Friday, December 24, 2010

Sunday Night Soul

the Soul Trio at the Circle A
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Yes, I haven't gotten out to see bands a lot, but I did drag myself out to the Circle A last Sunday to catch the Soul Trio, which actually turned out to be a quartet. John Sparrow on drums was enough to guarantee quality, but I was pleasantly surprised to catch Brian Mir (who happens to be Sammy's best friend's dad) on guitar. My understanding is that Mir is a bass player, but I'm here to tell you he's a fine, imaginative guitarist as well.

This whole act is very clearly the brainchild of sax player Aaron Gardner, who I've seen sit in with the Danglers a time or two. Gardner said so himself -- that this band was one of three or four band ideas he'd had in his head, (another being a metal act -- I'd like to see a metal act fronted by a sax man!) but this was the first that hit reality.

And what a terrific reality it was. Started out sounding like a cross between a 70s porno and a Lalo Schifrin-soundtracked Quinn Martin production, but from there it evolved into a jam worthy loungy jazz experience, with touches of spacey psychedelia (courtesy of Mir's guitar work.) A few nice touches by Gardner and some pedals of his that expanded his sax sound (making it sound like a chorus of horns, not just one sax). This band was tight, and well-rehearsed. This being their first time out, I'd say the only thing is that they need to loosen up a bit. Case in point: we were all wowed by the two sets they put out, and being a Circle A audience, we expected an encore. "Ya got one more?" Doorman/Soundman/CircleAman Paul Setser asked, and they shrugged off a disappointing no. C'mon guys. Everybody has one more at the Circle A. You almost plan to get called back for one more. If Warwick himself were there he would have called for it. A few more musical tidbits:

  • Speaking os Setser, he told me about a new cabaret act that he hopes to debut in February. Eat the Mystery is no more -- and that's just as well -- they'd run their course, but what a course it was!
  • Speaking of the Danglers, they're doing a whole weekend in February at the Circle A. This is obviously a concept -- and i suspect each night will have a different theme going. Will post more info as I get it.
  • Last night I missed an IRockZ reunion, and tonight's Christmas eve, so there won't be much music blogging. But it's good to know that Trans Am Dan is still out there with that cool concept of a band -- part prog, part new wave, part straightup rock and roll, part punk. I'd said before, this is a concept that shouldn't work but does. Wish I'd been there. Hop over to my cooking blog if you want to read more of me. Meantime, Happy Christmas friends!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Here's how you can tell I'm getting old

I didn't make it to the Deerlick Christmas show last night for the first time in YEARS. There was a choice, stay home cuddled up with DH and the kids after cleaning out the office and getting a tree and putting lights on it and putting the ornaments on it and making dinner and ... man, I'm getting old.

But not too old to have a terrific party on an otherwise crappy night. Lots of text messages from friends too worried about the weather, which as south siders know, turned out to be nothing but cold wintry rain. Didn't get a flake of snow until well after bar time, well after everybody was home safe and sound, well after plenty of birthday drinks took their toll on my ability to keep my eyes open. (I didn't drive, thank god.)

The Danglers opened the night up on this rainy night with Astronomy Domine, and they were wonderful as usual. Jason brought a guitar which he never ended up playing, but it was there just in case. Plenty of my friends who'd never seen them before were congratulating me on my choice (as well as my ability) to get these guys. Up next was the totally other side of the continum , Floor Model, straight up snotty punk with more than a touch of literacy. Normally you'd put the punk band first, but this worked out well. First of all, they're the only band in town who has the balls the follow the Danglers (NOBODY every wants to follow the Danglers, which means they always have to go on last... and at our age that gets tiresome. Remember when you WANTED to go last? When you WANTED to headline? Another sign I'm getting old. Last few shows I played it was, "You can go on last? Oh no, I'm fine going on first..."). Anyway, it worked out well, because I was good and birthday wasted by the time Floor Model swept into their Ramones and Black Flag covers, and I wasn't the only too-old-to-be-doing-this punk on the floor swaying along with them.

The day before it was high art with the kids; I was a chaperone for my kids' school to see the final dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker. I ended up sitting nowhere near my kids, so I sat with some others and we discussed Tchaikovsky's career other than the Nutcracker ("He was whatcha call a tortured artists, chillen," "What does that mean?" "He never though anybody liked his stuff"), which songs they'll recognize, which songs they're expecting, ("Oh, no, that was Mozart.." "I thought that was Beethoven" "I get him confused with Bach"). Actually, it was uplifting to sit with 2nd graders who even know who Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Tchaikvosky were much less kids who were actually embarassed that they get them confused sometimes. Makes me feel better, as I enter this second century of my life, about that vapid Katy Perry crap I heard on the radio coming home.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Slice of Gingerbread Ice

Slice of Gingerbread Ice
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I love hockey. And truth be told, I love the Village People. What a fun concept. And what a fun concept to bring them both together on a winter's night. The kids and i joined Sammy's Tae Kwon Do group on an outing to the Bradley Center last week to enjoy some fun on the ice. unfortunately, this was the first night we'd ever gone to an Admirals game where they lost. But, the Village People concert was supposed to make us feel better. But we were sitting behind the stage so while we got to see their well-toned derrieres, we barely heard a thing. We got the monitor feed. Pshaw. We moved up to seats more in front of the stage, but the sound mix still sucked. And the Village People's music is the kind of stuff you need a great sound mix for. So we didn't even wait for "YMCA" even though it was YMCA night at the Bradley Center. We just left reluctantly.

So of course last Saturday I had "Macho Man" going through my head, an earworm more potent than Eduard Khil. "Hon," Brian said, "Sounds like you need some FZ." And so I did. rounded up a last minute sitter, so I only caught two band at this year's Zappafest, but they were Dr Chow and theDanglers, so all is right with the world again. And the Danglers are playing for my 50th birthday Saturday night, along with Floor Model, so that helped remind me how much I appreciate them.

But today was a lovely day, really. Slice of Ice opened today -- the outdoor skating rink across the street from the PAC -- as I've often called it, our own little piece of Rockefeller Center. And it was, as the kids called it, Hollywood Snow -- just softly floating flakes over a Christmas-lights sprinkled night, with the elegance of a Nutcracker audiences spilling out into the street. (Only downer was just getting there and having to sit through opening day ceremonies which includes a figure skating demo. We didn't come here to watch, we came to skate!) But other than that, once again, the Starbucks there had their A-List crew working (even though I was asked "What would you like sir?" "Uh, I'm a 'ma'am'") and then becuase it was opening night, every mascot in town was there. The Sausages were there, the mascots from the Milwaukee Wave and UWM Panthers -- but get this -- none of them were on skates until Bango the Buck showed up. But Bango's a really athletic mascot anyway. He'd left, and then Roscoe (from the Admirals) turned up -- and being a hocket mascot, he was clearly the best skater of them all. The kids had a good time high fiving them. Sammy had a dreadful wipeout and has a nasty bruise near his eye, but he's sitting on the couch as I write this, with a fresh ice pack, and hoepfully a story to tell. Most likely, that story is about the one skater who we overheard fretting about how she was going to get home in all this snow. Hel-LO: this is Wisconsin and it's December 9. This isn't a blizzard, people. It's snowfall. That tends to happen this time of year here in 43 degrees North. If you're at all deserving of your Wisconsin driver's license, this shouldn't be a problem.

We decided (well, I decided) we/I didn't feel like cooking, so we popped into the Milwaukee Pubic Market where Sammy and I munched on lobster and calamari at the St Paul Fish Company lunch counter ( both were outstanding, and very reasonably priced) and Stella had the always excellent Chicken Soup from the Soup Company. We heard some excitement and applause coming from upstairs; there was a Gingerbread House contest! We went to check it out and found everything from traditional gingerbread houses to gingerbread apartment buildings and log cabins and lodges. My favorite is pictured here: a gingerbread Red Arrow Park, complete with ice rink and Starbucks and 1001 building in the background. It was really good, not necessarily the best, but a lovely little replica of this picture perfect holiday evening spent with the kids: truly a slice of a slice of our ice.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fiftieth Communion

First Communion
Originally uploaded by V'ron
This is a picture of me at my First Communion. And, next Saturday the 11th, it will be my 50th. Birthday, that is. And in Sixthstation fashion, I'm going to celebrate with music by communing with two of my very favorite bands. They will help me ring in my next half century at the Port of Hamburg on South Howell.

The bands? Why, could I have picked two more diverse bands, with the thing in common is their excellence in their genres? No, I could not.

We have The Danglers: psychedelic jazz prog free-form blistering emotionally-charged musical virtuosos who have this chameleon-like ability to size up a crowd and deliver a performance that leaves jaws dragging on the floor in shock and awe, making it look easy by seamlessly merging disparate influences (oh dear god I'm starting to sound like Dave Marsh...)

And then we have Floor Model: snotty, loud, tight, radical, clever, sharp old bastards whose rapier wit slices through everybody from CIA-infested political "leadership" to pretentious riverwest punk rock grrrls (that resemble me in my late 20s) who nod in agreement to every word Charles Bukowski belches out.

And the Port of Hamburg? Timmy O'Keefe's Port of Hamburg? (because when you're thinking fine german reinheitsgebot-styled beer auf Hamburg, you're thinking "O'Keefe") Excellent selection of fine beverages to keep your liver pickled for another 50 years.

My birthday's really December 8, but a) that's a school night and b) it's a Holy Day of obligation and I wouldn't want to interrupt anybody's pre-Communion fast.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Well, at least SOMEBODY's back with some regularity

Trancin' and Dancin'
Originally uploaded by V'ron
And that somebody would be the Trance and Dance Band. Popped by Linneman's the other week to catch 'em. they used to play out a lot, oh, back in the early 90s (and I'm sure before then, before I moved to town) and then they would play rarely, so that it would seem that one of their performances would be an event and then they stopped playing altogether. Now they're back, with an almost completely different lineup. 4TA still is the center of it all, leading off each set with the Buffalo Muskrat Show. His son Reuben is now on keyboards, and Chris Loss is on bass. But new people everywhere else.

Hey the smoke eaters finally work at Linnemans! Oh, wait, its not that the smoke eaters work. It's that they don't have to work anymore. That's a side note in all of this, but it's an important one. Smoke wasn't keeping me out of the clubs, but the lack of it is sure an invitation to get out more. Now, if we could just do something about the sound. 4TA's got a terrific guitar player -- Walter -- but I couldn't hear a thing unless I went up to the stage and stood right next to his amp. I knew he was attempting complex stuff because I could see his fingers flying all over the fretboard, but it was a shame I missed it. I don't know if the acoustics in Linneman's are the culprit or what, or maybe the sound mix favors the singers who are normally the attraction of "Linneman's Bands." (You know what I mean by this, don't you? There's "Linneman's Bands" and there's "Circle A Bands" and there's "Cactus Club Bands" and such. "Linneman's Bands" tend to be very singer, lyrics focused.).

Anyway, they were wonderful. Still coming together but close enough to the old magic that they're worth coming out to see -- and that old magic will come by virture of them playing out and together more often. That was the thing about the Trance and Dance band. They didn't so much as start and stop song, they just kind of drifted in and out of them, like a group of people on a long journey together... and this group has just picked up some new passengers, that's all.

Where have I been? Dealing with lots of personal crap, boring stuff you woulc read about in a bunch of other blogs, I'm sure. Nothing critical, just that mundane old life stuff: broken down cars, getting the kids to and from school and scouts and games and birthday parties and all that. A few "Hey, Doc, what's this weird lump/skin lesion/numbness here"s that turned out to be nothing. Whining about the weather.

Self-righteously avoided shopping yesterday, but ended up buying myself a tow truck ride home from the YMCA anyway. But I really do hate the idea of Black Friday anyway. It used to be the day off after thanksgiving that you might as well use to get your Christmas shopping done. Now it's turned into the freaking Super Bowl. And I'm like one of those outsiders that always said, "Oh, I don't care about football that much." But really, if I have to get up at 3 am to freeze with a bunch of people and risk getting trampled on like I was a Who fan in Cincinnanti just to save $20, I guess I really don't need a new DVD player that badly. In a lot of repects, being unemployed last year was rather healthy for me. It put things in perspective, things like what I need and what I don't need. And I just don't need a lot of this stuff.

But I will admit, I do need to get out more. And that I will do, in a couple of weeks on my birthday. I have one of the best bands in the city agreeing to play for my 50th birthday, and as soon as I confirm the other band, I will let you know about this. My birthday's December 8, but since that's a Holy Day of Obligation (not to mention a school/work night), I'm celebrating it on the 11th. With a couple of bands, of course. How else would you celebrate fifty years of Vron? Save the date.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Confidently, a happy birthday

Stella Ubari
Originally uploaded by V'ron
It's been more than a week since Stella turned 12. I'm late with her birthday post. Sorry, Boo-Boos.

Especially when we had a really tight month, especially for a 12 eyar old. She's getting at that age where she doesn't want me around so much, claiming she doesn't need me around so much. s the fact that she still likes going shopping with me is HUGE. We still have fun together, mother and daughter, a kind of fun and knowing in-okes together that I hope we continue to have, even as she dives headfirst into this period of life where she's striking out on her own, trying to define just who this Stella person is. But whether she likes it or not, there's still a lot of me in her. Look at her. She dressed up as a Quentin Tarantino character for halloween for chrissakes? And nobody who knows me is at all surprised.

The best part though, was putting together the costume once she decided that's what she wanted to be. She somehow acquired some mode of confidence this year. It was the moxie that allowed her to put on the pieces as we hunted them down at Goodwill and New to You Kids (that's a boy's sportscoat we found for $4! -- she's still the bargain hunter I raised). It was the creativity she sparked as we figured out how we were going to make Gogo Ubari's weapon: "Well, we could go to Menards and get some chain...."

And she found this confidence this year to start swimming in the deep end of the pool ( a fear she's finally conquered), and to decide she really wants to play a musical instrument, and just the other day, she -- yes, the girl with the massive stage fright -- announced she wanted to get involved with First Stage. She even acknoledged as much: "Mom, I have to learn to get over this. I can't live my life being afraid of doing things in front of people." She's conquered so many fears this year that she's inspired me. Last year she would have NEVER agreed to enter a cart race against grown ups, and in those final nervewracking heats, she would have let her fear get the best of her. No, this year she pushed through that fear and she WON. She didn't give up, she gave it her all and she reaped the rewards. I was happy she won, but I was ecstatic that she didn't give up. She's starting to find that wonderfulness and talent in herself that I always knew was there, and both of us were frustrated that she would never let it manifest itself.

So this year's birthday was especially happy for me. I look back and see how much she's grown in just this past year, not just physically, but emotionally. It's a newfound confidence in herself that I think she's kind of getting off on. It's FUN to conquer a fear. So while I'm sure there's parents who are aghast that I have a 12-year-old who even knows who Gogo Ubari is, I'm right there with encouraging her to choose a costume for a character who, while wacked out of her skull, is beautiful, talented, well trained, and best of all, confident. No, she's not cocky at all yet, and she's still a little frightened about some things. Heck, she's only 12. But this was the year that some kind of self-confident spark finally got lit, and that's cause for celebration in and of itself.

Happy birthday, Boo Boos!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Festivals help with the denial

The Human Coin
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I've not been blogging, have you noticed? I've been too busy in denial that summer's over. I'm actually embracing autumn, and enjoying the fall color show, but still. There's a few street festivals that have helped me with my denial that any day now, it could snow. (Such is Wisconsin life). First off, a almost a full month ago, was the Bay View Bash. It's reinvigorated this year (maybe it helped to not decided to do it at the last minute, maybe it helped that it didn't rain...) but it was a reason to drag myself out of bed, and go see the Dick Satan Trio riff off a pile of lovely, dangerous surf tunes. (You will note in my post today that I haven't seen a single darn band in a club lately.) They're playing tonight with the Eotics, so If I didn't have child care duties, I'd be there.

My boy, photog in training
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Soon after them was a set from 1956, who heavied up the fest something fierce. 1956 was always damn heavy, and I think they've gotten heavier: or maybe I normally see them in darkly lit bars where the too-heavy-to-be-just-another-emocore-band sound seems perfect, rather than festivals that tend to rely on happy, peppy bands. As you can see, Sammy grabbed my camera phoneand decided to sharpen his photog skills, and, well, he's actually quite good.
Food is always good at the Bay View Bash: it's probably the bst festival food out there becasue they're the most variety. Yeah, you can get brats and burgers and corn, but you can also get soup and curry and penny candy. And its in a neighborhood where there's plenty of fun kids with fun attitudes.The penny candy seemed to go really well with the final act we saw, Dead Man's Carnival, who were part sideshow, part cabaret, all entertainment.The band backing up the sideshow had this Tom Waits kind of vibe to them, with a sprinkling of mischieveness to them -- the juggling act and the sideshow kept the crowd enthralled. Later, they repeated their antics after sunset, which made the fire juggling all that much more fun.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
A week later, I normally would have hit the wonderful Global Union Festival, but after years of being just spectators, the kids wanted to enter the Center Street Fest Art Cart Races, so they put together the Poke Kart (as in Pokemon) and off they were! The goal was to make it just through the first round, and Stella amazingly squeaked it out. Brian gave her racing tips ("accelerate out of the apex....") and she made it throug the third round. But here's the thing. Stella isn't one for calling attention to herself in big crowds. And she's a perfectionist. By the final race, the crowd was chanting her name (who isn't at least impressed, if not cheering for an 11 year old who's beat out a pile of adults?) and rather than pumping her up, it made her nervous. "Mom, what if I FAIL in front of all these people?" I told her if she didn't want to do it, I'd cover for her ("I've made an ass of myself in front of many of these same people before, and I'm perfectly willing to do so to cover for you again....") but she would have none of it. "No, I WANT to do this," she said, nervously fighting back tears. Here's video somebody shot.... you can see in the last race where she pulled ahead and won it -- she was masterful around those turns. (And not to mention, you can see how delightful -- not unexpectedly so -- the other carts were designed and executed.)
After that kickoff, onto music. I was too busy helping Stella come down from the excitement, and forgot to wander on down by the Uptowner to catch what was, by all acounts, a terrific set from Danny Price and the Loose change, but I did at least manage to catch the lovely country stylings of Tim Cook and the Riverwesterners before catching the adult dodgeball tournament (kids were bumbed out they weren't eligible -- "Haven't you had enough adult-beating championness for one day?") and then watched my dear husband play a set with Dr Chow's Love Medicine. It was a lovely festival overall but the kids were pooped and we had to go before sunset.
Which is a shame for me, because that meant missing a set from a new Steve Whalen band, followed by an increasingly rare appearance from Voot Warnings (with a white jumpsuit-clad Peder Hedman on guitar, which apparently nobody called him on being "Peder Townsend" except Brian as he windmilled his way through the set). But I'm in denial about a lot of things, and it being the full thrust of autumn is one of them.Maybe a picture of Bay View Farmers' Market bounty will hammer it home for me:

More squash, originally uploaded by V'ron.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sammy's still my baby. My 7 year old baby.

Sammy looks up
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Yeah, the Bay View Bash was last weekend, and yeah, I took lots of pictures, but first things first.

It's Sammy's birthday today. He's seven. He's seven already. How did this happen? I just had him, what was that, last fall? He's seven. And he's come a long way this year. Just two weeks ago we took the training wheels off and he got the hang of riding his bike around the ball field, confidently telling me, "I don't need you to hold on anymore. I can do this!" And he's off.

He's always been tenacious like this. He has this stubborn streak in him that will hammer at some kind of skill until he gets it. Sometimes his stubborness makes me crazy, but overall it will serve him well. But he is, as many of my friends who know him, an old soul. You can see it in the way he gets (and uses sarcasm). You can see it in the way he finds and meets friends. You can see it in the care and gentleness with which he approaches animals. There's a wise old man in there, but he's still my baby.

He doesn't even mind when I refer to him as my baby. He still will accept a hug or a cuddle at night and he cannot contain his thrill at things like amusement parks, surprises, and of course, his own birthday. He's overcome with joy that all his buddies can make it to his birthday party. Joy, I tell you, joy. You'd think Spiderman himself was coming the way he reacted every time a positive RSVP came through. He lives to crack the eggs into the cake I baked for him. (Mostly because that's a skill he masterd this year -- took him forever, but there's that tenacious streak again.)

And what a year it's been. He can ride a bike. He can skate (roller and ice). He's tall enough to ride all but a handful of rides at Six Flags -- and he grew the balls to ride them. (Although that first run on the Viper was a bit dicey...). He's reading well and he can write his name in cursive, so now he has a library card. He can add and subtract, and he can count his money. (Lord, can he count his money!). He can shoot baskets and he understands the game of hoops well enough to enjoy (or not, depending on which game you hit) the Bucks foray into the playoffs this year. He wants to learn how to play the drums, and he wants to learn Tae Kwon Do. But he's still my baby.

He's my last baby, so I savor those moments -- that first time he rode the bike, all wobbly but nevertheless rode it -- by himself; him stepping up to bat and whacking the living daylights out of that T-ball as though he were Prince Fielder himself.

He still has that heart I've bragged about, that heart the size of Lake Michigan, that heart that shows his concern for the well being for any mammal that crosses his path. He's just, fundamentally a good guy. Every night, I tuck him in and tell him how glad I am that he's my kid. And it's not just to give him self-esteem and such. I mean it. I'm really glad he's my kid .Because one minute he's mouthing off and being basass to some bear at the zoo (and he IS a badass), and the next, well, he's still my baby. I just love him.

Happy birthday Sammy! I'm so glad you're my kid!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I'm admitting it's not summer anymore

Massive Butterflies
Originally uploaded by V'ron
And as it's mid-September, it's about time, eh?I FINALLLY got myself up early enough to see the monarch butterflies nesting at sunrise over at the monarch trail on the old county grounds. Massive, I tell you. Just like those photos you see of the monarch migration in Califronia, but why they stop here, I don't know, but I'll take it. The sunrise shadows are tall, (yes it's fall) and the sunlight gently wakes the monarchs up, slowly, they start to slap their wings, like they're warming up that mechanism.

Cebar's tomorrow sound
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

So we wrapped up Chill on the Hill with the Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound a couple of weeks ago. Every time I see Cebar, I think of that Woody Guthrie quote about how he hates a song that is out to make you feel that you are no good. Because Cebar does just the opposite. He's all about partying, celebration, but it's the people's party. I've known him and his music pretty much since I've moved to this town and his philosophy has been to dig, dig everywhere and and find great songs out of all sorts of american influences and cook them up together into something that just akes people smile and party and dance. He's like this rocking folkie, except he's not a folkie in the coffeehouse respect. He's more like a guy who understands the "folk" part of music, music that's made by and for the common folk, and he plays it. What a treasure he is. These days, I'm happy to see that he's got Mike Frederickson on the bass. I shamefully missed Frederickson's art opening yesterday, but he's another Milwaukee treasure, between his artwork and his other band, the Moseleys.

Nah, yesterday, I was at Rollaero, an old school skating rink with the kids. Hardwood floor, DJ playing the latest hits (I'm kind of depressed at what is popular hits these days-- OK, it's bad enough that your verses are rather droney but can't anybody write a chorus besides Gaga?), and flashing disco lights. Also a few (obviously regular) hot dogs skating too close to my son the beginner, and trying to impress my daughter the cynic. "Mom, that guy is really starting to creep me out," Stella said. Ah, I told her, in every skating rink there's a hotdog who spends the whole night trying to hit on underage girls (although this rink's hotdog was underage himself, unlike my generation's/rink's hotdot). It wouldn't be an oldschool rink without him. Just ignore him. He won't go away, but oh well.

Clear Cut
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The final kicker for me that it's not summer anymore is the annual Labor Day parade, and the All City People's parade was out, but it didn't seem as spectacular as last year's group was. Maybe they ran out of steam or something. Yes, there were some good floats, but it still didn't have the same oomph. Maybe they were told not to be as radical last year (like artists would have stood for that), but a few floats -- like this one -- made their point really harsh (like this nation seems to need these days) and some were sweet. But there wasn't AS MUCH. And not as much music. If you're going to make a point with the common folk (which is what Labor Day is all about), you might want to take a tip from Cebar, and start with planning the music FIRST.

Well, if the sun clears, I'm off to the Bay View Bash. I lvoe the Bay View Bash (as well as the Locust Street Festival) because both wait until the fall. We still need a good street festival, but at least it's into the fall, for those of us who aren't ready -- despite the kids being back in school and work hunkering down -- to admit it's not summer anymore.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My friend Van, who loves Elvis even more than I do, rest in peace

I'm beginning to tire of writing tributes to fallen (local) musical giants. I know that came out bad. I'm shocked and heartbroken over the passing of a Champaign Urbana legend, Van Montgomery Cagle. Maybe I'm getting to be that age where I have to accept that more of my friends are leaving us, but still. I don't have to like it.

Except for fronting a great art rock band in the early 80s for a single song (the band, Mode Zero, broke up shortly after they'd made their point, the song "Punks For God" is immortalized on You Tube somewhere), Van wasn't a musician, but everybody in the music community in Central Illinois knew him, and loved him. And I can tell you why.

Anybody who reads this blog with some regularity knows that I seperate the world into two different camps: those for whom music is simply wallpaper in their lives, and those for whom music is a visceral, crucial life giving force that we cannot live without. Duh, of course, Van fell into the second group, but he didn't just love music and the culture surrounding it. He studied it. He knowledge of it was encyclopedic. He was brilliant enough to string it all together in his (pretty much treatse), "Reconstructing Pop/Subculture: Art, Rock, and Andy Warhol." If it sounds like somebody's PhD dissertation, well, it's written with that same level of academic rigor.

But he was no ivory tower academic. He was a part of the scene, he went to shows, he hung out with the bands, he managed bands,he wrote and wrote and wrote about the music, the people who made the music, the art that inspired the music, the culture that nurtured the music. Van loved punk. Van loved glam. Van loved Elvis. (Oh, how he loved Elvis.) Van loved music. And he could have a conversation about it that was just as plebian as you wanted it to be, or as highfalutin as you needed it to be, but nowhere along that line could you ever believe that we was talking down or up to you. And because of that, he legitimized our love for all things music, art, and the pop culture that brought it together, he validated that this wasn't just some crazy obsession, but that life giving force that makes it possible for those of us who need more than wallpaper to wake up each day. That's why we loved him. Oh, did I mention (as many will) what a sharp dresser he was? Did I mention how wonderfully witty and fun a conversationalist he was? Did I mention that he had one of the kindest hearts I've ever come across? Did I mention was a genuinely sweet soul he was? All of these. All of these are reasons why we loved him.

I actually didn't know him well 30 years ago in Champaign-Urbana. He'd written a brilliantly funny and touching short story about a road trip to Graceland that was published in the Psychedelic Boneyard, a fanzine I helped edit. We didn't touch his piece. It warranted no editing whatsoever. It was perfect. I'm going to dig it up and scan it in, because to this day, I still think of that wonderful piece when I think of him. But I didn't know him well then. I just knew his words. Rather, I reconnected with him via the Vertebrats reunions, and via Facebook. That's when I realized what a gift having him in one's life was. He was constantly turning his friends on to great little tidbits of art and music, you could feel that love and that gift jumping off the page every time he posted.

Two days ago, he'd posted a link to a beautiful version of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" performed by a variety of artists. I reposted it, bragging to my own FB friends that I knew such a person who "finds the best stuff." I had said, "My friend Van, who loves Elvis even more than I do, finds the best stuff." He'd even posted back, "Thanks for the compliment". Later that evening, according to his beloved sister, Libby, he died peacefully in his sleep. That song and version choked me up when it was just a cheerful exchange and joy of finding and sharing a beautiful piece of music and art. Now it leaves me flat out crying. We loved him because he understood what we loved and he shared -- and most importantly validated -- that love.

Catching up IV: Monarchs and the Moon

No, I wasn't at Chill this past Tuesday with all the cool kids. I'm sure Decibully was wonderful (I still need to catch them) and I'll bet Juniper Tar has really come into their own (I promised I'd catch them again after they underwhelmed me three years ago on a dingy night, mismatched with the Deer Lick). But no. Tuesday night was the summer night when moonrise is the same time as sunset, and the best place to catch this is out by the old County Grounds, where they have a party to celebrate this fact, and plug conservation of the Monarch Trail.

We'd had dinner at the Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbeque, and boy, has that place slipped. I used to say, it's the kind of place where if you don't like what you got, it's your own damn fault (because you pick out the meat, veggies and toppings), but still. It took forever to get the attention of the grill guys, and they didn't exactly clean the grill off between dishes, so Sammy's bowl had a ridiculous (for him) amount of hot chilis, and mine seemed like not enough. Quite a contrast to the BD's in Bayshore. Oh well, this is what happens when you name your restaurant after a brutal murdering dictator.

I'm still blown away that for whatever reason, the Monarch butterflies choose the spot at the intersection of Hwy 45 and Watertown Plank road as a layover for their migration from Canada to California. Why there? OK, there's a pile of milkweed, but still. Why not, say, I dunno, Burlington? Whatever. The fact that they do makes it a special place, and the sunset/moonrise a special time, and the fact that it's one of the highest points in the county (not to mention north enough of downtown) to be able to see both east and west horizons so that one can enjoy both moonrise and sunset almost makes it the center of the universe, if only for a few moments.

Catching Up III: August Music Roundup

Red Hot Chili Pipers
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Oh, I did go to see some shows; all outdoor, all relatively child friendly. First up with a night with the Liam Ford band, who get better and better every time, at Chill on the Hill, a perfect venue for them. They're really working a corwd well, and they had finally won me over earlier this year when the turned songs like "I Can Help" and even "We'll Meet Again Some Sunny Day" into what sounded like rockabilly standards. A week later, the Five Card Studs rocked the Hill, but this is a savvy Bay View crowd that seemed to be onto them. So that's why they were able to let loose and go over the top. Cesar Palace even let his alter ego (a metal loving alter ego at that) slip a few high pitched screams toward the end of the night that were worthy of Ronnie James Dio comparaisons -- but somehow he managed to keep them in the lounge lizard context that the Studs have gotten down to a science. The Studs continue to include their progeny in their shows assuring us all that there will be studly action for years to come.
Finally, the kids and I ventured out to Tosa Tonight to catch the Red Hot Chili Pipers before their many Irish Fest Gigs. This is a band that claims more of a bagpipe rock, but they really do encompass many musical styles. The medley of Smoke On the Water (that merges into Thunderstruck -- really, once you've heard it, it seems perfecly natural to play Thunderstruck on the bagpipes) opens the show, but they actually approach jazz, rock, and others with traditional bagpipes, drumline style snare, and other instruments I admit I don't know the names of. I think they sell the "rock" part because, well, that's what sells, but they're just really versitile musicians who don't deny their celtic roots, but aren't trapped by them, either. Oh, and they're tight as all hell. Not one note out of place, almost too perfect. But they're fun as heck, and they work their butts off to make sure that people have a good time. We sure did, and as I've mentioned before, the whole celtic thing isn't usually my cup of tea, but this was a concept i wanted to see to believe, and I'm glad I did.

Catching Up II: State Fair to Good

Where's George Clinton?
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I love State Fair, but I dunno. Things seemed lame this year. Maybe it was because we'd gone to Six Flags a few weeks beforehand and the kids were underwhelmed by the rides, but I was left with a certain amount of lameness this year. The rides seemed way shorter. And lamer. We'd gotten on the Himalaya and Stella rode alone and Sammy rode with me. Stella turned around and asked me, "Does this seem slower than usual?" Before i answered, I noticed that Sammy was NOT slammed into me from g-force (which he normally would be) and I answered "We shouldn't even be able to have this conversation for Pete's sake."

Half the barns were closed, so we got scant chance to see farm animals and chat with their owners. I'm not shocked by ANYTHING on a stick anymore, and even bad typos don't make me laugh the way they used to. Maybe it all started on the first day of State Fair, where I'd read in the paper that the sky glider broke down and that set the tone. Even the chocolate covered bacon on a stick had lost its luster. However, the kids enjoyed the Starship Ride -- a spin-you-round thing that looked like George Clinton and Bootsy Collins were going to step out of any time.

The saving grace was walking past the Cousins stage and noticing that Robert Gordon and Slim Jim Phantom were playing at 9 pm. How did we miss this in our programme? So we stopped by the former Shakey's pizza tent to share a few beers with The Florida yard Dogs, a NOLA style band that puts smiles on our faces every year, and wandered over to the Cousins stage, to a disapointly small crowd to see a pair of (albeit 80s, not original 50s) rockabilly legends serve up the standards. Gordon still has his rich, could've been country voice, and he still can sing those songs with all the genteel class he always had. His backup band (with the Stray Cats' Phantom) was tight and yet rockabilly loose. I snapped a few pictures, and was really sad to see the small crowd. OK, it was a Sunday night, OK, the weather was kind of dreary, but still. We bought some cream puffs, ceremoniously ate them (I think you get ticketed if you go to State Fair and not eat a cream puff) and dragged our exhausted behinds to our car. 2011 State Fair has got to be better than this.

Catching Up I: Snooze at the Zoo

Setting up the tent
Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, time to catch up with August entries. And first off, the kids and I did something we've been wanting to do for years -- the annual "Snooze at the Zoo" event. You sing up way back in April, hope to god you get good weather in August, and then you camp out at the Zoo. It's a lovely fundraiser for the zoo -- but I was hoping for a little more noisy activity.

They put you round Lake Evinrude, probably for precisely that reason -- you're far enough away from the really noisy critters so that little ones don't get freaked out. But that didn't stop the blowhard two tents away who thought it was fun and clever to scare the piss out of his kids by growling at them (causing their screams... at 10:30 at night). Still, it was a cool event. There's nothing like waking up at sunrise and walking over to the bear cave and see them getting up too.

Plus, you do get to see behavior shortly after closing you don't normally get to see: in this case, we got to check out kangaroos, at least four of them, with baby joeys in their pockets. I usually never see this. They're just usually hanging out in the yard, not even bouncing around.

But the coolest part hs been a recent addition to the zoo -- The Language of Conversation, a project to permanently install poetry tucked into nooks and cranniesthroughout the zoo. I haven't seen them all yet, but the poets range from Frost and Whitman types (of course) to native american chants, all about animals and the land we share with them. Its worth it just to look for the poetry amongst the life.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Fairweather blogger

Fairweather Friends
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Remember when I used to blog at least weekly, if not more often? Now i can just about squeeze out the time to bog once a month. It's those kids, I tell ya. They're keeping me busy, and at this time intheir lives, I'm happy about it. It's been T-Ball season and what kind of mom would I be if I wasn't out there cheering on my buddy? And T-Ball, at least the Milwaukee Recreation version of it, is a fairly sweet game. They really don't have outs, everybody bats, last batter gets to sweep them all off the bases. They're 4-6 year olds, for pete's sake. When you watch, especially the 4 year olds, that's when you realize just how complicated baseball is. If the kids get the point that they're supposed to hit the ball, run to first before the ball gets there, and place nicely as a team together, it's been a good summer. And it was.
But that's taken up my Tuesday and Thursday nights, and the husband has been playing out a lot with Dr Chow, which means either pay a sitter or hang out at home or some other child friendly place on weekends. So I haven't seen as many bands as I'd like to. Instead, there was a Six Flags trip shoved into the month, numerous trips to the South Shore Farmers' market, a couple of stops to places like the Zoo and such. At least at the Zoo, it was one of those "Sunset Zoofari" nights so while we once again got to visit all sorts of wild animals, we also got to take in those musical animals, the Five Card Studs, who, like many of the other animals there, were removed from their natuaral habitat (in their case, swingin' singles lounges.) Nevertheless, they adapted. In a family friendly way, mimicking some of the newborns at the zoo, Cesar Palace brought up his own progeny, the younger Buckingham Palace, for a few songs, while encouraging the other kids to "Scream, Children, SCREAM." Being kids, they gleefully complied. It was a great night at the zoo.

And also, Chill on the Hill is really kicking in for me. Tuesday nights, up until last week, were T-Ball nights, but frankly, Chill's lineup didn't start to excite me until last week anyway. We got there too late for the Band of South Shore (a marching band ensemble from no school in particular, just kids from all over the South Shore area), and I'm sad about that, but I was just getting over this nasty stomach bug.

Speaking of bugs, what's up with the seemingly atomic mosquito invasion? But I digress.

Some folksinger chick who totally bored me and the kids was up next, but she did so some nice youth-oriented things (with a bunch of African-American youth who pretty much saved her act with their energy and enthusiasm), but I was too busy saying hello to people I haven't seen all summer to really pay attention. I told you, this whole raising kids thing has really cramped my style as a local music blogger. But then the band i came to see, the Bikiki Beachcombers, turned up onstage, along with their newest members, Damian and Betty Blexrud-Strigens a music power couple that violates my theory that married couples should never be in a band together. Somehow, they make their projects together work and that observation is displayed with Beachcombers: Damian thumps away in chararastic understated proficiency on the bass, and Betty lends her perfect voice to bring you to a paradise in Honolulu. The rest of the band is having a perfectly good time nailing down this schtick, which was great for the hour or so they were on stage, and their hula dancer, Lady Poi, helped lots of little ones get the basics of the hula. They're a fun novelty band that's really carving out a niche, and i can listen to them for about an hour before I really need something like a good punk band.

Which "Rockerbox, the annual Riverwest-based cycle festival (that's a biker event for the rest of us, not just the corporate-sponsored Harleyfests we normally get) promised to deliver. Another blogger pointed out that Rockerbox's music would be a lot deeper than the usual Steppenwolf/George Thorogood rock that you normally get at these fests and that's what I like. Of course, with all the fun kid stuff I did this month (including another visit to Pere Marquette Park to see the Wizard of Oz on the big screen, accompanied with more of those atomic mosquitoes), I had about enough time/energy to catch one band, and that band was the Fairweather Friends.

Dusty Medical Records ran the single music stage, and from what I could tell, it rocked all day. Fairweather Friends is a relatively new outfit (they debuted at the Circle A earlier this month with another recent find/favorite, Drugs Dragons) and they drew me in quickly. Great garage with two, count 'em two, keyboardists -- one on a rhodes, and othe other one what looked to be a farfisa (or at least something of that same cheap quality), to ensure a true garage sound underneath classic garage guitar playing. A lead singer who had the perfect rasp underneath his bluesy delivery and the aforementioned guitarist who also doubled as a vocal duet (he was more prominent than just a backup singer). They ahd it all -- good ballads, rocken anthems, teen-angst wailing, great classic melodies that swung back and forth. I've already "liked" them on Facebook so that I can make sure I catch them again, if I get time.

At least I got to see a few other of the Rockerbox bands via videos that people posted. Holy Sch!t (name spelled wrong to get through some internet filters) apparently turned in a tight punk set, and I'll be hunting for others. But for now, I guess I'm a bit of a fairweather blogger until I get some more energy and time. In the meantime, I'm hoping that the weather clears up for my planned excursion to that most unpretentious of Milwaukee events, State Fair. I've already waxed poetic about how i love State Fair. It's exactly what it is, and it doesn't try to be more. It doesn't claim it's the "Worlds Biggest Music Festival" even though it gets some bands and sometimes something worth going to see. No, it's rides, food on a stick, mediocre and (sometimes really good) cover, tribute, and rehashed bands, animals, smells, and, well, it's a State Fair. Watching the radar to see if the rain lets up, and packing another bottle of DEET in my purse.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mom! It's great in here!

Mom! It's great in here!
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Stella's driving me crazy. She's emotional, she's short tempered, everything annoys her, she doesn't know what to do with herself half the time, she's driving her little brother crazy (and bless him, he takes it in stride). In short, she's premenstrual. And it's not just her. When I'm dealing with that Girl Scout troop she's a part of, there's days I come home and just mumble to myself something about how I wish they'd all get their freakin' periods already. I really don't know how their full-time schoolteacher puts up with it all day during the school year.

What's making it worse for the poor girl is that her little brother Sammy is at the height of 6 year old boy precociousness and cuteness, so everybody just loves him. He's a good guy and he's funny and he's still all bright eyes about the world, and he's Little Mr. Sunshine, but it seems like Stella's worldview is Danny Price and the Loose Change song.

That's why, despite it raining for three days up north on my vacation, it was all worth it for a wonderful moment. (Never mind there were plenty of good moments --playing in the swimming hole we found, setting up our own Diet Coke and Mentos demo and other playing in the North Woods activities. But it wasn't the complete idyllic vacation -- almost all of it was rained out. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I'm supposed to appreciate the elegance of nature and rain and all that live each moment in the zen crap, but this was my freakin' vacation. I've had enough of rain this past month in Milwaukee.

But after a long day road tripping sightseeing, it was finally hot and sunny out, and it was our last night there when STella asked, "Can we go to the reservoir and see the sunset?" I wanted to (because who can resist the cliche photography?) and nobody else did. So we looked around and said, "Hey everybody, we'll be back." Amazingly enough, Sammy wasn't interested.

I'd already showered, changed out of a swimsuit and had fresh, dry clothes on, but Stella still had her suit on. We jumped on our bikes and rode down.

And it was gorgeous. All chimney red and fire engine orange, as Tom Waits would say, except this was a sunset, and not a fire. It was that moment that looked like somebody had spilled orange and blue paint on the normally rust colored water (and this was glow in the dark paint) and Stella just ran right in. She started splashing about and literally washing herself off with that sunset. I stood there in my dry, clean clothes and conditioned hair and watched her longingly, wishing I could join her.

She must have seen that, even with her glasses off, because she even said, "You want to come in, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, but I'm all in dry clothes and such...." She cut me off. "Were you going to wear THOSE PANTS and THAT SHIRT tomorrow?"

"Well, uh, no....."

"Then what's stopping you from running in?" she asked, sounding like me when I ask her questions like, "What's stopping you from making your own breakfast?"

I popped off my glasses, put down the camera, and joined her. And we saw how cool the sunset looked against the water at water level (it's a great perspective that you have to be there to appreciate-- freakin' Monet couldn't have captured it) and we just laughed together and swam and had little races and there was not one bit of frustration or cynicism or any of that pre-teen boredom crap. There she was -- I found my funny, happy, creative, adventuresome little girl again, and I'm confident that when she learns how to tread water in this swirling cesspool of hormones that nature deals us girls, I'll see a lot more of her once again.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oh, Brother

sweatin' out the pipes
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I'm a little behind on my blogging, but I'm getting caught up seeing good music. You'd think this was going to be a Summerfest blog entry, but you'd be wrong. I'm writing about a free show, the kind I love taking my kids to in the summer.

River Rhythms is one of my favorite places to see bands for free. The backdrop of the river itself is nice, but it also happens to be in a part of town where the sunset's reflection on the buildings happens to cast a magical glow, and that somehow literally and figuratively reflects on the bands that play there. Case in point: Brother, three chaps from Austrailia who for whatever reason have flown under my radar all these years, cast an equally magical glow on the people who risked coming out on what could have very easily turned into one of those thunderstorms we've been getting a lot of lately.

Brother's schtick is this: they're Aussies working the Celtic (would somebody please tell the RR emcee that this is NOT a basetball team, and thus pronounced the genre "Kell-tick", not "Sell-tick") genre. That's probably why they fell under my radar -- there's plenty of good Celtic rock in Milwaukee, I don't need to go out of town, and it's not my favorite genre. I can listen to it for an hour, and then I have to leave and beg somebody to play me something in a time signature other than 3/4 or 6/8. But this is why I liked Brother. They have Celtic influences, but they're also Aussies, hence the digeriedoos (yes, plural, and yes, sometimes they play both at once), and they're rockers, hence the electric guitar, and they're also ethnic folkies (hence the squeeze box), and hence, they held my attention for both of the 90 minute sets they played.
What I liked about them most, was not just that they varied their musical style and instrumentation. They also variety their themes. One minute they're singing aussie protest songs. The next, they're singing (wonderfully sincerely) about the joys of hanging out in your backyard with your family -- and they' turned Pere Marquette park into a backyard by tossing out beach balls to play with. Lead singer Angus clearly loves what he's doing, and his enthusiasm comes out when he tells his stories, introduces their songs, and then the whole band chimes in with a passion that had me rethinking the whole Celtic thing. The kids were even up and hanging out near the stage just to be a part of the energy. And that's why I liked most about them. They had a really positive, sincere energy that wasn't at all preachy (like some of these groups can get), even when they're singing preachy protest songs! Now that they're on my radar, I won't miss them again.

A couple of days later I warned the kids, "OK, Blue Oyster Cult will be at summerfest, but they're on a Monday night, and they don't go on until 9pm, so if we want to catch them this year, we're going to be tired. "

Right, like they were going to say "Well, let's be sensible and blow it off."

We went to swimming class, and then hopped on a shuttle bus, got searched, and made our way to the M&I Classic rock stage, tucked in behind the Marcus Amp, and found some wobbly benches after the obligatory sky ride. And BOC, our family favorite, was wonderful as usual. Yeah, they did the huge hits, (Reaper, Burning for You, and Sammy's favorite song EVER, Godzilla). And they slipped in plenty of deep cuts (no E.T.I, or This Ain't the Summer of Love, and as this wasn't a biker rally for once, no Golden Age of Leather), but they did give us Before teh Kiss, a Redcap.

Something that, amazingly enough, we encountered for the first time: "Mom, what's that smell?"

"Nothing," I said, kind of relieved she didn't already know what it was. She went to the port-o-let, though and came back reporting, "Mom, that smell's in the port-o-let. Really strong. It really stank in there."

"Uh, reeks, sweetheart," I said, accepting that she might as well know. "The term is 'reeks'." She wanted to know why nobody was getting arrested since it's illegal.

"Because there are plenty of drunk people around getting in violent fights and the cops have their hands full with that. The thing about potheads is that they don't get violent. They're too stoned. They'll cuss at you if they're pissed but that's about it. Drunks get violent, because they're drunk and they can't feel the bottle being broken over their head."

I had no idea how accurate I was being. This night turned out to be the night that a cop trying to break up a fight near a stage where a rap group (that earlier we'd declared mediocre) was playing. Well, of course. We're all playing air drums to "Cities Aflame with Rock and Roll" along with all the other old farts on the south end of the park, and slowing mixing with the thousands of old farts starting to shuffle out of the Marcus bellowing how great Clapton was. Oh, well, at least I didn't have to explain what that song "Cocaine" was all about.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

So, I went back to the old neighborhood

Southwood School (at night, duh)
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I grew up in a town called Country Club Hills, which is in the South 'burbs of Chicago, about where I-57 and I-80 cross. It was a good place to grow up. Schools and parks within walking distance, but yanno, it was still the 'burbs and I'm fundamentally a city mouse. So, you may remember that I blew off my high school reunion in favor of the Vertebrats' reunion, but when a call for an old CCH reunion was put out, and I learned that a lot of the kids from the mid-70s Southwood Junior High gang would be there, I couldn't resist.

This had potential to be a bust. I'm normally about playing it by ear and keeping things loose, but "Noon to 8, park changed a the last minute, everybody bring a dish to pass!" was just a little too loose for me. No rain plan, only one port-o-let and god only knows when Midnight Express was gonna play, (much less where they were supposed to plug and and who was gonna run the PA and, oh yeah, who was gonna bring the PA....) Who was Midnight Express? Why, they played at my 8th Grade Graduation! They played at my high school Freshman Mixer! They played at every 4th of July right before the fireworks in Wulf Park, which is misspelled in Google Maps, BTW and they brought acoustic instruments (and a small battery pack) to power the keyboard) over to Atkin Park yesterday and they played there too. They played "Smoke On The Water" back then and they played it yesterday. And they played a selection of tunes from the era and we all kind of realized how old we were.

My childhood best friend (who I haven't talked to in 30 some odd years) was there earlier in the day, and in some respects, it wasn't like anything changed. We both grew up and ended up being into (what's now being called) alt-rock (we did run into each other at the Pretenders show in Champaign in '81, agreeing that Chrissie Hynde was the coolest woman we had ever seen) and we both have this affinity (that i can't explain, but regular sixthstation readers know about this) for Blue Oyster Cult. And she gets Hawkwind! I thought my husband was the ultimate Hawkwind fan, but this girl? Flew out to England to see 'em at a festival because Dave Brock couldn't leave the country.

Susan had to leave earlier in the day, right about when all the other kids from our era were just starting to show up. There were probably 10-15 of us scattered through the day, but there were people I was glad to see. It was like trying to get caught up with the plot of Glee when you only just started watching during the second season (Will Schuester was married to some chick who faked a pregnancy to keep their marraige together?!?!? How'd we miss that?) It was like each of us had 30 seconds to summarize 30 years, oh, there were a few uneasy moments. ("Didn't you have a brother/sister named so-and-so?" "S/he died/flipped out/had an operation and has never been the same.") Admittedly, I was more out of it than others -- many of these folks have kept in way better touch with each other than I did, but I was still amazed at the razor sharp memories we all had, and actually, moments that I could still remember from my youth. Some of us had peaks and valleys: one friend suffered a stroke (and he's doing fine, but he admits "it's just not the same after a storke") there's been weddings (and divorces), sudden deaths of people our age, our kids making us crazy. In short, we all lived lives, and we have great memories of what was a generally collectively good childhood.

I think I approached this with some trepidation because, well, I wasn't exactly Marcia Brady, Most Popular Girl, but as I confirmed yesterday, none of that shit matters now. I also learned that I wasn't the only person who remembers certain people as bullies (oh, let's say it, so-and-so really was a major prick!) but we could just as easily laugh it off now. And the stories we collectively told (somebody would start a story and we'd help each other fill in the details) of various notorious classmates, teachers, and other people in our lives. Oh, and that softball league! The Country Club Hills Girls' Softball League! Funny how time clouds memories:
"The Sunshines were great."
"No, the Sunshines sucked. The Pink Panthers were the team to beat."
"And we beat 'em," said a member of the Violets.
"No, the Sunshines were good, really."
"Well you beat us, the Radicals, once," I admitted. "And we were way too ashamed to go to Dairy Queen afterwards because we'd have to tell people we were beat by the Sunshines."
And then there was a healthy dollop of Let's Confirm Once and For All Stories We'd Always Wondered About:
"Hey, whatever happened to Miss Notorious Teacher? Didn't she have a thing with Johnny GoodlookingStudent?"
"Nooooooooo! Are you kidding?!?!"
"I was in a bar once a few years later in High School when Mr. Nerdy Administrator recognized me and tried to hit on me!"
"Remember that time we walked out of school?"

That's how it went. We told lots of stories and had a good time, and it was worth the drive down from Milwaukee. And as I had tweeted, I couldn't have asked for a better night to fly my car up the Dan Ryan expy, up the Edens, windows down, stereo cranked, taking in everything I loved -- and still love -- about the Chicago area in general. It was a perfect summer night, capping off one of, come to think of it, hundreds of perfect summer days in Country Club Hills. This one just happened to be yesterday, not 40 years ago.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Start of the Summer Festival Season

Nighttime Blue Angels
Originally uploaded by V'ron
The scene: it's Friday night, after a long week at work, and my grrlfrien Mary Jo wants to drink. Sorry, have the kids (that's what living with a 2nd shift husband will do for ya) but how about a kid-friendly experience? The nighttime air show! There's a nighttime airshow, follow by (what else in Milwaukee) fireworks! So, what the heck. Brave the lakefront/downtown traffic and see if I can actually get a parking place and let's go, kids! MJ will meet us there. And believe it or not, I secured a close, free, safe parking place. I'm not going to tell you where, but enought to say it was really close to what turned out to be the best place to watch the air show -- just east of the North Point Water tower. The fireworks were right in front of us, and we could see the skydivers and their sparklie things, and watch each of them land on the same spot on Bradford beach. MJ joined us right at the end, and we had a smashing game of glow-in the dark frisbee afterwards. Summer is here!
So we're driving over the Hoan Bridge to get home and there's PrideFest. "That looks fun," Stella observes, seeing the crowd at the main stage, obviously yukking it up with Kathy Griffin. "Can we go?" Hmmmm. I think these kids are ready for PrideFest. I needed to explain to them what a drag queen is, and then I had to have the whole conversation about why PrideFest even exists. So we went on Saturday, a dreary cloudy day decorated up by, as many put it, the best people watching ever. I was amazed that the haters weren't out there protesting. In fact, there were some Christians who were proclaiming their pride in their gay children. (Now that's what I suspect JC had in mind.) There was a band called Shanda out of Brooklyn made up of gay, Jewish twentysomethings (my Jewish companions reminding me that "Shanda" is Yiddish for "Shame") that brought to mind a sort of east cost version of Sleater-Kinney, with an added violin and less harsh vocals. I liked them. Lead singer and violinist were the strong points. Proud mom moment number 1: having to explain to Stella why PrideFest even needs to exist, becasuse as Stella observed, "This is just like a regular festival with regular people and everything," (albeit a bit more colorful). Proud mom moment number 2: Sammy being fascinated by Miss Pride Fest: "That's really a boy?!? I can't tell." He looked for clues, but a six year old does not know what to look for. Instead, we paid a visit to the henna tattoo artist, we stuffed ourselves on festival food and watched a belly dancing troupe. The kids enjoyed the sky glider but were too pooped out to stay for Patti LaBelle, which is a shame. Plus, the opening comic for Patti LaBelle was getting a little inappropriate for kids (this, from a mom who lets her kids watch portions of Tarantino films....). I'd heard Miss Patti was tremendous. Next time.

Wake up kids! It's time for Locust Street! We didn't make it to the beer run, but we got there in time to catch a bit of Lovanova's set, and they started the day off on a progressive note. What started as an difficult-to-communicate idea in Paul Kneevers' head is growing into a viable, loungy, proggy act that's fun to listen to, even without a light up organ. (Instead, Kneevers figuratively lit up his head with bright orange hair dye.) Locust Street regular Sigmund Snopek brought his own bar to the Klinger's stage, and we were set.

If I were booking the Linneman's stages, though, I would have swapped some of the outdoor acts indoors and vice versa. Case in point: Heidi Spencer. Talented singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice (think: Amy Winehouse, sober) whose style is more coffeehouse than outdoor drunken hippiefestival. That would have fit in nicely with Jim Linneman's dark, twinkly lit band room, where it would have been protected from the roar of the Blue Angels above. I would have put the honky-tonk sounds of Dyna Flow and Her Roadmasters outside, along with the Outlaws-sounding reverie of the Grand Disaster. The former is definitely a party band that fits the feel of this classic Riverwest festival perfectly. The latter has really come into their own in the past year, finding their voice, and delivering great storytelling punkified western/country (note that I put the W word FIRST). That's their niche: the storytelling angle that makes one recall both the Outlaws (in two-guitar dueling), and Johnny Cash (in their storytelling style). Or maybe even Southern Rock, but that would have you calling for "Freebird" and that's just not their style. But they're all nice punk boys, too, which is why I've been following this band's progress and am a fan. Where would I have put the Danglers in all of this? I could watch them in jail, but they were outside, begging the rain to lay off (and it did!) and taking us on their usual trip through jazz, psychedelia, and acid rock. After the Danglers was another outlawcountry punk band called The Wildbirds whose music fit their scraggly, edgy appearance. I liked them and will definitely check them out again.

Later on on the Lakefront stage there was a dissonant, angry, syncopated combo called Boy With Bosoms that, while not exactly a festival party band, really laid down a groove of intense too-conscious-to-be-emocore rock. Not my thing, but good at what they did and should build a following. An earnest group of chaps called Glenview Lane played in front of Saylece's and had great, hard pop that I enjoyed while the kids played in that little garden park. But I didn't see as many people I knew there. Maybe last year's shooting scared them off, but I'm here to report that (probably as a result of last year's incident) the place was crawling with cops and it was a fairly laid-back time. It's summer in Milwaukee, and it's off to a great start.

feedback, originally uploaded by V'ron.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Funeral for a friend

She's being modest, but Stonie Rivera has done a lot of the heavy lifting for the memorial to Tess, which will be this Friday night at the Uptowner. Here's the latest in terms of what will be going on during the evening.


There will be a compilation video put together by Dave J of Tess' video moments that will be shown between bands.

Thanks to

  • Edgar Allen Cash for donating the PA
  • Dr. Chow's Love Medicine for equipment
  • Mark Shurilla for equipment, Mics & stands
  • Steve Johnson for the venue
  • Stonie Rivera for managing the band lineup and securing venue and incidentals.
  • Wes Streater for Funeral Arrangements. Tess will be interred on Tuesday, 6/22 at 1:00 pm at Southern WI Veterans Memorial Center in Dover WI (near Union Grove). As he was a US Navy Veteran, he is entitled to be honored with a military gravesite.

The lineup for bands so far for June 18 at the Uptowner is comprised of musicians who have played with Tess throughout the years. It's by no means a complete list of his musical partners, but will be a wonderful and varied backdrop for stories and memories about the man:

  • 9:30: Laurie & Jessie Kern
  • 10:00:.La Ghostra Nostra
  • 10:30: Mark Shurilla Band
  • 11:00: Edgar Allen Cash
  • 11:30: Rob McCuen Band
  • 12:00: Dr. Chow's Love Medicine
  • 1:00: TBA.....OPEN JAM

Come raise a glass, share a story, and remember a Milwaukee music legend.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Quick Tess Update

Confirmed: a local celebration of James "Tess" Tessier's life will take place at the Uptowner, (Center and Humboldt) on Friday night, June 18. More info as we get it, but I think it's safe to say that it will begin sometime after happy hour and last through to closing time....

Springtime Roundup into Summer

Light organ
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Gee, just how LONG has it been since I blogged? Too long, friends, but I’ve seen and done some fun stuff:

  • How much does the Milwaukee Ballet rock? This is how much: their production of Peter Pan was engaging and compelling enough to inspire two six year old boys to exclaim “It was awesome” afterwards. It didn’t hurt that the story was full of pirates, boys who could fly, an adorable puppy dog and a likable Wendy making sense of it all, but still. You had no spoken dialog, music that, while comfortable, wasn’t something the boys recognized, and a story line you really had to pay attention to and presumably already know. (The boys had caught wind of the Disney version.) Yes, I took Sammy and his best buddy and they were wonderfully gentlemanly enough and even said “excuse me” as we slid our way through the row to our seats. We got to see the impish Marc Petrocci play the title role (originally the Friday performance was going to be his off night, but the other guy got sick…) and yeah, this is one of those parts that seems to be written for him. And I’m glad I got to see one of the fabulous Tatiana Jouravel’s last performances with the Milwaukee Ballet, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I looked through next year’s season book, and she’s not pictured. A little digging around, and, well, at least we’re not losing her to some other ballet – apparently she’s retiring from full-time ballet. What a loss for us. Still, this company rocks, and the fact they could attract and keep an elegant, world class talent like Jouravel through to the end of her career pretty much underlines that fact.

  • I – and a pile of other parents – took our girl scouts camping the weekend before last. That 80 almost 90 degree weekend. That weekend we couldn’t find a red cross certified lifeguard so that we could go swimming. Still, the nights were cool, and we cooked almost all our meals over an open fire, coming home, smelling like a fireplace and exhausted from staying up all night in a tent. I passed out by midnight, but the girls? It was like a weekend long slumber party.

  • Before the memorial day really kicked in, I ventured out to Club Garibaldi to once again check out the loungy/rocky sounds of Lovanova, this time for a CD release party (oh, and vinyl too – they had it all on a genuine vinyl with an Album Cover and everything!) and they were as wonderfully tight and delightful as they were the first time I saw them. Paul Kneevers has added a touch of fun kitsch to his Hammond organ – this time a screen implanted with lights that went on and off in time to the music. They have a strong element of jazz fusion going here, but it’s good, mid to late 70s jazz fusion, not that sucky jazz fusion the emerged in the 80s that everybody hates. They keep the suckieness factor out by bringing in guests (on sax and violin) that actually add to the music – particularly fun was bringing in the Danglers' Jason Loveall for a piece that ended up sounding like you just got off the plane in Istanbul and turned on a boombox.

  • Esh the Singer
    Originally uploaded by V'ron.

  • They opened for a relatively new afro-beat group called Tristan Royalty Squad that had peaks and valleys for me. Peaks: Esh the Singer – marvelous voice, compelling stage presence, and flat out physical beauty. She’s got those huge, “Look at Me Cos I’m Lookin’ At You” eyes that make every word she sings pop, even when she’s just tapping percussion instruments together during a break or intro. Also like the huge percussion section (required in an afro beat group) and almost metronome-like unshakablity that delivers on their promise to keep an audience dancing all night. Valleys? I could use a little more dynamics, both in rhythm (pretty much the same tempo and time signature all night) and in volume (pretty much on medium all night, too). As such, since I was a little too tired to dance, they didn’t hold my attention too long for just the music. But again, this is a powerhouse dance party band (an early song had the refrain, “Ain’t Nothin But a Party” – that’s exactly what they promise and deliver. So once you get folks on the dance floor happy, a consistent tempo and volume will keep them there. And it’s the kind of dancing you can do in a niteclub, with your slinky dress and high heels, which made this a really good pairing with Lovanova.

  • Stayed home on Sunday to watch the Indy 500 and I’ll just echo the thousands who believe that Indycar should have a Green-White-Checkered rule and shut up now.

  • Hit Cool Waters with the kids on Monday. Monday was a great day to go because it was grey and dreary, but it was still muggy and warmish, so it was a good temperature to go swimming. As such, since it didn’t look like a good day to swim, it wasn’t packed and we could have lots of fun hitting the waterslides and the tube slides without waiting 15 minutes for a turn. They’ve got some helpful lifeguards who would actually give kids a ferocious pushoff the tube slide – I mentioned to one, “You’re gonna have some ferocious pecs by the end of the summer,” which I guess is sort of the point in LifeGuard world, eh?

  • And finally, I took the kids on a walk near the lakefront that involved climbing down (and back up) a huge cliff. "That was some adventure," Stella said afterwards. It was the kind of thing that reminded me how old I'm getting to be, but how young these kids keep me.

Coming up: a huge summer of really good outdoor, kid-friendly and FREE musical offerings in the country parks and other venues. As far as I’m concerned, the season starts with Locust Street festival, with favorites including the Danglers, Dyna Flor and Her Roadmasters, the Grand Disaster, Matt Hendricks, Lovanova, Drugs Dragons and a bunch others on the stages.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

He Was The Walrus

I was just about to sit down and get all caught up with wonderful Milwaukee culture when I saw the FB posting from Lars -- James "Tess" Tessier, AKA the Walrus, died today. We've lost another Milwaukee music legend to cancer, dammit.

This obit is a bit hard to write for me. Tess and i were roomies in the early 90s (we weren't in a "relationship" -- we just shared the rent in a two-bedroom place in Riverwest over this 100-year old landlady). Let's just say we're not the kind of people who should have been roommates with each other and leave it at that. We didn't part amicably, but we since became civil to each other and even evolved back into friendliness. I'd pretty much lost touch with him in recent years, only hearing about his status every now and then from a mutual acquaintance or friend.

One thing I never lost however, was my respect for his musicianship and admiration for his deep knowledge of my favorite ever genre of rock: garage rock (and all its sub genres -- surf, cycle, psychedelia, etc). His old job in the record department at the old Radio Doctors gave him access to all the Nuggets and Pebbles compiliations and he'd pretty much memorized them all. As such, if a garage band needed a drummer or a guitarist or a singer who knew the most obscure of one-hit wonders by some band out of Akron or Timbuktu or East Troy, he was at the ready.

I first came across him when he was looking to fill out an incarnation of his band, the Silverbeats. He'd recruited my friend Dan Mullen to play lead guitar, and Mullen had rounded up a terrific, metal-rock drummer (who understood the power of garage) named Mike Hughes. (and I sometimes wonder if Tess resented the fact that I pretty much stole his rhythm section -- Mullen and Hughes -- to form the first incarnation of my first "real" band, Loblolly -- but it's not like they stopped being Silverbeats to do so.) I think Tim Kern might have sat in on bass for a while with them. Together, the Silverbeats cranked out sets of great garage rock -- brilliant covers coupled with Tess' own compositions that ranged from angst filled teen anthems to almost folky trippy wonders that would have been Donovan-worthy. (His tribute of Frank The Pepperoni Man remains one of my favorites -- a folky psychedelic paean to that Brady Street denizen hollering "Pepperoni! Cannoli!" over a guitar filtered so many times it sounded like a harpsichord.)

Oh, God, as all Milwaukee "characters" went, he was ripe for parody. We all called him the Salad Tosser when it came to describing how he played the drums. Everybody I know can whip out their impression of Tess, usually sounding like an aging James Stewart on quaaludes. There was even some major skits and sketches devoted to him: the phony radio spots for The Walritis Foundation, the Trash Fest video: The Tess Files (in a very X-Files way, detailing how Walritis had infiltrated the United States). God bless him, he sometimes laughed it off, sometimes he just observed them in that "hmmmm, curious" way. Still, if a person's life can be measured by how many great (and fun) stories he generated, Tess' spirit -- for better or for worse -- will be with us for a long, long time.

I can't for the life of me find the pictures I shot of the Silverbeats, but I'll keep looking, because those represent how I want to remember Tess. At his best, he was a musician ready to pick up and play, especially gifted with the steel guitar and the straight up guitar, but he could get behind a drumkit and toss the salad with a controlled fury. Those Silverbeats days were as a time when I knew him as a gentle soul (who never really stopped being gentle,despite our differences). He'd later gone on to be in a number of equally great bands: Laurie Kern's Petals, or with one of the best overlooked surf bands in town, the Alewives (with Paul "the Fly" Lawson, Tim Kern, and the late, great Davy Jones). He sat in with Nicole and the Educators for some of the most memorable sets you ever saw in Riverwest. This is the Tess I remember, this is the Tess I'm sad to see pass.