Tuesday, June 17, 2014

another couple of weeks in Wisconsin

I'm composing this on the coach from Madison, WI down to Chicago's O'Hare airport. Last night was a particularly good last-night-in-Wisconsin. After an afternoon of listening to reggae and salsa on WORT and then some Laosian food, Maggie, Ken and I met up with Peter down at Mother Fool's coffee house for a particuliarly Madisonian event: Guided By Puppets (Bif and Kia from Reptile Palace Orchestra with Jeff on percussion and Lisa on bass and saw) playing two sets between performances by the "Sockrates Sock Puppet Carnival of Morals and Logic". The sock puppets are Kia and Jeff's brainchild, having been building a following around town in recent years (teaching philosophy, dramatising Dostoevsky, and getting involved in protest actions).

Maggie has recently been recruited as a puppeteer, and I even ended up on stage a couple of times getting involved in the puppetry. This was the third or fourth time they've dramatised a selection of bizarre complaint letters sent to the newsletter of the local Williamson Street Co-op, a huge hit with the local healthy eating crowd. GBP used a toy piano and a huge megaphone strapped to a mic stand in lieu of a vocal mic (great concept — Kenny suggested a future "Open Meg" event!). They played a mix of Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Daddy Dewdrop's "Chick-a-Boom" and Bif's quirky originals about alien abductions, drunkenness and Mr. Sulu. Quite sloppy for a quartet of highly accomplished players (they were clearly winging it on a couple of numbers) but this somehow worked for the occasion.

Back at Maggie and Ken's, Peter (electric guitar), Ken (double bass) and I (saz) jammed our way through one of Peter's band's songs called "Rolling" (nice groove) and then Black Sabbath's "N.I.B.". The latter was enhanced by backing vocals from a tired and ill (yet characteristically enthusiastic) Maggie laid out on the sofa behind us, and worked so well that the idea of a Sabbath tribute band with this line-up was jokingly floated before we branched out into Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, "Sympathy for the Devil" and various other bits of classic rock. Annoyingly, I hadn't got out my recording device until after "N.I.B.", which was easily the highlight of the session.

Afterwards, we sat up late listening to Camper Van Beethoven's II and III, realising what a great band they were (and still are...Maggie and Ken saw them on tour not so long ago). There are bits of Pentangley medievalism on that album, totally fried Americana like "History of Utah" and "Peace and Love", and their version of "Interstellar Overdrive" gives the original a run for its money (they could have been an amazing straight-up psychedelic band, but would have soon got bored with that, drawing on elements of Balkan trad and whatever else they felt like drawing on at any given time). A real antidote to the mainstream 80s, I realise now that listening to them via central Wisconsin college radio at that time was part of what kept me sane (along with angry hardcore like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag).

The night before, my last in Stevens Point, I went out late to meet up with old skateboarder friends Marty and John and see a couple of bands at a fairly seedy local bar: Indonesian Junk from Milwaukee (a lively pop-punk trio whose frontman seems to have borrowed heavily from our old friend Isaac's stage persona) and an organ-led quartet from Eau Claire called Dingo Factory whose chord-rich compositions brought to mind a grungy Irene's Garden without the beautiful vocals. The night before, we were all down at The Brickhause on the Square to see The Goddamns from Wausau and the two-piece version of White Trash Blues Revival (as we had three weeks earlier), this time joined by Indiana-based Left Lane Cruiser. The singer from White Trash sang "Rolling and Tumbling" with the Goddamns to end their set, and WTBR's drummer swapped his trashcans and beer kegs for a proper drum kit to play with Left Lane). Lots of swearing, tattoos and ironic hipster ersatz-machismo (at least I hope that's what it was). And very loud. But sitting at the back, feeling a bit drowsy, the metallic trashcan percussion and primitive two-string slide (the slide player has made his own lap steel out of a skateboard deck and beer bottle) revealed itself as only a superficial modification of the rawest of Delta blues, and then going a bit deeper in, it became almost indistinguishable from Can or Neu! in its repetitive, modal, insistent mechanoid way...

The evening of my birthday was spent out at the Northland Ballroom near Iola, joining Sloppy Joe (just Stef and Jeff — Gavin had to work and Jimmers stayed home this week — plus Bobby, Dale, Rachel and "other" Nate on banjo) on stage for their regular Wednesday night session. Less people on stage and a lack of rowdy, whooping UWSP students on the dancefloor meant that it was actually possible to hear what everyone was playing, so I enjoyed this one a lot. During the set-break, a young woman in the audience wanted to sing "Jolene", so most of us reassembled and quickly worked out a rough arrangement. Her singing was lovely and so she was urged to choose a second song. She suggested "Streets of Laredo", which Dale knew how to play on dobro, so we fell in behind him and it came together quite well (the melody seemed really familiar, presumably borrowed from an old British ballad). She and her sister then sang a couple of stunning a capella harmony numbers (Stef mentioned the idea of "blood harmony", which only closely related singers can achieve). The second set (which I couldn't record due to dead batteries) was even more fun, played to an audience smaller than the band on stage! We finished with a "saz player's choice"... I couldn't think of anything when put on the spot, so proposed that we play "something simple in G". Rachel suggested John Hartford's "Try Me One More Time" ("Mama killed a rooster, thought it was a duck..."), a simple blues-bluegrass thing which we had a lot of fun playing, Dale putting aside his usual lightning speed banjo pickin' for a simpler, more spontaneous style, and everyone just jamming on the simple melody. I really which that one had been recorded...

Listen Here

During my month in Point, I got to three of the Tuesday night "song swaps" at the Elbow Room (I hear that these are going to have to end due to intervention by ASCAP/BMI...boo!!). It's all a bit of beery blur now, but I can remember sazzing along to "Knocking on Heaven's Door", "Can't You See" (The Marshall Tucker Band), Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" (with very convincing flute from song swap originator Tom), some banjo-and-fiddle tunes like "Shady Grove" and "The Soldiers Joy", "Sympathy For the Devil", "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" ("We keep gettin' richer but we cain't get our picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone"). On the last of these nights, after arriving to a rather sloppy "Tangled Up in Blue", a young Irishwoman called Elaine showed up with some of her UWSP friends with a set of Highland bagpipes. Any half-decent piper would have wowed the Elbow Room crowd, but she was really good! Here she is back in Waterford:

Unfortunately we never got a chance to speak, and I have no idea what brought her to Stevens Point (studying natural resources or water being my best guess).


Blogger Daniel James said...

I never thought about it, but you're probably right about me borrowing from Isaac's stage presence. I went to a lot of Ladybeard show's when I was a kid. It wouldn't surprise me if his influence subconsciously snuck in there.

5:53 AM  

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