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.