Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Bottom Line at the Bash

Beer. Spill. Excellent. by V'ron
Beer. Spill. Excellent., a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
I'm really sad about the fact that I didn't make it to Global Union. I had a bazillion errands to do on Saturday, and I didn't get over to the Bay View area until 5 ish, which meant I missed pretty much everybody at Global Union. You would hope, however, that the organizers of the Bash as well as Global Union would ring each other up and say, "Hey, especially since Global Union is only running one day, why don't we try to NOT have our festivals on the SAME DARN DAY EVERY YEAR?!?!" Ya think? So, it was the Bay View Bash for our family. We missed two sets of the Mike Benign Compulsion, which I've been  told were good, but I do have to ask, hmmmmm, how do they score two full sets? Was there a shortage of original bands this year?

We arrived to see the first year out for the whole idea of trying to approach a Near Zero Waste festival. Not bad for the first year out, not bad. Vendors were provided with access to compostable, recyclable containers with which to serve good food, and there were plenty of trash receptacles that were clearly labeled for glass, plastic, compostable, or (boo, hiss) landfill for anything else. As I dumped my trash in, I saw the inevitable other crap that people who didn't bother (or care) about the trash seperation had thrown in. That was predictable, so for this first time out, bottom line, let's give 'em a 2 or 3 Sigma for this particular run. I'll be happy to hear the final evaluation on this effort.

As for music:
I'm going to have to go see buzz band Group of the Altos on a night when I actually paid to see them, to force me to stick around for a full set and get the big picture because I suspect they're the kind of band that needs you to get the big picture. While I'm not a huge fan of Arcade Fire (which despite all efforts to distance themselves from, that's who they reminded me of. See also: The Polyphonic Spree), that's the vibe I got from them when I approached the Rush-Mor stage.
I really, really, really wanted to like Group of the Altos. I really did. No, really. I normally enjoy a good, full sound, a bit of pretentiousness thrown in (If I didn't like a smattering of pretentiousness, I should just throw away all my prog albums NOW), experimenting with different time signatures and arrangements, and a nice dollop of drama. But it seemed a bit, oh, not pretentious, but ...... precious. Yes, I've used that word before -- when I saw Jaems and the Vedic Eden at Frank's Power Plant last winter. But I felt exactly the same way as I did that wintry night: oh, how I wanted to like, no, love, this band: the horns, the melancholy arrangements, the hipster forced-earnestness! But there was too much distracting me from falling in love. At least all Jaems Murphy (from the aforementioned Vedic Eden) has to do is lose the makeup and goat horns and drop the Leonard Cohen cover. These guys are going to need to develop some stage presence: for a band that's been together as long as they have, toured as much as they have, and been the focus of as much buzz as they have, they still look extremely uncomfortable onstage and between songs they look downright confused. And for pete's sake, guys, when you have that many people onstage it's more crucial than ever that you tune your instruments -- at least to each other! And if you're going to be precious, at least take a tip from ol' Jaems and develop some charisma (Jaems has plenty to spare.). But I have to give them another chance. Maybe this was just an off day for them. Maybe the sound mix wasn't right (and I'm not one to ever blame anything on the sound man). Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for them. Because, bottom line, if there's one thing I've learned about bands like this is I have to be in the right mood for them. I think I want to see them again, on a double bill with Jaems or somebody like that, at say, Frank's Power Plant, where I can be surrounded in this giant band and take a bath in layers of sound, or at Club Garibaldi, one of the few stages in town that could hold them.

See, I was with Sammy (Stella and her friend are at that age where they don't have to -- and don't want to -- hang with me an entire festival) and Sammy enjoys some punk and metal and just plain ol rock, and that's where the true buzz band of the day -- Black Actress -- roared in and saved us. These guys reeled me (and the boy!) in and I couldn't leave until they were done. OK, so they already had a leg up with me because they're working a couple of my favorite subgenres of rock, and I desperately needed their tasty beverage of a set to wash the previous band down. But it wasn't just the energetic lead singer who cavorted and literally bent over backwards to entertain us, it wasn't just the guitarist who whipped off stinging leads as easily as he could light a cigarette, it wasn't just the locked in rhythm section who kept them tight and in line. It was their name. It was the fact that they spotted photogs and subsequently struck poses, both mocking and working with us. It was the genuine fun and joy they had, simply ROCKING THE FUCK OUT. They didn't mind at all that a moshing 2-year-old in the audience threatened to steal the show -- heck, they brought said kid up on stage and rocked right with him, prompting (spotted in the crowd) WMSE's Buzz to mutter, "I wish I was that kid right now." Heck, Buzz, we all did. They went on stage, definatly spilling their beer and their water on themselves (some actually made it to their mouths), and did.not.let.up. There was hardly any stage banter between songs because there was barely any between-song-time! As much as Sammy wanted to get back to the perennial Dead Man's Carnival stage (who, after all, did tricks with FIRE, for cryin' out loud), I made him wait the 45 seconds to write my name on Black Acrtress' mailing list. Those guys wanted to rock and and they did it on their own terms, as opposed to the cover bands on the other end of the festival (you had a GnR band which I heard was out of tune a lot, and a Kiss tribute band which I heard was competent). But as much as I enjoy a good tribute band now and again, I'll always take original rock, because the kickass factor is always higher when coming from one's own soul. And that's the bottom line on this band: Black Actress Kicks Ass.

Well, of course we spent a lot of time at Dead Man's Carnival's stage. They've become a perennial feature of the Bay View Bash, as comfortable and welcome as Snopek at Locust Street. And as usual, they did not disappoint. This year's freak show included Titano, a strongman who can nail icepicks into his nose, and hammer a nail through a frying pan with his bare hands (oh, and then fold up that pan afterwards). Not to be outdone, Gypsy Geoff comes up on stage and juggles with machetes and firesticks, and then gets the audience to hold a makeshift tightrope while he walks across it. Sir Pinkerton is your master of ceremonies, and like a good oldschool (and I mean oldschool) MC, holds the family-friendly vaudeville together. They have full-blown shows throughout the year where I'm sure I wouldn't necessarily take the kids, but they really faithfully recreate what they call the great American Show tradition, with singing, a bit of mime, and a more-than-capable house band that is clearly having as much fun with this as we the audience are. That's the bottom line right there: every song, every act, every day is a carnival for them and that's why I love them.

Drunk Drivers, a band from Eau Claire, wrapped up the Rush Mor stage. I expected, with a name like that, for them to be in more of the Black Acress vein, but they were fun. Bottom line: they bill themselves as a party band and that they were -- the farfisa sounding organ saw to that. But at this point in the evening, the family was all fested out, and bottom line, the kids wanted to get home in time for Svengoolie.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I need to get out more

What is up with me? Am I just not getting out? Or am I finally admitting that, between sneezes I'm coming down with something? This can't be my excuse for not writing; naw, let's just chalk that up to work, kids, back to school, and just not getting out.

First off, there's the last couple of Chill On the Hills, the place I can drag the kids and watch bands and know they're having a good time running around. I had a good time at the second to last one, too. It was the annual (I forogot the actual term Chill organizers used, but everybody else called it) Chick Night. Headliners were the now-taken-for-granted Barrettes, who are still really really good. They retain a healthy dose of pissed off (but not quite riotgrrl, that would be old and tired) feminism with just plain good rawk. They've brought in a full-blown bass player but retained the melodica, so they have this interesting bent on some of their songs, but not necessarily having it there for the sake of it (which sometimes the presence of the cellist implied.) Don't get me wrong, I loved the cellist, but the bass player gives the Barrettes that final push over the top that makes them a rock band. And who could resist dancing along with Joey's take on Prince's Kiss, complete with her own wonderful shrieking falsetto?

The opener that night was a true grrlpunk outfit from Madison called Venus In Furs, who blew me away with strong voices backed by a kickass rhythm section. I was a bit wary given the name: was this going to be some VU wannabe outfit? Not to worry, I think they just grabbed the name because it sounded cool, and didn't realize the reference wouldn't be lost on their target market. I don't know how often they'll make the trip across I-94, but I'll try to catch them when they do. The kids even enjoyed them.

So a couple of weeks later, and I'm at the Circle A to catch the latest entry in the Pat O'Neill calvadade of bands (I miss The Grand Disaster) this one called Lack of Reason and I like them. Andy Stilin (of Resist Her Transistor.... where are they?!?!) on the drums, and Marky Lee (no, I'm going to stop spelling it Mark E. Lee, because nobody pronounces it that way anyway) is on the bass. As such, they pick up a few old Chop Top Toronados songs, throw in some psychedelia, and thrash about in time. Quite filling for the Circle A on a Friday night that I just decided, out of the clear blue sky, to venture out in, despite the fact that I had car repairs hanging over my head and thus a fairly empty walled. Afterwards, I learned they were playing a week later at Center Street Daze and I gasped, "You mean I could've seen you for FREE?" and we all laughed. Kind of. Center Street Daze, as I've said before, has pretty much taken Locust Street's place as the alt-artist festival for the East Side. Locust Street is huge and steeped in tradition, and Center Street is building their own.

Peder's new Rub
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

And yet, I didn't even make it for the annual Art Cart race at Center Street a week later. There's football for Sammy, and grocery shopping to be done and errands to complete, and I didn't even get there in time to see much more of Lack of Reason's last couple of songs anyway. And I'm really sorry I missed the wonderful Hullmen at the Quarters stage. And I've begun to take Floor Model (who I also missed) for granted. But the fact was, I spent pretty much all my time at the Center Street festival at the Impala stage, where the next band I encountered was a new Peder Hedman outfit called Bicentennial Rub. Hedman told me beforehand that this wasn't a band where he concentrated a lot on lyrical content, and he was right. He'd found some wonderful young turk who wailed away on vocals like a hardcore thrashing punk and the very very loud band that Hedman led kept right up with him. Very obnoxiously loud, but tight and thrashy, and by that I mean heavy thrashy. Stopped and started beats, good (if not dissonant) melodic structure and despite the punk appearance and attitude, sounding very well rehearsed. Fun stuff. Spotted in the crowd coming out of the woodwork: Plasticlanders/VootWarningsites/LestWeForgetters John Frankovic (and fam), Victor Demechi (and fam, and will I everget his name spelled right?) Tommy Tiedjens, Dan Mullen, Lars Kvan, Julie Brandenburg, and a pile of other aging punkers I usually only see at places like Center and Locust street when one of the "family" is playing.

Before catching the next act, Sammy and I wandered down the street where the dunk tank was happening and he insisted on trying, several time, to sink the terry robed victim in teh dunk tank. It had to have been the fifth try for Sammy, but he finally sunk the sonafabitch, who, for this fifth try, was wearing a Paul Ryan mask. We both snicked about it.

The next act at the Impala stage turned out to be my favorite find in a while, Hearts of Stone. I was told they'd be a metal band. First couple of songs kind of let me down to the point where I decided this was as good a time as any to start waiting in line for a flush toilet. In fact the general consensus was that they started out weak, but then all of a sudden we all looked at each other and voila, they were kicking ass and taking names. I don't want to say they were emo, because that would imply a sort of Death Cab for Bon Iver lameness, but the emo came through via punchy melodies, a lead singer who would sometimes use an old pa/CB mike to filter his voice through, and a long haired drummer who would not quit. By the end of the set they'd won me, and a very enthusiastic crowd over.

the ol' crappy mic trick
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

Dr Chow up next. Dr Chow was Dr Chow. The fan base is there, Frank never disappoints as lead singer, the songs are all solid psychedlic garage blues, and it's almost a monthly (if not biweekly) party amongst us aging punkabilly hipsters. True to tradition, the rain rolled in toward the end of the set, but at least it was only a gentle sprinkle allowing the band to finish the set, pack up the electronics and put them safely out of the water's reach before any damage could be done.

I really need to get out more. The Danglers' John Sparrow tweeted me that next week he'll be playing with Steve Mackay at the Jazz Gallery and that it's a not-to-be-missed event. Agreed. Last time I saw Mackay blow through town it was downright magical, and the Danglers were up to the task of actually following him. I suspect they traded business cards and said "We'll have to play together sometime...." and, well, that "sometime" is next week. I'll have to figure out how to get out for this on a school night.