Up the Downstair

Being a weeklie podcaste from Madison, Wisconsin featuring several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of live music from divers artistes

Piano + Drums = Wow! = The Claudettes

September 23rd, 2014

I heard the Chicago band The Claudettes over the summer on an episode of Sound Opinions and really enjoyed them. According to the band’s Bandcamp site, the genesis of the name was quite fortuitous:

The piano-drums duo of Johnny Iguana and Michael Caskey didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they called a place called Claudette’s Bar in 2010 looking for a gig in between Chicago and St. Louis. Not only did Claudette book them into her bar in Oglesby, IL (an hour and a half southwest of Chicago’s South Side), but she made them her house band and put them on salary…

Check out the title track of their album Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED!.

New Primus Weirdness Just in Time for Halloween

September 23rd, 2014

primus chocolate cover New Primus Weirdness Just in Time for Halloween

Tim Alexander has rejoined Primus and the band has a new album due out on 21 October called Primus and the Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Ensemble. It is a tribute to the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the one starring Gene Wilder, that is. Somehow I have no problem linking Les Claypool and Willy Wonka.

The song “Pure Imagination” has been released to give folks a taste of things to come.

A tour kicks off in Philadelphia the day after the album’s release. Unsurprisingly there’s no Madison date. However, Chicago and Milwaukee are also being bypassed.

Upper Midwestern Music to Get Its Due in Folksongs of Another America

September 23rd, 2014

Leary Folksongs of Another America Upper Midwestern Music to Get Its Due in <i>Folksongs of Another America</i>

Prof. Jim Leary teaches folklore studies here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and works tirelessly to document and gain recognition for the culture of the Upper Midwest, i.e. – Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I reviewed his book about The Goose Island Ramblers, Polkabilly, a few years ago and it can be found here.

His latest work is to be published in February by the UW Press and is called Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946. Several years in the making, this looks to be his magnum opus. It’s a 94-page book accompanied by 5 CDs of music and a DVD featuring a documentary which looks at Alan Lomax’s trek to the Upper Midwest in 1938 to make field recordings.

I found a nice interview with Prof. Leary up at the Upper Midwest Old-Time blog which gives the reader some of Leary’s background and has him speak about his passion for the region and its culture. I also discovered the video below from the Library of Congress. Since I haven’t watched it yet, I can only presume that Leary makes the case for Upper Midwestern folk music traditions.

There’s a revealing quote in the interview which bears highlighting:

The songs and tunes of Upper Midwesterners have been largely hidden from public knowledge, and largely ignored by cultural institutions, in part because of their stylistic and linguistic diversity.

In my review of Polkabilly I opined that Upper Midwestern folk music is surely ignored, in part, because polkas, waltzes, and blazing Hardanger fiddling did not help form the basis of rock & roll. Here Leary brings up “linguistic diversity”, i.e. – a lot of the music wasn’t in English. I can certainly understand why songs sung in German, Polish, or an American Indian tongue wouldn’t have an impact on popular music but why cultural institutions and, from what I’ve read, academic institutions, have avoided Upper Midwestern folk music baffles me. I suppose two world wars can put the damper on researching German influence on American culture. If in a cynical frame of mind, one could also speculate that in the 1950s and 60s with an Anglo-/African-American folk music revival going on, examining the folk music behind the songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, and Mary was more glamorous and/or more “relevant” than pondering how Ojibwe and Finnish musical traditions melded in the lumberjack camps of northern Wisconsin.

Regardless, I am very much looking forward to this set and it will be interesting to see how it is received.

Show #268: Eurythmics

September 23rd, 2014

eurythmics83 Show #268: Eurythmics
(Photo found at Home of Rock.)

In her book She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll Gillian Gaar discusses how some artists utilized MTV subvert “traditional images of femininity” and notes that Annie Lennox of Eurythmics was one of the first women to take advantage of the new medium. I recall the videos for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, “Here Comes the Rain Again”, and “Who’s That Girl?” getting plenty of air time on MTV in 1983/84. I was never a fan of their synth-pop and so it was surprising to find out that Lennox was a big R&B fan, especially Motown. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised but when I think of Eurythmics, I think of drum machines and squeaky early 80s synth sounds.

Despite having no love for the band’s music, there was no doubt that Lennox herself had a great set of pipes and was a very charismatic figure. Instead of traditionally long hair, she kept hers cropped. The story related by Gaar is that in the early days of Eurythmics Lennox had been keeping her hair short and wearing wigs on stage but had one pulled off at a gig. Her true look garnered cheers and she decided to stop keeping it under wraps. It being the 80s, I found it refreshing to see someone who didn’t regularly apply multiple cans of hair spray to achieve a ridiculous, gaudy coiffure. I think her hair style plus her chiseled features gave her slightly masculine cast which definitely helped set her apart.

Her gender bending was taken to a new level, to my memory, in the video for “Who’s that Girl?” in which Lennox dons a blond wig to be a night club chanteuse but also another hair style and make-up to play a man showing interest from afar. The two Lennoxes nearly kiss at the end of the video – presumably a lesbian kiss would have been too much for MTV in 1984. In She’s a Rebel Gaar notes that when the video for “Love Is a Stranger” was shown on MTV the station “blacked out the shots of Lennox ‘changing’ from a woman to a man (she pulls off her wig), assuming the singer was a male transvestite; Lennox was forced to submit legal documentation proving that she portrayed the character.” Exactly why legal proof would be needed here is beyond me as I don’t recall it ever having been illegal for male transvestites to appear on television.

At the time when Eurythmics were at the height of their popularity, Lennox’s gender bending was a bit over my head. I saw her appearance and the band’s videos as basically being novelty. The youthful me never thought of the singer as making a feminist statement or twisting traditional gender imagery askew. In Lennox’s words: “One of the main reasons I wear the clothes I do and have an androgynous image, is because I didn’t want to be seen as a ‘girlie singer’ wearing pretty dresses. I don’t want to change sexual labels – I want to sidestep them, and to confound people a little bit with something fresher and less cliched.”

Are there any female singers that site Lennox and her androgynous look as an influence?

This show was recorded at the Palais des Sports in Lyon, France on 17 March 1983. It was broadcast on French radio and, unfortunately, the DJ here talks over some of the music. The recording is from what I take to be a fairly common bootleg called I Only Want to Be With You.


This Is the House
Never Gonna Cry Again
The Walk
Love Is a Stranger
I’ve Got an Angel
This City Never Sleeps
Satellite of Love
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
I Could Give You (a Mirror)
Invisible Hands
Somebody Told Me

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Annie Lennox

Here they are doing “Never Gonna Cry Again” from 1983(?). I never knew that Lennox was a flautist. And check out Dave Stewart’s hair. That is why I cringe whenever I hear about 80s pop culture making a comeback. Aquanet must be stopped!

Show #267: Suzi Quatro

May 26th, 2014

I recently finished reading Gillian G. Gaar’s She’s A Rebel: The History Of Women In Rock & Roll and thought it would be good to post some shows by bands/artists featured in the tome. The first woman I’ll feature is Suzi Quatro.

s quatro 75 Show #267: Suzi Quatro

Garr notes that Quatro was considered a novelty. She wasn’t a singer-songwriter like Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell. Indeed, she wrote and performed hard rock and was often found in her trademark tight leather suits.

England’s music weekly New Musical Express wrote that Quatro was “Really just punk Penthouse fodder – all lip-smacking hard-on leather,” and Rolling Stone caller her a “pop tart”…

Her “tough chick” appeal came in for attack from critics who saw her look, not her music, as the act.

At a time when male performers such as David Bowie, Elton John, and Queen’s Freddie Mercury were toying with personae that freely questioned acceptable “masculine” and “feminine” behavior, such freedom for women came at a high price.

While it is certainly unfair to dismiss Quatro on the basis of her wardrobe choices, Gaar seems to forget that rock music and fashion are joined at the hip. Quatro is quote as saying, “I feel funny in dresses and skirts.” Fair enough. But I have a hard time believing that she said to herself, “You know, I really don’t like dresses so I’ll wear something more practical. Like leather suits.” Surely Quatro chose that look for reasons other than not liking dresses and skirts, i.e. – to craft an image.

Whatever the case, she certainly challenged stereotypes and, as Gaar notes, served as an influence on Joan Jett. Would we have had The Runaways, Bikini Kill, and Hole without Suzi Quatro? Perhaps not.

This is Quatro performing in Tokyo, Japan on 19 October 1975. It’s a rip of the bootleg Naked Under Leather which is a nice-sounding audience recording.

Suzi Quatro – vocals / bass
Len Tuckey – guitar
Alastair McKenzie – keyboards
Dave Neal – drums


48 Crash-Daytona Demon-Too Big Medley
Your Mama Won’T Like Me
You Can Make Me Want You
I Maybe Too Young
Cat Size
Can The Can
Devil Gate Drive
Jail House Rock

Download show

Suzi Quatro

I found this tour doc featuring Quatro in Japan in 1975. Not sure if any of the performance footage is from the same show that I’ve posted or not.

2014 Waterfront Festival Line-Up

May 25th, 2014

Summers in Madison are filled with festivals featuring music from far and wide. Indeed, they bring in many bands and artists that likely would never otherwise make Madison a tour stop. The Waterfront Festival begins on Saturday, 7 June and here’s the schedule:

Saturday, June 7th
Noon – Yid Vicious
1:30 — Son Contrabando
3:15 — Califone
5:15 — Lyrics Born
7:30 — The Sadies

Sunday, June 8th
11:30 — Building on Buildings
1:00 — Jim Liban with The Joel Paterson Trio
2:30 — Robbie Fulks
4:15 — The New Orleans Suspects
6:00 — Mother Falcon
7:30 —March Fourth Marching Band

Yahara Music Library Debuts

May 25th, 2014

Earlier this week the Wisconsin State Journal reported on the launch of the Yahara Music Library. The YML is an initiative of the Madison Public Library which showcases music by Madison musicians. Patrons can use their library card to stream and/or download the tunes.

Musicians have been paid $200 to have a CD featured on the Yahara Music Library site, which along with original tunes includes features such as musician photos, bios, video, upcoming gigs and links to personal websites.

About 25 artists — ranging from well-known Madison bands The Gomers and Natty Nation to jazz artist Ben Sidran and the chamber music festival Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will be featured at the start, with the addition of about 50 more artists through the year, Hankel said. Eventually, an advisory board will be formed to oversee music selection.

Right now there are 23 albums available. (Biff Blumfumgagnge has his hands in at least three of them so he’s flush with cash which explains why he bought me a beer last time I saw him. That and I got engaged.) I was surprised that I had heard of most of them and even was familiar with a few of the bands. Plus I was pleased to see that the Iron Maiden-esque Lords of the Trident have their latest album available. Madison seems almost anti-metal as the indie/alternative/whatever-you-call-it scene dominates with most of the rest of music chatter in this town being about the struggles of hip-hop. Southeastern Wisconsin is more inclined towards metal being home to the Days of the Doomed festival in Cudahy, for example. I’m not sure if this is simply because Milwaukee is a much larger city than Madison and in close proximity to Chicago or if that part of the state is more working class. Or both. Or something else.

Still, Madison does have Ear Wax Record Shop, which apparently does good business purveying metal and punk. But I wonder how much business these days is done via the Internet as opposed to locals.

To finish my Arts Extract triptych, I’ll note that Scott Gordon at AE has reviewed the site. One thing I’d add is that the site’s main page should include some kind of welcome and explanation as to just what the site is all about. Oh, and why isn’t Ear Wax listed as a place to purchase the Lords of the Trident album? But the site is only two days old so it’s not fair to come down hard on its shortcomings at this point.

Jazz Concert Series Returns

May 25th, 2014

Also courtesy of Arts Extract comes the news that the jazz concert series Surrounded By Reality has returned.

Surrounded By Reality, the on-again, off-again concert series that has brought excellent, abrasive jazz and improvised-music luminaries such as Chris Corsano Madison over the past five years, is making a tentative return. The NYC improvisational sax-drums duo of Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey will play June 3 at 8 p.m. at the Audio For The Arts recording studio at 7 S. Blair St. Next, on September 23, experimental pianist Thollem McDonas will play at the studio. These will be the first SBR shows in more than a year.

sbr 2014 Jazz Concert Series Returns

Hanah Jon Taylor Artet on Wisconsin Public Television

May 25th, 2014

Many thanks to the folks at Arts Extract for bringing this to my attention. Madison jazz muso Hanah Jon Taylor brought his band to the WPT studios earlier this year to perform a new piece called “Real/Surreal” for the program 30 Minute Music Hour.

Alice Cooper Doc Coming to Madison Cinemas

May 25th, 2014

super duper poster Alice Cooper Doc Coming to Madison Cinemas

The Alice Cooper documentary, Super Duper Alice Cooper, will be screening out at Eastgate and Point on 11 June. Check out the Marcus Theatres website for more info.

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