A chilly night for surf

It's a Tuesday night on the South Side of Milwaukee, which means Sammy wants to go to Humboldt Park because his friends will likely be there, and he doesn't like to miss a chance to connect with them. I'm not so enthused; its a Tuesday night, it's a work night, and I have meetings early Wednesday morning. I'm surfing around FB and I see the post for one of the bands that's going to be there, and they're releasing a new CD, and here's the cut and.... ohmygod they're a surf band. Plus, ever since that cold front came through last week the weather has been chilly, but perfect for listening to outdoor music.

So, alright Sammy, grab some gatorade and put on your shoes, we're going to Humboldt Park for Chill on the Hill. Just this last Monday night, the guy who invented surf, Dick Dale, was at Shank Hall, and by all accounts, he still delivers. The ticket was a little too rich for me, and I've seen him a few times and if you haven't, try not to miss him when he comes through again, because frankly, we're not sure how many years the old man has left. But still, hearing about this made me year for some live takes on one of my favorite genres of music, so I drank a Mountain Dew and headed out to Bay View.

Chill on the Hill has now taken to pretty much having three bands on a night, rather than two, consistently. Still, my schedule never allows me to get there in time to see much of the first band. Last week, for example (on "Kids' night"), I missed a terrific young woman singing lead for a band called Slimabean -- powerful voice and good tight songs. All two of them that I heard, because i got there at 6:25. She was followed by a tight jazz combo from the Milwaukee Youth Sympony Orchestra, who demonstrated some fine jazz chops (and good selection of covers, even daring to take on Miles Davis with "So What"). That night ended with a funky groove of kids from Ronald Reagan High School's music program called Colors of the Alphabet, who gave us a survey of funk from old school to hip house  to hip hop and back to jazz fusion again.

But last Tuesday, not getting there precisely at 6:00 didn't stop me from at least hearing the first band, Hi/Jack, because the radio in my car defaults to WMSE, and they were broadcasting their Local/Live segment not from the studio, but directly from Humboldt Park. So, instead of listening to me bitch about the weird sound mix on the hill (the hill is shaped such that you could stand in ten different places only five feet from each other and hear ten different mixes), Sammy got to hear the first band in the car. I got there just in time to actually see that they were a drums-and-guitar combo, but with a singer that had a good, forceful and throaty growl (think: what if Eddie Vedder ate red meat?). Either nobody noticed that he had a lot to say lyrically about the state of national affairs these days, or being Bay View, either agreed with him or didn't care. Good heavy drumming, too. But I'm getting sick of these guitar-and-drum combos that look like they were slapped together so they could play the Renegade stage at Summerfest. The Chill stage (and audience) calls for a full band, and these guys need some more bottom to balance out that voice and punctuate those lyrics. So, Hi/Jack, I like you a lot but hire a bass player. You'll be glad you did.

Next up, the aforementioned surf band whose single convinced me to stop being lazy and put on some shoes, the Revomatics.

 They're another band that's been around awhile and given my love of surf, it's criminal that I haven't seen them yet. Every surf band takes a slightly different tack to approach instrumental surf: Dick Satan goes with that mid century playboy sound (with a little 60s Sci Fi providing the danger), the Exotics go full-on Ventures, the Alewives were  planted firmly in the midwestern trash alley watching monster movies on Channel 36. The Revomatics move it up a decade, and paint their surf with some songs that sound like they could be used as soundtracks for Quinn-Martin Productions. In fact, the started their set with menacing building feedback and effects that wouldn't be out of place opening one of Clint Eastwood's early 70s directorial efforts, but quickly crashed out of San Francisco and down to the SoCal beach where they belong.

They don't wear matching suits like their 60s brethren, naw, they just throw on jeans and T-Shirts and get down to the business of getting in trouble. Halfway through the set, they introduced the song I heard on FB by telling the story of its name: "Lee Marvin." It was born of a road argument (when a band's on the road, you argue about stupid stuff to pass the time) about who was the coolest guy in The Dirty Dozen, and naturally Major Reisman won. I gotta hope Charles Bronson came in a close second, because I want the Revomatics to write the soundtrack for this theoretical movie.
The Invaders

Speaking of bands that have been around a while that I haven't seen, up come the Invaders.
I would bet half the Chill audience hadn't even been born yet when the Invaders first started out, and certainly not when Ska/TwinTone music was all over the place when I was in college. I take that back. I'm certain I've seen them before, even before I moved to Milwaukee, because they don't just play Milwaukee, I consider them a regional act and they've been on the bill for plenty of 2-Tone shows that I've been to. And they haven't skipped a syncopated beat in the at least quarter of a century they've been around. They play the classics (English Beat, Specials, Selector covers), they take on Beatles with a ska/reggae twist, they sing a happy Birthday tune, they've got a stack of infectious originals, and they never seem
to run out of energy. As such, I think I've taken them for granted, and fortunately, the rest of Milwaukee does not. When you've played together this long, the fact that you're tight and together looks easy, and since they can probably do this in their sleep, they can have fun doing it, and that fun transfers to the audience. I needed to cut out a little early (remember, I had that early work meeting the next day), but thanks to WMSE, I didn't miss the end of the set 'cos it was in the car. Thanks goodness for WMSE. I guess the Invaders aren't the only thing about Milwaukee I take for granted.


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