Category Archives: Music & culture

Alive and well with the Dead Milkmen at Riot Fest

Dead Milkmen frontman Rodney Anonymous works a sold-out Metro into a frenzy Saturday night in Chicago.

Dead Milkmen frontman Rodney Anonymous works a sold-out Metro into a frenzy Saturday night in Chicago.


“Okay, look at you,
“Don’t you look like Siouxsie Sioux,
“How long did it take to get that way,
“What a terrible waste of energy,
“You wear black clothes say you’re poetic,
“The sad truth is you’re just pathetic,
“Get into the groove get out of my way,
“I came here to drink, not to get laid.”

So go a few lines from “Instant Club Hit (You’ll Dance to Anything),” a song mocking the pretensions of ‘80s British Goth and synth-pop from the Dead Milkmen’s 1987 album, Bucky Fellini.

The Philadelphia band skewered that and just about everything else over eight studio albums, taking punk’s sneer and adding heavy doses of caustic, irreverent humor and witty lyricism, often producing hilarious results.

Rodney shares the mike with a fan.

Rodney shares the mike with a fan.

Forming in 1983, a year after David Letterman began his late-night run, the Milkmen soon became college-radio darlings, cultivating a smart-ass style years before the dawn of the so-called “age of irony” we supposedly now live in. They were taking shots at pop culture figures and name-checking celebrities long before latter-day wiseasses like Blink 182, Eminem and Weezer came onto the scene.

With songs like “Bitchin’ Camaro,” “Beach Party Vietnam,” “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies” and the classic “Punk Rock Girl,” the Milkmen resonated with a lot of college kids, like myself, who’d been gagging on a never-ending diet of classic rock radio, Duran Duran videos and Cosby shows.

The Milkmen, which broke up in 1995 and reunited last year, were in Chicago over the weekend to play a couple shows at the fifth annual Riot Fest, a collection of punk offerings at the Congress Theater and a few other small venues around town.

CKOW caught up with two of the band’s founding members – lead singer Rodney Linderman (aka Rodney Anonymous), and Joe Genaro (Joe Jack Talcum) — before their Saturday night show at the Metro, a block north of Wrigley Field.

The Milkmen deliver

The Milkmen deliver

While they’re sporting a touch of gray these days (both are 46), we found them to be in fine and feisty form during an afternoon Q & A session backstage at the Metro, and they put on a great show later that night for a capacity crowd. They said they hope to put out a new album at some point, and shared a few other thoughts about their career and life in rock n’ roll. CKOW hopes you enjoy my “Almost Famous” moment:

CKOW: I’m just a local guy with a blog. I’d like to apologize for not being Rolling Stone.
Rodney: That’s okay. It’s okay to not be Rolling Stone. Never apologize for not being Rolling Stone, because that’s a terrible magazine. On the plane, I was kind of reading it over Joe’s shoulder, and it’s not what it used to be at all.

CKOW: Is there anything you’d like to apologize for?
Rodney: Yeah. There are a couple of records that I don’t think we should have done. (Friday) night’s show we probably should apologize for. I didn’t think it was that great. I’ll apologize for my playing last night, and my singing. It better be better tonight. Otherwise, I don’t have much of a career ahead of me.

Big Lizards in Wrigleyville's backyard - me and two of the original Dead Milkmen, Rodney and Joe, backstage at the Metro.

Big lizards in Wrigleyville's backyard - me and two of the original Dead Milkmen, Rodney and Joe, backstage at the Metro.

CKOW: You guys were kind of ahead of the curve when it came to things like name-checking in songs – taking shots at the likes of Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys and so forth. Could you start an ironic, wise-guy band like this today?
Rodney: I think we were ironic because we weren’t that musical. At least I’m not. If I had more talent we’d have been much more of a ‘musical’ band. But there’s hazard with that kind of stuff, because it dates itself. You were talking about people who were in the news at that time. (Name checking) was a bad idea. Don’t do that, because it dates the song. I would never do that again.

CKOW: You’ve played shows or toured with the Replacements, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, Husker Du and Debbie Gibson. Debbie Gibson? Isn’t she the kind of person you guys made fun of?
Rodney: Yeah, but I feel bad about that, because she’s probably a nice person. I bet if we brought Debbie Gibson in to like, play piano or something, she’d do a really competent job. She’s a really good piano player. She’s a much better keyboardist than I am. I bet you if Debbie Gibson got up one morning and wrote a song about what it means to be Debbie Gibson and being a mom and all that, and went to some little club, I bet you it would frickin’ rock.

CKOW: I’m sensing a little regret?
Rodney: Plenty of regret. I’ve done a lot of dumb things… I’m trying not to do any of that now. I tend to over-think stuff now.

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CKOW: How would you characterize your fans nowadays?
Joe: All ages. I run into people who say, ‘you were my dad’s favorite band. He couldn’t come to the show because he was working.’ I’m like, ‘oh great.’ A lot of our original fans, I don’t know if they’ve died off or moved on.
Rodney: Everybody seems younger to me. I don’t know what pipeline of filth they’re tapped into.

CKOW: My wife and I are expecting a baby daughter next month. How about some Punk Rock Girl names?
Rodney: I would suggest Persephone (Greek goddess of of innocence and receptivity). She was Demeter’s daughter. What about Gertrude? I had a great aunt named Gertrude and a great aunt named Clarabelle.
Joe: I don’t know if that’s punk rock.

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Lollapalooza ’09 recap – Perry has left the building

Jane's Addiction, led by head howler Perry Farrell, close out Lollapalooza '09

Jane's Addiction, led by head howler Perry Farrell, closes out Lollapalooza '09


CKOW completed a Lollapalooza tripleheader over the weekend, joining 75,000 or so friends in steamy Grant Park for the finale Sunday. I’ll share a few more thoughts, and then it’s time to move on and dry out.

We took in parts or all of nine acts, including Kaiser Chiefs (see my previous post on the performance interpreters who “sign” for live shows), the Raveonettes, Passion Pit and Neko Case. By and large, it was a pretty solid outing for most of what I saw, though there were a few head-scratching moments.

Waiting for the man - Lou Reed gets off to a slow start but finishes strong.

Waiting for the man - Lou Reed got off to a slow start but finished strong.

Take Lou Reed, for example. Having never seen the legendary, highly-influential New York rock musician and songwriter live, this personally was one of my most-anticipated shows the whole weekend.

Like most senior citizens, Reed (he turned 67 this year) moves at his own pace. He came out almost 15 minutes late for his north-end set, and then proceeded to shamble through a meandering and occasionally perplexing performance during his show’s first-half.

Dave Navarro's searing guitar licks during Jane's Addiction's headlining set must have echoed all the way to Indiana.

Dave Navarro's searing guitar licks during Jane's Addiction's headlining set must have echoed all the way to Indiana.

Reed appeared distracted at times, often fiddling with the computer monitors arrayed in front of him (did he forget the lyrics to his own songs?). Many of us were looking at (or texting) each other, “WTF?” He then treated the crowd to 10-plus minutes of ear-piercing, laptop-induced feedback, before finally launching into the Velvet Underground classic, “Waiting for the Man.”

Things bounced back during the show’s second half, with Reed closing with “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” to the crowd’s delight. Like I said, I’ve never seen Reed live before, so maybe that’s just how he operates. But we couldn’t help but feel that maybe he could have given us more than that.

Neko Case's enchanting country- and gospel-tinged vocals boomed throughout Grant Park's north end

Neko Case's enchanting country- and gospel-tinged vocals boomed throughout Grant Park's north end

Jane’s Addiction, another much-anticipated entry this year, closed the weekend with a north-end set highlighted by the scorching guitar work of Dave Navarro and, of course, the over-the-top theatrics and screaming-banshee vocals of flamboyant lead signer Perry Farrell.

Perry was being Perry, definitely giving the crowd what it came to see. But watching the set reminded me that it’s Navarro’s guitar wizardry, along with the rhythm section of drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Eric Avery, that really makes this outfit go, and helped define the alternative-rock movement of the 1980s.

The Chicago Fire Department's giant mister, a $250,000 contraption that's also used to help put out fires, mitigated some of Sunday's 90-degree heat.

The Chicago Fire Department's giant mister, a $250,000 contraption that's also used to help put out fires, mitigated some of Sunday's 90-degree heat.

Farrell, also Lollapalooza’s founder and public point man, took us through some of the old Jane’s favorites, including Stop, “Mountain Song,” “Summertime Rolls” and “Been Caught Stealing.” For the encore, we got “Jane Says,” which included an inexplicable guest appearance by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.

However, the ending was marred by some sound problems with Farrell’s vocals and then devolved into near-farce, which included Farrell parading his two young sons at center stage and an on-stage marriage proposal by a friend of the band to his girlfriend (she accepted).

Grousing aside, we had a great time over the weekend and credit promoter C3 Presents for overall putting on a good show despite some difficult conditions (90-degree heat at the top of the list).

Yes, some things could be done better, as the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot and other local music critics have pointed out. Perry-bashing is always quite fashionable when Lolla rolls into town each year, with critics, I’m guessing, loathe to appear to be any sort of lap-dog or civic cheerleader for this kind of thing. Granted, some of the criticism is justified. Trimming the number of bands would be a good start, as Kot has said before. There were more than 170 in a sprawling, three-day lineup this year.

Lollapalooza drew 225,000 people over three days, according to the Chicago Tribune. Here's a few of them, looking west toward Michigan Ave.

Lollapalooza drew 225,000 people over three days, according to the Chicago Tribune. Here's a few of them, looking west toward Michigan Ave.

Still, $80 a ticket for a chance to choose among 40 to 50 bands a day strikes CKOW as a pretty good deal, and you get to do it while drinking beer outside in Chicago’s all-too-short summer. Disagree? Consider Bruce Springsteen is charging $98 for most tickets for a United Center show in September. Face value on many tickets to U2, playing two shows at Soldier Field next month, will set you back $95 or $250 (though some seats are listed at $30 and $55).

So long for another year, Perry & friends. We look forward to Lolla 2010 next August. I’ll need that time to recover.

See ya next year!

See ya next year!

Your eyes – and ears – at Lollapalooza ’09

Sign, sign everywhere a sign - Barbie Parker, one of a handful of performance interpreters at Lollapalooza over the weekend, works the Kaiser Chiefs show.

Sign, sign everywhere a sign - Barbie Parker, one of a handful of performance interpreters at Lollapalooza over the weekend, works the Kaiser Chiefs show.


If you got close enough to some of the main stages at Lollapalooza last weekend, you may have noticed solitary figures standing just off to the side of the bands, grooving and swaying away to the beat. They looked like they had the best spot in the house. But, like the bands, they were actually working.

These people are “performance interpreters,” experts in American Sign Language who translate song lyrics for the deaf in real-time. There were about four of these interpreters working 25 or so Lolla shows over the weekend, and CKOW caught up with some of them to learn more about what looks like a really cool job.

Barbie Parker (pictured in action above) said she’s been signing live shows for about 10 years. She’s president of Alive Performance Interpreting (based in Austin, Tex., as is C3 Presents, Lollapalooza’s promoter), which had her and a few others shuttling back and forth on golf carts between Grant Park stages over the weekend.

Doing her homework - Parker totes around a thick ring-binder notebook full of song lyrics.

Doing her homework - Parker totes around a thick ring-binder notebook full of song lyrics, to make sure she knows what she's signing.

Parker, 41, said signing for concerts is a step beyond simply interpreting spoken words. A live music performance has “a certain rhythm, a certain tone,” Parker said after signing for the Kaiser Chiefs show Sunday. “You need to sign so it follows the flow” of the music.

From watching Parker and her cohorts, that’s definitely evident, and they look good at what they do. Not only are they signing sometimes profane or indecipherable lyrics that often come at a rapid-fire clip, they also bob and shift with the music, often mimicking a guitar strum or drum beat when no words are being sung.

Doing the job takes a lot of preparation, Parker said. The interpreters must know all the song lyrics ahead of time, of course, requiring some Internet research, lots of iPod time and getting their hands on a band’s set list before the show. But there are perks, she said, including hanging out with the bands after their shows. Among many highlights, Parker cited hanging with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam after the band’s Lollapalooza appearance in 2007.

Different kinds of music present different challenges, Parker said. With heavy metal, for example, you sign “harder… the beat is faster. For classical or folk, you’d be soft and slow.” Punk and rap, she said, “are hard for me to sign. It’s hard to hear the lyrics sometimes.”

Parker and fellow Alive Performance interpreter Lucy Brotherton, backstage before the Vampire Weekend show Sunday.

Parker and fellow Alive Performance interpreter Lucy Brotherton, backstage before the Vampire Weekend show Sunday.

CKOW is on the hunt for recession-resistant jobs these days, and Parker says hers falls into that category. Interpreters, particularly those who can do live shows, are “highly in demand,” she said. So how’s the pay? You can make “a hell of a lot of money,” she said, declining to offer specifics (according to SimplyHired.com, the average sign language interpreter salary in Austin is $51,000 a year).

To hear Parker tell it, it’s not about the money. The best thing about the job? “The music and the language,” she said. “I have a love affair with the language.”

Lollapalooza ’09, Day 2 – Smoking Crack and Worshipping Satan

Meet Mark Dwyer from Charlotte, N.C. - On his t-shirt, he says he often does both activities at the same time.

Meet Mark Dwyer from Charlotte, N.C. - He says he often does both activities listed on his shirt at the same time.

All the evils of rock n’ roll were in full display Saturday in Grant Park. You had excessive drinking. You had suggestive hip-swaying. You had drug use. And you had this guy (pictured above). Mark Dwyer, from Charlotte, N.C., who’s the leading candidate for CKOW’s t-shirt slogan of the weekend contest.

In all seriousness, Mark seemed liked a reasonable enough guy. We chatted briefly Saturday afternoon before the Glasvegas show at the Vitaminwater stage, and he let me take his picture. He seemed a lot more reasonable than the city of Chicago, which has long had a tin ear when it comes to its own hometown music scene.

And who doesn't?

And who doesn't?

According to bartenders I talked to Saturday, the city decided that after Friday, the Lolla crowd was incapable of handling its beer 24 ounces at a time. So they decreed that for the rest of the weekend, beer would only be sold one 12-ounce can at a time. No 24-ounce “tall boys” would be available, in other words. You can buy two 12-ounce cans of Bud at a time (at $5 each), but not the $8 24-ouncers. There were “too many drunk people” Friday night, as one bartender told me. Of course, that’s tall boy’s fault.

The kids like the rock n' roll - Lolla '09 was a family affair for some.

The kids like the rock n' roll - Lolla '09 was a family affair for some.

This falls under what I call “Dumb Daley Rules,” of which there are dozens if not hundreds. The year 1968 was a long, long time ago. But it seems like Mayor Richard M. Daley is determined to make sure everyone knows he’s firmly in charge and won’t lose control like his old man did in that memorable year, when the Democratic convention disintegrated into what might be the most famous riot in American history.

The whole world wasn’t watching today. But despite the minor tall-boy inconvenience, Day 2 of Lollapalooza ’09 seemed to go fairly smoothly. The rain went away and the sun came out, turning Grant Park into the world’s biggest sauna.

Among Saturday’s performances, Texas-born Robert Earl Keen, one of the festival’s token country acts, put on a good show at the Petrillo music shell. L.A.-based spartan punkers No Age rocked a small but engaged audience at the Citi stage – there are two guys in this band, one on drums, the other on electric guitar. Funk-inspired but difficult-to-categorize TV on the Radio got the crowd going on the north end of Grant Park. And laptop-toting ravers Animal Collective blew away even this ecstasy-challenged listener.

The road goes on forever, the party never ends - Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen tells the Lolla crowd a thing or two.

The road goes on forever, the party never ends - Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen tells the Lolla crowd a thing or two.

On tap for Sunday: Kaiser Chiefs (2:30 pm), Raveonettes (3:30), Neko Case (4:30), Lou Reed (6:30), Silversun Pickups (7:30) and this weekend’s money shot: Jane’s Addiction (8:30).

Today’s forecast calls for a high of 97 degrees. God help us. I can only hope that given the experience with the Chicago Marathon a couple years ago, the city is prepared.

Swampapalooza ’09

Puddles and puddles of mud - Day 1, Lollapalooza '09

Puddles and puddles of mud - Day 1, Lollapalooza '09

An afternoon of steady rain turned Grant Park into a quagmire for the opening day of Lollapalooza on Friday. But that didn’t prevent anyone from Wrigleyville or anywhere else from having a good time, best I could tell.

The Decemberists - August and everything after

August and everything after - Colin Meloy and the Decemberists

This year is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, as any Baby Boomer would likely remind you, and of course it wouldn’t be an American summer rock festival without drenching rains, the whiff of marijuana in the air and occasional public debauchery, and Lolla ’09 lived up to that standard.

Let’s not forget the gate-jumpers. Late Friday afternoon while waiting in line at the restrooms, we witnessed a bizarre, jailbreak-like scene: At least a half-dozen young guys scaling over a line of porta-johns at the northwest corner of the grounds, then scampering freely away into the soggy masses. Apparently, charging $80 for one-day ticket during a recession is still a sticking point for some.

Of Montreal's cartoon capers

Of Montreal's cartoon capers

In another highlight, I let an extremely drunk girl from Houston borrow my BlackBerry to call friends she’d lost somewhere on the vast grounds, then let her cut in front of me in a long line for the restroom. Last I saw of her, she was stumbling away into the crowd.

There was water, water everywhere Friday, but the shows went on. This is the fifth straight year the music festival, launched in 1991, is being held in Grant Park. It will be coming back here every year until at least 2018, based on a contract the city of Chicago has with C3 Presents, the festival promoters. I’ll refer you to my friend Brett Chase’s All the Young Punks blog for further discussion on what to see and whether it’s worth your money.

Black celebration - Depeche rocks Grant Park

Black celebration - Depeche rocks Grant Park

As far as the opening-day shows this year, the Decemberists rocked, despite their preciousness. Of Montreal put on a good show, mixing Franz Ferdinand dance-pop with some Flaming Lips showmanship and creepy mascot-rock. And Depeche Mode defied my expectations with a tight, pounding, headlining set on the Chicago 2016 stage, despite the fact that these guys are older than me.

CKOW is looking forward to two more days of peace, love, music and extreme heat in Grant Park. We also hope that girl from Houston found her friends. For Saturday, we’re aiming for Animal Collective (2:30 pm & 7:30), Robert Earl Keen (3:30), No Age (5:00), TV on the Radio (6:30) and Tool (8:30). See you there!