Frontier Radio turns 30
March 12, 2011
Normally, my March column is usually given over to local musical celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day. Not to worry, there’s still plenty of those in store this year, and I mention a number of them in my online Now Hear These listing. But this St Paddy’s Day there’s a special reason to celebrate. On March 17, WMSE Radio will mark exactly thirty years on the air. With a radio landscape filled with ever changing call letters and formats, the fact that Frontier Radio (affectionately known in the early days as “Messy Radio”) has maintained the same programming format for this long is nothing short of remarkable. Consider the fact a number of the station’s volunteer DJ’s have been doing their thing for the station’s entire run. And for many listeners (including yours truly), the station has provided an education in a wide array of musical genres. And thanks to the internet, the station’s listeners now literally span the globe. Combine that with the station’s never-flagging support of the local music and arts scene, and you truly have an asset that’s one of this community’s cultural treasures. And that’s something worth celebrating. Big time.
And celebrate they will, beginning on March 6, when the station presents the ninth annual Rockabilly Chili contest at the Kern Center on the MSOE campus. This is the station’s single biggest fund-raising event, and around fifty establishments will be offering their chilis for your perusal. And the public is strongly encouraged to vote for their favorites in three categories: meat, veggie, and spicy. Add to this the great records spun by DJ’s Jonny Z and Dietrich, and you’ve got yourself one of the city’s biggest parties. And with the winter we’ve been having, it couldn’t come soon enough.
The official celebration takes place the week of March 13-20, when the station will showcase some of our best local acts at venues all over town. On the actual anniversary on March 17 the Thursday DJ’s, including Dori, Tom Wanderer, and especially Jules, who’s been with the station since Day One, will be featuring special music to commemorate the occasion. Capping the day’s festivities will be a show at Turner Hall Ballroom featuring Celtic punk band the Tossers, back again in Milwaukee for St Paddy’s Day. And if that’s not enough, head over the next night to Mad Planet on Center St, where their weekly 80’s Retro Night will be taken over by veteran MSE DJ’s Dori and Melissa, who will be spinning their favorite 80’s tracks.
Full details on anniversary events and lineups are available at the station’s website, wmse.org.
Happy Anniversary, Frontier Radio!
(Disclaimer: Randy Otto is a volunteer and sometime co-show host on WMSE.)
NOW HEAR THESE!
Before getting to this month’s picks, just a few quick notes.
First of all, kudos to Bay View resident Bill Theisen because his term as Artistic Director of the Skylight Opera has been extended two years. A lifelong Milwaukee resident, Mr. Theisen’s talents aren’t restricted to the Skylight stage. Last fall, he co-starred in the Rep’s hit Laurel and Hardy, and on March 18-20, he’ll be directing the Florentine Opera’s production of Rossini’s comic masterpiece The Italian Girl in Algiers (more info at florentineopera.org). And of course, we’ll be looking forward to more great shows at the Skylight-the 2011-12 season lineup is now available at skylightopera.com. Congratulations, Bill!
There’s good news for local jazz fans. There’s a brand-new website that caters to the Milwaukee jazz community. Go to milwaukeejazzvision.org for up-to-the-minute information on jazz performances and activities around town. Check it out!
As I expected, a few of you chimed in response to last month’s column on music DVD’s. Patricia of Milwaukee agreed on my top choice, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, but for a different reason. “It’s a fantastic workout video!” she tells me. Well Patricia, there’s no doubt this DVD is packed with energy to spare. Jeff from Cudahy picks the Eagles’ DVDs, especially the 1994 classic Hell Freezes Over. “The sound and camera work are sublime. It really boosted my appreciation for Joe Walsh’s talents as a guitarist, and best of all, the DVD sure is a lot cheaper than a ticket for one of their shows!” Jeff also put in a vote for Peter Gabriel’s concert DVD’s, Growing Up Live and Still Growing Up Live and Unwrapped. While they’re both extremely well-made concert films, I would opt for Still Growing Up as its setlist contains a better overview of Gabriel’s entire solo career. And Scott from Shorewood and Kyle from Milwaukee put in votes for last year’s Rush documentary Behind the Lighted Stage, saying it was much better than one might expect. There are a lot of other people that agree with you, since the film received the Audience Award at last year’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
On February 18, I attended show #9 of Cheap Trick’s unprecedented 12 concert series at the Northern Lights theatre. The “Dream Police” show lived up every bit to the deafening buzz I heard after the initial shows. And given the logistics of the show’s multi-level stage, the orchestra and singers that joined the band for each show, and the Broadway-caliber stage effects (right down to the confetti that showered the crowd during the closing number “Surrender”-or were those more of Rick Nielsen’s guitar picks?), Milwaukee is the only city that will see this production. Brian Burke of the Northern Lights staff told me that the band tweaked the setlist in the second part of the show nightly since a number of fans have attended every performance of the series. Luckily for me, two of my favorite Trick tracks (“California Man” and “Mandocello”) made the setlist the night I attended. And while there were rumblings that the series would be extended “by popular demand,” Brian said the most likely scenario would have the band returning in the fall for another residency at Northern Lights. Either way, this show is not to be missed. To this veteran concertgoer, it’s one of the best rock shows I’ve ever seen.
Gaelic Storm, Pabst Theater, March 17 (pabsttheater.org)
The world’s #1 Irish party band returns to Milwaukee, and for the fourth straight year, is celebrating St Paddy’s Day at the historic Pabst Theater. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart, “Of all the pubs in all the towns in all the world, they celebrate St Paddy’s here.” That says a lot for the love affair this band and our fair city have enjoyed since they made their momentous Milwaukee debut at the 1998 Irish Fest, after their appearance in the classic movie Titanic. Band member Patrick Murphy still loves talking about that gig, the first time the band performed outside of their home pub in Santa Monica, CA, describing the experience as going from pubs to Woodstock! Now although the Pabst may be a cozier venue than being among the thousands that jam their Irish Fest shows, the evening promises to be every bit as raucous. Leo was right, Gaelic Storm is a REAL party!
Frogwater, March 17 (frogwater.us)
St. Paddy’s Day rates alongside Irish Fest as the busiest time of year for many of Milwaukee’s Celtic-inspired acts. Exhibit A is the ever-popular duo Frogwater, and this year John and Susan Nicholson will be playing no less than five gigs on March 17, all of them in the Milwaukee city limits! They start the day at 10 am with their first-ever gig at the Black Rose at 2856 N. Oakland Ave, followed by a return to one of their favorite haunts, Slim’s at 338 S 1st St. at 2 pm. Then it’s back downtown for a 4:30 gig at Trinity 3 Irish Pubs at 125 E Juneau Ave (try to guess which pub they’ll be playing in!), and then it’s a return to Slim’s for a 7:30 gig. And in Frogwater tradition, St Paddy’s ends with a gig at the iconic County Clare at 1234 N Astor St from 10 pm until 2 am or when the band collapses, whichever comes first. I’m putting my pot of gold on 2 am! And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll be right back at it the next night when they’ll be playing the Horse and Plow pub at the American Club in Kohler. When asked about playing so many gigs in such a short time, Susan echoed the sentiment of many other musicians by responding, “When the gigs are out there, you play!”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Milwaukee Rep, March 1-27 (milwaukeerep.com)
Continuing a very strong season, the Rep also continues to broaden its musical horizons with this show from Tony and Pulitzer prize winner August Wilson, who was one of America’s greatest playwrights. The show takes place in a Chicago recording studio in the late 20’s, where Ma Rainey and her band are cutting some blues sides. Between the blues classics is a story that illustrates the black American experience of that era. This is the second music-based show staged in the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre this season-the first was the highly successful Cabaret that opened the season last fall. Hopefully this signals a trend of more musicals in the Rep’s future, as well as more music-inspired shows in the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret.
Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over
This onetime girlfriend of Elvis Presley is a bona fide member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this brand-new album produced by Jack (White Stripes) White offers ample testimony that she deserves to be there! Mr. White won a Grammy for producing Loretta Lynn’s 2004 comeback album, and don’t be surprised if he gets another one for producing this gem. Backed by a crackerjack band (with horn section), the septuagenarian Ms. Jackson leads off with a 1-2 punch of “Shakin’ All Over” and “Rip It Up” and finishes with a dandy acoustic take on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #6.” In between are knockout renditions of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain” and even pop standards “Rum and Coca Cola” and “Teach Me Tonight.” With this album, the party’s just getting started!
Various Artists, LateNightTales Goes to the Movies
In the UK, the LateNightTales series has been very popular. It allows acts to compile “mixtapes” of their favorite tracks by other artists. So far, the series has included albums compiled by Air, Snow Patrol, Belle & Sebastian, Arctic Monkeys, Nouvelle Vogue, Flaming Lips, Moby, Fat Boy Slim, and Sly & Robbie, with a set compiled by Midlake on the way.
With the Academy Awards just behind us, I wanted to highlight this recent release, the first in-house production from the LateNightTales team, in which the themes from no less than 39 films are seamlessly woven together. Some of the segueways are nothing less than pure genius. For example, the opening track is Ry Cooder’s theme for Paris, Texas, which seamlessly melds into the late John Barry’s memorable theme for Midnight Cowboy. Later, the sounds of choppers herald the opening strains of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings as heard in Platoon, which transitions without skipping a beat into the opening acoustic guitar notes of “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter. Then there’s Tomoyasu Hotei’s music for the Kill Bill trailer flowing into Dame Shirley Bassey’s classic “Diamonds are Forever” moving into Lalo Schifrin’s “Bullitt Main Title.” And Vangelis’ “Tears in Rain” from Blade Runner going into Prince’s “Purple Rain” truly gave me chills. With few exceptions, it’s strictly music, but the dialogue snippets are utilized to great effect, including Martin Sheen’s soliloquy accompanying Carmine Coppola’s “Saigon” from Apocalypse Now and Robert DeNiro’s chilling monologue accompanying the great Bernard Hermann’s “If the Animals Come Out at Night” from Taxi Driver, Hermann’s final score.
If you love movies and/or movie music (I know, that’s a bit redundant), this is a must for your collection. The mini-posters of all 39 movies included in the CD booklet are a nice bonus.
More information on the LateNightTales series is available at latenighttales.co.uk.
Peter Baime, March 10, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music (wcmusic.org)
Guitarist Peter Baime is one of the longest-serving members of the WCM faculty. And his specialty is flamenco guitar, which has similarities to jazz in which musicians carry on a musical dialogue with each other. In this case, the guitarist responds to the steps of the flamenco dancer, and vice versa. Dancers based in Madison and Chicago will be joining Baime on the program. Just a word to the wise…Baime’s previous flamenco programs have played to packed houses, so in the words of Marty O’Neal, get your tickets now!
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water (Legacy Edition)
Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die (Deluxe Edition)
Derek & the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (Super Deluxe Edition)
All of the above listed classics came out over 40 years ago and have stood the test of time very well, so they certainly are worthy of the “deluxe” treatment.
Bridge Over Troubled Water turned out to be Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s swansong, and received a then-unheard of five Grammy awards (until Carole King’s Tapestry duplicated the feat the following year). It spawned an amazing number of hit singles, including the title track, “El Condor Pasa (If I Could),” “Cecelia,” “Keep the Customer Satisfied” and the epic “The Boxer.” This Legacy Edition will be especially attractive to fans since it includes a DVD containing the TV special Songs of America, which features concert footage from the duo’s 1969 tour and has not been seen since its original 1969 broadcast. There’s also a feature on the making of the album, featuring recent interviews with Simon, Garfunkel, co-producer Roy Halee, and others involved with the making of the album (including members of Phil Spector’s legendary “Wrecking Crew”).
Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die is the band’s comeback after Steve Winwood’s fling with supergroup Blind Faith the year before. Even so, many fans consider it Winwood’s first solo album, since he handles the majority of instruments and, of course, those unmistakable lead vocals. But Winwood would insist that Jim Capaldi’s percussion and harmony vocals along with Chris Wood’s reed work were key elements in the album’s success. Whatever, with its opening salvo of the great instrumental jam “Glad,” “Freedom Rider,” and the majestic “Empty Pages,” along with their take on the title track, one of the oldest songs in the English folk canon dating back to before Christianity, Barleycorn is one of the truly great rock albums. The deluxe edition includes a 1970 Traffic show from New York’s legendary Fillmore East, recorded for a live album but previously unreleased.
The Great Rock Album accolade can also be accorded to Layla, and it has, many times. This one time meeting of Winwood’s Blind Faith bandmate Eric Clapton and the late Duane Allman created an album of guitar masterpieces that have inspired axe masters for the past forty years. And the title track’s concluding section provided unforgettable accompaniment to Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas. The Super Deluxe Edition is similar to the package given the Who’s Live at Leeds last year. It contains 4 CD’s, 2 LP’s and a DVD along with book, all packaged in a flip top case. The CD’s include the original album, both sides of a Phil Spector-produced Dominos single, all the songs the band performed for the Johnny Cash Show in November, 1970 (including Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” in which the band is joined by Perkins himself), songs recorded for the never-released second Dominos album, as well as an expanded edition of the band’s performance at the Fillmore East. The DVD features a brand-new surround sound mix of the original album, for those of you who own home theatre systems.
The Traffic and Simon & Garfunkel releases arrive March 8; the Dominos set is scheduled for March 29.
Various Artists, Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter
Starbucks’ Hear Music has done it again with this nifty DVD/CD package. The DVD chronicles the singer/songwriter movement of the early 70’s zeroing in on the Troubadour, the venerable LA club that became the hub of the movement, along with two of its brightest stars, Carole King and James Taylor. The DVD also includes interviews with other Troubadour stars such as Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Jackson Browne and Kris Kristofferson. The bonus CD features key tracks from the artists.
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