Friday, August 10, 2012

Go looking for beauty

Iron Jawed Angels by V'ron
Iron Jawed Angels, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
I haven't written a lot lately. It's been a long, hot, busy summer. This past week started off with great sadness; the Sikh Temple is not too far from my house and the horror that some people in this world face daily has now moved to my quiet little part of the world. My favorite bike route goes past the temple, and just to clear my head, I had to go for a ride. I ended up doing the Hank Aaron Trail, and on my way out, I rode past this lovely little lot-sized neighborhood garden, where clearly an "art for kids" thing was set up, and the results of that were a bunch of wool tiger eyes scattered across a makeshift display rack made of sticks held together with coarse twine. It was just the smattering of beauty I needed. When I got home, I felt so refreshed that I ended up posting the pic as my status on FB, saying, "In ugly times, go looking for beauty."

So, I've finally been getting out to see music. This summer has been so dang hot, I haven't been nearly as active as I'd like to be, both physically or musically. Only recently have I dragged my overheated ass out the door to go see a band, but when I did, I was always glad. Lots of time it was at Chill on the Hill. So, here's a quick roundup:

Seems like it was ages ago when the Squeezettes played wonderful --- I don't want to say polka, because it's that and more -- music. Let's call it a wedding band, in the joyful sense of the word. Of course they have accordions, but they play music that you can dance to, to sway to, to party to. That's what they really are all about -- a lovely band that starts out polka, but just ends up fun. Sarah Kozar's clear, expressive voice just sounds like she's constantly happy and wants you to be too, without getting al lsyrupy about it. Everytime I see them I feel like I'm at one of those wonderful Polish weddings where toddler kids dance with middle aged folk, and 80 year old couples dance everybody under the table ( and drink them there, too) -- old ladies who usually have fallen but can't get up but suddenly can move their feet quickly to that step step jump that the Poles have turned into an art form.

I'd waited all summer to see the Dick Satan Trio wow the crowd at Chill. They're trying to shed a "surf band" label, but, uh, guys, you're a surf band, and in my book, that means you rule. There's nothing wrong with that label. Surf bands are not always about surf -- they incorporate elements of jazz, arabian, native, flamenco, gawd, you could pretty much do anything as a surf tune and it will sound dangerously great. Even the hokiest of songs can be turned into a swingin tome in a good surf band's hands. After they were done, the current kings of Milwaukee Surf, The Exogtics, played a wonderful set that pretty much explained why they've been invited to play surf festivals on the west coast.

I'm Not A Nerd
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Between Chills, Brian and I actually got ourselves out of the house to try to hit the Brady Street festival to see, among other bands, buzz band Herman Astro. We were already bummed we'd missed Luvahl (playing around noonish) and Mucca Pazza (who played around 630ish). And for the first time in the 20 some odd years we've been together, we did not find a parking place despite the fact that we drove around the East Side for at least 45 minutes. Well, it was 45 minutes when we started to actually note the time. So, we did not see buzz band Herman Astro. Heard they were good. Instead, we said, the hell with it, and drove over the bridge and grabbed a bite to eat at the Palimino, catching up with our friend Liesl and eating excellent vegan food. (Well, Brian had a good old school chicken sandwich, free of hate.)

So a couple of days later at Chill, another buzz band, I'm Not A Pilot. They are artsy chaps who, like other bands I generally like, I would rather see in a dark, mysterious club. The emocore proggieness of it doesn't lend itself to an outdoor festival-y atmosphere, but there was still something about the soundtrack-to-a-coming-of-age-movie-set-on-an-ivy-league-campus feel about them that I liked. Nevertheless, by the second set (and the sun setting helped), they reeled me in with some cool arrangements between their strings (an electric cello), keyboards, bass and very sublime drums. Intgeresting (if not predictable) choice of covers, from Arcade Fire to Radiohead to the Pixies, but they put their own stamp on each of the songs and made it work while I smiled in recognition.



Rare Franecki Sighting
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
The following weekend, I also dragged my butt out to not only see Brian play with Dr Chow at the "Festival of Tim" at O'Keefe's House of Hamburg, but a lineup of two of my favorite bands. If you read this blog at all, you kow I'm a fan of Floor Model so there's nothing else more to say. Same with Dr Chow -- and I felt that way about them even before Brian started playing with them. Now Fly is back, so with Ron Turner and Brian, there's the triple guitar threat to go see. And of course, there's my favorite new garage combo, the Northside Creeps. Because of the rain, the whole "Festival of Tim" was pushed back at least an hour, and that was a good thing for the Creeps, because Bass Player Ted Jorin had hopped off a plane at the airport across the street, frantically dashing over to the bar, asking Brian where they're at in the festivities, and for a split second believed Brian's BS when he told him "Oh, you're on right now." No, they had time to chill and they rocked, as usual with tension filled garagey songs. Not bad, considering they had to follow a very rare appearance from The Vocokesh, Rick Franecki's "other" band. I don't think a lot of people in the audience realized just how rare and how hard it is to get Franecki, the Brian Wilson of Waukesha County, out of the basement. When you put him in front of just a drummer and a rock solid bass player, his guitar playing is really showcased, and they blew away the crowd. As I write this, my kid is asking me how to spell "heaviest." Coincidence? I think not.


Then Sunday happened, and I needed some beauty in my life. Chill to the rescue. It was "Kids and Family Night" this past Tuesday, and so the bands were comprised of, well, kids. Nothing makes me happier than watching kids make music. The first, Iron Jawed Angels. were fronted by Killian and Sylvia Peterson, the plucky daughters of my friend Melanie Beres, founder and executive director of the Milwaukee Rock Theater. You can see the resemblance (besides the fact that Killian is a dead ringer for Melanie) in the way she carries her self on stage: she's very theatrical and chooses songs to do that emphasize this. The thing that gave away her age? Write some songs of your own, Killian! I'm sure you have it in you, and since they'll come from YOUR heart, you'll capture your audience's. She has the voice, she had the stage moxie, now let's hear her story.

Orpheus
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Next up, the Bottom Line, a pack of well-trained jazz funk kids who covered the Herbie Hancock and other recent jazz/funk standards with aplomb. Two of them are also plucked from the Aquanauts, the rockers that blew everybody away at last year's Kids' Night. THis year, they stuck with instrumental jazz, and were flat out amazing as each of them took their 12 bar (and sometimes longer) solos. The thing that gave away their age? Maybe they needed a little more flash, especially if you're playing funk. That pretty much took their mark on the stage and stayed there. But that will come with experience. They have the rock solid chops and the general fundamentals there. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, at a minimum, they ended up being the house band at Bucks games or something like that. And more.

Finally, Orpheus, who was introduced as a reggae act by an organizer who needs to be told what the difference between reggae and ska is, because Orpheus is definitely a ska band. And they turned out to be my favorite of the night, because except for the fact that they just look young, that was it in terms of giving away their age. First, these are kids who get ska -- a subgenre that predates them by at least 20 years. They're loose, and crazy and fun. Their leader plays a ukelele or mandolin, for chrissakes. their trumpet player skanks across the stage ("Kids!" the leader shouted, "Our trumpet player is going to teach you to skank! You just wave your arems and your legs and look like you're crazy!") they have crazy stage banter down, they are all dripping with the charisma of the class clown who never gets in trouble because he's charmed the teacher, too. The only thing keeping them from packing the bars is their age and some drinking/curfew laws. All three bands made me happy and hopeful for the world -- if we have kids who can make this variety of music, there's still hope, because something when you go looking for beauty, you have to be prepared to hear it.

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