Drawing a lot of cool from the fact that it was literally a neighborhood of burned out buildings 15 years ago, Fifth Ward can boast another foodie destination right off of Bruce and Second Street. That’s right. Across the street from Clock Shadow Creamery and Purple Door Ice Cream, and behind Milwaukee Brewing Company, sits Anodyne Coffee’s new roasting factory and cafe.
F- the Bar
It has hit the soft spot between Stone Creek’s Fifth Street facility downtown and the mega-Colectivo on KK. Having multiple full bore, fair trade, exclusive batch coffee roasters in town is an absolute luxury and distinguishing factor Milwaukee has over even its largest peers. It was astounding just how bad, or hard to find, good coffee was in cities I traveled recently. I actually can’t imagine the same isn’t true in nearly every American town. Especially, Louisville, Hiene Brother’s should just say its a murky hot water shop. I guess we’re spoiled.
Humble, Humble Better
Anodyne‘s red brick one-and-half story warehouse, takes up a low-key corner and has a low key footprint to match. It barely looks touched, other than a little pressure washing and red trimmed large framed hybrid-sash box windows. A heavy wood stained door looks respectably salvaged, above it a three dimensional iron decal blazes Anodyne complete with its signature capital “A” and red banner.
Pacing a couple stair walk up, or ascending by accessibility lift, you’re greeted by exceedingly spacious and thoughtfully designed common space. From floor, to the vaulted ceiling must span twenty feet.
Looking as though sliced from recently felled trees, wooden conventional camp cabin and bar height tables glazed with a hard glossy lacquer, cover the deck of the matching wood floor. Tucked beneath the table surfaces, custom manufactured aluminum chairs sit light and sturdy, with an “A” for Anodyne branded on the seat.
Lights hung in domed clear glass utility fixtures, appear like they could run on argon gas. The shaded lamp stands lean back casually, both powered with intensely red cords.
Anodyne’s uniqueness even shows through its service counter, which more resembles the ultimate Irish pub bar. It reaches at least 70 feet from the register to the wall, used both for service and patrons.
Brewed Awakenings, Unwindings
Anodyne’s current roasts traveled from Costa Rica, Kenya, El Salvador and Tanzania, some roasted in completely original small batches like the signature Snake Oil Espresso Batch No. 2 blend. When its past coffee time, Anodyne also offers a few taps of Milwaukee Brewing Company brews.
Anodyne is a remarkable coffee destination and open daily.
Just like sitting in forth grade homeroom again, a PA crackled the sound of a matronly voice informing us of what had come to her attention concerning recess play ground antics. Ut oh! No more “Smeer the Queer” or “Beat the Geek”, we have to play nice. Luckily for all of the troublemakers in the crowd, the ladies of Broadminded Comedy were willing to some of the dirty work for us.
Jerks!, Broadminded’s latest episode of improvisational and sketch comedy, hit the Grand Avenue Arcade over the Thanksgiving Holiday in the Underground Collective performance space. The relaxed fitting and functional black box stage gave Anne Graff DeLisa, Stacy Babl, Megan McGee, and Melissa Kingston plenty of room to knock eagerly awaiting funny bones.
Fun with Poking
Like a magical unicorn beast, sketch and improv comedy moves elusively between slapstick, sarcasm and irony. If you find that mystical place in your mind to play along, Broadminded will make that unicorn appear before your computer glazed eyes. They’ve pulled off a series of individual shows, and participated in many comedy fests over recent years, succeeding in snatching laughs out of their audiences’ bellies since 2006. Their latest show Jerks! supplied no exceptions.
A two act pony, Jerks! boasted 21 scenes in all, tapping the opposite shoulder of many everyday situations and ubiquitous current news topics involving a caricature of someone behaving on the spectrum of “jerkism”. The Broads kicked off with The Apology, a skit where DeLisa explained reluctantly to her roommate, played by Kingston, how she mistakenly shredded Kingston’s favorite college hoodie in the wash. McGee, the third roommate, sat at a computer absorbing the drama airing out.
DeLisa breaks the news indirectly, and Kingston shrugs it off, as if assured of her sweatshirt’s whereabouts. Feeling guilty DeLisa, adds emphasis to the reality of her apology and produces a green absurdly tattered cloth, at the sight of which Kingston looses it as if her best friend moved away. McGee smarmily gives a clinical blow by blow of Kingston’s reactions, illustrating to DeLisa that everything will be okay. After all, her tantrum subsiding, predictably Kingston will think of what could have intervened to save her sweater, before she falls into a heaping emotional funk. On cue, Kingston overacts each stage of the Kubler-Ross model.
Finally, Kingston gets over it and turns to DeLisa to instigate conversation with McGee as she studiously finishes her homework. McGee gets testy, and Kingston snidely remarks that McGee must be lacking Maslow’s first basic need, food. Lesson learned: stop being the “#$@&” that analyzes your friends problems just because you took some stupid college intro course. Let rinse and repeat, a few highlights from Jerks!
Pot shooting the wine drinking crowd in the Rich Bitches skit, Babl and McGee prop themselves up haughtily at a table for two. They comment hideously on the traits of the wine they are sipping, its obvious shortcomings, and why it should have been decanted. DeLisa, the server, drops a bombshell into their gaping mouths that they’re having diet cola.
Just Brand Me
Three moms, push their kids in imaginary swings. In What’s in a Name, McGee and Babl marvel that DeLisa renamed her kid, taking up a well known candy corporation on an offer of a large undisclosed sum of money to purchase the naming rights of her daughter. DeLisa admits that the name was very special to her and her husband, a memento to lasting memories of the travels of their young romance. Reconciling her decision, DeLisa explains they’ll rename their kid, and she’ll keep all of her local appeal and won’t sacrifice any of her intelligence. Now everyone in the world will know her name! Get it? Milwaukee now gets its favorite brewed beverages off of a metaphorical bus.
Meet me in the Bathroom
Act two brought everyone back to attention with a little audience participation. What’s improv without a little potty humor, that’s what Vajayprov guaranteed. Broadminded company members extolled audience members to blurt out an item they would find in a kitchen. Some answers bounced back, “knife”, “glass”. Kingston, impeccably timed as always, wizzed back, “Ok, great,… butt plug.” The sketch commenced barging through frenetic quips and wits, and much like DeLisa’s mime, the mental imaginary window opened and some of the audience climbed out. Others stuck around for a kick in the pants.
Wry vs. Spy
Although they all were great, Broadminded’s NSA Nancy sketch was genius. Mom locks herself out of the house, no problem, NSA Nancy shows up friendly as the mailman, and has the key to let her in. Mom doesn’t know that her son is trying to hook up with the friendly neighbor girl, no problem, NSA Nancy shows up just in time with a condom. What’s that? The neighbor doesn’t have garlic for the pasta sauce, no problem, NSA Nancy heard about the dinner party two weeks ago and let herself in to give the neighbor the clove she needed for taste. They all reply, Thanks NSA Nancy. Thanks Broadminded, that was beyond classic.
A Common Thread
You’re at the mall, you’re on vacation, you’re in a confessional, and suddenly the song “Brown Eyed Girl” starts playing and two girls jump out of no where and start screaming that they have brown eyes, and giggle hysterically and jump around singing along. They hitch hike a ride on a tractor trailer, and what on the AM dial? “Brown Eyed Girl”. The trucker dishes that he loves Van Morrison, the naturally reply from the “Brown Eyed” girls, “Huh”?
Worth Your While
They’re funny, smart, and all that good stuff, and worth a evening out with someone you like to share lighthearted and witty laugh. Broadminded Comedy’s next show is scheduled for next April, 2014, so you have plenty of time to build up false expectations and get on their mailing list.
A banjo slung over his shoulder, his right hand swung at the wrist allowing his fingers to effortlessly pick, strum and coax with other means, tinny notes found by the curious fingers of his other hand working the fret, wringing cords, knuckles contorting unnaturally, finger tips nailing the wiry strings. Don Flemons moonlit Shank Hall, treating the modest, fully engaged audience to an old time country blues set fit for both foot stamping and kicking back in a weather worn wooden chair under a shade tree. He opened with his version of Milwaukee Blues.
Pass the Sweet Tea
In an easy conversational manner that endeared the audience to receive him like an old friend, while moving his capo far down the banjo neck, Flemons warned us that he worked really hard to get the tuning for his next number down. Reserved on a line in his tattered set list notes for one of his favorites, he cut into the pleading opening scale of Rabbit Brown’s James Alley Blues. A chill went up the base of my neck raising every hair it touched on the way, when he leaned heavy into the lyrics of the first verse, “Those times ain’t now, nothing like they used to be.” A fitting honor, Living Blues magazine bestowed Flemons the 2013 Most Outstanding Banjo Musician award for his rendition of Brown’s tune of tribulation.
A Gift to Give
Like an old transistor radio, Flemons’ voice carried the presence of many songsters past, many gone for a century. Hid did Franks Stokes, tinged with a character giving southern drawl. In other rips, he cleared the air with crisp tenors of John Estes. Flemons’ even reached high pitched yodels seeking something to the effect of Mike Johnson’s soul.
Dubbing himself a ‘vocal contortionist’, Flemons admittedly attempts to capture the tonal qualities of the original authors. This description should leave you more settled than to say Flemons radiates as a spiritual medium to the hard lives of Ragtime and Depression Era Americana. Lost to our contemporary consciousness, the only trace of their musical existence lays fossilized in gritty phonograph recordings pressed in wax, and cracked gray scale photographs, and in a dying generation of blues musicians, Flemons one of their few native sons.
More than his Music
Listening to old time folk and blues gives the ear a taste of the rhythm of the times, the other part, in the musics essence the byproduct of entertaining. Flemons embodied his appreciation of the intangible elements of old time blues players, spending a few moments between each leg of his musical monologue on old tall tales and comedic bits, explaining the gamut of son topics from ‘happiness and heartache’ to ‘hokum’.
With mechanical certainty, he stood straight, swaying his head side to side between conversational pauses, eyes shifting as if his mind beat one step ahead of his strumming hands. He interrupted songs, to urge his personified banjo to keep playing. He swung his banjo buddy high, low and all around displaying his tingling prowess, playing with unorthodox bodily extremities, still on key and in rhythm.
Deep Blues Maker
Back then making instruments sometimes made do for having nothing else to accompany the banjo or guitar, or having any instruments at all. Most know of the washboard, spoons, maybe even ham bone, and of course the harmonica. Flemons, immersed in the blues traditions, naturally came equipped with a harmonica, blowing through it fluidly. Playing a hold card, Flemons broke out a well improvised flute know as the quills, a lyre-esque doohickey giving off a hollow breathy whistle.
His ace in the hole, hands down, came in the form of four polished portions of cow ribs, known as the Bones. A pair sandwiching the middle finger, clasped loosely in each hand, when shaken vigorously, they smack together making a crisp clacking sound; tempo exceeding castanets. Flemons flapped, waved and punched his way through an incredible one man bones duet with his harmonica providing the melody.
Memorable for the sake of Memories
A fairly young man, Flemons shared stories of spending time with some of the great depression era country and blues musicians still living. He’s impressed upon so many from the blues community that he’s been featured at the Black Banjo Gathering in Lexington, KY, the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention and on a PBS Art Beat special. Dom Flemons is also know for his founding contributions to the greatness that is the Carolina Chocolate Drops. His his latest solo work includes a collaboration with Boo Hanks entitled Buffalo Junction and American Songster.
Even though they like jangle out of storage bins to dance in October, skeletons don’t smash carved stories for Halloween like the Alchemist Theatre. Per tradition, Artistic Director Aaron Kopec brings a bit of intrigue to the fall season with his choose-your-own-adventure mystery drama Closing Night.
A cerebral crime story, Closing Night challenges its cast to lead the audience out of their seats on a fluid and nerve turning journey through the depths of the Alchemist Theatre space, to learn the dark secrets of its murky past, and fates of the present day Alchemist ensemble that has succumb to the theater’s sanguine lineage.
Two cooky spirit mediums lead the audience’s haunted tour of the Alchemist’s history, hinting at clues along the way that reveal who, with what, and why the Alchemist’s present day company were murdered. The secrets lie within the twisted tale of the theater founders Montecore and Lillian’s charmed lives and deaths, and the artifacts of the current company’s contribution to the Alchemist’s canon.
In the story, the Alchemist’s director Trisha is a distant relative of Lillian’s, who’s productions have tremendous success reviving the theater’s magic through the type writer pecks of her writer Maggie, and the ensemble of type cast usual suspects: a guy everyone can agree on, Mitch, a vixen, Lucille, and a offbeat maintenance man, Don, and a newcomer, Sheila. In a flash, they are all dead, or are they?
Once presented the nebulous prologue, the audience must shed their voyeuristic tendencies (that brought them to the theater in the first place) and use their wits, and unwits, to uncover the well hidden hints to the case of the deceased Alchemist cast. Cryptically written messages on walls, decoys and dead ends are plenty as you go from the theater, to the lounge, to the cellar, to the writer’s office, the workshop, the catacombs, and the film studio.
If you are clever you will activate one of the many sensory hotspots that detect motion, sound or touch, and take one step closer to putting the pieces of the plot together. Most of the clues are found interactively, by noticing a combination of tip-offs located in the wall art, note pads, and other furnishings that make up the multiple staging areas of the production. Although you are encouraged to touch props and set pieces, an astounding aspect of the show is that nearly every clue is hidden in plain sight.
All in Good Fun
Rather than try to scare a weird expression out of you, Closing Night presents a great Halloween themed date night for couples and friends. Its a great activity as talking is acceptable during most of the show, and it will either leave you feeling either very smart or feeling like you need to accept that free online trial of Luminosity. Light hors d’oeurves are served with the quip humor of Alchemist’s core performers including Anna Figlesthaler, Libby Amato and Sammy Ditloff and host of other notables.
Closing Night runs heathen weekends (starting on Thursday) at 7:30p from now until November 2 at the Alchemist Theatre.
At the top of a ravine, two stair cases shoot down symmetrically into an expansive flower garden framed by an ornate wrought iron fence. From Lincoln Memorial Drive, glances at the distant beauty held in the Italianate terrace excite ideations that a real life Vito Corleone could have made their retreat there.
In all of its intrigue, it stands as a vintage monument, permanent show space for decorative arts, and for a brief moment the Villa Terrace offers itself as theatrical staging befitting a tribute to the gods. Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre begins its season by laying at the alter The Bacchanalia, a wonderfully presented dramatic montage in the tradition of Greek tragedy and cult.
Showcasing major threads in the performance repertoire of Quasimondo, The Bacchanalia is anything but traditional. Its multiple dimensions incorporate human puppetry, masks, interpretive dance and a host of other exceptional dramatic special effects.
Whisking its audience away to antiquity, Artistic Directors Brian Rott and Jessi Miller compose The Bacchanalia, a three act masterpiece staged using three distinct spaces of the Villa Terrance.
On the terrace, Act One introduces us to the tradition of the Bacchanalia from perspectives held by mortals and gods. Seamlessly the audience is transferred deep into the mundane on-goings of mythological Greek life.
A league of pre-knowledge gentlemen figure and hash out the philosophical underpinnings of Western thought. Among them, a who’s who of pre-educated fools the likes of Socrates (Michael Davis), Aristotle (Josh Bryan), Plato (Kirk Thomsen) and even Diogenes (Michael Guthrie) bumble around until the gods intervene. Heroes in the making leave their doting maids, to find honor and adventure, encountering all manners of bane and beast.
The gods show their boredom, meddling in the lives of mortals. Naturally, Zeus (Davis) is central to the drama, as the grand scandal of his affair with Semele (Sarah Ginger Seefeldt) is portrayed so that we know how this “Bacchanalia” madness started. Hermes (Thomsen) complicit in this tawdry episode, absurdly assists Zeus avoid Hera’s (Brooke Maroldi) temper.
Act Two, performed in the court yard, prominently features Apollo (Ben Yela) and Artemis (Jenni Reinke) as they continuously enter the earthly fray, as they choose lovers and take turns instigating and intervening in lovers’ quarrels.
Act Three, staged in the terrace foyer, closes the show with a tremendous sense of abstract fluidity, as several vignettes bridge the past to the present, offering dramatic metaphors to make sense of the frailty, purpose and futility human existence.
For Your Eyes Only
A hedonistic fever engulfs The Bacchanalia production unwittingly infecting the audience with allusions of sexual deviance and a reasonable level contextual perversity (although their is nothing explicitly lewd or vulgar, this is absolutely and adult ages show).
The Bacchanalia is absolutely stellar and a must see. The musical composition accompanying the show performed by Bill Webb and backed up by Narazio Chickpeazio, and player Ben Yela provides the perfect shading to the production.
The ensemble is rounded out with multiple roles from Emily Craig, Jeff Kriesel, Sarah Ann Mellstrom, Andrew Parchman, Michael Weiss, Ashley Milewski, Jessi Miller and Brian Rott.
The final run of The Bacchanalia is tonight at 7:00p at the Villa Terrace. The show is set outdoors for two scenes, so dress accordingly. For tonight the perfect closing night, there shouldn’t be an issue.
Gleefully, gentile fellows in seersucker suits and skimmers promenaded on the Quadracci Powerhouse apron, linked in arms with fair ladies tucked into lightly corseted and hooped summer dresses, clutching parasols, singing in chorus, “There were gazebos, there were no…,” High societies’ Mothers’ and Fathers’ boardwalk attitudes typified.
Soulfully, dapper dons glided into their corner of the scene from upstage, clapping, defying disenfranchisement. They tipped the brims of their derbies clad in pinstriped vests and spit shined wingtips. Sweet mamas snapping sassily, with hips swaying, skipping beside their men singing in time, “Giving the nation, a new syncopation…,” Uptown’s first anthem, Coalhouse a man, and his song, killing the dames softly.
Devoutly, proud settlers in a new land dipped at the knee, with arms lifted to the shoulders, clinging to the old country’s ways, heads crowned with a version of the Hasidic Yud, black woolen coats and scarves cradling their torsos. Tateh has brought his daughter to America to make a new home, a prologue offered for his people, “The sound of distant thunder suddenly starting to climb…”
Content murmurs, jovial outbursts and applause energed the ensemble on cue with each bit. The opening scene of Mark Clements’ production of Ragtime met an rousing embrace from the audience even before the first act was over.
Ragtime written by Terrance McNalley, and based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, takes place in turn of 20th century New York City and offers yet another glimpse, through a different window, into a period that cultural buffs have grown quite fond.
Does the veil of propriety and other social illusions draw us? Could it be the uncertainty of the times, upheavals in all areas of life rising with each day? Maybe its the ingenuity of post-industrial technology. Some combination of some other reasons, probably not named here, has aided Clements in bringing us to the whipping post again, to flog us with dramatized American historical fiction; again to our enjoyment.
Layering several concentric story lines, assisted by exemplary production values in stage direction (Clements), lighting (Jeff Nellis), sound (John Tanner), costume (Alexander Tecoma) and scenic artistry, Clements wields Ragtime’s literary edge to cut, salve, and then singe repeatedly the audience’s senses, exercising the joys and sorrows of American life in post-Industrial NYC.
The Art of Place
A two story faux steel girded structure, spans from stage left to stage right, mechanically swinging like a immense barn door, stretching the play into vertical space. The ensemble numbering at least 40, scamper, parade and pause from all imaginable entrances and stage positions.
The technical aspects of the show in isolation from the drama inspire admiration. Credit Todd Edward Ivins (Scenic Director), and the rest of the production team Laura Wendt (Stage Manager), Sarah Hoffman (Assistant Stage Manager), Kimberly Ann McCann (Assistant Stage Manager), and Emily Penick (Assistant Director) for a incredibly delightful technical theater experience
These Crowded Streets, These Lonely Meadows
Ragtime winds around Mother’s (Carmen Cusack) struggles with her contrived marriage to Father (David Hess), Tateh’s (Josh Landay) search for a livelihood and prosperity for he and his daughter, and Coalhouse Walker’s (Gavin Gregory) reconciliation of his musical talents, of his love for Sarah (Jessie Hooker) and their child, and with his standing as a newly minted citizen of the lowest denomination.
These main characters weave and wind their way through the City streets, alley ways and flushing meadows, occasionally bumping into well know celebrities of their time. Eventually, happenstance brings each to encounter one another.
Legends in their Turn
We meet Harry Houdini (Sam Strasfeld) in the middle of one of his death defying acts. In dandiful manner, Evelyn Nesbit (Kelley Faulkner) tries to steal our hearts, playing America’s first celebrity personality (think of the infamous lineage she begot, the most recent of her brood, if you will forgive me, something the likes of Amanda Bynes).
The seething heat of the Lower Eastside Manhattan draws buckets of sweat from exploited factory workers. Among their ranks Tateh searches for a better way to rub two pennies together. For some, Emma Goldman (Melissa Joy Hart) rises as an indomitable figure of action. Tateh, who’s spirit is fortified by the many indignities he’s endured, sees another way, imagination and gall, to breath life to the technical origins of the modern entertainment industry.
Stormy with Coalhouse’s piano scales, Uptown nights rage with the collective passion stored in the mettle of Black Americans, releasing sounds of new found freedom. Beneath musical cocktail of sorrow and jubilation, Booker T. Washington (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) extolls the virtues of diligence and intellectual proficiency, with a pace less pleasing than the tempo of ragtime. Meanwhile, we see Henry T. Ford’s (James Patterson) vision for American mobility come to life and pluck men, alike or not in concern for social pondering, into his organizational machine for making machines.
With some irony, during Father’s journey for purpose to Europe, we even encounter Admiral Peary (Steve Watts) and Matthew Henson (Gabriel Mudd), possibly two of the most obscure references of the “ragtime” era. Henson, a Black American, who is credited in history as exploring much of the Northern Hemisphere on his own expeditions, is overshadowed by his colleague Peary, signifying the realities of the times.
Willie Conklin (Gerard Neugent) embodies the hash iniquities of racial discernment during the period. Conklin too treads his own path, going well out of his given station to express his disdain for anyone not like himself, especially for blacks. Through the use of a choice word or two, we are surely made to notice a route to the central tension in the plot.
In his dialog, Conklin makes a point to downplay his racial animus as something all Americans had to go through, a point of contention achieving the sneaky provocateur needed in all good commentary. Bring you earmuffs if you bristle at seeing the bitter truths of American social structures role played; And Coalhouse obliges.
Polishing both sides of the Coin
The good days meet the bad ones early and often in Ragtime. Along the way, the production’s technical effects highlight the vast range of emotional facets in story. Even more astonishing, the musical accompaniment is played by a live ensemble providing both the score and the sound effects punctuating many of the scene’s .
Ragtime boasts sound and lighting cues numbering in the thousands. The musical ensemble featured Stephen Flaherty’s original score, directed by Dan Kazemi and performed by Blair Bielawski (Reeds), Brett Murphy (Trumpet), Kyle Samuelson (Trombone), Clay Schaub (Upright Bass), Tom Schlueter (Trumpet), and Terry Smirl (Drums).
The main characters of Ragtime are made full with the phenomenal vocal talents of Cusack, Hooker, Gregory, and Landay, and supported masterfully by the ensemble notably Hart, and Bethany Thomas, performing the lyrics of Lynn Ahern.
Opening with a Bang
Thoroughly delighting the audience, Ragtime has a little something for everyone. The ovation at the curtain call indicated as much, as a the applause from the nearly capacity crowd mysteriously found a single rhythmic beat. Ragtime runs long weekends at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater until October 27.
Under a dense canopy stacked with overgrowth, “Urban” music grew unabashed through the early part of the millennium, then people really stopped caring about the tangled vines of braggadocio and opulence. A few exquisite varieties of hardy musical perennials fought back in the mainstream and eventually were choked out by the seething onslaught of invasive common brand creepers. Interest all but dried up, a brush fire left ashes at the base of popular R&B/Soul/Hip Hop.
Urban Sound Ag
Conservationist of the sound they love, many urban music artists like Milwaukee’s D’Amato turn inward, finding inspiration in their immediate surroundings. With a focus on live performance, D’Amato’s aspirations don’t outwardly reflect Billboard chart positions, he shows a grow local approach.
He’ll be performing his Neo-soul/R&B inspired sound at the Up and Under this Saturday. He has flavor, not quite reaching Robin Thicke level, however more importantly D’Amato has a fun factor that comes across in his recorded tracks. A live audience always thrives on that vibe.
D’Amato will also fuse emceeing into his set, to preview his upcoming album release “Counterfeit Paradise” set to hit this fall. Delivering a blend of quip word play and vocal harmony, the kid displays a hybrid variety of contemporary R&B music, expressive and earnest yet sharp and to the point. His track BPA free, produced by DJ Moses of Higher Education Records (H.E.R.), makes it plenty clear his feet have been on the pavement at least as much as the carpet.
Keepers of the Funk
Minneapolis’s New Sound Underground will headline the show, a funky electric jazz sextet tailor made for jamming live. New Sound Underground features keyboard, bass, and percussion, and a rotation of brass instruments including trombone, trumpet and tenor sax. Winding their way down the jazz road, the influences heard in their songs swing past some classic jam rock landmarks, drawing on some of the greats you would think of when jamming comes to mind. Nothing close to a cover band however, New Sound Underground transforms styles and tempo fluidly within their songs to a masterful degree.
“Phantoms”, New Sound Underground via SecondStoryGarage on Youtube
I’m standing in a small aisle between sets, voices buzz. Violinist Allen Russell just led us through a pleading progression accompanied by Pat Reinholz (Cello), Rick Aaron (flute), John Simons (double bass), Gabriel Hammer (drums), amazingly coherent for being unrehearsed, a quintet previously unacquainted.
I hear a delicate voice behind me, comically high pitched and soft through the conversations, in a whisper an unmistakably noticeable, “Excuse me”, almost mocking Betty Boop. I make way, turning a shoulder to see a stubbly faced guy in thick trapezoidal plastic framed glasses, much more surly than his voice ever would let on. He’s carrying musical things to the stage in the Okka performance space, Sugar Maple’s conclave for jazz music. David Pederson wouldn’t need much, other than his voice for his performance section.
On first Sunday’s since March, Unrehearsed MKE sewed together traditional improvisational jazz with whatever happened to musically come up. Its most recent installment reached avant garde in a fitful finally. Unrehearsed MKE breaths life into Milwaukee’s jazz faithful, who largely go about their creative way without a “scene”. I expect local jazz artists mostly like it that way, but what musician doesn’t enjoy an audience. The twist in the Unrehearsed MKE’s open format is that each grouping of composers and musicians have never rehearsed or in many cases even met prior to their set.
The final ensemble gets situated. Jay Anderson (tenor sax), Steve Gallam (alto sax), and Timothy Russell (drums/percussion) join Pederson (vocals) on the bandstand. Pederson opens, embarking in a gap in the intro, chirping a light whistle imitating a small song bird, self-qued, with virtuosity. Anderson and Gallam chase on Sax behind Russell’s rhythm variations, an intriguing tandem of soul and moxie. They alternate and weave their notes rapping patterned layers in the sound scape.
Another section arrives and Pederson darts away then toward the microphone delivering a deep a growling vocal didgeridoo, Timothy Russell intensely hunches over the drum kit with two palm cymbals searching and finding his portion of the beat, nicking and knocking the drum heads. Pederson proceeds, scatting, inflecting and modulating his vocals, aided by expressive body movements conveying emotion content going into every utterance. He works in traditional sung melodies occasionally, displaying a true ear for jazz singing’s’ tone and timing. Symphonic and razor-sharp, this quartet channeled a piece of Beat-era magic pulled from a damp, smokey space in the Village, with an alley entry.
Julianne Frey (vocals), Barry Paul Clark (double bass/electronics), and Michael Bettine (percussion/gongs/hand drums) christened the night’s performances in the first grouping.
Another Good Taste
Unrehearsed MKE can safely be added to the menu of enjoyable offerings pouring at Sugar Maple. Sugar Maple boasts 60 craft beers on tap, served by some of the wittiest bar tenders around. Unrehearsed MKE is slated for first Sunday’s at 7:30p.
King Lear (Bo Johnson) gnashes his last words in anguish clinging to his dearest treasure, lost within his own mind. Life’s seasons delivered him one too many harsh political maelstroms, one too few kindred summer swoons, his will worn away. The life of a King.
We see him tangled, a heap strewn across the overgrowth of English hollows at Dover, symbolized by the gnarled trellis set pieces’ sturdy appendages, jutting in all directions, like a cruel wooden barricade dividing sides in a great war. A motley band of Lear’s devoted few, in a reverent moment, watch him fade away, but how did he meet his fate?
Daughter’s of the Lust
Veterans in the Alchemist’s ensemble, Anna Figlesthaler (Regan) and Libby Amato (Goneril) fittingly stand in leading roles as King Lear’s daughters, weaving their wiles around the players, their father the King finding no refuge in his begotten brood.
We get hints of Regan and Goneril’s perilous machinations in the open sequence, as the Duke of Cornwall (Jason Will) receives Regan’s dowry, and the Duke of Albany (Ken Williams) Goneril’s. Beneath the cover of ample doting, required to receive their father’s favor in tandem with the venerable nature of their suitors, the daughters’ obedience claims virtue although something lurks amiss.
Regan and Goneril’s righteously indignant sister, Cordelia (Grace DeWolfe), intervenes in France’s (Mack Folkert) prize, refusing to heave into words her gratitude for her father. Chastised, yet unyielding in her countenance, Cordelia accepts the wrath of her father, the King, his tongue and lips seething with venom expectant of a monitor lizard; She henceforth disowned.
King Lear’s rage blindly strikes his loyalist man Kent (Dylan Bolin), sending him from court in disgrace for questioning his highness’s judgement. King Lear filled with pride cannot see his flattering daughters conspire to usurp his authority as King. Few fetters remain of Lear’s royal fold after the opening scenes, the King has climbed atop his wall.
Taking less prominent roles, Artistic Directors Aaron Kopec and Erica Case handed the keys, of the Oldsmobile 442 that the Alchemist Theater is, over to Leda Hoffman. Hoffman cut her teeth directing as an intern with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. She goosed the Alchemist’s throttle plenty, driving King Lear into an exceptional production, delivering pace, atmosphere, suspense and affect, taking the crowd on a sidewinding joy ride without a wreck.
Hoffman’s production hugged the corners of the King Lear text, erring on the side of a traditional stage translation. The technical aspects of the players’ book-work and adherence to Hoffman’s vision rang through the audience’s response to punchy delivery of the script, which nailed Shakespeare’s wit meter after meter. Dramaturg Fly Steffens and text coaches Mark Corkins and Marcy Kearns deserve a nod for adding permeability to the impenetrable quality that Shakespeare’s rhetoric can pose for the layperson, their knack seen through the actors methods.
Looks to Percieve
The A.V. direction mimicked the overall polished manner of the production, wielding the power of an upgraded lighting system. To the credit of Stage Manger Erin Eggers and Sound/Music Designer Erin Paige, the overlay of cues on the players performances draped well. All elements of King Lear’s blocking added to the production’s readability, with hands lent from an extensive support crew including Mallory Metoxen (Assistant Director), Sydonia Lucchesi (Assistant Stage Manager), and Christopher Elst (Violence Design).
Visually, the costume design pressed by the fingertips of Caitlin Lux and Rachel Stenman tied the production neatly to the set design and stage performance. Without being distracting, medieval period looks infused with modern sensibilities kept the players in that magical place provided by Shakespeare’s literary settings.
The ensemble’s footwear captured the spotlight, as rugged leather riding boots signified the station of Albany, Cornwall, Edmund, Edgar and Oswalt (Tim Palecek) in particular, complimenting their English hunting field vests and durable breeches. France’s dandiness clung to his thigh-high cream colored equestrian boots, to match his two-tone white and pale blue admiral jacket with frilled epaulets.
Goneril and Regan, fit with versatile and well-tailored mini-one piece pleated dresses, exuded run way appeal enhancing their perceived ability to impress their privileges upon their subjects. Cordelia elegantly wore a chaste white gown through the hell and rising troubled waters of Dover.
Beneath the Velvet
The plotting and scheming in King Lear has few spectators, and a sporting chap Edmund (Matt Wickey) indeed brings his treachery to the fore with little ado. Edmund subtly impresses lies on his half-brother Edgar (Tim Linn) driving Edgar into exile. He foists his resentment on their sire, Lear’s most trusted noblemen Gloucester (Michael Pocaro), pushing him into disfavor with Regan’s Duke Cornwall. Edmund sadistically plays paramour to both of Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril driving them to each others’ throats. Wickey channels something dim and sinister from his character, and almost comical in his portrayal of an archetypal super villain that really has no aim beside sowing chaos, knowing in the end he must be caught to fulfill his infamy.
King Lear has its share of train wreck moments in the follies of the characters. Every character has some personal drama. Everyone goes crazy.
Edmund’s foil Edgar, looses touch with reality while banished, wondering the wilderness calling him self “Poor Tom”. Linn showed promising acting range in his earnest and noble portrayal Edgar, flipping a switch to enter Poor Tom by evoking the paranoid split-personality persona of J.R. Tolkien’s cast away Gollum, and it worked.
Poor Tom grovels around, spewing just as much wisdom as non-sense, stooped and erratic, as Linn’s sinewy body lurched under his wet stringy long hair until happenstance brings Poor Tom into Gloucester’s presence. His father, Gloucester blathers away too, sucked in the undertow of his guilt for falsely accusing his son Edgar of treachery, and stricken by Cornwall’s vicious wrath that extracted Gloucester’s eyes.
The Fool (David Flores) flits about Lear loyally, however sarcastic, mocking Lear in song, rehashing the troubles of Lear’s throne. Betraying the name of the character, Flores adds plenty of theatrical dressing to this character with his stage presence and singing voice. Hoffman really made a great choice in Flores, as this character easily could have been lost in the fray without his moxie. Although aided heavily by The Fool, King Lear needs no help in finding hysterical and inglorious madness.
Long Live the King
The character of King Lear contains complexity of a archetypal patriarch, a detached, caring, and long suffering parent, yet ornery and down right nasty when pushed. Johnson, a seasoned stage actor, conjured up a tremendously entertaining performance as King Lear. It was like seeing a possessed William F. Buckley cyborg crossed with Gary Oldman and Andrew Dice Clay, endlessly hitting all the pomp notes and vulgarities in the dialog.
King Lear incensed at his daughters’ defiance at every turn, spends much of the play in a blissful rage, stumbling about the countryside playful at times, but generally a hair-trigger pull away from verbal tirades that likely are the inspiration for the Shakespeare Insulter website.
A truly tortured man, Lear lasts longer than he intends, unaware that his loyal attendants guide him from peril, many to their own undoing. Even his own discarded daughter, Cordelia, attempting to restore her father’s glory with the help of France, is ensnared by the forces working against Lear. Imprisoned and defeated, life lets them free mercifully.
A Smashing Success
Rounding out the ensemble the presence of Mitch Weindorth (Corwall’s Servant), Harry Loeffler-Bell (Cornwall’s 2nd Servant), Margaret Casey (Gloucester’s Tenant), and Chris Goode (Lear’s Knight) did not go unfelt. Making their accomplishments on stage even sweeter, Figlesthaler and Amato are also credited as co-producers King Lear.
Unfortunately for those without passes, King Lear’s run has sold out going into its final week. The Alchemist Theatre’s King Lear opened July 11, 2013 and closes July 27.
The weather will break just in time for the dedication of Three Bridges Park tomorrow, an endeavor that culminates a 15-year rebirth of the Menomonee Valley. In the not so distant past of the previous decade the Valley was in pretty rough shape, with brownfields, under utilization, and livestock busting out of slaughterhouse pens stopping traffic in the stretch of industrial corridor between 6th and 35th Streets.
Coming a long way in land use terms, currently 4 Seasons Skate Park, Zimmerman Architectural Studios (a tremendous rehabilitation of the old gas streetlight fueling plant), Marquette Sports Fields, a newer riverfront cantina called the Twisted Fisherman, a host of traditional industrial businesses like the City Fleet and high tech ones like Helios call the Valley home. The Valley will even have its first high-rise courtesy of Potawatomi Casino, a miraculous 15-story hotel built atop marshlands; And now move over Bioswale, there’s a 24-acre park.
More Ways to Go
Three Bridges Park connects the lower parts of Clark Square and Silver City to the eastern end of Hank Aaron Trail, and adds several miles of trail through the park that spans from 27th Street to 35th Street. Three Bridges will have several notable passages, one of which connects Three Bridges to the Mitchell Park, an excellent siting choice to bring access to the Domes from the Hank Aaron. With an emphasis on multi-modal transportation, the park will also feature canoe portages.
The original passage to the Valley from Silver City sits in the shadows of Miller Park, a narrow tunnel (with a checkered past) connecting Canal Street to Pierce Street. Today, murals coat the Valley Passage’s once forlorn and neglected concrete surface, opening to a winding path leading to the Menomonee Valley branch of the Urban Ecology Center.
Doesn’t look like much now, but these will soon be rolling hills lined with trees.
Building a New Past
July 20th marks the opening of Three Bridges Park, a crowning achievement among many to spring from the From the Ground Up initiative. Menomonee Valley Partners and the Urban Ecology Center have teamed up to weave collaborative projects that support access to jobs, environmental education and outdoor recreation. Some have heralded the opening of Three Bridges Park as Milwaukee’s Central Park moment, a point in time that marks when generations to come will no longer know that blight gripped the land there.
At dusk Thursday, a miraculous scene accumulated in Milwaukee’s corner of our Earth’s atmosphere. It rained on one side of the street and not the other. Ten distinct clouds types formed simultaneously, as varying levels of pressure agitated water molecules aided by thermal fluctuations from the heat of light. A sight to behold, each cardinal direction projecting a range of emotive countenances.
In a final awe inspiring act, a bank of clouds swept across the Northern sky like the minute hand of a watch anchored over the breakwaters of Lake Michigan, countering the wisdom of time.
Milwaukee clearly hasn’t come close to setting the upper limit on its seasonal festival flux capacitor gauge. Summerfest and Cathedral Square’s Jazz in the Park will welcome Catalano Square’s new outdoor music series Arye in the Square to the turn of the Solstice revelry.
Tomorrow Matt Davies and the Thriftones light up the evening at Ayre in the Square. They’re a local outfit channelling calloused hand musical sense of classic blues-rock heroes and the feel good punch of a light-hearted touring jam band. I saw Thriftones a little while back at Frank’s and they’re sure to be just as good in fresh air.
Meanwhile at Jazz in the Park, Hey Ocean, a funky trio in town from Vancouver and fresh off a gig at Summerfest, will make their big giant yodel-y pop ballads that make most people happy, live on stage. According to their FB page, Hey Ocean has also made their obligatory hipster pilgrimage to Best Place, making them honorary MKEans.
…And meanwhile on the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, FUN will be at Marcus with Walk on the Moon and Family of the Year, oh and on the park general admission stages Billy Idol, Talib Kweli, REO Speedwagon, Amadou and Merriam, and Blues Traveler basically all at the same time. I foresee Milwaukee’s population increasing tomorrow night, in all age strata.
Increasingly common, summer alignment of outdoor music venues signifies just how appropriate Milwaukee’s national praise as a prime spot for urban enjoyment was heaped over the past year. Arye in the Park and Jazz in the Park are weekly afterwork outdoor music events starting at 6:30p, and Summerfest is going on all day long for the next week and a half.
Mirroring the image of a seasoned Olde World guild craftsman’s workshop, a studio space exudes consummate attention to detail. Jars and wooden vessels store troves of pens, like scaled-down silos stuffed full. Straight edges and obscure stencils of great variety each have their place, arranged meticulously.
Tiling the tables and walls, the flourishing offspring of Nick Ludwig’s utensils have qualities expected from a currency mint engraver’s plate, a preciseness however rendered only with ink and a small metal sprocket as a stencil guide.
Ludwig’s designs each spiral from a vertex with mathematical symmetry of natures order, as curved structures radiate with his discretion for line and complementary pigment. Fanning out, each petal-like appendage has a main color fill. The final touches of texture are given with a sensitively graded cross-hatch, channeling folk stories and wisdom centuries old.
Ludwig shares a 1st floor studio space with several artists at the Hide House. Bay View Gallery Night is tonight from 5p to 10p.
In the undergrowth of the Hide House, creative spores germinate in a first floor alcove, a respite for a few recent MIAD products. Spring Gallery Night in Milwaukee gave them a chance to showcase their toils, carving dedicated display space into sections for each studio mate’s work. Bay View Gallery Night may prove more of a debutant dinner party.
One wall stood out. Sparse and drained, outlines of a horse’s head vaguely pressed against the art paper’s surface. Other mammalian taxidermy busts stuck to the wall as well. The strokes appear once over and the chosen colors contrast muted purple shades adjacent to white. Why do I like these? Maybe the concept? Tegan Andrich has conjured these images as game hunter would aim, fire, kill, lop off a trophies head, stuff and mount it on a wall, brutal and decisive.
Another of Andrich’s paintings, braced over the canvas stretcher bars, holds a large format. Loosely defined, the composition’s meticulous figurative themes finish craggy, defining the outermost edges sometimes with a blur of paint. The center-most portions of the painting render blindness, conspicuously possessing a subtle and thoughtful wash.
Searching for a reference in Andrich’s work to an art movement, led me to Dee Ferris, a cagey contemporary artist in the UK. A now defunct indie art mag Under/Current had one of the only early written reviews out there of Ferris’s work. A exceedingly well-composed critique by Yannis Tsitsovits suggested a possible stylistic answer, a Russian literary device: ostranenie.
Bay View Gallery Night runs tomorrow at various locations through out Bay View including the Hide House.
The full blown quakes shaking the current discourse surrounding Niki Johnson’s Eggs Benedict, reached me as a mere tremor aftershock, a rumor of spectacular occurrence. I witnessed the aftermath of Johnson’s creatively seismic work during the day session of Gallery Night Spring 2013. Astounded, I expected to like the piece not to have my afternoon taken over by it.
Debra Brehmer, gladly spending some time with her patrons, candidly observed of Johnson’s piece a quality indescribably awe inspiring, a gestalt nearly impossible to render in contemporary art. Brehmer, Portrait Society Gallery’s Director, profoundly noted that the weaving technique Johnson used to ensnare Pope Benedict’s image mimics fine needle point work made so often from women’s hands; an irony for a woman’s craft to have created an irreverent iconic reference to an institution women have been so systematically subjugated within.
Depending on which side of Eggs Benedict pedestal display you approach from, you either feel duped or immediately captured. The portrait’s verso is exposed, revealing the tied medial regions and exposed openings of the many contraceptives. They are so carefully secured on the wire grid, in appearance, sloppy and awkward with no semblance of the intended likeness; a vestige of the personal made uncomfortably public. This window into Johnson’s artistic process demystifies the piece’s craft work, increasing its power.
Eggs Benedict by Niki Johnson on display at the Portrait Society Gallery, 2013
I stood with a couple hand fulls of people for much longer than you may traditionally imbibe an artwork, contemplating whether on a metaphysical level the Catholic church could oppose condoms as a mere object if not used for a contraceptive. Upon further deliberation, given that the portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict referenced in Eggs Benedict originates from a group of press photos associated with his now infamous statement that condoms help spread AIDS in Africa, and the unequivocal prohibition of contraceptives of all forms in Catholic dogma, it is absolutely impossible to parse the medium from the message. In fact, in no more certain terms could the adage “The medium is the message” hold true.
The stage of Eggs Benedict will always be heightened by Pope Benedict’s historic resignation, an eerie stroke fate for Niki Johnson. I sincerely hope they meet someday in some realm. Johnson has put Eggs Benedict up for auction, with proceeds going to benefit AIDS research. The opening bid came in at $20 thousand.
Johnson’s Eggs Benedict secures a moment in art history for Milwaukee; the Portrait Society Gallery serving as the vessel to bring this piece into the art world internationally; April 19, 2013 its semi-official first public opening.
Eggs Benedict remains on display at the Portrait Society Gallery through July 28th, Thursday – Saturday 12 noon to 5p. It will join a series of Niki Johnson’s work opening June 6, 2013 entitled Sourcebook: Martha Wilson and MKE.
Rains drenched the week leading up to this spring’s Gallery Night in Milwaukee and a tornado warning. No worries there are plenty of great place to get stuck in the Third Ward tonight. Cohesion, would be the word that best describes what the Third Ward has achieved in the arts and entertainment lobe of its identity. A permanent scene has undoubtedly formed there to support the City’s high-end fine artists, its cornerstone sits on the intersection of Water and Buffalo Street at the Marshall Building.
Once an informal stash of professional artists and collectors, the building now supports an evolved and varied ecosystem of art and design disciplines. Some are highly recognizable like Reginald Baylor/Plaid Tuba and the Portrait Society. Others like Katie Gingrass are synonymous with fine art galleries in Milwaukee. All of the residents of the Marshall Building deserve notoriety.
Look Who’s Looking
Spring Gallery Night 2013 at the Marshall Building will feature 26 studios and galleries spread about all 7 levels of the building, making it very nearly an informal Contemporary Art museum. One highly anticipated show in particular at the Portrait Society Gallery will feature Nikki Johnson’s Eggs Benedict, a pixelated portrait of Emeritus Pope Benedict made entirely of colored condoms.
Another effort to look forward to comes from recent resident Marlene Hecht Simmons who lower level gallery features her own original paintings ranging in style from pop to portrait to folk. Phil Saxon’s work is also displayed there, a mixed media set that distilled something potentially neo-movement-like.
Timothy Meyerring appears to have quite an experience formulating in his first floor space Timo Gallery. If you don’t like his paintings which is really hard to do, there should be a little revelry to go with them to keep you engaged too.
From the Bottom Up
Gallery Night Spring 2013 kicks off tonight April 19, 2013. Most galleries are also open April 20 as well. Here are the who’s and where’s:
Milwaukee Potters Guild
Marlene Hecht Simmons
Elaine Erickson Gallery
Grotta & Co.
Blustein Brondino Gallery
The Fine Art Gallery
J. Nikolai Art
Too Much Metal
Christine Plamann Photography
C. Harbeck Object Conservation
CR Davidson Art
Portrait Society Gallery
In a wily move, the Coalition of Photographic Arts (CoPA) took over a traditional second floor office suite on upper Mason Street and turned it into a a multi-room gallery space for their 8th Annual Member’s Exhibition. CoPA, a contemporary photography guild, showcases and supports fine photographic arts of all styles.
CoPA member Kelly Crandall expressed that CoPA exists to support the photographer community in the Milwaukee area, and although a membership organization, it is open to amateur and professional photographers. Crandall’s work for CoPA’s current exhibition focuses on landscape and street photography, much of her subject matter being people and architecture. With no less than 50 individual pieces on display from a couple dozen CoPA members, the photographic styles demonstrated encapsulate a wide variety of applications of the medium.
In this exhibition, classic portrait, landscape, and nature photographs accompany technologically driven examples of perspective, enhanced and digitally altered photography. Some less conventional styles like photographic canvas wraps can also be witnessed at the current CoPA exhibition. This will be truly one of the most diverse photography exhibitions around town.
CoPA’s Gallery Night opening is tomorrow night from 4p – 9p Friday, April 19 and Gallery Day 11a – 4p, April 20 on the 2nd floor of 600 East Mason St. The 8th Annual CoPA Member’s Exhibition will continue Thursdays through Saturdays 12p – 6p from April 24 – May 3, 2013.
Growing up, I had a shit kicking, High Life drinking, roof laying, neighbor next door. He was also the first person I ever saw grilling in the rain under an umbrella, with a beer can and Marlboro smoking in one hand, turning brats with a serving fork in the other.
Beside the yelling, cursing, racist propagating and abusive familial relating going-on year round, this family can claim my first best friend, my first video game football touchdown (on Atari 5200), and also my appreciation for Bob Uecker’s voice crackling Brewer’s play-by-play through AM airwaves, and not surprisingly my taste for fried smelt.
Back then the crank nets would come out once a year, cast off of the McKinley Marina pier, snagging multitudes of mid sized bait fish. My neighbors would bequeath a 5 gallon bucket or so of smelt upon my family every summer.
Those days of smelt fishing on Milwaukee’s corner of Lake Michigan left long ago. Not to be forgotten, recently I noticed smelt popping up again in Pick N’ Save and even Whole Foods’ fresh seafood sections.
Get Ready to Play
I got a call from an old college buddy of mine, with a ticket to Brewer’s opening day 2013? I hadn’t been since I wasn’t supposed to be there legally boozing… An idea formed instantaneously. Needing only the occasion, I thought craftily to myself, “let the commiserating of old times begin!”
Some Old Charcoals
It’s like all the days at the Park that came before and all the days that will come after, this year the atmosphere spits crisp gusts of pre-spring air down on thousands of revelers in the mid-morning pale sun. Bumpers hold brews and bags of chips, buns and what-have-you fixings for the tailgating, my party’s got a special guest.
A hoard of headless smelt lay prone packed on top of each other, wrapped in a thin film of plastic and secured in stiff brown butcher shop wax paper. Unwrapped, they nonchalantly slide past each other looking for the nearest resistance to hold them from spilling everywhere.
Ten in the morning is too early for brats, and thats why these here smelt are here. Seasoned and ready the cast iron pan catches the match light flame, too hot for grill cooking, heating the oil to a boil. Old Bay’s and salt are already mixed in the cornmeal, waiting for the smelt to take a dip and shake. Prepped, the smelt go for a swim in the pan for a couple of minutes, out and ready to eat like fish french fries.
The commotion draws the attention of a few weathered tailgaters. They exclaim “Aw yeah, Smelt!” A new opening day tradition is born.
Opening Day Smelt Batter Recipe
Yellow Corn Meal (I use the Quaker round container. You may have to pour a little out to make shake room)
Old Bay’s Seasoning
Add to the Corn Meal
3 heaping Tbsp of Old Bay’s Seasoning
1 Tbsp of Table Salt
Shake to mix
Add 3-5 smelt at a time to the mix and shake to cover smelt
Drop in hot oil and fry for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes
Remove and let rest on a paper towel
She’s crushing the drums relentlessly, not smashed in the back behind the amps, but on the front line. Accompanied by a guitar or two (Pat Boyce and Bill Grasley), bass (Brandon Domer), and sometime keys (Domer), Nichole Rae concusses the tension out of her drum heads while vocally exhuming all manners of their collective innards, thusly The Traveling Suitcase. For the Eastside Music Tour they made their 5:00p slot feel like headliner, that’s a pretty good sign of gnarl even if day drinking is involved. Something cool from Madison for a change.
The Traveling Suitcase, Carry Out Show via Brandon Domer on YouTube
Give them shades from other bands of now, or the future, and their eyes will blaze through those tinted lenses and burn your face off. The Traveling Suitcase rallies harmonic, desperate, and mercurial spirits. Spreading themselves as thin as artistically possible, they’re getting around the Midwest for live shows, keeping their edges tattered.
Slated to return to Milwaukee for Raw Artist Showcase in May, it wouldn’t surprise if The Traveling Suitcase finds time to squeeze in a couple of shows around here in the meantime.
MC Mikal lumbered in the BBC upper room, tall, gangly, vibrating above it all. The scene, relatively modest by hip-hop standards, dropped like an ember that starts a wild brush fire. A performative charge present, highly concentrated energy burned the anticipatory material around it, not caring to be seen.
In a benefit for Men of Tomorrow, one of the older youth programs in Milwaukee, MC Mikal ripped the mic to beats cued by local music producer Moses. Showing mastery of the chambers of emceeing, deviating from prepared material, Mikal enthusiastically took liberty to casually experiment with increasingly poetic streams of mind over rhythm.
Lyrically, MC Mikal readily latches on to various wavelengths, mostly intelligent, conscious of today’s struggles to avoid snares in the web of crap that is American society. In other moments, he gets down right hedonist, encouraging the niceties of life in the moment, social mischief and pleasures of the flesh. Oddly the “Mr. Hyde” MC Mikal, allows you to take his profound lyrical repertoire more seriously, there are no more saints, and he doesn’t pretend to be one. When he’s on, he’s a force on the mic.
Running with Knives
Milwaukee rap conglomerate H.E.R. held the flank, delivering tracks with beats tailor-fit for trunks with subs, riding on rims in their mid-20′s and candy coated paint. Thank Moses, as one of the producers of H.E.R. he brings plenty of heat.
Words peppering the crowd, Jermaine Event led H.E.R, twisting traditional battle style Milwaukee flavored hip-hop banter, an easy combination for people to get lost in. Rarely seen in the contemporary era of hip-hop, H.E.R. prominently featured a hype-man on back-up vocals and 2 guest MC’s. That’s an old formula that usually works, and H.E.R. put it to use rather effectively.
Sean Smart pushed his flows for H.E.R., packing visions of rugged-living, slick talking in a notable mic voice. Expanding on H.E.R.’s lessons, Myke Deezy kept the pace of the show well above resting with his additional vocals and general stage presence.
Quietly, emerging from its chrysalis, we see new hip-hop fauna flashing its oversized moth wings in the likes of MC Mikal, mysterious white dots marking the wings looking like eyes, giving music explorers something new to find. MC Mikal might be considered more appropriately as an artist that emees, so catching a performance from him is a gem.
Some avian raptor varieties of the hip-hop kingdom still stalk the streets, evolving like H.E.R., hanging on resiliently not likely to parish with the Jurassic era of the genre, giving fans from the original depths of the boombap something to vibe to. The subtle reinventions of the street rap style that H.E.R. brings to the stage, although clearly drawing off classic underground gangster rap legends, makes H.E.R. an intriguing example of how each style contributes to the rap picture. All are needed to make the hip-hop eco-system viable, if hip hop is truly to be a voice by which various perspectives on life are amplified through stereo speakers.
Cause for a Cause
In an time when everyone has an idea, notion or feeling of divine right to tell people what to do and how to do it, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt understands that just having a mentor can mean the difference between falling for traps set by bad influences or deciding your own path. He’s the acting Director of Men of Tomorrow, and the proceeds of the MC Mikal with H.E.R show went as a small but meaningful tithe to the Men of Tomorrow youth program. Men of Tomorrow is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that primarily focuses on providing elementary school aged Black youth with mentors and guided activities to assist their transition to adulthood.
I like the idea of a one block tour, it’s the next best thing to traveling all over the country chasing your favorite bands! Keepers of the local ART Milwaukee are making it happen this Saturday on Brady Street all day with the Eastside Music Tour. They strung together an all day line up of shows to benefit the Cass Street School playground, which may soon be the grounds of Maryland Montessori. The overgrown and cuddly beasts calling the playground home need a new paint job.
The shows start at 4p and there are many. The entire line-up is pretty extreme, each hour will have a different band at up to 11 different locations simultaneously around the Brady Street Area. There are some obvious dinner time starts like Joe Wray (Cempazuchi at 4p) and Evan Christian (Casablanca at 5p), both solo crooners of the Rock, Blues and Blues and Soul persuasion.
Trocadero will have Fresh Cut Collective and Kane Place Record Club back to back starting at 7p in the Redlight, where they used to show soft romantic videos after hours (not to be confused with the now burned out Red Room). Roxie Beane, an extremely popular local rocker, also has a 7p slot (at Hybrid).
No Praise Required
If you’re in the mood for potentially new-to-you music, a couple of acts come to mind. The Thriftones mixes cocktail of rock and roll genres having all the ingredients that will give you plenty ambiance to day-drink to. I saw their recent Frank’s Power Plant show and they left quite an impression. More here… Birth of a Buzz, Thriftones, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1y3
On a whole different wavelength at 9p, Crisp will have Albydamned and Demix a duo that master party time like no other. They collaborate on a electronic music showcase called Beyond Awesome, and it is just that. Beyond Awesome recently collaborated with local beat-makers Deletah and special guest Team Bayside High to put on a ridiculous show. Don’t even try to sample this music on your computer speakers. More here… Miramar Theatre, Beyond Awesome, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-1zI
Tickets to the Eastside Music Tour are available in advance only! If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, only “Procrastinator Tickets” are available. Sucking for you they don’t come with a Fanny Pack or T-Shirt. For $15 you can get into whatever shows have room for you, and you also get exclusive Milwaukee deals and specials.
Maybe because it happened to be Black History Month did the irony of Aaron McGruder’s talk at UW-Milwaukee’s most recent Distinguished Lecture Series evening feel even more striking. McGruder’s comic strip turned animated adult cartoon series, picked-up steam the past three years as one of the only televised young and flippant pop-culture outlets originating from the Black community (I really can’t name another).
As The Boondocks appeals to wider and wider audiences, let’s just forgo the conclusion of it reaching cult status. McGruder brilliantly channeled from the ages, angsty, disconnected and disaffected black male attitudes through contemporary cartoon caricatures, to populate his illustrated world. He’s completed 3 seasons on air, preceded by 20 years as a syndicated comic strip of critical acclaim. The Boondocks, in its relatively short television run, has pushed its cult meter dial to negative 270 degrees, aligning with the skull with x-ed out eyes if not now, yesterday.
A Scene from Academia
McGruder in pre-mortem fame commanded 7 bucks per eye, or ear, to catch a whiff of his brain in live action. Copious forward-thinking collegiate troves filed non-chalantly into the Student Union’s Wisconsin Room, eager to hear the words of an unlikely aspiring comic, turned comic strip author, turned television series producer. After laying some flags demarcating the invisible electric fence not to piss on, the fun could rush ahead. Posted were signs for no questions about Season 4, McGruder’s finances or personal life, etc…
As an appetizer, the moderator served McGruder some canned ham, allowing him to address his early influences of Doonsberry, Calvin and Hobbs, and Japanese anime. Social distiller extraordinaire, McGruder gave insight to his uncanny ability to deal satire with a beautifully stacked deck of current events, historical references and cultural archetypes. McGruder quickly addressed how his worldview gained bearing, influenced by voices in his family expressing clear skepticism to news and politics, and admitted his impatience and impudence for criticism (hold that thought). It didn’t take long for McGruder to bare his teeth.
The moderator advanced his inquiry, feigning subtly and nuance, postulating as to whether McGruder ever concerned himself with a segment of his audience possibly missing the point of his story-lines, particularly the satirical elements, because of their maturity as measured in years of age. A snidely understated quip to the effect of “Age has little to do with understanding my work,” left a scald mark on the moderator’s face.
As that question sailed clear over the center field fireworks at Kaminski Park like a screaming fly ball and rolled around on the Eisenhower getting hit by tractor trailers, you could see where McGruder was coming from. One of the inherent tensions in The Boondocks stays tightly focused on the main character Huey, a 10 year-old that consistently wields knowledge and reason in the face of adults and peers, which usually lays useless. His friends, family and neighbors blindly ignore Huey’s logical rationales in preference to being engulfed by their own personal dramas.
Q & A
McGruder also fielded the world’s longest prefaced question, nearly five minutes long, recounting his early childhood experiences gathered from extensive background research, including his love of water, and cheeseburgers, finally diverging into glancing remarks about McGruder’s early professional experiences and dreams of authoring action comic books for a living.
When the run-on question mercifully received punctuation, miraculously McGruder was able to track the woman for long enough to discuss candidly being in his early 20′s and realizing he just wasn’t a good enough illustrator to make it in the full-length comic industry. He refocused his passion to comic strips, a more manageable format, and placed greater emphasis on developing written content with steady punch. Gems often go uncovered in this format of discussion, but McGruder’s forthcoming remarks shone as a must have life hack. Separating pride from reality when detouring your passions, is essential to transforming dreams into something marketable.
The adoration ceded long enough for the moderator to ask pressing questions about criticism McGruder occasionally faces for his exaggerated and stereotypical depictions of African-Americans, particularly African-American women. Almost shockingly, given the underlying political and social charge The Boondocks maintains, McGruder absent any deliberation shrugged off the second-guess. He readily admitted that the show takes various African-American male perspectives, centers on their struggles and snags in the American social system, draws from the absurdities buried within those experiences to create comedy, not exempting African-American women from the shooting gallery.
Furthermore, he matter-of-factly expressed that The Boondocks never aspired to address deep social issues, particularly gender issues, as much as it needed to be funny, if not flat-out offensive, to maintain its standing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. McGruder implicitly kicked the noble-cause-trap of social justice obsessed “Race men” to the side, emphasizing that his personal responsibility lay with his creative vision, and not speaking for Black people in general or to taking on issues of oppression that he personally doesn’t see fitting The Boondock‘s premise.
Whoa! In a room full of a students mildly leaning social activist, with more Black women than I’ve seen in one place on the Eastside, ever, his nerve probably took most by complete surprise. You couldn’t help but notice one African-American woman get up immediately following his comment, as if she just remembered her laundry was done, leaving the auditorium with indignant purpose.
Follow the Parallel Tracks
If you need some light background on the show, McGruder’s masterful animated series hones in on two Elementary school kids, Huey and Riley, who live with their Grandad in Suburbs, after having been raised on the Southside of Chicago. Two other notable on-going characters are Tom DuBois, a very assimilated African-American man with a White wife, and Uncle Ruckus an old ornery Black man with an undying contempt for his own people and unrequited reverence for the “White man”.
McGruder nails it almost every episode lampooning the lamest of what NYC, Hollywood and cable motion picture and televised productions have to offer. Boiled down to its cultural relevance (not to be mistaken with content), The Boondocks is for Blacks young adults, what Family Guy and The Simpsons is for their White counterparts: make-believe mockeries of real social dynamics that glorify ignorant male perspectives. Thankfully for the Boondocks, McGruder at least partially jabs pertinent issues in the mouth regularly, rather than just maintaining ignorance for ignorance’s sake as a form of comedy.
Black nerdom vs. The World
Inevitably, at McGruder’s UWM talk all the elements melded for a explosive build-up: controversial subject matter, general appetite for sarcasm, activist energy, a successful author of exceptional intelligence with an axe to bare on his shoulder, and a mixed-crowd of all ages and backgrounds. Let’s add a bit of context, before jumping off of the diving board into the most thrilling exchange with McGruder that night.
Where a long exposition on hipsterdom, Black nerdom and everyone else may fit here, I’ll just bypass that trouble. Most would agree that despite efforts planned and unplanned to make it so, and not so, the prevailing social winds of today are much the same as they were 20, 30, 40 years ago, and in some ways worse and more insidiously socially divisive.
Despite legal enforcement of institutional racism and cultural reinforcement of injustice at every turn years ago, there was still some willingness of an eager few to engage, at least intellectually, people of different backgrounds even if just in curiosity. The best examples of this happened on college campuses.
Although they were most likely all Radical Chic posers, we can at least imagine every member of the 60′s youth counterculture had a profound cause back then, and it wasn’t just to get “Likes” on social media. In today’s “post-racial” world, a relatively miniscule band of anti-establishment provocateurs have a true sense of engaging in social causes as a matter of seeking common humanity and social justice, and when you see them you know it. That brings us to the conclusion of the DLS talk with McGruder. A woman approaches the microphone.
Silence of the Lamb
She explained her interest in revisiting McGruder on the issue of negative and dis-empowering depictions of Black women on The Boondocks as being particularly troublesome. Her phrasing of the problem, a carefully spun knit scarf of sincere consciousness, recognizing pervasive mass media exclusion and abuse of non-white cultures, compelled silence from the crowd, as she successfully began backing McGruder into a corner about his reprehensible complicity in this practice.
McGruder reiterated his points about his comedic reach, lack of venue and proclivity to incorporate gender issues and balanced representation into his show. Continuing down the scenic justification route, he cleverly reminding the audience that much of what happens on the show is possible, only in the absence of well-adjusted and intelligent Black women.
Persistently she tried another angle, asking of McGruder’s knowledge of the recent controversy of the HBO series Girls (link via Pajiba), and Lena Dunham’s attempt to be inclusive of other backgrounds and cultures. McGruder a formidable plaintiff turned prosecutor, darted that Dunham did so only because she was facing public criticism, after initially being dismissive of observations about her show (link via Mother Jones).
McGruder’s Hattori Hanzo followed with a shadowless arc, “Besides that You’re White”. Her mouth ceased to speak, head tumbling to the floor. The crowd about 50/50 Black and non-Black, half erupted into oooh-ed laughter. She came millimeters away from thrusting her Shaolin spear through his temple, but valiantly fell in rhetorical battle for taking the wrong shot. Comparing McGruder, and his 20 year-old body of work, to a HBO series about White girls was basically like falling in a hole covered with leaves. Did he have any choice but to brazenly dismiss her in front of a predominately Black audience from Milwaukee?
The Non Fall Out
A young Black man, stepped to the mic next, “Ahem, Yeah, uh 1-2, 1-2… Just wanted to snaaaw, shout out Skiiizy, whut up little Tone… McGruder ganstalicious love yaaao…,” He was hissed by everyone and verbally escorted away by the moderator. I looked around. The Black women I could see were not phased by what just happened, the call to arms from the cult of womanhood was not heeded and they let their White ally die an unwanted martyr. Not a single Black woman questioned McGruder, maybe that was the answer to so many questions. Ironically, I doubt any of it mattered to McGruder at all, on any level.
Unfortunately for her, this wasn’t a Tarantino movie and Beatrix Kiddo doesn’t always win in real life. This type of defeat is what turns good White young adults into apathetic hipsters, hopefully she didn’t take it personal. I’m sure he’d say otherwise but I’ll just chalk McGruder’s response up to being skeptical of her intentions. If she really believes in what she says, she’ll continue to be an advocate for appropriateness regardless of McGruder or anyone else’s attitude about it.
The Macro Chip
Speaking of Tarantino, an audience member did ask McGruder about his thoughts on Django Unchained and the striking similarities between a couple of Tarantino’s characters and McGruder’s long-running animated meme Uncle Ruckus and a particular episode about Grandad’s Grandad Catcher Freeman (via YouTube). Simply put, McGruder said he would not comment beyond asking the audience member if he thought there were any obvious similarities that would make him ask that question. Sounds like Tarantino might have pulled a move like Stallone with Rocky. In a fitting twist of fate, Django Unchained just won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Aaron McGruder is a giant who truly owes no one anything. He’s deserves a lot of credit for nurturing a creative concept into a marketable body of work and also for freeing people to recognize he is not just a Black man, but an individual and entrepreneur that had an idea and the guts to pursue it. Likewise, McGruder has to take the criticism for pandering to the worst to low-end of humor just like anybody else, hopefully he won’t cop out next time. Congrats to UW-Milwaukee’s Distinguished Lecture Series and SocioCultural Programming for nailing this selection.
Mark “Madden Miles” next project (Download the Kate Upton Beat EP) dropped on the net on Valenine’s Day. If you just couldn’t get enough of that you could have got out to the Kate Upton EP Beat Tape Release Party live in Racine February 21, 2013. Well if you missed that I suggest you cop the download, the play is extra nifty. Click on your favorite part of the Kate Upton EP cover art below and check the details.
Madden Miles’ last joint the Candace Baily EP Beat Tape dropped last year and is still bouncing. If haven’t pressed the player play button to get a snippet of Madden Miles’ beastliness you missing it!
The irony of robots is that they are kind of low tech now. In Brian Rott’s latest amalgamation of ideas, props, plot and actors Robot Cabaret, we find out that quite possibly robots have feelings too.
Extraordinarily imaginative, Rott, in creative tandem with Michael Guthrie, centers an underlying point of tension around a Robot Detective that seeks out and dismantles fritzing robots that are passing around a terrible virus. In this robot world, companionship develops between human and machine, as robots of various persuasions, interests and intelligence seek to emulate the best humans have to offer; or wait do the robots want to rid the planet of humans and keep the highest points of human invention preserved in exacting semi-conducted binary logic?
The best thing about Quasimondo’s productions (Robot Cabaret being no exception) is that they spin fractal like stories, within sub-stories within metaphorical vignettes, woven into loosely devised plots that don’t follow a logical or sequential pattern, their plays at least don’t seem to do so until you get home and say silently, “oh”. Most likely you’ll just have had several dramatic flashbacks to some completely outrageous joke that you missed live.
Quasimondo’s full commotion multi-sensory response inducing hijinks, always stack the shows with ample pop culture references and true renegade efforts from very talented performers of many different corners of stage art. Robot Cabaret even has guest cameos from famous imposter musicians of various glory ages that a conniving salesman has put his robot minions up to studying so that he can make sideshows out of them. Bits and jokes galore litter the show, spewing from human and robot alike, and backed up by a house band… a house band? Yes!
If you’re into theater, nothing can bring more enjoyment than not knowing what to expect next from the next scene, or part of a dialog. Robot Cabaret far exceeds this threshold and the ensemble is an attractive bunch to put a bit of icing on the show.
The Quasimondo’s Robot Cabaret opened Thursday night and runs February 16, 18, 21, 22 and 23 and the following weekend all at 8p at the Fortress. There’s also a Matinee show on February 24 at 2p and pay-what-you can on February 18. Advanced tickets are available.