Thursday, December 31, 2009

music madness: Top 10 of '09 - album edition

I am running late to my NYE parties, so I will not be explaining the albums of the year, other than that I used the same criteria as last year.

Honorable mentions (had I gotten the album sooner or at all):
  • Avett Brothers -- I and Love and You
  • Big Pink - Brief History of Love
Those aside, these are the albums that were most rocking in my world in 2009:

10. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

9. M. Ward - Hold Time

8. The xx - The xx

7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

6. Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

4. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

3. Annie - Don't Stop

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

1. The Decemberists - Hazards of Love

music madness: Top 9 of '09 - concert edition

I've once again been fortunate enough to see more shows in a year than many people see in their lifetime. I am so grateful for the Pabst/Riverside/Turner Hall group for continuing to bring amazing bands to Milwaukee. Each year this list gets more and more difficult for me to make.

Honorable Mention:
Best show I wish more people had been at:
Los Campesinos! @ Turner Hall Ballroom – I’d been waiting for this band to pop through here ever since I’d first heard them a few years back. Very disappointed that just a handful of folks made it out to this energetic Friday night show. Hopefully LC! will (pretty please) give Milwaukee another go-round.

Best show I would probably have skipped if not for the strong recommendation:
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears @ Lollapalooza – Thanks Craig for insisting I get to the festival early to catch them. Freaking phenomenal. I can’t wait to hopefully see them in a non-festival setting, as I think a dark, sweaty club would be far superior.

Best show I probably wouldn’t have seen if the band weren’t a headliner:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ Lollapalooza – Maybe because Karen O and the gang played The Rave last time they came through Milwaukee I’d been unfairly hating. Their stage show is phenomenal and I don’t know why I’d only been a casual fan prior to seeing them live.

Best show of a band I probably won’t see again unless someone gives me tickets:
U2 @ Soldier Field – I was excited to go to my third U2 show, the North American tour opener this year, and FINALLY to a stadium show of theirs (Mom wouldn’t let me go to Autzen Stadium in 1997). At the same time, I realized that I probably don’t need to fork over wads of cash to wait until halfway through the concert to hear my favorite songs. Goodbye U2, I loved you once unconditionally.

Best show of bands whose music I would NEVER listen to:
(Tie) F*cked Up! / Ponytail @ Pitchfork – Not quite sure how I picked either of these to go to, but they were both a wild ride. The energy on stage for both shows probably would’ve solved the recent Copenhagen dilemma, if bottled. However, I can’t say I’d ever put this music on without watching the live act…it’s a little too…much.

All honorable mentions aside, here are what I consider my top 9 memorable shows of 2009:

9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks @ Bay View Indie-pendents Day (July): The randomness of this event (sort of like the New Year’s Eve Spoon concert I’m hitting tonight) pushes it into the top nine. Why or how Milwaukee landed this great act for a free, BBQ show, I’m not sure, but it was a super fun afternoon. The sloppy cover of “Emotional Rescue” ruled also.

8. Cyndi Lauper @ Pridefest (June...but it felt like March): It was worth huddling out in the cold rain for hours upon hours to see one of my ‘80s idols live. She played an amazing set and the peoplewatching was unbeatable. Plus any show that opens with Mini-Britney, well, you know it’s gonna be kickass.

7. Bat for Lashes @ Lollapalooza (August): It may have been the fact that I was directly front and center, or that I was mesmerized by Natasha Khan’s electric blue spandex, but this show ranks highest on my “side stages” shows from Lolla ’09. I immediately downloaded the CD when I got home and Two Suns has stayed in heavy rotation since.

6. Wilco (Night 1) @ The Pabst (April): I was lucky my friends Nora and Diana ended up with an extra ticket for this sold out show. Wish I could’ve made both nights, but glad I caught part of the tour opener. Wilco is always great live and you have to love that they used their time in Milwaukee to snap their album cover art!

5. English Beat @ Turner Hall Ballroom (April): This show completely unexpectedly rocked my socks off. I reluctantly dragged myself out on a “school night” to go with a friend who had an extra ticket. Little did I know I’d find myself smiling and grooving for a several hour set. I won’t miss the Beat again!

4. TV on the Radio @ Lollapalooza (August): Finally got to see one of my favorite bands and they did not disappoint. Hope they come through Milwaukee someday.

3. Kings Go Forth @ Mad Planet (April): Enough people had heard of KGF at this point to pack Planet to capacity, but it was still “in the know” enough to feel you were experiencing something very cool indeed. I danced my butt off at this show, and can’t wait until the smoking ban so I can once again 100% enjoy shows at my favorite club venue in Milwaukee.

2. The Decemberists @ The Riverside (May): Even though I was dealing with an insufferable “asparagus rash” outbreak, this concert was a highlight of the year. Any chance to see the incredible Shara Worden live is worth it, but alongside the Decemberists and Becky Sharp, it was a no-miss-show. Opener Blind Pilot was worth popping on my radar too.

1. Bon Iver @ The Riverside (October): No surprise here, but this "homecoming" concert was absolute pure magic. Thanks to RadioMilwaukee, you can still experience that show with a live podcast. (Warning: not the same as being there, in the third row).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

milwaukee props: santa cycle rampage 2009

There are some events in my life that I've been afraid to recreate, worried that the magic will have worn off the second time. I am terrified of going back to Rome, weary of partying until dawn in Chicago, and until yesterday, a little nervous about riding in Milwaukee's own Santa Cycle Rampage again.

I admittedly had a different experience this year. I talked the ride up to several of my friends, including relatively novice bikers, Ben and Becky, who I spent most of my day with. Last year, I'd lost Monica and Joe on the ride and met and partied with lots of randoms. I seem to get more trouble when I'm unleashed on my own, so maybe it was a good thing the Bs kept me in line. :)

Ben and I met up at U.S. Bank early so we could get some cash for the day. It turned out we didn't need much of it, as Santas get some sweet drink deals. This first stop was handy in realizing that somewhere on my ride up to North Ave. I'd lost my flimsy Santa hat. I think it was karma from blowing off the two guys on Farwell who asked me to take a picture with them. I'd been running late, so I said no. Santas who say "no" lose hats. A stop at CVS on Downer became necessary, so I as not to be shamed by the other Santas. I picked up the number above in part because the dangling snowballs notified me that the hat would be staying on. They also provided much amusement throughout the day...because there's never too many "dangling snowballs" jokes.

While waiting for Becky to arrive at Cafe Hollander, we filled out a raffle ticket for the Bike Federation of Wisconsin and grabbed a Fat Tire from the keg--ah, the first beer at 10 a.m.

We also scoped out some of the decorated bikes, like the one above. I think that this is a goal for 2010 for sure.

Maribeth decided not to do the ride with us, but stopped over to check out the excitement. Hopefully we can convince her to come along next year.

Becky made it in the "Saint Nick" of time before we headed out on the road. I had the bright idea to put a refill of Fat Tire in my water bottle holder, and we were off.

The magic for me this year came in the form of seeing the absolute joy on my friends' faces as we began riding through the Eastside spreading cheer.

Down Farwell to Brady and then over the Marsupial Bridge, we traveled to the next stop at Lakefront Brewery, where a contingent of Santas who had ridden in from Wauwatosa awaited us. The numbers were now 200-250 strong, and the Santa population dwarfed the civilians there for an early tour.

My friend Virginia (in elf-green) had met us at Hollander, but we got to sit for a bit (and warm up) with her at Lakefront. Massive props again to Lakefront for providing one free beer for each of the Santas. I was hoping they'd have their new brew, Local Acre, on tap, but in a pinch, I went with the delicious Pumpkin Lager.

We headed out around noon for the downtown part of the ride. 250 Santas strong, we went up Water Street, passed the Red Arrow Ice Rink (we stopped the skaters), up Wisconsin Avenue (some folks threw candy canes at pedestrians), and over the 6th Street Viaduct. This truly is the best part of the ride, as people just love seeing that many Santas .... on bikes!

Things definitely started getting a wee bit fuzzy after the next stop at Great Lakes Distillery. Again, a super awesome local business supporting this fun event. Wisconsin recently passed a law allowing them to have samples, and they are rocking that like nobody's business. They had free Santa punch or Candy Cane Vodka Coffee, as well as sample tastings of their liquor. I tried the punch, which I believe had their artisan grappa in it as well as a whole lotta deliciousness. Ben and I also sampled their two types of Absinthe - vert and rouge. I have to say the green fairy did it for me more. I also got to try their Pumpkin Seasonal at long last.

I ended up with a rogue group of Santas heading from the distillery over to the next stop at Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall. While we had a fun little side street detour, we did miss the highlight of many Santas' day...

... a police ESCORT! Definitely in contrast to last year's traffic stop, these cops were awesome and treated the Santas with respect. My friend Tim has more about this over at his Beer Runner blog.

The house polka band greeted us as we packed into this tiny Southside tavern. I grabbed a $2 pint of Point and stood in the food line, forgetting that there was nothing I could eat.

I made due with my four saltines, and made a note to pack a lunch for next year. Those saltines didn't really prepare me for the next great idea.

Do the people in the photo above LOOK like they need to take a shot of Rumpleminze off of a ski? Well, this is Wisconsin, my friends. And since when I blogged about it last year, I neglected to provide photo evidence, I enlisted Virginia to capture the beauty of the SHOTSKI on camera.

We still had one more stop after this too! After polkaing and another point, we grabbed our bikes to head to the last stop at Cafe Centraal. Somehow I lost the Bs, who ended up halfway to Tosa following some westside Santas. Whoops. In the interim, I filled my stomach with some vegetarian chili and some WATER (brilliant), before grabbing another Fat Tire off the Santa keg.

Despite grand plans to bike with an illicit pack of middle-aged Santas down forbidden routes (for which we'd risk $250 tickets), I ended up riding good old reliable KK home. I somehow lost the Bs again, keeping up with my friend Jeff's well-lit bike, as my front guppy headlight got snatched in Bay View. Totally bummed about that. It's gotta be bad karma to steal from Santa! This put me in a salty mood, and I passed out at 6, hoping to make it to a Christmas party later that evening.

I woke up at 3:30 a.m., bummed I missed the party, but glad I spent another year Santa cycling-- even if the "magic" shone through in different ways.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WTFisconsin: the boy who cried snow

This will be my 12th winter in Wisconsin.

I realize that it a) snows several inches at one time and b) gets ass cold.

I got a CD in Meterology.

Why does local media act like it's the end of days?

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