The Power of The Surf

Caroline "sCare-oline" Helmeczi
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Nothing, I say nothing, cures the winter blues like instrumental surf, that's what I say. I can't remember if it was Transistor Royale's Eric Knitter or Jonny Z, but I ran into both of them after their terrific set at Vnuk's last night, and like everybody else in the midwest, we spent a couple of minutes to kvetch about this weather, and pointed out that having surf music in the car has been a soul saving experience. It just warms a body up.

And that's how I felt strolling into the (yet another) criminally empty room at Vnuk's for a fabulous triple bill of American music: up and coming surfmeisters Transistor Royale, the fabulous Bobby Rivera and the Rivieras, and Vancouver's Big John Bates the the Voodoo Dollz. Within two songs of Transistor Royale's set i felt a warm breeze come over me. They were terrific, and Jonny Z's radio background translates nicely to the stage, where he just as well could have emcee'd the evening. He's doing well on guitar as well. There was one point in the set where they stumbled and got a little lost, but they made up for it, and I'm chalking that up to the Second Gig Ever curse. (You know how that goes. First Gig Ever kicks major dupah. Everybody raves. Band gets over opening night jitters and doesn't approach Second Gig as carefully. They learn a lesson and go on to rock at Third Gig.)

Up next on this chilly Wednesday night is Bobby Rivera, who I expected a full surf set from, but his Rivieras have grown to include a new female singer named Paula, whose last name I will have to get later. She strolls on stage quite unassumingly, and is almost awkward strapping on her acoustic guitar, but then she opens her mouth to sing and it's this combination of Janis Joplin's phrasing with Etta James' clear voice, run through a country blues sensibility. So while I was in the mood for the inland surf that Rivera delivers, I was quite impressed and happy with this new addition. She did add to the surf songs, or else sat out. And I think I've mentioned this before, but the whole band approaches the surf genre with a combination of country and jazz, which makes it a compelling listen. I'm a fan.

As regular readers of this blog know, I just got a new job, so I'm not at the point where I can stroll into work all strung out, going, "Oh maaaaan, I went and saw this band last night and I'm massively strung out maaaaannnn." So I had to keep it an early night, which prevented me from catching the entire set of Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz, but actually, they weren't a band for a Wednesday night anyway.

So after five or so songs, I had to turn it in, and here's my take: Big John Bates has a voice and a musical bent very much like The Reverend Horton Heat. The schtick here is psychobilly with an added touch of horrorshow burlesque. Every couple of songs feature these two fabulous old school burlesque stripper chicks who do a costume change for each song they're featured on. (Favorite was the pasties with flaming wicks hanging off them). Bass player Caroline Helmeczi is a sight to behold herself, and frankly, she's the musically compelling one in this band. Big John Bates, who had the misfortune of having to follow Bobby Rivera's virtuosity, thusly didn't blow me away. Oh, he was good, yes, but I think the appeal of this act is the whole package: the dancing girls, the smoke machine, the red lights, the "We're having a birthday party for Elvira" vibe. And since Bates vocally sounds like the Reverend (both tonally and thematically -- all the songs are about drinkin' and havin' sex and goin' to hell because of it!) I found myself comparing his guitar chops to the Reverend's -- and few guitar players survive that comparison. Still, they were fun, and if I didn't have a clock ticking, I would have enjoyed the entire set, I'm sure.


Follow up on Beautiful Bert: email from Buzz, the garage rock DJ (Fridays, noon to 3 on WMSE 91.6). Buzz will be doing an on-air tribute to Bert (well, the stuff he possibly COULD put on air without jeopardizing 'MSE's FCC license) and Buzz just passed on what he found:

Beautiful Bert Memorial @ The Den Again This Saturday
Body: 03/01/2008 07:00 PM 21+ -
The Den Again
6501 Washington Ave (HWY 20)
Racine, Wisconsin 53106

7pm food bands and enough room for everyone. come celebrate BEAUTIFUL BERT’S life at “The Den” Located in Racine on HY-20 inside the Paradise Lanes bowling alley. Will be excepting donations. There are two more Bert Memorials/ Benefits TBA @ The Den Again (which will be all ages). As well as a benefit next Saturday 3-8-08 @ The Hatrix. More TBA

Sturino Funeral Home in Racine (262) 632-4479 2pm-4pm
Yahoo! Maps - 3014 Northwestern Ave, Racine, WI 53404-1917

Pictures to share may be uploaded to the BB Slags web site. If there are pictures you would like to share on display at the wake bring them with you Any pictures, pictures boards can be brought there early or to Chris Pavlovich 5032 6th ave apt 3. 764-4603 to get your pictures back write name and phone number on the back.

There is a bank account now open for donations to help pay for the funeral costs. AMCCU there are 3 in town….when you go to the window tell them you are depositing into CRYSTAL STEWARTS ….BEAUTIFUL BERT ACCOUNT…… ALL MONEY DONATED WILL BE GOING TO PAY FOR THE FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS AND IF THERE IS ANYTHING LEFT AFTER THE BILLS ARE PAID THE REMAINDER WILL GO TOWARDS FOOD AND EXTRAS FOR THE BENEFIT SHOW TO FOLLOW THE FUNERAL!!!!

No, I didn't bother editing for grammar and spelling, and neither did Buzz. That would have been so anti-punk.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the good word regarding Bobby Rivera and the Riviera's new singer. I didn't know about Beautiful Bert, guess I'm out of the loop these days. Played a few shows with him many years ago. He will be missed.

Brian K (Rivieras' drummer)

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