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."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mistreated over the weekend

Mistreater at Stumblerfest
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's been a week since I stumbled into Club Garibaldi at Stumblerfest, but it's also been one hell of a emotional rollercoaster ride for me this week. Lots of personal shit (and you, dear readers, know I don't say shit all that often. Fuck, yes. Shit, no) going down, not very very least of which was the extremely untimely passing of Brian "Lane Klozier" Barney (see last blog entry). It's the wee hours of the morning as I write this, and perhaps it will do my soul some good to rave wonderfully about a great garage punk show I hit last Saturday. Yes, I still have this blog to do, and I suppose I should wrap up last weekend before I set out for tonight's big rockabilly hoedown at the Mirarar tonight.
I arrived at Club Garibaldi knowing nothing about any of the five bands on the bill that night (except, of course for hometown hosts, the legendary Mistreaters). All I knewabout them was that they were all good garage punk bands. I caught the end of Drugs Dragons' set - they looked to be a tight, but energetic standard lineup fronted by a surly confrontational bastard who stepped into the audience for the end. Good stuff.
Next up was Digital Leather, who had me at the shorts worn by the guitarist. Lead singer/frontman Shawn Foree is wearing an obvious wig, and a winger vest he must have picked up at the sale bin at Sears. He's standing in front of a synth/keyboard, but while these guys have synthesizers, this ain't no Flock of Seagulls. The synth isn't there to make them a synth band. They're still a very tough garage band,- the synth is there to power the sub-bass sound that wakes up the room. They didn't even have to grow on me -- good concept, executed well. Whoda thunk this would have come out of Nebraska!

OK, let's get the obvious thing lots of people noticed about Chicago's Cococoma out of the way now. Guitarist and co-lead singer Lisa Roe (her husband is the drummer and sings too) is a dead ringer for Kim Deal, from her wide open but incredulous grin right down to flannel shirt she changed into after their set. Except that as a guitarist, Roe plays rings around Deal. She's got that clearly confrontational but vulnerable voice, too. Husband Bill Roe -- who's set some kind of standard by NOT putting his drums up on the drum riser, making for a tight fit on stage -- is the chief singer. The band holds together nicely, pumping out a string of songs that have that wonderful danger of sounding like they're going to fall apart at any minute, but they never do. Lisa spastically swings back and forth while picking out her notes, and after their set, it's clear they've (deservedly) earned some new fans.
The drums stay on the front of the stage for the next act, the highly recommended Hex Dispensers, out of Austin, TX. OK, really, has there ever been a band out of Austin that sucked? No, and this band doesn't either. Face it, when your town is home to a top music school -- one that's actually a public university so regular folk can afford to go there, you're not getting out of the basement if you can't play. And as long as I'm comparing garage folk to indie celebrities, the Dispensers' lead guitarist looks a tad bit like Thom Yorke, no? But they're not self-important like Radiohead. They're nothing like Radiohead. They're full of greap garage pop three minute statements, which they make, punctuate, and move on. That might be their only weakness -- that they have a formula (good pop anthem held together with gritty duct tape) but it's a good formula and they're sticking to it.
Finally, the Mistreaters. They put their drums back on the riser, because they're going to need the whole stage for Christreater, who's all over it. 1-2-3-4, they're on. The crowd is moving, fists in air, swaying, the floor is suddenly slippery with spilled beer, christreater is throwing himself into the audience....well bust my britches, I'm in a good old fashioned moshpit! Out go my elbows to protect myself and my camera, out goes my butt like I'm playing defense for the Milwaukee Bucks. And here's the band, pusing through all their "hits" and goading the crowd to cheer for the bands that came before them, fans singing along, fans even firing back at the band. Good clean fun, I say. Wonderful night, complete with bands pushing their wares, including vinyl wares and a DJ keeping us happy between sets. And one of the DJ's had the Sparks "I Predict" on 45 -- a detail I caught early in the evening that pretty much sealed up the credibility of this event for me even before Digital Leather took the stage.

Also seen in the past week: Two night earlier, I caught the Quinn Scharber band in the same venue. Not a huge crowd (it was a Thursday, they were up against the Fiery Furnaces, and they didn't even have Garibaldi's legendary chicken wings) but enough to appreciate Schaber's sweet tenor on his solid pop writings. I'm normally not real big on straight up pop, but this was good stuff: interesting chord changes and turnarounds, good band behind him. I liked him, and I liked the band. Good stage presence-- he understood his crowd was smaller and he worked with it. The band before him, Surgeons of Heat, had a similar thing going (they shared a guitarist/bass player), except they are clearly newer: they needed to get more of Scharber's feel for dynamics. Surgeons in Heat's songs didn't seem to have any dynamics, and after three or four (albeit well written) pop hooks, they kind of lost me. But all is not lost: the Surgeons have a good thing going, their lead singer sometimes breaks into a lovely but strong falsetto that is radio ready with the right production. But hopefully playing with Scharber will teach him dynamics, and building up a crowd. And back to Scharber: Just one thing, Quinn: Lose that hideous scarf thingy around your neck. Unless it was a gift from your mother or girlfriend or something, it makes you look like you're this sensitive poet guy that's needs John Belushi (or Worf) to smash your guitar.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to mentally prepare for Brian Barney's funeral.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rest in Peace, Lane. Punk Still Remains

Brian Barney, aka Lane Klozier, originally uploaded by V'ron.

With all the "new" releases of material from The Beatles, and all the documentaries they ran on VH1 and such to "celebrate" this, we're reminded that those boys had a major rowdy streak in them, not just in trying new ideas and taking rock and roll to new ground and heights. But even in their early day, they were rockers who tore up the underground clubs in Hamburg, grabbing the frenzy of Elvis and adding thier British stamp on it. Before Brian Epstein got hold of them and polished them up for mass consumption, before they were considered the pop alternative to the supposedly grittier Rolling Stones, they were leather-clad lads, sweating and smoking and hollering their merseybeat as furiously as any of the Memphis seven did as they banged out hillbilly rock and changed music stateside.

Brian Barney, also known as Lane Klozier, understood this. While some people might have been simply aghast at the concept of his band, The Buggs, all this recent Guitar Hero Beatlemania has reinforced that putting a speedpunk take on beloved Beatles hits was the spiritually correct thing to do. Those songs sounded great in his hands. After a particularly magical night at the BBC almost two years ago I'd written (from the heart):

The Buggs have spoiled me. This punk girl doesn't want to hear these songs 'round a campfire sung by sensitive men who don't trim their beards anymore. I want to hear "Norweigan Wood" played fast and furious. I want to hear Badfinger's "Baby Blue" sung by desperate men who are more pissed than melancholastic about losing their one true love.

Two hours ago, I'd gotten a call from a friend who told me of his sudden passing today. I called around, hoping this was some sort of awful joke, but it's not. Klozier apparently suffered a heart attack and died, at 48. That's too fucking young. Especially for a man who whose heart was destined to stay young, loud and snotty (the best compliment I can give, as those of you who know me will attest) for many more years.

I wasn't tight with him, but I remember meeting him at a party at Chris Lehmann's (who drummed for him in The Buggs) and we hit it off instantly. We had very similar tastes in music, and respected the same sensibilities. We exchanged contact information, I went to see his band, and instantly loved them. I learned that Klozier was also a drummer, and before I knew it, there he was, behind the trapset for the latest incarnation of Guido's Racecar, fitting in perfectly with that band's ravaged punk bluesey burlesque. He viewed my photography and offered support and excellent critique. And one fine day, I saw his praise for my writing, which I have proudly posted at the top of this blog (with his permission). I was touched at his unsolicited words, and was proud that he said something about me that could very well be said about him. He was a great rock and roll writer -- did work for the Shepherd and other publications, but we both agreed that's not going to pay the bills. Not that he was about using his art to pay the bills, but if the $$$ started to roll in, he wasn't going to affect some stupid attitude about it either. And marketed correctly, the Buggs had the potential to bring not only smiles, but some cash. It wasn't to be, but that doesn't detract from some of the most fun shows I saw -- whether an acoustic set (yes, acoustic speed punk covering the Beatles) at Lulu, or just a great cover set at a street festival. And he was a friend of well-played, irreverent but emotionally invested rock and roll, which meant he was a friend of so much that I love.

His passing is a loss for me, a loss for many of my friends who have played with him, and a loss for the SE Wisconsin music community. Rest in peace, Lane.

punk remains amongst the buggs, originally uploaded by V'ron.

UPDATE: According to the Shepherd Express, the funeral has been scheduled 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21 at the Hartson Funeral Home in Hales Corners, 11111 Janesville Rd.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Tough choices made right

The Colonel's Birthday
Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, let's just say this here and now: How good are the Chop Top Toronados? Let's put it this way, I blew off going to see a surf band in order to see their reunion and catch the whole set. The Exotics were at Club Lulu Saturday night, with a CD of some lost wonders (and the only thing better than surf music is obscure surf music), Lulu is on my side of town, and the Exotics just don't play out that much anymore. But at least they're still all in town. (BTW, fellow surf enthusiast Rick Royale was at the Lulu, and he reports via his Facebook profile that the Exotics did indeed deliver a great show. Now if the wonderful Transistor Royale -- which includes Mr Rick as well as a handful of those Exotics -- would just book a show, I'd drop everything for that.) I'm still waiting for Czelticgirl to report on how the Mike Benign and Blue In The Face reunion went. I know she hit the show after the hockey game.
Anyway, back to Linneman's, the site of Reunion Number 1. It was a packed bill -- opening with Dyna Flo and her Roadmasters -- with Chris The Colonel on guitar there as well. You could have called it The Colonel's night: it was his birthday, and you'd never know just how many birthday shots he put down because it sure didn't affect his guitar virtuosity. But even though he's a great guitarist, he's not that star of the show in Dyna Flo -- it's Dyna herself, otherwise known as Skirt's Jessica Knurr. Dressed in a red plaid shirt over a black skirt, pigtails in her hair, she steps onstage and belts out a honky tonk blues worthy of some filthy roadhouse just outside of Tupelo. Don Turner on sax and Felipe Calivera on standup bass complete this whole "Morphine's Tour Van Breaks Down in Memphis" vibe. Jess has the perfect amount of sass -- sass that's justified in a clear voice that grabs people and doesn't let go until they've gotten the point that she's here for a good stiff ..... drink. I'd like to see her on a double bill with the fabulous Deirdre Fellner.

Floor Model is on tonight's bill, and they're a good bridge between this almost purist bluesy/country/honky tonk of Dyna Flo and the hilbilly sophisticated punk of the Toronados. They play a short but killer set. Drummer Dave isn't around tonight, so their former bass player stepped in on drums. He was supposed to play bass instead of Mark E Lee, but it wasn't to be -- so like the Colonel, Marky's doing double duty tonight. I reminded him that "back in the old days, musicians played two... heck three sets in a single night, so suck it up, dude." He does.

Dyna Flo belts it out
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Here's the thing about the Toronados that makes them so good: yes, they have the punk sensibility. Yes, they get psychobilly (they open with a cover of the Reverend Horton Heat's "Marijuana"). Yes, they proudly wear their Livin-In-A-Trailer look that says "And we can't even afford a spot Down By The River." But they don't settle for the simplicity of three-chord punk or country. The songs are downright complex musically, and lyrically they're clever and (would they be insulted if I actually said they were) poignant. You can tell that bassist Jeff O'Connor has jazz sensibilities, if not formal training. They didn't need to have a song that namechecks Charles Mingus to prove it, although it was one of my favorites of the night. The fact that they can pull off a Reverend cover only proves what I said earlier about the Colonel's guitar chops. (Spotted in the crowd), Paul "The Fly" Lawson pointed out, "Hey, that's the drummer from Bleed" which answered all sorts of questions as to where he gets his energy as well as attitude. And this was a band where we get to hear Mark E Lee sing. A lot. And it's a great voice for this kind of music -- bringing to mind the Vertebrats' Kenny Draznik -- a cross between sweet and salty that works with this material, although the country really comes through as his voice is just on the edge of cracking. (Look, the fact that I'm even mentioning this band in the same paragraph as The Vertebrats says a lot.) I was both floored and pissed that I missed out when these guys were together. Oh well. Maybe they can talk O'Connor to stop up from Chi-town at least once or twice a year -- the rarity of these performances will probably add to the specialness.

Meantime, I have some sad gossip to pass on -- and beg people to tell me there's nothing to this rumor. I'm told that when Zappafest comes to Points East in a couple of weeks, it's going to be the last live music show there. Apparently the place has changed hands, and new management has decided against live music. What's going to go back in that room? A sports bar? (Gee, we don't have enough sports bars in Milwaukee). Points East is one of my favorite places to see a band -- clean cans, excellent (and resonably priced) drink selection, crystal clear sound (courtesy of Dave Gelting). It could stand a few more chairs, but parking's usually reasonable, and true to their ads, they really do have the best chicken wings in town. Please, please tell me this isn't going to be another Saylece's.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Playing it safe over two weekends

.. And I'm sticking with tradition. And the safe and sound these days. Lord knows one would never musically call the Voot Warnings show 'safe' but I went more because I knew it would be safe in assuming it would be a good show. If it's a holiday, you can bet Steve Johnson will be booking either Voot or somebody like Shurilla, more out of tradition than anything else.

And that's a good thing. It gets Voot playing back in Riverwest, where the old generation of Uptowner barflies (even those of us who don't have theluxury of just walking down the street) came out of the woodwork to see the show. Voot's halloween band this year was a simple threesome -- Voot himself on bass -- which he's been doing a lot lately, Vic Demeichi on drums, and Ron Turner on guitar. Turner is a good guitar choice for Voot: he takes those turnarounds and progressions and adds some really nice licks to them without being a hotdog or stealing the thunder, but good enough to get people to remember, "Hey, Turner's got some chops."
Voot was the only one who dressed up: as the Cowardly Lion. Chatted with his lovely wife Rhonda, who assured me the Lion was part of a family groupin -- next day Rhonda put on Glinda's pretty dress and their sweet daughter went as Dorothy.
Besides the usual Voot/Uptowner bunch, spotted in the crowd: Grant Richter, along with business partner and fellow intellectual about town, Rex Probe. Or at least I think it was Rex Probe.
So after a grownup hallows eve eve, I got some sleep and spent theHalloween day shufling the kids around to the many partis they were invited to, all of which were in Bay View -- and Bay View had Nighttime Trick or Treat. (Our neighborhood's nighttime candy canvass was last weekend.). People, Bay View rocks. Stella made out like a bandit, and Sammy probably would have too if he hadn't been (or been coming for)the Pokey Little Puppy. He was really into being the Grim Reaper again, but he was polite.
This weekend, it won't be hard to play it safe as regards music. In fact, it will be difficult to choose. Tonight, there 's a faceoff at Kochanski's between Danny Price and the Loose Change and the Grand Disaster, or you can hit Shank Hall for a Semi-Twang show. Tomorrow night is reunion night: and just what reunion I'll hit will be a last minute choice. Mike Benign and Blue in the Face is reuniting at Shank Hall along with the Wooldridge Brothers. Or there's the Chop Top Toronados reunion at Linneman's, along with a band that's been on my "Allright, must see already!" list, Dyna Flo and her Roadmasters. Stay tuned to see where I end up.