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.

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