Right-o, so four days in Milwaukee... here's the running diary with MP3s and pictures (Oh my!). This is a long one...
Saturday, 1:15 p.m.
Depart Madison for Milwaukee. I'm going to be staying with my old buddy Brad, who was my roommate during my first year at Marquette. We see each other now and again, but probably still too little considering we're now only about an hour and a half apart. Two days prior to this, he called me up and read me a riot act about coming out early Saturday so we could perhaps do a brewery tour (you'd be surprised how often this option is pitched when you live in Wisconsin) before the Allen Toussaint concert at 8. However, he was incommunicado Friday night and at the point of departure, so I might not actually see him at my ETA of 2:45 - 3. I haven't seen my friend Lexi in awhile, so she gets the call and the demand to entertain me upon my arrival in Milwaukee unless/until Brad calls me to say I can go to his place and unload my luggage.2:45 p.m.
Arrive in Milwaukee with Brad still out of touch, so I head over to Lexi's place. We decide to go to a coffee place to catch up over a cup o' Joe, even though I don't drink Joe, only hot chocolate. This in mind, she says we need to head to the gas station first to fill her car up. The gas station is a mere few blocks away, but this is one of the more harrowing few-block journies I'll ever take in my life, as she likes to hit the brakes at the last possible instant, is overly cautious about four-way stop signs, and is still a tad unsure on how to work gas pumps. Provides a bit of comic relief and reminds me that yes, my heart is still functioning well. Before going to still undetermined coffeehouse, she decides we should go back to her place so I can get a tour of her new digs. While there, we decide since she's well stocked on teas and hot chocolates anyway, we can save the $3-$4 and just heat up a pot of water right there. We talk for about an hour and a half and the main thing I take away from the conversation - the first face to face one we've had in about a year now - is that the real Private Ryan (whom Matt Damon played), was a Mormon. Alright. Brad calls and shortly thereafter, I'm off.4:30 p.m.
Arrive at Brad's, who's looking worse for the wear. I know he was out last night, late and had too much of whatever spirit he imbibed. He tells me he was out celebrating his birthday (whoops... knew I was forgetting something), and had too much bourbon. Looks completely disshevled. As soon as I set my bags down, my dad calls to tell me he and my uncle are going to be driving through Milwaukee in about a half hour and want to stop and have a beer with me and Brad. I pitch this to my mightily hungover colleague, and he, unsurprisingly, agrees. Brad jumps in for a quick cold shower (does not resuscitate as hoped), and we're off to John Hawk's Pub.5 p.m.
A round of beers at John Hawk's with my dad and uncle who are on their way up north for a weekend of snowmobiling. My dad and Brad always got along, so it's nice for them to hang out a bit again, although I've never seen Brad put a beer down so slowly in my life. My dad and uncle take off after the first round, but buy us another. We figure we might as well just stay here and eat before walking over to the Pabst for the show. Once the appetizer and meal is finished, Brad is transformed to his old self (just needed a bit of sustenance, I guess), and there's a spring in his step as we head down to the Pabst.7:30 p.m.
Arrive at the Pabst, and - how cool is this - Crawdaddy's (really nice Cajun restaurant in Milwaukee) is catering a free party in honor of Toussaint and Mardi Gras, so we get to eat jambalaya totally free of charge. I also meet Cecilia, the Pabst's press room liason, who's totally sweet and soon informs me that I'll be able to meet Allen after the show. Kick ass. Outside the theater, City Hall is burning. It's saved, but it makes everyone wonder what all the fire trucks are doing there (turns out it was no big deal). We finish our meal and walk into the theater, where opening act Pieta Brown has already started her performance. She's not bad, but the excitement of seeing Toussaint makes her last four songs seem a minute too long each and sound exactly the same.9 p.m.
"The High Priest of New Orleans Music," Allen Toussaint, takes the stage for one of the most amazing concerts I've ever seen in my life. He's fronting a tight little band that features four other New Orleans musicians, and they romp through a number of tracks that Toussaint did solo and, of course, the big ones he wrote for other artists ("Working in the Coal Mine," "Yes We Can Can," "Mother in Law," "Shoo-Ra," "Fortune Teller"). He punctuates the songs by telling stories of their creation and his own childhood memories, before closing with an absolutely beautiful story about being a boy and being with his family in the summer on a southern night in the country (which of course, leads into a stunning rendition of "Southern Nights"). Absolutely amazing. He comes back on for a short encore, and then Cecilia finds Brad and I to lead us through the theater's belly to meet the man himself.Lee Dorsey - Working in the Coal MineFrom Lee's 1966 album of the same name, which Toussaint produced (and of course, penned most of the songs on, including this one). The performance Saturday of this song was great, although Allen needed to pause the song briefly to get the audience a little more hearty about its "WHOOP!"s, "Now, now, I got to have my 'whoop's here, folks," he said. We obliged.
Brad and I get entrance to Toussaint's dressing room where we just shoot the breeze with him for about ten minutes. He's incredibly humble and gracious and excited about the weather in town because despite the cold, he loves to see snow. He tells us about his train ride into Milwaukee and how he was furiously documenting notes and thoughts that will most likely become the inspiration for new songs. He tells us two new albums are on the way, one live and one studio, and that he's written about 25 new songs. Yessss. A big thanks to Cecilia for helping orchestrate the meeting, and we're off into the night.
I haven't been to my new favorite bar in Milwaukee, Vox, in awhile, so we head there, but mistakenly walk into the bar next door, Yield, which is basically an extension of Vox and have a beer. Johnny Marr + the Healers on the jukebox. It's turning into a pretty great night. We finish the beer there and then walk into Vox proper for another one. Kula Shaker on the jukebox there. Sweet. After that, we head home.Sunday, 10:30 a.m.
Wake up, and as we did in college, forego much activity by watching movies. We take in Beverly Hills Cop
and Joe Vs. the Volcano
(with breakfast inbetween) before showering and deciding to move on. Brad finds out the MSOE is hosting a big used music sale, which sounds like it's going to be tons of used vinyl and CDs and definitely worth are perusal, so we head out there. Oh we also find out during this time period that Britney Spears checked into rehab and left in about 24 hours and then shaved her head. People, if you ignore her, then she'll just go away, okay?2:30 p.m.
Arrive at the music sale to find... a lot of disappointment. Sure, a lot of vinyl, but it's all tattered and the selection is certainly lacking. Atomic Records has a long table set up for used CDs, but I only know about 1/16 of the artists in there (and for as many bands as I know, that says a lot), so the selection kind of stinks. So do the people there (literally). Brad and I soon begin to feel like garbage pickers and make our way to the exit. I get a cool WMSE calendar, however, and Brad picks up three cheap CDs, the soundtracks to Amistad
and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
and a tribute album to West Side Story
that features Lisa Left Eye Lopes. Think about that for a minute.4 p.m.
Back at Brad's to start working on dinner. He decides he wants a pork bourbon brine meal, and starts to work on the brine and detaching the two hunks of pork he bought a couple days ago (which turns out to be a more difficult process than could be believed). We're supposed to let the brine set for 2-4 hours, so Brad decides we should go walk on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan.
I'm standing on the frozen shore of Lake Michigan with no gloves (durr), and no real warmth protection for my legs either. Brad is the first to venture on the ice, and as soon as he sets foot on it, a gust of wind comes and we hear an ominous cracking sound below Brad's feet. Our mouths drop and we stare at each other in abject horror for about 20 seconds before both doubling over in laughter. Obviously neither of us went under, but we did crack alot of the ice covering there. It is freezing, but it is beautiful, and as silly of an idea as it sounded at first, I'm glad we did it. I also realize there that I'm either light enough or nimble enough to walk across a 50-foot snowdrift. Brad is not.
"Dude, I'm not jumping in after you if you go in. I'll call 911, but I'm not jumping in after you."6 p.m
Onto Pick 'n' Save where we pick up sides and spices for tonight's meal. We walk past the bakery and they just made a fresh batch of sugar cookies. I'm starving, so I buy a box, and Brad yells at me about ruining my apetite for dinner. I offer him one, but he says he doesn't like sugar cookies. Shortly thereafter, he eats four of them.
Dinner is served. Turned out well. I can't finish the sides though. Too much pork, and yes, too many sugar cookies beforehand. In the few hours thereafter, we watch a bit of TV, and then turn in. Work in the morning, you know.Monday 8:30 a.m.
Arrive at the Milwaukee offices of my job to undergo two days of writing coaching, in which I realize that I'm actually a pretty insecure writer and have a ways to go yet before I'm really any good. Le sigh.12:30 p.m.
Walk over to Potbelly for lunch. It's warm out... about 36 degrees. After the sub-freezing temperatures we've been having for the past three weeks, it feels like spring. The sound of snow melting off buildings and dripping down below is everywhere, and I smile as I realize I can walk three blocks without tearing up OR cursing the pain the cold is inducing. I get back to the office and remark to my editor how nice it is outside. She concurs, calling it "beautiful." I love the fact that 36-degree weather is worthy of being dubbed "beautiful."5 p.m.
After the writing coach is done putting me through the ringer, I go out for a couple of beers with him and some other people on staff (this seems only appropriate).7 p.m.
I realize this is my last night here for awhile, so I call a slew of friends hoping one of them will want to get to get together and have a beer. Most of them are at the Marquette game, and the rest are not answering. I decide to go to Atomic Records as I haven't been there in almost two years now. It's still nice, but it's changed a bit. A lot more vinyl, which is cool... and the selection is better than it was at the music sale Sunday.8 p.m.
Back to Brad's for dinner, and everyone whos voicemail I got calls me back and I practically eat up a month's worth of minutes in the next two hours. Everybody, of course, wants to meet up for a drink, but they're all dispersing to different parts of town. Since Adam was the first one to agree to meeting up for a drink, Adam is the lucky one that will get to meet up with me that night. Everyone else is super pissed off as they realize their respective losses. Important lesson - if it's me, answer the phone. However, chatting with everybody on the phone is nice - especially some old Marquette friends, and as I'm at Brad's as the calls are coming in, Brad gets to talk to some of the people too, which is a nice jog down memory lane.The Beach Boys - Do it AgainThis song is far too short, but I love it, and it's the one I opt to when "getting the old gang" back together (better than "The Boys Are Back in Town" methinks). It's the song that got the Smile monkey off Brian Wilson's back (he often cites the song as his favorite Beach Boys track) and one of the last ones he would co-write with Mike Love. Released as a single in 1968, would kick off the 20/20 album a year later.10 p.m.
A couple beers with Adam at Von Trier. I've known Adam for about 7 years now - we both worked at the bookstore back in IL together, and then he ended up going to MIAD while I was at Marquette, so we've always been able to keep in touch. The bar is within walking distance from both of the places that we were staying, so I made him walk over there, and I was about to walk over myself, until I realized I might as well just drive. He tells me at the bar about how he was mugged on the street last year and is now deathly afraid of walking around town at night, so you can imagine how nice I feel for making him walk. I make sure to drive him home.Tuesday 12 p.m.
After a few more hours of coaching, I head back to Madison to finish a story for the paper and then be one of only four players to show up for the Hoppin' Jacks that night (but you knew that...)
All in all, good trip... in spite of not being an amazing writer.
Labels: Allen Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, Milwaukee, The Beach Boys