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.
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.
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.