Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Looking critically at art, and listening critically, too

First of all, thanks to everybody who stopped into the Brewed Cafe on Friday to see the Cream City Photogs Gallery Night show. True to our word, we had a chance to chat with a lot of people about photography, art in general, and whatever came up.
Among "whatever came up" were many discussions about how to musically spend the rest of the evening. My drummer Andy Pagel along with my bass player Dan "Myles" Mullen were headed over to Shank Hall to catch the Junior Brown show. Embarsssingly enough, this was the first I'd ever heard of the show, and even more embarassing, Brown himself. Pagel has promised to guest blog about how the show went.

Another choice (which I didn't end up going with), were the Danglers at Points East, which I almost did. I debated whether to just pay the five bucks and go next door from the Brewed Cafe to the Up and Under Pub based this sign and the musicians who were carrying in gear. Really, who could resist two guy bands in a Bikini Death Match for only $5? Why did I not go?

Maybe because I really had planned to see the Danglers in a rare appearance, but I ventured down to the third ward to catch what I thought would be a quick set from 1956 at Moct, as part of the annual summer Camp Heartland fundraiser. On one hand, I lucked out into a perfect parking place. On the other hand, I ran into 1956's guitar player after I'd been there for a half hour (thinking I'd missed their set already) and learned they were just loading in. Then back to one hand, I'm ready to say, the heck with it, I'll just go see the Danglers when out of the crowd on the patio I hear my name and it's T-Shirt Guy! As in Bucks Fan T-Shirt Guy, Ned. He's there with a bunch of his pals, one of who celebrating his birthday, and there just happens to be a seat open on this patio on this wonderful summer evening by what is looking to be the NiteKlub Spot to be. I sat down, ordered a cranberry juice and vodka (which took forEVER to come) and shot the breeze with these guys. In the meantime, the DJ is playing this mix of rap and then all of a sudden I'm hearing Hall and Oates not mixed with anything. Just "Maneater," no dubs, no mixes, and I'm looking forward to ribbing ol Jay at work Monday about playing at the kind of place where the house music is "Maneater." Oh-oh here she comes, watch out now, she'll chew you up, indeed.

Finally, finally it sounds like 1956 is ready to play -- I hear the sound of a drum sound check, a guitar tuning up and I've got about 15 minutes of energy left in me, but apparently that was more than the sound system had. 1956 crashes into their set and it wasn't more than the first verse and the sound system went kaput. OK, I'll give the sound guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe a fuse blew. Five minutes later and they're up again. OK, it's a tough room to mix -- concrete floor and some walls, tall, tall ceilings, doors open to the street, but still. The guy was mixing it like it was a hip hop club music -- overly modulated bass, very little vocals, absolutely no midrange (there is a guitar in this band, you know...) and finally, between being exhausted, annoyed, and not feeling like waiting another 10 minutes just to get a drink, I bid T-Shirt Guy and his posse adieu and left, despite my perfect parking place. I'm sorry, but I have been in too many bands, and paid too many sound guys too much money to tolerate an otherwise excellent band sounding like crap.

Good thing I wasn't at the Police/Elvis Costello show. I heard tell that while they were excellent, the sound mix was not . If this were a small deal, I'd once again give thebenefit of the doubt -- the Marcus is a tough place to mix, what with the outdoor/indoor acoustics and all. But again, this is the Police and Elvis Costello. This is a major venue. You'd think they'd have this down.

Saturday Brady Street's festival came to the rescue. The Uptown Savages were there in the late afternoon, and we had a lovely time watching dancers on the catwalk that had been earlier occupied by a fashion show, and later would be occupied by drag queens. There were plenty of great little jazz and folk bands on the smaller stages, and food was reasonably priced at most of the establishments. This is a festival that's still trying to find a niche. First it was just the Brady Street festival. then a few years back, it tried to be an "artisan food" festival. Problem was, too mush emphasis on the "artisan" and not enough on the "food." You couldn't really sample anything. Now they've narrowed it down to the "wine and cheese" festival, and when we arrived in late afternoon, the line for the cheese tasting was long, and most of the cheeses were gone. So much for the cheese part of a wine and cheese festival. Nevertheless, it was a nice festival. We tried the sampler platter at Indian Rasoi (where the pretentious old Dancing Ganesha used to be) and we were really pleased with what we had. We'll have to do a full dinner there soon. Excellent vegetable fritters, and even the mild chicken tika masala was bursting with flavor.

Sunday it was just too freaking hot to do anything but brave the crowds and go to Cool Waters, which we did, and I'm glad. The crowds weren't bad at all, and somehow, the politeness fairy must have descended upon the place, because everybody there was really well-behaved, having fun and all. It was as refreshing as the water itself.

A few more rants and raves before I look forward to a weekend that will start with the Wizard of Oz at Pere Marquette Park this Friday -- Dorothy on the big screen under the stars for free, can you beat that?

  • Get this. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the deadline for getting your advanced discounted Midway all-day pass vouchers at State Fair(at $5 off in advance, that's $20 for a family of four -- no small change). But you can't get them online anymore (you have to call to learn that the online availability is canceled, nowhere online does it tell you that there was a deadline for online orders), and you can get them in person at the box office -- which closes at 5 pm. So if you have a regular job, you're out of luck. Boo.

  • This week is "Downtown Employee Appreciation" week, which includes lots of free concerts, food, and other nice things. I think its all great, but I love working Downtown anyway. It's like they don't think people do -- that you have to appreciate them for it. Most people I know who work Downtown love it. It's easy to get to, everything you need during the day it a stone's throw away. Parking sucks, but that's a small price to pay.

  • By my estimations, since April, when I've only driven a total of about 5 days to work and rode my bike the rest, I've saved about $1,000 in gas and parking, not to mention car wear and tear. There's a lot to be said for this carbon footprint reduction stuff.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Church festival weekend

coptic incense burner
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, I finally got inside the Coptic Orthodox Church, out at 13th and Drexel. I've ridden my bike past it many times and I've been fascinated with this building, looking like it belongs out in the desert, rather in the middle of the prairie and cornfields. "That's what we were going for," a member of the congregation told me as I entered their festival, Taste of Egypt, last weekend.
Everything -- everything in this building has some symbolism, even the fact that since it's in the Mitchell Field approach path, when you look at it from the air, it's in the shape of the Cross. Even small details such as the appearance of grape vines in much of the motifs had meaning. ("Fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink" -- the Roman Catholic prayer was going through my head as they explained this.) Like the Greek Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox church doesn't seem to be all that much different than the Roman Church -- clearly it was a matter of a few sentences in liturgy and a lot of politics that keep these churches separate. They have Communion (and believe in transubstantiation), they have confession, they have pretty much the same sacraments that the Roman church has. But most of all, they wanted those of us to know that they are indeed Christians, and were aware that many people who came to visit and learn were amazed that Christianity had the large following in Egypt that it does.
They're just getting it going at this location -- the building was up about 2 years ago (after a move of the Congregation -- the only Coptic Orthodox congregation in Wisconsin -- from Watertown), and they are still acquiring and putting art up on its walls ("please come back and visit us through the years to watch it grow"), but there was plenty there to look at. It was this mix of influences from both Western and ancient North Africa that intrigued me, and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the church's history as well as the history of the words themselves. Services are conducted in English and Coptic and the texts I found in the pews had the scriptures in English, Coptic, and Arabic, and our guide also mentioned that many Copts learn Hebrew in order to read the Old Testament in the original language. This is a group of people who know their history, and it was wonderful just to listen to them tell it: I felt like I was watching some Discovery Channel show about it.

Not that it was all educational television. It was a great little church festival -- this one with camel rides, Egyptian music, and lots of egyptian food prepared -- like many church festivals -- by the congregation with giant ol Nescos and warming platters. Best part: you know those blow up rides for the kids that you pay $3 bucks for and the kids get to go down the slide, once, maybe twice? This festival was small enough that you paid your money and the kids could bounce in the bounce house or go down the slide until they (or you) got sick of it.

Then on Sunday, I was on a bike ride and noted that St Rita's -- one of the bigger festivals in town -- was going on, but I instead opted for my namesake's parish festival, St Veronica's. If I were still an actual practicing Catholic, I'd probably join St V'ron's, not just because of the namesake. That place reminds me most of my old parish growing up, and their festival is a classic Milwaukee Catholic church festival: local sponsor names about, no matter how incongruous the connection, kiddie rides, cover bands, raffles every other minute, fish frys and chicken dinners in the church basement, the ubiquitous smell and sound of power generators about, and a general party that the local parish throws for the neighborhood. Bingo. Rummage. A dunk tank. Church festivals. Gotta love 'em.

This weekend there's a bunch going on that's going to be a hard call. For one thing, I have another art opening, this time at the Brewed Cafe, for Gallery Night. The Brewed Cafe is on Brady Street, and as usual, I'll be there with my colleagues from the Cream City Photogs and we'll serve refreshments and snacks (nice ones, too. We're not just dumping a bunch of pretzels in a bowl.)

As for bands, its a tough call. 1956 has a charity show at Moct on Friday night, and the wonderful Danglers are at Points East with a band called Skeleton Breath from NYC -- a group recommended to me by IROCKZ's Trans Am Dan, who I ran into at Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill tonight. In a perfect world, I'll be able to see it all.

Saturday is tough, too. Trans Am Dan didn't even plug this show, but he's playing in IROCKZ with the Cocksmiths at a free show at the "Grand Reopening of Rock and Roll" at Club Garibaldi on Saturday. And I'll tell ya, if I had the energy to drive down to Racine, there's a terrific two band bill at the Pub on Wisconsin: 1956 and Snooky. That's a double bill I hope gets repeated in Milwaukee and will be worth booking a sitter for. I'm sure there's more on the books, but it's only Tuesday, and I have an art opening to get ready for.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I'm Keeping Up with the Boys

Leaning tower of Voot
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Wow, it sure was OldSchool night at Linneman's last Friday. I forsake the south shore water frolics, AND Bastille Days to catch a nowadays rare set from Voot Warnings.

And it was worth it, despite my having to get up early the next day for the Triathlon. The guy is timeless and ageless. Still gets up there in horrible drag, and plays his songs with a combination of heavy sludgy horror and just heavyness, period. And there's enough humor to cover up the fact that he's just a heavy songwriter, glam power chords and all.

Use dot be that you could always catch the Voot Warnings band (and it's gone through a pile of name changes, always with the frontman name, though) at least once a month. But he's married with a kid, and that's taking a lot of time from him. (Don't I know how that goes. He's got Dave Raeck on guitar, who almost Randy Rhoads his way through a set, and Vic Demechei on drums, whose forceful elegance I think I've mentioned here before. Really, that's the way to describe Vic's drumming. He looks like he's simply tapping the stick against the drum head, but it sounds like he's beating it to death.

The night's opener was the Peder Hedman Quartet, and they've gotten more psychedelic than I remember that day last summer at St Robert's Church Festival. Again, it was Tim Taylor and his lap steel guitar that made me draw a conclusion about them, because this time around, he did not use it as a country instrument, he used it as a psychedelic instrument, and that framed Hedman's songs into the great pop hooks I remember him for. I'm glad to see he's still out there, writing hooky, but not cheesy songs.

A night close from Dr Chow's Love Medicine, and Ron Turner is on bass now. This is his second gig with them, and he seems to have fallen into place quite nicely and quickly.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Good things and rainbows and... a heavy week

east rainbow at sunset
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's been awhile since i've blogged; I've been busy and the world is spinning and spitting rain every which way. I've got a little boy playing T-ball twice a week, a girl playing soccer, two (count 'em, two) cars with dead transmissions (and subsequently a dead bank account). Tuesday I stopped into the art bar to wish a fond farewell to MKE, a weekly i'll miss not just because they paid me on occassion to write for them, but because it was a wonderfully unpretentious arts and culture weekly in this town which often strives for pretentiousness (not realizing that pretentiousness isn't a GOOD thing.) It wasn't afraid of being excited about the things that make this city interesting, and it didn't try so damn hard to be important which is why it was valuable. Besides, how could you not love a rag that puts the Barrettes on the cover? I offered my best to the many writers and editors who were discussing what they were going to do with their severance package.

I was in the Michigan UP over the weekend, as I do every summer, land of crap cell phone coverage (and that's a GOOD thing), getting sunburn, swimming in a reservoir so laced with iron that the water is red, enjoying a big deep sky bursting with stars. I've already written here how much good this annual trip does my soul (how could it not?).

I'm on deadline at work, and I have the weight of two transmissions on my brain, and I have a triathlon to run this weekend. Tonight, I'll see my husband play guitar with Dr. Chow, despite the wealth of other excellent bands playing this weekend, not to mention Bastille Days, one of my favorite outdoor festivals. Part of the reason I'll be at Linneman's tonight is a rare appearance from Mr. Voot Warnings and his band, and a check in with the Peder Hedman Quartet. Yes, it's a night of milwaukee underground old school at Locust Street.

Some writers can write wonderful things during heavy weeks. (Perhaps because they are paid to do so.). I am not one of them. Or maybe because my troubles are simply mundane, things that will go away, things that are only money and time and I'll get back, which means theyr'e not very interesting to most people. I'll be back after the weekend, and hopefully this writer's block will have been lifted.