Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pretty. Unapologetic. American. (Brit)Pop.

Revo-Lush by V'ron
Revo-Lush, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
Saturday night had a variety of excellent musical offerings, not to mention the Sexy Results show that I'm really sorry I missed, if only to hear what Jim Warchol's doing lately. Normally this would be hard to choose, but lately I've been on this major Britpop jag -- I can't get enough Pulp, Oasis, crap, even the Happy Mondays are showing up on my "recently played" Ipod playlist. Oh, and since Sammy's been learning the merseybeat on the drums, yeah, my listening habits drift west from Manchester to Liverpool. So Saturday night, they drifted waaaaay west, to the Cactus Club to be precise, where it was a power pop explosion courtesy of Revolush, the Melismatics and Trolley. Where the heck else could I go?

Revolush answers the question, "Well, what if the Beatles had stayed together, hung out with Bowie more and entered a 70s Glam Phase?" Lead singer Tommy Hahn has Paul McPretty eyes that drill holes into you while flailing away on his bass. The songs stand up to this treatment -- they're pop, hard edged, almost Sweet-like, but they're built for top 40. Revolush takes the stage like they downed an extra large espresso from Alterra and jumps into it, whereas their CD is almost too perfect. In any other band, Hahn could be mistaken for a heavy metal or rock singer (think Diamond Dave, Jon BonJovi or even Ronnie James Dio -- he's got those kind of pseudo-operatic chops), but in this band he comes off as power pop, which suits the songwriting well. Even with a guitarist that looks and sound power rock, it still leans pop. And I like this live treatment. Like all the other bands on this night's bill, their recorded work -- while lovely and slick and well-produced-- is missing that element of sweat and surprise that drew me in for all three sets.

Melismatics. Pony.
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Next up, the Melismatics, a quartet from Minneapolis that have been on my "I really need to get out and see these guys" list for some time, and they did not disappoint. Ryan Smith is the frontman, but let's face it, his wife/partner Pony steals the show. First off, she's wearing a darling little party dress with her guitar, plugged into a Voxx, dangling around her neck, she doubles on keyboards and holds the whole thing together with marvelous attitude. Instant grrrl crush. As I told Brian when I got home, "She plays the guitar like me and sings like Roni Allwaise." The songs are also power pop but deep and complex enough -- in both music and lyrical themes, to keep me listening. Lots of great drama in the live presentation, too. Pony users her expressive face, sign language, guitar gymnastics, and Ryan is the rock that holds this whole thing down. Every song had its own little hook: a guitar lick here, a shouted chorus there, an onstage embrace, or a bow to the aforementioned Voxx amp. I headed straight for the merch table afterwards and picked up Acid Test and the new release Mania!!!and liked them, but like Revolush, I have to say the live environment is where this band really stands out.

pretty jangle rock
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Finally, local boys Trolley are onstage. And the words for them are Pretty, Unapologetic. I've written before about Paul Wall's unapologetic nods toward Merseybeat, and British janglepop. The jangle, of course, comes from the 12-string electric that half his songs call for, and the rest are on, as I tweeted, his really pretty 6 string. Actually, everything about Paul Wall is pretty, and he's pretty unapologetic about it: His guitar. His clothes. His songs. Even his wife. His band's latest CD, Things that Shine and Glow. He loves the power pop and he's pretty damn good at it. And while he won't even try to shake off comparisons to the original wave of Britpop (I have long suspected that he invites them!) this band actually shines and glows best when he lets the fact that he's an American creep in (the Nick Lowe cover hints at this). First, he's relinquished his beatleesque mop-top haircut for a Memphis-style pomp (that suits his age and the fact he's playing with an Americana band that's raking in the $$$ these days). I heard bits of Brian Wilson melodies, some alt-country, and even some sweaty Detroit Iron garage throughout the night. And that smirky stage presence and attitude puts a little salty into all this sweetness. Highlight for me was a gorgeous tune called "Ocean Song" that brought in bits of dangerous instrumental surf swaying over some lovely lyrics and an almost vulnerable vocal delivery. Driving home, I popped the Melismatics' CD into my player, and then went straight to my computer and downloaded Things the Shine and Glow from iTunes like I should have done months ago when it came out. It's been on my "Recently Played" list for the past few days -- and it holds up wonderfully on the car stereo, although again like the others, only hints at the reason you should go see them live.

This weekend? Well, it's Ted Jorin's birthday Saturday, and so the Dick Satan Trio will be bringing some surf to O'Keefe's House of Hamburg, and Dr Chow will be along to help celebrate, along with a third band I don't know a thing about, so I'll have a reason to sit up and listen closely after congregating at the Band Wives Table. Don't know how old Ted's turning and don't care. It's going to be a night of surf and psychedelic blues; a great way to send leap year February off.

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.