Monday, February 06, 2012

Old reliables and new preciousness

Jaems by V'ron
Jaems, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
As a citizen of Packer nation, yesterday was just a regular ol snark-fest for me on Twitter, so let's just do a Pre-Super-Bowl weekend arts roundup.

Stella and I are looking at High Schools. A week or so ago, we checked out Ronald Reagan IB and were very impressed by the creative arts department, so much so for a school that doesn't necessarily specialize in it. We'd gone to see their production of "The Boy Friend", a musical I'm not at all familiar with. (I'm more of a veteran of West Side Story, The Music Man, and South Pacific productions....). I'm not a fan of musicals -- you can hear the dialog warming up to a production number, and it's all I can do to hum along with Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as he starts in with " ...I'd rather... just ... sing!" Still, putting on a musical requires an extreme amount of production, coordination, and guidance, and Reagan IB worked it wonderfully. Also I admit that it was joyful to see
Ruadhan Ward as Mme Dubonnet singing a genre you don't normally associate with her -- and she pulled off some very difficult oldschool musical herione solos flawlessly. Brava! Ward's mom, Christina Ward was in the front row (my mom never missed one of my performances either -- I mean she went to Every.Single.Repeat) and her dad, drummer Dan Niedjiecko and aunt, prog queen Julie Brandenburg, sat more towards the back near Stella and me. We all reminisced about our high school musical days (Julie's companion mentioned he did a production of Les Miz, which pretty much shut me and my "We'll I was one of the Pick-A-Little-Talk-A-Little ladies in The Music Man" bit right up.)

So this past weekend, after touring the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, we decided to check out their recent offering, a Soul Revue that started out with a brief nod to Don Cornelius, and then, as I tweeted, these kids proceeded to kick ass. The jazz ensemble (with both horn and string sections) started off with an instrumental of "The Horse" and suddenly it's 1978 again, and I'm playing clarinet in basketball band at Rich Central. These kids take on Etta's "At Last", Al Green's "Love and Happiness" and others, amidst an auditorium filled with their family and friends justifiably hooting and hollering for them completing this whole "Showtime at the Apollo!" vibe. The encore (they knew they'd get one) turned out to be this kid who barely looked like a freshman, who started out nervously and then pretty much transformed himself into young, still adorable Michael Jackson for an ABC/I Want You Back medley that brought down the house.

After a quick snack, Stella and I headed out to Riverwest for a giant art extravaganza hosted by Flux Design that @Raster called my attention to. In addition to seeing his Drawbot (and Stella got a chance to make her own art with it) we got to see work in progress --literally, they were making it right there -- in metal, wood, painting, ice sculpture, photography, etc. Also ran into a couple friends and gushed about their latest news:
  • Eric Griswold is jazzed about being one of the finalists for an art project for the bus shelter at the North End of Bay view where Kinnickinnic, Lincoln and Howell converge. Here's his concept, and I like it. He's always been a Riverwest boy as long as I've known him, but at least he's still living in Milwaukee, which distinguishes him from the other three finalists.
  • Paul Kneevers is jazzed up about one of his (Three! Count 'em THREE) bands putting out another CD -- this one's a new offering from Lovanova, his difficult-to-describe rocking, jazzy, but lounge act. You know, the one with that gargantuan Hammond organ he lugs around.

So, Saturday night I decided to go with reliable. Reliably, the Unheard Of was at the Circle A, and I got there in time to catch about 40 minutes left of a dripping-with-acid psychedelic set. Pity there weren't more fans in the club; it was driving and tight. One younger couple of hipsters came in, tried to get out of paying cover, but seemed to enjoy it anyway. Still, the band pro'd up and payed like it was a packed house. They showed their appreciation for my attendance with some new vinyl, which I carefully put in my car to head to Frank's Power Plant for more reliability -- a non-Zappa set from the Freddie Lee band.

Opening the show was an odd, eclectic act, Jaems Murphy and the Vedic Eden.Here you go: there's this guy in a tight-fitting striped sweater with goat horns on his head and (noticed this after the show in brighter light) dark, almost black lipstick. He's playing (rather well) this steel acoustic guitar thing and he has an endearing, if not flawed, vunerability to his voice. His band includes a stand up bass, some keyboards, a traditional trapset drummer, another guitar, and two background singers who double on percussion. I should have loved it. And I did to some extent. He had a conversational yet airy tone about him, his songs are complex jazz-folk arrangements that the theory snob I can sometimes be loves. I should have loved this. But I wasn't in the mood for it and, well, it all seemed just a bit too precious. First off, really, Jaems, is that how your mom spelled your name on your birth certificate? Second, that sweater. That scoop neck sweater. You're not a girl. And third, (in the same file as You're not a girl) lose the black lipstick. Because all this does not add to your otherwise very very cool musical offering. I could put up with the billy goat horns, but stop it there. All this detracts from your otherwise compelling stage presence and songwriting. My gut reaction to this should have been, "Way cool! What a find!" and instead I was thinking/tweeting "I'm not quite sure what to make of this." And normally, I *like* art that makes me say that, but I found myself listening to Jaems Murphy from the other room, where I could enjoy the music for what it was worth -- and it was worth a lot. Oh, and one more thing (and I'm not alone in this), no offense to you in particular, but I swear to God, if I hear one more cover of Cohen's "Hallelujah" I'm going to apply for a concealed carry license.

Had a lovely chat with Freddie Lee's wife Michelle while the band set up, and we tipped our glasses to Larry Kennedy. Julie Brandenburg was on background vocals tonight, and there were some sound issues. (Freddie kept getting zapped by two different polarities between his guitar and the PA -- OUCH - I've had that happen and it hurts). Beyond that. I already knew that Freddie has a lot of Zappa influence, but this past Saturday I heard very strong nods to Robert Fripp/King Crimson. This was what I was in the mood for; too bad I was starting to run out of gas, but I caught at least a half hour of some strong, bluesy prog courtesy of some of the town's best players. All in all, an interesting night at the Power Plant and I think I'm going to come out again and take another visit to the Vedic Eden to see if that magical wonderboy can rope me in.

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