Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parading Around Redemption

Another freezing Friday night, another fine evening at the ballet with Stella. The marquee dance was, of course, Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free, which was Stella's favorite out of the three presentations that night. She doesn't like abstract dance, which is why she she didn't like the opener, Adam Hougland's K413. "What is K413?" she asked me, and I have to admit I didn't know the answer. We both recognized the Mozart piece it was set to, so I told Stella to concentrate on how the orchestra plays it.

I think I liked it because it reminded me of the sullen teenager that Stella is on the road to becoming. One minute they're all jumping around happy, the next their heads are drooped as though I told them all they couldn't get any computer time until their rooms were cleaned. The whole troupe paraded around switching back and forth between these moods -- and I found myself giggling at the Moody Teenagers.

Fancy Free, for all the fanfare it got, was wonderful, if not disappointingly short. I love Leonard Bernstein compositions anyway -- its a great straddle between sheer classical with such an American stamp on it. (Did I mention that I was a cast dancer in a teenage production of West Side Story? To this day, "Dance at the Gym" is one of my favorite Broadway musical moments.) This was a classic Broadway musical production number: very New York, very wartime respite, very flirty. And it established itself, made its point and moved on, quickly. It was almost a choreographed haiku in that respect. The evening ended with the last act of Raymonda, and that was lovely, but I've written before, I'm more into the edgier, modern ballet. Raymonda is the third act of a classical ballet, so we're just getting the celebratory dances here -- without the benefit of having gotten to see the conflict and action of the earlier acts. So it was like eating the icing off the cake and not eating the cake itself. Don't get me wrong, I can eat a whole jar of cake frosting without going near any flour, but I needed a bit more action. Still, Stella's favorite Tatiana Jouravel accomplished two things Friday night: she still stunned us with her effortless grace, and she redemed her first name after that chick on American Idol (who almost took out local Milwaukee boy Danny) drilled her annoying laugh into our heads two days earlier.

Kick me now for missing Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn Saturday night: their first set was a recreation of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album and I'm sure they followed up with plenty more glam. Frankly, I was pooped from dealing with all the snow.

Still, Sammy and I accomplished the amazing on Sunday: we found free parking two blocks away from the Bradley Center just minutes before the Bucks game. Woo! And what a game it was. Just before Sammy insisted he had to hit the bathroom, we thrilled to a quarter-ending, buzzer beating hail mary shot by Charlie V -- at least a 60-footer to keep the score real. The folks we were sitting near all agreed -- it was amazing they pulled this out, because the defense was pretty sour. Still, it was good to see Luke Ridnour back, and his hustle seems to energize this team. And I'm agreeing with the pundits that even though these guys are probably not a shoo-in for the playoffs, they're still fun to watch and buzzworthy, because frankly, nobody was expecting them to still even be on the bubble at this point, what with everybody all injured and all. They're kind of like a Cinderella team at the NCAA Tournament -- they might break into the Sweet Sixteen but that's all. That's all, say, Gonzaga or Valpo ever did, right?

It was Mascot Day at the Bradley Center so we got to see the regulars -- the banged-up Bango and his version of Mini-Me -- Bango Junior, who is as cute as a button as we jumps on a mini-tramp to hit a mini hoop. Bernie Brewer was there, Roscoe from the admirals, and then every manufacturer mascot you never knew existed. They all met at halftime for a quick game of hoops, refereed by Ronald McDonald, who Sammy insists is one scary clown. The Klements Sausage Racers dominated-- probably because their costumes allow their wearers to at least use their real arms and legs unencumbered. The Open Pantry Coffee Cups were outclassed.

Sammy wiped out in the 3rd quater and needed an ice pack, and I credit the BC medics with being quick and gentle about this. Afterwards, Sammy took awhile to get back into the glory of things, but he still had a good time banging thunder sticks together and yelling. He's getting the hang of this game, and it might have been a close game, too. We happily left, Michael Redd bobbleheads in hand (ACL brace not included) and headed home.

Quick dinner, and I ran over to catch the end of the AIM For Peace benefit -- a day-long show at Liquor Sweets to raise money for "Doc" Pfaff. You may remember he was shot when some guys tried to commit armed robbery at Kochanski's Concertina Bar. I missed the Milwaukee Police Band and all the speeches -- got in in time to hear a terrific metal cover band do a good job with "Paranoid", a touch of Desmond Bone's Edgar Allen Cash, and a solid set from Mark Shurilla and the Greatest Hits. Pfaff sat in with them, and then a lovely duet with Dave Alswager and Claire Sardina. Sardina's looking and sounding good these days. She started with a couple of Patsy Cline tunes -- which she renders with authenticity and a voice all her own, and then Alswager joined her for some Neil Diamond, and he can cover the Neil convincingly. Bad Boy's Xeno and a violinist were up next, and the theme seemed to be "Irish Rock Night." A nice U2 cover started it off, and everybody knows that I don't really care for the Cranberries, so when they started in on Zombie, I went to get a drink. They were nice enough to not attempt Dolores Riordan's "I'm Trying So Hard To Be Sinead It Hurts" hiccups, and just sang it straight up, which was enough. Then most of Bad Boy seemed to reunite, including Steve Grimm on acoustic guitar. I wasn't in Milwaukee for Bad Boy's reign, but I suspected they were unplugging their hits: it did remind me of the acoustic portion of a Yes concert in the 70s. After a solid set, Shurilla's band took the stage again, and well, you know how there's some bands that, on their night, can play any song in the universe and it's absolutely magical and you leave happy to know that there's bands that can pull off that kind of sudden attempts at songs you'd never think they could do? Shurilla and his co-horts have been known to do that on many a night, but, well, let's just say this wasn't one of those nights and leave it at that, OK? (hint: it was sloppy when John Lennon did "Give Peace A Chance" ....)

I'm sure they'll redeem themselves tonight, however. It's Fat Tuesday, and about the funnest thing I can think of to do is hit what is turning into an annual Riverwest Mardi Gras parade/pub crawl. It starts at the Uptowner with the Electric Voodoo Gris-Gris band (basically the Shurilla crew dressed for Carnivale). Last time I saw them do that, it was one of those nights. Then down the street to Timbuktu for a set from Eat the Mystery, and it circles back over to Linneman's for a Sigmund Snopek set. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have about 10 hours to decide what I'm going to give up for Lent before I get my last forehead full of ashes from Archbishop Dolan. Redemption, indeed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My 24th year class reunion

24 years, stuck on our lives
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Yeah, as Betty Blexrud-Strigens quoted me, "It's like being at a class reunion where you actually like all of the people." Somebody else had called it "The Punk Prom." Whatever you wanted to call it, the Atomic Valentine show was less of a show and more of a big party where people we didn't even know were still alive (much less in town) came out of the woodwork to send off not just a record store, but probably a piece of our youth.

We got the sitter settled in, and made it to the Miramar just in time to catch Mark Waldoch's set (and were told we missed a quick set from the Squares, which I was sad about.) Lots of people had kids old enough to actually bring in, rather than leave with a sitter.

Our kids aren't old enough for the Mighty Deer Lick, who was up first. The Deer Lick are one of the few bands on the bill that are still playing together regularly. Dan Franke flew in from Texas to join the fray, and Dave Reinholt reminded us (while footage of them from the "old days" was run behind them) that they didn't really change in all these years. Still snotty, still tight, still Deerlick. That was pretty damn comforting.

Up next was the wonderful power punk pop of the Etiquette, who, while not exactly from the Milwaukee Music Class of '91, still fit in wonderfully with all of this. They seem to have picked up the Milwaukee trademark of a great pop hook with edge and reminded me a bit of a tougher Green Day -- edgier, but with that great sense of headbanging hookieness. They aren't that much younger than most of the bands that played, but they looked it -- and had an endearing sincerity that made me ask myself why I hadn't caught them before.

Milling about all night were denizens of the scene, many of whom also played in a bazaillion bands. The sound (at least from the audience) was pristine, the stage managed like clockwork by organizer Damien Strigens. I suspect part of that was also due to a level of cooperation from all the bands that comes from maturity. No prima donnas tonight, nobody hogging their time, everybody cooperating to make this show come together and work.

Cherry Cake, fronted by Steve Whalen and backed up by some of the best players in the city, was up next. They didn't even do "Mrs. Wilson," the song they had on the Badger A-Go-Go CD that Atomic Records put out, and I'm kind of glad: I thought that was their weakest song anyway. Instead, they cranked out a pile of songs that were great emo, long before the term was coined (and co-opted). Whalen hasn't lost his dramatic onstage delivery (did anybody think he would?) and bassist Keith Brammer still plays his instrument slung so way below his knees I wonder how he doesn't have back issues at our age. I really regret not capturing George Morales on my camera, but he hid in the shadows all night while putting smiles on everybody's faces, glad to see him out and playing.

Time to remember how stupidly and criminally overlooked by the industry the Lovelies were. I've said it before and I'll say it again: only unfortunate timing can explain why these made-for-4AD women didn't get signed and at least be nationally famous. They had the presence and vocal overtures of the Breeders/Hatfield/Muses/Belly crowd, but they were just darn better in many respects. Liv wrote great, catchy melancholy songs (she still does), she and Barb Endes harmonized flawlessly, and frankly, they both had better voices and stage manner than all those other Boston-based girl bands combined. And last night, they had a packed room of appreciative fans to confirm it.
Behind all these bands, in the meantime, was a light show unmistakably courtesy of PakaPaka, a great little group consisting of Jerry Fortier, Reuben Fortier and Dale Kaminski. PakaPaka has evolved over the years -- 4TA used to provide psychedelic light shows for Plasticland using analog projection units; they've moved to digital and they're using digital as a great tool rather than a crutch to add a great touch to rock (and other) shows.

"What just happened?" a friend who wasn't around in the Milwaukee scene in the late 80s/early 90s asked me when "Bob and Joe" finished their set. "Who was that?"

Oh, that was, for all intents and purposes, Die Kreuzen, I told him. They weren't on the published bill, but by the time they hit the first few chords of "Seasons of Wither" everybody knew what was going on. I was kind of expecting "Elizabeth" too, but you can't have everything. Instead, they ended their short surprise set with a great take on Cheap Trick's "He's a Whore" and as evidenced by my friend's reaction, everybody in the room knew something special had happened. I knew something special was happening some 20 years ago -- shameless name-dropping here, but Pam Rake and I had been out on the town when she dragged me into a studio to hear her friends mixing down a song. Although I wasn't quite in the mood for the usual tediousness of mixing down a song, I knew that night I'd heard something that was going to be special -- it turned out to be the mixdown of "Seasons of Wither." I'm sure lots of people in the room had similar flashback stories to tell each other. This one was mine. Thanks, Pam.

The other notorious unannounced band of the night, Couch Flambeau, turned in an equally short but powerful set, ("Helvetica" of course, plus a new song and some other tight tunes). And it was good to see Rockhaus Rusty banging it out on the drums. I just have to know where the heck Neil Socol found this themed bass (and when the hell else would be possibly been seen in public with it.)
Wow, I'd forgotten just how powerfully emotional yet still rockin Sometime Sweet Susan could be on their night and the Susans did not disappoint. It's like they never left. These guys were a great power trio and their songs were epic, anthemic, and stuck in people's craws. And they were the first band to actually be a little self-effacing about the whole scene, as singer/guitarist Jim Warchol rattled off a few prices he'd paid for a few collectible albums (yes, our generation still calls them albums). He was also the first guy on stage to reference the age issue, as he admitted after a particularly athletic run (in my favorite onstage quip of the night) "Uh, I think I pulled something."

OK, you either like noisy music or you don't. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of noise bands, but if I'm going to do it (especially since I married a guy whose band started out as a noise band), I could be doing worse than Boy Dirt Car, who put the industry in industrial music. And they were sonically arresting and visually stunning. They established a drop-forge-like rhythm and kept it going from there, reminding their fans why they're some of the foremost purveyors of the genre, and giving the others a crash course in it. Unfortunately, this was also the set during which the --quelle horror-- beer ran out. Miramar proprietor Bill Stace, ran out and got hold of plenty more cases, which satisfied the needs of the people who stayed, but between the challenging sonic boom in the theatre, the lack of beer for only a couple of minutes, plus the fact that, well, lots of us are in our 40s, and had babysitters to pay and shuffle home, the crowd thinned.

And that's a darn shame, you people who left, because not only did you miss an compelling end to a Boy Dirt Car set, but you missed the reunion of Liquid Pink.
I've written this before, Peder Hedman is a gifted songwriter who turns a lyrical and music phrase well, delivers it convincingly and backs it up with a band (comprised of Kaminski and man-about-town Rob McCuen) that understand that power of a great garage tune. They opened with an audience favorite, "Freight Train Home" and of course piled into "Danelectro," (my personal favorite, besides "The Day You Went Insane" which they didn't do) and showed off Hedman's songwriting versitality on "Oh Louise."

In the back of the theatre, Atomic owner Rich Menning handed out grab bags filled with unclaimed consignments from the basement. I have to admit, I never heard of most of the bands contained in the bag I got, except for Jerry Grillo, with a CD of standards like "Georgia on My Mind" that I'm looking forward to playing. Actually, I'm going to listen to them all. That's kind of what Atomic was about: giving local bands a chance, immersing people into the hidden jewels that comprise the Milwaukee local music and culture scene. (Shit, that's kind of what this whole blog I write is about!). Rich Menning's store -- like many independent busineess in many of the towns I've lived in -- lit a fire under all our butts to keep the scene hot. We have a challenge now to figure out how to keep it burning without the comfort of a bricks and mortar meeting place. After last night's well-organized party, I'm convinced we still have -- both in talent and moxie -- what it takes to rise to that challenge.

One final end note: I shot about six gig worth of "film" (like many people there, I still use old slang to refer to digital things: "albums" "rolling tape" "film") of the show, and I'm dying to see how other people documented this event. If you comment, or email me, I'll be happy to publish a list of all the documentation I know about.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A trio of trios and some great bikers

At the very last minute, I was informed that The Unheard Of was playing at a place in Cudahy called On the Limiter, just a block north of Layton west of KK. I've been wanting to finally catch this band (which features WMSE Saturday morning DJ Dietrich -- who isn't on the air right now because he's probably sleeping in) and I thought I'd have to miss them. Tonight is the big Atomic Valentine show, and The Unheard Of, along with Voot Warnings, are playing at Cochanski's in one of those band-by-band smackdowns. If it weren't for the send off for Atomic tonight, I'd be there.

But I'm glad I hit this great little bar in Cudahy that seems built for bands. Not a bad stage (but the backlighting pretty much made me accept that available light photography was NOT going to be happening here all that much). I walked in at what I thought was the end of a set from Waukesha's False Hope, a trio of part emo, part rawk, even part garage. They weren't bad -- they had great use of dynamics in their songwriting, good use of tempo changes. Their rhythm section needs to listen to each other more -- they were out of sync a few times and I think their bass player was too worried about being in sync with the guitarist more. The guitar player was mentioning "we have a couple more." Then they quit. They were called back for an encore, which ended up being something like 7 songs. Then their friends called them back for another encore, which turned out to be four more songs. That would have been OK, except they took something like 2 minutes between each song, and frankly, it wasn't their strongest material: they were playing for the sake of playing more, not because they had some blistering sound they were going to leave me with. They should have quit after the 3rd song in Enccore #1 -- that was a trio of good fuzzy rants that would have warmed up the crowd for the next band, and left people wanting more. The Rule of Frankovic, boys: Always Leave Them Wanting, rather than Overly Full. Get a set list -- stick to it, and have a couple (three tops) of strong encore tunes, because without these things, guys, you came off sloppy and that's not a final impression you want to leave people with.

The Unheard Of takes the stage, and they're strong and terrific. the sound is basically a really great 60s biker-era band that managed to get in a collasal pile up crash with The Magic Bus. They start out sounding like the Fuzztones complete with farfisa sounding organ, fuzzy, distorted guitars and thumping bass, but then they dive into a pool of sweet psychedlic jamming. And they look like the perfect band to be playing at Rockerbox (I admit I got that visual after seeing fans in the audience with Rockerbox T-Shirts on). Keyboardist had a series of candles all over his workstation, and I distinctly smelled some great hippie incense infusing the room by song 3. I'll be back to see these guys again, that's for sure. Best part: the old cassette recorder on the ground -- a low-fi way of rolling tape that I'm sure worked well for this band.

Ended the night with a trip to the East Side. Figures -- I finally get an excellent place to park on the East Side (right in front of the BBC) and the band I came to see -- Revolush -- had already played. I listened to the band onstage to see if I wanted to pay cover anyway, and, sorry, I didn't. It was some generic pop rock with this female singer who was jumping all over the stage, but it didn't seem like it was because she had endearing boundless energy, it was more because she wanted everybody to think she was cute. Pass.

Over the river and up the Hill to Locust Street, where I popped into the Riverwest Commons to see 1956. Frankly, I wasn't sure how well that was going to work, but they worked the sound system in there adequately, and a good band with strong songs is going to sound good in any circumstances. 1956 has this vibe going that's hard to describe -- they're definitely a power trio, but I've written this before, they're hooky enough to even get some radio hits underneath the brooding sound. Sometimes they're even toe-tappingly good.

It was a good pairing with Crumpler, who have the same dichotomy going: brooding but almost happy pop. Crumpler's takes it in a proggier direction and they're kind of self-conscious about it: "That song had exactly 43,245 notes in it" they mentioned after a tune that was so loaded with syncopated pentatonic triplet runs I almost started laughing. The self-consciousness saves them from being hot-doggy: you know they know they're showing off, but they're so good at it that you're glad then can do these things. Like 1956, I need to get out and see these guys more often.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An all-star break from cynicism

even before the crowd can see them
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I'm sitting here enjoying the free McDonald's cappucino I won with my hoops ticket from last night (since the Bucks won, and won with at least 100 points. Probably better for my diet than the Royale with Cheese they used to hand out under the same promotion.)

OK, so the Indiana Pacers are not exactly the league's most difficult-to-beat team. OK, so Ramon "The Evil Understudy" Sessions didn't tear up the floor last night like he'd been doing since everybody got hurt on the team (which will no doubt elicit "I told you so" cries of his supposed inconsistency). It's kind of hard to still be cynical about this Bucks team that, with the injuries, everybody else gave up on. And I have to admit, count me in with the cynics. Stella and I arrived rather early last night, and she got another chance to check out the team before they came through the tunnel, and that gave me a chance to catch a glimpse of them as well. They walk out of the locker room (a locker room that former Buck TJ Ford almost walked into out of habit, according to a tweet by bucksdotcom!) and here they are, in a team huddle which is actually quite sincere, since there's only a handful of fans who are there to witness this: it's not just for show. My rampant cynicism is quickly diminishing.

And it's nearly wiped out by the time the anthem is delivered by some guy from the Special Olympics. Sure, he's a little flat, but there's that word again: sincere. He's just singing the anthem with feeling and he hits "land of the free" to huge cheers from the crowd, and it reminds me that the anthem is just that, an anthem to be sung by ordinary people and cheered on by the same. Granted, I've dissed some anthem performers in this very blog at times, but that's because in this case, a delivery that comes from the heart trumps precision any day.

Andrew Bogut even seems to have turned over a leaf. Just last Saturday, he looked like hell. He was wearing some overworn jeans, a white shirt (that wasn't tucked in) a tie that never seemed to make it down the center of his shirt, topped off by a black sportscoat that seemed to be there just to comply with NBA dress code. I'll give him this: he's got a stress fracture in his back, when my back's hurting, you're lucky if you can get me out of my fat sweats. But last night, I gotta wonder if he finally hired a new stylist, or just got inspired watching the umpteenth run of "Saturday Night Fever" that's been running on AMC this week. He comes out in a smashing cream color suit (not quite white), elegant shirt, great tie, and matching shoes -- very updated Travolta look.

Oh, yeah, the game. Last time I was in the BC at the same time as Travis Diener, there were plenty of Marquette faithful there to cheer him on, but last night there was a handful of fans with "We love Travis" shirts on but that was about it. And it was just as well: Diener wasn't at all remarkable last night. In fact, there were no real standouts on either team -- but the Bucks still played well. And maybe that's the thing: they've accepted that they're down three starters, and uh, maybe they just have to get this team together and strengthen up what was formerly the bench. Richard Jefferson has taken the place of Evil Understudy from Sessions, so that's giving me time to wonder how the heck, once and for all, is Sessions' first name pronounced. (our announcer changes it up every so often.) Is it RAYmon, as in "Everybody loves Raymond without the D"? (that's what our announcer seems to like best.) Is it RAH-mon, as in "I had to pay the rent this week, so I'll have to do with ramen noodles until payday"? Or is it RaMOAN, as in, "Who'da thunk Ron Ashton would have outlived Joey Ramone?"

This whole break from cynicism seemed to bleed into the stands. We had a particularly fun bunch of people in our section, including a character who at times did the splitz, flirted with our usherette, and did everything he could to get the attention of the "Flex Cam." The pre-Valentine's day "kiss cam" was especially hot -- with only a few people blowing it off. And so the last game before the NBA All-Star break closes, and it's fairly easily as well.

Speaking of Valentine's day, the place to be this weekend -- I have tickets in hand -- will be the Miramar Theatre for the Atomic Valentine show. At least half the bands there are legends from some 20 years ago, and have reformed for this appreciatve show, and it will be packed with what could be called Milwaukee music scene all-stars. It's just nice to know that most of these bands' members are still making music. I'm anticipating something of a homecoming party for the Milwaukee Music scene, circa 1992. Partially a rock show, and partially a party where you know you'll see people you haven't seen in awhile. But that's not all going on:

  • Friday night is a tough choice. You can get Revolush at the BBC.

  • Or you can head to the Cactus, and see two bands that usually haunt the Riverwest Commons: FSFI and the Grand Disaster -- both terrific (and they share some personnel, so stage changing should be a minimum).

  • Or you can head to the Riverwest Commons and catch some bands that usually haunt the Cactus: 1956, Revision Text and Crumpler.

  • Saturday night, if you're not in the mood to see reunions of some of most Milwaukee's most legendary bands at the Miramar, you can see a future legendary band, The Danglers, re-living their first gig at The Pub in Riverwest. If it wasn't for the Atomic Valentine, that's where I'd be, for sure.

  • Otherwise, you can see recreations of legendary bands. Rocket Queen, a Guns 'n Roses tribute band, is at the Monkey Bar. Maybe it's appropriate that a GNR tribute band is playing the same night as a Led Zeppelin tribute band (No Quarter, at the BBC), since GNR was originally billed as "America's answer to Led Zepppelin" anyway.

And I'm not even going to make a cynical remark about local legends vs. national cover bands. I'll let you do that.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bucks: Exceeding Expectations

Honestly, I wasn't expecting the Bucks to do much last night against Detroit. Without Redd, I would have expected a good game. WIthout Bogut, hmmmm. Maybe a chance. Without Luke R using the force? C'mon Sammy, let's go to a game and just have a mother-son date, because time at the Bradley Center with a 5-year-old doesn't have to be about the game.

It was anyway. Sammy got right into it from the get go! "Woo, that was a close one," he'd say at various shots. He'd yell when everybody else yelled, and of course he got a little tired now and then, but we had a good time snacking together. He dutifully took off the free hat he got as fan swag for the anthem, which was rendered by the Oshkosh Middle School Boy's Choir. Another one of those subdued, Andy Williams Show-style arrangements, like it was almost barbershop. Except it didn't work. This choir wasn't strong enough to pull it off, (Geez, they're only middle school boys!) and further, I don't think that many choirs could. It's the just wrong kind of arrangement for the National Anthem. It was the kind of thing you could picture the family settling down to watch, with "Dad" sticking a pipe in his mouth and nodding appreciatively. Then we get a new intro sequence. They probably realized, "Oh shoot, half the people we feature in our current sequence with their newspaper clips are out for the season! We need to make this a bit more generic." And it's actually better: it uses this hip-hop take on "In A Gadda-Da-Vida," with its meanacing bassline, to bring on the team. Then, right before tipoff, there's some better music than they had before, but unfortunately the Energee girls aren't used to a slower, syncopated beat and they seem kind of lost. I'm just not impressed with Energee this season: they seem to be choosing sluttieness over precision. About a year ago, I'd talked to a former Energee dancer who confirmed what I'd suspected - the NBA is really leaning on local dance squads to be more sex-ay. And you know my response -- there's a difference between sexiness and sluttieness. The former still has precision. The former is still tight. Boys, if you want to see strippers, there's always the Airport Lounge.

By the second quarter, I was actually quite impressed with the fact that the Bucks weren't down by, like, 30. Ramon Sessions, as @bucksdotcom later tweeted, was on fire (and he ended up scoring his career high that night.) We were treated to the debut of a new squad, the Bucks Wild Drumline. Good debut performance, but they didn't blow me away -- yet. They're not quite "wild" yet, but as opposed to Energee, they are tight and they have their fundamentals down. My understanding is that they're fairly new, and so they need to play together a lot, develop a voice/style, and they'll be ready for competition soon. But here's the thing. Who thought it was a good idea to have them debut on the same night when the halftime entertainment was The Bucket Boys? As I wrote back when I first saw those guys from Chicago:
Ah, but the non-basketball highlight of the evening was definitely Chicago's The Bucket Boys, the halftime entertainment. Great stuff. Brian nailed the description: "The Drummers of Burundi on a Budget." Four guys sitting on stools, with, between them, about 6 of those five gallon white plastic buckets that bulk paint or fast food pickles come in, each guy holding a pair of standard drumsticks that probably cost more than the buckets. You can just picture the leader of this group, on break during his day job, thinking to himself, "There has got to be a better way of making money with these buckets than slogging pickles," while tapping out a rhythm with some paint mixing sticks or wooden spoons, remembering that tour of STOMP he'd seen a few years back on a high school field trip. The light bulb goes on, and now they're performing at halftime shows and getting standing ovations. These guys were as tight as any drumline James Brown would hire.

Since I'd written that, they've expanded their ranks to 6, and they've gotten even more amazing, drawing a standing ovation from the halftime crowd. I can just picture the Wild Drumline backstage, half in awe of what they should be aiming for, and half totally deflated after what was a solid and probably nervewracking debut. Worse yet, if I were Wild Drumline sponsor Cascio Interstate Music, I'd be pissed. Here they go and outfit Wild Drumline with top of the line Pearl gear that looked and sounded great (and I'd guess totaled in the five figure range for all of it!), but then out come these dudes from Chicago with nothing but some (and clearly worn from use) buckets. They blow everybody away, and make a point that a music store sponsor doesn't necessarily want made: "You don't need top of the line gear to be great! All you need are some old paint buckets that Home Depot has for five bucks!"
Sammy did plenty of percussion on his own: as our seats are behind the basket, we got some of those thunder sticks to bang together whenever the opposing team attempts a free throw. Too bad there weren't too many opportunities to do that in the second half -- seemed like the Bucks were the only team getting fouled for a while there. And then suddenly, it's a game. Nobody in the Bradley Center, least of all me, expected this! Sessions misses a crucial free throw, and within a couple of minutes, it's overtime time. But I've got a five year old with me, and a cranky, up past his bedtime, one at that. We head to the car and listen to the rest of the heartbreaking loss on the way home, but even the announcers and the call-in guys are still picking up their jaws from the floor. With three starters out, nobody expected this. It's like Sessions was the evil understudy who finally gets his chance when the divastars suddenly took ill. (OK, maybe he's not evil, but I still like the concept of the evil understudy.) If anything good comes of this whole mess, it's going to force the bench to step it up, and there's nothing like a team with a deep, experienced bench.
Babysitting duties were handed over to me, and as I put the kids to bed, Brian headed over to the Cactus Club to see Couch Flambeau open up for Chicago's Cheer:Accident. He reports:
  • Rockhaus Rusty is doing well. Things are cleaning up from the fire and he hopes to re-open soon.

  • Flambeau, it goes without saying, turned in a typically excellent performance. There's nothing like a band that's consistently great to count on.

  • Cheer: Accident was very good. "Kind of rock, punk jazz, lots of different instruments and different arrangements, very experiemental, overall very interesting band that holds your attention." Coming from Brian, that's hard to do. He got home fairly late, which means there was plenty of musical goings on to hold his attention.

Right now, my lower back is achy -- today was another terrific day to head out to the rink at Red Arrow Park for some ice skating with the kids. Wow, was it sunny -- almost to the point of being blinded on the white rink, but the sun dipped behind the Milwaukee Center tower and we were able to see. It wasn't really packed, but since it was so warm, we didn't get much Zamboni action. But we didn't really expect it anyway.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Day the Music didn't die

Marlavous grabs the stage
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, today's the 50's anniversary of that awful plane crash that took Buddy Holly from us, and frankly, the music didn't die that day. That's like saying "Imagine" died when Chapman took Lennon out. The worst thing you can do when a musician dies is focus on the death, instead of celebrating the music. That's why this whole "Winter Dance Party" schtick that Mark Shurilla takes on the road this time of year is a delight, rather than a funeral.

Thing is, when he takes it on the road, it's not some hotel lobby or whatever. It's more like a concert, taking place in some grand theatre in Sheboygan or Oshkosh or Green Bay. This past weekend, I got in the car with Marlavous and witnessed the spectable at the Stephanie Weill center in Sheboygan, a grand (if not contrived in age) theatre in that city's downtown. The walls have a kind of fake stucco on them (maybe it's covering up older faults), but the ceiling with twinkling light stars reminds me of the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Except this isn't a ballroom, and that's a problem when the name of the event is the Winter Dance Party.

Shurilla starts things off with some standard Buddy Holly, for an audience whose age suggests these folks were teenagers when Buddy was making his mark. These people weren't here for fake nostalgia -- they were here to remember their youth. A few were maybe here to remember their kids' youth (and maybe wishing they'd been kids at the time) -- witness the lady who was celebrating her 103rd birthday that night.

Lil Miss Firecracker growing up
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
This party, like the original Winter Dance Party, wasn't just about one artist, though. While not completely mirroring the original lineup, Shurilla collected a group of people paying tribute to the general timeframe. That's what justified the inclusion of Liam Ford (well, that's his stage name these days) echoing Johnny Cash, doing the man in black's standard hits. He doesn't necessarily look, or even sound exactly like Cash, but he evokes him, channeling his spirit, which is more memorable than some carbon copy Cash impersonator. He was joined by Jayne "Lil Miss Firecracker" Taylor. Remember her? She did the Winter Dance Party a couple of years back, she was but 15. I don't need to tell you that they did Johnny and June in Jackson, and that made me happy for a variety of reasons. Mostly because you could see that Lil' Miss Firecracker has grown up a lot in these two years. She's much looser on stage, much more comfortable, and she's getting downright sassy in her delivery, so covering June Carter did wonders for her. Then she has her own time to do Connie Francis' "Sweet Nothings" and "I'm Sorry" and you're pouting right along with her. She's come a long way and she's ready to support the CD she's cutting with Shurilla.Out comes Danny J, "The Pavarotti of Rock" and wows the crowd with an operatic "O Solo Mia" and he's got the audience in the palm of his hands. Dressed as a gangster, he follows through later with a fine "Unchained Melody" (well, wasn't that an obvious choice) and he's set. Pretty much gets the same reaction the real Pavorotti got. He's got a serious set of lungs there.

I'm still waiting for Marlavous to hit the stage. We drove all this way, but she's taking her time transforming into Ronnie Spector.

In the meantime, John Van Thiel came and did a wonderful Elvis -- he's one of the better Elvii I've seen in these parts. He's got the moves down, and he doesn't overdo the operatic part of Elvis' repertoire, like I've seen other Elvis impersonators do to the point of parody. He's dressed in a gold lame "10 Million Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" jacket and he swivels and shakes like the real Elvis did before he got too hooked on amphetamines. Danny J joins him for a duet of "It's Now or Never" but ahhhh... Danny boy. Did you need to upstage Elvis? We know you can hold a note for ten minutes. We know you know the original aria "It's Now or Never" was based on and in the original Italian. We know you've got these chops. But dude, not even Sinatra upstaged the real Elvis, even though he could have. You could have given Van Theil more than a anticlimatic verse after your bit.

Before Marlavous hits the stage, emcee Alan Eisenberg reminds the crowd that there is indeed a dance floor at the Weill Center, but except for the old lady and this one guy in a wheelchair, (and admittedly two or three others), nobody takes advantage of it. C'mon Sheboygan, this is the Winter Dance Party. You mean to tell me that the only people who've can dance are a 103 year old lady and a guy in a wheelchair? You oughta be ashamed of yourselves!

Finally, Marlavous gets her two songs, "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You" and she nails them. She needs to do more: I'd like to hear her take on "Walkin' in the Sand" or any Leslie Gore tunes, probably because I know the Ronnie Spector story, I thusly hate Phil Spector, and I need to be reminded there were plenty of great girl groups of that period that he didn't touch.

Afterwards, we pile in the car, and talk about going from one end of the continuum to the other: we head to Linneman's in Riverwest for some prog! The Julie B Well is there, but alas, we didn't get there in time to catch them. Instead, we get support act Toad King, a trio of young prog jazz boys who treat us to an interestingly happy, jazzy take on "Tangled up in Blue." Really. Except, with this treatment, it seems more like the song's protaganist had finally gotten over it, and is just telling this story like, "Yeah, back in the 60s I knew this girl and she broke my heart and get this, I ran into her later and she's just some damn waitress. Ha Ha Ha!" Later in the set they jam out on prog jazz riffs -- at one point, I lean over to Julie B and tell her, "They're approaching Pat Metheny -- in a good way."

Speaking of jazz jamming, there's going to be an interesting one tomorrow night: the rhythm section that will be doing "pure improvisation" at the Jazz Estate alone is interesting: John Sparrow on Drums and Andy Aeros Kaiser on bass. I don't know much about the rest of the participants, but right there the event has piqued my interest.

Coming up on the weekend:
  • Still more jamming, this time in the blues vein on Friday night at the Rivewest Commons -- "Feedback Freddy" Lee hosts an open jam.

  • Saturday night will be a tough choice. Couch Flambeau will be at the Cactus Club -- it will be good to see a post-fiery Rusty taking it out on the drums.

  • 1956 and Somebody Talked will be at Points East.

  • The Barrettes are doing a "Welcome Back" show at Garibaldi -- and it's partially a fundraiser for the Brew City Bruisers.

Oh, and a Bogut-less and Redd-less Bucks game on Saturday night. Gee, I'm looking forward to that.