Category Archives: General

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:

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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!


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….

 


Fly On The Wall

Third day of the Fest, second day of attendance.  We went down to catch a little bit of Will Phalen, who was pretty damn good.

Zelmo showed, and we got some food;  I found a nice asian sampler plate that seemed to work fine for the glucose balance.  Probably more salt than I should have had…

Zelmo had to leave before he turned into a pumpkin, and we discussed catching Pat McCurdy.  However, I was still getting a handle on all kinds of new habits and boundaries; my back was sore (turned out to be a med side effect), so we decided to take it easy and call it a night.

I am going to combine the Saturday attend with this post; because I don’t go.  Had to miss some good stuff…the Invaders, King Solomon, Maritime, Flaming Lips…but a nephew had made the appalling decision to schedule his wedding during Summerfest.

So we went to that, instead.  I found it interesting that Summerfest was not particularly tempting to have a drink – helps that much of the beer is middling grade at best- but that the full bar at the reception was a much stiffer challenge.  But it all turned out OK!

….and Sunday could be another Summerfest day.


High Feather

Just got back from my seventh day at Summerfest, and it is now over for another year.  One day due to ICU, one due to an ill-considered wedding date, and two for general fatigue.

I have many posts to yet be made, but they will have to wait a bit until I can get some Klark Kent duties out of the way, not to mention silly crap like Cardiac Rehab class.

One thing worth mentioning; a sign of the unseasonably cool weather is that I managed to not get my traditional Fest-Burn. Today and tonight, however, were fucking gorgeous.

Time for go to bed for me too, kid…

IMG_2039


Wait So Long

The docs said “no activity restrictions’ but they didn’t say “you are prefect and able to do everything you want”; they also said to listen to my body and try to take it a bit easy.  So, of course, I went in to work for half a day, and then went down to Summerfest about 4:30….

I felt fine.  Started the long process of surveying the food vendors to find servings that won’t make my doctors slap me, and surprisingly, most have some things that, while maybe not the most health conscious, are at least not fried and less-fatty.  Sodium is another issue, of course…

So, we saw a few bands, nothing that made me buy the CDs-and with a much lower outlay for drinks this yea, I have a larger budget for swag!  In fact, it got kind of cold, so I bought a knitted Summerfest hoodie that is rapidly becoming my favorite shirt.

We saw several friends, and I started cultivating the LEGEND that will be HEART-ATTACK SUMMERFEST GEEZER.  Good to see them, and even more, good to be seen…

Sammy Llanas, former BoDean, was playing with a new band at the Johnson stage and he was good, really damn good.  Played a couple of old songs, and a lot of his own stuff.  But Sammy, if you’re gonna play that well, you need to bring some merch!  Anyways, I downloaded the 2 of his albums I didn’t have from eMusic.

And then we went to one of the most maligned stages, at the north end of the grounds, to see Trampled By Turtles which was not as packed as one would expect.  however, as you would expect, there were frequent whiffs of sweet leaf wafting around.  And the sound was amazingly clear and crisp and well mixed.  For a six piece band, you could pick out every single instrument clearly.  Want to listen to the banjo?  you could.  Want to listen to the fiddle?  No prob.  Want to focus on the mandolin?  Yep.

Plus, they did an excellent cover of Touch Of Grey.

At that point, by back and feet were being a bit less than supportive, and I had to remind myself I was barely 28 hours out of the ICU, so we went home before they played my favorite song, Wait So Long.


I’m not ruined but I need repair…

Sorry, folks, but updates will be delayed while SERIOUS LIFE HAPPENS

Suffice to say that this is the first time IN OVER A DECADE that I will not be at Summerfest Opening Day.

Dammit.

I the meantime, read some Mekons.