Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Full Disclosure: Lollipop Factory and Those Poor Bastards are friends of mine

Those Poor Bastards at Turner Hall (photo by Angela Morgan for the Pabst Theater Group)

One of the necessary "evils" of being a musician who also likes to write is inevitably writing about your friends. Internet commenters pounce on any opportunity to discredit music journalists (because, you know, internet one-upmanship is second only to "urine hoarder" on the list of Noble Life Pursuits), and perceived "favoritism" is right up at the top of their arsenal--at least, it is in small cities like Milwaukee where the music scene is so closely-knit that it's nearly impossible to not know at least two-thirds of the musicians, promoters, writers, sound techs, and music store owners by name. (Another classic hurled at the musician/writer is "you're criticizing this because you're jealous that your band will never be this popular." Yes, that's why Bon Iver's falsetto gives me worse shrinkage than the Polar Bear Plunge--i secretly wish my dad had a cabin in the North Woods where i could retreat, order pizza subsist off the land, and whimper into Garageband for a few weeks.)

The plain truth about being a musician who writes (both of which i'll continue to do, sorry) is that musicians meet other musicians on a different level than regular journalists do. We meet by playing shows together, not by hiring PR agencies we can't afford to send each other CDs. We form bonds from being In The Shit together and swapping war stories. And yes, when we happen to like each other's bands, we LOVE each other's bands, because we have had to deal with seeing so many god-awful (or even worse, kinda ok) bands (many of which contain other friends of ours, which is just frustrating) that finding a killer group of musicians that also happen to be rad dudes or ladies is like walking into a club and finding a $10,000, so i'd imagine. Pile on the fact that in a town like Milwaukee, the musical infrastructure is so thin that if some of us didn't refuse to recuse ourselves from bands we know personally while multi-tasking as musicians and writers, many deserving folks simply wouldn't get covered (or are Matt Wild and Evan Rytlewski expected to attend every show in town while somehow avoiding becoming acquainted with everyone?), and what it all boils down to is: yes, sometimes i like my friends' bands, and thus i will write about them. Deal with it, and be glad i'm not writing about all my friends' bands that i dislike.

Anyone who has friends gets understandably excited when those pals' creative endeavors don't suck; if they're actually amazing, one can get positively orgasmic about it. On the flip, anyone who falls in love with a band would be tickled to discover that the band members are rad folks and instantly friendable. As a dude in a band, it happens to me quite a bit, and it's always a thrill.

I met Beckah and Tweed, collectively known as the Columbus, OH RV-dwelling indie-prog duo Lollipop Factory, while they were in the midst of a week-long stay at the HiFi practice house, the Church of Murray, waiting to get their RV repaired. They were charming, nondescript kids, which hardly prepared me for their colorful, unrestrained showmanship and hilariously over-the-top glam-prog shredding. Two Thursdays ago they made their most recent stop in Milwaukee at the Cactus Club, and those who stuck around after Everybody at Midnight's set and didn't just bail after their friends played were subjected to Lollipop Factory's most uninhibited Brewtown blast yet. Wearing matching black ensembles (she in black leather pants w/matching top, he with black top hat, high-heeled boots, and sleeveless collared shirt with ascot-length tie), Tweed's wall of four full stacks blasted both guitar and bass frequencies while he busted out Queen/Bowie/Hoople-soaked riffage over Beckah's stand-up drumming, both operatically crooning their best Ian Hunter vocals.

Tweed recently rebounded from some serious health problems that left the Factory stranded at home in Columbus longer than they'd like (they literally live out of that RV), and it was apparent that he was thrilled to be back on stage, working his wah pedal while bracing his other foot atop Beckah's kick drum, and occasionally leaping onto one of his speaker cabinets and shredding from five feet above the stage. That wall of amps produces more sound than a duo would be normally expected to generate; hell, Tweed and Beckah produce more on-stage energy than normally expected. It's a show that's loud, over-the-top, theatrical, damn sexy, and punk fucking rock. If seeing a Lollipop Factory show doesn't make you want to instantly be pals with these two crazy-ass weirdos, i hope your anti-anxiety meds start to kick in soon.

A week later i found myself at Turner hall to see my bandmates in Zebras, Vincent and Lacey, back their pal Wyatt as Madison, WI Gothic country trio Those Poor Bastards. I initially became friends with Vince and Lacey out of mutual musical admiration--i was a Zebras fan as soon as i saw them in the Corral Room in Madison three years ago (before my joining the band, obviously). After a couple years of hearing hilarious road stories about Vince's other band touring with Hank Williams III, it was finally time to check them out as they opened the .357 String Band's last-ever Milwaukee show.

I think that even if i were well-versed in Gothic country, i would still rate the Those Poor Bastards live show as "something i've never seen before." Lonesome Wyatt glares out at the crowd from beneath his long black hair and top hat, alternating between spooooky Goth crooning and eeeevil demonic growling, hurling hilariously bleak lyrics about death, God, Satan, and death. Take this darkly comic stanza from "The Bright Side":

You gotta look on the bright side
Take a walk in the sunshine
The lord is on your side
And people are good

Bullshit! Fuckin' bullshit!
Nothin' aint never gonna get no better, no how

Meanwhile, Vince pounds out basic but perfectly musical drum beats while using one hand to add a little moog bass, while recent addition Lacey adds brooding keyboard flourishes of her own. It's a rockabilly Peter Steele backed by analog synths, and it's quite simply one of the best things i saw all year. TPB's recordings are a little more fleshed out, with Wyatt's songs backed by banjo, piano, and other traditional country elements, but for my money, the combination of dark Southern balladeering with fuzzed-up moog is where it's at.

Both Lollipop Factory and Those Poor Bastards have that unspoken "this is how it's done" bravado that declares to the audience, "sure, there's a lot of different music out there, but THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE." One of the most impressive things a band with both talent and charisma can do is convince other musicians in the audience that they want to start a band just like the one on stage. Lollipop Factory makes me want to dress better and turn clubs into arenas with ridiculous taco riffs and fiery licks. Those Poor Bastards make me want to write lyrics as brilliantly populist and singalong as Wyatt's. That these inspiring, bar-raising bands happen to include friends of mine, well, it boggles my head and reminds me that i'm one of the luckiest dudes around, to know people this phenomenally talented and to not have them laugh my pedestrian ass out of the room.

So yeah, i'll write about my friends' bands when they're amazing (they're not always), and i'll present them to you for review, because they deserve the attention (especially since, in the case of TPB, they are largely ignored in their hometown, as so many great bands are). If you like them even half as much as i, i'll consider my job done.

Listen to Lollipop Factory:
Listen to Those Poor Bastards:
And then yell at them to get Bandcamp accounts so i can embed their shit

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