Monday, September 07, 2015

Thank you, Kenocore

After hitting "post" on that last (depressing) blog entry, I have to admit, I was depressed about the state of music. I needed something to pick me up, to remind me that there are plenty of artists of all ages that aren't selling out or going batshit crazy or whatever. And as this Labor Day weekend was coming up, I knew there was only one thing I could do.
The Scraps
Take a trip down I-94 for the annual KenoCore Punk Piknik. They've been doing this for at least ten years; the first time I stumbled onto them was back in '07, before Beautiful Bert died. I dropped in last year, too, and was happy to see that the same level of peaceful mayhem was still happening. Since Bert died, Pistofficer's Frank Lefensty has helped keep this community together and growing. I always see events being posted that keep the local punk bands and club going in Kenosha. The Piknik used to be in the city of Kenosha proper, but Kenosha Blue has never been friendly to the punk scene, and rather than bait them, Piknik organizers figured, "oh, fuck this, we'll just find a friendlier local for our music" and found someplace outside of city limits. 

The Wasted
The first year,it was this farm (beset by mosquitos) right across the state line; for the past few years it's at least in Wisconsin, on a nice stretch of property just off I-94. They enforce the law pretty well themselves, thank you, and it's a genuinely family-friendly event that attracts all ages: from 6 month olds to 60 year olds. Folks pitch tents as a respite, most folks bring their own food and drink but there's a fire pit raging all day with local corn. Truly not a scene most mainstream folk would associate with the phrase "hardcore punk." It's a free event (I kept looking for a donation bucket or something -- getting a sound mix, not to mention port-o-lets isn't free) and open to anybody who's willing to follow the rules: no fighting, no excessive drinking (by the time I arrived, somebody had already been kicked out and there was an announcement over the PA looking for that somebody's friends), no underage drinking, and if there was any weed being smoked I sure as heck didn't smell it. 

I'm getting too old (and with too many other obligations) to do a full 10 hours of hardcore, but I do like to stop in and check out the scene. I got there much too early for perennial favorites Pistofficer, but I caught five bands that made me smile to myself, knowing that tight, aggro, thrashing hardcore punk will never die. It was like trash fest in that each band got a short set (there looked to be over 20 bands on the day's bill -- you'd have to keep it to 20 minutes plus maybe 10 to set up. All used the same amps and drum kits). The five:

The Blue Collar Brawlers
The Scraps: older, seemingly seasoned pros for whom a complicated rhythm bit isn't out of the question. Lead singer with cookie monster vocals, tight rhythm section. 

The Wasted: Classic fucked up angry and, of course, wasted punk. Lead singer is impossibly tall, and the bigger the are, the more spectacularly they fall, but this guy didn't miss a beat, even when bloodied by a mike getting shoved in his face while mashing. 

The Blue Collar Brawlers: Of course Milwaukee gets represented by a band whit "blue collar" in their name. Also nice to see some female representation. If you think there's not a lot of women in rock (even in proportion to the rock-listening population), there's even fewer in punk, and even fewer in hardcore punk. And rest assured, there's plenty of women who are into punk, if the attendance at the Piknik is any indication. 

Anyway, the Brawlers have some good songs: pointed lyrics, and even a variety of melody and rhythm. I think they need to get a few more shows under their belt and then they'll build the following that will know and recognize their songs. They should fill an active mosh pit in no time. I'd like to check them out in our hometown. 

Rechid: Now here's a Milwaukee band that's been around for some time, and I'm embarrassed to say this was my first exposure to them. Lead singer/bass player come out looking like Alex deLarge without the codpiece but just as menacing. This band gets old school hardcore despite their seemingly youthful appearance. They even throw in a bit of ska, but just a bit. Lots of jumping around, a voice you can understand, guitar playing a bit more complex. Unfortunately, that's kind of a guess on my part. 

The afternoon was plagued by something wrong in the guitar channel that resulted in way too much constant high end feedback. At first, I thought it was the Wasted being obnoxious, but all the bands I saw seemed to have suffered from it, so I'm guessing it was a crappy patch cord somewhere. Nevertheless, I'm glad I keep high end filters in my purse. They play a lot of shows with the Blue Collar Brawlers, so it will probably be easy to catch them on a night where I'll be able to hear them all. 

Wake Up
Wake Up: I'm glad I stuck around for just one more band, and Kenosha's Wake Up fit the bill of snotty loud sonsofbitches I love about hardcore. Despite the t-shirts, they looked more like hippies, or anthropology majors, but they sounded like they belonged here, and they have quite a fan base. I took another lap around the grounds before I left: impossibly skinny guys slam dancing, tattoos you'd never expect from this crowd, kids getting their t-shirts autographed, couples chilling out, indeed the Punk Piknik was everything I needed to feel good again. Punk was the protest music of my youth, and it just makes me as happy as a little girl to see it pulsing just as strong. I climbed into my car and headed back north, ready to go back to work in two days, glad to know somebody picked up the torch. Thank you, Kenocore. 

Friday, September 04, 2015

Kill Yr Idols

Well, let's get this out of the way: The Grovelers were promised to be an excellent opener for the free X show at Sprecherfest last Friday and they delivered the goods. The very goods. It's not like they're normally not on fire for a show anyway, but when you're opening for legends, that's going to pour a little more gasoline on things.  Rain didn't put this fire out, that's for sure: and maybe because they were opening for X, they pulled out their psychobilly roots and put them on display: the whole set felt very Cramps-like, like what if the Cramps were from North of the Mason-Dixon line, and what if they were Catholic instead of protestant, and what if the psycho part of their influences was psychedelic? Oh, and their version of "Do The Hammerlock" (which is getting to be sort of a Milwaukee standard on par with covering a Violent Femmes tune or even Mustang Sally at Summeriest) got people to close their umbrellas  and bring out their inner Crusher. They all stepped up to the task, and the albatross of opening for X seemed to float off their backs by the fourth or fifth song. The set got cut a little short, because the promoters saw more rain coming, and they wanted to get the LA team on stage before the rain might have even ruined things more.

This will have been my third X show. First time I saw them was at the Park West in Chicago, for the "Under the Big Black Sun" tour. They were loaded with energy and I spent a lot of time getting jostled in the mosh pit (I honestly can't remember what we called that then, I think it was just "getting tossed by the slam dancers"). We were all basking in the glow of young greatness. Then, about 10 years ago I saw them at the Rave on this reunion tour and I'm sorry to say the glow had faded. I'd written that it seemed Exene was phoning it in, but learned later that she'd been diagnosed with MS, and that might have explained things. This past Friday, though, they seemed to find their spark again, and put on a blisteringly solid show, despite the absence of Billy Zoom on guitar. Standing in for him was Jesse Dayton, who thankfully didn't hold back with some kind of false "I won't try to be Billy so I'm just going to be humble" bullshit. No, he didn't try to fill Zoom's shoes: he wore his own and he fucking rocked with X.

OK, if you love X as much as I did, and you particularly worship Exene (as I used to), you'd better stop reading now because I'm going to bum you out. If I were evaluating the band solely on the musicianship and the songwriting, yes, they were great. Yes, they fucking rocked. But I didn't have a good time. There was a nagging question weighing me down like that albatross that flew off of The Grovelers and landed on my back, and that question is this:

What kind of a bitch compounds the profound grief of a family who's lost their son in a horrible mass shooting by accusing the parent of faking the entire incident just to supposedly advance a political point of strengthening gun control?

Answer: the lead singer of the band I just wrote a glowing review for.

Normally, I can separate the artist from the art. God knows there's a lot of artists whose political views I disagree with. (And there's plenty, I don't even bother because both are wastes of time -- case in point, Ted Nugent). But I enjoy the films of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis, both Republicans. And the Ramones were a mixed bag. And Alice Cooper's stuff is legendary. But here's the thing: they didn't get personal about it. They didn't single out specific people and hurt them. They don't lob personal insults that detract from the issue at hand. They are all simply fellow Americans with whom I disagree about the best way to solve this nation's problems.

Now, we are all aware that Exene's life has had its rough spots. And I know plenty of people who have stories about her drunken incoherence sometimes. And having MS (or maybe not) will take its toll on a soul. And there's a lot of stuff out there that indicates that, well, she may be just batshit crazy. Even when I interviewed her after that Park West show in '83, I came away thinking that maybe she wasn't the brightest bulb in the marquee, but god she had charisma and could write killer rock and roll songs. But while I can laugh at her when she goes all truther conspiracy theory on us, or sigh "oh really" when she gets all anti-vaxxer, (just that morning I'd taken my 12 year son for his painful tetanus booster shot) and even "Oh for cryin' out loud, first Moe Tucker and now this" when she gets all pro-gun bumperstickery and repeats "An armed society is a polite society" it gets a little hard to laugh or even feel sorry when she gets personal. When you accuse a grieving father of faking it, or accuse the parents of the Sandy Hook children of being privy to a conspiracy, you are now in Ann Coulter territory. Fuck that, bitch. And sorry, but your
"apology" doesn't fly. You're only sorry you used the word "hoax" and now you're shocked --  shocked -- that it generated such a negative response. What the hell did you expect, Exene?

Then again, it's not like we ever looked to X for political commentary. That's what the Dead Kennedys were for. No, X, was a band that was more about raw emotion, and they were great at it. She and John Doe opened up their relationship to the world, with its ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster ride that it was. But you can't decide critical public policy based on emotion alone. And that's what her recent politics are based on: emotional reactions not based in fact. Consider her tweet about Obama: basing her opinion on her perception of his appearance and perception of Executive Orders.  Seriously, let me Google that for you: Obama's use of executive orders is less frequent than any 20th or 21st  century president. And you don't like his robotic eyes? Oh, that's a basis for sound public policy. I guess I shouldn't be surpreised. Again, her core competency has always  been expression of emotion, but that's inappropriate here.

So I woke up the day after, contemplating that feeling of letdown when you learn that an artist you admire is kind of batshit crazy, and I log onto the internet, and there's Chrissie Hynde: animal right activist, witness to the Kent State shootings (Hey, Exene, s'pose that was a hoax, too?) and rape apologist. "If I'm walking around drunk and in my underwear, who else's fault can it be?" Um, I don't care how vulnerable the victim is. The vulnerability of the victim is not the issue. The rapist committed the crime. IT'S THE RAPIST'S FAULT. DUH. Rape seems to be the only crime where it's acceptable to blame the victim. Hynde also tries to make a differentiation between the man-in-the-bushes kind of assault and the girl at a party who's in a vulnerable situation, the ol "Well what were you thinking going to a party with men there dressed like that" excuse. They're both rape, not to mention those rapes lots of people write off: marital rape, date rape, etc. Hynde defends her comments by saying there's worse issues in the world (she points to the refugee crisis) and why are we even worried about her asinine comments? Because I will submit that rape is ALSO one of the biggest humanitarian crises in this world, and if we're still having trouble in the United States getting people to understand that its not the victim's fault, dammit, we're a long way to solving the problem worldwide.

But here's the thing. Musically, I thought those first two Pretenders albums were great, and I thought Chrissie was a badass, but she kind of lost me after those albums, and after her hijinks.  And while I though she was cool, this didn't break my heart. No, it just pissed me off.

Now let's open up this institutional sized can of worms now. Because Chrissie Hynde wasn't the one that made me want to pick up a guitar and play rock and roll, and understand that women/girls want to ROCK. No, that would be Joan Jett.

Joan Jett. Feminist. Spirtual mother of the Riot Grrrls, and producer of half the albums put out by them. Intrepreter of rock and roll standards, including "You Don't Own Me" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." Author of the Number One Badass Chick Anthem "Bad Reputation" and co-author of its predecessor, "Cherry Bomb." And a couple of months back, a story broke that she stood by and did nothing while her bandmate was being publicly and violently raped by Kim Fowley.  Ugh. Of all the women working rock and roll, Joan Jett did this? Say it ain't so, Joan!

Well, she did say it wasn't so. She denied remembering being there. She and Cherie Currie denied being there when interviewed for the story. God, we didn't know what to think of this. And of all the people I just wrote about today, I have to admit, she's the one I'm most willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Maybe it's because she's the one who influenced me the most. Maybe it's because she's since done (and continues to do) the most for women artists in general. But maybe, it's because there's a possibility she's telling the truth. Let's face it, she was 15 at the time. And she was in a scene where there was plenty of alcohol and drugs going. It's entirely possible she genuinely doesn't remember being there because she was fucked up. And as badass and tough as she wants to be seen as (and I'd like to be seen as), if I'd witnessed something so fucked up at that age, I can't say I wouldn't do everything to block it out of my mind and tell myself it didn't happen, and tell myself enough times that I finally believed it. And remember, who was the rapist? Was it Joan? No, it was Joan's employer, Kim Fowley. It was the person who held the keys to 15-year-old Joan's career. It was a person in Joan's life who was older and physically stronger than her. It was a person skilled at emotional manipulation, and used it to turn bandmates and friends against each other.  Who had the power in this relationship? It sure as hell wasn't Joan, or Cherie, or the victim, Jackie Fuchs.   Let's not forget that it wasn't Joan or Cherie who raped Jackie. Let's put the blame squarely where it belongs, Chrissie, despite the fact that Jackie was dressed a little more revealingly than a Duggar Wife, that she'd been drugged before she was assautled. Jackie was raped. Jackie was a victim, and her bandmates were victims of a different sort too. KIM FOWLEY WAS the RAPIST. The end.

But the whole thing hammers home that our artistic idols cannot be held as human idols, or at least not all the time. The challenge comes in seperating the artist from the art: and if that's possible or even appropriate. I'm struggling with this. I'm even considering that my headline for this post is ripped from a Sonic Youth album, you know, that band whose guitarist cheated on his wife of a couple of dozen years (and a perennial nominee for Coolest Girl In Rock) in a mid-life crisis for a younger, cuter thing.  But I always thought Thuston Moore was a pretentious blowhard anyway. So, yeah. Kill yr idols.

Trash Fest, like Christmas, came early this year

This thing will outlast nuclear holocaust.
I’m told that the Testa Rosa CD release show at Shank Hall last Saturday night was (unsurprisingly) transcendant. I’ve heard enough of the new recording to know that between the fact that the band is comprised of some of the best players in town, and fronted by the beautifully clear voice of Betty Blexrud-Strigens (comparaisons to Karen Carpenter are apt), the whole night was probably dripping with elegance and beautiful music. Especially worth noting is that this CD took over a year to produce (and who can expect more? Blexrud-Strigens had a Patti Smith tribute show to curate!) and it sounds like that level of care went into it.  If my FB feed is any indication, all the cool and classy people in town were there.

However, nobody ever accused me of being part of the cool and classy crowd. And to prove it, I wasn’t there.

Duh, I was at Trash Fest.

I missed the start of last year’s Trash Fest, and for the first time in memory, the perennial Nervous Virgins weren’t the opening act. (Maybe they were at Testa Rosa that night). Instead , we got a pile ‘o’ Jorins giving us their take on Jesus Christ Superstar, which I admit was was skeptical of. I still have Steven Christ Superstar in my memory from the early 90s, with Steve Whalen belting out “Heaven in Their Minds” over that that guitar line that nobody denies kicks ass. But not to worry. You haven’t heard the JCS overture until you’ve heard it on accordion, courtesy of Tyler Christ Superstar, with Judas Iscariot Priest singing the lead, and a motley crew of whoever they could get wondering what the buzz was and when DO they ride into Jerusalem? Before a pie in Jesus Ted’s face ended the set, Voot Warnings sidled over to me (wait wait wait! There was a VOOT SIGHTING AT TRASHFEST!) and asked me “So…. Best Trash Fest opener EVER?” I’m reluctant to be that absolute, but I’ll put it in the top five, for sure.

Soon afterwards, a couple  of geeky science guys in  Fermilab-issued white lab coats and safety lenses, accompanied by a drummer who looked like he was their financial sponsor approached the stage and proceeded to set up their experiment. Their hypothesis was explained thusly: That, if one were to strip out synthesizers from 80s NuWave (and, frankly, mainstream) hits, one would realize that these songs actually were great songs, and further, that they rocked. And, the proceeded to prove it by running through Tainted Love and even slipping in a 70s Roxy Music tune. The audienc reaction would confirm the hypothesis.  I’m concerned, however, that I did not see any IRB approval documentation in the research venue, and further, that we as the test subjects had not been offered the opportunity to give informed consent to participate in the research. Perhaps the Principal Investigators had obtained an exemption based on expedited review, but I’m skeptical. However, as best as I could tell, none of the research subjects sustained any kind of physical or  psychological damage, and, they proved their hypothesis. On to the next act.

Which turned out to be Gil Massen and the Rockabilly Douches, and they were pretty darn douchey.
They bothered to actually lug in a standup bass (what's a rockabilly band without a standup bass), all their songs were I-IV-Vs (what's a rockabilly song if its chord progression is anything else), all they lyrics were about how they play rockabilly ("We're rockabilly! Rockabilly!") and they were all in the same key: "Hope you like rockabilly 'cos this one's in A!"

We had a really uncomfortable wait for the next band. It seems like somebody didn't show up. Oh, gee, that never happens at TrashFest. To the rescue were a lovely group of people who handed out what appeared to be flyers but then we realized they were BINGO cards! Hoo! A trashy game of Bingo! With prizes and everything! The prizes were bite sized Snickers bars and Mexican wrestling masks (not real ones, just paper party ones, but still...) Bingo! Prizes!

This gave time for the Yacht Core ship to come into port. Paul Setser gave us a feel for what awaited us, with a stirring version of "Feelings," accompanied by Desmond Bone (not sure if that was planned or not) and then accompanied by Mike "I can read Walker quotes with a straight face" Nelson (pretty sure that wasn't planned), but everybody has "Feelings." (Wait wait wait: 30 years of Trash Fest and this is the first time anybody's done "Feelings"? How did we miss this?)_ Then the rest of the band floated onstage, including these two bearded women, one of whom was drinking champaigne out of a hot water bag, both of whom lovingly mellowed us out with "Margaritaville" and "Love Will Keep Us Together" and other shit you'd expect to hear on Judge Smalls' yacht. At first I though it was called Yacht Porn, and that would have been just as appropriate.

Then it was time for some wholesome family entertainment, as children's chanteuse Marlavous Marla
and her puppet friends took the stage and led us in childhood classics like "The Wheels on the Bus." Seriously. They did this straight up. And the crowd had enough liquor in them to reduce the collective intellect to the level of a classroom full of K-4 kids on the first day of school. So of course, we all loved it. You know what I love even more? The fact that this isn't just a Trash Fest act. This is a real gig for Marlavous: she makes good money doing this on the children's stage at Summerfest. God, I love Milwaukee.

Then what's starting to become a perenial act at TrashFest -- Cheese of the Goat oozed onto the stage. They're  this cross between GWAR, Frankie Yankovic, and the cast of Zombieland. And that damn accordion from earlier in the evening is back. Well, it had to be: these guys were playing death metal polka with cookie monster vocals.

This year, the requisite noise band was last instead of first, and Hideous Replica did their job: they pretty much drove everybody out of the place. I'm not a fan of noise bands to begin with, but these guys really were perffect for Trash Fest in that they were completely devoid of melody, rhythm, lycial content, or anything even approaching a "pleasing" (or even a n arresting) aesthetic. I just want to know if they were a replica of something, what the hell was the original? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Waking up, not Chilling, on the Hill

I've seen a lot of great music over this past year, but anybody who follows me knows I haven't been writing. Partially because half the great music I've gone to see has been tried-and-true bands -- acts I've seen (and written about) over and over and writing about them again would get, well, redundant. You already know that I love Floor Model and Voot Warnings and the Northside Creeps and, well.... Chief and the Hullmen.

But I haven't been writing also because, this having a teenage daughter, adolescent son, and a lot going on (car repairs house repairs body repairs) is getting in the way. Sometimes I have this choice: do I sit down and write (a blog post, or a song, or even more than a pithy twitter post) or do I just watch this episode of Star Trek (TOS) I've seen a hundred times already. And lately, I've been choosing the latter, despite the fact that there's some really good band like the Grovelers at the Circle A right when Mr Spock is walking in on Kirk seducing some space alien.

But, the kid likes to go to Chill on the Hll, and there's always a good band there. Thing is, while I won't ever deny that the lineup is always top notch, I will have to admit that the lineup is usually safe. It has to be. It's in the middle of a neighborhood that's trying to maintain a family friendly, urban (and let's not forget somewhat hipster) feel to it. And they're a hellava lot more edgy than Summerfest, that's for sure, but they have an extremly wide swath to cut in terms of selecting bands that are going to be crowd pleasers. They manage with some good themes (last week was a sort of country/Americana thing going, the week before was "Kids Night.")

But I'll admit it, I've been lazy. I need somebody to wake my ass up. Enter the Size 5s. They played in the middle of a lineup between the Hullmen (another favorite band that tuned in a nice set at Kochanski's earlier this summer) and Chief (who's been away too long), and when I say "in the middle" I mean that literally. I heard music, but saw nobody on the stage. Well, that was because they set up about halfway up the hill, right behind the soundboard, and we were ready for some punk, people. It was jarring, like a good punk band should be -- again, this was literal: this was how you noticed that there's a bit of delay between what's going into the PA and when it comes out. After a couple of songs, everybody except lead singer Juan Avilos made their way to the stage, where he eventually joined them for the rest of their anthemic punk set that had some elements of ska floating in and out of it. Finally, a new band I wasn't aware of before that made me actually want to take some pictures and write about them.

Weather wise, it was crappy out, and I'm hoping that's why the crowd was thinner than usual. In fact, the return of Chief to a big stage (which is where their balls-out rawk belongs) had to be cut short because of the severe thunderstorms that were rolling in, despite a newer tune called Sky Killer. I really hope that the Chill folks take into account that the threat of rain, and the overall dreariness contributed to the smaller attendance, and not the harder, heavier, wake your ass up nature of the musical offerings. Frankly, having Chief and the Hullmen on the bill was why I risked getting caught in a storm, and the happy suprise of The Size 5s made me glad I did. It was good to see, as Chief advertised it, the "Thrill on the Hill" and seeing bands the rocked out in three great ways. C'mon Chill organizers, let's see more of this!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Alma is back -- and so am I

Ugh. I should call *this* blog "This time for sure, Rocky!" (which is what  I call my other blog, simply because this will be the umpteenth time I've  tried to fire it up again and begin with "well, it's been a long time since I've written...." )but I probably need to accept that enough in my life has changed such that this isn't going to be exclusively about my going out and rating pre-buzz bands and seeing basketball games and such. So having said that, I'm just going to write blog entries (people, it's 2015 -- a blog post isn't a whole "blog" -- it's simply a post, so quit calling it a "blog") and do what the original terminology of a "blog"was suppoed to be: a web-based log of a persons life/activities/etc. So this will be a long blog post, and I promise that later ones won't necessarily be, but I have a lot to get out of my head over a couple of days.

So just this weekend, I braved the cold and took a trip to Champaign, IL, ostensibly to take Sammy to a Tae Kwon Do tournament in Bloomington, but really to just get in a visit with Cynthia and Ernie and their family -- friends of mine that I actually got closer to many years after I knew them IRL during our undergrad years at the University of Illinois.  Yes, I do love watching my buddy do his TKD, and I'm perfectly willing to drive him a few hours to compete, but I can't say I would have jumped so easily into the car on a sub-zero day for four hours through Chicago traffic without the added bonus of arriving at the warm home of friends.

And I almost always do a drive-by of campus, simply because I will forever associate good feelings with that part of the world: where I met people I know and love to this day, where I finally found--  and started to feel good about--myself, and where, as I tell my kids and  anybody else who cares to understand what I mean by this, where I learned to read. Really read.  Europeans often refer to where they went to postsecondary school not as "I went to Oxford" but as "I read physics at Cambridge" or "I read poetry at the Sorbonne" -- well, I read English Literature at UIUC. Sammy wanted to climb on the Alma Mater statue like he did the first time we came here, and I was happy to oblige. Alma has returned -- she was out for the past year or so  for repairs, and now she's back and ready for another fifty years worth of oxidation.

And yeah, I know it's been 30 years, and I should expect change. But it's kind of depressing that Green Street -- the main drag of Campustown, is more loaded with chain stores than locally-based joints. Even the Illini Union -- which used to  play host to a basic cafeteria  (on Fridays, they featured a clam chowder that -- legend had it -- the cook would chase everybody out of the kitchen while she prepared it so that nobody would be privy to her secret recipe) is just a food court of corporate rented stalls of Jamba Juice, Einstein Bagels, and others. I'm sure there's some clam chowder once in awhile, but not the stuff we lined  up for.  Fellow alumni -- the Co-Ed Theater is gone. So is Mabel's. So is that gnarly little drugstore where we used to be able to cash checks when the Union was closed. Garcia's Pizza in a Pan and Papa Del's have lost their prime campus real estate across from the quad (both are a fair schlep from campus). The Deluxe Lunch and Billiards -- once heralded as a top spot in the midwest to shoot pool, and the Friday fish fry has never been equaled -- is long gone, replaced by some damn sports bar. And to add insult to injury, one of the few places that has survived is Kam's -- that fetid frat boy dive where roofies were probably developed, and of which ObiWan probably once observed, "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."  But I'm not bitching about losing my memories. I'm more bitching about losing -- and this is happening on campuses and towns and etc across the country --  any kind of local (literal) flavor. When I eat out out of town -- I want to get something I can't get anywhere else and that you make better than anybody else. I want to listen to music on a radio station that I'm not hearing in other cities. I expect change -- but I was hoping to see more uniqueness. At least I can still drive a hundred miles north and get an Aurelio's pizza.

But on the bright side, besides just being wonderful people who are always loaded with good conversation, Cynthia and Ernie are consummate hosts. Cynthia is one of those cooks who can open the cabinets and say, "Hmmm, I've got some corn, and Ernie's bringing home a smoked chicken, and here's some lettuce and olives and some dressing for a salad and there's some noodles I can toss with some sesame oil, peppers and soy" and voila! Martha Stewart-worthy meal! I might be mixing up the meals; the next night featured oven-fried thighs with some curry infested crust ("but I didn't have as much curry powder on hand as I thought so I just made do....") and other stuff. Plus a couple of other delightful guests who seemed to be as comfortable with me as I was with them. As in, instantly.

But there's a time when I need to go down for something other than a TKD tournament -- and that's for one of their House Concerts. There's a wonderful little scene of people littered across the country who host House Concerts -- musicians who don't necessarily draw hundreds of people, but can fill a moderately-sized living room and fit in perfectly with a preceding potluck and subsequent housefull of  guests who just love music and conversation.The artists are usually the kind who would play places like the Circle A or maybe Frank's Power Plant -- except because of the neighborhood nature -- maybe not the louder hardcore bands that the Circle A sometimes gets. It's usually the singer-songwriter types, the ones that are excellent (musical) storytellers, but I wouldn't say they're all folksingers.
It was looking at all the posters for the shows they had in the media room that made me remember that I *did* see some excellent obscure music in the past several months, which I'll run down now:
Jeff Kerr reading his stories
Jeff Kerr & The Hard Ballad Medicine Show (featuring Jason Wietlispach and Joshua Lesniak) opened for Aluminum Knot Eye the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I knew nothing about Kerr, who describes himself as a "Man O' Letters" -- but learned he writes poetry and prose from deep in the heart of Appalachia. His delivery has an almost storefront baptist church feel to it -- he clutches his small-press book of words as though it were his bible, but there's nothing Godly in those stories of alcohol, being dirt fucking poor, but feeling, feeling like salvation is just around the corner, just out of his grasp. He's like a June-less Johnny Cash. His backing band is a bass player with six bazillion floorpedals with which he squeezes equal parts horror and beauty out of electronic notes that shouldn't work with this setup, but do. His drummer keeps time, but not in a traditional  drummer's sense: rather, this guy speeds  up and slows down in rhythm to the story, using any number of things to produce a sound besides sticks,& drumheads. To say the whole thing was riveting and intense was an understatement. I needed the relief of Aluminum Knot Eye afterwards to bring me back to Milwaukee after this unexpected darkness of South Carolina. Although, AKE was kind of in a Gang of Four mood that night-- dissonant (duh, this is AKE after all), hard hitting, and ultimately satisfying. I left the Circle A with plenty to be thankful about.
The Grovelers at Kochanski's: Finally, finally, finally got out to see this band, and I'm glad I did. Lemonie Fressh is the bass  player here, and she's been in a pile of good bands,but sometimes it takes a while to find the right band for the right player, and this is it. Her melodic but psychedelic  style and sensibilities are exactly the right fit for this band, and this is the right band for her: this really neat combination of garage trash and Americana (I don't want to call it country, but maybe it is), played by people who have also heard of Devo and the Residents. They're set for a triple bill with Couch Flambeau and Go Go Slow (another  band that's on my "why haven't I seen them yet?" list) later this month. I can't wait. 
So, I went to Riot Fest last September with Stella, and that probably would have warranted its own entry, but frankly, you don't need to hear from me how transcendant Tom Verlaine and Television were, how nice it was to finally see Patti Smith in the flesh, how fun it was to be rolled over by Wayne Coyne's big plastic bubble during the Flaming Lips, how fun it was to hear Cheap Trick, and how great the pile of hardcore bands were. (and how joyous it was to see a happy Stella not only see the Descendants, but to meet the guitarist and get an autograph on her hand!) No, you want to hear from me about the guys who got shoved at 11 am on the side stages were. So, when they come through town, go support the following: Kurt Vile: who was this combination of twangy, southern, psychdelic stoner rock. Nolstaghia: this duo of women who are picking up Kate Bush's baton with an upright electric cello and the drama such a comparaison demands. And finally,  the Grizzled Mighty who woke my ass up on a Sunday morning. You're going to compare them instantly to the White Stripes because they have a mindblowing guitarist (who probably listened to a lot more of the MC5 than Jack White did) and a female drummer. 

The Grizzled Mighty
Except, comparing Lupe Flores to Meg White is like comparing M'Shelle Ndegeocello to Kim Deal. Seriously -- when people talk about "female bass players, oh Kim Deal!" I want to scream, "NO! There are women who can actually play the damn bass!"Same thing here. "Oh, women drummers! Meg White!" I want to shake my head. No, there are women who can seriously play the fucking drums and Lupe Flores plays the living shit out of them. Barefoot. She and her partner in crime, Ryan Granger came barreling into Chicagoland despite car troubles and forgetting their merch (else I would have  bought it all up) and getting maybe two hours of sleep and they took it out on their instruments with heavyness that overwhelmed the tiny stage they were relegated to. I'll be back, that's for sure. And not just to see bands. Alma is back and so am I!