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.