Sunday, January 27, 2008

Today, USA; Tribune, Chicago; Fonzarelli, Arthur

the local paper, please
Originally uploaded by V'ron
A few rambles and tidbits.
  • I was out of town for the latter part of the week, and missed a lot going on in Milwaukee. By the time I battled traffic (294 in Chicago was a mess) and got home, the cold I've been battling really kicked in and I spent the weekend huddled under the covers. Among the things i missed: Cocksmiths at the BBC, which would have been a good place to see them, and the Championship bout of the Brew City Bruisers. (As best as i can tell, the Crazy 88s destroyed any hope of the Sheevil Kneevels pulling off the upset of the century. Oh well.)
  • Brian took Stella to see the Bucks in one of their few wins this past Thursday, and together they reported that overall, it was a good tight game, all the way through. I'm glad Stella finally got to see a win. She told me that the anthem was "OK"; Brian said it was a bunch of kids and they were on key. There was, however, somebody about three rows in back of Brian and Stella that sounded like they were on the rejects part of American Idol Auditions. Brian: "Aw, Dawg, I'm sorry, but I can't sent you to Hollywood. Paula? No. Simon? Terrible." And I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, any citizen should feel able to belt out their Anthem whenever they wish, and feel good about raising their voice in unified song. On the other hand, sometimes it's OK to just mouth it. Still, Stella got to see a good, tight game.
  • So, I'm in my hotel room paging through my complimentary copy of USA Today. Have I mentioned before that I really don't understand why USA Today exists? Maybe it's because it's the McDonalds of newspapers: comforting in its exact configuration wherever you are in the country. Still, when I go to a different city I like to eat in a locally-owned restaurant because i want to sample the local flavour -- and the same with the news. I want the local paper! So I went down to the hotel restaurant, ordered a cupppa, and picked up a Chicago Tribune. The Trib is especially comforting to me: it's the newspaper I learned to read on. And over all the years, they still haven't changed their logo, which is equally comforting. And the sections all seem the same. Headline fonts are a bit updated, but that's pretty much it. Its like going to New York and reading the Times, or Washington and picking up a Post. They have their own subtle distinctions, and in these rapidly homogonisitic times, I like that. I wish hotels would just send up the local paper. I'm in your town, send me your town's news!
  • So I'm in my hotel room, and to check back in, I see that back in Mil-town, they've finally raised the $$$ (like it took all that long) to build the Fonzie statue, and true to his word, Mike Brenner is closing Hotcakes Gallery. Another mixed feeling here. I'm sad to see Hotcakes close. They put on interesting, thought-provoking shows, and really added to the art scene in town. But please, Mike, don't kid yourself. This little publicity stunt didn't do anything to bring attention to small galleries except to make the artists who fill them look like a bunch of bitter whiners, and since Brenner isn't leaving town after all, like he previously threatened, it really sounds shrill. On Hotcakes' website, Brenner says he's going to focus on being the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network in a statement that's more warm toward the exciting artists who live and work in town than the threat he'd made previously giving up on arts in Milwaukee.

    Here's the thing, though. i really wish that people would stop this whole denial thing, that Milwaukee isn't brats, beer, Fonzie, and "Yah dere Hey." It is. It's part of what makes us different and unique than any other USA Today kind of city. Every town has cool artists. Every town has a vibrant arts and music scene (you just have to know how to dig to find it.) I just don't think that a "serious" arts scene can't co-exist with pop culture. Look at my rants about Summerfest. As a musician, I can get snobby about it, or I can enjoy it for what it is (and "what it is" is a terrific 10 day smorgasbord of pop culture that Chicago tried, and failed, to copy) and still head to the Cactus Club to catch a band that really excites me. There is room for both meat and candy in a cultural stomach. The junk culture Brenner decries, whether he wants to admit it or not, flavors the meaty stuff he's helped to put on the Milwaukee arts plate. It's not a bad thing. We can co-exist with it, and in fact, I don't just co-exist with both, I embrace both. I want Fonzie, and I want the Borg Ward. I'm happy and proud that Henry Winkler came to town and said gracious things about the plans for a statue. And yes, I'm embarassed that we couldn't get "Blue Shirt" up for almost opposite reasons. That's not a reason to close up shop and leave town. That's a reason to dig in your heels and work harder. Anybody can sell avant garde art in NYC or even Chicago. It takes a special kind of artist to do it here in Milwaukee. Now quit whining, admit that Fonzie isn't the real reason you're closing (I'd bet my next paycheck that if Hotcakes was kickin' a$$ and paying the bills bills, none of this would even be an issue), dig in your heels and take MARN to the next level.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Frozen Gallery Ice Cream

sculpture at the borg ward
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I was running errands Saturday afternoon when I came upon the river looking like the ice cream freezer had just been opened but the cold didn't hit me until later. I was still quite warm from an otherwise chilly winter gallery night the previous evening, where I saw lots of cream of the crop.

And cream it was -- from popping in on a lark last week, I was actually humbled by the art at the Borg Ward Friday night -- humbled and honored to be a part of it. What a diverse show it was! Lots of emerging talent in there. Don't even go to see my two pieces -- go to see some terrific fresh art. Paintings that depicted "Last Day of School Execution" to sculpture that incorporated panty hose (and you had to look close to see it). There was a wonderful wall installation that appeared to be wax castings of somebody mouthing the alphabet, and a floor installation that took me a few minutes to really sink in. Of course there were some clunkers (there always are in a show like this), but they were very few and far between. What seemed like a random show somehow, through some kind of karmic synergy, actually gelled into a cohesive unit. The show is up for two more weeks, and I can't wait to see what these guys put together next.

I then braved the parking nightmare that is the Third Ward (especially on Gallery Night) so I could stop into the basement of the Marshall Building to see fellow Flickerites at the Light Ideas Gallery show their stuff. This was a formerly open space (that Luckystar used to have giant group shows in) but is now occupied by a few galleries and studios. The PHOTOMKE group put together a really nice show: each of 10 photogs showed five pieces, and I daresay my favorites were amongst my flickr friends. Hey_Mando turned out to be a gentleman named Armando (hence the nickname, for people who speak too fast to get his full name in!) and he had his signature long exposure night shots. Mr. Michael D had wonderful shots at the lakefront, John December threw a little streetlife into his lake scenery shots, and Great Laker put up some great stuff too. Out front was a giant blowup poster of The Milwaukee Mass Portrait that was shot in the Miller Valley last fall, and it was fun to see people looking for themselves and people they knew in it. All in all, a good night.

Since I parked, I took in a few more of the galleries in the Marshall Building. Elaine Erickson's place never gets as much press as it might, but I'm going to make it a point to always put it on my gallery night tour: every time I stop in I'm intrigued. I know she has clients amongst corporadia, where her more modern clients might appreciate something interesting like this but she also has lots of stuff that you wouldn't put in a welcome room but it definitely needs to be seen somewhere. This particular piece was the keystone of a series of figures that incorporated little plastic skeletons, brass, and various found objects that kept me stairng a long time. The aforementioned sculpture might have been cliche in its phallic reference, except that as a whole, it made (literally) its point.
I braved the cold, and headed home, because I had personal things to ready for Saturday.

Oh, do we have to discuss the game?. Especially since it's two days past, and we officially took down the Christmas tree? Remember, our family's tradition is to leave the tree up until the Packers are "out of it." And frankly, that means I should have started removing ornaments after halftime. On the bright side, maybe we can all get back to our lives now.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bucks: Keep on, Keep on, Keep On.......

Marcia Marcia Marcia!!!!!, originally uploaded by V'ron.

It was driving me nuts. The Energee girls are dancing around the court at the Bradley Center in these snappy outfits and it was driving me nuts: Where had I seen these outfits before? And then this bubblegum pop song started going in my head, "We're gonna keep on, keep on, keep on, keep on dancing all through the night." That was it! The Energee Girls raided the costume trunk at the Brady Bunch's rummage sale:

As for the game, if dressing up your cheerleaders in retro-70s costumes is what it takes, I'm all for it. I'm with The Bratwurst here -- I think Coach K has found his power 3, and it adds up to some good defense. Bogut is massively hustling these days -- you can see it in his face, and now that his hair is growing back in nicely, he looks like some ferocious marine sergeant coming atcha ready to steal that ball away. He's not letting anybody get away with questioning his defense skills. Also nice to see Gadzuric play a few minutes. I still think that guy's got some piss and vinegar in him, its just a matter of getting it out of him. Yi was having a hard time with his shots. He still shot plenty, but his misses were kind of embarrassing. Too many air balls. He makes up for it with plenty that go in, but it still seemed like he was having a tough night. And Charlie V -- again, I'm with the Bratwurst on this. I've always thought he was overlooked, and now I'm going to say he might emerge as one of the true stars of this team. Michael Redd? Hmmmm. I'm not sure if he was unremarkable last night or if I'm just taking him for granted. I was at the game with Miss Annie, a dear friend I spend precious little time with as it is, so admittedly we spent a bunch of time gossipping. (Yeah, boys, like you don't shoot the breeze about non-sports stuff when you're at the game with a buddy. So don't blame this on girl talk.)

Speaking of our girlfriends (and taking excellence for granted), anthem tonight by the Milwaukee Children's Choir, featuring our mutual friend Mary Jo's youngun, Francis. Actually, both Annie and I have known Francis since he was hours old, and we both were beaming as though we were HIS parents as we saw his earnest face up on the jumbotron, with his choir-mates, rendering the song in perfect tune. The arrangement was OK -- (would have like to hear more harmony), but the rendition was flawless. We had no clue Francis would be here tonight, so this was a treat. OK, I'm biased, but the Milwaukee Children's Choir is pretty darn good. I know that Mary Jo has to schlep Francis to rehearsal a LOT, so I can now assure her that (despite the fact that neither Annie nor I can be journalistically objective about this, as Francis is one of the the greatest young men ever -- my Sammy and his brother John of course being the others) the Choir is excellent. Knowing Francis, we expected nothing less.

Food report: the fish fry at the Bradley Center is pretty damn good for a mass produced fish fry. There have been a few food items I've been disappointed in (the pesto chicken panini was flavorless -- uh, when I get something called pesto chicken panini, I expect there to be PESTO in it!) but the Fish Fry is good. The batter is crisp, the fish is tender and flaky. Good job, Levy Restaurants.

So Annie has a new camera, and she's getting pretty good at slice of life photos. (Since she does not have a blog to maintain, she doesn't have to get her stuff uploaded timely, so you'll just have to wait.) One of our favorite subjects was this dude who sat by us and thought it would be cute to ride the stationery bike set up for players. Bad move, dude. The ushers were on him like a cheap suit, and issued him a warning, which I think he was a mite too proud of. He and his buddy were showing their warning off, (and compared it with the identical one issued to the guys sitting a few rows behindd us) and mugging for our cameras, while there was this big conference of ushers that looked like they were reviewin an NFL play, and before you know it, dude and his buddy were asked to leave the stadium. Thanks for high resolution photography, I read the text of the warning, and frankly, they'd been warned once and behaved afterwards. They were doing nothing wrong afterwards that warranted getting escorted out of the stadium. They did not use foul language, they did not argue with the ushers, and they didn't bother anybody. They very politely asked me to use their camera to take their picture. Sometimes I think people in these situations overreact.

On to the weekend. First, Friday is Gallery Night!
  • Some Flickr colleagues who belong to the Cream City Group will be showing their work at part of the Light Ideas Gallery, in the Third Ward at 207 E. Buffalo St. There will be a total of 10 photographers showing, the four whose work I'm familiar with (John December, Mr. Michael D, Hey Mando and Great Laker -- I'll get their real names when I see them tomorrow!) are reason enough to stop by. Each has a different style, but have stuff in their photostreams that pops out at you, even in thumbnails.

  • Jimmy Von Milwaukee's River Rat Gallery continues at the Palomino again, with "Anarchie: L'Amore Cowboi's and Indians." Some knob graffiti tagged one of Bob Watt's paintings from the last Palomino show with the Anarchy symbol -- and Watt's running with it as part of the art. So there! The Leo Feldman Gallery crew is always worth a look.

  • Remember the Borg Ward collective? They put out a call to "be assimilated" and as of last Saturday, plenty of artists admitted that resistance was futile. They're located in on National avenue in Walker's Point, (down the block from the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, which is always worth a stop), and, OK, OK, shamless plug, I've been assimilated and I'll have two pieces at the Borg Ward myself. But I looked around and even if my work wasn't there, I'd go anyway. These Borg Ward guys are fresh and so are many of the artists who will be displaying.
  • .
  • Musically? I've got personal plans Saturday night, and I'll be all arted out, so Friday I think I'll just pop into Marlavous' Karaoke at the Bavarian Inn. If you want to get all sweaty for the Pack on Sunday, there's always the Five Card Studs at the Ale House Saturday night.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Crash of the Bands

Terry of Snooky
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Saturday night, as anticipated, we went to the BBC to finally see Snooky, and honeys, it was worth the wait. My, but they're good. They're so good that when singer Terry Valdean screams his vocals, I forgive him (I can take metal screaming so far) because he uses the scream as only one tool in a well-stocked vocal toolbox. He can sing sweetly, he can scream bloodily, and he's got everything in between, including a stage presence which pops from snotty to sincere to appreciative to despondent.

I dive right into this review, because Snooky dives right into the set. Valdean takes the stage, barely counts in the song, and there they go: four players whose versatility on each of their instruments is just as wide as Valdean and his voice. I can only imagine what their collective records collections look like, because their website description is true: they have elements of metal (well more than just elements of metal), jazz, ska, blues, alternative, and on top of it all, a healthy skeptical punk attitude that endeared me to them the first time I ever saw them. Guitarist Billy Eddie looks like he'd be in some shouegazing 90s band, but plays like he's ready to audition for Anthrax. Bassist Eric Christian is all over that thing, and I can't tell if he's showing off, or if it's just easier to finger high notes on a bass by playing it upside down. He's approaching the instrument both as a rhythm and lead instrument, but not obnoxiously so (at least not musically). And Brian and I shook our heads over drummer Tony Rogan, whom we've known since his old punk days in Racine's The Moths. Punk drummers aren't supposed to be steeped in complex, jazz-influenced riffs and messed up time signatures. What a satisfying treat these guys are. Here's a dream lineup of like minded musicians I'd like to see on a bill in Milwaukee: Snooky, IROCKZ, and Crumpler. Three bands who take every musical influence they've ever heard and successfully cram it into a 45 minute set. Club owners, are you listening?

Opening the set was an outfit that basically sounded like the bloody remains of a terrible tour bus crash between Pantera and Pearl Jam. They were called Dirtknap, and the singer had this Eddie Vedder tonal quality going on (when he wasn't doing cookie monster vocals), almost down to Vedder's insistence of singing vowels in his mouth rather than his throat. We were late; we only caught about 4 songs, and normally, I wouldn't have liked that combination, but they were another band that was able to vary their delivery enough that I could enjoy what they were doing musically. I liked them enough to look them up on myspace, and would definitely recommend them to metal heads. Warning, guys, there's another band on myspace called Dirtknap (I'm not kidding!) and they have a similar style. Plus, the "other" dirtknap is out of Kalamazoo -- that's too close for comfort. Somebody is going to make it to the trademark office first.

Following Snooky was Milwaukee's Thin the Herd. They were pretty darn good, too, but the problem was, they had to follow Snooky and off the top of my head, absent of the aforementioned IROCKZ or Crumpler, I'm not sure anybody could have successfully done that. I wouldn't have wanted to try, that's for sure. More of the genre: screaming vox, tight playing using syncopated rhythmic structures, but we were already burned out from my company holiday party, a babysitting curfew looming down our throats, and a little tired of screamed vocals. I need to give them another chance on a fresh night.

And here I am now, it's two days later: that's how intense the night at the BBC was -- I had to let it sink in before writing about these bands. Well executed metal is definitely alive and living in SE Wisconsin, that's for sure.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


fire jugglers at bucketworks
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Up Up Up: The new Bucketworks! It's beautiful. We stopped in on our way to the Bucks game and James Carlson and his crew has worked wonders on that site since that day last summer when I helped them move. I feel kind of guilty that I haven't had a chance to help out since, but still. I'll make the time next year: the energy in that place, full of people ready to create, figure out what's in side of them, and just sheer determination to build something good, was just too intense for me to forget.

The rooms are bigger, the temperature is more comfortable, and each place is more conducive overall to its purpose: the theatre area seems more like a theatre, the playspace really works as an area where one could put together ideas or simply meet and and do what Carlson calls "value gatherings." The art area is much the same, but it's much better organized, and the business incubator really looks like its name. "We're not done yet," Carlson said, almost apolegitically, like this place isnt' where he wants it to be yet. Give yourself a break, James. You just got an occupancy permit a week or so ago (at what trouble over the past six months I can only imagine.) Of course places like this will grow and improve. But they're off to a great start, and I left energized, thinking about the next year, slightly high off the fumes from the fireeaters they had as celebratory entertainment.

Down Down Down So we went to the Bucks game. Should I just link to or just copy everything the Bratwurst had to say about this? If you even know what's going on with the Bucks, you read the paper and so you don't need me to tell you all the sordid details. A couple of game highlights, tho: Yi rocks. He led the team scoring with something like 11 points. But instead of "leading the team scoring" I should be writing about him, "Yi had an off night, only scoring 11 points, well below his usual average." And like The Bratwurse, I'm singing the Andrew Bogut tune again. Despite stupid hair, he's back in my good graces, playing like he has something to prove (because he does.). But the team overall is forgetting they're a team. Brian noticed that Michael Redd, hurting from an injury, didn't even join the team for the huddle at the beginning of the game, despite being waved in by Desmond Mason. (All the other injury list guys in their armani suits did.) C'mon Michael. You're on the team. Act it. But that's all I'm going to write about the team.

Anthem tonight from the Franklin High School band. Franklin High School? They're relatively large and well-funed aren't they? Then why does their band suck so bad? I'm sorry, kids, but I expected better. First of all, tune up for pete's sake. They played warmup in the entry lobby, and perhaps I should blame their teacher for this, but the entry lobby is significantly colder than the stadium floor, enough of a temperature change to warrant a re-tune before you play in front of a crowd of 20K or so. Second, hey, rhythm section! PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CONDUCTOR! You were waaaaaaay behind, not even in time with your conductor's waving arms. It was godawful. Very noticeable when the drums dropped out for "rocket's red glare" and the band sounded all together at that point. Crowd reaction should tell you the story: you got polite applause only because you're playing a song we'll all get arrested for in this day and age if we don't cheer. If this were a junior high or elementary school band, your out of tune and rhythmic biffs would have been cute and charming. I expect better from suburban high schools.
On the other hand, Franklin High School's Pom Pom Dance squad, who entertained at halftime, kicked everything, including ass. Tight, well-choreographed, great stage presence. Lines were straight, fan kicks were high and even, routine was creative and top notch. I hope these girls don't have to rely on their band for the majority of their shows (like my high school's dance squad rehearsed to my high school's band.) Outfits were sparkly, flashy, but not slutty. Good job, girls. Go kick your band into shape now.

Really, that was the major entertainment at the Bradley Center. Moving on....

headed for Sun
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Around and Around and Around:Caroline's Jazz club is located at 401 S 2nd street, but it might as well have been at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN, when I walked in to catch Liam Ford and the Men in Black at the end of the night. Because, Billy Staff and his band of top notch musicians wonderfully re-create the early roots of rockabilly and melting pot of the mississippi that they could easily entertain anybody into the Memphis Seven's music. Of course, they start out with a few Johnny Cash numbers, but they swing easily through the whole set. "Liam Ford", covered with tattoos, looks like a guy who will try to get you in trouble ("you've come to the right place") but his smile and stage demeanor indicates that he'll be the first to bail you out if he succeeds. Gravely voice, love of what he's playing -- good party band that stands on its own musically. Frank Calarco easily riffs off guitar runs that give lesser pickers a hard time, and his own spin on "Sleepwalk" was the highlight of the night for me. These guys, if there's any justice, should definitely be a Summerfest and general festival draw when the weather gets warmer.

OK, I'm off to see a rare Milwaukee Snooky appearance at the BBC tonight. Can't wait.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Brrr! It's cold. Cold.

But that won't stop me from checking out Liam Ford and the Band in Black at, get this, Caroline's Friday night. Full disclosure: my drummer Andy Pagel plays with them. Last time I checked them out, they billed themselves as rockabilly. Maybe it's because I used to play with a psychobilly band (yes, that really is a genre), I thought, These guys are great, they're not rockabilly, but there's still darn good. "Liam Ford" is actually ol' Billy Staff (or so I'm told) and he has rock and stage credentials. Andy assures me they've revved it up. If they haven't, they'll still be good, I suspect. There's enough talent in that band to assure that. And just in case there's always Crumpler at Points East, complete with the truthfully advertised best chicken wings in town. But I suspect Caroline's is the place to check out these men in black. We'll be coming off a Bucks game. We'll see what went down in the big "players only" meeting that went down this week.

And Saturday, it's supposed to get warmer. And finally, finally, finally, it looks like I'm going to catch a full set of Snooky -- a band that rarely (criminally rarely) plays Milwaukee, and somehow I don't get to see when they do. I can't wait. We'll be coming off my workplace's holiday party, and we'll see what goes down there. Always fodder for storytelling Monday morning.

OK, I'm going to finish knitting a sweater now.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day: A Different Flavor of Nuts

First, before I do anything else, I must publicly thank the nameless woman who gave me a jump when my engine went click click click getting gas at Pennsylvania and Layton. Something like 8 big ol SUVs and mini-vans drove in -- not a one had jumper cables. (Must admit, neither did I.) This woman who gave me a jump was on her way to work last night as a waitress (read: her legs were bare and she was cold) but still, saved me. Thank you so much, nameless person, another in a series of Milwaukeeans who restore my faith in people with their kindness to strangers.

Stella and Sam and I headed to the SafeHouse in time for New Year's in London/Dublin, and then trounced around a bit in the blue light of Cathedral Square Park, before getting gas and needing a jump on the way to a friend's party (which was warm and lovely and kid friendly -- I knew all of two people there, and left feeling like one of the family -- thanks Ted and Christa!) and Brian headed to the Circle A Cafe to check out Aluminum Knot Eye. He reports that they are very very good -- a band I want to check out soon. Lots of dynamic and musical changes, heavy, sort of punkish, they play with odd time signatures and overall, I want to see them, and everybody tells me Loblolly should play a set with them. I'll get right on this.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So now it's New Year's Day, and instead of going to Bradford Beach to watch the Polar Bears(covered wonderfully by members of the Cream City Milwaukee Flickr Group), I stayed on my side of town to watch the 2nd Annual Polar Bike Plunge. These guys take it a step further by riding their bikesinto the lake. I was kind of worried that they'd get trashed but not to worry. Most of the riders had bicycles and attitudes to match for such a feat. Not everybody rode in, either, but I was still impressed with the guy who's cig stayed lit the mom of the kids who took their first dip and of course, The Littlest Polar Bear whose voray into the water was a brief toe tickler, seeming more like a catholic baptism rather than a pentocostal dip.

And that's kind of how I view the entire thing. Sort of a cleansing, a renewal of some kind or another. It's something I needed to see, and spiritually do. No, I wasn't jumping in this year. "They're nuts at Bradford beach," one observer said, explaining why she was at Bay View. Oh, and riding your BIKE into the lake in 22 degree weather isn't? No, it's just a different flavor of nuts. And I like nuts.

That's my hope for this year: to really get out and do things out of the ordinary, to stake ground I haven't before. I did it enough this past year to realize that this "being safe and secure" thing is, well, boring and it never takes you anywhere. I was kind of jealous at the polar bear bikers, and even the swimmers. Not a one regrets doing it: one Flickr friend says it's the best thing she's ever done. And in fact, not a thing I've done in my life that was risky has ever filled me with regret. Its the things I haven't done i regret.