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.


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