"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.
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.
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.
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.