Whenever I travel into the great state of Wisconsin something invariably goes wrong. Whether it's a car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, a hippie snoring so loud that he keeps everyone in the house awake, traffic problems forcing the band I'm traveling with to miss their slot or heat in the house we're staying at being broken, Wisconsin and I have a complicated history. Luckily for me the thing that went wrong this time was relatively minor and early on in the day. By now I should know better, but I assumed that going two stops on the blue line would not take over a half an hour and I'd have plenty of time to hop on the Metra train to the south suburbs to meet up with my ride. WELL I'LL BE DAMNED, IT DID TAKE OVER 30 MINUTES! I would've been better off walking. I missed the 1:30 train and had to kill an hour in the Metra station at LaSalle. Oh well.
After the CTA debacle everything transit was smooth sailing for awhile. The always gracious Kevin was to be our escort to Milwaukee, but before the real journey could begin we had to head out to Palatine to pick up the other members of our travel company, the J's known as Jerry, Jason and Jen. It was cold and rainy but that wasn't dampening our spirits as we crossed the Illinois/Wisconsin border and drove past the never-gets-old-novelty of the "Bong Recreation Area" sign and the mystery known as the Mars Cheese Castle. We had plenty of time before the show had to start so finally, after years of waiting and ridiculous expectations, we pulled off the road and entered into the promised land of the Mars Cheese Castle.
Tiny Jerry in amongst the fog.
So we get in there right before closing time and I'm honestly overwhelmed by the amount of cheese I'm surrounded by. Rows upon rows upon rows of varieties that haven't even come to me in my wildest dreams. Then to my delight there's a little sandwich counter and a novelty store in the back. Being the smug asshole that I am I had to get a grilled cheese; I couldn't keep the shit eating grin off my face as I place the order and waited. Holy hell was it good.
Jen and Jason trying the samples at the front.
Oh novelty bumpers sticks, how I've missed you.
Pictures like this are why the term "FIBs" exists.
In the fifteen minutes we were in the Cheese Castle the weather went from not great to terrible. The fog overpowered the feeble lights of the car and the rain picked up speed, making navigation of the back-roads around the Cheese Castle a white knuckled drive. At one point we weren't 100% sure if we were going the wrong way on a one way road but we survived. Within a half hour we're in the city and putzing around inside the Borg Ward. Standard punk time was in effect so we had plenty of time on our hands to explore. I call my friends Brian and Katie to ask what's cool to do. They point out that there's a gas station a block down and that's it. We were already in said gas station.
I should've bought the water gun, damnit. Marveling at the local candies soon turns tedious (but seriously, a BBQ watermelon sucker? Sounds gross) so we hop back in the car to putz around some more. Eventually happening upon a liquor store I accomplish the second thing on my list of "Things to Do in Wisconsin" by picking up a case of Blatz and some Schlitz Malt Liquor, both fine delicacies that aren't available to those of us south of the border.
Isn't it beautiful?
As a dedicated Schlitz fan, let's just say this was my Christmas.
Jerry the cop breaks a law. This is totally going to bite you in the ass when you want to run Palatine with an iron fist.
We head back towards the Borg Ward and kill some time in the car until Brian calls at 6:45 to tell me the show was operating only on semi-punk time and the first band had already finished up. Hmm, alright. We walk in right before some band plays and I can't remember for the life of me what they're called; the only thing I remember is that I was told they're ex-members of the Modern Machines, a band I never really dug that much and that the new one was pretty boring too.
I was really impressed with the Borg Ward as a whole. The front is an art gallery and behind a divider is the show space. For you Chicagoans, it reminds me a lot of what The Humility Gallery (RIP) had. The back room had more than enough space for a decent sized turn out and if you weren't too into the band, just head back to the front and chat; hell, they even had chairs set up so you could sit down! Whether you were discreetly drinking a Pabst from a glove and getting semi-rowdy or chowing down on Subway party sub looking at the murals, you were having a blast. I give The Borg Ward a pretty big thumbs up.
So back to the show. Possible Fathers came up next and played what seemed to me to be a 12 minute at the most set, with at least three of those minutes taken up by instrument switching. They veered between traditional punk and slightly more oddly timed stuff. Either way I liked the music and the absurdity of the instrument switching.
Coming up next was the in-imitable Pigs on Ice. Last time I saw these guys was a complete disaster of a show. A Sunday night bar show to four non-paying customers with cheese metal bands and equipment problems. They hated it, I loved the train wreck aspect of it. As is to be expected, seeing them in their own town and in a much better environment meant they played a much better set. Also since the last show they've added a full time lights person, so if you will, imagine a snuff film of Scratch Acid, the Butthole Surfers and Shoot it Up having a knife fight. You kind of get the idea. I deduct one level of awesomeness because they packed up their stuff and left before I got a chance to pick up the split cassette with Possible Fathers, which was part of the reason I decided to drive up there. So Eff You, Pigs on Ice, you beautiful bastards.
Penultimately came Ohio's The Dopamines, a strictly formulaic three chord pop punk band in the Weasel/Ramonescore vein. Don't read that last sentence as an insult though, because if you know me you know I eat that stuff up, especially at shows. I enjoyed the brief set quite a bit and will most likely check them out again next time they pull through town.
I'm still not quite sure how I feel about pre-announced last shows. On one hand it's great to know that you get one more chance to see the band and lose your mind, but the lead up and the aftermath of said last show just leaves me bummed out, whereas an abrupt break-up announcement is painful but brief; "Like a band aid, RIGHT OFF" to quote Jerry Seinfeld. Either way, it was time for Milwaukee and the whole world to say goodbye to the Chinese Telephones again. Doubling as a release show for their CD collection of out of print vinyl releases, they delved pretty deep back into the catalog to play some songs I'd never had the pleasure of seeing live. The crowd was actually quite a bit smaller than I was expecting considering it was a home town show but those that actually showed up got decently rowdy and into the show; lord knows I did my fair share of shouting and fist pumping. R.I.P. Chinese Telephones, you'll be missed. Probably see you again in a few years when Razorcake throws a million dollars your way for the stadium reunion tour.
Set List - stolen by Mr. Jerry
Tell Me Tell Me
Better Than The Next
I Think I Can Breathe Now
It's Starting Again
Game Of Pricks (Guided By Voices cover)
Those Hot Milwaukee Nights
Live Like This
Back To You Again
Basement Child Super Rock Fun, Go!
I Can't Be Right
Crying In The Chapel
This Time Next Year
Video of "Live Like This" and "Back To You Again" with crappy sound. I apologize in advance for my impulsive grammar nazi-ness.
Here are the last two songs EVAR from the Chinese Telephones, "Crying in the Chapel" and my personal favorite "This Time Next Year."
After the show I finally met fellow Daghouser Dan Celebrity and just as expected he's a stand up individual. Thanks a million for the 7"! The drive home was smooth sailing, completely devoid of the fog, rain and wind that plagued us on the drive up. Overall I can't think of a better way to have spent my Thursday night.