Sunday, March 02, 2014

Trudging through the snow with One Horse Towne

VMR_0014 by V'ron
VMGeorge shines at Linneman's_, a photo by V'ron on Flickr.
When it's nasty cold like it has been, and you're as busy swamped as I am, getting out to see a band is kind of like going to the gym: you really have to work up the energy to do it (not to mention put on enough clots to brave the cold or the snow or whatever the Evil Vortex is going to slam at us), hope the car starts, find a parking place and get there. But, like going to the gym, once there I'm always glad I did it.

And so it goes for the CD release party for One Horse Towne, as OnMilwaukee.com called them, a "trio of veterans", (um, I counted four people on stage). I arrived in time to get the last third of opener Floor Model's set, and having seen Floor Model a couple of weeks ago anyway, I wasn't despondent that I didn't see the whole thing. This gave me time to actually schmooze a bit with the Floor Model guys OHT got ready to go.

If stage placement means anything, I guess you could say that One Horse Towne is "fronted" by George Mirales, a shamefully underrated/overlooked songwriter/guitarist who I've seen in various bands over the years. But this is a very well balanced band of (cliche coming up) Milwaukee alterna-veterans: Tom Tiedjens (do I even have to mention Those X Cleavers anymore?) on bass, Chris Lehmann (who I really wish was mixing the sound at Linneman's and that's all I'm going to say about that) on drums, and pretty much the Dean of Milwaukee Americana, Blaine Schultz, on guitar. Put those guys together, and I expected some jangly, rocking pop americana and that's what I got. But there was an extra layer of special something I couldn't pub my finger on, until my DH Brian leaned over and said to me, "You know what this reminds me of? Those early Frank Black and the Catholics albums!" That was it: melody and lyrically, wise, these are storytelling songs that may or may not be autobiographical, but the effortless musicality of those four guys made these songs pop with that something that made me stay in the room to hear it all despite the fact that I was simultaneous parched with thirst and increasingly worried about the falling snow. This is a good mix of guys who have known each other for years, have played together on-again, off-again too few times and in too few other incarnations, and should keep this lineup going.  They've got a good spark here.

I suspect the snow was keeping people away and only the hardcore fans stuck around for the last band, Dr Chow's Love Medicine, who used the time to try out some new songs on their faithful friends. It was a good Chow set, but I'd been up since six am, and that snow was getting even thicker, so after a couple of choruses of "Nina Hartley" and "Somebody Else" and a new tune or tow, I had to bid adieu.

Unfortunately, since I am married to the Dr Chow guitar player, and I therefore did not pay cover (which I had to explain to the doorman for the eighty somthingth time), I did not receive my complimentary copy of the CD they were promoting Saturday night so I didn't get the luxury of popping it in the car stereo to enjoy on the way home. So, here's the part where I need to yell at One Horse Towne to get with the program and make this thing downloadable though iTunes or Amazon or CD Baby or something. Because nowadays, as much as I'd like to be a vinyl or at least digital hardcopy snob, it's all i can do to just click "buy this album!" and have it in my ever-present iPod (not to mention in the Amazon and Google cloud!) rather than buy the CD, go home, load it into my computer, sync it to the iPod and then have it. That's too much work, guys. Driving in the snow at 12:30 am before the salt trucks were out on I-94 was hard enough. But as I said before, like going to the gym, I'm glad I did it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Which Jeff Beck Album Are You?

I'm getting sick of those Buzzfeed quizzes (which, truth be told, I end up doing anyway: I'm Capt Kirk, I should get stoned with James Franco,  and us girls had a bonding moment when I had to admit that I got Alanis Morisette in the "Which 90s Alt Rock Girl Are You?" quiz.)

 Swingin' with Mark
 Originally uploaded by V'ron.

But lately, I've had a lot of stuff going down in my life and my friends' lives, not to mention (skip this part if you're sick of us whining about the cold) this seemingly endless winter where bundling up and shoveling seems to be a Sisyphean task. When too much crap happens, I find the music of Jeff Beck to be equally soothing and inspring. No lyrics to get in the way to trigger tears or laughs or dregs of irony. Just really good guitar music, played passionately well, and a memory of a perfect evening in Champaign with best friends watching the There and Back tour. So when I decided to drag my butt out the other night (because I knew I really needed some live music instead of another episode of Star Trek TOS) all I could think of while watching the two bands I selected was a potential Buzzfeed quiz entitled "Which Jeff Beck Album Are You?"


He Danced with Every Girl But Me
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Let's start with the Best Westerns, a band I'm ashamed to admit I hadn't seen before. This is especially heinous since my friend and Loblolly drummer Andy Pagel has been with them a while, and he wears this western swing very well with them. (This isn't/wasn't his first western swing band, but its the first time I've seen this incarnation.) They were so fun, and swingy and delightful that you could almost overlook the techincal musical brilliance of the playing. Every song seemed to be punctuated with a mischievous grin, like the kids in the class who were up to something but were slippery enough to get away with whatever it was, feigning ignorance of the rules. But every person in this band had a chance to shine, and it was a standard western band lineup: standup bass wielded with ease by Opry-veteran Mark Hembree, whose laid back charm belied the fact that he's played for presidents; regular and lap steel guitars, violin, keys and a basic drum kit. They turn the saddest, most pathetic country tears into tears of joy:, keyboardist Anna Brinck's  song "He Danced With Every Girl But Me" had me grinning and giggling for a good five minutes, probably because even though she missed a dance with Him, she sang it with a raised eyebrow smile that revealed "I probably should be devastated, but honestly I kinda don't give a hoot."And Pagel finished off the set with an inspired drum solo that sounded like what would happen if Buddy Rich's car broke down in Tupelo and he got stuck playing at a honky tonk where they have "both kinds of music."
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Jeff Beck's Rock n Roll Party Honoring Les Paul"


in a darkly lit jazz room
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
So Pagel sent me and my camera down the street to see "oh, John and Frank Calarco are doing some fusion thing at Dino's." That's all you had to say, dude. I've been a fan of both of them (mostly via Pagel!) but I rarely get to see those bros together. Trudged through the snow, fought my way through the crowd all the way to the back, planted myself in front of the band to wait for the magic. And they delivered. On one hand, you could tell they were making this up as they went along (bass player Andrew Toombs started this set by looking at the rest of the band and humming a funky tune and saying "you know that tune? let's do that" and off they were) and on the other hand, they were so precise and tight you'd have thought they'd rehearsed all month for this set. And if I wasn't already riveted by the swells of tempo and dynamic changes that they fell into each other like a well-worn pair of shoes, three songs into the set and they're covering Radiohead. (I've heard the Danglers do "The National Anthem" too.... is this turning into a prog-jazz staple or something?) Then, they follow up with some more wonderful funk prog/fusion jams, frosted with this keyboardist who's obviously heard of Jan Hammer, and then they put forth their take on that old jazz standard "Jealous Guy" (composer: J. Lennon) that started out melancholy and then triumphantly soared, rendering me joyfully speechless.
Which Jeff Beck Album: Some ultimate Box Set including:
  • John Calarco, drums, would be: "There and Back"
  • Andrew Toombs, keys, would be: "Live with the Jan Hammer Group" (duh!)
  • Frank Calarco, guitar: He would take this quiz twice, and get "Wired" and "Blow by Blow" on separate tries
  • Bryan Doherty, bass, would be: "Rough and Ready"

This week's Bukowski
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Last week was a stressful week and I just couldn't chance that an unknown band wouldn't cut the mustard. I had to go with a sure thing, and regular readers know that Floor Model is permanently on my list of never-disappoint-sure-things. I've written about them enough, but let's just say this week's execution of "Charles Bukowski" and its chorus of "Drink! Fight! Fuck! Write!" was the stiff glass of FML on the rocks I needed at the Circle A. Then I braved the snowy weather to get over to Kochanski's for a comfortable evening of Dr. Chow when the guilt set in. There was Lemonie Fresh, whose new band the Grovelers I had just missed. Worse, I ran into no less a trusted authority on excellent bands than Crazy Rocket Fuel's Ginny Wiskowski who assured me that the Grovelers were very very good. Coupled with the fact that Lemonie Fresh has great garage rock sensibilities, I really regretted missing their debut and they're on my "must see" list. Dr. Chow was terrific as usual: a nice weissbier chaser to the previous hard stuff Floor Model gave me.
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Truth."


Reuben on the keys
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
A couple of weeks earlier, I braved the cold to get out for a rare Trance and Dance Band sighting at Frank's Power Plant. Jerry Fortier's Trance and Dance band was one of the first bands I ever saw in Milwaukee, and their folky, haunting, rambling and hypnotic performances always do put me in a trance. Reuben Fortier is now firmly ensconced in the keyboard seat and I enjoyed weissbier in a can and reconnected with old friends while reconnecting with my Milwaukee musical roots. I still remember the first night I saw them and one of my companions had commented, "They're so good I don't want to tell anybody about them!" One could get easily burnt out on them, though, but a three year break? That's just a little too long for me.
Which Jeff Beck Album: "Emotion and Commotion"

Oh, by the way, I'm probably "Truth" as well. Either that, or "Beck Ola."