Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let the fireworks begin!

Not two days ago, I'd promised the kids I'd do something fun with them, since we spent the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend with our friends at our house, none of whom brought kids to play with. So I promised Stella and Sammy I'd do something them-oriented on Monday. And about 1 p.m., I had a flash of inspiration. "Hey, Stella, run outside, feel the weather, and tell me if you think it's warm enough to go to Cool Waters."

And of course, it would have been 45 degrees out and she would have answered in the affirmative. But it was the mid-80s, nobody predicted it would be at all this warm, which meant that Cool Waters was tolerably not busy! We had a wonderful time, getting little sunburns, not waiting in line for the tube slides, and just splashing about.

Well, that was Monday afternoon. Monday night, as well all know, was a different story and I'm about fed up with this cool cold weather. But I did catch some good tunes: Lumberhorn on Friday night at Zad's, but couldn't enjoy them because the sound wasn't mixed for vocals, and as (spotted in the crowds) Paul "The Fly" Lawson points out, "These guys are the best stage banterers this side of ...." Again, do I have to go to the Port of Hamburg just to be able to hear what they say?

Also spotted in the crowd, IROCKZ's Trans Am Dan Schultz, who handed me their terrific new CD (titled "Yeah, That's Right") and tried to convince me to hit their show Saturday night. He put forth a compelling argument to do so: it's the kickoff for a quick midwestrn blast tour they'll be doing with the legendary Deniz Tek. (Jesus, I can't believe there's people you can run into in bars who have heard of Deniz Tek.) But, I told him, while I am indeed a fan of both IROCKZ and Chief (who was also on the bill Saturday night), there was a Mighty Deer Lick show at this very place at the same time, and let's face it, Deer Lick shows aren't as plentiful as they used to be. Schultz shouldn't feel too slighted. I ended up being so tired on Saturday that after I read Sammy his bedtime story, I kind of passed out alongside him and after I awoke, I noticed it was 1:30 am and I'd probably missed the Deer Lick.

But I got a fill on Friday, anyway. After the Lumberhorn were done, and I traded gossip with the boys, I braved a walk down the block to Caroline's to catch the Liam Ford Band (formerly Liam Ford and the Band in Black) there. I don't know if it's the name change, the fact that they're catching on and playing out more, but they are getting livelier and more adventuresome these days. Maybe they're gearing up for the wild summer festival season, but still, liked them and so did the crowd-- a rather mixed crowd for Caroline's. I'll even start to admit that they're a rockabilly band now. Popped back to Zad's to say hi to the Lumberhorn's Heather, with whom I traded Twitter usernames, and got the skinny on the new Lumberhorn CD that they've been working on. They've been telling a lot of people about this -- and apparently this has been a work in progress for a couple of years now, but maybe since they're going public with it, that's forcing them to get a move on and release this thing already. I know the disease: I can picture them re-mixing and re-tweaking, and re-recording and I have something to tell them. It's a piece of advice I got from a very experienced Project Manager, who I interviewed for a PM industry newsletter. Her top piece of advice? "You have to know what 'done' means." It's probably done, boys. Time to ship already.

Finally a nitecap with the ironically named "Whispering" Jeff Platt, who was pouring drinks next door. He's moving the Suds Club to the new Bomb Shelter which really does look like it's going to be the correctplace for a weekly celebration of locally brewed beer.

So the summer festival season kicks off this weekend with Riversplash, and if it doesn't get rained out (which seems to be Riversplash's curse), there's plenty of crown pleasing cover bands to start off the season with. Riversplash plays it safe-- nobody breaking new ground here, but the bands they get are the best at what they do. Friday night you get Substitute (Andy Pagel's Who Tribute band), and really, it's hard to be successful at covering the Who, but they do it amazingly well -- especially their rhythm section who are obsessed with their (now dead) counterparts. They're preceded by Mark Shurilla and the Greatest hits (good for the afternoon) and followed by Buckethead, whose schtick might be necessary to get your attention, but guitar playing is good enough to hold it once you've gotten past that stupid bucket on his head. Saturday night, the bill is packed, and all I need to know is that the Five Card Studs are on it. They should prime everybody up for the big Miller Lite Ride for the arts on Sunday (which I'm going to have to miss -- bummer!) Both nights will prime you for the fireworks season, as it has been a full six months since we've had fireworks -- geez, cheeseheads, how did we cope?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Variety comes in Threes

Well, before heading to the PAC for the Season Finale of the Ballet, Stella and I stopped in at Rock Botton Brewery, which is a favorite of hers, for dinner, and we had a terrific meal. What i like about the RBB is that their kids' menu has the standard kids menu fare (chicken tenders, mac n cheese, blah blah blah) but the side dishes are good wholesome veggies and fruit, and the offer kid portions of very adult food. Stella ordered the steak -- which is a piece of very tender sirloin (?) cut up already so that you a) don't have to give a kid a sharp knife to cut it and b) the outside is grilled while maintaining a juicy inside -- in every bite. Stella ordered hers medium rare. That's my girl. I had a very good piece of fish -- the grilled mahi-mahi with green beans and lemon rice. I know RBB is a chain, but they do it well, and it being the first warm, beautiful day out we loved having dinner on the patio, watching the boats go by, eating over the sunset and anticipating the sampler platter that the ballet put before us.

And it was indeed a sampler platter. Three totally unrelated pieces (which, as the Journal critic noted, really pointed out the versatility of the corps with the variety of styles). First was (scenes from) La Bayadere. I'd read that most modern companies don't perform the entire piece, and now I know why. I'ts lovely enough, the costumes are classic tutus and there's sweet corps works, but the half hour or so that it went was enough for me. Stella actually got bored. I don't know if we could have taken the traditional 3 hours of it. Here it is: I know that the pointe work broke the ground for later ballets such as Swan Lake, and that the entire production broke plenty of ground too, and anybody who calls themself a dancer should be familiar with it. Maybe it's the Citizen Kane of ballets. You know how Citizen Kane lands of people's "Best Movies Ever" lists? And people who aren't all into film that much don't get why. Then you explain to them that it was a film that broke a lot of firsts -- camera angle, storytelling style, lighting, etc. etc. etc and all that. But it DOES drag on forever, I admit. And I know a lot of people who just can't sit through Citizen Kane, but will admit that given it's place in film history, it probably is a great, groundbreaking work that anybody who calls themself a cinema fan or producer must be familiar with. So that's how I felt about La Bayadere: everybody had a chance to show off their chops, in the grand scheme of things it's groundbreaking and all, and the Milwaukee Ballet did a great job with it and chopped it down to its essential parts, but I'm glad we got the edited version because I don't think I could sit through the whole thing. (For the record, I am one of those people who loves Citizen Kane.)

Afet intermission, we're transformed clearly into our century, with artistic director Michael Pink's Aubade, set to some music by Poulenc that struck me as the kind of music that, if there were such a thing as a romantic scene in a Dirty Harry movie, this would be the music you'd hear. Very modern lighting, very cool choreography that seemed to paint a moving picture, and costuming that seemed to blend the dancers together as parts of a whole while retaining their own individuality. The stage setup had a conven curve up to backstage which was used by the dancers; the skateboarder in me kind of salivated at the opportunity to run up there myself. Finally, the last piece was a revival of Anthony Tudor's "Offenbach in the Underworld" -- which was set in some bar in Paris in the late 19th century and looked a lot cleaner to us as an audience than was probably regarded during the day -- this was the underworld, populated by absinthe-sipping degenerates and artists and "other underworld scum" all having a good rowdy time with their dancing, dreaming, drinking, and debauchery. Stella and I enjoyed it immensely, even before the hearalded can-can girls came out and impressed us with their athleticism. It really captured, at least for me, all the soap operas and sub-stories that can go on in the neighborhood bar, in as little as a half hour.

And what's going on in the neighborhood taps this long weekend? I think Zad's Roadhouse, despite the hot air blowing down on the band for that "Sweatin out the hits for YOU" look, is going to be the place to be for variety three nights in a row:
  • The Del Ripleys (formerly Bobby Rivera and the Riveras) are on stage Thursday night.

  • The Mighty Lumberhorn (who were on Local Live on 'MSE last night, sorry I missed it boys but I had a date with Gordon Ramsay) are there Friday night. I previously had something of a dilemna because Snooky (favorite who rarely comes to town) had been booked at Points East, but for whatever reason that gig is off. now they're headed into the studio, which means it will be some months before i get another fix of them. So I will be able to catch the Lumberhorn, as well as the Hill Climbers afterwards -- a band that impressed me at last year's Locust Street Festival, so they can thank Snooky for giving me another chance to rave about them.

  • The Mighty Deer Lick hit Zad's stage -- for Bill Brunke's birthday -- Saturday night. This is going to be a tough call, for Chief as well as IROCK Z are upstairs at the BBC that night, too. Hmmm. Billy sure likes 'em mighty, eh?

Sunday, Brian and i host our friends for a day of racin' and partyin' and saints alive, Jim Nabors is back to sing " Back Home Again in Indiana" before the Indy 500. There is a God, and she loves us, I tell you. I really don't know who could possibly replace Pvt. Pyle when he goes to that big army barracks in the sky. What, they're going to get Lafayette's Axl Rose? (Oh, here's something about Jim Nabors I didn't know: He's not from Indiana. Didn't even grow up there. And not too huge a racin' fan either. He just likes the song, and it's just become a tradition.)

Oh, and speaking of Locust Street, Miss Conception has mailed in her entry for the Beer Run.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Catching up in the clubs

amy rohan
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I'm trying really really hard to get back into the swing of things, but the weather just isn't cooperating. Still, I managed to see a lot of great stuff this weekend.

Amy Rohan, who I've been trying to catch for sometime, did a set at Linneman's that impressed me. She's definitely a folkie (and I'm generally not a folkie person) but she includes in her repertoire songs you wouldn't normally catch a folkie doing -- like Tears for Fears' "Mad World" (or anything by tears for fears) or some of Bowie's more rocking stuff. She does it in that girl-with-a-guitar-in-a-coffeehouse style that almost lends it an ironic twist: here's this girl with a sweet voice going "The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." And she can also belt out a twisted love song with the best of them. I don't know if it was the audience or what, but my only advice to Rohan would be to acknowledge her audience more. She's got both the vocal and guitar playing chops, but to keep a Friday night audience's attention, they needed to be involved, especially since she didn't have the volume that a backup band would give her to demand attention. Still, I'd like to see her again in a more intimate environment -- Linneman's setup encouraged people to chit-chat while the musician is playing.

More powerful women onstage Saturday night as well. Started the night at Linneman's again to catch Fred and Ethel - a two person act with "Fred" on guitar and co-lead vocals, and "Ethel" on various percussion instruments including tambourine and a small stand cymbal. They kind of answered the question "What if the White Stripes were folkies instead of garage rockers?" Well, for one thing, Ethel has a bit more stage presence than Meg White, and Fred probably wouldn't be interesting without her on stage. That's not to say he's boring, but clearly the presence of Ethel forces him to step it up, making for an enjoyable show.

roni's racecar
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
However, I had to duck out to shoot a commission, and I didn't mind anyway, because it was good to see the vast improvement of Guido's Racecar since the last (first) time I saw them. Obviously they've rehearsed together more and have become a more cohesive unit as a band together -- as opposed to the just-formed-with-this-lineup act I saw last winter. The basic songs were good, everybody in the band is a pro, and Roni Allwaise is a terrifically arresting front person for a band, with her ravaged burlesque queen look draped on her impossibly skinny frame. The improvements this time around: much more (and better) dynamic range from both Allwaise and the band -- this is only the result of just playing together longer, more cohesive participation from the band members, including backup vocals and stage placement and movement. They're tight and fun to watch. Roni seems to constantly be checking your reaction to what she sings or does out of the corner of her eye, but at the same time doesn't seem to care: she's just curious as to your reaction. This bodes well for the torch-infused barroom rock and roll Guido's Racecar puts out. Plus, it was a fun assignment to shoot. Some bands don't understand that when you put lights on them and put them on a stage, people are going to look. This band is not one of them. They completely understand, and they give you plenty to look at.

Back to Linneman's to catch the end of a not-often-enough set from Rory Lake and his band of fellow Chicagoans, Cooler by the Lake. They're interesting looking in a totally different way: plenty of people crammed on stage together who don't look like they'd ever have a word to say to each other offstage, with a setlist that twists several genres around so radically that you have no clue how to categorize them. The three songs I saw Saturday argue for Glam, Metal, Punk, Prog, and a touch of country. Everybody in the bar seemed dumbstruck, even those who have experienced the Rory Lake show before. The night closed out with Dr Chow's Love Medicine, and I just learned it might be bassman Andy Aeros Kaiser's last gig (or one of the last) with them. End of an era: Kaiser's highly trained jazz background added a layer of complexity to Frank Chandek's psychedelic blues and garage-era covers that helped make Dr Chow stand a few steps above the regular collection of late 60s-inspired collectives. I have no doubt the next guy (I'm sworn to secrecy to his identity, but I promise you, he's good too) will take this in a different, but equal quality direction, but I'm still going to have to get used to not hearing Kaiser's fingers dance all over his fretboard. At least not in this band.

Air Stella
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Oh, and I saved the best for last. Nike, get ready for you next advertising campaign: Air Stella! Stella had her ballet recital on Sunday, and what a terrific Mother's Day treat that was. Best part was the magnificent jete she pulled off toward the end of her class' routine. The whole recital for the Milwaukee Ballet School was lovely -- I was genuinely interested in what classes other than my own kids' were doing, and many of them impressed me. Of course it starts out with the 4-year-olds: clumsy, unsure, but happy to be on stage with their eyes completely on their instructor -- a few waving to the folks out in the audience. As the kids grow older, you see similar skills being showcased, but smoother, more artfully. Stella's class seemed to be at a pivotal point -- they've mastered the basic skills and are just beginning to add the artistry to it, but are still having to think about their form instead of it being intuitive. By intermission time, we were left with the Academy modern dance, who blew us away with their interpretation of Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free to Wear Sunscreen" -- with it's subtle messages of concentrating on the really important things in life. The final piece was a lengthy (compared to the rest) selection of classical ballet pieces, with clearly the stars of the advanced classes getting their chance to show off their skills, perhaps using this recital as an audition tape for college.

So now it's Wednesday, Day Three of Bike to Work Week, and it's not seeming like this extraordinary thing. Maybe it's because I've been biking to work for a month now, maybe it's because I'm working at a place where my bicycle isn't so much of an oddity, maybe I'm just happy that I have an alternative to spending $4/gallon on gas! Last year, I estimate I saved about $90 a month by not driving everyday to work, this year -- since I don't have to pay monthly parking (I just pay on a daily, as needed basis), I'm saving at least $110 in parking along, and I'm going to guess about $120 in gas. And that's just me driving from my house in the city downtown. I can't imagine paying to commute in every day, not at these prices.

However, I don't ride my bike to the clubs at night, so I'm going to have to drive to the following places this weekend:
  • The Milwaukee Ballet closes out their season this weekend, and Stella and I will be there in our season subscriber seats, judging if their jetes were as proportionally as high as Stella's. I dunno. Call it mama pride, but my girl set the bar pretty high. However, there will be can-can dancing and that takes endurance, something Stella and i both can appreciate.

  • Marlavous Marla's Karaoke returns again Friday to the Bavarian Inn. Her surreal singalongs are down to only bi-weekly, so that makes them all the more special.

  • Uptown Savages are at Linnemans -- this could be just a really good Americana weekend overall. Mahogany Throttle is at the Cactus Club, and Liam Ford and the Band in black brings fun rockabilly era tunes to Riptide. I need to decide if that's a place I want to see a band.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What'd I miss?

flood at the story circle
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Last weekend lots of good things were happening in Milwaukee. Our friends the brewmeisters again held their annual Milwaukee stging of The Big Brew and were one of many homewbrewers who all agreed to invite their friends over and brew the same recipe of beer. The International Pop Overthrow Festival was also this past weekend, which in Milwaukee could have easily been named Paul Wall Fest, since I associate his name with perfect pop madness. But I was off in rural Wisconsin with my Girl Scouts, missing what we were told was a massive downpour of rain (we got annoying 6 hour drizzle all day instead), but having a good time nonetheless. We taught them all sorts of dangerous things: how to start a fire, how to use a hand axe, how to use and sharpen a jackknife, how to tie knots. To our pride, the girls were kind of afraid of the jackknife and the matches -- which meant they had respect for their power and were thus very careful with them. Good. They'll build good habits this way, and hopefully when they get over this (otherwise healthy) fear, they'll have good habits built into their routines.They had a little too much fun with the hand axe, i have to say. They really enjoyed chopping wood, which was fine by me, but being 9 year olds, they didn't accomplish much. I ended up having to finish the jobs if we wanted enough wood for a fire.

Of course, my kid was the instigator of the "party tent." Every troop has one, and of course, it's my kid that has to stay up the latest. I have to admit, I tended to be in the party tent when I was a kid, too. Well, on the first night of camp, that is. The second night of camp everybody passed out good and early.

Still, there wasn't a lot of whining despite the rain. We were treated to spectacular views of a moon-less sky. A lot of the girls were strictly city folk, and don't often get to see such a big starry sky. Actually, that goes for me too. So instead of rocking out in a smoke filled club like I tend to do on Saturday nights, after the girls crashed, I spent some time silently taking in the starry sky, and just letting my mind wander.

This weekend is a different story. Saturday night is going to be a hard pick. Dr Chow and the rest of my posse are at Linneman's, and normally I'd say, "Gee, I NEVER get to seee Chow" and so I'd head over to the Stonefly to see Guido's Racecar and the return of the fabulous Barrettes, back from hiatus after drummer Joolz' hand surgery. But here's the thing: Rory Lake and the amazing Cooler By the Lake are joining Chow, and so if I'm successful in booking a sitter, perhaps I'll be going back and forth between clubs and hopefully catching plenty of each set. That's if I get a sitter.

In the meantime, we go up to some high school in Mequon to see my beautiful girl (you know, the instigator of the "party tent") dance in her ballet recital. I won't even try to be at all fair: she will be beautiful and amazing, and blow me away with her grace.

And looking ahead, the summer concerts in the parks schedules are starting to get released. I'll have my picks next week, but it looks to be an especially good lineup at Humboldt Park, and we'll see what Jazz in the Park and the Concerts in the Gardens has for a lineup. Bands are already peppering their schedules with their Summerfest bookings, and I'm already having to choose which fests to hit on the upcoming weekends.

Finally, one more indication that the winter is over: my tulips are in full bloom! I planted my entire front yard with tulips, and this is the week they're peaking. The neighbors are all walking past, and its cheering me up to get up in the morning and see the blooms. Plus, I got my first major bike injury! This year I gashed out my calf with my front chainring. It looks so awful, that I know that winter's over. And I didn't even notice it until a couple of hours later (I'd thought it was just a grease mark, but grease isn't blood red.). I'm missing a lot, clearly, which means maybe it's time to slow down.