Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life Events

Practically everywhere in the working world, it's "Open Enrollment" time. You know what Open Enrollment is. And if so, If you have ever dealt with HR at your company, you know about the term "Life Event." It's usually something that warrants a change in your health insurance coverage that has to go through paperwork, especially if it's not "Open Enrollment."

It's a business term for what used to be called rites of passage (although one wouldn't necessarily call a birth a "rite"), it's still a time when a profound change in life occurrs and is somehow acknowledged. It's just that the term "Life Event," like other bureaucratic terms, seems to reduce things down to just some ink and paper.

I will openly admit that like Framber (Frank Chandek and Amber Chandek nee Lawson), our wedding was originally intended simply to satisfy legal and business paperwork that would make things like health insurance, custody of our (eventual) children (not a Framber issue, but still), ownership of our real estate and other property a lot easier to manage on an administrative level, not to mention an economy of scale. Heck, our invitations even quoted John Lennon: "Intellectually, we didn't believe in getting married. But you don't love somebody intellectually."

And so when Amber told us about a year ago she and Frank were going to make it legal and use it as an excuse to throw the best party they could, I believed that sentiment. Except that, like these Life Events tend to be and often catch us by surprise in doing, it was much more than signing some paperwork here, here, here, and here.

It was downright beautiful.

That Amber was ravishing in her deep blood red Edwardian/Gothic gown, and that Frank was spiffy and handsome in his Get-Me-To-the-Church-On-Time top hat and tails, goes without saying. That the decorations which transformed the Miramar Theatre from a rock and roll showcase into an elegantly glittering ballroom, with subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) elements of the sci-fi geekdom that Framber (and a lot of their guests) revel in were magical in their detail and scope also goes without saying. But this is also a fun couple. This is a bride whose processional was "Imperial March (Darth Vader/Anakin's Theme) From Star Wars." This is a groom who entered the ceremony to the 20th Century Fox Fanfare theme, and, when asked, "Do you take Amber to be your wife" answered, "Yes!" as if to say, "DUH!" These are people whose musical taste was reflected in the three (count em, THREE) bands they chose for their reception: a big band swing orchestra from Tosa, the wonderfully eclectic Cooler By The Lake from Chicago, and the straight up snotty punk of Floor Model. Oh, and the food rocked too, topped off by a delicious Eat Cake cake.

But this is also a couple whose ceremony readings would include a (potentially stuffy) legal brief, In this case, the Majority opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision affirming same-sex marriage:
"Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family....It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects..... Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition."

Yes, these are people who can make a legalese justification of a life event bring me to tears -- on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. Life event, indeed. This is a couple who are indeed not only committed to each other, but to the concept of fairness and justice. Without going into detail and getting more political, let's just say they're pretty high up on Maslow's Hierarchy and leave it at that.

I was too exhausted the next day to make it out to "celebrate" another Life Event, in this case, Matt "The Ratt" Davis' "retirement" party-- his last show with the Uptown Savages. The word is not that he's moving back to England, he's just, in a very Detective "I'm getting too old for this shit" Murtaugh way, decided he's done. Except I'm not convinced he, or anybody else who slams the rockabilly, can ever really be too old for this. Still, it's a life event. Retiring from a successful band you helped found after what, eight years, can't have been an easy call.

I was also too nervous about shooting this life event to make it the night before over to Potowatomi to see yet another of life's events -- this one being Chief opening for their heroes, Thin Lizzy. Chief chiefster Chris Tishler posted on Facebook the next day, "I guess pretty much all that's left now is climbing Everest."

In the meantime, Life Events go on. I bridged a handful of Brownies to Girl Scouts today in a ceremony that includes candles and cake. Sunday my kid will complete his Tiger Cub Scout year and become a Wolf. My good online friend's sister is going into labor any day now. Karmic HR might be getting a bit overwhelmed.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Halloween Mystery Box

We start the Halloween entry with a visit, on Gallery Night, to the Grand Opening of Stoney Rivera's new Dominion Gallery, featuring dark work from Clive Barker. He's dark. Not all necessarily ghouslish, but this man has some clear demons and it's obvious he's exorcising them through his work. I was actually looking very forward to seeing Kymm Sandum's offerings, but the Londoner's work got stuck in customs, so I will have to come back another day. Rivera has taken the old Acme Agency building in Riverwest (which actually used to be the old Crazy Shepherd offices, back when they were a monthly, then a bi-weekly, then a weekly) and spruced it up. There's beautiful wood flooring I never realized was there (I don't remember seeing the floor on any of my visits to the old Shepherd offices...), the walls have been scrubbed down and painted up, and the gallery shines as homage to the dark side. The artwork-- arresting and interesting -- is reasonably priced. This is Riverwest, after all. I then drove a few blocks north to check out the Art Bar's annual Fear show. Full disclosure, I was part of a group of artists that participated in Fear a few years back. Because it's Halloween, people expect dark shadows and creepy things, but if you want to go beyond that, it's a tricky theme to grab. This year's show did grab it. One artist who worked in oils picked up on the space alien theme and treated it well; others went for creepy characters in dark alleys, and a group of photographers played with exposure and color manipulation to get some great effects.

A weekend later, we're still hitting the high art, this time a viewing of Dracula at the Milwaukee Ballet. Friends accompanied us; and for a few logistical reasons, they were not able to make the 7:30 curtain. Look, I understand that if you don't make curtain, you need to wait until a lull in the performance to be seated, so you don't bother other people. But they closed doors even during artistic director Michael Pink's welcoming speech -- which only the haughtiest of snots would have objected to accommodating latecomers during. And what would have been the harm in putting the latecomers in the rafters (which they eventually did anyway)? And what would have been the harm in being polite to them? My friends weren't the only ones upset by this; a lovely couple who sat behind us during Act 2 told a similar story (and recognized our friends from the disgruntled crowd.) "At least I didn't have to be a raving bitch about it," my friend said, "Because somebody else was!" So that kind of put a damper on an otherwise splendid show.

The Friday night performance is always a toss up, because the opening night cast performs on Thursday and Saturday -- but this year I was mighty impressed with a cast led by Joshua Reynolds, a relative newbie to Thursday's David Hovhassian. Reynolds was downright untouchable as the count-- elegant, intense, somewhat evil, but more like an animal doingwhat he can to survive. Parts of the show where he suggests bat-like movement were amazing to the kids; and fortunately the homoeroticism of a lot of the scenes went over their head. Almost. As Stella told me afterwards, "Uh, that was messed up."

The next day we got up, did our chores, and Sammy delivered the best line of the evening as we set out to Bay View's nighttime trick-or-treat: "Mom, I have a feeling I'm going to get a lot of Kit Kats," he said, grabbing a few from our bowl, "... so I better get used to them." There's a few houses in Bay View that are already are on the famous list: the "scary" house on Lincoln, the "book" house on Homer, and then there's Ted's house, where his annual Mystery Box game turned into a recreation of Let's Make A Deal, complete with stage lights, microphones, and horrendously outdated suit and tie. The kid before us had racked up some three full-sized candy bars and other treats, but gave it all up for What's In The Box. He went home with.... a delicious can of cocktail wieners! Stella on the other hand, did not get zonked. She gave up a couple of Tootsie rolls and ended up with a movie-theatre sized box of Dots. Now for me, that would have been a zonk. But Stella loves Dots, so score!

Now we're into November, and so back indoors for music and mayhem. And probably more punk. I seem to be getting too cultured lately.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just showing up doesn't cut it anymore

So today, I am officially the parent of a teenager. Actually, I feel like I've been one for quite some time. But today is the day, in fact, as I post this, we're down to the minute, that my boo-boos (don't dare call her that in public anymore) turns 13.

Oy. It's cliche to say how time flies, but it does. It was just yesterday when I was shopping around for grade schools to send her to, (here in Milwaukee, you can actually pick as opposed to "you live here, therefore your kid will go there") and now I have to make appointments to look at high schools. When I was in highschool, you just went to a high school for your district. You didn't have to pick. You didn't have to apply and hope you got in. You just showed up.

Stella's at a point in her life where just showing up doesn't cut it anymore, and that's a hard lesson for a teenager to learn. She's never been a girly girl (well, maybe in kindergarten), but she's mostly been athletic ( but not competitive), tree-climbing, get-her-hands-dirty girl, but she is turning into a young woman. She's trying different hair colors (in my day, you would have never heard of such a thing), but her adversity to needles steers her away from pierced ears (or anything else), tattoos, and other arguments I don't have to make with her. She's been begging for contact lenses, not believing me when I tell her that she's one of those beauties who actually looks good in glasses, so she's got several packs of disposables and has gotten the hang of getting them in and out. She doesn't wear makeup (yet) so my advice about putting your makeup on AFTER the lenses goes in is unnecessary. She has a fashion sense -- not a girly or slave-to-Vogue sense-- but a fashion sense nonetheless and I think I have a good feel for her style. It's part Goodwill finds, part basics plus a flair for accessories, and not tacky ones, part, I'll-splurge-on-one-excellent-piece and augment that with basics, and it's always comfortable. She doesn't wear heels, she doesn't have time for things that she can't lounge around in comfortably. She wishes her hair would stay flat and straight, but I've told her, if she's going to mess with haircolor as much as she does, her hair is NOT going to look like a Pantene commercial. She accepts this.

And yet, some things don't change. We had girls over for a slumber party, and a game of Truth of Dare was taking place, with the dares being having to drink some disgusting concoction that they'd created by raiding my spice rack and that shelf in the fridge where one keeps their bottles of rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, hoisin sauce, jerk marinade, some salad dressing I bought that looked better on the bottle than it did on the salad, and those three leftover olives (and their juice) from an old martini party. I'm not sure if I wanted to impart my advice to Stella about how to survive Truth or Dare or not, which is, of course, to lie. "Do I have a crush on Billy Johnson? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous." But the reason that i didn't bother was a) Stella can't lie to save her life and b) it's not like she's going to take my advice about anything.. Maybe about the contacts, but that's about it.

And that's where I have to accept this growing up part. I can give her advice, but I can't make her take it. She has to make her mistakes herself-- they're the only way she's going to really learn life lessons. It's always been this way, but before, the life lesson was, "Trust me, don't spend your money on this stupid Barbie set that's only going to work once." Now the life lessons are harder, and the mistakes are ones I wish she didn't have to make to learn. I'm having to accept this is a time in her life when my ability to protect her is going to be less accessible, yet more needed.

It helps a lot that fundamentally, she's a good kid. She's a whiner, but she capitulates and does her homework and academically I'm not worried at all. She still calls me on it when I -- or anybody-- uses vulgar language, and while she whines about the rules, she follows them. She cares for her animals (she has two adorable rats named Finn and Jake) as carefully as a new mother cares for a child, and the neighborhood kids -- all younger than her -- follow her around like the pied piper. She's not perfect, but she's a darn good kid who's hitting a hard part of life. And she's all of thirteen, on the brink of turning into a young adult. It's scary and exciting, but, deep breath, here goes.

Happy Birthday Boo-Boos Stella! I love you, even though you may not believe me about that, or anything else!

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's a nice Punk girl like you doing in a proggy place like this?

I'll tell you what I was doing-- remembering my high school years before Devo knocked me upside the head and taught me about deconstructing music, that's what I was doing. And the Rick Wakeman/Jon Anderson show at Potowatomi started out with some deconstuction. The lights dimmed, and we heard this most godawful version of Also Sparch Zarathrustra I'd ever heard, like a grade school band warming up and not quite yet in tune. (The same house music that was played during the intermission and ending convinced me it was willful retardedness, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the Residents had something to do with it). But members of the audience behind us in the rafters were asking "Are they serious?" and that's when I knew I was in a housefull of purists, of fans, of people who never heard of Devo, much less would get anything less than perfect rendering.

That's why I was somewhat charmed when the pair, great as they are, but on whom we can blame Rush, started off their set with a gentle, acoustic guitar and keyboard version of Starship Trooper. These guys know exactly what they're doing, they know how old they are, heck, they know how old we are. Anderson's voice  is amazingly intact, what with a severe asthma attack a couple of  years back, years of admitted smoking, and, well, heck, he's in his 60s. Aretha can't hit her high notes anymore, but wow--Jon Anderson still can.  And Wakeman? He obviously can do his old keyboard runs in his sleep.

They alternated their set between brilliant re-takes on Yes hits (a major highlight for me was a reggae-protest arrangement of Time and A Word -- worked wonderfully) and sappy new  stuff. I mean, really sappy sweet new age love songs that would make Barney the Dinosaur look like a support act at Ozzfest. The crowd of fans ate it up, and the only thing that kept me from going into a diabetic coma was realizing that Anderson probably is one of the Nicest Guys on Earth. He really is into all that new age stuff, crystal meditation, "we are the keepers of the garden" philosophy. You get the feeling that he could just as easily slip into Fred Rogers' sweater and furthermore, you'd trust your kids with him. Wakeman, on the other hand, also helped balance out things with gentle ribbing frosted with lots of corny jokes that,  as the show went on, streamed into Dirty Old Man territory, reminding me a lot of Les Paul's show at the Pabst a fewyears back. Wakeman's deep british voice, as he told his increasingly corny jokes, brought to mind the kind of banter you hear on Top Gear or something.
The whole thing also reminded me of Les Paul's show in that feeling throughout the gig -- the first on their tour (so everything was as indeed as fresh as it felt) -- that one had been invited to their basement, or barn, or garden, or wherever the hell it is they practice, while they teased each other, told us stories, and played their songs. There was one moment when Anderson completely blanked out on remembering the lyrics to a song, but it came to him, and every musician in the audience panicked along with him (we've all been there.). Particularly touching was Anderson's telling of the story of how he and Wakeman and the other members of Yes had found an old church, spent time in it and the whole (oh, dear, I'm getting new agey about this) karma of the place helped them to write "Awaken" -- the epic suite on my favorite Yes album, Going for  the One. Anderson basically said the music was already there, they were simply the catalysts for it. He tapped away this arpeggio on his acoutic guitar that comes in the middle of the piece, and as he told the story his sincerity won me over, and I was in the right frame of mind for the work. Part of me was sitting next to my old college buddies in  the rafters of the Northern Lights Theatre who had invited me along to this whole thing to begin with, the other part of me was  suddenly in the Chicago Ampetheatre, 1978, slightly stoned from a contact high (I was after all, a teenage goody-two shoes who would have never consciously took a hit), watching Yes In The Round. I remember "Awaken" had hit me then; and it was lovely to see that it wasn't just a WKLH "Deep Cut" to these guys, or obviously, to this adoring audience. I felt all happy afterwards, and duh, it finally hit me that Yes was a very well-named band. As Beavis and Butthead would say, "They're positive." But it was a good positive. I think that's why out of all the prog groups I was into during my proggy phase, they were my favorite.
OK, back to my punk roots. Tonight is the grand opening of Stoney Rivera's new art gallery. I'm on it. Back later.

Friday, October 14, 2011

How 'bout those First Person Plurals?

Well, this weekend I'm going to be writing about a bunch of things I normally don't write about. Let's start with Baseball.  Sixthstation readers know I normally am a basketball girl, but in fairweather fashion, my attention has turned to the Brewers and their postseason performance.

Actually, I used to be a huge baseball fan. My highschool girlfriends and I would pick a few days in the spring to ditch school, ride the IC into the city, catch the L up to Addison, and spend an afternoon in the friendly confines. Anybody from Chicagoland knows exactly what that last sentence was about. It didn't matter that the Cubs sucked. That's just a part of being a Cubs fan. You just enjoyed an afternoon ballgame. And thousands of Chicagoans have that same experience in their memory banks, giving us a commonality that transcends economics, politics or religion.

Wisconsin, my adopted home, is sadly divided. That sumbitch stinking up the governor's mansion is only a small part of it. This economy and war and everything else is making people  downright mean. When something unfortunate happens to somebody, all I hear is people grousing that the victim probably had it coming. If something good happens to somebody, I hear those same people resenting it like they didn't deserve it. It's the poor's fault  that they are poor; unemployed folk should be happy to get a job making minimum wage to clean up dogshit; we should just  let uninsured people die; and let's punish teachers...oh... because we need somebody to blame this all on and it's politically incorrect to use minorities for this purpose like we used to.

The postseason Brewers have done a remarkable job of taking the edge off all this. It's  not making me forget that as I write this, there's thousands of folks occupying wall street the way #wiunion occupied Madison last winter, scaring the piss out of right wing conservatives and their purchased media (as evidenced by the smear job they're attempting). But the Brewers are finally giving us some return on our investment in the form of giving us all a common ground.

It was last Friday night when this hit home for me, in that game against Philly. That one inning where we were in danger of throwing it away-- and we squeaked on by. As you know, the Brewers are no longer "They." In the postseason, the Brewers are "We." Amazing how quickly you can go from third person to first when you're winning, eh? After that third out, you could feel a collective sigh of relief across the state. It registered on Twitter and Facebook, and I just had to step outside and catch a breath of crisp autumn air.

And, it seemed, so did everybody else in my neighborhood. Every porch was occupied by folks just standing outside, smoking a cigarette, cracking open a beer, checking on the kids who were running around our collective yards, saying hi to the folks in the  old-man-shot-and-a-beer joint next to my house. And it was like we were programmed to know, without looking at our watches, exactly when the commercial break ended and it was time go back into the house and re-clench our buttocks for another excruciating inning.  At the end of the game, the neighborhood kids all piled into my living room while I re-wound the DVR so they could see that 10th inning slide into home. (Because of this, I missed the F-Bomb drop, which was probably a good thing with a bunch of kids in my living room).

And so, throughout the week, it's been wonderfully inclusive that wherever I went, I overheard/participated in conversations that had echoes of "How 'bout those Brewers." As much as people claim they think baseball is boring, we all still know all the terminology such that in the evenings, while we're going about our business, we holler to each other across yards, cars, in the  middle of classes, at intersections, paying for gas, picking up groceries, getting a coffee, on a bike, in between calls at work, "Middle of the 7th, we're still down." We end conference calls with our cleints/customers saying "How 'bout those Brewers" with our 'Sconnie accents, while our colleagues from Philly and Arizona and St Louis give us a friendly laugh, put themselves on mute and use unprofessional language.  I walked into the end of my son's taekwondo class last night after watching the game on the stairmaster. Everybody looked at me, eyebrows raised, and I knew what they wanted to hear: "End of the 4th, tied up!" We hurried to the car to turn on the radio so we wouldn't have to wait until we got home to be updated.

We shared a collective outrage on that call at first base Monday night when he was clearly safe; we all looked at each knowingly, admitting to each other that play at the plate last night could have  gone either way. It matters not that the person I agreed about this with was a concealed-carrying Tea Partier. We agreed about something, smiling and finding common ground as we  did so.

Gee, I don't remember  teaching Sammy all these  rules. I remember trying to teach Stella when she was four years old, helping to coach her T-Ball team.  Pro tip: you can't tell 4 year olds to "Go to first with it!" You have to say, "Throw the ball to first" or they will run to first base with the ball.  No, make that, "Throw the ball to the person at first base" or they will just throw the ball at the bag. No, make that "Throw the ball to the person at first base on our team" or they will throw the ball at the runner. Oh, and you have to add, "Our team is everybody with the blue hats." Oh, fuck it, the runner ("Run! Don't just walk! Run! RUN! RUN! OK, stop at the base. STOP!") is safe. Somehow, though, this season has taught everything Sammy needs to know about baseball. Just watching the games with his dad he knows all the nicknames of the players, he knows what "scoring position" means, he knows what a "sacrifice fly" is. And Stella knows that those oldschool uniforms favored by the Axman and his ilk are classic: the nickers, the belted pants, the stirrups, all giving a classic, and uniquely American feel to it all. These are just kids, and yet they are experts on this complicated game. (And if you don't think it's complicated, try explaining the rules to a foreigner like I  had to a few years back. My Russian friend had no clue as I sketched out a field and told her, "OK, the object of the game is to score. But here's the catch...") And our own Wisconsin touch-- not just the sausage races, but a hearty chorus of Roll Out the Barrel after Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Where else but Wisconsin could a polka fit in perfectly with the seventh inning stretch of a ball game?

And I send my kids to school this morning, tired from staying up late to see the Brewers ensure that this series will end in a home game. They will probably not perform well in class today. (Stella has a fever anyway, so she's staying home.)Sammy will be overtired. Heck, I'm overtired. But I spent my life as a Cubs fan. I'm not used to this still playing baseball in October thing. The kids right now probably don't have a sense of how remarkable this is: They've already lived through two Super Bowl wins (one they were too young to remember). They saw the underfunded Bucks in the playoffs (which they blew, but they know who Kareem Abdul Jabbar is). Stella has a feel for the fact that her mom didn't even live in Milwaukee the last time all of this happened in baseball, and that her parents' first date was a Brewers V Cubs game, back when it was exhibition because they were in two different leagues. However, while Stella's not a huge sports fan and normally doesn't give a crap, she was glued as tightly to the TV screen as Sammy and I were last night.

OK, Sammy will get another chance to pass the spelling test he'll probably blow today. But lord knows when he or Stella get another chance to see a postseason game, and share it with us, "Us" being everybody else in Wisconsin. Us includes that knucklehead who usually hangs on every word Charlie Sykes vomits up,  but this week it's Bob Uecker who has our attention. Us includes  my Wisconsin twitter peeps on my #wiunion list who are virtually standing with the Occupy Wall Street crowd this morning.Us is also comprised of apolitical types who don't give a crap because they're all crooks in politics anyway. Many of  Us admittedly whine about the outrageous salaries commanded by Fielder, Braun, et al. But  We are giving those guys a pass on the millionaire whing because they are giving Us something We desperately need right now. So Stella and Sammy, you can stay up late and watch the game with Us. Because this is one of the few times We are finding commonality about something, even if it's "just a game" and I won't make you miss it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

So long, and Thanks for All the Trash

Voot's Last Stand by V'ron
Voot's Last Stand, a photo 
by V'ron on Flickr.
It was raining buckets on the South Side, in some places it was hailing. Nevertheless, Brian was readying for a Dr Chow set at Center Street Daze (is now a good time to whine about "clever" misspellings of words like "Days" or "Wings" or whatever?) and the kids wanted to see the annual Pushcart Races, so off we went. And in true Wisconsin Weird Weather fashion, the east side was dry. They hadn't gotten a drop. Not until we arrived, that is. Actually, it stayed dry enough for us to witness this years pushcart winner, Dead Birds, in a close to photo finish. The Art Bar had their annual political entry -- this year a Delorean, a flux capacitor, a disparaging remark about Scooter, and a near win. Actually, I don't think any of the racers (or much of the attendees) have a good thing to say about Scooter, but remember, this is Center Street -- what Locust street used to be 20 years ago. Dreary weather and all, this was where the cutting edge bands were and where the really good jewelry vendors were. I bought three pairs of earrings this year. Interesting, handmade jewelry vendors are back!. There was a stretch there where the jewelry vendors were really sucking -- either piles of factory cranked crap that I could get at Tar-Zhay, or the same old beads strung on some wire that I could teach my girl scout troop how to make. No, I found more than a few great vendors with interesting materials or new takes on standard materials.

an almost liquid pink reunion
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
I wish I could say the same for music, but it wasn't the musician's fault. I didn't see much new stuff this year but that wasn't for lack of available talent at Center Street. Heck, many of my favorite old standards (e.g., The Danglers) and new finds (e.g., Ahab's Ghost) were booked for the fest, especially at the (get this) Quarters stage.
And we took in a set from the wonderful Tim Cook and the Riverwesterners, of whom Stella admitted, "I didn't think I like country music, but I like them." (That's because, and I can't drill this into your head hard enough, they're for real.) But a midafternoon nap (that Sammy asked for, and I was more than happy to oblige) after a slight rain took precedence. Sammy and Stella were kind of bored after sinking the local alderman in the dunk take (emceed by Stoney Rivera), even though he's not our alderman and Stella didn't know who he was anyway, despite her spot-on fastball that landed him in the tank.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
But I'm sorry, new local bands. I did not get to see you, but you need to understand something: You were in competition with what was our crowd's equivalent to Cher's Farewell Tour. Voot Warnings is moving to Maryland, and we're all pretty damn sure this will be his last musical appearance in the Fox 6 Viewing Area (at least for awhile) and we were not going to miss this.

Of course everybody was there, and of course Voot played a great set, filled with mostly his more recent work. In fact, except for obligatory set-ending rendition of Dance Motherfucker Dance, he didn't play anything from his Platinum CD. (I got to proudly tell Sammy that that song has ushered in more wedding first dances than I can remember counting, and it wasn't mine and Brian's first wedding dance, but it was in the set before we sat down). In fact, some of the songs were guitarist Peder Hedman's (himself a splendid songwriter). And Vic Demechi was as potent a drummer as ever. Thus, Voot's set was still as gut-grabbing as that first time I saw him years ago at the Uptowner (and how many people probably said that exact thing to themselves, even though we could all have been referencing totally different nights at the corner of Center and Humboldt) and I was on my feet the entire time.

Special guest stars included Rob McCuen, who looked genuinely surprised to be called to the stage for a duet with Voot (if that was planned, than McCuen's a better actor than I thought) and Steve Whalen, whose absence would have not just been conspicuous, it would have been the source of gossip. But he was there, in his appointed spot at the corner of the stage, and invited up for cowbell and singing and so all is good and well with the world.

There's really not much more to say: the guy so obviously influenced so many great bands in Milwaukee, his combination of trash and heavyness and pro wrestling and pure pop and downright heart touching songs shows up in so much of the underground scene here, that I would go so far as to call his "The Milwaukee Sound." Marriage and fatherhood have obviously been a big part of his slow exit from the scene (hey, we're all getting old, too), but that sound will be here for years to come, and it's one of the reasons I love this scene so much.

the hammerlock
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
And the only person who had even a prayer of even following Voot was Frank Chandek and his Love Medicine (Dr Chow style). Dressed in a T-Shirt and jeans, they delivered a set that Frank didn't have to embellish to be memorable -- Frank can put forth his regular set and hold his own after Voot. Sammy and I ducked into the Uptowner to use the restroom and when we came out, once again, it was raining buckets. "When the hell did this happen?" I asked incredulously. "Just now," somebody on the patio answered, sharing my disbelief. The stage was covered with tarps, and the sun came out almost as quickly. Dr Chow sprung right back into action, and ended their set with a duet with Voot (the pro wrestling tome "Do The Hammerlock!" -- what the hell else could they have done) and right when they were going to strike the stage, the rain struck it for them again. As a result, my drenched husband (and his drenched guitar pedals) called it a night and really regretted not finding Voot to say his goodbyes and wish him well. So Voot, if you're reading this, Brian says hi. And we all say, fondly and sadly, "So long, and thanks for all the trash."

Click here for more photos of the day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another milestone year for Sammy

VMR_0048 by V'ron
Sammy, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
I'll write about Center Street Daze and Voot's farewell show and more later, but first things first. Today was Sammy's birthday.

This morning as we went to the car to head out to his birthday breakfast, I looked at Sammy and said (as if he needed reminding), "Today's the day. You're eight years old now. You don't need a little kid car seat anymore."

I'm not sure if he or I are more reluctant or more excited about this him growing up thing. On one hand, God help the waitress who brings Sammy's drink in a plastic cup with cartoon characters on the side topped by a lid and straw instead of a regular glass like the big people get. (Actually, God help us. The waitress just has to see the look on his face, like she'd just kicked him in the head.) And his swim trunks are barely staying on, because he insisted he was a Big Boy when ordering them from Lands End, not a Little Boy. He worked hard to test and pass the Camo Belt in Taekwondo just last week, hollering "Yes Sir" whenever the grandmaster addressed him, with all the determination and dicipline of Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman. And with a year of First Grade under his belt, he is no longer a Little Kid.

But that same ferocious boy was a little edgy when I walked him into the advanced class at Taekwondo a couple of weeks ago. "Are you sure I'm supposed to be here? There's grownups in this class. I'm the only {at the time} orange belt." "Yes, your instructor said you were ready to move up to here. Your teacher believes in you and so do I." He turned on a shyness I haven't seen since he was four. He was intimidated. But after a good hour with camo and blue and black belts of all ages, he came out smiling, knowing he belonged there, with the bigger, more experienced folks. There was my boy, walking tall again (and especially tall when he learned he passed his camo belt exam.)

"He'll need a cup," his instructor advised me. That's when it hit me. He's not a little boy anymore. He doesn't need a car seat. He drinks out of glass in restaurants. He's participating in sports that require him to wear a cup: because (and this is the part I'm not ready for) he might get hurt.

Well, it's not like he's been injury free in the past 8 years. He's wiped out on his bike, he went though a particularly clumsy period that cleaned out my bandaid and neosporin supply, his growing pains are especially nasty. He's a sensitive chap whose feelings get hurt when people are mean to him (or even his friends). I'm convinced that heart of gold of his will shine into his old age. But with all the joy that comes with growing up, I have to get ready for the fact that pains-- both physical and emotional -- grow in geometric proportion to his size.

He's already facing it (and I proudly admit, well) in sports. This summer was the first year for real baseball -- three strikes and you're out. Three outs and the other team bats. None of this "everybody bats" crap. None of this "everybody gets to run all around the bases" stuff. That's for little boys. Ahhhh, I think *my* heart sank more when Sammy's when he finally connected really well with a pitch only to have it caught miraculously by some 8 year old beginning shortstop who'd never caught a fly ball before in his life (and may never again!). Sammy just shrugged it off with a "Aw shucks... oh well, that's baseball!" attitude. But the upside is that when he got a genuine base hit, it meant all that much more. The lows are lower, kid, but the highs are higher.

Sometimes he gets so angry or frustrated or sad, and I as mom am learning to deal with it not by always offering instant comfort (oh for the days when a kiss on the noggin cured all ills) but to provide him with the coping tools he'll need to get through. "Here, take this almost rotten peach and smash it against the driveway wall," I say when he's furious that the neighbor boy is being a douchebag to him. "Go practice your drums and play them really loud" I suggest when he can't figure out his homework.

And the higher highs are just as wonderful. There's nothing like high-fiving a kid, a kid who challenges you to raise your hand by your head so that he has to jump his highest ever to high five you. Oh, the moment when he walked confidently out of that advanced class! And his level of humor gets more sophisticated every day, to the point where he can deliver a joke with perfect inflection that has me laughing genuinely, not groaning from a bad pun.

Oh, and try calming him down this week, as he counts the days until his birthday party where all his favorite buddies will be there. He didn't even want a special theme or anything. He just wanted a time when they could all be together and they could yell and run and wrestle and, well, be boys. And that's the joy of having a boy in your life-- watching him grow and make friends, and have his discoveries and his obsessions (I will jump for joy when this Pokemon thing wears off), watching him conquering fears and obstacles, and seeing him walk tall over it all.

 But, I think he, on some level, realizes that there's some things he'll have to leave behind. "Mom," he admitted a couple of days ago, "The car seat is kind of comfortable. We don't have to take it out." 

"Well, it's up to you, buddy," I said, knowing that it's not just about the physical comfort. I hugged him, and he let me kiss him on the noggin. He's only eight years old, you know. Happy birthday my little Sammy Buddy Buddinski!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Kultur Shock takes the edge of of Autumn shock

Fall is here and I'm accepting that, finally. Last weekend our grand plans to go to both days of Global Union, as well as the Bay View Bash, were thwarted by sheer family-fun based exhaustion. We made it to the end of Day of of GU. On our way up the hill, Sammy heard what we've been calling "jamming music"-- (and what both other people call "Gay Bar Music") -- high BPM, electronica, female voice. Trippy, at times. They were called Bomba Estereo and the female singer sound ended up sounding like it was a repeated sample, but it was all live, coming from her, which is exactly what saved this group from being another run-of-the-mill electronic ensemble. The drummer was live. The guitarist was live. They had a keyboardist who actually played these repeating arpeggios himself instead of hitting a key and letting some pre-programming do the work.

Sammy and I settled in with friends of ours and waited for Brian (who was off inspecting bands at the Bay View Bash) to arrive, as well as the band we really wanted to see, Kultur Shock. Brian reports that he saw Paul Kneevers' new outfit, Well Informed Citizens (I would expect no less of a name from him) and he said they rocked. Kneevers had that monster Hammond organ of his, and was backed by a band that was decidedly more rocking than his other project, Lovanova's jazzy lounge rock. Wish I'd seen it.

Then Kultur Shock takes the stage. Last year they were rained out, so many people were waiting to see them and they did not disappoint. How to describe? Soviet/Balkan/Gypsy heavy metal that kicks ass and yet reminds you of your gramma from da old country. The violin, saxophone, occassional clarinet and trumpet saw to that. These people understand how to take that same joy and rage that comes from the eastern bloc and channel it into a heavy sound that still evokes pieorgies and sauerkraut. Lead singer and songwriter Gino Srdjan Yevdjevich (described on their website as a "former Yugoslav pop star turned anarchist" ) is simultaneously warm, friendly, embracing .... and intense. His voice flits back and forth from the sweetness of Youssou N'Dour to the anger of any hardcore death metal singer. He's backed up by a band that gets messed up time signatures, middle eastern and baltic melodies and arpeggios, but never forget the fierce intensity that brought hardcore fans to Humbolt Park. They were simply wonderful and I wont' miss them again. Particulary fun was the two women who flanked Yevdjevich onstage, Amy Denio on sax and Paris Hurley on violin. They looked and sounded exactly like what this band is putting forth-- a punked up version of intense, folkey, metal-y gypsy music. I particularly enjoyed that Hurley looks like she's from behind the iron curtain, a beautiful girl unshaven legs and pits and all, and she doesn't give a crap as she shakes her head's birdlike haircut. Only disappointment was learning that she's actually from Arizona. I wanted her to be from Gdansk or something like that, with a name like "Svetlana." Still, great stuff.

We hit the Bay View bash and it seems like every food truck in SE Wisconsin was there, so i tried some gorumet tacos while Sammy stuck with his mainstay, Streetza Pizza. Stella joined us after a birthday party she had to hit, and we ended up enjoying another round of Dead Man's Carnival, complete with fire stick juggling. Their latest addition turned out to be a viking strong man who could drive nails into a board with his bare hands. It was a lovely way to end the evening, but we were pooped. So much so that we couldn't really brave the rain for the second day of Global union, which I'm really sorry I missed.

Tomorrow is Sammy's birthday, so I have to get ready for that. We'll spend a bunch of it at Center Street Daze, but we'll just be spectators at the kickoff, the annual Pushcart Races. As you may remember, Stella and Sammy won the speed category last year with their Poke-Kart, but Stella has retired from pushcart racing, choosing to go out as a champion. Later in the day, it's a don't miss (likely) last show with Voot Warnings, as the lifelong Milwaukeean is moving with his wonderful wife Rhonda to the Baltimore area (that's where the jobs are for them.) Then I have a young boy birthday party to get ready for.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Who Wants to Be a Space Debris Queen?

"Mom, what? We drove almost two hours for a street festival?" Stella asked when we pulled up in for the fourth Annual Sputnikfest, a tribute to the anniversary of the event that got Manitowoc mentioned on "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?" The $100,000 question, of course was, "Why is there a brass ring embedded in the middle of 8th street in the town of Manitowoc, WI?" Because, of course, that's where a piece of Sputnik landed in 1962
So now, that's two things that the organizers say are the northern port city's claims to fame -- Cold war-era Russian space debris and a mention on a primetime game show. Next thing ya know, they'll be bidding for an NHL franchise.

Really, though, I *was* expecting something a little big bigger than a street fest. Maybe I came at the wrong time of day to see big crowds. Or maybe the regular folk of Manitowoc isn't as twisted and ironic as such that would normally be attracted to a festival that celebrates the simultaneous wonder and paranoia of a hunk of metal casting a green light falling from the sky, turning out to be some kind of communist plot to beat the Amerikans to the moon. I had big hopes, though. This was taking place, after all, in the front yard of the Rahr-West Art Museum, a hidden jewel of an institution that I've been to a couple of times while heading north, and I say to you this: if you need a reason for a road trip, go to Manitowoc for this museum alone. It's annexed to a historic mansion with an eclectic permanent collection of American and Asian art, but the featured shows have never failed to delight. The two current shows are worth getting in your car and driving up now to see before they close at the end of the month. One is a history of the Manitowoc Fire and Police departments, complete with uniforms through the years, newspaper clippings of their take on events both national and local, and the police blotter from 1903. The other is the UW-Manitowoc Art Faculty show, and if this show is any indication, there is some seriously good (and twisted) art being made and taught in Packer country. I'm a fan of the absurd anyway, and there's a of faculty members who clearly put a dairy state twist on Dali. There's also some lovely abstract work that caught Stella's eye -- pieces made with black paper and "invisible" scotch tape that played well with patterns and loops. "Oy," Stella said, "Can you imagine trying to make that? One mistake and the whole thing is wrecked."

This wonderful exhibit actually pared down our disappointment at the size of the festival and got our brains in the right frame of mind for it. At the ticket window (yes, this is one of those annoying fests where you have to buy food and drink tickets for EVERYTHING) we asked the vendor, "We saw the replica-- so where is the real piece of Sputnik?" She looked at us, half-grin, half-quizzical, and said "Nobody really knows what happened to it."

"Oh, I see," I replied knowingly. "In other words, Top Men are working on it right now."

"Yes," she agreed, her eyes widening. "Top. Men."

With that stage set, we looked around the grounds and settled in for the Miss Space Debris pageant. (We'd missed the animal and human costume contest, as well as the cake decorating tournament.) Miss Space Debris was preceeded by a reenactment of that fateful day, when two Manitowoc beat patrolmen noticed what they thought was just some crap in the middle of the street. It was Community Theatre-style, with low production values, and a radio news-style narrative that included embellishments (if it didn't, it wouldn't be theatre it would just be documentary, right?) in the form of coneheads out sunning, a Russian cocktail waitress, and (almost keystone) cops with distinctive Northwoods accents. It would have been altogether hokey, except it had this certain NPR quality about it, very Prairie Home Companion. These people know exactly how smalltown celebrating a game show question is, and they're wearing it beautifully well.

And if you didn't think they would wear it well, then you dearies weren't there for the Miss Space Debris pageant. First, we were introduced to the reigning Queen, ready to relinquish her crown. This year, only four aliens vied for the title, and I'm not convinced they were all women. (For sure, there was one drag queen in the bunch, but our emcee told us that the didn't do gender testing ... probably because they weren't quite sure how one would intrepret alien gender testing results.) The talent comptition ranged from singing (the Sesame Street alieng song) to "consuming this delicious earthling beverage" (the contestant chugged a can of BudLite -- in special Packer-colored can issue), to, well, let's not discuss this contestant's talent in a family blog. Our winner, all green in face, was radiant upon being crowned, and the paparazzi nearly blinded her with popping flashes afterwards. She strolled the rest of the fest in regal glory, although I was concerned that she might have been trying to abduct the town's young.

The kids had a lovely time searching in a giant mound of sand for space age treasures. Beautifully designed T-Shirts were for sale (I picked up two -- I couldn't resist) and hand numbered and signed posters could be had as well. The kids and I enjoyed some root beer floats at another refreshment stand that offered era-appropriate snacks (Twinkies, Cracker Jack and other space age treats were for sale.) Plus, while I regret not doing so, I could have had, instead of a Root Beer float, a Tang float. "Mom, what's Tang?" Sammy asked. My answer of course was not to describe the drink itself, but rather, its significance: "Why, it's what the astronauts drank!"

It was getting dark and we needed to get on the road, and it seemed more people were arriving, but to see Copperbox, a local roots rock band that's been hitting the Wisconsin festival circuit. Ach, we can see that anytime and as the kids admitted, "At first, this seemed like a bust, but this was fun!" It took having to get out of "Milwaukee festival" mode and remembering why the outliers of Wisconsin hold just as much magic as the city. We got on the highway right as the cooler air rolled in, a full moon showcasing the oddly eerie dusky mist drifting across the sunset and twilight fields -- just the sort of night you would expect an errant meteor or flying saucer to come crashing into a cornfield or street corner in a small town.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Summer Swan Songs

Roostersocks by V'ron

Roostersocks, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
We missed it last year, but this year the kids and I once again packed up the car and headed to Chicago to hit a museum and then see the old man play with Dr Chow at the Third Annual FDR American Legion Booster Block Party. It's a great event; one that reminds me that the Chicago music scene should absolutely not be judged by Billy Blowhard and his Smashing Wintersquash or any of the lame-ass crap that came out of the Windy city in the 90s. (No, I'm not a fan of Liz Phair or Urge Overkill either. Give me the old Chicago hardcore that came before that anyday.).Last time I went, I was exposed to the mighty Cooler By the Lake, and became a fan. There's something fun going on in Chicago, a city whose underground mashes up genres as wonderfully as it mashes up neighborhoods. So, settled into Bucktown, the Riverwest of Chicago, is this funky little street fest that brings out these odd little bands (a Guided by Voices tribute band was the headliner) that was like lifting up a rock and seeing all the bugs scurry about.

Admittedly, I only caught one band, besides Dr Chow. The kids hit the one museum on the museum campus that we hadn't seen yet -- the Planetarium. We saw a couple of shows. One explained how the sun, moon and earth worked together to deal with the phases of the moon and such, and the other was this kind of weird deep space thing that showed a few simulated supernovas and such, but was strung together by this odd "seeker" character voiced by Billy Crudup that, while all neat-o and 3D and IMAX-y, wasn't really all that planetarium-specific. Really, the best show we saw-- in my opinion -- was getting in the old globe (the "Historic Atwood Experience"), built in the early 20th century and seeing a sky show, narrated by the museum guide in the globe with the three of us and another family of four (there wasn't room for any more in a 15 foot diameter globe!). It allowed for true interaction -- between real people-- questions and answers about the positions of the stars in the sky, which really haven't changed all that much since the the 1913s. It was also fun to see the museum-ish part: seeing Jim Lovell's flight journal, pieces of moon rocks, and the actual Gemini space craft on loan from the Smithsonian.

We arrived in Bucktown to see the second half of a Dr Chow set, chatted a bit with Rory Lake, and settled in for Roostersocks -- a four piece instrumental combo that featured an organ (set, alternatively between Hammond and Wurlitzer) and apparently featured Men Without Hats' Bruce Murphy, but there was no 80s new wave to be heard. No, they started out with some whacked out bluesy thing, then ripped into that organ intro to Boston's "Long Time", and then before you know it, there was a organ-frosted (but bass/guitar-led) version of "Holiday in Cambodia" that was just made for the local roller rink. This is why I proudly claim Chicago roots! Their self-penned history from their Facebook page proudly claims: "It's an instrumental organ combo that plays the hell out of anything and everything. It's an excuse for some monster players to get together and stretch their chops. It's a show. It's a party. It's a dessert topping....Roostersocks were Chicago's premiere jazz R&B Hammond organ combo of the early 60's, but as rock and roll caught on they found themselves with fewer gigs. In desperation they bought the sheet music for the Kinks, the Stones, the Who, etc. Assuming that these bands were jazz groups, they failed to listen to the actual recordings."

But after a long day of museum hopping (preceded with dinner and drinks the night before with my girlfriends), I knew I had just about enough energy to drive home without killing us all from falling asleep at the wheel, and I moved out. Brian reports that Cooler by the Lake were on top as usual, and the GBV tribute band wasn't bad at all.

So, we got caught up on sleep and trudged out to this summer's Chill on the Hill swan song, Tristan Royalty Squad, despite the rain that threatened to wreck things. I'd seen Tristan Royalty Squad before -- in Club Garibaldi with Esh the Singer sitting in. She wasn't around this evening, but really, Tristan Royalty Squad works better outdoors-- this kind of mesh of world music somehow works better in a quasi-festival atmosphere and they weren't as dependent on Esh to keep themselves interesting. Maybe it's because they're such a huge conglomerate of a band that they needed the physical and musical space that the large Humboldt Park band sheel stage provided. Either way, the only reason we didn't stay till the bitter end was that we were tired of the rain.

We escaped the rain three days later when, on a whim, we decided to road trip out to Jefferson for the last weekend of the Drive In season at the Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre. The kids have never been to a drive-in, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the absolute correct movie to see there. It was charming to see the old "Show begins in 8 minutes" trailers between sets (complete with hot dog jumping into the bun). A triple feature for $9 a head, (less with kids, but it wasn't a carload fee).

Ach, the school year begins. Enough with summer festivals; I'm gonna have to pay cover for a bit.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Look, I have a new look

I suppose I needed to GWTFP and redesign my page to be compliant with the latest version of HTML, so I just capitulated and used the Blogger designer and, well, here I am. Have to do the same with my homepage and weightloss blog... but for now, this is what I've got. Hope you enjoy the change.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Everybody I Know Has a Big But....

Herr Seagull
Originally uploaded by V'ron
So, the end of summer is really creeping up on me. Just last night I went to a Girl Scout organizer kick-off meeting which means, well, we must be kicking off to something, which means, school is coming. Here in Wisconsin, we generally wait until after Labor Day, just like the old days.

The weather got to me this week, meaning I missed the fabulous Robyn Pluer at Chill on the Hill the other night, but I did catch the week before, a three-punch of lush rock. The headliners were the Championship, a band i've been meaning to see for some time, and Chill on the Hill was the right place to see them, because they are not exactly what I could call a street fest party band. They are lush Americana-- a little too hard to be called folk, but not quite rock and roll. They, along with openers Testa Rosa, are what I would call housecleaning music. It's lush, it's bright enough to keep you moving, but it's the kind of thing you want on the speakers to keep you on track to get all those PITA chores you have to do. I've cleaned the house to Testa Rosa before, and like their music, it sparkles from Betty Blexrud-Strigens clear, crisp vocals. The night started with some psychedelic gypsy folk from Luvahl, which happens to be Jason Loveall's new outfit. I talked to him afterwards and he explained that he just wants to go straight gypsy. We'll see about that.

A few days later, Humboldt Park played host to their first movie night, and the offering was perfect for Bay View: Pee Wee's Big Adventure. it brought in the Bay View hipsters who used to get up on Saturday mornings for wake and bakes to watch Pee Wee's Playhouse, and little kids and medium-sized kids love it too. I'm glad they've brought this tradition to the neighborhood-- I used to love the movies at River Rhythms and was sad to hear they're not doing this anymore in Pere Marquette Park. It's just as well -- it's easier to park in the Humboldt Park 'hood and the Bay View Neighborhood Association knew to bring in more vendors for snacks. It threatened to rain -- right during the scene where Pee Wee is in the giant dinosaur with Simone, who wants to explore Paris, "... but...." and Pee Wee cuts her off and says, resignedly, "Everybody I know has a big 'but' ". It's so true. I would have gone out to see Robyn Pluer a few days later, but.... I would really have loved to catch the Eels when they were in town, but.... And I definitely would be writing in the blog more often, like I used to, but.....

It's like this wonderful art installation from Herr Seagull at the Grand Avenue Mall that I missed last weekend. Thanks to Tom Strini at Third Coast Digest, who pointed me to an explanation for this odd, slapped up poster I saw early Monday morning as I made my way to the YMCA, and thought to myself, "WTF is this." It's the sort of thing that a few years ago, I would would have already known about it, and had dragged the kids to it. But.... it was very brief, and now it's gone.

I did manage to drag the kids out to a few cool things. We spent the night the other weekend at Snooze at the Zoo, an annual overnight camping trip on the Zoo grounds, so that you can hear the sea lions snorting at 3 am, and wake up to a peacock strolling by your tent. This was our second year, and we were assigned a lovely spot right near Lake Evinrude, so it really felt like we were on safari. But.... this year none of the buildings were open at night and that's a big but. Last year we got to catch mama kangaroos with their adorable little joeys in their pockets, nursing them and hopping around... and we caught lots of other twilight cuteness too. The official word is that the buildings are never open for Snooze, which I know is false. I ran into a friend who works part time at the zoo and he explained that everybody there basically has their butt cheeks clenched over the lion cubs that were born just this month, so I'll let 'em slide on this.

We also hit a church festival, this time at Our Lady of Lourdes, mostly to catch the surreal concept of seeing the Five Card Studs deliver their seventies' sexy to a bunch of middle aged Catholics, and Lourdes did not disappoint. It was a great church festival: reasonably priced (and long!) rides, real cotton candy that was made right there, bingo, piles of italians and polish festering in giant nescos (um, that's sausages, not people, hence the lower case), throw up on the Tilt-A-Whirl (which Stella discovered AFTER we took our seat on that carnival ride that forces you to work for your fun). And it was a breezy but hot summer night, watching the Studs take on the Doors "Touch Me" and subversivly sequing into "The End" while none of the faithful blinked an eye. We'd have stayed longer .... but....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Random ramblins after a weekend at State Fair

Random ramblings over the past few weeks:

  • Through all the stormy weather, I didn't see much music. I was looking forward to seeing the Aquanots, a trio of adolescent boys playing the blues at Chill on the Hill last week, but by the time I found out that the storm had moved them into the safety of the Bay View Brew Haus, I arrived in time for 1 song and an encore. They were good. I'm always reluctant to even report on kids age because it's always tinged with the "you play pretty good... for kids" and I always have to ask myself, "Was I blown away because they were really that good or was it because they were kids?" Ion the case of the Aquanauts, it's both. Close your eyes, and they sound like a seasoned blues guitar trio, in the vein of Hound Dog Taylor or George Thorogood or that ilk. Open them, and you see an understatedly cocky adolescent boy on top of the tables, showing off stage antics while riffing on standard blues. As kids, they're terrific. As bluesmen, well, from two songs I can say that I hope they broaden out their repertoire as they gain more experience. I mean, what the heck is the blues to a 13 year old? (Then again, adolescence kind of sucks. I can totally understand why a kid need to wail on a I-IV-V now and again.)
  • I don't get out all that often to see this band my DH plays in, Dr Chow's Love Medicine, but the ripped it up on Brady Street for the festival. They have a slightly new lineup: Ron Turner has moved to lead guitar, Fly is slowly bowing out to attend to other pursuits. Frank, the lead singer, is still the centerpiece and draw for this band and as usual, he did not disappoint. Highlight this evening was a gut-wrenching "I Put A Spell On You" as well as a new one, for the #wiunion movement, called "I Shall Walk."
  • Down the block there were bands and DJs paying tribute to Cosmo Cruz, who would succumb to cancer two days later. I didn't know ol Pat Cummings personally, and enough deservedly wonderful words have been written about him in the past week. I just know that I loved his voice on the radio-- both soothing and knowledgable -- and listening to him on WMSE was like listening to a cool big brother who would constantly be turning you on to great music. A lot of Milwaukee music greats have been leaving us lately: and all i can do is realize I and my peers are getting to the age where this is going to be more and more common.
  • Hit the Wisconsin State Fair this past Sunday. Don't worry kiddos, it was peacefully packed with people who want to eat bacon, and that was about it. One thing I noticed though, was the amount of young (and, yeah, older) girls who thought it would be a good idea to wear flip-flops or flip-floppy type sandals. Um, there's horse manure and cow chips and sheep dip and whatever all about, and I saw at least two piles of throw up in the midway (witnessed one being made) from people who didn't wait long enough after eating before going on a ride that was going to twist their stomachs. I can't tell you how many times I told the kids to "More than ever, watch where you're going!" Really, teenagers-- at what point did you think those flip flops were a good idea? Can you tell that while I waited for my kids to be done with a ride, I counted at least seven clueless chicks walk straight into the regurge, and then get grossed out? Even after I tried to warn people?
  • We sat in front of the WORST family at the movies the other night. This wasn't your average crunching-popcorn-loudly crew. No, they were fidgety kids who liked to kick the seat in front of them (where Stella was stuck), a dad who never shushed the kids even though they had a conversation-level comment to make about Every.Single.Scene. The dad really lost me when his cell phone went off in the middle of a quiet scene. I have to get less passive-aggressive about these things,because just giving them the stink-eye didn't seem to do the trick.
  • Chill on the Hill continues to be hit-or-miss musically, but always wonderful in terms of a great community gathering. Just this week we had Reilly, an Irish band that chalks up some nice Irish-flavored covers as well. They succeed because they can actually play in time signatures other than 6/8 and they don't affect a faux celtic accent. They do, however, maintain that intimate storytelling feel that makes Irish/Celtic music fun, and turned Chill on the Hill into some neighborhood pub in County Clare or wherever. The Red Hot Chili Pipers are at Pere Marquette next week and I'll want to check that out for sure.
  • Speaking of Pere Marquette park, they're not doing River Flicks this year and I was quite disappointed about that because it was a wonderful night out with movies, but Veterans Park is, and so is Humboldt Park. The Humboldt Park offering next Saturday night is Pee Wee's Big Adventure and that's perfect for Bay View combination of hipsters, kids, and regular folk. (PeeWee's line in the biker bar, "I'm TRY-ing to use the PHONE" is my cell phone ringtone, BTW.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Cold Excuses in the Heat

Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, I'm downing the last of my zithromax prescription to drive out this nasty bug that invaded my head and made my life miserable over the past week and finally I'm able, after working all week, to compose a coherent sentence, so I can report on my activities.

Yes, it's been almost three weeks since that wonderful night at Chill on the Hill, where the fabulous Crazy Rocket Fuel played. This is, unfortunatly for me, only the second time I've seen them, the first being at a local rockabilly festival last year at the Miramar. They were terrific to begin with; they've built on that, gotten even more comfy on stage, and they captured the (sometimes fickle) Chill on the Hill crowd. If they were just a bunch of chicks singing country/americana standards, they wouldn't have succeeded. But the reason why Crazy Rocket Fuel works is they approach the genre with the outlaw feel that seperates them from their contemporaries. These chicks are going to get in trouble (if they haven't already) and what's more, they're kind of proud of it. The obvious hit, "Taycheedah Bound" screams Wisconsin, but it's clear that anybody outside the state that doesn't know it's the local women's prison will figure it out soon enough. Even their name suggests they belong on a bill with bikers, dragstrippers, and whiskey-swillin' guitarists at some roadhouse on highway X. They sing about chevys, drinkin, men, wimmin, with a tough but flirty style that won over youn and old at Humboldt Park. I need to see them more -- Kochanski's seems like the kind of place they'd be at home.

Summerfest? I can't diss it. Lots of good stuff on the bill this year; budget and scheduling prevented me from hitting the five days I would have liked to be there. We stopped at the Miller state to catch Here Come the Mummies, an acceptable substitute for the George Clinton show I had to miss. The Mummies, so the story goes, are actually a bunch of Nashville session men with contracts that prevent them from appearing together under their real identities. So they cover themselves up with medical wrap, splash on some fake blood, give themselves some alias names, and then pull out the James Brown-style tightly wound funk to sing about how immensely terrific they are in the sack. Really-- every single song was about how great they are, how much they will deliver, how satisfying they are-- all in euphanisms and double entendres that kept it (somewhat) family-friendly enough for Summerfest (and Sammy). Stella kept looking at me with that "Does that mean something dirty?" look on her face to which I replied, "No. Not at all. That gentleman really is washing his automobile with a substantial volume of clean, white, frothy soap." (Credit her for not believing me.) Every single song was rendered in funk precision that the Hardest Working Man in Show Biz himself would have approved of, from the tightass horn(y) section to the tuneful backup singers. Great, great fun. Won't miss these guys again.

Walked across the fest with some tasty corn dogs to go catch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and I suspect Summerfest did not anticipate their popularity, because the US Cellular stage was way packed, and this was a band youprobably wanted to see. I also suspect they played more of a summerfesty set (read: playin' the hits) rather than the dirgy jams they are capable of. Still, enjoyable and joyous alt-country without a hint of irony. It's nice to see the younguns playing music that is just simply nice fun without a smirk all the time, and further, it was nice to see the young fans totally into it. I had a moment of kindness when, squeezing through the crowd, I put Sammy on my shoulders (and somebody in the crowd recognized us from the Mummies show!). A Summerfest security/bouncer at the 102.1 booth to the side of the stage motioned me over; concerned that in the drunkencrown I might lose my balance and drop Sammy. Instead, she took Sammy into a clear, fenced off part, and had Stella and me join her. We could see, and we were out of danger. Nobody in the crowd seemed to mind.

A few days later, I joined a good friend to see Todd Rundgren at the Potawatomi stage. I haven't seen Todd in years, and frankly, I might have been one of the younger people in this crowd (50). Todd hasn't made himself known to the next generation, except as the guy Liv Tyler thought was her dad when she was growing up. But lots in my generation remember the days when "Todd Is Godd" was a catchphrase; and I would suspect that a good portion of the audience were Utopia fans. So imagine our disappointment when, while Rundgren said at the beginning of the show he would do what he thought would be a representative "request list" of a set, and he basically gave us his Blue Eyed Soul catalouge. Now, let's say this once and for all: fuck Hall and Oates. They're good at the Blue Eyed Soul thing, but listen to Rundgren's wail and range and you'd agree: Todd is indeed the Blue Eyed Soud Godd. And it's refreshing to hear that, even though he's pushing 70, he still has those vocal chops, as well as a energetic athleticism as he jumped all over the stage. But c'mon Todd! Road to Utopia! Trapped! Ra! Trust me, the round-spectacled, gray-hair-in-a-ponytail, D&D-playing, (Visual)BASIC-programming geeks who occupied the first three rows did NOT sit through a yawn-inducing opening act of Tyler Traband just to hear "Oooh Baby Baby" all night. (Actually, Traband wasn't all that bad. But his band was phoning it it to the point of his guitarist, rather than using a cry-baby pedal, SINGING "wah-wah, wah, wah-waaaaaah" though his set-ending guitar solo. Fail.) No, Todd, we needed to hear "Caravan."

Then, my dreadful sinus/throat infection took over and I haven't seen too much music since. This past weekend was South Shore Water Frolics and I dropped a bunch of $$$ at the art fair the next day, on lawn ornaments and jewelry. The fireworks, as usual, were the best in town: the Frolics Fireworks beat everybody out with the amazing ground show that ended with a puff of actual fireballs that had companions wondering if that was intentional. You could feel the heat swarming toward you.

Speaking of the heat, I need to decide if it's going to keep me away from Chill on the Hill tonight. The kids can play in this heat; I suspect my body isn't used to it and that's why I'm wiming out here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Straight up oldschool at Humboldt Park

It was country night at Chill on the Hill this week, and not that crappy nu-country, either. No, the good folks at the Bay View Community Association dug up a trio of trios of great old school country that made for a warm night, despite the falling temperatures. Tonight's Streetza Pizza featured variety was Taco pizza, which I heard was good, but for a straight up oldschool country night, I opted for straight up oldschool cheese and sausage.

Starting off the night was the Hoosier Millionaires, fronted by the always ironic Ted Jorin (wearing an English riding outfit to signify his millionaire-ness) and I suspect a lot of the crowd didn't know what to make of them. They found covers to do that most bands wouldn't touch -- and certainly not country-style bands that lead with a ukelele. I mean, who the hell does "Theme from Three's Company"? These guys do. And they touch on some country classics as well, but I've said this before, you haven't heard Led Zeppelin until you've heard it done, ironically, with a ukelele. Thing was, the arey more-than-competent musicians who purposely butcher some of these songs. Bay View is loaded with plenty of hipsters who will get it, but I'm not convinced they're the majority just yet. Still, as I'd tweeted that night, the Millionaires' take on "What Is and What Should Never Be" requires a deep cleansing breath afterward.

Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Right after that, we get Milwaukee's answer to the Dixie Chicks, the Whiskeybelles-- and in keeping with the oldschool theme, they're wonderfully tuneful, loose, but have perfect three part hamonies, no fake accents, and a set list that includes some nice originals along with covering Hank (Senior, that is, do I have to specify Hank Williams Senior when I'm talking about oldschool?) and Loretta. The Loretta Lynn covers especially suited these women -- a bassist, a guitarist and a fiddler -- as they were as sassy and salty as the Queen herself. I mentioned their perfect harmonies. I mean they were perfect. Yet -- and this is their gift-- the Whiskeybelles are wonderfully loose, making it sound and look easy so that the audience is engaged and involved. Really good set. My only complaint is that they may have gone on too long. This is the kind of music that needs to be a 45 minute set, leaving an audience begging for more. They went for at least an hour, and by the end of that, we were ready for something else. But that's a minor complaint. I would have enjoyed two 45 minute sets from them, and they're definitely on my "go see them again" list.

men in black
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The night ended with a band I've been wanting to catch for awhile, God's Outlaw, a trio that spends a good portion of their time covering Johnny Cash and the rest of the time with originals that sound like the kind of thing Cash would have come up with. Here's the thing about Johnny Cash: how can you not love that music. Everything about Cash is so distinctly American, and this is the American to be proud of. God's Outlaw's lead singer doesn't look a thing like Cash, and his baritone isn't quite as deep as Cash's, but he intonation, delivery and attitude are so spot-on that it works. The bass player gets the rhythm by slapping the neck hard enough to get plenty of boom-chicka-boom-chicka, and their electric guitarist pickes out plenty of crystal clear twang to keep it real. Of course they played "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Get Rhythm" and "Ring of Fire" and their originals ("U-Haul" -- a story of knowing it was over because of the UHaul parked in front of the house -- stood out for me) had enough of that oldschool charm that kept me around, despite the sun going down and a chilly (and for me, underdressed for the weather) night. This is what country music is, kids, not that dreck that gets marketed as country these days. Stella even admitted it was fun, and this is a girl who claims to hate country. "No, girl, you hate nu-country. I do too. These three bands are the real stuff."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I went to Riverwest to see some bands....

Originally uploaded by V'ron
Just like I'd tweeted on Saturday: I was at Quaters to see a band. Full stop. I was at Quaters. I was there to see a band. When was the last time anybody said that? I'll tell you when, oh, say about 1998 or so. Yeah, there was a little smattering of bands at The Rock Palace since then, but it was eventually edged out by the Hip Hop Experiment, the Freshening-Up-The-Place project, and others. Finally, a few fights and some tragedy, and the place gave up its cabaret license to save its liquor license, and went down not in flames, but some sad, smoldering smoke.
In the early 90s, Quarters was transformed from a dumpy shot-and-a-beer tap (the cheap beers through lines that were rarely cleaned were a quarter, get it?) into a dumpy hole in the wall punk palace. Ironic nicknames ensued: The Palace. The Gold Mine. It was the inspiration for the "Parabola of Rock." The Quarters heyday produced some of the most pathetic nights of my life and also some of the greatest rock and roll experiences I've ever had. As reported here, rumor had it the Gold Mine was going to be having bands again this year and that's become reality. Lots of great fresh punk are shaking the walls there again, but I have to admit, I needed somebody from the old school to drag me into that place again. And that oldschool somebody was the Grande Dame of Milwaukee Punk herself, Stoney Rivera and her band, the Psychobunnies.

Full disclosure: I played in an incarnation of the Psychobunnies in the early 90s. Some of the funnest eight months of my life. But you can't put two Saggitarian women on a stage together and expect that to last. (Or if it lasted, it would have sucked.) No, there is no sharing a stage with Stoney Rivera, and that's how it should be. She's a presence unto herself, a psychobilly queen with 30+ years of I-IV-Vs under her belt. And if there was anybody who could pull the old crowd into Quarters, it was her.

Opening the night was Dr Chow's Love Medicine, and they were saying farewell to their lead guitarist, Paul "The Fly" Lawson, who's moving on to other things. They must have sensed some of the old school electricity in the room, or maybe Frank Chandek's towering presence really filled up Quarters, but it was one of the better Dr Chow show's I've seen. (More full disclosure: my husband is the other guitar player in this band.) Dr Chow gets tighter and more confident in their originals every time i see them. While listening to them, I looked around and felt like it was 1993 again: most of the crowd was the crowd I would expect from back when I lived in Riverwest (and most of the crowd lived there at the time, too). Steve Whalen at the corner of the stage staring down the band with that shit-eating grin that, back then, could have been intimidating. Now, it's validation rather than intimidation: if he was in the back shooting the shit with friends it would be an insult. Darrell "The Brains" Martin scheming about the next Trash Fest. Paul Setser working the sound and if necessary, the door and the bar. Mark Shurilla, still a bit shy about coming all the way into the door, but still a fixture. The ghost of Tess was definitely present as we all raised glasses to him (and you best believe he still didn't pay cover.) This wasn't June, 2011. It was New Years Eve, 1994 and Stoney Rivera was taking the stage.

And after a long hiatus, (broken slightly by guest spots with Dr Chow over the past couple of years), it's like she hasn't missed a beat. She's clearly comfortable, and nothing shakes her once the lights are up. Even at one point when her vocal mike went out (would this be Quarters if the sound didn't crap out a couple of times?) she just hollered on through until Setser could make things right again. Standard Psychobunnies set complete with her originals and a Holly and the Italians cover that I always enjoyed playing, and some nuggets from her Dummy Club years ("Dancing in the Dirt" pretty much brought down the house.) She has that aura of a seasoned pro who knows exactly what people came to hear/see and gave it to them. She owned the house. And for a couple of hours on a Saturday night, I felt a good fifteen years younger, but wiser enough to order my beer in a bottle, thank you.

That night primed us all for Locust Street the next day. The Locust Street Festival is another of those reunion fests, where I see people I only ever see at Locust Street, but used to see all the time. Being out late (and getting old) prevented me from seeing the Beer Run this year, but Brian reports that he spotted a documentary filmmaker shooting with hi-def equipment and caught a bit ofDr Chow's noontime set, which seemed to carry over plenty of energy from the Quarters triumph overnight. After that was over, the kids and I started the first of many trips up and down the street. We didn't plan on seeing anybody in particular, we'd just walk up and down and see what we could see and eat what we could eat.

Let's get that out of the way right now: WTF happened to Klinger's? The wings are boneless! Yuck! Somebody needs to tell them (and the rest of the world) that boneless wings are not wings. Part of the greatness of wings is the flavor you get from cooking bone-in, and the fatty yummieness of dark meat. If you want white meat, order a grilled chicken breast. Now, these boneless "wings" are still good, but they're not the winged perfection that Klingers usually delivers. On the other hand, that joint at the corner of Weil and Locust that had everything (pizza, falafel, philly steak, and, yes, wings) had wings but get this. They wrapped them in foil and let them sit. By the time I bought them, the foil had caused them to get steamed, so that the outside skin and breading was no longer crispy/distinct. It was just this pile of really spicy mush with wings somehow inside. Next time we'll stick with that wonderful african restaurant that always hits Riverwest festivals. They've never disappointed.

To add insult to injury, we made the mistake of going to the Tracks stage first, where Stella heard that bass line. That godawful bass line. You know, the one that wafts in your ears during festival season: "Don't Stop Believing." There's a terrible cover band at the Tracks stage and they've just wrapped up that annoying Spin Doctors Two Princes thing before attempting the Journey. Unless your singer can wail like Steve Perry, don't trythis at home, or in public, folks. And this isn't even Journey's toughest vocal. God I hate this song, but when you hear it done poorly, you really appreciate what a set of lungs Steve Perry has. Hurry, kids, get thee to Linneman's!

At Linneman's outdoor stage, we're saved by Castle Thunder, a not-built-for-festivals kind of proggy group that inspired me to sit down and check them out. Very sincerely intense band that sounded like a cross between mid-career Radiohead and early Genesis. They had epic (both in length as well as musical theme) songs that Stella and I agreed would sound good as the soundtrack for some Twilight sequel. I liked them, despite the fact that this was one of those bands that would have worked better in the confines of a club, with dim (read: mysterious) lighting and a late-night ambience. Good variety, too, in terms of their dynamics, song structure and overall vibe. I was pulled in by what started out as a tribal beat, and stuck around for what morphed into a very heady lullaby.

Snopek. A Locust Street fixture, across the street from this guy who spray pained fantasy pictures of outer space and Roger Dean album covers-- with a technique that made watching his art be made half the performance. Snopek's just so consistent in his love for things Milwaukee, baseball, beer, brats, that his spot outside Klinger's should just be named Sigmund Snopek Way. Onward.

Ahab's Ghost drummer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

We stumbled upon my favorite finds of the day at the Lakefront Brewery stage in mid-afternoon. This stage usually gets the experimental, up and coming stuff anyway. You're either going to like what you see there or not. And I liked it. First we came upon Ahab's Ghost, three very tight, very heavy noisemakers. Kind of metal, punk attitude, but waaaay to heavy (and technically competent) to be pure punk. Wonderfully intense, and yet engaging. Sometimes they referred to themselves and their name and referenced seafaring themes, but when they played you got the feeling you were on a ship about to wreck under it's own enormous weight. Sammy enjoyed them immensely-- their drummer was a delight to watch and the three of them were tight.

Crappy Dracula
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
They were followed by a lot of the local tastemakers' pick for the afternoon, a group of snotty, funny no-wavers called Crappy Dracula. Very no-wave -- dissonant chords and messed up time signatures that highlight their dry, dry oh-so-dry sense of humor. One of their songs almost got tuneful, and I could catch bits of their lyrics enough to know that I wanted to hear more, but perhaps on a piece of vinyl, or in an environment where I could really listen to what they were saying, because I'm good for some dissonant no-wave for about 30 minutes and then I need a tune. They had that appearance of regular Joes who happened to start a band, but couldn't wipe that damn smirk off their face for even a minute. Between them and Ahab's Ghose, I found my new discoveries for the day.

This Year's (Floor) Model
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So off to see a band that reinvorgorates me every time: Floor Model. They have never played Locust Street, and I doubt they ever will. However, they always play off-Locust on the day of the fest, and this year was no exception. They played the patio at the Circle A, and the family settled into a nice corner to watch a nice family punk band spew out their snottyness. Dave was kind enough to let my boy, the beginning drummer,
thrash away between sets and pretend he was Keith Moon
while guitarist Jeff Callesen cranked up the Dead Kennedys as house music. Later in the set they got that guy who plays trumpet with them sometimes to, well, play the trumpet, but I really have nothing more to say about Floor Model. Everybody knows I'm a fan; it was just a matter of ending my day with the familiar, as Locust Street itself is a celebration of what was a wonderfully familiar part of my life.