Monday, March 30, 2009

Shameless Name dropping

Here's a trailer for a book written by (I told you, this is shamless name dropping) my friend Dave Cullen. I remember when the Columbine story first broke -- back before twitter or facebook or any of that -- it was an email popping in my box from Dave, who'd been living/studying in Colorado. Equally fascinated and horrified, he arrived on the scene, but didn't just walk away with easy, "Oh, you couldn't trust those trench coat mafia kids" answers. He knew then and there it wasn't that easy, and I've watched him for the past ten years digging into it. Myself and many of our other common friends have read his emails over the years, as he told us how he dug up the facts, how this was becoming a big part of his life.

He's getting the press/attention he deserves as this book is coming out. I'm happy to plug his book in my blog -- if only because I know how hard he's been working on it. And I'm also happy to plug it because it's an example of how vital GOOD journalism is. Cullen didn't just accept that it was the Trench Coat Mafia and that Cassie Bernall Said Yes. (uh, she didn't.). He went and got answers. He asked hard questions. For everybody who "hates the media" and thinks journalism is a lost art, I give you Dave Cullen's work.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

White spring and other dances

First Bloom of the Spring!
Originally uploaded by V'ron
If you're not in Milwaukee, you haven't had to listen to all of us (myself included) pissing and moaning about the weather. We got (depending on what side of town you're on) between six and twelve inches of snow this weekend, not one week after we had a 60 degree day. And not two days after my first spring bloom happened -- the iris reticulata you see here, poking up through last fall's dead leaves, reminding me that it's indeed coming, this spring that never seems to get here. That's why I planted them, as well as the crocus that should be poking up this week once the snow melts.

At least this wasn't hitting us Friday night, when Stella and I spent another lovely day at the Ballet. This was the biannual Genesis International competition, where Michael Pink invites three up and coming choreographers to come to Milwaukee, gives 'em each a third of his dance company, and they all get three weeks to come up with something. Winner gets 3K (whoop-de-do!) and the whole company next year to give us Milwaukeeans a world premier work. (Presumably, that will net them more than 3K).

They put this all in the Pabst Theatre, which is one of my favorite places in town to see a show anyway. There's not a bad seat in the house, and you can get a drink (Stella enjoyed a Shirley Temple) and take it to your seat. The voting this year was a little messed up, though. they gave us ballots, but only with numbers 1, 2, and 3 on them -- and then Michael Pink proceeded to tell us that the order for Friday was differen than the order for Thusrday and that 2 was really1 and, and, and, oh hell. We decided to go with the "cast your vote online" option, and I have this feeling that was the point. You were supposed to be confused by the paper ballot and go online to see their snappy new website and vote there. So we did.

Friday night's first performance was Eso, choreographed by New Zealand's Cameron Mc Millan. The music was by Ezio Bosso, a piece simply titled Violin Concerto, and maybe that Phillip Glass documentary on Ovation TV earlier in the day was sticking in my head, but the music did seem very Phillip Glass-ish. It was very athletic -- almost more gymnastic than ballet. McMillan even pointed out in his artist's statement that he's "interested in pure physicality as a vocabulary and form of expression in the human condition." So McMillan used this, I thought, very well in tangling his dnacers together and apart. Stella didn't like it. She's more into storytellers, and Eso might have been a little too ESOteric for her.

Her winner was the next offering, from Austrailian wunderkind Timothy O'Donnell, "The Games We Play." To say the music was a string of classic and well-known pieces (Tchaikovsky, Bach, Beethoven, Bizet, Grieg) wouldn't have captured the effect the music had. Several of the pieces were arranged (performed) by Woody Phillips, who I have learned as a result of this, is a master of making power tools musical. Stella liked it instantly -- there wasn't a standard plot storyline, but there were clearly characters, there was a sense of humor, and even Stella flipped out a bit at the end, when the romantic storyline took a surprise twist (hint: a little girl-on-girl action.). I loved it too, but I had to decide if I loved it because I also enjoyed the wonderful take on the music or not.

Finally, after yet another Shirley Temple (the bartender at the Pabst makes a lovely nonalcoholic mix, Stella and I will tell you), we had "City of the Shining Jewel" from european choreographer, Maurice Causey. The music was from Mikhail Karakis from his album "Morphica", and it just as well could have been the KLF from their album "Chill Out." This music -- and the dance that accompanied it -- was beyond ambient. The piece, like the music, was bits and pieces of this and that loosely strung together, with the dancers having spoken word parts. I'm sorry I'd read the artist's statement, because, it set me up against the piece: it was, um, kind of pretentious. It was like he was trying to cram every influence of his life into those 20 minutes, and the piece itself just seemed to be trying a little too hard to be "groundbreaking" and "intense." It didn't suck, and I didn't hate it, but it lacked a certain warmth that the two previous pieces had. Then, clearly in the middle of it, he gets a dancer to do a bit of Carmen's Habenera himself, but after O'Donnell's, it had the misfortune to be kind of pleading with the audience, "No, really, I can laugh at myself too! Really! Honest!" MAybe I would have liked it better if it was first, but after two really warm performances, this was a little too out there for me. (And I like the KLF -- I often use it to Chill Out.)

Needless to say, I was torn between Eso and The Games We Play, but Stella and I decided that she was clearly going to vote for "The Games We Play," and so I cast my vote for "Eso" so that we kind of canceled out each other. I'll be curious as to what the "official" judges think, as well as the audience vote, which I believe should be released tomorrow. I'm also looking forward to next season -- among the shows will be Cinderella and Peter Pan -- there's story for Stella.

Haven't seen a lot of bands lately. I'm still kind of recovering from that bout with strep I had, but I'm really looking forward to the debut of Dinah Flo and her Roadmasters on Wednesday at Frank's Power Plant. You may remember my raving about the fabulous Jessica from Skirt -- this is her new outfit, complete with her sweetie Chris "The Colonel" on guitar. No cover on Wednesday, either. And no, this is not an April Fools' joke.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kids, Don't Let This Happen To You

Kids, Don't Let This Happen To You
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I've been out all week with what has turned out to be Strep. Hey, adults out there, did you know how much strep sucks as an adult? I used to get it as a kid a lot (some kids are ear infection kids, some kids get stomach flu a lot, I was a sore throat kid...), but I don't remember it sucking this bad.

So, yeah, I spent some of the previous weekend taking in some St Patrick's Day debauchery (OK, I'm old: a couple of green beers and burning down a christmas tree is debauchery) but by Sunday a fever kicked in and by Tuesday I'm getting my thoat swabbed.

In the meantime, the Bucks kicked the Celtics' asses, Charlie Villanueva has become the Twitter Poster Child of the NBA after he got a tounge-lashing from coach about not tweeting during halftime. (If you can get past the stupid patronizing attitude from the panelists on the linked clip, most of whom don't know what they're talking about and thus try to make fun of it to prop themselves up, they actually make some good points about the futility of stopping a freight train: the tool is not the issue.) Well and good, but now everybody's noticing that CV31 has got game, which may be great for him, but also might up his asking price come contract negotiation time.

I don't know what bands I'm going to see this weekend. I have penicillin to take. So in the meantime, I give you this photograph of some clown who can't seem to get his butt out of 1997, but has taken this tired old look to literal new lows. As I captioned on Flickr, he's within 50 feet of a school to boot, where my children can see him. Fortunately, they had the good fashion sense to laugh at him, especially after I pointed out that the poor dear apparently is intentionally looking like this. "Don't let this happen to you," I told me sensible babies.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to fill a room

Guitar Face
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Friday the kids had off school, and it was so lovely out we decided to hit the zoo, in time to catch an an abundance of spring mammalian cuteness.

And then I headed over to Liquor Sweets that night to catch a McTavish show (after putting down an obligatory Shamrock Shake, described by Stella as "What toothpaste would taste like if it were a milkshake."). McTavish does the Irish thing well. This was their first outing this season -- they only do this on a seasonal basis, as opposed to year round Irish bands like Athas or the Tossers. They're just getting warmed up, and they put out the sweet Irish tunes well. Thing is, the sweet Irish tunes isn't what I love about McTavish. I'm more of a fan of when they turn into rowdy Irish hooligans, belting out protest songs like "IRA" or whipping themselves into enough of a frenzy that covering the Clash's "London Calling" doesn't seem one bit out of place. So I'm going to have to catch them at McBob's or something (if only because I was convinced last year that McBob does serve up the best corned beef made in this town by somebody not named Jake).

On the same bill at Liquor Sweets that night was supposedly the last performance of the Velvet Underground Project, and I hope that's not true, but without the dancers, without the light show, they were simply OK. I still loved it, because it's the only band guitarist Dan Mullen plays in these days where he can really stretch out his talent and take his guitar places that a Buddy Holly audience just won't let him go.

Part of the reason for the retirement, I've heard, is that it's just not drawing. Well, the VU weren't a giant draw to begin with, but here's the thing. Those who know VU almost hold them sacred. The idea of a cover band, a tribute band going over the catalog of a band that pretty much invented "alternative, original" music -- well, that kind of cancels each other out, no? And let's face it, the VU project almost skates on the edge of parody, what with Mark Shurilla's Warhol wig (and is it a waste of bandwidth to point out the obvious that Warhol never performed with the VU, just made them famous?). When the VU Project shines, it's when they don't try to sound like the original VU Project, because they will fail. Moe Tucker was a percussionist that was fascinated with the idea of minimalist rhythm. Andy Pagel, on the other hand, is a friggin drummer obsessed with Keith Moon. John Cale was a composer/violinist that went to left field. Guest violinist Tommy Greywolf is a brilliant versatile fiddler who's played with the likes of Brooks and Dunn. Doug Yule was an OK guitar player; Dan Mullen is a psychedelic master. The orignal VU didn't have a keyboardist; Chris Loss is a longstanding session man who's played with some of the best experimental/jam bands inthe city (including the beloved Trance and Dance band). There is no way this assemblage is going to sound like the original VU. They shouldn't even try. So, here's my advice: Lose the wigs. Bring in the Paka Paka lightshow to do something very 21st Century. Bring in the dancers if possible. Lose the Nico wig -- Marlavous is about as far from Teutonic as can be, plus unlike Nico, she sings on key almost all the time. Overall, take the VU to the next level -- be inspired by them, not slaves to them. These are musicians that are capable of that, and at their best, they take the spirit of experiemntation that the VU started. If they do it consistently, they will get more of a following.

Next night, we hit a Bucks game, and once again, the anthem gave us a preview of what the game would be like. Some 14 year old girl with a voice twice her age started singing and halfway through, she choked. Just stopped. A few dickslaps laughed at her, but the rest of the crowd seemed sympathetic, as the woman sitting next to me called out, "Help her out..." Well, the girl gathered it up, and belted out the rest of the song, so that by the time of "Land of the free..." the crowd was cheering her on, and when she finished she got the loudest applause I've ever heard a BC audience give an anthem singer. And that's kind of what happened in the game. About halfway through, the Bucks started to choke, but they came back and the last minute or so we stayed only to savor the win.
We all know Bango's hurt: the schtick that's goins is that other NBA mascots are coming in to help out. Tonight was "G-Wiz" -- the mascot for the Washington Wizards. I can just picture going to, say a "Sports Mascot convention", and maybe all the NBA mascots get together for a seminar about what kind of ridiculous ways to slam dunk a shot in costume can be done. Bango would stand up and say, "Uh, guys, the thing where you stand up on top of the hoop itself? Don't try this at home court." But G-Wiz was good anyway, despite his silly name. At least "Bango" has a history behind him. And he was wonderful when "Seniorgee" took the court -- a bunch of older women who, off court, probably don red hats and loud purple dresses and don't care what people think. I want to join Seniorgee in a few years.
The Bucks can still go to the finals, as a cinderella, that's for sure. But I suspect that's not what's going to fill the stadium over the next few weeks. They're hustling the fan appreciation -- witness that both Charlie V and Bogut have twitter accounts (and @CV31 is really hustling the twittering.) They're working every avenue they have to connect with the fans.
We zipped back down to Liquor Sweets afterwards, because I'm trying to hustle some photography work with Brother Louie, but I only caught their last two songs (they hit the stage at 9:30 -- talk about early!) so I told 'em, next time, no charge tonight. Can't review them based on two songs, but the crowd seemed to like them, and knowing their setlist, they served precisely what their function was: warm up band. They warmed the crowd well for the headliner, a group of 80s headbangers aptly called Metal Men.

You know I'm not a true Metal gurl, but I had to love these guys. The lead singer brought to mind the Scoprions (I was waiting for "No One Like You") and the guitar player did all the schtick: noodling high up on the neck with finger picking both hands, apreggios up the waz, and guitar face every moment. And the lead singer joked and almost winked at the leather, lace, and badass audience that filled the upstairs of Liquor Sweets. Brian, who knows his metal, assured me that they took on Dio, the Scoprions, Ozzy, -- none of the hits, but the deep cuts that I'm sure the roomfull of proper headbanging metalheads appreciated.

We headed downstairs to the Globe South to see what was there, and what was there was a promising looking Cheap Trick tribute band called Cheap rick. (Rick NOT capitalized.) I'd review them, but they were on break. A 45-freaking minute break, I'd say. The seemed to have it all: two racks full of guitars (complete with a couple doublenecks) for the "Rick Nielsen", a rack full of basses for the "Tom Petersson", a stocky guy in a shirt and tie that I had to assume was the "Bun E Carlos" and I couldn't find the Robin to save my life. Why no review? Because, I waited some 25 minutes (and they'd been on break for 10) and then finally asked them, "So when are you going on?" They replied, "Oh, in about 10-15 minutes." Glancing at my watch, I'm realizing I have a sitter to pick up. Fine guys, be prima donnas and make people wait until midnight. WhatEVER. It's not like if people want to chat and get a beer they can't go into the front bar, so get up and play already. Playing is how you fill a room.

Monday, March 09, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

This Little Light of Mine
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I'm still getting caught up with my blogging (lots went down in the arts and entertainment community this weekend) but get ready for a glowing review of my kids' school music recital. I'm so very happy with the music curriculum at Downtown Montessori Academy -- Miss Barb not only implements the official Monterrori program, but she's expanding the kids' exposure to all different kinds of music.

The theme this past Thursday was Jazz -- and it's influence on American music in general. As my Sammy is in the K 3-4-5 class, they went first, changing an African tune as they took the stage, and then went into two precious spirituals accompanied with American Sign Language. I literally got choked up as they sang their hearts out on "This Little Light of Mine" with the sign language -- all these precious little kids, letting their light shine so brightly I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. They followed with an equally enthusiastic "You Gotta Sing When the Spirit Moves You" and I was floored. The K-5 kids were next, and accompanied themselves with tambourines and dances, singing The Blues (including a Rainy Day Blues that was apt.)
This school isn't big enough for a full orchestra program, but they're still teaching music theory basics via instruction on the recorder -- and Stella's class delivered some ragtime/dixieland in the form of the Riverboat Rag and Dixie Cat. Even at this point, Miss Barb challenged these kids to do a little improv, and in some cases, thes kids were only hampered by their own nervousness, but I was impressed to see that they're being challenged anyway. Plus, Miss Barb's keyboard accompanient had technical difficulties, so the kids were a little thrown off since they had to play their first song a little differently than they rehearsed. I really didn't notice a problem until that had been explained, and I tried to tell Stella it was fine. What Stella doesn't understand yet is that if the audience didn't notice a problem, then you did well -- that's showbiz, baby. But she was still upset that she didn't deliver 100%. She's a perfectionist.
Also impressive was the adolescent program, who took the stage with acoustic guitars, reading sheet music, and playing the melody for Sing Sing Sing. OK, they're not ready for the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, but after three months with a guitar, I was lucky if I could get through the chords for Blitzkrieg Bop, and to this day, I still can't read sheet music for a string instrument. Bravo kids.

But this is kind of a giveaway review. These kids could have gone onstage and sang the phone book out of key and I would have cheered. Mostly because they're MY kids (and my friends' kids, and my kids' friends, and let's not forget our Girl Scouts, who I've come to know and love this year), but also because I appreciate music that comes from the heart, delivered by people devoid of self consciousness or irony, people who wanted to deliver they best that they could do, yet challenge themselves. Sammy's pure joy warmed my heart, and Stella's drive for perfectionism made it burst with pride. Sorry, no criticism on this or pithy comments today. You'll have to wait another day for some Sixthstation snarkyness as I approach the weekend offerings.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Random Ramblings in March

Cat's Cradle with Mardi Gras Beads
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, yes, I've been away. Personal bizzyness, frankly, and very little of it interesting to you, dear readers. But I'll recap a bit, and there's plenty in store coming up.
  • Last I wrote, I was looking forward to Mardi Gras in Riverwest, and that did not disappoint. The Electric VooDoo Gris Gris band did indeed redeem themselves, and just generated an overall party atomophere at the first stop, the Uptowner. Eric Griswold, dressed in what I'm sensing is his official Mardi Gras outfit, complete with flashing lights, led the happy crowd down the street to the next stop.

  • That next stop was Club Timbuktu, where Eat the Mystery was in fine form, doing their poor stage bit in a club well named for not only its African decor, but for delicious snacks. Admittedly, the fish soup Marlavous ordered took a bit long to be served, but it was worth the wait, and 9 pm on a Tuesday night isn't exactly when any kitchen is humming at top speed. ETM fit in wonderfully with all this, though: MArdi Gras is definitely a poor peoples' celebration, and ETM is are just a different kind of poor people. Angie is recovering well from a bicycle accident that took out some of her teeth, but she's no less lovely for it. The addition of Danny Price added a touch of Tom Waits to the mix, which, in a gumbo-like way, just seemed to work.

  • Next stop: House of Frank n Stein. Great place, great dogs, but they'd run out of whiskey. Mark Shurilla and Bob Jorin both agreed: "What? No band? No whiskey? Outta here!" I helped Dave Alswager finish a a beer as well (I'm just not really a whiskey-drinkin gal, ever since that one night in college....) so we were behind them.

  • Last stop, Linneman's, where we warmed up the room for the rest of the revelers that arrived about 45 minutes after us. That gave Sigmund Snopek and his able buddy (whose name shamefully escapes me) time to sing a few songs, and warm up the able buddy's Satchmo voice. Good thing too -- the rest of the crowd arrived and were welcomed to a racous trombone blowing, multi percussioned (albeit synthed, but still good) processional, which merged into a Riverwest take on "When the Saints Go Marching In." Excellent end to a Milwaukee pub crawl-cum-Mardi Gras. I wouldn't have it any other way.

  • OK, here's the thing about the Bucks. their top two guys are out, and they're still contenders for the playoffs. They're losing a lot of games lately they should have won, but still... it's like watching Gonzaga or Valpo at the Tournament. You know they're not going to the final four, but like a powerball ticket you buy into it just in case. The other night the family hit the game (enduring an anthem from a high school choir that was so atrocious I'm not going to embarrass them by naming them: you know who you are and you are NOT ready for the big time) and had a good time, despite the fact that the New Jersey Nets did not win this game; the Bucks lost it. Oh, and fans, grow some class and quit with the booing Yi already. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not like he screwed us royal or anything. You'd think he was Brett Favre the way he was booed.

  • A quick kudos to the always helpful staff at the Bradley Center. A week ago Sunday Sammy and I were at the game, and in his excitement to get a couple of thundersticks (we sit in the section behind the opposing team's basket for the second half), he tripped and his cheek landed right on the concrete steps. Ouch. First reponsders were appropriately giving him the ice, but also related to him on his level and friendly. Well, when we arrived at the game this past Tuesday, the usher who first helped us out was taking tickets, saw Sammy, remembered him, and asked him how his cheek was. Sammy's used to be remembered by people, but I was genuinely touched at the concern.

  • Tweeter @riverwest wants to know, and I do too: What the hell is Saylece's and why has it overtaken Riverwest Commons? The Accidental Wisconsinite spotted the fact that Rivewest Commons seems to be under new management, and she reports that there's a vague myspace posting saying it's no longer going to be a music club. I'm going to investigate this during my musical travels this coming weekend.

So, speaking of the upcoming weekend.....

  • First, tonight, I see my favorite musicians in the world, my sweet Stella and Sammy. Tonight is their school's annual Winter Sing (and it's expanded to be basically Winter Music night). The theme this year is Jazz, and Sammy's been singing his class' offering all day, dropped names like Duke and Ella as though they were his contemporaries. So I'm a parent; the sound of my children's music is second only to their laughter as the sweetest sound in the world.

  • Friday night I'm going to have to go on tour, there's just too many of my favorites and "what are they doing now" events happening. Scott Wooldridge and his brother are back in town, at Turner tonight to celebrate the release of their newest CD in a while, "Days Went Around." It's really good -- lots of that good folksy but strong power pop that doesn't skimp on good lyric writing. Binky Tunny is at Live on North avenue. The Julie B Well, featuring Julie Brandenburg, is at the Miramar with three other intense (and likely proggy) bands, so there will be no shortage of top musicianship there. And on my side of town, a double whammy of rare outings: McTavish and the Velvet Underground project at Liquor sweets. They share many of the same personnel, just different costumes.

  • Saturday night is cover night. Right now, I'm torn between a fix of the 5 Card Studs (at the Ale House, always a fun place to catch them) and Brother Louie at Liquor Sweets. I'm still trying to confirm a Transistor Royale sighting (at Serb Hall?) but last I heard this might have been cancelled. I'll post again if I hear. In any event, the Bucks have a game that night; we do too, and boys, we need a win from you going into March Madness, or March will be mad, indeed.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bazillion Girl Scout cookies to help my kid deliver.