It's not Center Street Daze without.....

Frank, at his last emcee performance
Like a lot of people, I often worry that really good things end up getting tainted simply by growth and expansion. (Gentrification of neighborhoods is a good example, underground bands getting signed by a major label is another.) Then I have to accept that growth and expansion is a natural progression of anything that's good, and change is inevitable. At least on Center Street, and the annual Center Street Daze, for better or for worse, change comes, but at least that change comes slowly. It's still the younger, less organized hip little sister to the now-mainstream Locust Street, though.

Miss Amber overseeing the festivities
Consider that ten years after I whined that there were no band schedules, there still aren't. Oh, Center Street Daze has a web page and all, and the actually listed the bands on said page, but not with any kind of times so you could plan out your day. That actually worked to an advantage, because then you're forced to just wander about and catch music on the fly and be exposed to stuff you normally wouldn't have seen because you'd already planned that you were going to see Klaus Nomi's Homies at 530 and Voot at.... hey, where's Voot?  Voot moved back in town, but he's not listed on any of the stages. What the heck? I'm all for change and growth and stuff, but this just isn't right. It's Center Street Daze, and sure as there's an Art Cart Race, Voot should be playing. And he was...but off Center at the Bremen Cafe.

The ultimate speed winners
But let's start, as the festival does, with the Art Cart Races, and the judges' stand is still that beat up old pickup truck with the same 60's style aluminum folding chairs. This year's entries really stood out for the three things our panel of judges rate on: speed, creativity, and gumption. Speed: as in beating everybody else out, which these winners did (helped by the water balloons they lobbed at their final opponents). Gumption: as in the attempts by this team dressed as bananas to sabotage their opponents by throwing banana peels out onto the track, only to have this "strategy" boomerang back to them. Yes, that's right: they wiped out on their own banana peels. But as for creativity, everybody knew who the winner was going to be before
the kid in a rare moment of non-obliviousness
the race even started: it was the dad pushing a kid who was completely immersed in his video games, complete with junk food scattered all over the floor, empty soda cans, cheetos, leftover delivered pizza, cap backwards on his head, and glassy-eyed stare at the monitor the whole time. Seriously, this kid never broke character.  Not when everybody else was chilling between heats, not when lined up to start, well, maybe he cracked a smile when awarded his trophy. It was a great race, with a bittersweet overtone: this would be Frank Chandek's last year as emcee, and his wife Amber's last year as judge.  The two Riverwest stalwarts are leaving these lands for different shores, and it's pretty much agreed upon that Riverwest won't be the same without them. At least Brianna Fleury will still be around to referee. 

Start your day off right with the Hullmen
Onto the music. The Hullmen were the perfect band to lead things off. They have roots in punk but they're a garage band, through and through. Last time I saw them was aboard the Vista King, and they were paired with the Grovelers, but honestly, they really shine on what turned out to be a "punk" stage. Duh, of course, it was in the shadow of Quarters, and I knew that if the freaking Hullmen were the first band, this stage was going to be the place to be a good portion of the day.

One of the Size 5s
I already knew the Size 5s would be on next, so I took a quick lap around the fest while bands changed gear at Quarters.  The Voo Doo Honey Marching Band was still making the rounds after awkwardly interrupting the Cart Race Trophy ceremony, and I passed a rather pleasant country-fied duo called Derek Pretzel and the Gamble over at the Uptowner stage, but I wanted to get back to Quarters to see the Size 5s.  You'd never know these guys have been been around as long as they have, given the number of people saying "Who ARE these guys? They're GREAT." I'll admit, I hadn't heard of them since before they woke my ass up at  Chill on the Hill two summers back ("These guys were at Chill?" an amazed Rob McCuen asked me) but they're gloriously funny, tight, raucous, and animated: everything I love about punk. They make covers of Modern English's "I Melt With You" and "Theme From Laverne and Shirley" sound like (as McCuen noted) "Sonic Reducer." Frontman Juan Avalos engages his audience both on and off the stage (well, the stage is the street, so we're all in this together anyway).  They, along with the Hullmen, are on my "don't miss" list.

Silas
Another lap through the fest, this time on the west side, brought me to Company Brewing, and a friend of my daughter's was playing a solo set on the stage. His name was Silas, and it honestly took me a while to get into what he was about. He had this one song where he played alternately-tuned chords through a variety of effects, and vocalized (no words, just vocals) above them, and that's what drew me in. This guy has obviously studied his theory, and is taking it to the next level. Guitar-wise, comparisons to St. Vincent's Annie Clark are inevitable (and vocally that's not a stretch either), but he's not as confrontational: he seems to be sharing his guitar discoveries with his audience -- and the unfortunately small crowd did appreciate it.

Domestic Terrorist takes a maintenance break
Wow, it's only 2:30, I've still got time to cram in a couple more acts before heading to the Bremen Cafe to see Voot. So, right as I'm passing what used to be Gordon's lunch counter (seriously, did I just date myself or what?) a punk acting as a carnival barker beckoned us all to come in and hear this band that was just setting up in what is now Studio Central, an art gallery and performance space. The duo I stumbled upon was Domestic Terrorist. They crashed right into their first song during which the guitarist's string broke. So, there was a little time for replacement, during which a very annoyed drummer banged out fits and spits of aggression. String change complete, quick tuneup and they're off again! So, I'm happy to report that blazingly aggressive thrash is alive and well and living in Riverwest.

Quick blast to Quarters to see a refreshing female-fronted band called Faux Fiction, who sounded great but had the unfortunate task of having to play at the roughly the same time as Voot. Plenty of people whose opinions I trust assured me that they're worth looking out for to catch again, and that I will. Lead singer Gabriella Kartz has one of those arresting voices that brings to mind X-Ray Spex's Poly Styrene - it can be harsh and shrill, but she knows how to control it well enough that it was a pleasant soundtrack for my walk down Bremen to my ultimate destination.

So, Voot Warnings. I'll let the title of this post call it. What is there to say? Lately he's gotten darker and heavier (a lot of the feel of the Gargoyles/Gothics, a band he briefly did with Peder Hedman and Vic Demechei about 20 years back) but you can still count on old classics like "I'm God" to make it into the set. During "Jesus Christ Is My Wife," expat Kristie Reinders (in town during a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin weirdness, if you know her, ask to see her pictures of the Woodcarver's Museum) let me know that she's helping Voot translate it into Spanish "so he can offend even more people." I'm particularly liking some of the more complex stuff he's putting together lately. I wish I could remember the title of this song he once introduced as a "Y2K Disaster Movie Soundtrack" because it's one of my faves. Paul "The Fly" Lawson later informed me it's "Death Ray 2000" so I wasn't that far off.

I ran to take a lap at the fest between sets, specifically to see Mary Firary and Lori Sometimes-Allwaise's latest act, Sordid Details, but although they were scheduled at 5ish, they weren't up yet at Studio Central. Probably because Lori was still hammering away on her washboard as part of Mood Vertigo recordings (that's my guess as to what this act was called, it matched the schedule) over by the Uptowner. It was Lori and another guy I didn't recognize behind those Foster Grants (earlier I didn't even recognize the Hullmen behind their sunglasses-- that was embarrassing!) playing along to some prerecorded guitar and bass work and sounding great doing it. Lori told me later that it was Kirk McFarlin -- glad to see him out and about again.  The Ryan Meisel Quartet was outside of the Jazz Gallery, playing, duh, some lovely mellow jazz, and I got back to the Bremen Cafe in time for Voot's second set but didn't see much of it because, well, you know how it gets at festivals where everybody you know is lurking around somewhere -- walking five feet takes forever because by the second foot you've run into somebody you haven't see in ages.

So I camped outside during one of the more beautiful summer evenings we've had in  Milwaukee and got caught up with folks like Stoney Rivera and Mark,  Paul The Fly Lawson, Julie Brandenburg, Whispering Jeff,  Jessica Knurr (still basking in the glow of her solo Riverwest 24 run), and a new friend we made that we all recognized as the naughty woman in the Cart Race, all of those folks who have seen Voot a hundred times (but never miss him for the same reason my Catholic mother never missed Sunday Mass), and got caught up in a conversation such that I only caught Voot's last song in his second set. I was pooped out, and didn't make it back to Studio Central to see Sordid Details, but if the scuttlebutt on Facebook is any indication, they blew the house away and had a lot of fun doing it. Like a lot of the acts I only caught a glimpse of, (including Klaus Nomi's Homies, who have been out for over a year and I STILL haven't seen them) I'm going to have to come back and see them on a day when there aren't fifty other bands playing. But it's like eating at a smorgasbord, you only get a little of everything, and you feel too full afterwards. Crap, consider how long this blog post is! Well, it's not a festival post without a complete rundown, eh? Here's photographic evidence of just how the whole day felt. 

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