Thursday, December 27, 2012

What's The Best Music Venue In Milwaukee

What is your favorite music venue in Milwaukee? That's one thing that people ask me from time to time.  When they do, I have to answer with "that depends." Are we talking about shows at the BMO Harris Bradley Center?  Are we talking about smaller venues like bars and clubs? Can I expand out to southeastern Wisconsin before I answer the question?  There are so many great places to see bands here in Wisconsin.  I guess I better cover my top three or four.

Riverside Theater - Downtown Milwaukee

The Riverside Theater is still one of the best places to see bands perform.  The theater seats roughly 1300 people.  It's one of the oldest theaters in the United States that is still in operation.  The walls are ornate, the ceiling is high, but the sound in the venue is almost always great.  Some of the stage views from the boxes along the side walls isn't the best, but you do get a chance to see into the wings from those areas. Over the years, I have found that it's best to sit around seven to ten rows back from the stage. The sound is better just a bit back from the front edge of the stage.  As for the bands that come to the Riverside, the booking manager has nearly free reign when it comes to who he brings to Milwaukee.

Marcus Amphitheater - Summerfest Grounds 

The Marcus Amphitheater is one of the best and worst places to see a show.  How can it be both?  If you are from Milwaukee, then you know that the Marcus is where the Summerfest headline acts perform.  These performances are almost always sold out, and that means if you go, you are sitting with 23,000 of your fellow fans.  Sometimes that can be the greatest thing in the world.  Imagine being part of a group of people who all love the same band that you do.  If you are lucky enough to get within the first twenty rows of the Marcus stage, you might even enjoy the sound.

What's not so great about the Marcus?  The sections numbered "One" and "Three" have views that are so far to the left and right, that you just don't enjoy the performance.  This is an outdoor venue with a huge roof.  The sound can get very muddy when it drifts beyond the first twenty rows.  So if you are sitting far right, fifty rows from the stage, you begin to wonder why you bothered to pay $129 to see "Band X." Strangely enough, the sound and view gets better once you move beyond the bleachers.  Some of the best shows that I have attended were on nights where I abandoned my reserved seat, and checked out the band from the lawn  at the top of the venue.

Turner Hall - Milwaukee

Turner Hall is just across the street from the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee.  The actual hall was closed for decades, until the folks who run the Pabst and Riverside theaters decided to start booking shows there.  It's one of my favorite places to see a show.  The sound might not be the best, but the venue feels very welcoming.  There is a second story balcony that offers an escape from the larger crowds on the main floor.  The stage is high off the dance floor, and that means you can see your favorite musicians from just about anywhere in the venue.  The wood floors are easy on the feet, for those of us who end up standing for three or four hours. The drink prices are pretty fair, but I would suggest that you order the double.  The sound can be a bit muddy, depending on the style of music being played, but I have yet to attend a Turner hall show where I have left early, or where I headed out the door, just to get away from the crowd or noise.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ravi Shankar Has Two Famous Musical Daughters

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar was already famous before the Concert for Bangladesh, but one must admit that the event helped make him more popular in the western world. That night, he took the stage and proceeded to spend roughly three minutes tuning up his sitar. When he was finished tuning, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. That was how little (some western) people knew of that style of music. 

Shankar was first married at age 21 to a fourteen year old girl named Annapurna Devi. I’m assuming that the marriage was arranged, but it did last over twenty years. They produced one son.  That son also played sitar.  His son died in the 1990’s. Shankar also had two daughters who both went on to musical fame.  Anoushka Shankar was born in 1981, and went on to play sitar.  She is well known for her work in classical Indian music.  The pair did play together from time to time.

The Birth Of Norah Jones

Ravi is also the father of Norah Jones.  Back in the late 1970’s, Ravi was still married when he met Sue Jones, a concert promoter. They went on to produce one child, and named her Norah.  Norah went on to win a number of Grammy awards in the same year that her half sister Anoushka won a single Grammy for her work in the field of World Music.

As the decades passed, Shankhar stayed active in the world music scene. He did all this while taking care of a heart problem that first surfaced back in 1973.  He produced an amazing musical score for the movie Gandhi in 1982.  He became a member of the Indian parliament in 1992, and that same year he underwent heart surgery.  As the 1990’s came to a close, Ravi was performing over two dozen shows per year.

He spent the next ten years teaching his daughter Anoushka how to play the sitar, and toured with her off and on. He made hints of retiring in 2008, but was compelled to play again in 2011.  He was last on stage just this past November, when he played along with Anoushka in California.   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jason Aldean Summerfest Show | What's So Special About Aldean?

Jason Aldean Summerfest 2013
Why is Jason Aldean headlining during Summerfest 2013? Who is this guy? I decided to start my research by watching the video of his first top ten song titled “Hicktown.” The video has all the elements that make up the vast majority of successful country hits.  It’s got women wearing short shorts, “mud bogging” trucks, beer, American flags, and bon fires in the woods.  All of that is followed up with more women in short shorts.  If you flip over to Brooks and Dunn’s video titled “Hillbilly Deluxe,” you will find pretty much the same video.  It must be a country thing.  I mean really, the videos are almost interchangeable, elements wise. The theme of both songs is the same too.  Is there something special about Jason Aldean? I certainly didn't find it in that song, or that video.

Aldean hit number one on the country music charts with his song titled Why. It’s a ballad about love and breaking up, or coming close to breaking up.  I can’t quite tell.  It’s a very introspective song.  From there, Aldean found success with a song titled Amarillo Sky.  That song is not his own.  It was penned by McBride &the Ride back in the 1990’s. 

My Kind Of Party Hits Pay Dirt

Jason Aldean fans would probably agree that his 2010 album titled My Kind of Party is his most popular disk so far.  That year, he won the American Country Awards – Single of the Year - for the song Don’t You Wanna Stay.  That one is also a ballad, a duet with Kelly Clarkson.  So is that what makes Aldean so famous?  Is he just one of those country stars that can sing the heck out of a sad, slow song?  His two biggest hits were just that kind of tune. I also have to mention the title track to this same album.  It’s another one of those “This is what I’m all about” songs.  The lyrics cover what’s fun about being “country.” Have I figured this guy out? No, I just don’t have an answer for you.  Jason Aldean is popular, just because he is. Check him out at Summerfest, and let me know if I’m missing something.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Milwaukee Punk Rock Reunion Show Shank Hall

Milwaukee Punk Band The Crusties
I'm preparing for another reunion show.  It's for my old Milwaukee punk band.  I will also be filling in on the drums for another great band named Sacred Order.  This time, I'm not doing any of the promotion, as the event is a fundraiser for an aspiring author.  The even is at Shank Hall this weekend.  All I have to do is try to play drums like I played back when I was 21 years old.  That's hard enough.

My bass player already asked me to bring the tempo down a bit on the songs.  I have no problem with that, as I really can't keep up with that drummer who used to be me. I can safely say that I'm not as flexible as I was all those years ago.  It's not that I need the flexibility, but it would be nice to have.  I'm drumming smarter now.

After the first few rehearsals on my own, I was starting to think that I would not be able to get my chops back up to snuff.  I was losing drum sticks, hitting the rims, and folding my arms onto themselves.  It was messy, to say the least.  To make matters worse, I had a ten day vacation planned well ahead of this event.  The vacation would take up precious drumming time. 

Our first full band practice went well.  When the rest of the band saw that I was just about as rusty as they were, it seemed to make them feel better.  Not that they need me to be playing poorly so they can feel better about themselves.  It was more of a "we're all in the same shape" kind of thing.  By our second rehearsal together, we had improved greatly.  The only wild card will be how well our singer performs. He's flying in the night before the event. 

Aside from the singer, the members of the band have all been performing in various bands in the past 25 years.  The singer was doing some hip jazz stuff in the early 1990's.  I don't know if he will be up to the task, but it's punk music, so all he has to do is get through the show with some sort of vocal style.    

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bob Dylan Top Charting Albums Prior To 1970

Bob Dylan BMO Harris Show Milwuakee
Bob Dylan is coming to the BMO Harris Bradley Center on November 17. Will he play the new album, or just the classics? I would think that most fans want to hear the classics, but I could be wrong.  Perhaps he could toss out a couple Traveling Wilburys songs too. 

Dylan first hit the charts in the US with his album titled The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  That album was more popular in the United Kingdom, but managed to hit the top 25 in the charts here at home.  He had similar results with his third album titled The Times They Are a-Changin’
The album went gold in the states, and made the top ten in the UK.

In 1965 Bob Dylan had two very popular albums hit the charts.  Bringing It All Back Home sold over a million copies, charting at number six in the USA.  Once again, he had a number one hit on his hands in the UK.  Following up with Highway 61 Revisited, he made fans very happy with that effort.  He sold over 1.5 million copies of that album. 

Between 1966 and late 1970, Dylan released five albums.  All five albums were top ten efforts in the United States and Europe.  Nashville Skyline did best, selling well over one million copies.
His album titled Together Through Life was released in 2009.  That disk hit number one in American and abroad. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back Into The Studio | Finding Soul In Your Drumming

Studio Drumming
I’m heading back into the (home) studio tomorrow night. We recorded all of our songs about five months ago, and I just didn’t like how the bed tracks sounded.  I’ll be the first to admit that I felt a bit stiff during the sessions.  Surely, there were “keepers” in the bunch, but after playing them back; they just didn’t seem to have soul. Tomorrow, I’m going for soul. How can I shake those anxious feelings that come right before we push the record button? I’ll tell you.

I would say that preparing for the recording by practicing a lot is probably a wise thing.  Having known these songs backwards and forwards for a while now, it’s all down to execution. I have rehearsed these songs five out of the past seven days. I have worked out, then rehearsed, and then done the reverse by banging on the kit until I was worn out, following that up with a quick 2 mile jog.  In prior years, I didn’t tie my physical exercise with my drumming.  I didn’t focus on cardio and leg strengthening.  I would lift weights, focusing on my shoulders, and the muscles that help me keep my arms up.  As a result, my legs just didn’t feel strong enough.  I’m three months into this new program, and I love the fact that my whole body feels pretty strong after playing the set twice.

Drumming Is All In The Mind

Now for the mental part of recording, I’m hoping for some encouragement from the rest of the band, but I don’t really care to have the entire band watch me lay down drum tracks. In fact, I prefer to have just one band mate at the session.  I could be wrong, but I just don’t see the need for all the cooks in my kitchen.  Most times, their minds wander after the first few takes.  You might finish a song and ask them what they thought, only to get a “That was okay.” from someone who you knew wasn’t really listening. So here I go, stronger, ready, and hopefully with just one helper in the booth.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ear Plugs For Musicians | Protect Your Hearing

Ear Plugs for Musicians
I am a drummer who suffers from tinnitus. The constant ringing in my ears is something that I have gotten used to.  That doesn’t mean that I have accepted it. I hate it. I wish it would stop.  I started wearing ear plugs in 1993.  I was nine years into my musical endeavors, but the damage was already done.  It didn’t help that I fell asleep each night with headphones on. When the ringing started, I found myself trying to stop the advancement of the tinnitus, rather than eliminating it altogether. There are very few effective ways to eliminate tinnitus. My efforts to stop this progress have surely helped me to understand what musicians can do to take care of their hearing.

Ear plugs made of foam are usually the first type that a musician uses.  They can be found at any drug store, and are usually sold next to silicone plugs, or earplugs that swimmers use.  There are a few different styles of foam plugs, some with a sponge type feel, that are cylindrical shape.  Others look more like a bullet, and have a smoother finish.  Either type will certainly give you protection, but I find that the “bullet” shaped plugs tend to slip out of the ear as time goes on.  The other issue I have with these plugs is that they tend to mute the incoming sound in ways that makes it harder to play drums at a proper level.  I find myself hitting the drums harder, thus killing some of the overtones of the drum kit. Still, foam plugs work well to spare your ears, and they come with different levels of noise reduction capability.

Ear Plugs For Musicians

Musicians ear plugs are designed to reduce sounds evenly.  You will see these plugs have flanges, and a central flange. There are two parts to this plug that work to reduce high and low frequencies. The diaphragm will take care of the lows, while the central flange helps to bring down the high notes and sounds. These plugs cost more, but can be reused.
In this category, you will also find the custom made ear plugs.  I took the time to visit an audiologist, to have a mold made of ear canals. After taking a hearing test, the audiologist made that mold, and within a few days I had a pair of earplugs that fit my ears exclusively.  They offer the best attenuation, and noise reduction.  They certainly cost more than a box of foam plugs, but the fit and sound reduction made it an easy choice.

Finally, I must admit that I have a set of ear muffs, just like the kind you see the airport baggage handlers wearing.  I wear those when recording the drums.  The ear muffs allow me to first put on a pair of in-ear noise reducing headphones, and then I can put said earmuffs over the ear plugs.  I use the headphones to play along with a click track, but have a second layer of sound reduction with the ear muffs. I also use the ear muffs during rehearsal, as they offer up a different type of sound for the listener. I tend to hear more of the lows when I wear them. I must admit that the bass guitar can bleed right through the ear muffs, so it’s best to remind your bass player to keep the volume down, if possible.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Crazy Tour Story Part Two | Bullet Holes In The Lobby

Croatian Rock and Roll Show
This is part two of my Rock and Roll in Croatia tour entry. We had the opportunity to perform in some rather remote regions of Yugoslavia.  Most times, the shows were just like any other, but this one had a feel that I will never forget. 

The club was now full, and upon the first notes of our opening song, the room turned into a violent, swirling mosh pit which immediately drove some of the wiser and more fashionably dressed people out onto the gravel pavement surrounding the cafeteria.  The majority of the men in the mosh pit were clad in worn out military fatigues. This hunter green melee forced many to watch our band through a single grimy window. An ice storm had started outside, and for some reason my mind focused on the sharp crystal pellets bouncing off the heads of the people that gathered close to the window.   As we ticked off the songs in our set, many of the men seemed to lose control.  Empty bottles started to fly from the crowd, creating brown and green fireworks of glass that drove even more people out onto the gravel.  Two security guards stationed on each side of the stage were throwing men back into crowd, but noticeably losing control of the situation.  Our bass player was kicking people back into the crowd, men were crashing into the drums, and broken glass was flying like shrapnel.  We had to cut  out songs from our list and end this night before something very bad went down. 

As I clicked off the four-count start to our last song, everything went black.  A man had lassoed my head and arms with his jacket. He had thrown off most of his clothes and tossed them in the air, and I just happened to be in the line of fire. For just a second or two, I lost it. In that short burst of anger, I yanked the jacket from my head, and stood up from behind my kit.  Standing on the stage in front of me was a drunken soldier, stripped down to his underwear and one shoe.  The entire club broke out in laughter.  My rage diminished instantly, and we went on with our last song. It was fitting that the night ended with a bit of slapstick comedy.

We packed up our gear and headed to the hotel.The only hotel in the village had no power, but they managed to show us to our rooms with flash lights.  The hotel manager confiscated our passports, and left us alone in the pre-dawn darkness.   

Our tour driver shared the hotel room with me.  He pulled out a flashlight, cleaned the blood from his mouth, and nursed a sore shoulder.  He had his own battle off-stage that night, having been head-butted by a man who tried to steal an empty CD case.  The fight lasted only seconds, but the damage was apparent.  He muttered something about his jacket being torn and didn’t bother undressing.  He collapsed on his bed and we tried our best to get some sleep.

At first light, I found that we were staying in a brown painted room with brown carpet, brown blankets, and brown furniture. The morning was cold, grey, and it was time to get rolling to the next town. We got our passports back from the hotel manger, ordered some coffee, and waited in the lobby for the rest of the band. I happened to look up at the ceiling.  Directly above me were 23 perfect little black holes. I pointed to the holes just as our hairy legged waitress came back with our coffees.   "Bullet Holes. Someone got a little excited." she said to me, as she put her hand into the shape of a gun.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rock and Roll In War Torn Croatia

Wanda Chrome Tour
This is part of my 1999 Wanda Chrome Tour Diary.  We played rock and roll shows in Croatia and Slovenia that year.  As we worked our way south and east into Croatia, we were exposed to towns and villages that were still pretty beat up from the war that had "ended" just a couple years prior. This is part of one of three.

Our show for the night was in an abandoned Yugoslavian army base, in a small village on the Croatian - Bosnian border.  Many buildings in the nearby villages were heavily pocked with small arms fire, while others had been blown to their foundations by indiscriminate shelling.  The destruction was nothing new to us, as this was show number nine on the Balkan leg of our musical tour.
As we pulled off the gravel road leading to a few squat, nearly windowless barracks, our headlights shone on a dozen men dressed in fatigues and huddled close to a fire.   The men were drinking moonshine, visibly drunk, not looking friendly.  We got out of the van and approached the circle of men to offer up handshakes. They were frying chicken parts over that fire.  The meat was bubbling in cooking oil, in a shallow metal garbage can lid that was upturned like a bowl.  One of the men pulled away from the fire with two fistfuls of meat. He introduced himself as Nico, the head of our security detail.  Nico handed us meat to share amongst ourselves, as this was our dinner for the night.
We were encouraged to huddle close to the fire and drink their moonshine.  It was close to freezing that night and the sky was spitting droplets of ice that stung on our faces and exposed hands. Passing the bottle without drinking from it caused a few of the men to laugh at me and make comments in Serbo-Croatian.  I never drink alcohol before a show, but that explanation was certainly not going to work with these drunken men.  Each time the bottle came my way I falsely tried to explain that I have an ulcer and cannot drink.  They would laugh and shove the bottle back against my chest and say “You DRINK”!  I put the bottle to my lips and pretended to drink.
The grease covered meat in my hand was half-cooked.  I certainly couldn’t disrespect these men and refuse my dinner, so I pretended to eat a few bites and then tossed the meat into the surrounding darkness at a moment of distraction.  By the time we were shown the stage area, Eric our driver was trying his best to stay upright.   Croatian moonshine and half-cooked chicken warmed him up nicely.       
The stage was set up in the camp cafeteria and resembled other squat clubs we’d played in; with dim lighting and filthy couches placed along graffiti covered walls.  We were warned not to sit on the couches until someone rousted the rats out from the cushions.

US Rock Band Attracts Cops And Drug Sniffing Dogs

Nico recommended that we stay close to the camp, and perhaps even stay in the dressing room until the local police walked through with their drug-sniffing dogs.  The police had not arrived yet, but we were told that they were sure to come by because we were an American band.  
The music hall was once the camp cafeteria, and the dressing room was the butchering area of the kitchen.  The floors and walls were covered in ceramic tile, making the room seem colder than it already was. A tiny, free standing heater in the corner of the room was tring its best to chase away the chill.  Eric sat on it for a second, not knowing that it was hot enough to burn. He was too drunk to notice at first, but jumped up and howeled as his jeans nearly caught fire.

We were given two loaves of bread and a case of beer to drink.  I passed on the bread since it had dried up and hardened, as if it had been placed on the grimy table hours prior to our arrival.  There was no running water or restrooms in the place, and our bass player had to be driven to a nearby bakery that had agreed to open up just so she could relieve herself.  For the rest of the night, she would have to head out into the nearby brush.   As the evening progressed, two local bands had managed to warm up the building and the crowd that gathered.       
Meanwhile, our little dressing room had become crowded with security guards, a local television crew, a burned out Croatian rock singer, and half a dozen other rock and roll fans that were very eager to party with everyone else.  For a brief moment, I felt invisible to the circus that danced and shone all around me.  I began to feel at home with all these people and their drunken smiles.  I mentioned to my new friend standing next to me that this place was a bit chaotic.  He replied, “You are in the heart of anarchy right now, anything goes”.
Finally, it was our turn to play.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Preparing For The Show | How A Drum Riser Can Ruin Everything

Paul New
I thought that I had prepared well for my first show in two years. Our band had rehearsed quite a bit in the two weeks leading up to the show. I felt confident that we would cover the material well. What I didn't account for was how others in the band would handle their pre and post show hours. After all, you can only worry about yourself. What others do in those long hours before and after a show are really not your concern, as long as they play well, and help out.
 The club owner was nice enough. As far as staging the equipment, there was lots of room. That makes it enjoyable. If you have a place to set up and leave your gear, it's so much better all around. The PA sounded good, as I watched both bands play before we went on. I took note of how they sounded, and what to expect from the sound engineer. If the opening bands complain on stage about the monitors or feedback, then you might want to be prepared to expect the same problems too. Then again, the sound man might need the first two bands to get through before he can actually dial in a good sound. This was not the case. The bands were having a great time on stage, and you could tell that the engineer knew what he was doing.
 My drum set can present problems for sound guys. Since I am an open handed drummer, my cymbals are not where you would expect them to be. I also like to have my crash cymbals close to the top of the rack toms. When I scoped out how the sound guy had set up his microphones for the first two bands, I knew that he would have to try something else for me. When it came time to set up my kit, he had no problems. That was until he saw my wood hooped snare drum. He hoped to clamp his microphone to the drum rim, but you can't clamp a microphone to a wood hoop. Luckily, he had a spare upright snare stand. We dialed in the
drum sound, guitar, and Bass in just under 15 minutes.

Watch Out For The Shifting Drum Riser

 The only problems cropped up while I was playing. My drum set was shifting all over the riser. The riser seemed solid to me, and I had inspected it before the first band set up their gear. It didn't wobble, and was just big enough for me to fit all my drums up in the way that's easy for me. What I didn't realize was that the vibration from playing my bass drum would send my cymbal stands buzzing around like that vintage electronic football machine. The longer into the night, the more those stands (and cymbals) were shifting forward and to the right. I started to think about how I would approach the one song in the set that would be problematic with the way that my gear was shifting. I compensated by "hunkering down." I tried to keep my arms in tight, and used my wrists. It paid off, because I don't remember having any issues during that song. 

The set was short to begin with, and it felt like it went by in minutes. That was something that I forgot about. Time speeds up. There was one final thing that I did forget about. I forgot that most club owners will not pay you until the end of the night. That means you should expect to be hanging around until the bar closes, or something close to that time. All in all, it felt good to be back behind the drums.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Florence + The Machine with Lykke Li | The "Flo Formula" Needs Work

Florence and the Machine
While channel surfing, I happened upon the Austin City Limits episode that featured Florence + The Machine and Lykke Li. I tried my best to understand Florence when she came to Summerfest Milwaukee, but failed to see why she had amassed such a following. Perhaps it’s me? I decided to give “Flo” another chance, and forced myself to sit and watch the entire live performance. I also thought it might be worth my while to see what Li sounds like. Sadly, I have to say that Florence has yet to go beyond what I would call her “One Trick Pony” status. As for Li, I was pleasantly surprised.

Lykke Li mixes the old with the new. She is the “new,” and some classic, time tested musical roots are the “old” goodies that can be found in her refreshing music. With songs like Sadness Is a Blessing, and Get Some, Li gives a nod to what I would call classic beats and melodies. The opening drum and piano line to Sadness Is A Blessing has been used for over sixty years, most notably in the song Leader Of The Pack by the Shangri-Las. If you think about it, Li has the reverb on her vocals turned up to “10” just like the Shangri Las! Get Some opens with a drum beat that could easily be the start to Bo Diddley. It’s not quite a note for note lifting of the beat, but I’m just pointing out that there are classic rock and roll roots in the new music of Lykke Li. As for something truly fresh, check out her I’m Good, I’m Gone video. It’s a great mix of stop action, creepy looking body builders, and catchy hooks.

Sadly, I can’t give Florence + The Machine their (her) due. Perhaps it’s because it’s nearly impossible to know if Florence has a true vocal range (or for that matter a true style) beyond what I have heard and seen so far. One might guess that her style is been very tightly controlled. When you first come out in the music business, there are pressures to keep making the same sound over and over. Most artists want to break out, grow, and show the world that they have more to offer. I’m not so sure that this is the case with Flo. When watching the show, I thought that there were changes on the horizon when in the first fifteen seconds of the song Cosmic Love, I heard hints that she can move beyond her (already) worn out way of projecting notes from her mouth. Sadly, she was back to her usual “pushing notes out hard” singing style for the bulk of the song.
Strip away all the effects, reverb, vibrato, and what does she have? That’s all I’m asking. Give me ten minutes of some seriously stripped down singing, and then we can judge properly. The last time that I posted something about “Flo” I was summarily dismissed as someone who didn’t know the true vocal force that she is. Sure, she’s got some power. How about range, dynamics, or the ability to move beyond the formula?

The Flo Formula Needs Something New

Here is the “Flo” formula. Her songs start of soft, get loud, go back to soft, and then end. The song Cosmic Love, starts off quietly, builds enough momentum so Florence can do her usual “push the notes” singing, and then finishes off quietly. Don’t believe me? The same can be said for the song Spectrum, Heavy in Your Arms, Shake It Out, What the Water Gave Me, and Never Let Me Go. When I went searching for proof that she must do something other than what I mentioned above, I picked those songs at random, and in that order. Line those songs up, and play them one after the other. They are all the same. I was thrilled to see that she’s a fan of Klaus Nomi. At least she knows a good singer when she hears one. I’m not ripping on the person, just the narrow nature of her musical repertoire.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Baby Woodrose Stumbles Into My Life

Baby Woodrose
Stumbling upon Baby Woodrose was probably the best thing to happen to me today.  I was checking in on my old friend from FV Music, and she happened to like a blog post from a music critic who was singing the praises of their song Dandelion.  At first play, I thought, “Here comes the usual 1960’s crystal clear guitar, backed up by that familiar Rheem Mark VII organ sound.”  But wait, that voice, it’s strong.  The lyrics, they are clever.  The call and response between the female and male vocalist had me guessing the whole time.  There was no predicting what would be said next.  The song was simple, but catchy.  It gave a nod to the 1960’s for sure, but it stood on its own two feet. Very cool to be sure.  I had to find more, as I was hooked.

First, I had to find out why would my friend like this band?  She’s more of an MC5, Stooges, Dead Moon kind of a gal.  With one quick trip to the Baby Woodrose Myspace page, I had my answer.  Play the song titled No Mas, and you have just that kind of sound. Still, they can’t be pegged just yet.  They switch with ease between the two styles mentioned above, and then go a bit further.  Yes, Caught in a Whirl keeps you on that “Free Love – 1960’s” mindset. It has the fuzziest, fuzz guitar intro and spacey vocals.  It’s also dynamic, jumping between soft sung verses that are free of studio effects, to a screaming, screeching chorus that sounds honest and real.

Still, this band has more under the hood.  Take the song Emily, with its harmonic vocal intro, acoustic guitar work, and haunting harmonica. Put all that together and it reminds of you of the soundtrack to a spaghetti western.  The heart of the song gives more than a nod to a genre of music that found its peak over 40 years ago.
Don’t pass this band off as a band without originality.  They certainly have a style deeply rooted in the past, but you just can’t deny that they don’t have their own unique way of presenting it to the masses.  At the very least, stick around and play the song Chemical Buzz.  Be ready for the double time “Stepping Stone” style riff.  It comes out of nowhere.

This song is just two minutes long, it’s missing a solo, but still it’s got a crunchy hook. Baby Woodrose made their first album in 2001, and are still pumping out pretty damn cool music. The first album was just a solo project, but I’m glad that Lorenzo Woodrose realized that he had created something worthwhile. The band is currently playing shows in Germany and Denmark. Will they ever come to the United States?  I hope so.        

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Take On Hawkwind | Scratching the Surface of a Space Rock Band

Hawkwind, a “space rock” band that has seen over 31 regular members and six guest members come and go is still going strong. In fact, they play at Clumber Park during the “Rock the Park” festival on August 17.  Also on the bill will be Brit Floyd, Focus (a band with 15 former members,) and Carl Palmer, just to name a few.  Do the other bands on the bill give you an idea of what Hawkwind sounds like?  Do you remember the famous song Focus is known for?  It’s titled Hocus Pocus, and it’s one of those earworm songs that anyone over 35 will remember well. While that song is not very “prog,” you only need to listen to their 23 minute song titled Eruption, to know that they are certainly part of the prog-rock genre. This isn’t a post about Focus, so I’ll try to get back on track. 
Hawkwind started back in 1969 with Dave Brock, John Harrison and Mick Slattery getting together with a few others.  Their first “gig” was at All Saints Hall, and they called themselves “Group X.”  They didn’t have any formal songs, but tried their best to play a trippy rendition of Eight Miles High, set to strobe lights.
Hawkwind’s first release was their self titled album that came out in 1970.  No song from that album charted.  It was of no surprise, as that effort brought forth little more than acoustic jam-like songs to an audience that was just starting to get to know the genre.  I must note that the song Hurry On Sundown has a swing beat, sitar intro, and a country style harmonica riff that all works.  The song Mirror of Illusion has the same style as Hurry On Sundown, but the 10:43 long jam titled Seeing It as You Really Are is pure space jam.  
Their second effort titled In Search of Space hit number 18 on the UK charts.  You can hear that the band is morphing from a jam style, to a more focused effort.  Personally, I like the song You Shouldn’t Do That.  It takes nearly two minutes to build up, and it’s mostly made up of three or four notes, but the saxophone work is haunting.
In 1972, the band released Doremi – Fasol – Latido.  With the song titled “Space is Deep,” it’s pretty much a given that the band was full on space rock by album number three.  You will hear the traditional spacey keyboard sounds on that track.  Time We Left This World Today has a pretty strong “call and response” vocal line, backed up with heavy bass and the (often used) wind effect throughout the song.  I don’t know if the song would flow well without that all important wind effect.  It wasn’t until roughly 1972 when the now famous front man of Motorhead joined the band.  He was the band’s bass player up until 1975, when he ran into some trouble during their summer tour.  He was trying to cross the border into the United States, and was caught with a powdery substance that was thought to be cocaine. It was speed, but no matter. He was promptly fired from the band.
I can’t say that I dove in to much more than their first three albums.  I gave a listen to Quark, Strangeness and Charm, the first album to come after Nik Turner and Alan Powell had left the band.  Some say that Turner was playing “on top” of other members, and was ultimately kicked out. I can safely say that the song Spirit of the Age has a more commercial appeal.  It’s not the same band without Turner, but the band had to move on.  They were considered to be “too wild and ugly” for commercial appeal, but they certainly gave it a try.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Journey BMO Harris Show Features Core Members of the Band

When Journey comes to the BMO Harris Bradley Center in November, it will be without Steve Perry. Perry has long since left the band, and the three remaining members have put their faith in Arnel Pineda. How many key members of a band have to remain in order for fans to respect their efforts to continue working under their original name? Which members, as in high or low profile, will still move on and hope to draw an audience?  In the case of Journey, it seems that three core members are what is needed for that band to go on.  Who remains in Journey are certainly the "core" members. Ross Valory and Neal Schon are truly the last original members still playing the hits. Jonathan Cain is also part of the current lineup, but cannot be labeled an "original" memeber, even though he was part of the band for the past 31 years. (Thanks to all those who commented on how much I messed up on the lineup, past and present.) 
It’s been done before. A very famous band loses a drummer, keyboard, or bass player. The core (or possibly the most popular members) of the band remain, so they move on with new blood. In some cases, very few fans complain, and the band manages to continue to do great things. In other cases, such as Van Halen, the fans divide into two groups. As hard as it was to see The Who reunite, could anyone fault them for the success that they achieved after picking themselves up and moving on? It is one thing to try to revive Queen without Freddie Mercury, but let’s face it, some bands will have no problems finding success after certain members are out. (This is coming from a drummer, mind you.)

Steve Perry Joins Journey

It must be noted that Journey didn’t start out with Steve Perry as their vocalist. In the early years, the band was a hard rock outfit that Greg Rolie led on vocals and keyboards. Perry was pretty much forced upon the band by their manager, but their success would not have come without him. Perry and Neal Schoen wrote the song titled Patiently during what was to be a weekend where the band could get to know their new singer. A bond was formed, and the band never looked back. Yes, the core members were very tight. Perry was an outsider. Still, it worked.
What are fans to make of the Journey lineup now? Take a moment to listen to Arnel Pineda sing one of their most famous songs. Can you tell the difference? I would say that it’s almost a mirror copy of Perry’s style. Still, it’s not the same. You just can’t replace the face, and voice of a band. For those of you who have no problem closing your eyes and pretending, the new lineup will probably just do fine for you. I’m not a Journey fan, but I have to stand behind Perry on this one. This is not Journey. When all that you have are the original guitar and bass player (and Cain on keys,) you basically what some would call a tribute band. It’s fitting that Arnel Pineda was busy fronting tribute acts when he was tapped to play the role of Steve Perry.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Open Handed Drumming | The Short List of Open Handed Drummers

Open Handed Drumming with Ride On Left
I’m an “open handed” drummer.  What does that mean?  I play a drum set that is set up for right handed people, but I play it left handed.  My arms don’t cross over when I play a standard beat.   I never knew any other way to play the drums.  I guess that you could say that I taught myself to play drums the “wrong” way.  Does it really matter how you play the drums? It probably does not.  All I know is that it took a long time for me to find a few professional open handed drummers.  Growing up in the pre-YouTube era, one could only guess as to who played open handed, unless you saw them play live.  So with that, I’m going to give you my list of worthy drummers who impress their fans by playing open handed. 

One of the first drummers that I noticed playing open handed was Kenny Aronoff, but it’s been said that he only does it from time to time.  I noticed that he played open handed when John Mellencamp played live on Second City TV.  Since that time, I have only seen him play cross over style. Dom Famularo plays open handed, but with a twist.  He switches up his rack toms.  Traditional tom set ups are from smallest to largest.  He will put a 13” tom first, followed by a 12”. He may not do that all the time, but he pointed out the strange setup to the audience at one of the Cascio drum clinics that I attended. He’s more of a mixed handed drummer.  He will play both ways.

John Blackwell is one of the few who plays open grip.  He makes it look easy.  At times you can see that he will be playing a ride cymbal with his right hand and keeping time on the hi hat with his left, hitting the snare with his left, when the song calls for it. Certainly one of the more famous drummers to play this way is Carter Beauford. Mr. Beauford is one of the best when it comes to utilizing the open drumming technique. If you follow him closely, you find that he will make the most efficient moves behind the drums.  Open handed drumming can certainly do that for you.  There is no need to “uncross” your arms before making a move.  You can reach out in either direction at any time. 
I must say that over the years, it has been a bit of a pain to play this style if you are going to be playing a “house” drum kit that is set up for right handed drummers.  Most times, you will find that the ride cymbal is on the right hand side of the standard kit.  For best results, it’s best to move the ride cymbals to the left, just over the top of the hi hat.  That way, you don’t have to cross your arms for any reason.  If you are truly ambidextrous drummer, it really doesn’t matter where you put the cymbals, but I have yet to meet someone with that kind of talent.  Everyone has a strong or dominant hand.    

Monday, July 9, 2012

World's Largest Music Festival Is No Place to See a Show

Marcus Amphitheater Summerfest
I wasn’t forced to pay $162 for a pair of obstructed view tickets that were sixty-six rows from the Marcus Amphitheater stage. I did that voluntarily. No, the tickets were not officially labeled “obstructed view.” That fact came to light when I sat down and noticed that a large iron beam cut my view of the stage down by half.  On top of that, the usher standing next to the beam took out another 20% of our view.  At times, she was joined by a second usher who managed to block the entire stage.  The band that I paid $162 to see walked on the stage and the show started. It was still light out, and 1/3 of the seats were still empty. I was at the “world’s largest music festival,” and not having fun.  It was hot, the bleachers were hard, people were talking over the music, the band looked like dots, and then it hit me. Was anyone really having fun?
Is anyone making a connection with the artists? How can they?  You can’t make a connection when what you are looking at is so far away that you cannot see facial expressions.  I’m not surrounded by people that are part of a loving collective.  They are texting, talking, eating, drinking, dancing, bumping knees to backs, sweating, and pretty much feeling what I feel. Is this it? Are we having a good time? This can’t happen from 150 yards away.  There is no connection.
When the singer of the band says something about “Milwaukee,” the crowd cheers wildly. It’s to be expected.  When the singer says something like “This is off of our new album,” the crowd starts to head for the bathrooms and beer stands. The headline act gets the best sound, lights, etc.  The opening band has to struggle even harder to get your attention. It’s an uphill battle.  Some people try to time their arrival to coincide with the opening notes to the headline band’s first song. Who was the opening act?  They might not even know.
I can’t help it.  I see too much of all that is not important at a live show, at a venue that holds 18,000 people.
For a time, I wondered if there was something wrong with me.  Why didn’t I enjoy the evening? It sure looked like everyone else did.  Well, at least it seemed like the majority of the people at this event were having fun.  After a time, I realized that I just don’t feel anything when I’m at shows of this size.  There is no intimate connection, and I shouldn’t expect one.  I would rather spend my money at a small club or theater show.  At least I would have a chance to get something out of it.  All I can say is that I was there.  No more.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bonnaroo Review Part Two | Outdoor Festivals Can be Great Fun

Bonnaroo 2012 Event
This is part two of my Bonnaroo interview.  My coworker had a great time at the festival this summer.  She says that she's definately going to the 2013 event, and has learned a great deal about some of the most basic of things.  So without further adieu, our "bonnaroo" gal serves up some more answers to my questions.
Your favorite band at Bonnaroo, and why? 

My favorite band was Radiohead who headlined on Friday night. I have been a Radiohead fan since I was in middle school and this was my first time seeing them. It was a very moving experience because I was surrounded by great friends and the music was very powerful to me. One thing I love about big music festivals is it is such a great feeling to be surrounded by so many people who are just as excited to see your favorite band as you are and this was honestly the perfect show. Great lights, great crowd and of course, great music. 
Any surprise show that you found that you really loved, but didn’t expect it to happen?

I was lucky enough to see a few bands that I definitely have started to listen to since I've gotten home. The first one is a group called Battles who are out of New York that play experimental/math rock type music. It was a welcome change of pace that really pumped up the crowd on such a hot afternoon and despite the fact that there aren't really "words' to most of the songs, the crowd was very engaged. Because it was so hot out, it was clear that everyone that was there definitely wanted to see the band so there were good vibes in that crowd. 
Another show that I really enjoyed from a band I hadn't heard of prior to the festival was Mariachi El Bronx, who are actually a hardcore punk band called The Bronx that sometimes play under the alter-ego Mariachi El Bronx. Basically, their music is comprised of punk themes and played to the tune of traditional Mexican mariachi music. It was surprising and very refreshing and will be perfect to listen to throughout the summer.
What one thing do you regret that you didn’t have with you when you got there?

I really wish I would have ponied up the $10 and gone down the water slide, gotten my hair done at the free salon and seen more of Ludacris!  
What would you tell people not to bring to Bonnaroo?

There are different things I would have brought, including more suncreen and swimsuits but nothing I would tell people to not bring, other than illegal drugs and other items of course. If I could do it again, I would have brought a better tent and blow up mattress and also a small grill to cook on. A good shade fly or shade tent to hang out under while you're at your campsite is also CRITICAL. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Drummer's Part to Play in Songwriting

sheet music for drums
Our band writes most of our songs as a group. There are times when the guitar player or bass player will have a few ideas, and bring those to rehearsal. We tend to build upon those ideas, adding a part here, taking out a part there. Rarely, does anyone present an entire song to the group. When these parts are being hammered out, I’m sitting behind my drum kit, playing beats in my head. By the time something is put into place, I have a basic beat cooking on the drums. When someone comes with a whole song to teach us, it’s even easier to find the drum parts. That is if you aren’t painted into a corner by the song writer.

The person who writes the song should take some time to figure out how to communicate the beat that they had in mind with the drummer. It starts by telling the drummer what time signature the song is in. We can usually figure that out in the first measure, but it helps to hear it too. If it’s “common time” we can pretty much handle it from there. If you ask us to play something in 7/8, it’s just a matter of where you want us to place the notes. I always think of The Fish by Yes when someone calls for a song in 7/8.
Finally, does the songwriter want to take time to tell me if I can play 8th or 16th notes on the bass drum? Are ghost notes on the snare allowed? Should I open the song on the snare, playing as I see fit for the first measure? When do you want me to get into the “pocket” and just keep solid time? These are all important things to relate to the drummer. All drummer jokes aside, some of us can actually read music, or play odd time signatures.
If you have a beat going in your head, tell me how it sounds? Act it out. I’ll pick it up, and that will make you happy. If you don’t have an idea on how the drums should be played on a song that you wrote, then by all means leave it up to me to find something that works. Someone told me an interesting thing about songwriters. He said “If you are in a band where someone tells you every note to play, giving you no room to play your own parts, then you are a hired gun, and should be paid by the band for your time at practice and shows.” It’s a bit harsh, but pretty much spot on. Let the drummer help you make the song great.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bonnaroo 2012 Review by My Outdoor Festival Expert

Bonnaroo 2012 Review
My friend Jess came back from Bonnaroo last week.  She had many stories to tell, almost all of them great.  I took some time to ask her a bit aobut the festival.  Here is part one of two about Bonnaroo.

WMM: Was Bonnaroo staged well? Did things seem to move smoothly from one band to the next? Were the facilities easy to get to and was there enough of the important things?

Jess: This was my first time at Bonnaroo and the grounds were actually quite a bit larger than I thought they would be. There are camp sites that surround the main area where all the stages are which is called Centeroo and some of the camping can be quite far away. My campsite was about a 35-45 minute walk away from Centeroo. There were about a dozen stations spread throughout the campgrounds called 'pods' that had showers, ATM's, water fill up station and other necessities and there were port-a-potties all over the grounds so you were never too far from the absolute necessities. There were also many vendors and food carts and trucks all over the grounds that sold all different types of items, including camping supplies, jewelry, merchandise, glassware, etc. No matter how far away from Centeroo you were, you definitely had amenities close by which was definitely nice.
Once you are inside Centeroo though everything is pretty close, I would guess it is about a 10-15 minute walk from one end to the other. There were 2 large stages (the What stage and the Which stage) as well as several smaller tents (This tent, That tent, Sonic tent, etc) that all surprisingly had good acoustics. When you were at any one stage, you pretty much couldn't hear music from the other stages which was very nice. Inside Centeroo there were also many different food options, vendors and other activities including a Ferris wheel, a hair salon, a Rolling Stone sponsored musical instrument tent, air conditioned comedy tent and a HUGE water slide. Centeroo was set up well and there was plenty of free space to chill out in the grass or under trees or shade tents to relax between music and other activities.

WMM: You say that you slept outside most nights. Did you feel a sense of community when you did that, or was it just a matter of finding sleep wherever or whenever you could?

Jess: I have been to a couple different music festivals before (Primavera Sound, Lollapalooza, and Pitchfork) and I have always felt a sense of community at these multiple day festivals but Bonnaroo is where I have felt this most and I think that is because of the camping aspect. Bonnaroo honestly felt like its own little self sufficient world for the 4 days that I was there and it was so cool to see so many different types of people of all ages, races, backgrounds come together to see music. I felt completely comfortable sleeping outside wherever I could find a good spot, both inside Centeroo and throughout the campgrounds. I met a lot of really kind and genuine people so I think the positive community vibes were felt throughout the whole event. One example of this is that during one point, I had lost all of my friends and needed to find someone with a cell phone to try and call someone I knew and I randomly walked up to some people and asked for their help and they were more than accommodating to me. They let me hang out with them until I found my group and made sure that I was safe and sound before they left. It was so cool to be surrounded by people that all just wanted to have a good time and make sure their neighbors were having a good time too!

WMM: What did you think of the RF ID tag on your wristband?

This was my first experience using an RF ID tag, and I had mixed feelings about it. It was very convenient to not need any kind of ticket to get into Centeroo because I feel like I would probably have lost that pretty quickly, so the bracelet was very convenient. My RF ID was linked up with my Facebook page so anytime I checked into a certain stage or into Centeroo, it posted an update on my page. I also went to a photo booth at one point and scanned my wristband and that picture also ended up on Facebook. While I think it was a cool way to connect and share my experience with my friends back home, sometimes it was a little creepy to feel like I was being "tracked". It was also the only time I have ever experienced a line to leave a festival, because you had to scan your wristband to leave the grounds!