Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Covering it up

Didn't see a lot of "original" music lately. Well, make that bands that play their own songs -- at least not for the time being. A last minute babysitter fell into my lap the other weekend, and I was able to hit Zappafest at Points East. It was, as many have reported, the last day of music there, and the bands sent the bar out with a bang. A last minute addition to the lineup, a band full of younguns called (I think) the Greitchschlag (oh, I'm probably way off!) started things off, a little wobbly, but then they fell into a pretty good groove and got eh crowd warmed up.

The Tempermentals were up next, and they did what they usually do, took Zappa's songs and waild them as ablues, which worked under this treatment. The Tempermentals are a blues band, but they know how to jam, and they know how to freak out, so they were able to take this to the level of Zappa. It was during the Tempermentals' set that one of the milestones of this back music room closing kicked in: Marlavous got the last tap beer. And they weren't kidding when they told her that. Soon after they poured it, they pulled the tapper levers off.

Dr Chow came on next, and they played what almost sounded like a standard Dr Chow set. Standard, in that many of these Zappa songs they do are part of their regular set anyway. I've heard "Dirty Love" and "Miss Pinky" sandwiched inbetween originals and covers of psychedelic era tunes at other venues, so this wasn't a huge departure for them.

It wasn't a huge departure for the Danglers, either -- the Danglers' own music gets as complex and interesting as Zappa, and tonight they dind't disappoint. I'd commented via Twitter that the Danglers are the band that remind you that Zappa wanted to be remembered as an American Composer -- I didn't hear playing of songs by the Danglers, I heard intrepretations of compositions. They sent this bar off with a good bang.

I think the only thing that helped me get over this closing was a comment in -- seems I didn't know about this little piece of news -- eeeewwwwwwwww and now that music's gone, I have absolutely NO reason whatsoever to set foot in there and give them my money. Hmmmm, this all explains why they seem to get obnoxiously bent out of shape about kids in the place. It's not that children won't be tolerated. It's that the cops won't tolerate the owner being around kids! The chicken wings at Club Garibaldi are a perfectly excellent (and perhaps excelling) alternative, so there I go.

Last Saturday I went and checked out the Bay View Brew Haus to see the Liam Ford band, who grow on me more each time I see them. I once complained that they weren't pure rockabilly, and that complaint has now turned into a compliment. This is a band that takes songs you didn't expect to hear as rockabilly covers and does them convincingly -- they ended the evening with a take on "We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day" -- that had me almost forgetting that final scene in Dr. Strangelove. Almost, because fundamentally, the Bay View Brew Haus is a beer hall -- high celinings, long tables for big groups, that wonderful echo of a wood framed building, all ripe for raising your glasses and singing along with some German chanteuse. That sound/mix, along with what a friend pointed out, really drove home something I don't think I've mentioned before about this band: God, is Frank Calarco good on guitar or what? He makes country picking and runs seem effortless. But this whole band hangs together well, enjoys what they're doing, which makes the whole experience enjoyable. I have to admit, I'm getting less snobbish about cover bands -- but only if they offer something new. Liam Ford does just that.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Ah... Points East. Used to be Brett's (and I always thought it fun that such a frat boy name like "Brett's" would play host to great punk, prog and other kinds of underground rock.) That back room there went through a lot of changes. My band, Loblolly, played its first gig there, when the stage was just kind of crammed in the SW corner (but it WAS a stage by the time we played.). First place I ever saw Floor Model -- and they played in front of that corner stage because they were opening for Dr Chow and there wasn't enough room on that tiny stage to cram all the gear. Too many Trash Fests and Zappa fests to remember. A particularly hilarious Mighty Lumberhorn Xmas show. Debuts of a bunch of great bands, reunion shows of many others, "last show"s of too many long gone bands. And, of course, a bazillion Mighty Deer Lick shows.

It's fitting that the Deer Lick should be the band to officially close the stage. (Zappafest is this weekend, it was booked apparently the "final" decision was made to quit music at Points East.) Bill Brunke, who pretty much built music at Points East, was there, taking it all in and joining Dave Deerlick for a few numbers (which see). And the Deerlick, as they are on my "bands I can't write much more about because they are consistently great" list, put out as usual. I still don't know how Dave does it: every night he's spontaneous, timely, and delivers his stuff with machine-gun rapidity and spot-on precision. And he sent off one of my favorite places to see/hear a band in style. Points East was a GREAT place to see live music. The bar was stocked with cheap and good beers, the restrooms were clean, the kitchen was open late (they made terrific late night bar pizzas), and thanks to Dave Gelting's ear, the sound was correct. According to Points East website, they're instead going to expand the kitchen and dining room, but they're taking great pains to say no kids, this is a bar. Whatever. Another one bites the dust.
Earlier in the evening, I stopped into Linneman's to see Dr Chow open for "Plasticland." Dr Chow didn't do a lot of their originals; they stuck mostly to the Nuggets-style psychedelic era covers they do so well. Obviously this was a nod to the fact that they were truly warming up for "Plasticland." The crowd, comprised of a lot of people I don't normally see at Dr Chow shows, seemed to like and appreciate it.
OK, I gotta admit, Glenn Rehse's voice still sounds great. Most people lose their upper registers after they cross 45 years on the planet. Rehse's is still there, and possibly even stronger. He doesn't have his old moves, but he has his passion. And those songs, while stamped indelibly with 1969, really are timeless.
But nothing happened Saturday night to inspire me to take those ubiquitous quotation marks off the name, "Plasticland." Andy Aeros Kaiser is a great bass player, and is complex enough to suit Glenn, but he doesn't have the shit eating grin (and accompanying demeanor) of John Francovic. There was a great young turk on drums, but he didn't have Vic Demechi's maturity and thus dynamics. And Leroy on guitar? Not bad, but I know Dan Mullen. I play in a band with Dan Mullen. Dan Mullen is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Dan Mullen.
I'm sorry, Glenn, but that's the way it is. Glenn Rehse has a powerful enough name/brand that he could bill himself as The Glenn Rehse Band/Experience/Quartet (whatever) and people would come. But this outfit doesn't live up to the old "Plasticland" brand, and that's a shame, because that's what people are going to compare this band to -- the old Plasticland. This band that played Saturday night were worthy enough (they were loud enough, that's for sure!) and if they were billed as "Glenn's new band" people would rave. But as Paul McCartney once said, "You cannot reheat a souffle." Why even try, Glenn, when you're perfectly capable of baking a great new cake?

Friday, November 27, 2009

American Rockabilly Survey

Half of Crazy Rocket Fuel
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Going to last Saturday night's Rockabilly Showcase at the Miramar Theatre, I felt like it was one of those literature survey classes I took in college in that the lineup was a very good cross section of the whole rockabilly genre working in Milwaukee. Which is to say this town has a great rockabilly scene, if the event put together by WMSE's Jonny Z (frontman for the Uptown Savages) is any indication. I was late and didn't get to catch the Tinhorns, but the very last two songs piqued my interest enough that I might catch them tonight at Kochanski's Concertina Hall, for one of Andy Kochanski's dueling stages events.
But first things first -- a rundown of last week's event. I got a tall boy of Pabst just in time to check out SidecarSteph and the 7-10 Split, a traditional rockabilly band fronted by Sidecar Steph -- a very take-charge broad with a husky voice and growl to match. She's dressed like Andy Taylor's Aunt Bee, but she's a heckava lot more aggressive and flirty. They were the kind of band you'd see outside of Nashville-- a little too whisky-bound to ever hit the Opry, but still very much on the country side of Rockabilly.
Speaking of dress, this was a showcase where even the crowd was dressed to the nines -- as far as the height of fashion would be in Memphis -- say about 1954-1962. Two tone shoes, polka dots, precise makeup jobs, and hairdos that seemed to require a whole day in the beauty parlour (and the accompanying gossip party). This went for the men, too -- embroidered shirts, shined shoes, and not a hair out of place (and some using Vitalis or Brylcream to achieve this look, it appeared.) Perfect night for the music.

Next, the band I really came to see, Crazy Rocket Fuel. These chickies are indeed going places. Kari Bloom has this great sassy stage presence that suggests that she just might get you in a lot more trouble than she'll get into herself. She has great dynamics in her singing -- she moves from a whisper to not quite a scream but there's lots of great flirty drama. It helps that she's got great material to work with -- courtesy of guitarist and apparently chief songwriter Ginny Wiskowski. Ginny's been in enough bands of other genres (from the psychobilly of my breakout band, the Psychobunnies, to the alt-rock of Dropmore Scarlett and others) so not all her tunes are I-IV-V that some of these bands can fall into. That's what kept me riveted to the stage through their set -- besides Ginny's top notch playing: Good songwriting, great playing, good stage presence. They're poised to break out with the right marketing. Only one criticism can be made at this juncture -- they need to live up to their name a little more and get a little more crazy. I think that's something that will come with time and the accompanying comfort of playing these songs together a lot. I saw the seeds of this on their last, eponomous song, "Crazy Rocket Fuel". There were hints of gettin' REAL gone there -- they just need to take it to that next level. Opening for Jonny Z's Uptown Savages in chicago next week will be a good start -- hanging with those guys will certainly rub off. Definitely a band to catch and watch. Plus,I don't know what I like better, Kari's bare feet or her rhinestone beer cozy. Now that's rockabilly.
Now to go completely country, Tim Cook and the Riverwesterners take the stage. Tim Cook has this perfect country stage presence -- a big grin that admits he loves what he's doing while singing those tear-in-your-beer sad country songs with a "My life's in the crapper, but what the hell" resignation. Highlight of his set was his version of "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out of Me)", complete with tear jerking steel guitar courtesy of Tim "Otis" Taylor's beautiful slide work.
Your host, Jonny Z and his Uptown Savages were next, and I can't write much about them anymore, for they are on my They're-Consistently-Great-And-I-Thus-Take-Them-For Granted list. Jonny Z takes the stage and screams into the mike as though he actually needs to get your attention, but the whole band queues up on stage like they're all accused of the same crime and they tear up the joint. They are true to their name, and take the rockabilly out of the country and into the Big City, but keep the wildness intact.
Last band up, the Liam Ford band (formerly Liam Ford and the Band in Black -- not sure why they ditched the quick reference to Mr Cash), and they're another band that's consistently good enough to take for granted. Liam looks like a guy who listens to a lot of Johnny Cash AND Elvis and his band is a team of crack musicians who almost make it look too easy. They do a marvelous, almost swing version of Billy Swan's "I Can Help" that's frosted with Frank Calarco's guitar runs. I and my companions had heard some folk expressing doubt over the authenticiy of bassist Jeff Hoormann because, get this, his bass is an electric stand up bass that doesn't weigh a bazillion pounds. OK, people, you schlep a big ol thing in and out of gigs and tell me that's easy. Hoormann still gets a great hillbilly sound of of his bass. Close your eyes and open your mind, folks. This band has the heart and attitude of country leaning rockabilly and they closed out the night on a very satisfying level.

Speaking of satisfying, I got a chance to see Beatallica at the Northern Lights Theatre at Potawatomi. I've raved about them before and they haven't let me down. This was the correct place to catch them, with the full rockstar treatment and lighting, I was further convinced that the concept of James Hetfield wailing through "I'll Just Bleed Your Face" is not just a joke, it's musically valid.

Oh, what to do this weekend? Tonight I should hit the Bay View Brewhaus to give the TinHorns another chance, since even though they're going to be at Kochanski's later (or so the calendars say -- I don't know what to believe). Tomorrow night is the last "official" night of music at Points East (although Zappafest is next Saturday, the 5th). The Might Deer Lick are the headliners, and I should pop into that. There's also Kings Go Forth at Garibaldi tomorrow, along with the Sandmen, an act I really liked (who wouldn't like a Morphine tribute band?) That bill wraps up with Lovanova, a lounge act that sounds promising only because Paul "Evil" Kneevers is in on it, so I expect some of that rich Hammond sound he can deliver. But I also should catch my hubby playing with Dr Chow's Love Medicine at Linnemann's, because they're opening for "Plasticland."

Now before you go and report me to the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, let me justify putting "Plasticland" in quotes. Here's the thing. When guitarist Dan Mullen was let go, it just wasn't the same. Not having drummer Vic Demechi (or even Rob McCuen or Bob DuBlon) makes this "Plasticland" thing questionable. But no John Frankovic? I'm sorry, time to break out the quotation marks and wrap them around "Plasticland." Glenn Rehse is still a great songwriter and performer, and his band is comprised of fine musicians (bassist Andy Aeros Kaiser is one of my favorite four stringmen in town.). But I'm sorry, I can't write the name of this band without the touch of irony that quotation marks provides . So, let's call it the Glenn Rehse Experience and leave it at that. I'm sure they're be terrific, and I'm going to check them out to verify this. But people who know me know I don't fail to take the gloves off when I write about a band, so don't ask me to take the quotes off when I write about "Plasticland."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mistreated over the weekend

Mistreater at Stumblerfest
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's been a week since I stumbled into Club Garibaldi at Stumblerfest, but it's also been one hell of a emotional rollercoaster ride for me this week. Lots of personal shit (and you, dear readers, know I don't say shit all that often. Fuck, yes. Shit, no) going down, not very very least of which was the extremely untimely passing of Brian "Lane Klozier" Barney (see last blog entry). It's the wee hours of the morning as I write this, and perhaps it will do my soul some good to rave wonderfully about a great garage punk show I hit last Saturday. Yes, I still have this blog to do, and I suppose I should wrap up last weekend before I set out for tonight's big rockabilly hoedown at the Mirarar tonight.
I arrived at Club Garibaldi knowing nothing about any of the five bands on the bill that night (except, of course for hometown hosts, the legendary Mistreaters). All I knewabout them was that they were all good garage punk bands. I caught the end of Drugs Dragons' set - they looked to be a tight, but energetic standard lineup fronted by a surly confrontational bastard who stepped into the audience for the end. Good stuff.
Next up was Digital Leather, who had me at the shorts worn by the guitarist. Lead singer/frontman Shawn Foree is wearing an obvious wig, and a winger vest he must have picked up at the sale bin at Sears. He's standing in front of a synth/keyboard, but while these guys have synthesizers, this ain't no Flock of Seagulls. The synth isn't there to make them a synth band. They're still a very tough garage band,- the synth is there to power the sub-bass sound that wakes up the room. They didn't even have to grow on me -- good concept, executed well. Whoda thunk this would have come out of Nebraska!

OK, let's get the obvious thing lots of people noticed about Chicago's Cococoma out of the way now. Guitarist and co-lead singer Lisa Roe (her husband is the drummer and sings too) is a dead ringer for Kim Deal, from her wide open but incredulous grin right down to flannel shirt she changed into after their set. Except that as a guitarist, Roe plays rings around Deal. She's got that clearly confrontational but vulnerable voice, too. Husband Bill Roe -- who's set some kind of standard by NOT putting his drums up on the drum riser, making for a tight fit on stage -- is the chief singer. The band holds together nicely, pumping out a string of songs that have that wonderful danger of sounding like they're going to fall apart at any minute, but they never do. Lisa spastically swings back and forth while picking out her notes, and after their set, it's clear they've (deservedly) earned some new fans.
The drums stay on the front of the stage for the next act, the highly recommended Hex Dispensers, out of Austin, TX. OK, really, has there ever been a band out of Austin that sucked? No, and this band doesn't either. Face it, when your town is home to a top music school -- one that's actually a public university so regular folk can afford to go there, you're not getting out of the basement if you can't play. And as long as I'm comparing garage folk to indie celebrities, the Dispensers' lead guitarist looks a tad bit like Thom Yorke, no? But they're not self-important like Radiohead. They're nothing like Radiohead. They're full of greap garage pop three minute statements, which they make, punctuate, and move on. That might be their only weakness -- that they have a formula (good pop anthem held together with gritty duct tape) but it's a good formula and they're sticking to it.
Finally, the Mistreaters. They put their drums back on the riser, because they're going to need the whole stage for Christreater, who's all over it. 1-2-3-4, they're on. The crowd is moving, fists in air, swaying, the floor is suddenly slippery with spilled beer, christreater is throwing himself into the audience....well bust my britches, I'm in a good old fashioned moshpit! Out go my elbows to protect myself and my camera, out goes my butt like I'm playing defense for the Milwaukee Bucks. And here's the band, pusing through all their "hits" and goading the crowd to cheer for the bands that came before them, fans singing along, fans even firing back at the band. Good clean fun, I say. Wonderful night, complete with bands pushing their wares, including vinyl wares and a DJ keeping us happy between sets. And one of the DJ's had the Sparks "I Predict" on 45 -- a detail I caught early in the evening that pretty much sealed up the credibility of this event for me even before Digital Leather took the stage.

Also seen in the past week: Two night earlier, I caught the Quinn Scharber band in the same venue. Not a huge crowd (it was a Thursday, they were up against the Fiery Furnaces, and they didn't even have Garibaldi's legendary chicken wings) but enough to appreciate Schaber's sweet tenor on his solid pop writings. I'm normally not real big on straight up pop, but this was good stuff: interesting chord changes and turnarounds, good band behind him. I liked him, and I liked the band. Good stage presence-- he understood his crowd was smaller and he worked with it. The band before him, Surgeons of Heat, had a similar thing going (they shared a guitarist/bass player), except they are clearly newer: they needed to get more of Scharber's feel for dynamics. Surgeons in Heat's songs didn't seem to have any dynamics, and after three or four (albeit well written) pop hooks, they kind of lost me. But all is not lost: the Surgeons have a good thing going, their lead singer sometimes breaks into a lovely but strong falsetto that is radio ready with the right production. But hopefully playing with Scharber will teach him dynamics, and building up a crowd. And back to Scharber: Just one thing, Quinn: Lose that hideous scarf thingy around your neck. Unless it was a gift from your mother or girlfriend or something, it makes you look like you're this sensitive poet guy that's needs John Belushi (or Worf) to smash your guitar.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to mentally prepare for Brian Barney's funeral.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rest in Peace, Lane. Punk Still Remains

Brian Barney, aka Lane Klozier, originally uploaded by V'ron.

With all the "new" releases of material from The Beatles, and all the documentaries they ran on VH1 and such to "celebrate" this, we're reminded that those boys had a major rowdy streak in them, not just in trying new ideas and taking rock and roll to new ground and heights. But even in their early day, they were rockers who tore up the underground clubs in Hamburg, grabbing the frenzy of Elvis and adding thier British stamp on it. Before Brian Epstein got hold of them and polished them up for mass consumption, before they were considered the pop alternative to the supposedly grittier Rolling Stones, they were leather-clad lads, sweating and smoking and hollering their merseybeat as furiously as any of the Memphis seven did as they banged out hillbilly rock and changed music stateside.

Brian Barney, also known as Lane Klozier, understood this. While some people might have been simply aghast at the concept of his band, The Buggs, all this recent Guitar Hero Beatlemania has reinforced that putting a speedpunk take on beloved Beatles hits was the spiritually correct thing to do. Those songs sounded great in his hands. After a particularly magical night at the BBC almost two years ago I'd written (from the heart):

The Buggs have spoiled me. This punk girl doesn't want to hear these songs 'round a campfire sung by sensitive men who don't trim their beards anymore. I want to hear "Norweigan Wood" played fast and furious. I want to hear Badfinger's "Baby Blue" sung by desperate men who are more pissed than melancholastic about losing their one true love.

Two hours ago, I'd gotten a call from a friend who told me of his sudden passing today. I called around, hoping this was some sort of awful joke, but it's not. Klozier apparently suffered a heart attack and died, at 48. That's too fucking young. Especially for a man who whose heart was destined to stay young, loud and snotty (the best compliment I can give, as those of you who know me will attest) for many more years.

I wasn't tight with him, but I remember meeting him at a party at Chris Lehmann's (who drummed for him in The Buggs) and we hit it off instantly. We had very similar tastes in music, and respected the same sensibilities. We exchanged contact information, I went to see his band, and instantly loved them. I learned that Klozier was also a drummer, and before I knew it, there he was, behind the trapset for the latest incarnation of Guido's Racecar, fitting in perfectly with that band's ravaged punk bluesey burlesque. He viewed my photography and offered support and excellent critique. And one fine day, I saw his praise for my writing, which I have proudly posted at the top of this blog (with his permission). I was touched at his unsolicited words, and was proud that he said something about me that could very well be said about him. He was a great rock and roll writer -- did work for the Shepherd and other publications, but we both agreed that's not going to pay the bills. Not that he was about using his art to pay the bills, but if the $$$ started to roll in, he wasn't going to affect some stupid attitude about it either. And marketed correctly, the Buggs had the potential to bring not only smiles, but some cash. It wasn't to be, but that doesn't detract from some of the most fun shows I saw -- whether an acoustic set (yes, acoustic speed punk covering the Beatles) at Lulu, or just a great cover set at a street festival. And he was a friend of well-played, irreverent but emotionally invested rock and roll, which meant he was a friend of so much that I love.

His passing is a loss for me, a loss for many of my friends who have played with him, and a loss for the SE Wisconsin music community. Rest in peace, Lane.

punk remains amongst the buggs, originally uploaded by V'ron.

UPDATE: According to the Shepherd Express, the funeral has been scheduled 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21 at the Hartson Funeral Home in Hales Corners, 11111 Janesville Rd.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tough choices made right

The Colonel's Birthday
Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, let's just say this here and now: How good are the Chop Top Toronados? Let's put it this way, I blew off going to see a surf band in order to see their reunion and catch the whole set. The Exotics were at Club Lulu Saturday night, with a CD of some lost wonders (and the only thing better than surf music is obscure surf music), Lulu is on my side of town, and the Exotics just don't play out that much anymore. But at least they're still all in town. (BTW, fellow surf enthusiast Rick Royale was at the Lulu, and he reports via his Facebook profile that the Exotics did indeed deliver a great show. Now if the wonderful Transistor Royale -- which includes Mr Rick as well as a handful of those Exotics -- would just book a show, I'd drop everything for that.) I'm still waiting for Czelticgirl to report on how the Mike Benign and Blue In The Face reunion went. I know she hit the show after the hockey game.
Anyway, back to Linneman's, the site of Reunion Number 1. It was a packed bill -- opening with Dyna Flo and her Roadmasters -- with Chris The Colonel on guitar there as well. You could have called it The Colonel's night: it was his birthday, and you'd never know just how many birthday shots he put down because it sure didn't affect his guitar virtuosity. But even though he's a great guitarist, he's not that star of the show in Dyna Flo -- it's Dyna herself, otherwise known as Skirt's Jessica Knurr. Dressed in a red plaid shirt over a black skirt, pigtails in her hair, she steps onstage and belts out a honky tonk blues worthy of some filthy roadhouse just outside of Tupelo. Don Turner on sax and Felipe Calivera on standup bass complete this whole "Morphine's Tour Van Breaks Down in Memphis" vibe. Jess has the perfect amount of sass -- sass that's justified in a clear voice that grabs people and doesn't let go until they've gotten the point that she's here for a good stiff ..... drink. I'd like to see her on a double bill with the fabulous Deirdre Fellner.

Floor Model is on tonight's bill, and they're a good bridge between this almost purist bluesy/country/honky tonk of Dyna Flo and the hilbilly sophisticated punk of the Toronados. They play a short but killer set. Drummer Dave isn't around tonight, so their former bass player stepped in on drums. He was supposed to play bass instead of Mark E Lee, but it wasn't to be -- so like the Colonel, Marky's doing double duty tonight. I reminded him that "back in the old days, musicians played two... heck three sets in a single night, so suck it up, dude." He does.

Dyna Flo belts it out
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Here's the thing about the Toronados that makes them so good: yes, they have the punk sensibility. Yes, they get psychobilly (they open with a cover of the Reverend Horton Heat's "Marijuana"). Yes, they proudly wear their Livin-In-A-Trailer look that says "And we can't even afford a spot Down By The River." But they don't settle for the simplicity of three-chord punk or country. The songs are downright complex musically, and lyrically they're clever and (would they be insulted if I actually said they were) poignant. You can tell that bassist Jeff O'Connor has jazz sensibilities, if not formal training. They didn't need to have a song that namechecks Charles Mingus to prove it, although it was one of my favorites of the night. The fact that they can pull off a Reverend cover only proves what I said earlier about the Colonel's guitar chops. (Spotted in the crowd), Paul "The Fly" Lawson pointed out, "Hey, that's the drummer from Bleed" which answered all sorts of questions as to where he gets his energy as well as attitude. And this was a band where we get to hear Mark E Lee sing. A lot. And it's a great voice for this kind of music -- bringing to mind the Vertebrats' Kenny Draznik -- a cross between sweet and salty that works with this material, although the country really comes through as his voice is just on the edge of cracking. (Look, the fact that I'm even mentioning this band in the same paragraph as The Vertebrats says a lot.) I was both floored and pissed that I missed out when these guys were together. Oh well. Maybe they can talk O'Connor to stop up from Chi-town at least once or twice a year -- the rarity of these performances will probably add to the specialness.

Meantime, I have some sad gossip to pass on -- and beg people to tell me there's nothing to this rumor. I'm told that when Zappafest comes to Points East in a couple of weeks, it's going to be the last live music show there. Apparently the place has changed hands, and new management has decided against live music. What's going to go back in that room? A sports bar? (Gee, we don't have enough sports bars in Milwaukee). Points East is one of my favorite places to see a band -- clean cans, excellent (and resonably priced) drink selection, crystal clear sound (courtesy of Dave Gelting). It could stand a few more chairs, but parking's usually reasonable, and true to their ads, they really do have the best chicken wings in town. Please, please tell me this isn't going to be another Saylece's.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Playing it safe over two weekends

.. And I'm sticking with tradition. And the safe and sound these days. Lord knows one would never musically call the Voot Warnings show 'safe' but I went more because I knew it would be safe in assuming it would be a good show. If it's a holiday, you can bet Steve Johnson will be booking either Voot or somebody like Shurilla, more out of tradition than anything else.

And that's a good thing. It gets Voot playing back in Riverwest, where the old generation of Uptowner barflies (even those of us who don't have theluxury of just walking down the street) came out of the woodwork to see the show. Voot's halloween band this year was a simple threesome -- Voot himself on bass -- which he's been doing a lot lately, Vic Demeichi on drums, and Ron Turner on guitar. Turner is a good guitar choice for Voot: he takes those turnarounds and progressions and adds some really nice licks to them without being a hotdog or stealing the thunder, but good enough to get people to remember, "Hey, Turner's got some chops."
Voot was the only one who dressed up: as the Cowardly Lion. Chatted with his lovely wife Rhonda, who assured me the Lion was part of a family groupin -- next day Rhonda put on Glinda's pretty dress and their sweet daughter went as Dorothy.
Besides the usual Voot/Uptowner bunch, spotted in the crowd: Grant Richter, along with business partner and fellow intellectual about town, Rex Probe. Or at least I think it was Rex Probe.
So after a grownup hallows eve eve, I got some sleep and spent theHalloween day shufling the kids around to the many partis they were invited to, all of which were in Bay View -- and Bay View had Nighttime Trick or Treat. (Our neighborhood's nighttime candy canvass was last weekend.). People, Bay View rocks. Stella made out like a bandit, and Sammy probably would have too if he hadn't been (or been coming for)the Pokey Little Puppy. He was really into being the Grim Reaper again, but he was polite.
This weekend, it won't be hard to play it safe as regards music. In fact, it will be difficult to choose. Tonight, there 's a faceoff at Kochanski's between Danny Price and the Loose Change and the Grand Disaster, or you can hit Shank Hall for a Semi-Twang show. Tomorrow night is reunion night: and just what reunion I'll hit will be a last minute choice. Mike Benign and Blue in the Face is reuniting at Shank Hall along with the Wooldridge Brothers. Or there's the Chop Top Toronados reunion at Linneman's, along with a band that's been on my "Allright, must see already!" list, Dyna Flo and her Roadmasters. Stay tuned to see where I end up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My little girl is growing up....

stella, sit and spin
Originally uploaded by V'ron
She's cranky in the morning, just like her parents. She's bored with everything and (not so) secretly excited about it, too. She doesn't care about anything and she's worried about everything. She runs and plays and gets silly, and gets embarassed when any of the rest of her family gets silly. She's growing up, which means.... I'm becoming the mother of an adolescent girl.

This week was Stella's birthday, and for some odd reason I agreed to a slumber (misnomer of the century) party. It was actually comforting despite my lack of sleep: the girls still play truth or dare (except it has become "Dare or Dare" -- these girls live in a time when it's just assumed you don't ever agree to give away your deep dark secrets.) They still stay up later than normal people would. They still can live on Halloween candy and soda and other crap. And they still play those adolescent pecking order games that thankfully seem to even out, at least at a slumber party. There were a couple of tense moments, but I was proud at how she floated about, trying to make sure everybody was having a good time and not letting anybody feel left out.

Soon she -- and her friends -- will enter teenagedom, and she's both anticipating it and fighting it every step of the way. It's a train neither of us can stop, and we both wish it would slow down. But it won't, and we're managing it the best we can. And there's fun things about growing up, and about watching your little girl grow up. Today we opened her first bank account, even though she wanted to blow all her birthday money on some video game. I would have let her, but in good consciousness I couldn't let her spend that much without shopping around. She's mad at me right now, but she'll be glad later. She used to get mad if I called anybody else "Boo-Boos" (her infant nickname), now she cowls in embarassment if I so much as say that name out loud.

I have to accept right here and now that she's going to be mad at me about a lot of things that she'll appreciate later. I'm going to have to say NO more often. And she'll do what al pre-teens do -- overreact and stomp off to her room over the unfairness of it all.

But as I remember it, this is a period of her life she's going to need our unconditional love more than ever, and a firm guide more than ever. When I put her to bed every night, I know this -- she still wants a hug at night, even when ten minutes earlier she's cursing me for making her get her stuff ready for school the next day. She still needs that reassurance, and I'm happy to give it to her.

Because no matter how much she grows up, she'll always be my little girl, and I'll still always stare at her in wonder that something so great (albeit complex!) actually came out of me.

Happy birthday, little boo-boos!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Where I'd be if I could afford a sitter tonight

Sammy's Pumpkin: Ninja Bionicle
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Because I'd be a Club Garibaldi seeing my husband play in two, count 'em, two bands. Dr Chow, of course, and F/i. F/i rarely plays out, so this will not be a show to miss, even though I have to. Plus, headlining the thing is Couch Flambeau, and they don't play out all that often either. Besides my DH, Jay Tiller and Rusty Olson will be doing double duty, swapping instruments (drums to guitar and bass to drums, for F/i and Couch Flambeau, respectively).

Nah, I'll be at the Milwaukee County Zoo for "Boo at the Zoo" -- an event I promised the kids I'd take them to long before this show was booked. And each kid gets to pick a friend to go with us, so I can't disappoint them. Last night we carved our pumpkins, and Sammy was all about Ninjas and Bionicles lately ( you can see he combined both.) Next post will feature Stella's pumpkin. But hopefully somebody at Garibaldi will be rolling tape.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Plenty of family tradition

The illuminated path
Originally uploaded by V'ron
So, what do I do after I get mentioned as a music writer/photog who "documents what is happening better than any legit publication...">? I blow off art and music and spend quality time with my kids!
Friday night was Gallery Night, which I normally would have taken in, but it was also the annual Halloween Glen at Hawthorne Glen, a lovely little alternative to haunted houses that MPS puts on, and our family tradition starts right on the shuttle bus. "Penguin Lady" is the bus chaperone, and she and Stella bonded fromt eh first time we did this six years ago. (Penguin Lady still remembers her). Sammy's oblivious to this, but no matter. He's the one who's ready with a joke when the guide at Hawthorne Glen asks for jokes (and, they're hysterical in that they're not funny...). He's the one who wants to be the volunteer at all the stops. My favorite this year: Name that Scat! where the kids were presented with photographs of, well, fertilizer, and they had to guess which animal left it. Sammy and Stella liked the station about the leeches, but I was also partial to the "Skunk Fu" station, where a pair of costumed skunks with elegant British accents taught the kids how to warn and then spray enemies with their skunk juice.
Afterwards, more tradition that wasn't planned kicked in. Last year, we picked up some packaged pumpkin seeds at the snack station, and they might as well have been "salt seeds." They were saltier than salt. "UGGGHHHHH," we had said aloud, "..... but, hey, lemme have some more of those..." We were both disgusted and yet intrigued by them. Stella wanted to do it again this year. They haven't gotten any less salty this year.
Next day was the last South Shore Farmer's Market, and they ended it with the tradition performance of the Band of South Shore ("BOSS") a marching band comprised of middle and high school kids from the Bay View Area. This band is pretty good. They started with a few popular songs (of course, with the Boss himself, doing Springsteen's "Born in the USA") and moved on to Van Morrison and such. Then they finished with a pile of Mowton hits that they said they did last year. You could tell they'd been playing the Mowtown longer because they were better at it -- depsite the fact that the Mowtown material and arrangements were more challenging. I noticed this one clarinet player smoking a horn run in Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," and it made me forget that this band was almost upstaged by their terrific drumline. The band conducter explained that most of the kids in the drumline were in the regular band, but also learned how to do drums -- which is a refreshing change from the way I remember kids being guided to the drums: use dto be that the totally non music kids were relegated to drums, and every now and then one would shine and end up being a metal or punk drummer. Now it seems that drums are recognized as a musical instrument and that's a good thing -- because they are. And there seems to be a coolness factor in being in the drumline that's only going to help produce more talent. Face it, when I was growing up, marching band was for geeks, and I suspect there's still a geek factor. But it's also where it all begins. It's where you learn not only to play your instrument, it's where you learn how to be in a band, to work together, to be tight -- and I love a good, tight marching band as much as a love a good tight hardcore punk group -- for the same reasons. There's a lot to be said for tradition.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Recessionary Trashfest - Au Cointraire!

Every couple of years or so, TrashFest gets a little low key, and this was one of those years. Only the most hardcore of trashy TrashFest denizens made it out this year. "I guess with Obama being elected, we don't have a lot to complain about," mused Dan Mullen, who played bass with Mark Shurilla's Electric Assholes at the close of the night. Au Contraire, Mylz! That's why this year's Trashfest was so especially trashy! Haven't you heard, we're in the middle of a recession -- duh! --TrashFest is more relevant than ever, even if there were only about 20 non-playing or non-musicians piled into the smoky recesses of the Globe South (otherwise known as the basement of Liquor Sweets) to toast it.

Fly's Drumming Debut
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Dynamic Improvisational Consortium (Dr Chow's Love Medicine disguised as a bunch of jam rock geeks, all playing instruments they don't normally play) started it off with some Steely Dan song that I didn't recognize (mostly because it sounded more like a Tom Waits song in both style and delivery). Then they played that old Fleetwood Mac song (back before Fleetwood Mac got all Californey on us with Stevie and all) "Oh Well" and perennial TrashFest dancer Primativa put forth one of her intrepretive modern movements. That bled into a chance for Dr Chow to step down while she gave it to us to a recorded Fleetwood Mac song, and to work out a deal with a couple of Kenocore bands.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I need to explain, to non-Wisconsinites, or to non-white trashy folk, about Kenosha, Wisconsin. Remember the last big recession -- the late 70s/early 80s -- the "Roger and Me" recession? Remember when our part of the country got saddled with the nickname "The Rust Belt" because all our cities and factories just closed up shop leaving thousands job (and home) less? Then we all started beefing up our intellectual property, we re-tooled, we got ourselves some Starbuckses, and we all kind of bounced back. (Well, at least for a decade and a half). Well, um, Kenosha, Wisconsin kind of forgot to do this. They haven't hit the 2008-09 recession because they're still in the "Roger and Me" recession. Kenosha still has a crappy unemployment rate, they still have a reactionary police force, they still are governed by the three right-wing officials who haven't lost their house, and, well, Kenosha still sucks. Of course, all this breeds the one really great thing Kenosha has going for it: a drop-dead killer hardcore punk scene. Great hardcore punk doesn't come out of places where things are going great. And since things have been sucking in Kenosha for quite some time, the KenoCore scene has been brewing and growing for quite some time. This explains why I've written before about how great Pistofficer is, and how they're keeping KHCP (Kenosha Hard Core Punk)alive, But for many in the crowd tonight, this was their first exposure to the lively, tight anthemic stage show Frank and the boys put out. Frank starts off the set standing on his head, and they take it from there. Changing instruments, strutting all over the stage, understanding that getting crap thrown at you is a compliment at TrashFest -- people I talked to were overjoyed that this wasn't just a one-off TrashFest band, they're playing their regular set. TrashFest emcee Darrell Marten said afterwards that they can't hold a candle to the late, great king of Kenocore, Beautiful Bert, but I say "au contraire," Darrell! They've picked up that candle and turned it into a torch they carry well.

Nervous Virgins
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
It was during the Nervous Virgins set that the zit of this recession was finally popped. Eric Griswold and his crew played a standardly clever set (opening with an ode to a girlfriend who can pay the rent and bills), Eric's played enough of these gigs to know that anything can happen on the "dance floor" (what with all that trash strewn about) but one particular audience member really decided to take out her angst on some of the trash. Gripping anything she could find that was longer than it was wide, "Christine" whacked the living bejeezus out of a plastic christmas lawn ornament with such furor that the rest of us were all kind of worried that the band (oh, to hell with the band, what about us?) might get hit with some schrapnel. Really -- she started with a guitar, moved to an old mike stand, and with each whacking implement she would choke up on it between hits to make sure she got maximum power between the fulcrum that was her body and the target. This was indeed a time that the Nervous Virgins had every right to live up to their name.

Art Paul Schlosser
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The only "artist" you could possibly put on stage after this was Madison's Art Paul Schlosser, who's kind of a cross between Wesley Willis and Jonathan Richman. He's gleefully oblivious to what just happened before his set, he's singing a song that goes "She's Really Pretty (But Her Boyfriend's Mean), and he's apparently gleefully oblivious to the recession as he valiantly tries to sell his merch. (Dear boy, he actually has CDs and T Shirts and artwork that nobody can afford to buy.) So while we're all wrapping our heads around this guy who isn't affected by the recession because he's ALWAYS been dirt fucking poor singing and playing his kazoo, "Christine" is taking a breather from beating the crap out of christmas ornaments, and Fly is wondering whether to give him more time, since two bands have yet to show up.

Do You Need New Eyes?
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So Eat The Mystery performs the miraculous task of bringing us back toreality. Their schtick tonight is "Surgeons of Precision" and they offer the crowd their solution to "All Your Problems." Surgery! Anesthetized by god knows what in a pile of sinister looking liquor bottles, audience volunteers came up on stage to be operated on and receive anything from a new pair of eyes to a new asshole. I think Angie's been on a nursing kick in general, lately -- that's been her costume for a few ETM shows now. And who wouldn't let Paul Setser improve upon them? All I could think of the whole time was some old biblical quote about how if your eyes are your problem, plucking them out. Ouch.

And finally, even though it was kind of early (Midnight is kind of early for TrashFest, but what can we say? We're old, and this is the recession, even TrashFest has to scale back) the Electric Assholes, perennial TrashFest closers, hit the stage. No Mr Shiny Pants this year, instead Bob Jorin was playing bass, which meant they had to find a drummer. No shortage of drummers in this crowd. Andy Pagel joined the band for a few tunes, including a really painful "Cold Turkey" and then Rob McCuen took the sticks just in time to cover the Who (which is normally Andy's turf), and then a really sorry ass version of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." Miles, who figured it out just in time, seems to have trimmed that atrocious beard of his for the occasion. (Yes, friends, he's my friend and I -- and all of his friends -- tell him to his face just how uncomplimentary to his chisled features that awful face hair is.)

We went home before 1 am (God, we're getting old). And so ends another TrashFest.

From Low Trash to High Art

shadow painting
Originally uploaded by V'ron
After TrashFest, I had to give myself an artistic and spiritual enema, and thus my friend Julie and her kid treated me and mine to a lovely Sunday afternoon at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Julie is a member, and on Sunday afternoons the museum has "Drop in Art" -- where you can pop in and work on an art project using either tools, techniques, or subject matter related to either something from the permanent collection or the current exhibit.

I thought it was perfect to see the Warhol exhibit the day after TrashFest, if only because Warhol made a career of turning everyday stuff (often trash -- whether that trash was rich white folk, soup cans or NYC junkies) into high art. And i have to agree with the critics who are saying this exhibit is important because this was probably one of Warhol's best periods, even if it wasn't his most famous or popular. From the first self portrait that almost gleams and glitters, you can see that the final decade of his life was almost a conglomeration of his entire career. The kids were bored, I liked it.

But it was still heartening to know that the kids were excited to go to the art museum. Stella has certain pieces she likes to see, and Sammy took his turn in the infinity room. MAM has quite a good collection of modern/contemporary art, which the kids actaully enjoyed. While they did their art projects, I had a nice time checking out the Haitian art (MAM's collection is extensive) as well as the German impressionists favored by Mrs. Bradley, a major benefactor to the museum. It was all the cultural medicine i needed.

The day before, we accepted it was fall and headed to Swan's Pumpkin Farm to pet animals, go into mazes, and pick our pumpkins. It's not that far out of town, but far enough that the pumpkins are only 19 cents a pound, so we could get some choice big ones. It was a very wholesome way to spend the day before heading for the trash at night. And although I'm usually all about getting from one place to another, I didn't mind getting stuck behind this slow moving vehicle as I left.

off to market..., originally uploaded by V'ron.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Doing the Math at a Comfortable Rock and Roll Reunion

I didn't go to my 30th year class reunion at Rich Central High School. For one thing, I coudn't afford it. I'm unemployed, remember. Plus, while I would have loved to have seen and chatted with most of the people who showed up (none of the assholes I hated were there, as far as I could tell), with the exception of a few people I'm connected with on Facebook anyway, this wasn't my crowd. I liked about 5% of the people at Rich Central, which, doing the math, amounted to about 80 people. That's all well and good, but I knew that ratio would be the same wherever I went to college. That's why I didn't go to a small private school. That's why I chose U of Illinois, with its 30K undergrads, and yes, I ran across HUNDREDS of people I liked/loved. And a good portion of them were Vertebrats fans.

So when the Vertebrats decided to have a "last" (oh, we'll discuss that later) reunion show, I dropped my independent pride and accepted the offers of people to give me a place to stay, meals (and drinks, don't forget drinks) on them, and general open arms. I decided to load up my GPS with plenty of caches along I-57 and make a quick day trip to Champaign for the 30th Anniversary Reunion of probably the most memorably great band the Champaign has produced.

(Uh, guys, it's not like you were the kings of marketing anyway, but all this "Thirty Years" stuff is not exactly something your target demographic wants to be reminded of. We were all doing the math: hmmm, we were in our late teens/early 20s in your heyday, so 19 plus thirty, carry the one..... uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "30 years? Jesus." Pass the ibuprofen.)

My darling hosts, Cynthia and Ernie let me get settled into their living room couch, and it was off to the Esquire to dine with Wendy and Berni. Wendy and Cynthia were dance floor denizens at Vertebrats shows; Ernie was to Cynthia the cute guy who worked at the record store (there were, come to think of it lots of Cute Guys Behind The Record Store Counter in Champaign-Urbana); Berni was the bass Player for the B-Lovers, Wendy and Cynthia (along with Tina and Mimi and Melissa and Becky and Ile and ......) a bunch of college girls who between songs and beers discussed everything from that damn paper that was due Monday to that new album by the Soft Boys. All of them, as I remember, were kickass writers. I spent dinner contemplating that the Esquire was no longer just an old man banker joint in downtown Champaign, and as I looked at the menu I had to wrap my head around "Oh, the Esquire has a kitchen."

We setteled into a nice table at the HighDive, the venue for the reunion. The fabled Mabel's is now closed, but this place had some Vertebrats history behind it anyway. It used to the the Illini Theatre, a porn movie house (remember, back then you usually had to go to a theater to see porn) and was the site of probably the most used of Vertebrats promo pictures -- the four of them, looking cooly sheepish, underneath a sign which boasted "Continuous Shows."

Matt and the 12 string
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
They should have issued name tags, like a real class reunion because between new haircuts, (and new hair color!), gained and lost weight, new glasses (or lack of them), and just the changes that THIRTY YEARS makes (do the math) wreaks on people, plus, this was a typical bar so it was dark. Lots of squinting going on, and fortunately, nobody though it was rude to ask, "And what was your name again?" The 'Brats had played the night before, so a lot of folks had a bit of advantage on us. (Milktoast and the Outnumbered also played...).

So the band takes the stage and amazingly enough, it didn't seem like thirty years ago today, we all just gravitated to the spots near the stage we always did, and fell naturally into our awkward, swaying early 80s mode of "dancing." The band says, "Hi, we're the Vertebrats" and jump right into "Johnny Avante" and instantly I'm 20 years old again. Nothing seems to have changed. They sound the same, shit, after all these years a CU soundman STILL can't deliver monitor good enough for Matt Brandabur to hear himself (unless plugging his ear with his finger is just now a force of habit, like pushing up your glasses even when your contacts are in). Doesn't matter, he still has his guitar chops and still can flip off riffs that take normal people years of practice to get right. (Truth be told, a few literally minor chord biffs, but they were the kind where that chord was a seventh or ninth or something, and he just played a straight up chord instead. We all knew because we know these songs like the back of our hand, but we didn't care.) Kenny Draznik (is he "Ken" now, or do we still call him Kenny when he's on stage) still has that perfect garage band voice: not too sweet, not too raspy, just everyman enough to be sincere and believable, even though he's probably gotten over all those broken hearts and frustrations with the phonyness of the world. Jimmy Wald is not on drums tonight. Apparently he really wanted to play guitar this whole time, and so the 'Brats brought in John Richardson, who is a good enough drummer. (It's OK John, you don't have to play the drums exactly like Wald did. Nobody ever mistook Jimmy Wald for Simon Phillips. So just because Jimmy would have never noticed, much less used those two floor toms you bothered to load in doesn't mean you can't.) No Roy Axford tonight: death in the family took precedence, and that was sad. Axford (again, not John Entwistle here) was part of the whole Vertebrats personality, what with those jowls, that 50s badass biker look, and the deadpan way he'd deliver "This is Not Earth."

Jimmy sits in The Chair
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Only big surprise was that unlike the "last" reunion I saw (that was fifteen years ago or so), they did some covers! A little Neil Young, a touch of CCR, Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man", and even a Stones cover. Doing that wrapped it up, because here's the thing about this show, and the Vertebrats in general. Their songs were timeless. You can't really call them an 80s band because they were just a darn good, straight up American rock and roll band that wrote and played very good songs. Fundamentally they were a good garage band, in the songwriting vein of (their claimed influences) of the Flamin Groovies, most British Invasion bands, and I'll also suggest they hit pop perfection on the level of Sonny Bono (if they never covered "Needles and Pins" they should -- and they'd pull it off). If you're reading this, and you weren't there (either this weekend or in 1981), and you don't believe me, go toParasol Records and drop ten bucks on their CD. You'll wonder why they never hit it big. Because they had it all: good songs, good playing, great onstage presence that was natural, not contrived, and they were approachable guys to boot.

But when they played Saturday night, it was timeless, in a very comfortable way. In a "Hey, they can do covers at a reunion show and it's just like we were at Mabel's early in their career" sort of way. In a very "Hey, I'm cleaning out this closet and I found these old shoes, and they still fit, and they still feel great, and I can dance in them too!" kind of way. That's how comfortable the music was. I put my drink up on the stage just like I did at Mabel's 30 years ago. They brought up Kenny's dad to read Jimmy his last rites for "Electric Chair", they brought up achorus of fans to sing along with "Big Yellow Bus" and in the crowd I could hear everybody singing along to almost every song, just because after thirty years, it was like riding a bicycle. Once these songs screwed their way into your head they were there to stay. They had nothing to prove to anybody. We were there to be 20 again, and maybe remember that some things -- and people -- never really get old.

The second to last song -- the Stones cover -- was "The Last Time" and I'm wondering if they chose that one to send a message. After all, the word out was that this was indeed The Last Time, the Last Reunion Show, blah blah blah. But that's the title of the song. The lyric at the end of the chorus is: "Maybe the last time, I don't know....." And that was a Rolling Stones song, and how many "Last Rolling Stones Tour" shows have you been to? (I saw the "Last Rolling Stones tour -- at Soldier Field in '78). But I digress. If for no other reason, you guys can't let a Roy-less show be your last.

Brad Elvis
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Afterwards, we all chatted up and headed over to the Cowboy Monkey, where Friday's show (that I missed) was, to see Brad Elvis's latest band, The Handcuffs. Brad Elvis was one of the Elvis Brothers back in the 80s (and the name pretty much tells you what they were like). I didn't realize what a terrific drummer Brad Elvis was/is. Animated and manic, and probably too much for this band. The Handcuffs are one of those bands I've written about before: very very good at what they do, and not my cup of tea. I couldn't figure out exactly why for a while, though. Brad Elvis was a fascinating drummer to watch, almost upstaging his chick singer, Chloe. Bass player was competent, but forgettable, and guitar player Ellis was very interesting musically: had a million riffs up his sleeve frosted with a touch of that U2/The Edge sound. But when you put it all together, it seemed like it was trying too hard to be a new millennium version of 80s New Wave. (And I've recently realized that of all the stuff that came out in the 80s -- post punk, hardcore, two tone, new psychedelia, etc, with the exception of Devo and a couple of others, I really didn't like 80s New Wave -- because of the same thing.) I like the musicianship, I liked them> -- but this was a case of the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. So I stepped on the patio and shared some drinks with some friends and caught up on old stories. Didn't get a chance to talk to any of the Vertebrats themselves. I likened this whole thing to being at somebody's wedding: the bride and groom have barely a chance to say hi to all the people who flew in, and all the guests sectioned off and would mingle with the "And how do you know them" questions. And being 30 years later, wer were alltoo tired to ask "So where's the party." Midnight or 1 ish was late enough for all of us, thank you.

Sunday morning a fabulous brunch hosted by fabulous artist Sasha Rubel closed all the gaps. In broad daylight, where we could all recognize each other, all the old gang could touch base, trade addresses (or at least say "Find me on Facebook") and be seated in comfort. Lots of hugs, lots of picture snapping, lots of excellent quiche. Ernie and Cynthia drove me back to their house, and I looked at my watch, did some math, and reluctanly admitted I needed to hit the road so I could get back in Milwaukee, rested and read to go job hunting again. But overall, I did the math and it was worth it to go, in ways numbers can't quantify.

There were other bands in C-U during the early 80s, you know

Being in C-U this weekend to see the 'Brats jogged a few memories of a pile of really good bands. The Vertebrats were certainly in the vortex of the scene, but they weren't the whole scene. Consider this: really good national touring bands (smaller than Springsteen, who'd played the Assembly Hall when The River came out, but bigger than just some combo that came over from Bloomington) did not say to themselves, "Gee, we have to stop in Champaign because that's where the Vertebrats are." No, they stopped in Champaign because there really was a pretty damn good scene there, full of people who were into (whatever we were calling "alternative" back then) punk, nuwave, power pop, garage, experimental music. (It probably didn't hurt that Champaign was right between Indy or St Louis and Chicago, and was worth a stop to pee in, so you might as well play.

How else to explain why I saw so much great stuff without having to find somebody with a car to go to Chicago to see? A lot of it I saw in Mabel's alone: Iggy Pop, the Cramps, the Waitresses, George Thorogood, The Violent Femmes, Jason and the Scorchers, John Cale (John Fucking Cale played MABELS!), Jonathan Richman, The dBs (oh, ask me someday about the time we made the dBs dinner),Bow Wow Wow, John Otway, Tom Verlaine, Black Flag (oh, trust me, there was a terrific story behind that), .... and that was just Mabel's. David Johansen, Joan Jett, the Talking Heads, r.e.m., (back before Michael Stipe shaved his head and got full of himself), the Psychedelic Furs, The Fleshtones,Todd Rundgren and even an up and coming U2made it a point to put CU on their tour itineraries.

But I'm pretty darn sure a lot of tour managers wouldn't have bothered if we didn't have a scene. How else to explain why all these acts didn't hit Bloomington, less than an hour away, instead? We had (if I do say so myself) a darn good underground and student media nurturing the scene -- both the Daily Illini and a fanzine called The Psychedelic Boneyard covered local, regional, national and some international acts fairly deeply. WPGU crammed in plenty of good tunes -- on a typical afternoon Jon Kamerman would be mixing Iggy's "Lust for Life" right after some Zep tune (and had to follow it up with NightRanger simply because it was on the playlist.) The later at night it got, the freeer we could get with our choices (that's why I was perfectly happy with a midnight-to-3 DJ spot...). WEFT-FM was just starting up as well, and they didn't have a playlist. I seem to remember a pirate station or two would hit the air every now and then.

So here's a small sample of those other bands I remember. If you were there, remind me who else you went to see a lot and feel free to disagree with my comments. In no particular order:

  • The Outnumbered Before Jon Ginoli moved to SanFran and announced via his band Pansy Division "Hey everybody, I'm GAY" he was quite the C-U rancouteur. He was a PGU DJ, a contributor to the Psychedelic Boneyard (hey CUers, remember that scathing article he wrote in the first issue), and quite the critic overall. He was the first guy I'd come across (and this has influenced my writing) to say "If a band sucks, I'm not going to say they were any good just because they're local under this whole 'support your local music' thing." He was right. Not always tactful, but right. Anyway, he put his money where his mouth was and formed his first band, the Outnumbered, who were a good blend of power pop. "Boy on a Roof" was the "hit" but I preferred the psychedelic grunge (before that was a marketing term) of "Cover Me With Flowers."

  • MilktoastThis was one of those bands that formed because all three guys were friends, had a musical sensibility in common, and played for the sheer fun of it. They never took themselves seriously, and that was their charm. As such, they were not milquetoast at all. For Milwaukeeans, I would say that the songwriting reminded me of the Voot Warnings sensibilities: songs like my favorite, "I Dig You" nailed that almost casually trashy vibe I would come to love here in Milwaukee.

  • Combo Audio OK, I wasn't a big fan of Combo Audio, but they played Mabels about as often as the Vertebrats did, so they need to be mentioned. They were a genuine NuWave band. I saw them once and they didn't suck, but they were a bit underwhelming. However, they had a very contemporary sound for their time, they wore stripy shirts and skinney ties, and they were CUs New Wave band. I don't remember them having any synthesizers, but they had a synthy sound. Nobody seems to know (or care) whatever happened to them. But they did have their fans and following.

  • The B Lovers These guys eventually morphed into Turning Curious, but they started out as a good jangle pop band that attracted the crowd that would eventually become r.e.m.'s crowd. And I liked them a lot -- that had more of an edge than most jangle pop bands (and that was definitely the Vertebrats's garage influence). "Waste Some Time" was my memorable song from them. As Turning Curious, they put out a Mitch Easter-recorded EP that should have gone a lot further than it did (Easter's name alone meant as much then as, say, Butch Vig or Steve Albini's....)

  • The First Things These guys were kind of on the edge of the crowd, a band full of guys who worshipped the Who and wore it on their sleeves, but had a lot of british blues influence that made for some great guitar-licked shows. And their songwriting was punk snotty. They were too competent to be punks, but regular readers know I'll take that sensibility in any form. Thus, songs like "You're Not In LA Anymore" could have been done by any bluesman, and "Bodies in the Backyard" could have been put out by the early English Beat. I still listen to their EP. Wonder whatever happened to guitarist Pete Govert -- that guy had some chops.

  • The RayGuns What would a early 80s scene be without a pile of black clad, angry punk chicks who covered X-Ray Spex (the sax part of "O Bondage Up Yours", if memory serves me correctly, was done with a clarinet!) and belted out 3 chord pre-riotgrrl anthems? You either loved them or hated them. I never did admit to Jon Ginoli that I loved them.

  • Crucial Crucial took some getting used to. Lots of us had never seen anything like them. They had an artsy funky thing going on, a lead singer whose stage presence and fashion sense made up for the fact that he wasn't exactly eye candy, and a voice that while not smooth or pleasant was compelling. I think his real name was Ken Hochman, but everybody called him "Kenny Crucial". They were like the Talking Heads in the respect that you had to hear them two or three times and then POW. It kicked in and you realized that this was one of the coolest things you ever heard. They were both dancable and provoking, you didn't know whether to dance or just study them. I wish they'd recorded their songs. (If anybody knows of recordings, I'd appreciate a tip...). Standout songs for me included "My Vacation Was Not a Holiday" and "Why Do You Do The Things That You Do"

  • Big Daddy Sun and the Outer Planets The "Sun" of course being a nod to Sun Records, and their one record sounds like it just as well had been recorded right at 706 Union Avenue in 1958. They had that combination of hillbilly, americana, rotguy whiskey, rock and roll that came out of Memphis, in both look, sound, songwriting and attitude. Gone Gone Gone, they were all about sweating it out and gettin' real gone. Their lament was that they were too traditional for the punks and too gone for people who claimed they were rockabilly fans. But they were true blue American rockabilly and I wonder if any of them are still rocking it out. (I've heard that Urban Djin -- whose pompadour would have put to shame the coifs of all the Teddy Boys I saw in London -- is still out there, working Chicago I believe). To this day, I can't listen to the Clash's "Brand New Cadillac" without thinking of Big Daddy's (superior) take on it.

  • Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets were our oldies cover band. They played every Friday afternoon for happy hour (it was called Afternoon Madness) and it was as much of a heralding of the weekend for me then as Buzz's Garage on WMSE is for me today. Frontman Tim Vear didn't just play the hits from the 60s like any old acid casualty. He lived them, dressed up in costumes for either the songs or whatever occasion it was. (e.g,, for Thanksgiving he'd turn "Wild Thing" into "Wild Turkey" and shots of that stuff would be on special during the song.) I'd like to get him up to Milwaukee for Trash Fest sometime. He approached the music itself reverently, but the delivery and attitude was delightfully irrelevant. They were perfect for exhaling out your week, putting down some beers, and having a good time. Particularly memorable was the time everybody was talking about how sad it was that Champaign didn't have a White Castle, so Vear charted a plane to fly to Chicagoland, buy several hundred sliders, and fly them down to Champaign for an afternoon madness.

There were more, and I wish I could remember them all. Help me out, kids.....

Friday, October 02, 2009

Quarterly Wrapup

Mom's Chucks. Sammy's Chucks.
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I promise, I promise not to let it go this long again. But I'm headed to see a terrific show tomorrow night, and I want to blog about it, which means, I just have to clear what I've been up to the past month or so. No big essay here, just a bullet point rundown of all the great free stuff we did. Operative word here is "free." I know a lot of you bands have been sending me stuff, and promoting your shows, and inviting me via myspace and Facebook and Twitter, and no, I'm not ignoring you. I'm just busted and can't afford to go out if it's not free. Having said that:
  • Last time I wrote about anything besides my kids or my unemployment, I was geeked for Summer Gallery Night and my excitement was justified. Ric Stultzat Hot Pop was the sleeper hit of the night, and the kids enjoyed running robots to make art. Jake Rohde's show on KK was a smash as well.

  • We won a set of tickets for State Fair, and so we picked the night that family favorites Blue Oyster Cult were there. I know they're the thinking man's metal band, and I know they're a favorite of bikers, but somebody needed to tell this one chick and her boyfriend that this is still a family event. Stella was almost grossed out by the near porno show in front of us -- and this same chick was complaining about a photog in front. I stuck up for the photog because he wasn't in anybody's way, he was actually crouched down, and he was there, with us, since 20 minutes before the show, whereas Jenna WannabeJameson tried to squeeze in right when the guys took the stage. Still, BOC rocked as usual, and the kids sang along to many of their songs. More cowbell, indeed. And as a bonus, Sammy met Prince Fielder when he got off the rollercoaster! Truth be told, I don't think Sammy could have picked Prince Fielder out of a lineup before this happened, nor could he have even told you that Fielder plays for the Brewers, but who cares? Sammy met Prince Fielder!

  • Great acts I enjoyed at Humboldt Park's Chill on the Hill series included KT and her Universal Love Band. At first they were kind of boring reggae -- the kind that you'd expect on those later Clash albums filled in between the hits. But then, as it got darker, the seemed to really open up and get fun and funky. Same goes for De La Buena, who closed out the series this summer. At first, it was garden variety salsa kind of music, which, frankly, I hear blasting out of cars in my neighborhood all the time. But again, it gets dark and its like the sun setting brought out the chops on these guys. They went from garden variety to downright smokin', teetering on the edge of experimental (you haven't heard Sabbath's "War Pigs" until you've heard it with a full horn section, conga drums, and the chorus cantado en espaƱol!). Muy bien!

  • The All City People's Puppet Show and Parade had to be postponed from their August date because of that one rainstorm we got, and I think it worked out better to piggyback off the Labor Day parade. First, they were downtown, instead of Washington Park. Second, the folks organizing this have a similar agenda to that of progressive organized labor, so it was a good pairing. Finally, They had a better crowd because of both location and the fact that it was a beautiful Labor Day, and the Summerfest grounds were a good place for street theatre. I'm glad I happened upon it on my bike.

  • I've written before that the Center Street Festival has really become the alternative festival that Locust Street used to be, and it still is. Started off as usual with the pushcart races (Sammy was quite upset that none of them involved fire this year), and plenty (but not enough) good Riverwest bands in the afternoon. This festival also has some of the best food offerings at a street fest -- we noshed on a huge portion of chicken curry and rice that fed all of us for only five bucks. Danny Price and the Loose Change started out the Uptowner stage, followed by Floor Model who didn't let a little ol' power outage stop them Dr Chow sang into the blinding sun afterwards, (accompanied by yet another Stoney Rivera sighting/guesting), and by the time they were done, we were thoroughly sunburned and headed for home.

  • The last squeak of summer, the Global Union Festival was outstanding as usual. Only six acts this year, though. Maybe there was a shortage of funds or something. The opener, Mucca Pazza, a kind of punk, kind of gypsy, lots of fun marching band, was tough to beat. Out of Chicago, you could tell that they'd hunted down resale shops and rummage sales for vintage band geek uniforms they wore, but they carried the geekiness to the extreme and had everybody smiling and cheering along with their cheerleaders. They definitely stood out, but the other acts were great in their own way. Standard Global Union lineup: some great latin music (combined with reggae -- and it worked, very fun and energetic), some eastern/asian music, african, etc. Day two started with a marching band as well, but these guys were out of NYC, and were more of an Indian wedding band. Except they made me want to go to more indian weddings. The music was a cross between a Bollywood movie soundtrack and a Jewish wedding -- and a trombone player whose style and bravado reminded me of a young James Pankow stood out. They were followed by some asian throat singers whose subtlety was the only thing that would have worked afterwards. Overall, I sure hope Alverno keeps this thing going. By the sounds of things, I get the feeling this wonderful festival is in trouble, if all the pleas to email Alverno in appreciation was any indication.

So that's been it. I've been taking the kids to free beaches, we checked out the free film series during August at Pere Marquette Park , and we've found a bunch of geocaches, discovering more about this terrific city we live in. It's kept my spirits up in this recession and when you're job hunting, you have to have you spirits up. Nobody wants to hire a depressed homebody.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sammy conquering everything

Sammy conquering monkey bars
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Yeah, I know I promised a round of of everything cultural I've been doing (with a special "Did you know all this was FREE?!?!") in the past month or so, but something more special has been up.

It's Sammy's birthday, and that takes precedence.

I've already written before about what a ray of sunshine he is, and I used to be afraid that one day he'd just turn into a mouthy teenager and all that. I've kind of evolved that for two reasons. One, everything that's been happening lately has taught me to live in the present, and enjoy today, because you will go crazy dreading tomorrow. The other is that, I'm pretty well convinced that although Sammy will go through a rebellious phase, I think he's always going to be a guy with a sunny disposition, generous and caring about his family and friends, and funny as all hell to boot. It's just in him.

Even when he was little, he's always been able to make me laugh with brilliant comic timing. (Granted, the humor behind the timing was kind of simple and sometimes coarse, but still...). And he's always been able to make me smile, whether it's been with his artwork ("Mom, this is a leaf monster that's going after Godzilla!") his enthusiastic singing, or just a big squeezy hug either out of the clear blue sky, or when he' sees that I'm down and could use a hug. He's very sensitive about that too -- he innately knows when something's wrong and genuinely wants to help.

He's come so far this year. He's conquered the monkey bars (so I don't have to spot him across any more), he's conquered cracking eggs into a bowl, he's conquered his fear of going down a tube slide at a water park, he's conquered reading! He's massively curious about math and how numbers work and how much x times y is, and I know all these things will show up on his report card at school. He's so insanely happy when he hits a milestone, and his joy de vivre is so infectious I put him to bed every night and thank whatever name I'm referring to "God" with that he's in my life.

But when that report card comes, I read it and see all the progress he makes, and there's a constant message every term that makes me explode with happiness and pride. Yes, he's reading. Yes, he gets his numbers. Yes, he's understanding those basic little kid physics. But every term, his card ends with how he reacts with his classmates and it always says "Sammy is a good friend."

And he is. This summer I saw a particular instance of that: he'd wiped out on a cement sidewalk (after I told him NOT to run because it wasn't the best paved cement ever) and he'd badly skinned his knee. After that was taken care of and the ensuing Federal case was closed (all accidents involving blood-- even less than a drop of road rash-- do involve a Federal case, you know), he saw his playmates horsing around the same way. "Don't run! Don't do it!" he cried in a panic to them -- clearly worried about them and not wanting them to suffer this same fate. It was genuinely his concern for his buddies that was coming across his face and voice. He does this a lot -- he warns us of bad things, and he's always willing to share good things with all of us. Sammy is a good friend, and he's conquered our hearts.

Happy birthday, little buddy!