Pop! Goes the autumn!

Well, I'm writing this on November 1, where in Wisconsin the ground is covered with several inches of snow (yes, this is a bit early) and thinking of all the great pop (and near pop, or punk bands pulling off pop) I came across over the past couple of months. Normally I'l post about them instantly, but a lot was going on in my life (family members in hospital, et cetera, which I know deserves more than an et cetera, but I just don't feel like telling the story again) and it all came together as I drove down to Champaign IL for another of those Sandwich Life House Concerts that Cynthia and Ernie put together. Those shows tend to be on the folksy/americana acoustic side, but every now and then they bring in an act with a full band or somebody I remember from a full band. So when I saw that she'd booked the Peter Holsapple Combo, I put in to get the day off work and headed down for a weekend of beautiful hiking and pop.

Many years back as an undergraduate at UIUC there was a bunch of us active in media that took pride in either discovering new bands coming through, or at least promoting them. There was a giant buzz in this musical underground when Holsapple's old band, the dBs, hit the scene. That first record, Stands for Decibels, sat on our turntables for a long time, and we welcomed them to town with open arms the first time they came through. Alas, unlike their contemporaries in the realm of alternative pop or jangle pop (think r.e.m., Let's Active, in fact, that whole Mitch Easter production posse) they never hit that big time pop like they deserved to. Maybe it was that thing about them that I especially loved -- they were quirky. This was not top-40 radio pop. It was truly underground music with pop sensibilities -- catchy melodies, great lyrical turns of phrase, and hooks that stuck in your craw even if they jarringly odd. That most reviewers cast songwriters Chris Stamey and Holsapple a two different types -- Stamey being the more "quirky" and Holsapple being more "pop" I think was a misnomer. Holsapple's tunes certainly were quirky, he was just less so than Stamey. Maybe that's why it was his songs that stayed with me longer.

And, as I learned at the show, he hasn't gotten any less quirky over the years. Sure, he banged out his hits, including "Amplifier" -- that catchy AF ditty about a guy who took himself out over a girl who took everything he ever cared about except a crappy old amp. That's the beauty of Holsapple's songs: they're hooky and toe tappingly musical, but they go deep into frustration, heartache, and melancholy without bumming you out.  And they're not all about lost romances: "Inventory" takes you to that place you have to go after you've buried your parents -- and the heartache that goes with cleaning it out. So, while he did follow the Rule of Shurilla ("Play the hits! Ya gotta play the hits!"),and hit various points in his career (there's a song about his time with the Continental Drifters) the majority of the show was his solo work, backed up by a crack rhythm section of old dBs drummer Will Rigby and working bassist Glenn Jones. And that solo work was something off my radar (my bad, and my loss!) but he's one of those guys you can go into a show not knowing a thing about their work and come out enchanted. When you're in a small room you appreciate the level of musicianship on display -- this rhythm section was elegant and Holsapple's guitar playing is precise and sometimes it hits a level of quirkiness that brings to mind Robert Fripp.)  At times they would hit an instrumental surf flavor (and regular readers know that a good instrumental surf tune will win me over every time), and in fact, delivered a terrific instrumental that almost got me standing up on my board. The whole thing actually reminded me of Frank Black's solo work, which in my old(er) age, I'm starting to prefer to the Pixies. In the meantime, in the spirit of quirkiness, here's one of tunes that stuck in my craw and I found myself singing to myself whilst hiking in Kankakee the next day.
Opening the show was an acoustic set from Nick Rudd, a local popmeister whose early to mid 80s band was The B-Lovers (I still remember "Waste Some Time") that morphed into Turning Curious (and "Out Into the Light") and ended up at Easter's Drive In Studio for a lovely EP ("Soul Light Season") that sat on my turntable almost as much as the dBs.

Nick RUd
"Raising Cain" was a highlight for me. I don't know the names of his songs but he closed his set with a lush tune that I told him afterwards "I want to hear this song with a full band, including a 12-string electric played by you" -- it had that kind of Byrds/Hollies psychedelic depth to it that cried out for the layers a full band would impart.
Rudd put in a stunning acoustic set dripping with beauty and melancholy. "

The week before, I made my way to the annual Pumpkin Pavillion because the word on the street was that Milwaukee punk legends Bleed was going to dress up as the Mummies and put on a great halloween show and they delivered. Not to be outdone, The Quilz turned up the next night and put their ethereal spin on a series of pop hits from Prince, Blondie as well as their own tunes. Both nights were perfect.
But the band that got me all set up for all this lush pop was a relatively newer band on the Milwaukee Scene, The Mod Violets. I'd been wanting to see them for quite some time as it was: they're loaded with people (Dick Satan, for one) whose sensibilities I trust, and lead songwriter/singer Mark Lonteen is a Beatles-edge-of-pop disciple --he's got the fab four's logo tattooed on his bicep for crying out loud -- who so obviously loves the vocal and guitar harmonies on the British side of the house. I actually finally got a preview of them on #playmusiconyourporchday, which in itself was both enjoyable and confounding to many other the other neighbors who didn't get why there was a band playing on porches all over town. But it was wonderful pop I needed when, after a week of daily hospital visits and nervewracking medical procedures on my husband, I headed out to the Circle A for a night of pop and psychedelia and space rock. Gorgeous harmonies, playful melodies that felt more like the Hollies and a little danger thrown in for spice was the theme of the set. Much as I love the Circle A, this is a band that needs a little more room to breathe which is why I'm really looking forward to hearing them at Club Garibaldi next month (on my birthday weekend at that!) Here's a respresentative cut from them, "Proud of Me." 

The Unheard Of
More to the psychedelic garage side, The Unheard Of was next. Geez, they've been around forEVER and geez, they're on the taken for granted list. They were the perfect band to tune in turn on drop out to.  They have everything you want in a 60s flavored garage band: fuzztone guitars, wailing keyboards, trippy melodies, and toothsome vocals. They'll be playing out again in November as well and I'm hoping to catch that set.

They actually got me in the mood to make the trek over to Company Brewing to check out Rick Franecki's spacerock jam production, Vocokesh. Brian (my husband, you know, the guy that was in the hospital) and Rick were the fundamental members of F/i, and Rick went in a slightly different direction here, so Vocokesh was a good act to follow The Unheard Of.  Vocokesh was actually the opening act that night for ST37, a band out of Austin that our family has known for years.

F/i played with ST37 a few times -- at spacerock festivals and here in Milwaukee, and in fact, they stayed at our house many years back when my 21 year old was just a toddler. ("She's 21 now?" they asked as we all traded cliches about how the time flies). One of the things I like about ST37 is that, maybe it's the Texas in them, but while they're fundamentally a spacerock band, they have swagger. As such, they delivered a rocking spacerock set that helped take the stress off an eventful fall.

Punk Guilt
The evening ended with a set from Punk Guilt, a local no-wave outfit that I probably would have enjoyed more if I hadn't been awash is luscious pop and brain melting psychedelic and spacerock. They started out no-wave, and went into this mode that sounded like a mashup between Black Sabbath and The Dancing Cigarettes (seriously, listen to both bands, and then go listen to Punk Guilt and tell me I'm wrong). They almost got headbanging, and while they have an active lead singer, it was ultimately drummer Jasmine Mace's scintillating percussion that held my interest.

If you're liking the jam direction this blog post has suddenly seemed to turn, Riverwest is the place to be tonight. The Riverwest Jam Festival is at Linneman's tonight, and Undercover Organism is in the lineup -- I've seen them before and they have a great funky vibe that should fill the room up. Over at the Bremen Cafe it's an instrumental band night, with Chain Drive (highly recommended) with a couple of other bands that sound interesting: Arcade Mode says they play "video game jazz music" which should be fun. In the meantime, next weekend Milwaukee pop gods Trolley are playing a set with Lack of Reason and Certain Stars, so if you're still in the pop mode like me, that's something to do. Tough decision, but if you look outside, you'll see it's not autumn anymore, so time to stay inside and see some bands.


Popular Posts