Friday night, after doing some miscellaneous writing work, I headed out with Lara and Jeff to see The New Year at Schuba’s. Attentive readers may remember my dread of going to this show, since it was a 10PM start and I had to get up at 7AM the next day to pick up a rental car. And, of course, there were two opening bands. As it turned out, the show was…okay. The opening band, Architecture, was pretty good, but their set was half-over by the time we arrived. The next band up, Pit Er Pat, is one that I’d heard good things about, but which I ended up liking not at all. It was a three-piece (drums, bass and vocals/keyboards) whose lack of guitar and evocation of a bunch of early-‘80s bands I also didn’t like got on my nerves, and though their drummer was excellent, their lead was not. Finally, around 12:30, The New Year came on. I’d never seen them live before, nor had I seen their predecessors, Bedhead. But I’d interviewed them a few weeks before and singer/guitarist Matt Kadane filled me with dread by saying that they attempt, in a live setting, to re-create their records as closely as possible. As it happened, my trepidation was justified – they did indeed stick amazingly close to their recorded output on stage, in material, form, length, and delivery. On the one hand, this isn’t so bad – after all, I love both New Year records, so how can I complain about hearing them re-created live? But on the other hand, if a band isn’t going to rearrange their songs for live shows, if they’re not going to jam or mix it up, if they’re not going to play anything that isn’t on their albums, if they’re essentially going to play exactly what’s on their records – why the hell should I bother to show up? Why not save myself the ten-buck cover and the lost sleep and stay home playing their CD? Don’t get me wrong – they played really well, and there were moments when there were six guitars on stage, which made for a very enjoyable wall of noise. But they played really well the same way they play really well in the studio. So, in the end, a disappointment, although not one that makes me like their records any less.
Oh, also on Friday, I inexplicably courted disaster by leaving an envelope filled with some buddha I’d bought earlier in the day sitting out in the open on top of my desk for several hours while I went to lunch and to some meetings. It’s just like Chris Rock says about porn, man…sometimes you just forget. And when you do, you’re fucked. Anyway, I finally crashed into the gates of Dreamland around 2:00AM, anticipating an exciting five hours of sleep before I went to pick up the rental.
Of course, it was stupidly optimistic to think my cats would let me sleep until 7AM. Gus woke me up just after six, headbutting me awake in that charmingly violent way of his so that I would feed him because otherwise he would starve and die, the fat bastard. I took the train out to O’Hare and picked up a Chevy Caprice Classic at National (the ChickWagon is ailing; it’s fine for short hops around the city, but until I take it to the dealer for repairs, I don’t trust it out on the freeway). The unusually animated counter attendant, who was a young Arab guy who talking in an amusing hip-hop argot, handed me the keys and I sped off to pick up Lara and Jeff and head up to ‘Sconsin.
The trip up was uneventful aside from an interminable construction delay; we stopped at a Culver’s in Janesville for butterburgers and frozen custard, because when you’re hiking up in the hills, you want to make sure there’s a pound of milk and sugar churning around in your guts. Despite my best efforts to get us lost, we arrived at Governor Dodge State Park and took a leisurely five-mile hike around 3PM on what turned out, after a gloomy start, to be an absolutely gorgeous, sunny and warm day. Some pictures:
A small creek near the entrance to the White Oak hiking trail. I wanted to cross it on that fallen tree, but was shouted down by the rest of the group. The west was not won with your say-no-Nancy attitudes, people.
The view from the top of an incline that was much steeper than it looks here. A helpful plaque nearby asked us to listen for the THUMP THUMP THUMP of some local bird’s mating call, but any bird calls going on at the time were drowned out by the THUMP THUMP THUMP of my heart exploding inside my chest after hauling my massive frame way the hell up this hill.
This is the TREKKING POLE. He is an Italian-made device who helps me drag my flabby ass around in nature by essentially acting as a high-tech crutch. He has to sit in a dark, scary closet for several months at a time and sends me sad, desperate e-mails begging me to go hiking, and when I do, he burbles happily until it’s time to throw him back in with the old blankets and cat carriers.
At one point, a huge white pine fell across the path. Luckily, we were able to get around it by building a suspension bridge out of aluminum foil, twigs and discarded juice boxes. A helpful plaque nearby informed us that the presence of white pines in southern Wisconsin is due to glaciers. Another helpful plaque told us to stop at the park’s gift shop and ask to see a trilobite, but I found this request presumptuous. (BTW, the ongoing gag of this hike was saying in a John Muir voice that X was nature’s X, as in “dirt is nature’s carpet!” or “horseshit is nature’s adhesive!” or “poison ivy is nature’s toilet paper!”. It seemed funny at the time.)
This is the lake that the hike carried us around. It’s called Cox Hollow Lake. Please insert (insert!) your own jokes, below.
After the hike, we cleaned up as much as possible and went to dinner at a steakhouse whose marquee featured a gigantic fiberglass cow. Seated next to us was the brattiest child on earth, as well as her whole family (including Mom, who weighed 842 pounds and was wearing a bright orange velour jogging suit). One thing I love about Wisconsin is that I can go to a restaurant there and stand a chance of being the thinnest person in the joint.
Then it was off to Spring Green to see my pal Saperstein star as Judas in a community theatre production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Those who know me know of my demented passion for this musical, as evidenced by the fact that I will drive 250 miles to see a bunch of high school students and retirees put on a live production of it. Dave was outstanding as the tortured Judas, and went balls-out on every song; he also acted quite well considering that he has to look tortured for two hours, and he wore a snazzy Tony Mareno disco suit for the big title number at the end. The guy playing Pilate was terrific (apparently he’s the local band teacher), Mary was a big cornfed Midwestern gal with a tremendous set of pipes, and Herod was appropriately hammy. The rest of it was about as good as you’d expect from community theater in rural Wisconsin (though the guy who played Caiaphas broke my heart, as I have a deep love for the character – he gets to sing the best songs – and the actor just couldn’t carry a tune at all). The sets and costumes were actually very good – they got a lot of stuff on loan from the nearby American Theatre Company, which is pretty hot shit – and the band was really outstanding. I was a bit depressed to see that the bass player and the guitarist, who were both terrific, were 18 years old tops, but then I thought, shit, if I grew up in Spring Green, WI, and there was nothing to do for miles around but stay home and practice guitar, I might be pretty good too.
Dave and his wife Susan relax after the show. Dave has slipped out of character, but you can tell he was Judas by the Satanic glow in his eyes.
Rob and Robyn attempt to master a digital camera. Little did they know the digital camera would master them, ho ho! Note the presence of pizza, which I did not eat, and beer, which I did not not drink.
Afterwards, we headed home, and got back around 2:30AM Sunday, alive despite my exhausted driving. I felt like I had been awake for about 72 hours straight, without the benefit of meth.
Sunday was pretty uneventful, with the exception of taking the car back, which turned out to be a mind-boggling ordeal, the details of which I won’t go into because they are both boring and maddening. I came home, did some reading (Robert E. Howard’s “The Coming of Conan of Cimerria” – this is the Del Ray anthology of the bulk of the Conan stories in the order of their writing. ezrael, is this a good one to have?), updated the website, and did a little bit of writing before turning in early as The Big Sleep provided my DVD soundtrack to Dreamland. Sleep! It’s nature’s morphine!