Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ignition

If you’ve ever stopped by Steve Simels’ Power Pop web site, you might have met his cob-logger NYMary, who authored a book about a band:  Boys Don’t Lie.  The band, of course, is Shoes, from Zion, Illinois.

If you liked a certain kind of music in the 80s, that Big Star influenced, Cheap Tricky noise known as Power Pop, you are likely to have some Shoes music in your collection.  But after a few albums and criminal neglect from the music industry, the band finally hung it up and went on to other parts of life, as people do.

Funny thing, though.  One of the band started building a studio in his house, and although he said it was for his own use, in his mind he was thinking about his old band.

And so, last year Ignition was recorded and released, and my, is it fine.  If anything, a bit tougher than before, informed by age and experience.

When we went to see Matthew Sweet recently, we saw the Shoes in the audience.  Of course.  Pilgrimage.  We wondered about whether they would be doing some shows.  Nothing was forthcoming, although the band did play at SXSW this year.

Well, they are playing Shank Hall, and who has a drawer full of thumbs and a ticket?  THIS zombie!  Me and Zelmo, we’ll be rocking the Shank….

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It’s a beautiful sound, When my life comes crashin’ down, That ain’t so obvious

Well, let’s start the new tradition by resurrecting an old one.  Here’s the Friday Musical Poop Shoot, or Spew, or whatever.  Getcha self a nice drink (and one for me while you’re at it, thankyew) and let’s get nutty about the nutty nutty sounds!

I don’t have much in the way of rules.  I have long since ever been embarrassed by anything I listen to, so if something crappy or cheesy or just plain awful comes up, I hardly ever take a mulligan.  I don’t even strictly stay within 10, or 11, or whatever number the other kids do, because I am a rebel, Dotty.

For shits and giggles and reference, this is playing off The Library, currently at 53,231 tracks, 269 gigs.  Only 142 days of noise.

1.  The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Political World.  Cover of a Dylan tune by a bluegrassy band, from the Amnesty International tribute album.  I watched the Dylan biopic “I’m Not Here” on a whim, basically.  And it really kind of blew me away.  The six-part structure, combines with the different interpretations from teh different actors, and the musicians chosen to do cover versions all worked to create a complex interwoven movie that really forces you to view Dylan from a different point of view.  Doesn’t really matter what point of view you bring to it, you wind up gaining a new one.  It’s kind of remarkable, really.  –Don’t get me wrong, I have not become all hippy-dippy folky-wolky Dylan nutjob, but I have a different appreciation for his work now.  But it says something that for the most part, I prefer the cover versions.

2.  Dinosaur Jr, Outside.  Free So Free.  Nice to see J returning to form and putting that squall back to work. Also, it is worth mentioning that I have brain-cubes in my drink.

3.  Gear Daddies, Wear Your Crown.  Martin Zellar’s former band, from MPLS via Austin.  Awesome alt-cowpunk americana, whatever you want to call it.  This video doesn’t nearly justice to the versions with the full band; the rhythm section puts a punch in it.

4.  Colin Hay, Maggie.  Yes, the guy from Men At Work.  If you have blown off his solo work because  MTV, you’re missing out.  Saw him at Summerfest a couple of years back, and he was so good.  He had a song (and cameo) on Scrubs that was superb.  As a Guy with a Guitar, he’s way above average, mainly because his songs are so good.  But boy, his guitar in this video is SO TINY.

When I was in high school, I had a crush on a friend, her name was Mary Margaret.  Perhaps if I had called her Maggie…

5. The Kissers, Muirsheen Durkin.  Local Irish punks, obviously.  The name is a reference to The Pogues.  Obviously.  They’re from Madison, although I haven’t seen ’em around lately.  Wonder if they’re still active?  Ahh.  Apparently so.  You know, the Internibbles are like meth for music crazies like me.

Here they are doing some song I’ve never heard before.

6. Martin Newell, Goodbye Dreaming Fields.  Like a mix of teh Move and XTC.  How could I NOT like it?  I am kind of glad BBBB doesn’t come around here, he would probably just say he saw this guy open for Robyn Hitchcock at teh Bell House. Meanwhile, he obstinately refuses to see all the Mekons-related music that is in his vicinity.  Not to mention the Milwaukee bands.  Bastard.

7.  Goo Goo Dolls, Naked.  I was introduced to this band with the album “SuperStarCarWash” which was just stellar, and still had a punk roughness around the edges, while allowing the tunefulness of the songs to shine through. On this album, the band was having those rough edges filed down (although we saw them a couple of times live, and let me tell you they don’t bother with gloss when they are playing). Eventually, they discovered that they could write ballads like NOBODY’S business and that it made tons of money, so that’s the way they went.

But before that, they proved that they learned the lessons of Tim oh so well, and proved it by writing the best Replacements song Paule Westerberg never wrote (well, not actually, he co-wrote it, but you get what I mean):

Fuck but that is a great song.

7.5 Goo Goo Dolls, Black Balloon.  As if to prove what I said, iTunes offers up the punk-ballad next.  Compare and Contrast, you will be graded by how closely you agree with me:

8. Glossary, These City Lights Shine.  More of this americana rock and roll midwestern cowpunk. Although these guys are from Tennessee.  Saw them on a multi band bill, with Brent Best’s band, in a little local hall.  All four bands got together at the end to play “Born To Run” and we had seen Springsteen recently and I have to tell you, seeing a bunch of hard working musicians in a sweaty club playing that song for all their worth, well, Springsteen would have knelt down. I suspect OBS will like this band.

This song isn’t on you tube, try this one:

9. Liz Phair, Mesmerizing.  Still one of the best punk, or rock, or alternative albums of the 90s.  It is unusual that I’ve never seen her live.  She is pretty much the anti-Jewel.

10. Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up.   The biography Marley is stellar.

11. The Builders And The Butchers, The Wind Has Come.  This band is like if the Decemberists were crossed with the Mekons.  Tougher and more punk.  I saw them on a triple bill, opening for the Heartless Bastards, and I take that back.  They are like if the Decemberists had taken lessons from the Heartless Bastards.

Everything fades to black….

12. The Clean, Ludwig.  I dunno, I guess this is some Australian band….

13.  Jimmy Cliff, Hurricane Hattie.  Perhaps M. Bouffant might respect me more if he knew this was in my Liberry.  Probably not.  But that’s the way it goes, you know?  Jimmy Cliff’s most recent album was produced by Tim Armstrong of Rancid, and the chemistry resulted in some truly stellar work.

14.  The Gaslight Anthem, God’s Gonna Cut You Down.  This band is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favorites.  We have had a party in late summer since forever, it was originally kind of an anniversary party and then it became a house warming party, then just an annual thing.  This year, we have to balance the Moving of The College Kid, with the normal cleaning and other party prep, in addition The Gaslight Anthem is playing at Harley Fest on Friday. So we are adjusting the weekend schedule to accommodate, but basically, i will be exhausted no matter what.  Here’s the Anthem playing “The ’59 Sound” with some slob.

Of interest, is that the electric guitar that I sold in order to stay in college was pretty much the same one that BS plays; 50’s era Gibson flat body. 

Sweet living fuck, I miss that guitar, as mutilated as it was.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that it was a mistake to sell it.

15. The Toasters, Dub 56.  Saw them at a local pub, one that didn’t normally have music.  It was weird.  We got there early and I spilled a pitcher of beer (it was the goddam table!) before the band even started.

 

ONE MORE, Because:

16.  The Squares, Ways To Be Weird.  When I moved to Milwaukee, the Femmes were just arcing up.  The BoDeans started not long after.  There were so many good bands, we say them every weekend at all the East Side clubs.  The local music scene was so good, that a bunch of guys in this band moved from Indianapolis to be part of a thriving scene.  This was one of their vinyl releases, which I dug out and digitized last year.  We used to see these guys all the time around town, eventually they splintered into several other bands… Now, the two brothers are DBA as The Wooldridge Brothers, one in Milwaukee and one in MPLS.  They are worth your time if you get a chance to see them (I am pointing that comment at YOU Snag) and if not, their albums are well worth the download.  I cannot stress this enough.


Days Went Around

Day 15 of Summerfest came up just gorgeous, if maybe a bit humid.  I got up early and did some work, because I knew we were hitting the Shank Stage tonight for the Deadstring Brothers….

…What?  Who’s telling me Summerfest is only 11 days?

Sigh.  After all this time, it still isn’t apparent that Summerfest is held in the heart, and the head, and the ears?   There are bits of Summerfest in the brats you grill all summer, in every beer you drink while the sun shines on you (and even while the rain falls on you), and in the speakers you haul out on the porch to annoy the neighbors.

Wear your Summerfest grin all summer, friends, and we shall dine on Hot Links.  Sunburns may fade…

So, (and I recognize that this will likely engender ANOTHER argument with Zelmo, but sheesh, he just doesn’t deal with change or levels of gray, does he) but yes, after the 11th day, life seemed a bit less bright, and less noisy.  So Rory and I got tickets for the Deadstring Brothers at Shank Hall, and for one night it was the Shank Stage of the Fest.

…but you know, this might be a good time for….

Summerfest 2013 Wrap-Up and Kiss Goodnight.

1.  Too much rain.

2.  Not blisteringly hot like last year.

3.  Famous Dave’s rolled the Hot Link off their menu

3A.  But Bombers came on the grounds, and their Tots are simply awesome.

4. The beer selection got weaker (and see my prior post for a screed about fill levels)

5. The BMO stage is, hands down, teh best outdoor music venue in the state.  The Marcus Amphitheater is looking dingy in comparison.

6. Robots.

7.  The pourers at the east end of the Water Street Brewery pavilion were the BEST.

New bands I got new stuff:

And what other bands did we see?

Oh, did I mention that this year saw the return of Comedy to a stage at Summerest?  Yeah, it was a test firing, with one day, one stage, but Lewis Black was headlining and the stage was the BEEMO stage, so it was awesome.  Black was not the best I had ever seen him, but I attribute that to being drunk after spending too much of the day on the grounds.  His opener, though, had THREE different stories about crapping his pants.

The terrible horrible hateful thing about Summerfest is that between the scheduling and the sheer effort that it takes to do this kind of thing for 11 days straight, that for every band I listed up there, there were one or two others that I couldn’t see.  Sometimes, it was physically painful.

After all that (and Zelmo, being hateful of change will also argue this) I must say that after two years of a new schedule, I am very appreciative of skipping that one Monday in there.  It was always a weak day, and the only thing usually recommending it would be the low crowds; but with the change, the First Day happens on a Hump Day, and then in the middle, after a strenuous weekend, there’s a day of rest to stay off your feet and answer all the emails wondering where the fuck you have disappeared to.

That’s a lot of fracking music there, normally I would include some videos, but we all have lives.  I put links in there; meet me halfway and follow them for some musical exploratory excellence.  I guarantee you will find something you like in that linkstrosity.

So.. back to the 15th day of Summerfest.  My great and good friend Rory and I went out for some incredible Hooliburgers, then walked up the street to look at the progress of one of my projects.  The we drove a few blocks south to the Legendary Shank Hall because we wanted to make sure we could get a table amongst the LITERALLY DOZENS of people there for the Deadstring Brothers show.  And one guy who thought it was Arlo Guthrie…

The opener, Musikanto, was really good.  the changing back and forth from guitar to keyboard was kind of tiresome though.  But the band was tight and like I said, he was good.  Check him out at the link; I certainly did.

The members of the Deadstring Brothers looked like extras from Dazed and Confused.  The opened with a gritty a cappella version of a John Prine song, then proceeded to scrub our heads with the country-rock-boogie-punk that… well, I was gonna drop a ZZTop reference here, but that ain’t right.  Rory says that when he plays the band for people in his cab, they think it’s old Rolling Stones; although I heard it on a couple of the slower songs, that’s not the reference I hear. {–also, Rory will insist that I mention that I turned him onto the band with the first album, that I loaned him, that he got all their other releases, while I remain stuck on that one—}

Look, these guys are on Bloodshot Records, out of Chicago.  Bloodshot claims to be home to Insurgent Country, and who would dispute that?  They whelped the Waco Brothers, the unholy spawn of Wreck, Jesus Jones, the Mekons, and The Rumour, and are home to Murder By Death, Exene Zervenka, Robbie Fulks and Jon Langford.  And the Deadstringers really fall right the hell into the middle of that….

The played a muscular and energetic version of country.  Several Merl Haggard songs fit the bill quite well.  They were bemused at the Thursday night crowd, who were small but enthusiastic, although non-dancing.  A couple of times they mentioned playing southern honky-tonks and dancehalls, where the crowds were less restrained albeit dangerous; no thrown bottles in Milwaukee! But Kurt, the singer, did say it was kind of like playing a library (being a gentlemen, he said it as kind of weirdly enjoyable).  after that, we got more excitable.  Kurt mentioned that his mom grew up in Milwaukee, even if he grew up in Detroit (“I have extended family all over this place. Ummm, none of them are here, because they don’t really like me) and the drummer was born in West Allis.

Yeah, I said Kurt, because the band are all now Friends of Zombie.  Because we hung after the show, signing shit and drinking.  We talked about the sever wear on their guitars, about why they only had one pick between the two guitarists tonight, the Big Strong Bass, and the benefits of being happy with well whiskey.  We all promised to see them again (and nobody could really remember whether they had ever played Milwaukee before).

The music was country, and rock, and punk and mainly it was just what a road-hardened crew of musicians played for a small crowd.  And a fair amount of Merle Haggard…

They rocked, they did.  they liked us, we liked them.  And My! Didn’t we all have a wonderful time!


Music For The Masses

Words just fail.

 


And your heart rolls on like a frozen freight train /You know that I help you if I can /But I’m just a raindrop in a river/ Just a little itty-bitty grain of sand

Life was difficult.  Temps were hot, and rain threatened.  So I worked the day; but there were other people who didn’t:

Also:

And, because I know it will piss off Pinko Punko if he ever wanders over here:

Summerfest is Done.


Songs From The Laundromat

Well, that was kind of a remarkable night.

After finishing those previous posts, I was ready for another Fest-Crawl, but there was nothing that was a draw, in itself.  So I rolled solo, and went to see what I could see….

The first band and the first beer was a Chicago band fronted by Deanna Devore.  Nothing clicked, so I got another beer and slid over to the Cascio stage, for a solo guitar troubadour who calls himself Briar Rabbit, who was phenomenal.  Even as he battled the sound disruption from neighboring stages.

Then I caught a bit of a local group, Will Phalen and the Stereo Addicts.  They were good, too….

Then, back to the Cascio stage, for an Oshkosh group calling themselves the Sleepwalkers.  Guitar based songs about depressing subjects, otherwise known as Power Pop — all Big Star and Replacements….

And finally, The Championship at the Cascio stage.  I know thse guys have been gigging around for some time, but I haven’t seen them before.  Well, it’s possible I saw them in a multi-bill at Club Garibaldi, with bands like Glossary and the Drams.  But that night got kind of foggy….

Anyways, when the band got out of the van, I thought I recognized one of the dudes.  Not unusual, really, it’s kind of a small town, although at that point I was thinking the band was from Green Bay.  Just goes to show you, don’t believe what the Journal Sentinel prints.  Anyway, I did recognize the dude, it was Dustin who we last saw playing with Trapper Schoepp and the Shades. Dustin did a fine job, yet again.  Talked to him briefly after the set to tell him so, and stopped to pick up the recorded output; they were selling them cheap, too.  In fact, their first album is being offered for free; go and get it to check them out.

They were so good, even if they started as a slow burn.  The songs built and built, and the audience demanded an encore which the band did not expect and weren’t prepared for, so they had to wing it a little bit.  didn’t matter….

P.S.  for those of you, nobody I guess, who gives a shit, here’s an Onion article about the best music in Milwaukee last year.  Links to free-or-cheap downloads, get em.  The Championship is only one of them.


The Big Money

Do not make the mistake of thinking of Summerfest as a music festival.  In its early days, it was more of a community festival; but when it moved down to the lakefront, and needed corporate sponsorship, local breweries were the go-to entities.  The stages were named after Miller, Old Style, Pabst… billed as a Family Festival, ticket prices were intentionally kept low.  This is no Coachella or Lollapalooza; even this year, tickets were 17 bucks a day, and an eleven day pass was only $60.  Also, the music has always been all around the dial; country and rock and folk and punk, even… all cheek and jowl with everyone else.  But the music has always been the draw to get people on the grounds; as with a carny, then they have to separate you from you money.

So, yes, the rent (so to speak) is paid by moving cups.  So much so that the early days were legendary for beery debauchery, people passing out or barfing or smoking pot down by the lakefront.  In fact, the band Squeeze released a live album that included their tour schedule, and they remembered the festival as Beerfest.

Which makes for a bit of conflict these days.  They still keep the ticket prices  relatively low, and there are free entry gimmicks almost every day.  So they still have to move a lot of cups; but they can’t afford the image of a boozy bacchanal.

Some of the solution has been to refine the hardscape of the grounds; portapotties have been replaced with actual toilet buildings; concealed areas have been mostly eliminated; the security presence is pretty visible (and we have spent several fest days trying to figure out which people were the plainclothes dudes) and the larger crowds have allowed them to push shuttle and transit options to avoid the drunk driving.

But the core conflict remains:  the beer sponsors need to sell a lot of beer to justify the money they spend on stages; but they can’t sell a lot of beer to individual people.

So, they have kind of worked incrementally.  One year, they made the cups smaller, and the fest-goers were appalled.  So the final solution has been to slowly ratchet the prices up, and the portions down.

I call it Black Line Fascism. Even though the cup sizes haven’t changed,  The beer pourers are instructed to not fill above the black line; below is a pour from last year, versus one from this year.

I had been convinced that they had also lowered the black line this year, but those photos show otherwise.  Perhaps the black line had moved a year or two prior.

There are a couple of ways to work around this.  Pre-gaming is one, and there are plenty who do that; the local bars offer shuttles, and they always smell like liquor on the way DOWN to the Fest.  Moderation is also a tactic, but being Wisconsin, not a familiar one.  Another try is to make sure the pourers get tipped better when the line is ignored — and by the 10th day, they are responding like the whole Fest is a Skinner box.

The first day, one of the things I start doing is determining which pour stands are fighting against the Black Line Fascists.  This year, the hands down winner has been the Water Street Brewery’s east end pourers (and yes, it does help to wear a Bassoon t-shirt).

The worst fascists are at the Lakefront Brewery stand.  I think it’s at least partially because of it’s prominence.  Additionally, it is the most backed up, often with beer dilettantes who can’t figure out which one of the beers they should try.  Look, if you haven’t tried Lakefront brews before making it to Summerfest, just stick with Miller Lite.

Don’t get me wrong, for not being a Music Festival, there’s a helluva lot of music around, and the bands are a mix of locals, old has-beens, newer has-beens and current bands.  And if you love music of any kind, you WILL find something to like here.  But you can expect to spend about a hundred bucks in a day, depending, between food and drink.  More if you go for swag (I usually snag a few CDs from young bands myself — got one from a New Yawk band called Pigpen Theater Company yesterday, in fact).  It’s still way cheaper than more strictly music festivals such as Lolla or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  Plus, the grounds are permanent and you don’t have to pee in a plastic box.

So, even at $5.50 a cup for barely-filled, still cheaper than any others I’ve heard of, and cleaner, and less obnoxious.  Gosh now I am hungry and thirsty and I need to hear some music and the sun is out and there’s a nice breeze, so I am pretty much out of here.

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