Monthly Archives: July 2016

Among Other Foolish Things

 

This was a day when we saw Sammy Llanas  and I have a more in depth post about that.  I’ll wait.

This was a very focused day.  It was Brain Fallon, leader of the Gaslight Anthem on a tour for his solo album, Sammy Llanas, and Trapper Schoepp and the Shades.

During the course of the day, we managed to sneak up to front row seats, and were promptly insulted by a neighbor for ‘not liking this music’ because we objected to her drunken splattering all over every neighboring person.

BUT HERE. Brian Fallon was great.  Sammy was great (see link above) and Trapper Schoepp was pretty damn awesome.  It was a lovely day of of good, straightforward rock and roll.  I loved all of it.  We made friends with the people next to us, and gave up our spaces when we left — Ray LaMontagne was next.

After all that, we were satisfied, and left bearer the headliners.  Knowing when to leave is an art…

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Come Sail Away

Yeah, we didn’t go to Styx.

2016.2

We also skipped on Bad Boy, Led Zeppelin 2, and Mr. Blotto.  What can I say, I am a zom-philistine.

We spent much of the afternoon doing the Summerfest Walk.  We went by the Rebel Stage, of course.  We caught the Tosspints and an early set by faves Whiskey Of The Damned.  They were great, but as it was early in the day, they hadn’t reached the drunken abandon stage of one of their shows.

Then, as rain was looking to move in, we went to the JC stage for one of the first true pleasant surprises of the Fest:  Black Violin.  Two classically trained African American violin players who mash up the classical music with a live drummer and a DJ/Keyboard player.  The descriptions have said they do the hip-hop mashup, but frankly, I only heard minor touches of hip-hop and it was mostly pop, rock and prog.  In any case, it was pretty awesome.

Then the rain set in.  It was supposed to go earlier and stop, but it still rained out any intent to see Joe Jackson, to our great chagrin.

In the course of the night, while we were sitting under the roofed protection of the JC stage, I developed a great hatred for the guy sitting in front of me and smoking a stank-ass turd-rope of a cigar (regardless of the fact that technically he was inside a structure, and thus was breaking Wisconsin law) and when he blew his rope-weed-dickshit exhale up into the air, it blew into my face EVERY. GODDAM. TIME. He was a fat white guy with an awful beard and patchy hair and a stupid t-shirt.  I eventually moved to a different table, so I could avoid his spew. Eventually, he moved on and a breathed a relatively clear sigh of relief.

However that was not the end of it.  He came back, and was standing between the table we were sitting at, and the merch table, with some people who he might have claimed as friends. At one point, a black guy walked through, and I dunno, maybe bumped him, and as if to confirm my already mostly-hardened opinion, he reacted as a white racist would; how DARE that black guy bump him! and went to push the black dude -from behind, no less!  The black guy reacted as one would, turning around and giving White Bad Beard Cigar Asshole a mild pop on the jaw. (as a person trained in punching, it was not one that would create any real damage).  So WBBCA looks a bit shocked at first, that an African-Amercian would challenge his white privilege so; and went after the guy.

3 things happened; the merch guy immediately went to protect his credit machine and other wares; I turned and grabbed WBBCA, and a guy in a Harley jacket ran around a table to take control of the black dude.

Almost immediately after, a young woman walked through, talked to one of the bystanders, and then talked to the nearby bartenders and almost immediately after that, a pair of Redshirts walked through.

When I grabbed WBBCA, one of my first thoughts was that I hoped I didn’t have to resort to some of the pressure point moves I have learned, because those are fucking dangerous and even in the controlled environment of learning, people get hurt;  In the heat of battle, I fear I might have dislocated something or broken a bone.

Fortunately, none of that happened, although being an asshole WBBCA later kind of charged into the crowd and was obviously looking for the dude who offended him by bumping into him.

I find it kind of interesting, however, that after much training in a gym, when something goes down, I have gotten to the point that I react with no fear and complete confidence.

Anyway, after the drama, we left when the rain let up, and Joe Jackson remained unobserved.  WBBCA remained un-damaged, and we left the grounds with much good music in our ears.

 


Reason To Be

2016.1

Whoof.  It’s been quite a year.  Much time working on lifestyle changes, more exercise, better food, moderation moderation moderation and an entertaining new regimen of medications.

My standard line is that last year was the first time in decades (i haven’t kept track) that I haven’t been at Summerfest Opening Day.  So walking through that gate was…victory.  Also was my first (new) birthday…I don’t care what people say; when I was sitting in the ER with like seven people working on me and I still couldn’t breathe, I figured it was all over.  Even the ER doc said in his report he could see me stopping breathing….

But after all that, my docs kept me an extra day so they could fuck up my internals one more time, because hey! his wife has great insurance!  And so they let me out late on Wednesday and frankly, I was in no condition to go own to the Fest.  However, after a bit of rest at home, the next day was a go…

Anyway.  I returned to form to go down for lunch, albeit late.  We wandered the grounds for some time, making a couple of trips from one end to the other.  The Rebel Stage was visited.  We chatted with Unexpected Friends.

But you know, the big deal was Weird Al.  I really expected Weird Al to be WAY more packed.  But it wasn’t, and did we care?  Fucking bogroll we did. I love Al, not just because he is an architect who found a better career but also that he has an amazing band that he has been with pretty much since the first day he recorded a song in Dr. Demento’s toilet…

That lunatic wandered through the crowd while doing his parody of Happy, and from then on he did a dizzying mix of old and new, changing costumes more than Bette Midler in her fever dreams, and backed up by one of the best bands I have ever seen (and I have seen a few).  The bumper videos show his ability as a comedic actor, and I kind of LIVE for his accordion solos.

But in the end, a Weird Al show is nothing but fun.  For his first gig at Summerfest, he dodged the driver at the airport, found his own way to the grounds, then climbed over the fence and got pinched by the Red Shirts.  We saw him one time on a stormy afternoon when every other stage was closed, but this one was left, because it was protected from lightning by the freeway above, and when the event people told him he didn’t have to go on, he gestured toward us drenched drunks and said, how can I not?

He played so much I loved, and I only missed “Weasel Stomping Day”  But then, as a zombie, I would…

Gosh, what do you want from me?  I spent the afternoon and night on the grounds of my favorite location on the planet, and we had some beers and food that makes our doctors quiver; but we spent our time enjoying ourselves and then seeing our culture’s predominant musical satirist comedian ex-architect.

So, I will leave you with the best Devo song they never wrote:


Good Things

2016.3 / 2016.5

I moved to Milwaukee in late 1983, and after a few months finding my feet in an urban environment, started getting into the local music scene, which was amazing at the time.  And in 1986, in the last gasp of what was called the Clamshell at Summerfest, clamshell.jpg there was an epochal local bill:  R&B Cadets, the Bodeans, and the Violent Femmes.  On a night after the previous days rain, so it was muddy as fuck. (coincidentally, as I write this, it is raining)  And really, the night was as awesome as fuck.  Every one of those bands was at the height of their young, spit-filled hormonal young power.  It was what was considered the Main Stage at Summerfest at the time, and it was a display of the great music that was percolating in the city at the time, and it was amazing and we had a stellar, muddy, drunken time. My!  Didn’t we just!

At this point, I want to step back a bit.In 1985 or so, my roommate took me to a dive near the River to see “Da BoDeans” in a small sweaty room with like 20 other people.  They did not yet have a bass player, but the feral, vital songs and the interplay between Kurt and Sammy’s vocals was already amazing, even in that environment. The amazing chemistry was there.  The amazing songwriting was there.  It was raw (LOL. Like I find that as a problem) but man, it was hot and sweaty and so rock and roll that it hurt.  I have been a fan ever since, and we have seen the BoDeans in so many different places, and different incarnations; I saw them as a duo playing as He&He in an East Side Bar.  We’ve seen them at the Marcus Amphitheater, as massive rock stars.  The Bodeans are always a good show…

And then, they had what seems to be an irreconcilable separation between Sammy and Kurt, the primary members of the BoDeans.

So on Friday, the 3rd day of Summerfest, we saw Sammy Llanas playing in a sweet spot between Brian Fallon (of the Gaslight Anthem) and Trapper Schoepp.

I will confess up front that since the first days of the band, I preferred Sammy’s vocals – the raw, unprocessed and emotional aspects of it.In fact, when the first album came out, there was much discussion about how much we disliked that his voice was mixed down…funny, in retrospect.

Another personal note.  A few years ago, we went to the Zoo for A La Carte, and the BoDeans were supposed to play.  But Sammy had dropped the bomb on Kurt like three days before, so he did the best he could with the band he could drum up….

So, it was mordantly amusing and more than a bit weird that we saw both primary members of the BoDeans were playing at Summerfest this year, on different days.  And it deserves a Delicious or Disgusting  dammit sorry, 3Bulls leaking through to reality-  but a review that compares them.

Sammy had a small, stripped down and pretty great band.  His voice was great.he worked hard.  He played a couple of his solo songs, but mainly focused on the songs he did with the Bodeans band. but man, was he good.  His voice was a bit lower than in the day, but it served the songs well.  And although I did not miss Kurt on “Naked” (more on that later) I felt the biggest lack of another vocals was during “Still The Night”

Kurt retained the name, and the Bodeans show was much bigger,  on a bigger stage, with bigger lights, a bigger band, better sound, and much more production.  But then, I always though Kurt wanted to be Bruce Springsteen…

The sound for the ‘official’ Bodeans show was great, and the band sound was really awesome.  It was very big. They had Kenny Aronoff on drums, which was a secret weapon.  I kind of hated the fact that Kurt played guitar with his fingernails, rather than a pick; I have done that and  I HATE IT.  But his guitar, which I suspect is custom, is gorgeous .  So balance.

In all, both shows featured some really great songs. I figure that it mainly organized itself by whoever wrote whichever song.

And here is what I saw and heard: there was one band that had stellar musicianship and sounded like a star cruiser making liftoff; and there was one that had the songs.

And that the songs, when presented, are much better served by a simpler presentation, with a more straightforward approach.

Man.

I have been a part of the BoDeans life for so long, and they have been a part of my life for since forever.  Let me tell you; when they released their first live album “Joe Dirt Car”, it was named after one of my good friends.

OK, so let’s get down to it.  Kurt’s band was amazing and really well rehearsed and good with what they did.  On the few songs they did that usually had Sammy vocals, they ….well, let’s not say they sucked,, because they didn’t.  But they certainly were…lacking.

Sammy’s set, was, IMHZO, much better, and he was able to deal with the lack of Kurt’s vocals.  I need to say right here that Sammy can pull off ‘Naked’ on his own and Kurt can’t.  But the one I thought was lacking was “Still The Night”.

This, of course, comes down to a personal choice.  With the difference ideas we have about music and our different histories regards to the BoDeans, Wife Sublime and I still both agree that Sammy’s show was better.

If Summerfest ever books them both on different stages at the same time, I will opt for Sammy, no hesitation.

It is truly a real life demonstration of the adage “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and regardless of how talented the two are in their own rights, the work they did together was elevated into another realm.

Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed both shows.  Nothing to complain about.

But knowing, and having experienced, the history of the Bodeans, I knew at a very basic level that the magic and collaborative spark they had was something special, and it is kind of tragic that they ended in a way that is very difficult to reconcile.  It’s sad for us fans, and it’s sad for them; they were once good friends and great partners.

I will leave you with a song (clearly influenced by their time spent opening for U2) in a local venue and yes, we were there, and yes, this is available as a live release:


FULL SUMMERFEST ACHIEVED!

2016.11

Well.

I tell you, I will NOT be missing those aluminum benches anytime soon.

A few years back, I had a run of 50 consecutive days of Summerfest.  But late that final year, I read an article that interviewed one guy who had over 100 consecutive days, and another that had been to every Summerfest day in this century, and suddenly the whole thing seemed…well, kind of pointless.

And then last year, I was in the hospital and the cardiologists kept me for an extra day, so I missed the Opening Day of 2015.  Although I was no longer pursuing the full attendance, I was always happy to make opening day.  In fact, I can’t remember the last year I missed opening day.  More than a decade, for sure.

That’s why the first announcements of headliners was so gratifying.  Usually, I don’t find a ton in the headlining slots that attracts me, but this year, there was something pretty much every day.  On top of that, the daily acts and the Rebel Stage offered much for all the other times.  It was almost like Summerfest became alarmed when I only did 7 days last year and decided they needed to step it up.

Well, they certainly did and so did I.  I attended every single day of Summerfest 2016, all eleven days.

Take today, for instance.

It was the kind of warm, partly cloudy day with a nice cool breeze, one of those Wisconsin summer days that make you think that the winter suck is maybe tolerable.  I slept in a bit, then did some chores, then a little Klark Kent duty, then we went down.

Local 90s crunchy guitar power-poppers Pet Engine were on.  They had a few regional hits, and were one of the bands that narrowly missed the brass ring during the final days of when major labels actually mattered.  But their songs are still good, their new songs are better, and their covers (Divine Inspiration, Can’t Hardly Wait, a bit of The One I Love wrapped into one of their own songs) were lovely.  So glad to see them come back out…

Then, we wandered aimlessly (a Summerfest Art in itself) for a bit, getting some food and watching various bands.  And then, local traditional country ladies The Whiskeybelles played, singing songs about drinking, and cheating, and drinking.  Special highlights are the cover of Jolene, the cover of All Along The Watchtower, and the original Must Have Been The Pills I Took.  They are fun, and kind of nice to watch.

At this point, it is worth noting that even with the loss of the KNE/Cascio stage, we still saw a large amount of local music this year.  Not because there was a lack of national and international talent (hello, Neil Finn!) but that the local talent compares so favorably.  Between the Rebel Stage and the other stages that had Milwaukee bands on them, including resurgent careers of the Bodeans, Sammy Llanas, and the Violent Femmes, it was a pretty good Summerfest Year for Milwaukee Music.

To round out the night, and the Fest, we saw Ryan Adams and The Shining do a fine set on a cluttered stage that included comically oversize amps (that I figured they got from an old Crazy Horse tour), several video games, a Dr. Pepper soda machine, a stuffed tiger and a peace flag.

It seemed to want to rain, so after a great day and a wonderful 2016 Summerfest, we bid a fond farewell to the festival for another year.  But on the way in, we go 2 free tickets to next year’s gig, the 50th anniversary, so see you then!


Bleed Like Me

Butch Vig must be pissed.

2016.7

It appears that this year’s SummerfestBlog is filled with throwback bullshit.  Maybe it has something to do with dying last year….

Anyway, back in the mid 90’s Butch Vig was suddenly rich and in demand after the success of Nevermind.  So he decided to start a new band that had little to do with grunge, and was more pop, techno, and sequencer driven with his long time collaborators.  When considering vocalists, they decided they wanted a woman in the mold of Patti Smith or Chrissie Hyde, and asked Scot Shirley Manson to audition.  In a common pattern, the first meetings were a debacle…

But they gave it a second and third try, and it started to gel and eventually they released the stellar debut album in 1995.  I loved it from the get-go, and not just because it was local musicians; but the crunch mix of hard-alt and tech beats with exquisitely sampled beats was right in proto-zombie’s wheelhouse.

And, of all things, they stopped at Shank Hall that fall, on the start of their tour.  They wanted to play low-profile shows to try out the material; there was much doubt that they could pull off the tech-heavy sound in a live setting.

And that was a worthy doubt; in Milwaukee, immediately at the start of the first song, one of the sequencers went sideways and they had to start over.  But after that it was pretty damn awesome, although the entire band was visibly uncomfortable and mostly just stood there.

After a great set, they came back out for a couple of encores, and even then the crowd refused to go away.  Eventually the band came back out, and said “we only have one album.  We played it all.  What do you want from us?” and so they played one of the songs over again….

So, all these years later and they have a new album and somehow, they wound up on a Summerfest stage.  Technology has moved very far beyond 1995, and there were no glitches.

I had a lousy vantage point, and the stage was pretty damn packed.  The band expressed their gratitude for the large enthusiastic crowd, and although some of the sports shout-outs smacked of pandering, Shirley at one point talked about how even though she is from Scotland, Wisconsin is like ‘coming home’ and we gave them a homecoming welcome.

The setlist tended toward the moe aggressive songs, and why not?  Shirley was sporting a pale purple dye in her hair, and she twisted it up about halfway through so she could play some guitar.

The band themselves, adding an additional member on bass and guitar, were far different from that initial show all those years ago.  The were dynamic, energetic, and seemed to be kind of having a great time.

After a pretty great set, they left the stage.  The PA started playing regular music and the VariLites were showing their shutdown light signals.  But like that small show 20 years ago, we weren’t going anywhere.  And eventually, the band came back out and admitted that they were not used to doing encores, and had nothing prepared.  So they played an unrehearsed song off the new album, one that was completely inappropriate for a festival: “Our Love Is Doomed”.  And Shirley told us that if they screwed it up, it was our fault for being unreasonable….

Oh.  Yeah.  The Butch Vig thing.  Apparently they were on the West Coast, and had to fly back for the gig.  And apparently Butch hates to fly, so he didn’t come back; they had Morrissey’s drummer fill in.  Shirley said “I am sure Butch is biting his own tail off because he couldn’t be here” and the huge crowd, encore and overall seven tons of fun that we had has got to make him feel like shit for not being there, and really, isn’t that all we want?


Another Day Dead

2016.9

Day nine.  Nine for nine.  I can do the rest of this in my sleep.

Tonight was the official record release party for Whiskey Of The Damned’s new disc, “Bedevil The Railroads”

This article spends some time talking to the leader of the band, and talks about his band and his work in running the Rebel Stage, which is the most consistently entertaining location at Summerfest.  It’s where we saw a traditional Irish band playing versions of pop and rock hits.  It’s where we saw the November Criminals, a polka/hip-hop band.  It’s where I first saw Whiskey of The Damned several years ago.

There wasn’t a lot going on for a Friday; an afternoon Pat McCurdy show, and we’ve seen Pat so many times… and some decent looking Emerging Artists, but we got occupied doing other things, and got down to the Fest a bit before WOTD was scheduled.  The Rebel Stage, as expected, was pretty damn full.  Also, I SUSPECT the band was doing a certain amount of pre-gaming.  Shocking, I know.

This band reminds me of those old days when I moved to Milwaukee, and awesome energetic and amazing bands were playing out everywhere and starting up all the time. Eoin (pronounced owen) is an Irish immigrant from a musical family, and he took guitar lessons from Van Fucking Morrison. He plays punky irish music (or irish punk)

As ever, this band pulls out all the stops whether they are playing for 20 people in a dive or 2000 people on a festival stage.  They love the music more than anything and it comes across in their manic abandon.  They shout, they scream, they sing; they switch instruments and run out into the crowd to play.  They wander through the audience playing half-barrels with drumsticks, and they play instruments while keg-rolling on those barrels.

This gig may have started a little slow or perhaps we only felt that way because it was so packed we couldn’t see the band.  But soon that no longer mattered; especially when Marco, the violin player, jumped up on our table to play a solo.

After that it was balls-to-the-wall and protect the children and faint of heart.  Wait; that was hardly the call, because the emcee, merch dude and band-drink-server was a twelve year old kid and as for the faint of heart?  I was there…

The played well beyond their allotted time, and as Eoin said, “It’s my fucking stage!” and was there anyone who would argue?  There was not, not even the next band.  The entire set was filled with raucous noise, with spit and vigor and joy and abandon and whiskey.  They sold CDs (including to one of my staid architect buddies) and there were two cute young girls who had been wandering around with placards offering the opportunity to pet band member’s beards; when that did not seem to be raising any money, they changed to selling kisses.  THAT seemed to be going better.

At the end of the night, they had rocked the fuck out of us, and Eoin climbed up on the tent and stage dived into the crowd in a rowdy display of enthusiasm and trust:

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IMG_2740.jpg

It was, overall, a rollicking celebration of music and creativity and energy and community; congratulating the band on their burgeoning success and the increasingly notable levels of this scruffy, non-subsidized local and original music stage at the World’s Largest Music Festival.

On any random day, all else being equal this is the best place to find me.  Plus, the local Lakefront Brewery stand is like a dozen paces from the stage.