage to pull of combining "commercial" with "alternative" -- I have to hand it to them). Lazer is good old fashioned headbanging/hair rock. Jammin 98.3 is our jammin Urban station. And they all are staffed by on-air talent that lives in the listening area, and aren't embarassed to tell me what the weather is, who's playing at Sumerfest, how long the drive to the Zoo Interchange is, or how the Packers did last night.

But what the hell is "The Lake"? It's trying to be what WYMS is: a cornucopia of mixed up music for people who like all kinds of music and want true variety. WYMS does this extremely well because it has what "The Lake" just jettisoned: local music fans running the show, getting together to determine a playlist that includes old, new, famous and obscure. Sometimes, it drives me up the wall, but overall, it's satisfying and delivers on the variety promise.

And then there's WMSE --who delivers a similar thing, but sections it off by shows put together by DJs who are downright obsessed with their particular genres, so that if you like a certain genre, you'll be truly educated in it at least three hours a week.

So farewell to WKTI, to Mueller, to Lips, to Gino at the Movies, to all the reasons I put up with hearing that same Madonna or Billy Joel or whatever in the morning when I woke up. We'll miss you. Guess I'll have to tune into Dave and Carol in the morning. Could be worse, I guess. FM radio could go completely out of this format, which means I'd have to get my morning drive info from some right-wing blowhard on AM radio.

In the meantime, I really ought to get off my butt and call in my pledge to WMSE this week. This week's decimation only proves that we need WMSE and WYMS now more than ever.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Win I've been waiting for

Oh, I'll gush about Barack later. I've been gushing about this win for a few days now, and I've only just emerged from a couple of late nights in a row, only to finally admit I've come down with my semi-annual sinus infection....
...... But how about those Milwaukee Bucks! Last night's game against the Washington Wizards was almost allegorical: like Barack's campaign, they started out strong, then had some setbacks, and for awhile we were worried, almost fearful that they wouldn't pull this off after all. But they never gave up, and had a final surge toward the end, that they convincingly won in overtime. At halftime, we got treated to Chicago's wonderful Jesse White tumblers. Brian and I hit the season opener last Saturday -- and I'll have plenty of games to discuss the new promotions, the new uniforms on the Energee Girls, Bango's new schtick, and my disappointment that the Free quarter Pounder with Cheese promotion is gone. Now, all you get if the Bucks win and they score over 100 points is a cup of coffee. That's a sucky economy.

Ah election night! Spent it with friends at the Gettelman mansion, crowded around TVs and computers (Twitter was the best source of news because you got almost instant reports flying across the screen from the networks). I was actually surprised as a cheesehead, that they called Wisconsin at 8:00:01, and even more surprised that the entire thing was called right at 10 Central time. Really, I was prepared for them to call California then, but not the whole thing. Good thing too, as Stella had school the next day.

And so I'm going to savor this win while downing antihistamines and nursing a fever, and have to miss the premiere of Song Sung Blue, the story of Lightning and Thunder, at the Oriental Theatre, followed by a post party with Thunder, Mark Shurilla, Dave Alswager and the Greatest Hits. Last night, Sammy was sick, so he and Brian missed a post-election dry-out hosted by the Mighty Lumberhorn at the Transfer Cafe.

At least Saturday night (after a fair loss, not an annoying one), I spent the Day of the Dead at one of Warwick's rare openings of the Circle A, which really was the best place to be, if only because I saw the BEST Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone ever (inside those costumes were Eat the Mystery's Angie and Courtney, never once breaking character...). Best of all, Ted Jorin and his posse arrived, including Ted's lovely wife Christa -- who was dressed and had her hair coincedentally looking just like Saffy. We had to explain to her that looking like Saffy was a major compliment -- and we all know she's a lot more fun than Saffron Monsoon. Ted slipped me a burn of the Lumberhorn's "soon" to be released CD -- and it sounds great. Re works of a few earlier songs, and plenty of irreverant bluegrass. Supposedly they're at the pressing plant now. I'll believe it when I see a disc with actual cover art.

It was also a good time to touch base with Darrell "Da Brainz" Martin, who was mourning his canine companion of 15 years, Stacy. Darrell had to put him down Friday and we're all brokenhearted -- Stacy's been part of the family for awhile. Heck, Stacy had even appeared at Trash Fest (and no, he was not harmed during the performance.)

So again, I'm grabbing a box of kleenex, turning on the humidifier, and finally admitting to myself that I'm sick. Good night.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My little girl is growing up

i hope she never loses this
Originally uploaded by V'ron
The week before last, the family loaded up the car and went to Halloween Glen -- a sweet little event the folks at Milwaukee Recreation puts on at Hawthorne Glen. You meet at the MPS Admin building at 50somthingth and Vliet, and the school buses take you to Hawthorne Glen, where there are a bunch of people putting on cute little nature skits at 10 stations along the nature trail. It's kind of educational, it's a non-scary alternative to kids who aren't ready for haunted houses, and there's plenty of inside jokes for the adults in the form of relentless bad puns. Stella's starting to get a little old for it -- she'll be the first to admit that, but at the same time, she always loves to go for the consistency of it. We go every year, and every year we groan through the bad puns, and its an autumn magical night in the woods without being scary.

And a week later, it's her birthday. She's starting to need to shop in stores that sell junior sizes, she's starting to have those discussions with her friends that border on arguments, she's in that in-between time of her life where she wants to be cooly cynical, but doesn't want to give up innocent fun and joy, and I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to tell her that you don't have to give up either.

Last Thursday, Stella and I went out to dinner and then to the ballet of the eve of her 10th birthday and *I* was the one who suggested dessert, because, it was, after all her birthday. That's when it hit me -- she's ten and in many respects, she's much older than that, but I still have to remember she's still a little girl. A little girl who still orders off the kids' menu because the chicken fingers at the Water Street Brewery are really good (they're almost tempura, rather than some breaded crap.). A little girl who still likes to jump down the last three steps in a staircase instead of walk down them gracefully to take her seat in the loge at the Performing Arts Center. A little girl who wears striped tights that clash -- in color, texture and design -- with the white and rose organza dress she selected for the ballet, topped off with her Tina Fey glasses that bring out that same absurd and cynical sense of humor she shares with Fey.

The ballet was OK. It was Sleeping Beauty, and we both went in sort of tainted by the Disney-fied version. Jeanette Hanley's evil Carabosse admittedly was costumed a bit like Maleficient herself (or Susan Sarandon's character in "Enchanted"). But we found that we enjoyed her performance the most, accompanied by her henchmen that reminded Stella of a rather malformed and decaying Blue Man Group. Typical Tchakovsky ballet -- big party where everybody gets a dance before the plot thickens. Best dances where when each fairy gives a gift to baby Aurora. And Stella and I disagreed this morning with the Journal Sentinel critic -- he didn't like Act I and thought Act II saved it, where we thought the opposite. I mean, after Aurora and Desire's wedding, wow, I know this is the ballet but *I* didn't dance that much at MY wedding! Overall, I have to admit -- I'm more into the edgier stuff that the Milwaukee Ballet puts on -- and this year they have quite a card full of edgy looking stuff. But I know that traditional, classic stuff like Tchykovsky and Balanchine et al pays the bills. And it is a grand showcase to show just how accomplished this particular company is. We've been hitting these performances for awhile now, they're time I've carved out so that I can enjoy Stella for the funny, clever, intelligent, quizzical beauty that she is, without having to deal with her little brother butting in, without having to deal with other influences like the TV or the computer, or anybody/anything else. They remind me how glad I am that she's my kid -- that I can go to dinner with a 10 year old kid and actually enjoy myself and her. She's the one that pointed out that the henchmen looked like the Blue Man Group, she's the one who points out that the King kind of looks like the freaky Burger King.

We spent her actual birthday at her schools' fall festival party, and the following day I treated her and some of her buddies to a day at the Zoo, for the trick or treat, and they're all at that same juncture -- trying to straddle that line between happy go lucky kid and ripe-for-goth-rock adolescence without losing their street cred.

I've got a picture of her in my cubicle at work -- she's five years old in it and she's running toward me, with outstretched arms with a look of carefree summer joy in her face -- and I hope and pray that she'll always have a piece of that in her heart -- and I know this sounds selfish -- because it brings so much joy to me to see her happy. Really, I want her to be happy for her, but it is a nice side effect that her happiness influences mine. So today, we went shopping, as mother and daughter, and had a grand old time looking for cute clothes, laughing at some of the stupider fashion trends (I'm savoring this time when we actually agree on this), and arguing about what to get at the food court. I'm wishing her not only a happy birthday, but many, many more happy ones.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Trash Fest: Well you can't accuse us of not being diverse!

Nervous Virgins
Originally uploaded by V'ron

Not only does crap come in many flavors, no flavour is exempt from crap, and this year's Trash Fest proved that all too well. The Rundown:

It was the largest lineup I'd seen in a while, and it needed to start at 7:30, 8ish to get everybody in. That means the hipper than thous didn't show up until some five bands had already played, which meant too many people missed an even better-than-usual Nervous Virgins set, led as always by Eric Griswold, fresh from his Burning Man decompression, with their really biting songs and the annual singing of their cynical re-work of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. This year, I could actually recognize the whole band: dressed like they really didn't give a crap, although they played like they sort of gave a crap.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The Fugs were one band you could do their songs straight up and still have it come off trashy. Of course, the Chow boys took a step further by evoking George Clinton and funkadelic, but this was strickly east village folky trash. Frank Chandek pretty much looked like a white George Clinton, and he played like it, too. Frank Zappa (who the Fugs would historically jam with, and who the Chow band worships) would have been proud. That guy I'm married to actually looked a bit like Ed Sanders, but didn't sound like him.

Cry, cry Coyote
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Up next, a bunch of Riverwest cowpunks calling themselves Cry Coyote, who delivered on some snotty inbred punk. Plenty of stage diving from the friendly crowd, who in a somewhat friendly way, proceeded to pelt them with all the crap scattered about the theater. Clearly they knew that at Trash Fest, this is considered a compliment. Problem was, some of the kids crossed the line when they were throwing some of the harder stuff. "Yeah, but these are our friends," one told me when I asked him to kind of lay it off. "Yeah," I replied, "You may not care if your friends get hurt, but that's my friends' gear up there and I don't want it ruined. Said kid laughed with me, and knocked it off. The band turned out to be friends of Dr Chow's Frank Chandek's daughter, and I'm not saying this because she babysits my kids; this band kicks ass. As I told them that night, not only would I like to see them at a regular gig, I might even pay cover to do so.

Vanilla Ice Cream -- Yum.
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Sixthstation favorites Floor Model tore apart horrid lame ass rap with an incarnation of Vanilla Ice, adding some cream. And the cream was curdled -- Andy struts out and revs up the crowd oldschool, dressed in an ice cream man's getup. Another guest literally scratched some vinyl by letting his damn medallion lean on the turntable. It was very, very bad, and thus drew cheers from the crowd, swimming in a sea of trash by the time their actual music instruments went out of tune.

As somebody who's covered Stunning and Glare myself, I was looking forward to the Louie and Cher show and they did not disappoint. Brother Louie's Louie played foil to Roni Allwaise's Cher, and they nailed the constant berating of each other from the old series. Too bad I was too close to the stage to get a good fix on the sent-up lyrics that Roni clearly took some care to warp, but she had the voice, the mannerisms down -- all the way down to the constant brushing the bangs out of her face that drove me nuts on the real Cher when I was a kid. The costumes were spot on. Oh, and a top trash fest compliment -- did I mention they sucked?

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
A taste of Kenocore was up next -- I've already mentioned in this blog that I'm a fan of Pistofficer, and their performance -- in lieu of the dearly departed Beautiful Bert -- assured me that the future of Kenocore is in good hands. They pounded out four tight, anthemic hardcore hits, and clearly used every scrap of trash as props, as stage cushion, and ran with it. They got it.Trash Fest is half parody, half just trashy good time and they were the latter, and afterward they took it all in, clearly enjoying themselves and getting into the spirit of the festivities. They hit the stage with "Whaaaaatttt the fuuuuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkkkkk...." and left the stage decrying "The End of Our Rights" and I'm sure gained a few more fans in the process.

nursery crime
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Did I mention that I -- along with a rotating staff of judges that included Whispering Jeff, Bob Jorin and Lars Kvam -- spent the evening sitting in judgment of "America's Next to Worst Band"? I think we all agree that Nursery Crime (Eat the Mystery, making the "poor stage" look like it was set in one of JohnCindy McCain's mansions by comparison) couldn't possibly win the competition because they weren't the Next to Worst Band. They were flat out theworst. The schtick was criminally horrid takes on children's songs and tales, and all I could hear in my head was Leonard Pinth-Garnell shaking his head, saying, "That wasn't so good, now, was it?"
Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn. Wow. Where did The Fly find these guys? (He said later he ran across them at a Brew City Bruisers event.) Anyway, these glamour pusses hit the state, blew us all away with a Ballroom Blitz and didn't let up as they pounded through T Rex and other British glam greats, saving the king of them all, the thin white one himself, for last. As i mentioned that night, whoda thunk that the band that would get everybody on the dance floor, old school moshing and slam dancing like it was a Black Flag show circa 1982, would be a bunch of 70s style made up glam boys. They were almost too good for Trash Fest, saving them was the fact that they were working an inherently trashy (hollywood trashy, nonetheless trashy) androgynous genre. I need to find out their real name and keep a lookout for them. Binky Tunny and Miramar Proprietor Bill Stace filled some time with some great, trashy Ramones hits, and Bill's presence behind the drums reminded us all that we wished he'd get back there more often, and his sound men that the havoc that was being wreaked didn't faze the owner one bit, so why should it faze them?

Tradition kicked it, in the form of a dependably performance from Mark Shurilla and the Electric Assholes, complete with Mr Shiny Pants on guitar (he's really good -- Mark needs to pull him out more). The Kenocore kids especially appreciated the annual polkaing to "Blitzkrieg Over Kenosha." I have to yell at Miles on bass though. (You may think I'm being hard on him, but he's normally Mr I Never Get A Chord Wrong that I will seize any opportunity to give him a hard time on those rare occassions when he actually does blow it.) And blew it he did -- Shurilla was going off on one of his improvised current events commentaries, set to the tune of Country Joe and the Fish's "Fixin to Die Rag" OK, I'll give you this, the bridge and the chorus have a bit of a tricky little progression there, but nothing a quick google search for "Country Joe MacDonald Bass Tab" wouldn't have solved, lending more biting humor to Shurilla's necessary update to the antiwar classic. On the other hand, this was trash fest, and up until that point, they weren't sucking one single bit.

Dave loves the dead
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I gotta say, though, usually you can count on Shurilla to be the most tasteless jokester of the night, but that honor really had to go to Dave Alswager's Bad Alice. From a pathetic "Only Women Bleed" to a Binky-as-Sexual-Zombie take on "I Love The Dead", Alswager had the Coop's voice down, with almost as many stage props and antics as ol Vince himself. Simulating a one-man bukkakke, a brain eating adventure, and (at least he wasn't beheading chickens) it closed one of the more varied (from punk to cowpunk to glam to cabaret to everything) I'd been at. Don't tell me Milwaukee isn't a diverse town.