Monthly Archives: July 2016

Hard to Go Quietly

OK.  I am going to try and power through a few posts, play a little ketchup blogging…fair warning; quality will suffer.  Am only a zombizzle, after all, and one with tired feet.  If you want a refund, contact mikey.

2016.10

The last Saturday.  As I always say, this is a festive, albeit slightly desperate night.  The End of the Fest is in sight, and time runs out.  Tell you what, though; last year, I understood the real meaning of ‘Time Running Out’ and this is nothing.  Nothing….

Here’s another throwback/reminiscence.  Way back, when I moved to Milwaukee and was not even a zombie, I luxuriated, I reveled, I positively debased myself in the local music scene.  There was so much good stuff happening; the Femmes, da BoDeans, R&B Cadets, Those X-Cleavers, so many more I’ve forgotten.  We would go out to see bands every weekend, it seemed.  The City, especially the East Side, was positively throbbing with music.

phew.  I am a bit over-beered tonight.  Not in the sense of being over-served; but since that is the beverage most available at Summerfest, I have had way more beer than I am used to this week.  Time for a bit of the bourbon, to cut the foam.  Excuse me….

In that heady, fervent time, a bunch of kids from Indiana saw the Scene, and decided to move their entire band to Milwaukee to be part of it.  That band was the Squares, and two of the members were Brian and Scott Wooldridge.  They wrote great, earnest, if maybe a bit raw alternative pop-rock hits in the vein of Elvis Costello and the Kinks, and I became a big fan.  Here’s one of their songs from that time:

As kids are wont to do, we all broke up, made new combinations, and moved in and out of different gigs, different relationships.  The Squares broke up and spent time in other bands.  Brian and Scott played out as The Wooldridge Brothers, but eventually Scott moved to Minneapolis, and they both got jobs and moved their lives into other phases.

One of the bands I saw around was an arty alt band called Arms And Legs And Feet, mainly because a friend of mine did stage and sound for them.  That band eventually morphed into Blue in the Face an alt-pop band with a three piece horn section and Joe Vent, one of those Squares.  As I said up above, people move on and the leader of that band, Mike Benign (although his actual name is Mike Stefaniak) eventually broke up the band to have a life and start a family.  But a couple of years ago, with the advances in self-recording, he put together a new venture called the Mike Benign Compulsion, and they played early at 6 PM.  They mine a similar vein that his prior bands did, and you might do far worse for yourself than obtaining some of his tunes…

Mike’s band was good, and good old Joe Vent was on guitar, yet again.  And best?  He brought out Scott Wooldridge and Julie Straczewski-Wooldridge to sing on an excellent song written by Joe Vent and Brian Wooldridge called “I’m Troubled”.  Yes, it is a somewhat incestuous music scene…

Since moving to MPLS, Scott has done a little bit of work with his brother, releasing Days Went Around and gigging infrequently.  But he started writing songs again, and last year they did a Kickstarter to fund Scott’s solo album and a new Wooldridge Brothers album (did I contribute?  What do you think?).  Scott’s excellent solo album was released las year, and he did a fair number of shows in and around Minneapolis and the Midwest as the Scott Wooldridge trio.
perhaps most alarmingly excellent is that the Wooldridges were invited to play at the star-studded Big Star Third tribute show at First Avenue.  As part of that show, they were tapped to play and sing on the Big-Star-adjacent song “I Am The Cosmos” and if you can’t be arsed to go read my Big Damn blogpost about the show, here’s the viddy again:

It was a bit surprising to see the Wooldridge Brothers score an 8 PM slot-opening for Ben Folds, no less.  They had a big band, with another guitarist and a keyboard player and were they good?  You tell me.  They friggin opened with Star Of Desire, a regional hit.  And there was a substantial crowd there to see them.

They played a couple of songs off the soon-to-be-released new album, and a couple of Scott’s solo songs.  Also some well chosen covers; the Kink’s Picturebook and the Band’s The Shape I’m In (although regardless of my demand that they add it to their set, no “I Am The Cosmos”.  They left after a nice 80 minute set.  I went and talked to an Imaginary Digital Friend who has seen more local and punk bands than I have…

After much intervening life, the Wooldridges and many other people from that time are still kicking, and using their hard-won experiences to keep doing what they love.  And I love that they are doing that.  It gives me hope; it renews my determination when it had been flagging the past few weeks.  Time is running out, yes; as it runs out for all of us.  For some it runs out sooner; for me it was a near thing.  But not yet, not yet; and, as ever, I am still looking to music to renew my spark and make me smile.

For a little time, at lest.  And really, what more can you ask?

Thank you, Scott and Brian Wooldridge and the other musicians on stage tonight.   You did your job well and I thank you….

 

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Tales From The Bootlegger’s Ball

Well, I know I’ve been AWOL.  So I am going to have to work on the schedule of what I want most to write about, rather than be strictly chronological.   To help, I will use a numerical value to help understand which day of the 11-day Summerfest I am referring to, to wit:

2016.6

Today was a bit hot, and I had work to do, so we got down a bit late; but in plenty of time to catch our first target, local ska stalwarts Max and the Invaders. They’ve been playing in various incarnations around town for 30 years; I’m sure I’ve seen them here and there, because I’ve been seeing live local music since moving to Milwaukee in 1983.

Man, they are fun. Reggae, ska and calypso, with a rocking “O-bla-di” cover.  And they were winging CDs into the crowd, which came in pretty hot but no one was injured.  They also threw monkeys into the crowd during “Monkey Man”.  Here’s my catch, along with my other swag from the night:

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They had a great slot, nearly two hours before local reggae long-timers King Solomon and one of the Marleys was up after that.  King solomon was also really great.

I am not much of a food blogger, but I want to mention that I was a bad bad zombie, and I had something called a Twister Dog. 1/4 lb hot dog wrapped in a spiral cut potato, deep fried and covered with cheese sauce, beer-candied bacon, a jalapeño sauce and a sriracha drizzle.  Fuck YOU, traitorous cardiovascular system!  Messy, yes, but really quite tasty.

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Also, we tried the Deep Fried Brandy Old Fashioned.  Is there anything more Wisconsin than deep frying an after-dinner drink?  the answer is none.  None more Wisconsin.

So after eating that delicious, bad food, and listening to some great reggae, we moved to our favorite place:  The Rebel Stage.  Local music, volunteers, fun and only occasionally some morning puke; right on the lagoon and in some wonderful shade, and directly adjacent to the Lakefront Brewery serving tent.

There was a band called Uncle Ferguss’s Magic Whiskey Band.  They played pop and rock hits as Irish folk reels and jigs and they were GREAT.  Right after we got there, they play “Heroes” then “Hurt” then “Whiskey in the Jar” — the Metallica version.  And they finished with a mashup of Freebird, Carry On Wayward Son, and Come Sail Away.  Fricking GENIUS!

And after that was a Milwaukee Polka/ Hip-Hop band.  Yes, you heard that right.  November Criminals.  This is VERY NEARLY more Milwaukee than the deep-fried Brandy Old Fashioned (see above). I took a video, but FYWP wants me to pay actual cash zombie money to embed upload my own videos, and until y’all start paying for my bloghosting, you’ll have to find it on FaceHell or Twitter. But  They were very very fun, and I responded by buying the new Whiskey of the Damned CD and got some stickers….

We went on to see the Gin Blossoms.  We were supposed to catch up with one of my old college roommates, but he got waylaid by his teen daughters and their friends and he had to hang out in a far less-cool place.  Most hilarious text exchange: “wife couldn’t deal with the crowds, so I am in charge” “LOL. WHAT crowds?  This is an empty night…” “[thumbs down emoji]”

Gin Blossoms were good, as they always are. Two quibbles; the sound guy was fucking up the lead guitar, which was all but inaudible.  And the follow spot guy could not grasp the idea that sometimes you spotlight the guitarist or the drummer or whoever is doing something other than singing.

Yes, I know this is pedestrian and blow-by-blow music wangdoodling.  

But here’s the thing.

This was a Tuesday at Summerfest, the day after the Fourth of July. And after a good day of work, we saw an amazing array of bands.  Mixed genres, genders and races and a lot of fans that did, indeed, look like America.  I had someone apologize for standing in front of me, which is actually their right. We had a few beverages, some pretty good food, and awesome awesome music both local and national (and in some cases, international). I heard some new stuff, and learned some new stuff.

I mean, I fully understand that I am a complete outlier when it comes to loving live music and local music and art and things like that.  But I believe that this festival is something special; 11 days of music and food and sun on the shores of one of the great inland seas; in a moderately sized city that makes tolerance and patience and politeness a standard rather than an anomaly and we all get along in a crowded, noisy, chaotic environment.  As someone (I think it was either Hunter Thompson or P.J. O’Rourke before he got stupid) said, “fun is like a virus; it is spread through human contact”.

I have been to the Fest 6 out of six days in 2016.  After the Event of last year, when my cardiologists saved my life and then made me miss Opening Day for the first time in well over a decade, it feels really good to have my health in some kind of control and to feel good after the halfway point. And I will be going down tomorrow as well.  And, zombie willing, the rest of the days as well…

So tonight, like I said, it was a relatively light attendance.  I would guess 65-70,000 people.  And yes, yes indeed we had a WONDERFUL time.

 

 


Monsters Are Real

On Wednesday, we talked to Eoin (pronounced ‘owen’) McCarthy, from Whiskey of the Damned and the dude who runs the Rebel Stage, and he told us that Thursday was Irish punk bands all day and his band was playing at 6.  I guess if you run the stage, you get to have your band play; The Bob Geldof effect….

2016.2

So, although I spent the morning working on behalf of two clients so they could arrange a lease between each other, we went down by what, 3 or 4?  but we went to the Rebel Stage, and saw loud irish influenced bands who had energy and spit and sweat and loved playing for the several people there, and is there anything more fucking rock and roll than that?

Eoin and Whisky of the Damned took the stage at 6, and fuck they took it HARD.  They opening with an Irish/punk version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” that exposed that it is actually a DAMN GOOD SONG.  After that, the idea that I was going to be a bit more moderate in intake, went out the fuck.  Because, punk as fuck.

Yeah, there was sweat and spit and drinking.  But there was also the roving percussion solo on empty half barrels.  There was also the barrel rolling competition.  There was the new instrumentalist who played violin, banjo, and mandocello.

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WotD has a new album coming out, and it they will be playing a record release set NEXT Friday, so that ought

These  to be a very reserved affair.

In any case, my old friend Dave from Platteville loved them when I introduced him at this stage, and last year at a bigger stage, he was less excited.  Suffice to say, this answered all of his concerns, and more so…

at this point ,we knew there was incoming rain (thanks pocket computers!) so we had a choice:  Going to the BMO stage, to suffer through a Zeppelin cover band before Styx (Still TWO original members!!)or move to the JC stage, for an unknown band and then a well-respected local band called The Record Company. We were trying to make arrangement for Joe Jackson at the north stage.

So, we decided to go north to see a band that we had no knowledge about named Black Violin.  Before they showed up, I used my pocket computer to figure it out, and it indicated that it was ‘classically trained violinists with hip-hop’ and, hamsters and guinea pigs, that is such  weak description of the actual music….

Let’s speak seriously.  One of my biggest complaints with hip-hop, rap, and electronica is the lack of actual drummers. But what I have discovered is that drummers are crucial; even Echo and the Bunnymen discovered that.  And you know what? these guys are with me. 

These guys exceeded every expectation.  The description of ‘hip-hop’ was weak at best; and their song “stereotypes’ made it ridiculous.  I found the music lovely and complex, the musicianship to be stellar, and like I said the use of a live drummer made it muscular and flexible. The best thing about Summerfest is that it affords you the opportunity to discover new favorite bands; one of the guys at the Rebel Stage said “thank you for coming out to see new bands and new music; I tell you that someone out there has written your new favorite song, and you just haven’t heard it yet”

We were camping out, this stage had cover.  But the rain did  not work with us, and we never made it t see Joe Jackson, who apparently still did a set….

But; between the Whiskey show, and the new favorites Black Violin, I came home feeling that this was still a lovely night….


The Saga Begins

Dammit.  After at least 15 years of making Opening Day, those damn cardiologists BROKE MY STREAK.  Fuckers, saving my life like that.  So, reset the counter and start over.  Side benefit; counting from DEATHDAY, I am now one year old.  Wife Sublime says I didn’t actually die, but she was on the other side of the machines that go ‘bing’.

2016.1

I worked, but we still went down for lunch.  I was able to make a site visit near my house right around lunch, picked up WS, and then got down for the Gig.  First meal: gyros & kebab.  NOM NOM NOM.  then some beer, and looking for noise; but oddly enough, Zorg the mush-beast made Opening Day for the first time since before he evanesced, and we spent much time at the Rebel Stage watching local musicians with nothing to lose.  LOVED IT.

But eventually, as all things do, we had to move on.  So of course, we went south and caught a couple of songs from Kris Kristofferson who was doing it Revue-Style, with his daughter and a couple of Merle Haggard’s kids.  It was good, but I was concerned about the availability at the far north stage, so we went there for the end of The Fatty Acids, and to wait for a long-haired, accordion playing architect misfit with a penchant for singing other people’s songs with food.

I first saw Weird Al on these same grounds, on a night when the thunderstorms were so severe that they shut down every other stage; but the stage he was at was nestled under a freeway overpass, so lightning was not a hazard; as I understand, he was told he didn’t have to play, but all he did was point out at us sodden wretches huddling under beer canopies.  He went on late, but hit the stage and before a note was played, he shouted out at us “you people are fucking INSANE!”  And then played a lovely show, and I will tell you that we had a lovely drenched time.

This night was not such.  It was cool and pleasant and the crowd was much more moderate than I had feared.

I find Weird Al to be a remarkable artist.  He actually graduated with an architecture degree (kinship!) but before he actually did any practice, he sent tapes to Dr. Demento and was invited onto the show; while there, he went into the toilet room with his accordion and a drummer who was there, Jon ‘Bermuda’ Schwarz who played the empty accordion case.  They recorded “Another One Rides The Bus”.

I always remark on the ace musicianship of Al’s band. It will be noted that Jon ‘Bermuda’ Schwarz is still the drummer, and most of the rest of the band are the same guys he picked up to play his songs live, when he started doing that. But, here’s the thing; listen to one of his albums.  All of those songs, that sound exactly like the originals, are played by all those guys.  Rap, punk, pop, rock, classic, New Wave, whatever it takes, they do it and do it well.  It is notable that Al gets the approval of the artists before doing a parody, and if he did them poorly, I bet far fewer would say yes.  Also notably, when he wanted to do a parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” he called Kurt Cobain on the set of SNL, asking for permission.  Cobain shyly said “OK….umm, is it going to be about food?” and Al said “no, it’s about how your lyrics are unintelligible”  “OK, great.”  Also, it has been reported that cobain felt that having a Weird Al song was much more indicative of making it big than was playing on SNL.

On top of all that, he and his band do a set based around costume changes that would make Bette Midler or Cher say ‘hold on now’. Interspersed with videos that reveal Al as an incredibly gifted comedian and comic actor.  Damn, I am kind of glad I don’t have to compete with this fucker on the architecture playing field, it just wouldn’t be fair.

So yeah, was it a great performance?  You tell me. Other than the fact he opened by saying “Milwaukee, I probably don’t even need to ask you but DO YOU WANT SOME POLKAS??!?!?!” and after that, it was nothing but fucking net.

And we saw the whole thing with the city as a backdrop, including the new 633 Building and the under-construction NML headquarters building….

Whooooo.  We got home late, and we were probably overserved; after all, we had been Home for 10 hours.  Friends and drink and food and music and I am still fucking alive.