Sunday, July 28, 2013

Milwaukee Music -- It's Up, and It's Good!

Quinn Scharber's Telecaster
There's many Milwaukeeans that could tell you a lot more about the local music scene than I could, but in the past few weeks I've seen a few of our up-and-coming bands and I must say, there's plenty to be encouraged about.

In no particular order or preference, here's a few that I've seen that require your attention...

Ethan Keller and the Ethan Keller Band

We caught these guys at Port Fish Day, 2013. Their music style is described at Ethan's website as Midwest Americana R&B. That's a music category that I've never heard of! Doesn't matter. Ethan's brand of music is smooth, melodic and expertly performed. Watching the band perform while standing in the Summer sun alongside Port Washington's lovely harbor, it would have taken a team of wild horses to drag me away. (Thanks for the reference, Mick and Keith.) Also, as a fan of the look of guitars as much as the sound of guitars, Ethan plays a few that are truly drool-worthy: a lime green Gretsch and ashen gray Gibson Hummingbird. Both ... WANT.

Hugh Bob and the Hustle

Total pros, these guys. Last Summer I had their self-titled album on near constant repeat. Hugh Bob, from Butternut, Wisconsin, makes high quality Americana music with a distinct Milwaukee touch.

Americana. Milwaukee. Milwaukeecana? What the heck -- if there can be Midwest Americana R&B, I don't see why there can't be a "Milwaukeecana" category!

By the way, what's a distinct Milwaukee sound, you ask? To me, Milwaukee has a long history of cleverly crafted Americana music. The reference list is long: Paul Cebar, The Mosleys, The Spanic Boys (I LOVED them; where'd they go?), Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo, John Sieger, BoDeans, and, of course, The Violent Femmes. There's many more, and that's not to say Hugh Bob and the Hustle sound like any of them, but they're cut from similar cloth and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.


The way these two have been rolling up great press lately they scarcely need my endorsement, but I'm a sucker for melodic pop and their music hits me right in my sweet spot.

Thanks to our common appreciation of Milwaukee artist Dwellephant, I learned of the release of their 2012 EP, for which Dwellephant did the album cover art. I picked up the release and instantly fell in love with it. I played it often in 2012 and continued to do so right up until their 2013, full-length release "Love of Mine."

There's a lot to like about Vic+Gab. They write great melodies, play expertly, sing lovely and they're very nice people; however, there is an unsung hero in the band: drummer Jesus Enrique NaƱez. I often find my ears listening to his rhythms as much as the vocals, guitar and bass. His drumming reminds me a bit of Ringo Starr's. The Beatles claimed that Pete Best's heavy-footed drumming prevented their music from growing and living. When they heard Ringo playing in another Liverpoolian band, they knew he was their man. I imagine Vic+Gab must've had another drummer before Jesus--I don't know--but without question Jesus's drumming gives the music of Vic+Gab wings like Ringo's gave those three other guys'.

Here's another endorsement: I watched Vic+Gab yesterday while standing alongside Milwaukee music legend Paul Cebar. Throughout the entire show Mr. Cebar was smiling and toe-tapping. I said to him near show's end, "If you like it, it must be good," and he replied, "They're great. I love it!"

Also, I've yet to see this band that I've only heard of a few hours ago, but Buffalo Gospel has instantly grabbed my aural attention. Their new album "We Can Be Horses" dropped July 27th and is quite lovely.

Lastly, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades and Ivy Spokes are making great original music too. The only reason I'm not dedicating a paragraph to each of them is typing fatigue. (My right hand is in a cast; all functions normally carried out by 4 fingers are now entirely being carried out by my thumb!)

Gonna take this blog out with a great Nick Lowe song covered by Paul Cebar. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Put a Sock In It, William Shatner

William Shatner, you sucker puncher, you.

You see, I've used that service you shill (Priceline) many times, and most often I've come away pleased, but this time, William, you got me. You upper-cut me right in the rib cage when I wasn't looking.

I travel a lot for business. Many times, when the work is done and all I've got to do is fly home the next morning, I'll log on to Priceline and use their "Name Your Own Price" feature. Generally I'll pick a city center so I can walk the town and do a little exploring. I've done this in Hartford, Chicago, San Francisco (twice) and Baltimore.

You treated me really well in Baltimore and San Francisco, Bill. The Marriott overlooking Camden Yards during an Orioles game was a particularly nice touch. Thanks for that.

But then Buffalo happened. You placed me in that stinkin' Adam's Mark. Seriously, Bill, what were you thinkin'? Three Stars?! You're getting senile, I think.

Checking in I was going to give you a break. I overlooked the broken sign lights and the non-working parking gate, but once inside ... that's when the real fun happened.

The room key system was down. I got checked in, but then had to be escorted to me room by security so they could let me in. Maybe that's not the worst thing, but others needed to get to their rooms too, so we had to wait. And wait. And wait.

Within 5 seconds of entry into my room, I spotted something that did belong to me ... or the hotel. Bill, I kid you not, there was a single dirty sock slung over the left armrest of the office chair. Yours after a hard night of drinking, I presume, Shat-man?

And the beds. There were two of them. One looked nice, but the other, Bill -- I could've sworn I could still see your arm hanging out from underneath the covers.  I checked - you weren't there. It was just messy.

I unpacked my stuff and headed for the bathroom. WHOA, BILL. Aim to please, please. Or at the very least, take a seat. I mean, sheesh, did you get ANY in the pot? It sure smells like you didn't!

I had to get out of this joint before I got sick, so I left the inn and did some exploring. I had a nice time, but when I returned, again, I had to endure the wait.

At least, Shat, you had the courtesy to leave me one comfortable bed and a working alarm clock, but, please, next time before you do this to me, Bill, at least buy me dinner first.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paul McCartney -- Out There in Milwaukee

A few thoughts on Paul McCartney's 2013 "Out There" tour stop at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin...

It took me nearly 35 years, but roughly 10 years ago I irrevocably became a fan of The Beatles. It was due to an anniversary celebration of the release of Rubber Soul. Numerous contemporary artists cut a track-for-track tribute of Rubber Soul and were being interviewed on NPR. One artist, Rhett Miller -- the frontman for the Old 97's -- talked about how significant that album was to him and how he still regularly enjoyed listening to it

It got me thinking ... I don't know The Beatles' work linearly. Up to that point, I just knew their muddled mass of work as one jumbled entity. I didn't know if I Wanna Hold Your Hand was on the same album as Revolution #9.

So I started squarely in the middle: I bought a copy of Rubber Soul and fell in love with it. It may have been 35 years old, but it sounded fresh and surprisingly modern to me.

Rubber Soul was the album that diverted The Beatles off their always-writing-songs-that-contain-the-words-Love-and-You trajectory.

I followed with Revolver and then continued to procure albums in the order they released them until Let It Be - their last.

That was a GREAT way to learn and appreciate The Beatles -- who recorded ALL of that wonderful music in a span less than 9 years!

I didn't have a favorite Beatle; they all played a role in giving them a sound and style that was uniquely "The Beatles." However, after 46 years on this planet, it's hard to deny that one Beatle's footprint is bigger than any others': the catchy, hummable and instantly recognizable tunefulness of the music produced by Paul McCartney.

So it was with great eagerness that I went into his stadium-sized concert at Milwaukee's Miller Park with 45,000 others. I was going to see a man knighted by the Queen of England, a man noted as the wealthiest musician in the world, a man who wrote the riffs that I practiced for hours on end with my guitar, a man credited with writing the most played song in the history of recorded music (Yesterday), a man who has inspired anybody who is anybody in music today.

I was going to see a Beatle. Or as my pal Tony said it, "I am going to see a fucking Beatle!"

But here's the thing: despite all those great reasons to see a Paul McCartney show, what struck me most was his very visible virtuosity. I guess I knew it was there all along, but somehow I had forgotten that gift he had for being able to play nearly any instrument and make it look easy.

Watching the legend on the big screen and stage, I was captivated by his talent the way I would be if I was watching a one-legged unicycler juggle chain saws while balancing a toaster on her nose.  Despite the fame, wealth, sweltering heat and 45,000 person crowd, at the heart of it all was Paul McCartney's music and incredible ability.

Guitar, bass, piano, ukulele and, of course, his great voice - he makes it appear effortless.

Plus, he made it appear effortless for THREE hours and never took a drink of water! (He probably took a little sip at the first encore, which was at least two and a half hours in.) Seventy-one or twenty-one, that's one hell of a feat!!

So with that said and a day's reflection passed, I'd have to say that was the best concert I have ever attended. It wasn't inexpensive, but in no way do I feel cheated out of even a single penny. In fact, if he came back to Miller Park next week, I'd gladly fork over the dough to na, na, na, na, Hey Jude with Sir Paul once again.

Concert rating: 5 Hofner basses out of 5.

P.S. It didn't hurt that Live and Let Die was the most bombastic, loud and visually assaulting song I have ever seen performed in concert either. ;)