Bashing out the last gasp of summer

The last major festival in Milwaukee for the summer is the Bay View Bash. Yeah, there are other festivals later in the year, but it always seems like the Bash is the final gasp of summer, a time when we need to squeeze out one more day of music, food and drinking.

And this year, the lineup made it imperative that I carve time into my weekend for it. I totally blew it the last time Daikaiju came around. I hadn't seen them in seven years.  So this year, I vowed to make it out to see them at the Bay View Bash, the last band at the Rush Mor stage.  But I also vowed to see Klaus Nomi's Homies, and they were going on early, so I knew I had to pace myself to make it through. In both cases (and a lot of meat in that sonic sandwich) it was worth it.

Klaus Nomi's Homies
I walked down a well decorated sidewalk to get from my parking place to the back of Klaus Nomi's Homies. The premise for KNH was originally a tribute band to the legendary Oil Tasters, a band that should've been world famous, but I'd never heard of until I moved to Milwaukee thirty some-odd years ago, and was fortunate to catch them at an unforgettable reunion show at Bastille Days in 1990. The brilliantly clever founder, Richard Lavalliere, has since passed on, but he left a distinctive musical legacy. The Oil Tasters broke the mold by making the bass the lead instrument, not having a guitar player at all, featuring a sax for punctuation, and a very funky backbeat provided at the time by Guy Hoffman. Klaus Nomi's Homies, made up of an actual Oil Taster (Caleb Alexander on sax) and a handful of guys who were around at the time and knew the band, picked up that new wave jazz punk mess and have run with it, also leaving out the guitar, but augmenting the sound with another sax and some keyboards. As I came up behind the band, I heard the beginnings of a cover of Timmy Thomas' early 70s soul hit, "Why Can't We Live Together" and wondered if I got too early or too late to see the Homies. Then I saw Johnny Washday kicking around the bass and it made sense. Louie Lucheesi (formerly of Brother Louie) is on lead vocals, and I instantly remembered a conversation with him many years ago while I was trying to figure out what all those songs Brother Louie did had in common, because they were all over the map: from soul to punk to garage to pop and everything in-between 1960 to 2010. "They're all good songs," he bluntly told me at the time, and I realized they're covering "Why Can't We Live Together" because it's a good song.

Belly dancing break between sets
And Klaus Nomi's Homies (and to my knowledge, no, they don't touch a thing from Nomi's catalog) puts a very twisted take on plenty of classics, from that, to a number of old Nuggets hits that come from the same fake book that Dr Chow's uses ("I Could Only Give You Everything" stood out), to faithful renditions of Oil Tasters tunes. You could spot any of us old farts in the crowd: as soon as that rumbling descending bassline started, plenty of people were mouthing you-can-do-that-in-your-room to "Get Out of the Bathroom." Lucheesi doesn't have LaVallier's piercing nasal tone, and to try to do that would be wrong, but he delivers it with his own clear sneer. With brilliantly chosen covers, terrific originals, a bit of Milwaukee legend thrown in, a wonderfully demented sax duo, and a synth and rhythm section to hold this jazz soul punk stew together, these guys could very well start to fill in the void left when Dr Chow's Love Medicine calls it quits later this year.

3/4ths of Chief
Down at the South stage, a favorite of mine that I haven't seen in ages (well, the break they took a couple of years ago was part of that) was setting up and getting ready to rock: Chief. I'd posted on FB that "these guys were the Eagles of Death Metal before the Eagles of Death Metal were the Eagles of Death Metal." Later I looked it up, and well, EODM technically predates Chief by a few years, but still. Chief knows exactly what they're doing, they know how bombastic and overblown this can get, but that's why we let them get away with it. No, actually we let them get away with it because, like them, deep down inside, we love this shit. We love the RAWK.
The other 25% of Chief
And they're damn good at it. Every one of those guys is a crack musician and a consummate entertainer. They're well-rehearsed, they write great, hook-laden songs, and they attempt (make that succeed) even at long songs like "Slaughterstone" (about sacrifices made at Stonehenge). The whole set and appearance asks the question "What if Van Halen wrote the soundtrack for Game of Thrones" -- they have the playfulness of the former, the Shakespearean big picture of the latter, and the discipline of both. I ran into friends later who agreed they were blown away by just how damn good they were. I stuck around later for a bit of the Metal Men, a cover band with an obvious theme, and they held their own, but having to follow Chief was a tough assignment.

Time for a "new" band. Back at the center stage, 80s new wave / synth pop devotees No/No were entertaining a large, younger crowd. These guys have been a buzz band for some time: and their ace in the hole is lead singer and synth player Cat Ries. She has a great vocal range, in both pitch and application: she sings and speaks and sometimes growls. Despite that I'm not exactly a fan of synth pop (in fact, I kind of avoid it when possible -- I spent the mid 80s in Washington DC getting my hardcore punk on), I have to admit they were really good at it, even if after a few songs they seemed to be a little repetitive. Drummer Jeremy Ault has in his kit both synth drumheads and regular drums, and just when this band was losing me (I can only take so much synth pop, even when it's good!) he switched over to his standard drums and somehow that triggered an overall switch in the band's presentation. Suddenly the whole band seemed to grow some organic feel to a more vibrant presentation. By the time they roped me back in with this apparent switch in approach, the Patti Smith cover they did felt absolutely valid with Reis' delivery.  Spotted in the crowd: local synth pop godfather Mark GE of Xposed 4 Heads, who nodded approvingly. The XP4Hs are more in the Devo side of things, which is how I like my synthies: abrasive, funny, topical, and with a clever wink, but I bet a night of these two bands together would be a memorably jarring mix.

getting ready..... 
This is probably the first Bay View Bash that I didn't check out Deadman's Carnival, because a) I've seen and loved them enough, and B) I wanted to get to my front row spot at the North stage good and early. I wasn't sure if everybody else knew that Daikaiju is a multi sensory happening, but I didn't want to take any chances.
But on my way, I did stop at the demonstration area/stage to take in the Milwaukee Flyers. I love these guys: they're Milwaukee's answer to the Jesse White Tumblers, and they have a similar mentoring program and overall goals. In fact, their leadership worked with Jesse White himself. And they are similarly dazzling: little kids doing backflips over pyramids of others, doing impossible jump rope tricks, and eliciting cheers of amazement wherever they go.

So the fact of the matter is, while there's great music at all the stages, somehow, that North Stage is the one that brings in the bands that make my "where have they been all my life --- must see again!" list. Maybe it's because it's booked by the proprietors of one of the last record shops in town, Rush Mor Records.
Panda Riot
 In any event, I got there in time for the last twenty minutes of Panda Riot out of Chicago. Lush but rocking: it's tempting to call them shoe gazing but lead singer Rebecca is too busy staring you down, and it doesn't look like she has time to be all introspective. I chose the word "lush" to describe them, because they brought to mind that alt-velvet band, but they rock too hard for an outright comparison.

Slow Walker
I was holding my spot near the stage and expected to suffer through a band I didn't know or care about, and to my surprise, Slow Walker became my favorite new find of the night. They describe themselves using words like punk, grunge, psyche, and stoner rock, and they're all these things and none of them. OK, that was a pretentious thing to say, but it's true. If I called them, for instance, "stoner rock" you'd think they were Queens of the Stone Age or something like that, and they're not like that. Or if I said "grunge" you'd be like "Oh, are they like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden or any of those 90s Seattle bands?" and I'd have to say, "not at all." No, I suspect these are guys who ate way too much of all that and then just threw up this excellent band. Or maybe the one word they didn't use is the best: garage. Great 2-4 minute songs, dangerous chord progressions, sharp guitar playing, neurotic time signatures, precise and thumping rhythm, and my favorite vocal description of rock and roll: hollering in tune. Slow Walker turned out to be the perfect "warmup" for Daikaiju.

jumping into Daikaiju's set
So RushMor proprietors Dan DuChaine and Bill Rouleau too the stage to thank everybody for coming, but even more so for support during a time in Rouleau's past year when his significant other was the victim of a horrible assault. Rousseau praised the level of community his family experienced through the ordeal, and I suspect he already knew just how intertwined the music and the audience was going to get during the upcoming set by the band from Alabama, even if not everybody in the audience knew what was coming.
Bay View Community

Daikaiju emerged from their van with their Japanese masks on, not saying a word, just jumping into their set of dangerous, thrilling, precise instrumental surf rock.

They could take off the masks and dispose of all their other schtick, and they would still be a terrific, world class instrumental surf unit.
But why give up that kind of fun? Do I start with the beginning of the set where they just slammed into fearful kaiju-rock? Or do I skip right ahead to the part where blast-man tossed a spare carpet into the crowd, and before you know it, proceeded to move his trap set off the stage onto the street/ground, one piece at a time (with assistance from the fans) while the rest of the band kept seamlessly playing? Suddenly you'd look around and the entire band had moved into the crowd and there was this Bay View community that Rouleau spoke of, this time of kids, slam dancers, air guitar players, videographers, festival goers, what have you; with no apparent line between artists and audience. They beckoned the crowd sit/crouch down while they musically told us about "The Trouble With Those Mothra Girls" and when the final chorus kicked in, the crowd exploded with the band, perfectly on cue.

Right when we thought that this was crazy enough, I should have known there was a reason there were four cans of lighter fluid set up by the stage: yes, they lit their instruments (starting with the drum cymbals) and played them while the fire was ablaze, and that really lit up the crowd on a number of levels. It's exhausting just describing it.

They climbed up on their van, they moshed with the crowd, they crowd surfed while still playing, and they never skipped a beat.

Toward the end, they handed off their instruments to people in the crowd, and it just so happened that the bass was handed to Jonah Roth. You may remember him as WAMI award winning "rising star" -- the kid is a junior at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts and plays in both jazz bands and rock outfits.  After a little bit of trepidation (which lasted all of five seconds), he slammed on that bass and joined in on lead guitarist Secret-Man's sonic assault of feedback and thrash to close out the set and the festival. And summer for that matter.

OK. I'm tired of providing links. Here's some evidence of the whole day. 


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