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."

1 comment:

The said...

Thank for coming to the show and the great write-up! Hope to see you at our holiday show at Vnuk's on Dec. 18th. Wait'll you see what aunt bee's cookin up for this shindig :)

~Sidecar Steph