Sunday, June 29, 2008

Unlikely Pairings in the Summers of '78 to '08

Reno 414
Originally uploaded by V'ron
We're three, almost four days into Summerfest and I still don't know which day I'm going. There's been so much else going on that it hasn't been a priority for me, and as regular readers of this blog know, I don't go to Summerfest for the music, per se. I go to people watch, eat, hang with the kids, and take it all in. I'm leaning strongly toward Monday; Bootsy Collins will be there, and since he wasn't with George Clinton earlier this year, this might be a good chance.

But really, there's been plenty going on outside of Maier Festival Park, and I'm sure the folks at Summerfest won't notice if I don't give them the same percentage of coverage that the rest of the media in this town gives them, so I'll just highlight a few other musical things I've seen lately.

We are starting off our summer with sixthstation favorites, the Five Card Studs. I'm not sure if I'm getting old, or what, but this is one cover band I can go see again and again and again. Me, singing the praises of a cover band? I know, not a likely pairing. They straddle the line between parody and pure entertainment. Deep down inside, everybody admits they love these songs, those 70s sounds lesser lounge lizards covered. They are the ultimate par-tay band, sounding perfect at places like River Rhythms, where we caught them Wednesday night after Stella's soccer game. "Hey honey, after soccer, how about you and me meet Daddy and Sammy at the park to see a bunch of swingin' guys get their groove one?" And so we did. River Rhythms, like Humboldt Park Chill onthe Hill, has a good lineup this year, (We missed Tuesdays Humboldt Park offering -- the American Legion band, serving up your standard JP Sousa standards.) But it's always good to check in with the Studs. We pitched our blanket near some gentlemen who were off work from a nearby restaurant, and they shared with us some of the spoils. I don't want to get them in trouble, but I'm here to tell you that a certain downtown restaurant makes the best brisket I've ever had. Also sharing grass space with us: a couple who were amazed at our ability to name not only every song the Studs did, ("Uh that's 'Hot Child in the City' right?") the artist, ("Yup. Nick Gilder.") and usually we could hit the release date with a plus or minus 2 years, usually withing the calendar quarter ( "And that was what, fall of '78?" "That sounds about right."). Then again, we pointed out to the couple, "We're in our 40s. This was our music." I am finally admitting I'm proud of this. "Brandy? Hmmmm. That was Looking Glass, right?")

Both River Rhythms and Humboldt Park have been blessed with some good weather, but poor Summerfest has gotten rained at least every day so far -- and that chased me home on Friday to pick up the paper and find that there was a rare appearance from Master Zaster Blaster last night, accompanied by a last minute email from the Floor Model guys that there were on the bill at the Cactus as well. WTH,I figured, and I went out.

Floor Model -- snappy, tight, and snotty as usual. They were the first band, and it's the loss of the folks who didn't stroll in because they were on top of things. After seeing the other two bands, on one hand, it's not a bill I would have put together, but it worked. Partly because all three bands had a cynical attitude that was all but covered up with genuine sincereity and a desire to take their genre beyond what would be expected. The Floor Model version was to mix their punk up with some unexpected rhythm changes and some almost glam anthem like numbers. There's a favorite they're doing lately with the chorus "Gimme Gimme Gimme!" that sound like something Bowie would have written for Iggy Pop to sing, for example.

unexpected wail
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Up next was an ourfit out of Minneapolis, by way of Madison, called Solid Gold, which I ended up really enjoying. Their drummer couldn't make it, but even if they had a live drummer, I think they still would have retained much of the really new-wavy sound they had, which happened to be emphasized by the drum and rhythm machine they had sitting in for the live guy. But this wasn't pop new wave--it was much darker, and accompanied by some fairly angstyguitar playing. So you had this dancable, well executed music that brought to mind some of the Buzzcocks' later stuff or Pete Shelley's early solo stuff. And a lot of their promo stuff was very tounge-in-cheek takeoffs on the old Solid Gold logos, smack out of the70s and 80s, so close that I hope they don't get sued. And I liked *them*, as well. First thing I did when they started setting up was to take a picture of one of their amplifiers, and as soon as I shot it, the band noticed me doing this and lead singer Zack introduced me to Mary Poppins because that what they named this amp. The console -- and they assured me it came like this -- was wallpapered with what looked like that stuff old ladies in Riverwest lined their cabinets with. And that really worked for this band: they had no qualms about mixing drum samples, emocore, new wave, even a touch of 80s-style disco into a set that inspired me to download their Cd from ITunes this morning.

And then, Master Zaster Blaster took the stage, a major cure for the MOR selections up the street at Summerfest. (Although my Twitter buddies assure me that Rush kicked ass, maaaaaaaannnnn... now I'll give away my age again and admit that the last -- and only -- time I saw them was back in 78 at the Chicago International Ampetheatre for the Hemispheres tour -- if I remember correctly, Starz opened. And now we come full circle, because as Brian points out, Starz was comprised of former members of Looking Glass.)

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Anyway, MZB proved to be the musical laxative I needed. Singer Jennautical picks up a microphone and winks, flirts, shimmies and scowles her body and lyrics at the crowd, while the band behind her expertly picks away with no-wave melodies, prog rhythm changes, and a carnival of stage costumes: glittery skirts and shirts, wigs, clown makeup. There's guitar, bass and drums, and a few keyboards. There's Trent Hanson, who takes lead vox on a few songs, but otherwise scowls in a James Chance kind of way both with a guitar and a keyboard. Didier Leplae, who's been described as "Young Rick Franeki" as far as his looks, keeps the bass going. But it's Jennautical who is the center of attention (because she demands it). She's got a voice and delivery that reminds me of all those great old minimalist British girl bands: the Slits, the Raincoats, X-Ray Spex, but she's backed up with well-trained musicians. She jumps around in awkward little black boots, but there's nothing awkward about her. She stares you right in the face, making eye contact with simultaneously accusatory and friendly facial expressions that indicate she knows she's there to entertain, not intimidate. As a result, my only wish was that there was a tad less reverb on her voice (the band asked for a lot of reverb on her, which sounded good, actually), but I knew that I wanted to be able to discern all her lyrics and I couldn't. But that I can get by hitting their myspace and downloading their songs. Overall, MZB were visually a delight, and musically satisfying.

Tomorrow (or today, as it's after midnight that I'll be posting this), I'll grab my zoo pass again and join a girlfriend and her kids to check out The Gufs with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. That's not a combo I would ever have expected, even less likely a pairing than the three bands I saw at the Cactus. I'll admit, as readers of this blog know, I'm not really into most of the sensitive guy jangle pop genre, so that's probably why the Gufs were never really on my radar, but they -- like bands such as Knit Delicate -- do it well from what I've heard on their website and their alt-radio hits. I'll be interested to see how they arrange these songs with a full orchestra, and maybe that might make me a convert, since if they survive an orchestral arrangement, that's pretty much proof that the songs were solid. But I'll be going with fresh ears -- since I've never heard about 90% of their songs, so I won't know what they're "supposed" to sound like. Maybe they were supposed to sound like a symphony orchestra to begin with. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Finally, warm weekends are BACK....

"Sir, please sign my tattoo"
Originally uploaded by V'ron
And I'm not talking just about the weather. Friday night I grabbed my zoo pass and the kids and headed out to an evening members' event and it was lovely. It's great to go to the zoo late in the day, and I don't mind because with a pass, we get unlimted trips so its not like we paid all this money for just a few hours. Its easier to enjoy it that way. They had a few bands, including this one called Catch of the Day out of Slinger, I'll have to catch them again when I don't have a pair of kids who desperately want to see real fish. I was drawn to their reggae-ska version of "Hotel California." It started out mellow and reggae, and drifted into frenetic and ska, and back to mellow and reggae. I caught snippets of their arrangements and they're fun and interesting.
Overall, I'm am so glad I invested in that zoo pass. The crowd was as laid back as the slower parts of Catch of the Day, and the flamingoes are back! And they're gorgeous. I read on the Zoo's site that they're back for good.

Parents, Buy Your Child a Mandolin
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Also back: the South Shore Farmers' Market -- opening Saturday morning with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra providing a lovely backdrop. Also plenty of cake being passed around, to celebrate the beginning of the market's 10th summer. It's really grown over the years, and is turning into quite the south side gathering. I always run into people I know there, noshing on those wonderful, still-warm tamales. I'd mentioned to a friend that as a kid, what I knew from tamales were those disgusting ones in a jar that were wrapped in paper, and these are nothing like it. Wild Flour bakery has added really good hamburger buns to their selection, and while we're not swimming in produce yet, it's definitely spinach, lettuce and strawberry season, so it's time for that salad that everybody's making with the spinach, strawberries and pecans. The kids had a time and a half playing at the park across the street, and we headed out for errands. I headed for a nap-- because Brian and I had Les Paul tickets Saturday night.
And Les Paul kept the warm theme of this weekend going. It was a genuinely warm, intimate show there. We hiked up all those stairs to our gallery seats at the Pabst behind somebody who put it well: "We're here tonight, and that's all that matters." I turn around, and behind me is a woman whose tattoo has been autographed by the man.
Arthritis prevents Les Paul from those amazing runs he used to do, but he proved that it still takes an ear and a love of music to make wonderful songs come out of the instrument he invented. Early in the set, he held out a note with that amazing sustain of his, and bent it at the very last minute and in time that drew smiles and gasps from the audience. He knew it too -- as the stage monitor cameras caught his shit-eating grin. He brought up guests and friends on various instruments,including an 8-year old blues prodigy, a tap dancing man, a wonderful jazz diva woman, and local boy made good Jon Paris. His own trio all got their due, and they were amazing as well. His keyboardist seemed to rattle off anything you could throw at him, his guitarist filled in those runs that his arthritis stole from him, and his bass player charmed me and the crowd with a hysterically jazzy blues about the difficulty of taking one's stand up bass on an airplane.
This was a birthday party for Paul, a fundraiser for the House of Sound exhibit at Discovery World, and he could have read the phone book and we would have cheered. But, despite the fact that his invention alone justifies his existence, he also proved that in addition to inventor and musician, he is a master storyteller, with an almost music sense of comic timing. And best of all, after all these years, he hasn't lost his Waukesha accent! He still sounds like Wisconsin! He tells a story like a good cheesehead would, and I got the feeling like I was invited into the kitchen at somebody's grampa's out in Waukesha, drinking some beers and telling old stories,complete with dirty old man jokes, inside digs, and great little moments he said changed his life. Remarkable still, I felt this intimacy and warmth way up in the nosebleed seats. That's how special the evening was. Perfect, warm Wisconsin evening, returned to the man himself, who acknowledged, "I'm not a humble man, but I am touched."

rings of fire
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The night ended from warm to hot, as we stopped into Eric Griswold's Burning Snow center, to share in a solstice party he was throwing to prepare for this year's Burning Man festival. Of course the evening was capped with a burning demonstration, and a touching moment when a pillar, emblazoned with a portrait of Griswold's cat, was burned in effigy and honor. Charles had been in Eric's life for almost a quarter of a century, and he passed on just last week. So we all celebrated Charles' life, the burning festival, and just some good, warm Wisconsin folk over the longest day of the year.
And one final warm moment: I didn't leave the party empty handed. Guido's Racecar's Johnny Washday and Roni Allwaise were there, and they presented me with a gift, in exchange for some photo work I did for them, but also for friendship. I'm now the proud owner of one of Washday's wonderful cigar box guitars! It's beautiful and it's a sturdy, good sounding instrument, too. Now I have to learn to play it. Like Les Paul, I'm not a humble person, but I'll tell ya, I am touched, by the gift, by the warmth of this whole weekend, by everything.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ups and Dows and Ins and Outs and Balance

Tiny Bubbles, Accordion Style
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Let's starts with the Ups and Ins and Outs: the wonderful Squeezettes at Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill last Tuesday. That's the only show I made it to since last weekend. (Unless you want to count the surrealism that is the Marlavous Marla Karaoke, especially on Marla's birthday last friday. Marla was in fine form, and there was some wedding going on that night, and Frank Chandek stepped out of his comfort zone to do Jim Morrison -- and he did it well. Highlight of the night -- besides the delicious custard from Kopps, the "pancakes and syrup" flavor was to die for -- was this one dude who [unpurposefully] did LennonMcCarney's Help answering the question, "What if Bob Dylan was the Beatles' lead singer?")
Back to Humboldt park and yet another spectacular summer evening. The Squeezettes, featuring the wonderfully clear voice of Sarah Kozar, were a perfect backdrop for a family day in the park. They approach the accordion-ized versions fo the songs they pick -- everything from Tiny Bubbles to to Folsom Prison Blues to 99 Luftbaloons -- with not a hint of irony, and yet make every one of them sound joyful and fresh and perfectly natural accompanied by squeezeboxes. (And yes, they did that Who song too). I mean, how can anybody not love Kozar's clear, strong, "What if Kate Smith got laid on a more than occasional basis" voice waking you up with an Abba medley, surrounded by bubbles, little kids chasing them, a perfect summer breeze, and a spectacular sunset.

The people who have put together this series have really done their best to make it a varied series, and it's bringing out the Bay Viewers to really establish their neighborhood as "The Other East Side." This is a 'hood that embraces all that it's about, and that's great to see.

Spotted in the Crowd: Riverwesterners Mark G.E., and former Riverwesterner Mary Jo Klein (with son John in tow), Transistor Royale's Eric Knitter, former Kozar bandmate Don Turner, Oh what a tangled web we weave Ted Jorin (in a band with Knitter and Turner) and his family, a pack of Downtown Montessori kids and parents, Miss Spent Youth (otherwise known as artist Linda Beckstron) and husband Ken, and finally, Mr. Grant Richter.
Here we see the CEO of Wiard Synthesizers with his latest find -- the last known pack of Solo coffee cups. This is the thing about Grant. He finds these things. Heunderstands these things. It's a good thing, too, because I never really got the point of Solo Cozy Cups (made in my alma mater's town of Urbana, Il, BTW). What, so you'd have a perfectly clean coffee cup every time? Is that shape supposed to keep the coffee hot longer? Help, me somebody.

Anyway, it's been a weird week since the storms hit.
  • Fond du Lac skapunks Offend Your Friends met with an awful tragedy -- a freak explosion at their house/rehearsal space resulted in not only a major wreck of a house but the loss of ALL their instruments, gear, and clothing. They're selling t=shirts to begin to put a dent in their loss, but I'll report back if I learn of any major fundraising going on for them. They're a terrific tight ska band from up north of here, and I hate to see them going through this.

  • Oh, and get this. Some asshole stole Beautiful Bert's ashes/remains right out of his freaking grave. The dirt wasn't even packed down when the jerk went and stole it. I.Am.So.Sure.

To get over all this, I think I'm going to need some remarkable music this weekend, and there's a lineup that should not disappoint:
  • I'm missing the wonderful Powertrane featuring the legendary Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman at the Ring tonight. I hope i can count of Blaine Schultz, who pointed this out to me, to report in on this.

  • Friday night, Eat the Mystery is at the Astor Theatre, which will be a perfect place to see their poor man's stage show.

  • Julie B does jazz and prog Saturday night at the Riverwest Commons, which might be a great way to follow up the Les Paul show at the Pabst that Brian and I have nosebleed seats for. (We were in on the presale, and this was still the best we could get.)

  • Or, Dax Riggs (former deadboy) headlines a show at the Cactus Club that includes Altatl as well as Danny Price and the Loose Change.

  • And Sunday, the Les Paul exhibit opens at Discovery World.

  • Will all this balance out eventually. I hope so.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    I Think I Smell a Rat

    ratt in color
    Originally uploaded by V'ron
    Matt, the Ratt, that is, with the rest of the Uptown Savages at the Humboldt Park band shell the other night, for the second installment of the park's "Chill on the Hill" series. If their true-to-form rockabilly (bordering on psychobilly) wasn't a cure for the stormy blahs on a gorgeous summer evening, I don't know what could be. The hill was still a bit soggy (don't ask me how, but we managed to plunk down on the one dry/drained part of the hill -- on the South side) but nobody seemed to mind. Over a summer breeze the band pumped out the hits and the little space between the stage and the hill was littered with little kids gettin' real gone, the hill itself was alive with balloons (and kids chasing them), Bayviewers of all ages, and a few vendors who didn't have the foresight to have a lot of things for sale.

    The Savages themselves? Perfect, especially at what they do. While they dress (mostly) in period (and that period is late 50s, early to mid-60s bad boy dudes who enjoy pin up girls and sunglasses), they have a knack for making this stuff seem timeless. They vary the delivery and chord progressions so it's not all simply I-IV-Vs all night, and the drumming (there's Bill Backes again -- he pops up every now and then in places you do and don't expect) isn't the same old syncopated stuff you almost always hear with rockabilly. This band has been together long enough that they're tight, they've studied the genre with an almost academically disciplined approach, ingested it all and then seemingly effortlessly dish it out. That's what you get when you have enough people who dig the Americana -- and Jonny Z at the helm ensuring that it stays fresh but true. I'm a fan, yes, and i don't get out enough to see these guys, but when i do, i leave refreshed. I also like this whole series Humboldt Park has lined up. It's not a lecutre for my kids, but its yet another way i can continue to expose them to great stuff, and fine-tune their musical tastes away from a lot of the dreck that's cluttering the airwaves. Next Tuesday? The Squeezettes, comprised of former Riverwest Accordion Club members and other people they've pulled in. Should be an excellent time.

    I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Good weekend coming up: tonight, 1956 is at the Stonefly Brewery and this is a good chance to see them in a comfortable room. Friday night Marlavous is having her birthday party with her karaoke at the Bavarian Inn in Glendale as usual. A quick zip down I-43 and back into Riverwest to the Stonefly again will bring you to a great lineup with John the Savage (must confirm the good things I've heard here) and sixthstation favorites Eat the Mystery. Saturday night, move further south with Crumpler at Points East, and end things with Juniper Tar at the Cactus Club.

    All this time, I'll have my camera with me -- it's back! (my DSLR, that is. Oh, I've been shooting with a point and shoot and a cell phone and the point and shoot's been great, but it's not my baby. JUST now, I got the fedex update, me camera has been delivered and I'm relieved. The repair shop had called with the kind of news i normally get with cars: "Well, it might be the circuit board, and that'll cost you $x, but if it's not that we'll have to ship it off to Nikon, and that could cost $XXXX, but we really wont' know unless we try to fix the circuit board first." So I had to take a breath and gamble that $x would do it, else I would probably have to eat it. And, uh, X <> only $25, let's put it that way.

    It's all part of this personal coming down off a ferocious Mercury retrograde that's hit me hard. I don't normally put a lot of stock in astrology (even though I am a textbook Sagittarius), but really, this is ridiculous. I've dealt with mechanical breakdowns on my camera, my cell phone, my bike, the copy machine at work (x3, of course when we had a huge job for an important -- aren't' they all important -- client), my car, my watch, my computer, and worst off all, the coffee machine at work.. When you can't even depend on the coffee machine at the office, it's time to throw up your hands and cry uncle. Indeed, I think I smell a rat.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    In the Pouring Rain ... Very Strange

    Corner of Weil and Meinecke
    Originally uploaded by V'ron
    OK. Sunday, 10:30 am. "We're still gonna do this?" "Yup." And so the Prom Queens suited up and walked down to join the fray at Locust and Booth, where the Riverwest Beer Run started, as well as the rain. The pouring rain. The buckets of rain. Miss Stery's sash progressively became more and more unreadable in the rain. I (Miss Conception) didn't even bother with an umbrella, and at 11:15 (T minus fifteen minutes), it's coming down in sheets and I'm noticing that the starting line happens to be strung up between two power poles, one with a "high voltage" warning on it, the other stringing a power line that was screaming to be busted up in the storm, electrocuting us all and guaranteeing headlines. But instead, every couple of minutes, when the wave of rain became harder, the crown would just yellow "Wooooooooo!!!!" louder, chanting everything from "USA! USA!" to "Start the race" because anybody who was going to do this was here anyway. Normally the race is kicked off with a traditional pop gun; I don't know if the alderman hit that, or we all heard a bang which could have very well been thunder, but we were off! In the pouring freaking rain, gym shoes sloshing in the puddles, I could feel my feet simply expanding with the water, my dress smelling like the cheap taffeta that it was. (Did I mention that I hate the smell of wet taffeta? Especially cheap wet taffeta?)
    Stop one: clearly they were caught off guard. By the time I got my beer my heart rate was already down (yes, I actually ran this) but oh well. At this time I noticed my cell phone camera (as well as all its other functionality) was kaput. Oh well, I downed a beer and soldiered on. Stop two: they're pouring it better, but it's cheaper beer. Yuck. Off through the lake that comprised the corner of Weil and Meinecke, and moving on. Stop three: I'm passing Miss Stery and Miss Laid and I'm like, "Wait. They're walking! How are they ahead of me?" Oh, they cheated. Those bitches! They cut right through. Never mind that Miss Laid had leg surgery earlier and Miss Stery had knee replacement! There shall be no concessions! Stop four: Quality, flavorful beer here. Can't just slam this one. "What, you're worried about your time?" another runner asks. Yeah, he's got a point.

    Finally, the homestretch, during which I ran into my cream city photog colleagues Scott and JMF, the latter of whose electronic camera went kaput just like my cell phone. (It's probably a good thing my DSLR's in the shop -- god knows how much more it would have been damaged.)

    Almost poetically, the rain lets up just as I'm headed for my victory spring toward the finish line. And what a finish it is! I've finished at least under a half hour, and I don't even care what my time is. I just want to get out of this wet cheap taffeta, letting down all the other queens who soldiered on for at least a good portion of the day in fully prom gear. Naw, I catch a few songs from Floor Model, head back to Miss Laid's to change into comfy festival gear, and remember that I have the most wreched sunburn ever as pull a scratchy wet dress over my head.

    OK, the sun's out and shining, and I meet back up with Brian and the kids, and sample this year's offerings at Locust Street:
    • First, theBarrettes. Only caught a song or two, since the weather made for a difficult sound check and the kids were getting antsy to stay in one place for long. If drummer Joolz had surgery on both hands earlier this year, you wouldn't know it: she's strong and as powerful as ever. The whole band's sounding great; I need to see them unencumbered to hear what kind of new stuff came out of their hiatus.

    • Touched base with bassman Dave Gelting, who was backing up an arresting Heidi Spencer -- that girl has a clear voice that sounds youthful, but put together with a mature and edgy delivery. She's got a gig at Linneman's this week which will be her last while she goes on hiatus.Anyway, Gelting was excellent as always, despite being despondent over his primary bass breaking just the previous night, in three places at that. I could feel for the guy. I mean, I shot this whole festival with a cell phone camera and a point and shoot, which I was OK, with, but neither are my primary tool. Ugh. Guitarist extraordinaire, Matt Hendricks, provided additional backup, after turning in a good set of his own earlier.

    • Well, Klinger's made up for last year with this year's best hot chicken wings (followed by Jax's really good BBQ chicken wings) as well as their ever-wonderful bar cheeseburgers. I will always be devoted to Klinger's cheeseburgers. They are cheap. They are greasy. They are not too big or too small. They are perfect.

    • Infinity Is She was another chick band, but they're a) not real festival fodder and b) not my cup of tea. With a name like that, they were either bound to be metal chicks, or new agey types, and they were sort of the latter. They opened with a cover of the Cranberries "Zombie" and then went into some almost Hawkwind-ish stuff. They were good at it, but I get the feeling that this is the kind of band that works best in a dark club, with a dominantly blue and green light show, and a better sound mix.

    • Stealin' Strings
      Originally uploaded by V'ron.
    • Stealin' Strings pretty much stole the show by the Linneman's stage in the later afternoon. A four piece, sort of plugged in acoustic electric thang, they at first started out sounding like just another really good folkie bunch, but then ended up catching our attention with unconventional arrangements and cool string arrangements on their electric instruments. We'll definitely keep them on our "check them out again" list. BUt they were very good for the Linneman's stage -- not too loud, fun to dance to, but still able to have a conversation with your your friendly neighborhood barkeep.

    • It wouldn't be Locust Street without at least one rastafarian keeping the beat, and this year's entry was I Roots and JD, who had a lead rapper who did Reggae with sort of Cookie Monster vocals. Hmmmm. There's a concept: a metal voice singing jamaican style. Good stuff -- kept the raggae crowd happy and were all over the stage, cavorting and having a good time.

    • The rings. I want the rings.
      Originally uploaded by V'ron
    • Finally, one more band before we had to give it up. (Which meant we'd have to miss the Championship and the .357 String Band, but oh well. Next time.)No. today's last band was a cover band called Brother Louie, and we spent half their set trying to figure out the theme of the songs they covered, because they did everybody from Neil Young to Mott the Hoople to Tommy James to Elvis Costello. I approached Louie afterwards and asked him and his reply was "They're all good songs." He was right. Maybe that's why I spent a whole set watching a cover band. (Well, it helps that the rhythm section are friends of ours, and that attracted a whole slew of people to dance and gossip and hang out.). But the kids were cooked, and so were the grownups, and we had to turn it in.

    And if we're going to blame the kids on having to leave, we have to credit them for timing, because right when we pulled into our garage, it started raining again. Pouring rain. Buckets. Thanks kids.

    Oh, when the sun finally comes out tomorrow, we have the wonderful Uptown Savages at Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill (and next week, former Riverwest Accordion Club members The Squeezettes.) Hope the ground dries up enough by tomorrow for this!

    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Water, water everywhere

    the fountain at night
    Originally uploaded by V'ron
    Random ramblings after a tough week at work, and a torrential evening at home:
    • Last night I went up to Bayshore to go to the Potbelly's to see Janna Blackwell do her acoustic thing, but it was not to be. Apparently she's not there anymore, according to the guy who was there instead. So I just sat in the little fountain park on a gorgeous summer night (finally!) and watched kids having a good ol time rushing through the fountain.
    • Brian's on his way out to play a Dr Chow show at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg, but I'm staying home with the kids, who were freaked out over the torrential rains and such (we did have something that looked like it could have turned into a tornado in our neighborhood). I'm not seeing a lot of posts from my online friends; I hope everybody's OK. Lots of my pals live in Riverwest, and I saw footage of people pushing stalled card through deep water that had accumulated at Humboldt and North.

    • So musically last night, I ended up at Marlavous' Karoake (it's her birthday party next Friday), and got home by midnight, when I crashed after a challenging week at work. (And I don't mean that to be snotty. It was a tough week, but we got a lot done.) Marla's Karaoke was simply what the doctor ordered. Dave Allswager popped in Alice Cooper's "Hello, Hooray," sang a few lines, and while I was waiting for my shot of Jagermeister, suddenly I had a mike in my hand and I was belting out "God -- I -- Feel -- So -- Strong! So Strong!"

    • This morning, I started biking in earnest for the triathlon and built up my summer sunburn on the SW side of the county before getting home, getting some shopping done, and then watching the storms pour in. (Is it me, or is Today's TMJ4 Meteorologist Scott Steele looking more and more like a young Al Pacino? We kept flipping back and forth and decided we liked our weather from Serpico, who had a knack for explaining what was going on without being too annoying about it.

    • (This just in: Brian called me from the cell phone: he knew he wasn't going to get to O'Keefe's by going down the closed Howell avenue, or 6th street, but 13th-20th is flooded by the little creek that runs through Wilson Park. I hope Dr Chow wasn't planning to pay the rent with tonight's proceeds.)
    • I am hoping that one of the things the rain washed out was those stupid ass nazis who think they were going to put a damper by protesting Pride Fest today. I hope everybody at Pride Fest were safe, both from the storms and from the assholes.
    • Tomorrow, myself and the Prom Queens will be running the Riverwest Beer Run (I've said this before, we admit a 1.8 mile "race" through Riverwest that includes 4 stops at which racers must slam a beer is preposterous) in evening gowns and tiaras, to bring the preposterousness full circle. Good lineup at Locust Street -- including Floor Model, the Barrettes, the .357 String Band (hope their bass player's finger is healing nicely!), and the Championship, among others. I've heard really good things about the Championship, so I'll finally get to see them. I'll be sure to wear sunscreen, and hopefully we're done with these ridiculous storms. Still, if you're not from Wisconsin, you'd probably think by reading this blog that all we do is whine about the weather. No, it's been a weird year.

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    That's How Summer It Is

    Buckethead faithful
    Originally uploaded by V'ron
    Well, you can spend a beautiful weekend perched upon the banks of the Milwaukee River watching an array of fine musicians, or you can spend half of it restoring the data from a dying hard drive. I suppose the alternative -- cursing everybody in the world because you don't do backups -- is a lot less palatable, but if I was going to spend almost all my Saturday babysitting a restore job, couldn't it have been a crappy, rainy Saturday instead of a picture perfect one? Still, I'm glad I've become a backup devotee in my old age. One hard drive crash a few years back taught me a lesson (and even then, I had the really crucial stuff burned onto CDs -- I only lost two "rolls" of really nice shots). So this morning I spent a couple of hours at the Genius desk at the Mayfair Apple store, going over my restore plan and then my subsequent new backup schema, and making sure that my plan and new schema were solid and based on my needs and uses, and then came home and got started. I didn't even have a full-on crash -- but I know a dying hard drive when I hear one, and I heard one. Today I ran errands, worked with Sammy on his new bike, even put in a few hours at the office between tedious 100-gig file transfers, but now I have a smooth running system once again. And this is how summer it is: even though I missed a lot of today by spending it in front of a computer, I'm confident enough that this won't be the last beautiful day for seven more weeks, like it has been lately.

    Friday, as I knew I would, I went and checked out Substitute - Tales From the Who at Riversplash, in Pere Marquette Park. I should have known what would come later, when it seemed like four security guys approached me on my bike and barked out "You'll have to walk that" that something was going to be tight. I met Brian and the kids, who'd already sampled some chicken fried rice, some gyros, some ice cream, but only a couple of songs from Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits. I had a gyro myself from Aladdin, and settled in for a few sets. God Bless 'em, Substitute still does the entire "A Quick One While He's Away" suit, and the hardcore Who fans in the audience (wearing old tour shirts from when Keith was still alive) appreciated it as much as I did. Spotted in the crowd: Mark G.E, whose kid and Sammy rekindled a friendship they had started about a year ago when we'd run into each other at the Downtown YMCA. Last night, they found they had quite a bit in common: "We're both four year old boys! We like to run around! Let's party!"

    That 1 Guy
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
    The big draw Friday night was Buckethead, with an appropriately named act -- "That One Guy" -- opening for him. That One Guy turned out to be this one guy who you could tell got his start as a street performer, complete with floppy hat, stringy hair, interesting facial hair, and a scraggly voice that suggested he'd listened to more than a few Tom Waits records in his lifetime. His main instrument was this part percussion, part harmonic thing that looked like it had a former life as a vacuum cleaner extension. It was then electronically amplified and produced a sound that Mark G.E. nailed: "It reminds me of something the Blue Man Group would do." Sometimes That One Guy would sing along in a very Waits-like style, sometimes he pounded on this instrument like he was wishing it was a bass and he was Bootsy Collins, sometimes he'd break out a saw and play it, and he had plenty of other electronically-amped and distorted sounds. It was very cool -- for about 20-25 minutes. Then, frankly, it started to get old. It was the kind of set that should go no longer than 30 minutes, but this guy seemed to go on forEVER. And it wasn't because I was waiting for Buckethead. Except for a bit of big-band style slapping at the end, he really didn't vary his dynamics or tempo or delivery, and while i really liked him, I got tired of him. I'm sure John Frankovic wasn't the first one to say this, but he was the first one to say this to me and That One Guy would do very well to take Frankovic's advice: "Never play a set too long. Always leave them wanting."

    And on top of that, you'd think the pope was about to play, given the security that was thick in the park. The whole dance area became forbidden -- something I've never seen at Pere Marquette park, and I've seen some legendary acts there. Get over yourselves, Buckethead and people.

    Originally uploaded by V'ron.
    So Buckethead takes the stage. He's blowing me away for about 10-15 minutes and then I realize, "This is it." Like That One Guy, he could play, and he was quite amazing. But then after a while, I realized this was going to be it all night. It was just shredding and shredding and shredding over a bunch of tape loops. The bucket on his head is just that, a bucket on his head and that schtick got him his fame but it would be OK if he dropped it. Brian put it best: "Whatever. I've seen Steve Vai and I've seen Yngvie Malmsteen." Yes, the guy can play. Yes, he's got a great bag of licks. Yes, he's got a bucket on his head. Because after about 20 minutes, we got the point. You can play, Buckethead. Good for you. Now move me. At least That One Guy put some variety into his overly long set; Stella preferred him overall and I agree with her. I'd probably pick up That One Guy's CD when I get a chance, but I think I'd pass on ol Buckethead, or stick to the stuff he collaborates with other, live musicians.

    I'd ridden my bike to the fest, so Brian drove the kids home, and I rode my bike, and I have finally declared it Summer. Not because of the temperature, and not because the first festival is kicking in, and not even because I hear the wonderful "tink" of a bat hitting a ball at the park across the street from my house. No, this was because on my way home on my bicycle, I'm stopped at a traffic light, and a pack of bikers (that's motorcycle guys) files up beside me, all of us waiting for the light to turn green. "Great night to be on a bike, eh?" I said to the bikers. "Yes, maam," the 'leader' acknowledged, smiling back at me in agreement, clearly as happy as I was that nights like this are finally here. Yes, it's summer. Finally. I'm going to the sold-out Brewer game tomorrow, that's how summer it is.