Itty-Bitty Review: Great Day - Milkshake

GreatDay.jpgAlthough the Baltimore band Milkshake has always claimed to have a bit of an edge, I've never really heard it in their music. Maybe their music, shiny guitars and all, retained a bit of alternative rock, but their lyrics have been safe, safe, safe. Which is fine for some families, but I know others would find the band too sentimental for their tastes. With that context, when I say that on their latest album Great Day the band roughs things up a bit, I mean that as a compliment. Some of the roughing up comes courtesy of the sound. It's still got a gleaming pop sound, but there's more depth this go-round. From the funky piano on "Statue of Me" to Cathy Fink guesting on banjo on "When I'm Old" (Marcy Marxer pops up on "Travel Far") to the "Day in the Life"-aping title track which ends the disk and everywhere in better, there's a bit of scruffiness to the sound and a little more stylistic diversity. Is that the doing of producer Tor Hyams? Who knows, but the band's got six members, and they're beginning to use that to their advantage. More significantly, I think, the band's now tackling some more difficult territory. The album's best track, "Enemies," one of my favorite kids songs of the year, captures the weird feeling of occasionally getting really mad at your best friend while sounding a bit like a cover of some lost kids song from the Police. "Happy Place" talks about days that are anything but happy. There are still points where I think Milkshake retreats to safety lyrically ("Happy Place" includes the couplet "Reach out and hit somebody / But I can't cause that would be naughty") and your opinion (and that of your kids) will depend on whether you (and they) find comfort in that safety or dismiss it. But I'm glad that Lisa Mathews (who writes or co-writes every song here) is willing to explore emotions and situations that kids who might actually be in double-digits would find familiar. The 37-minute album is most appropriate for kids ages 5 through 10. You can hear 5 of the songs (including "Happy Place" and "Enemies") here. Great Day has some of the band's strongest songwriting and the band sounds better than ever. While I think some families may still find the band too earnest, I think this album shrinks that population considerably. Recommended.

Austin Kiddie Limits (ACL Fest) 2009: Final Thoughts

PA024123.jpgSo I've talked a lot about Austin Kiddie Limits and the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival generally. (Need proof? Here's Day 1, part 1, Day 1, part 2, Day 2, and Day 3.) I thought I'd wrap up my coverage with a few final thoughts and suggestions for improvement about the AKL stage, plus add a few pictures. 1. The revised stage configuration of this year's AKL stage was an improvement. Less sound bleeding from the Xbox 360 stage next door meant that the AKL artists were never drowned out. Yay! And maybe it was just my imagination (or possibly the cooler weather), but the new layout seemed blessed with more shade. 2. It's still too loud between sets. Lord knows we're big fans of Romeo and his BBoy City crew (quite possibly Miss Mary Mack's favorite part of the festival this year), but they're forced to crank the volume to a point that it drives all the families away from the stage. Perhaps next year they can swap the dance stage and the pottery/kefia tents so that it's pretty close to the stage and the volume can be reduced. 3. There are probably points where the sound on the AKL stage during sets can be reduced -- I could hear 23 Skidoo's set close to half a mile away as we were crossing Lady Bird Lake. 4. Moving on to the weather -- I will gladly take a chance of (or actual) rain in return for cooler weather. I'm so glad that the festival's been gradually pushed back into October and am happy to see it further pushed back to the second week of October (Oct. 8-10, 2010) next year. 5. The guest sets have been really cool, and I'd love to see them used even more to drive families to see bands they wouldn't have seen otherwise. That was the case for me with K'Naan on Friday. I also got a chance to meet Ben Sollee backstage briefly on Sunday before heading back to Arizona, and based on this clip of Sollee covering "Wild World" later that day, I have a feeling that if I'd seen him at the AKL stage playing his cello, I'd have been sure to see him later that day on a bigger stage. (Though it should be noted, I did see him playing with Abigail Washburn the year before.) 6. The fact that the AKL stage hosted both K'Naan and Ben Sollee, both Mr. Leebot and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, speaks to the fact that the stage can handle a fair amount of diversity, which is somewhat reflective of the ACL Festival as a whole. There's obviously only so much diversity you can have when you've got just 8-10 acts playing a set or two, but I encourage Tor to continue mixing it up as much as possible. 7. Can these festivals really be done with families? Well, it's definitely hard work, but if you're willing to sacrifice some of your own needs (sorry, Karen O, maybe next time), you can definitely see a lot. I'm conflicted because I have to balance my own musical tastes with that of my kids with my need to cover the festival (and the AKL stage in particular) on the press pass with the fact that my family lives in Austin and I want to see them, too. Sometimes I felt like I did none of those things well. But the AKL stage is situated about as well as it can be to serve as a base station for families exploring the festival. (And, hey, there's always babysitters.) 8. Finally, thanks to everyone at C3, particularly Tor, for making the AKL stage (and the press area) run so smoothly. Hope everyone reading got a good sense of the weekend of fun... Pictures after the jump...

Austin Kiddie Limits (ACL Fest) 2009: Day 2 Review

I know, I know -- I was so diligent about posting my thoughts about Day 1 of the Austin City Limits Festival 2009 (or at least the Austin Kiddie Limits portion thereof). And now it's a full 48 hours later after Saturday's Day 2 mudfest, and I still haven't posted my thoughts. So let's get moving, eh? We did get an earlier start on Saturday morning, and found a parking spot fairly quickly, but even so, we pretty much only caught the last 2 songs of Mr. Leebot's AKL debut. Lee was energetic, trying to get the rained-upon crowd moving. Did I forget to mention it was raining? That it rained for, oh, most of Saturday? That I would still prefer my music festivals rainy and cool than hot and dry? Well, I would. Mr. Leebot - "Robot Dance" As I noted to Lee later that weekend, although it was raining for his set, nobody was flinging mud at him a la Green Day circa Woodstock '94. Then it was time to get lunch, so we moved out to the Food Court (mmmm... cones from Hudson's on the Bend) and, desirous to get out of the rain, after we ate we went to the Wildflower Center stage, which besides having a really good set of artists has a solid roof. We enjoyed 30 minutes of a (not literally) roof-raising set from the Gospel group the Soul Stirrers (Sam Cooke's old band), then made our way back to the AKL stage. Walking back to the AKL stage from behind the stage, you would have been forgiven if you thought that it was a guest artist set. The music from Quinn Sullivan did not sound like it should be coming from someone who could have gotten in free with a paying adult. Not kids music, but pretty amazing. Packed crowd, and when Sullivan said, "This was cool -- I hope I get to do this next year," I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought, "Yeah, on one of the other, bigger stages." Then we stuck around for Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, who I was eager to see. Skidoo brought a full compliment for the show including his daughter Saki, performing on stage and not fazed in the least by the crowd out there. Good set, though I'm wondering if maybe the bass was a bit loud -- as we left after the set early so that my wife and the kids could go home early with the Official Brother of Zooglobble, we could hear "Gotta Be Me"... from about a third of a mile away. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - "I Like Fruit" Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - "Sleepover" After I came back across the bridge after dropping off my family with my brother, I was hoping to see more, but Lunch Money's set had started late, and between that and the rain, traipsing off throughout the rest of the festival seemed more of a pain than was worthwhile considering I had to leave shortly for another engagement. Lunch Money worked harder than probably any other band at working through the "this is what you do in this song to be interactive" motions. Here they solicited foods that did the kids wrong, right, and had never been tried. You sort of take for granted that people know how to act at concerts, but those are learned traits, and it's just as important to learn the rock show rules of the road than the children's theatre rules of the road. Lunch Money - "Ate Too Much of My Favorite Food" If I have one regret from the Lunch Money sets it's that I didn't hear them play many of their quieter songs. Having said that, live, the band rocks harder than on record. Watch out Rush, the band's looking to claim your power trio crown. Sad to have missed Milkshake's second set (though I did hear a song as I dashed back at one point to collect our stuff) and Ralph's World first set. Not to worry, though, Ralph was playing Sunday....

Austin Kiddie Limits: Day 1 in Review (Part 1)

Day 1 of the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival is in the books, and what did we learn? Apparently leaving a little later, great weather, and threats of rain for the rest of the weekend makes parking in downtown Austin a lot harder to find. As opposed to getting downtown around 11 AM, we got there around 12:30 PM, and it took us a good 20 minutes to find parking. By the time we actually found a spot, walked to Republic Park, took the shuttle, got our wristbands, and found our bearings in the media tent, it was 2:00 PM. So, sorry, Stoosh! Our bad, Paul Green School of Rock All Stars (I've seen you plenty, though)! And really sorry to have missed The Telephone Company. Maybe Sunday, guys! But even with missing half of Friday's Austin Kiddie Limits stage, we still had a good time. They've changed the layout this year, so that the stage is on the east end of the area, facing (north)west, and the whole layout seems shadier. Or maybe it was just the 74-degree weather. Anyway, we got there in plenty of time to see Milkshake take the stage. They put on a good 25-minute-or-so set, mostly stuff from their new album Great Day, along with some older material. One of the things I like about AKL (and ACL in general) is that artists do feel the need to step up their game a bit. So I don't know if Milkshake normally brings a couple dozen inflatable baseball beach balls for "Baseball" (they probably do), or if the band brings graying wigs for "When I'm Old," but it just shows the band's trying. Also, Milkshake in particular, with six folks in the band, sounds good live on stage. Kids on the ground seemed to enjoy it. Milkshake - "When I'm Old" (Live) Milkshake - "Enemies" (Live) After Milkshake was a brief set from K'naan, which I couldn't pay full attention to because I was shuttling Little Boy Blue from activity to activity (including green punk hairdo), but I really liked. K'naan - "Take a Minute" (Live) (for what it's worth, there were a fair number of kids, despite what the uploader says) Then Lunch Money. It's OK, guys, you do indeed rock. Lots of dancing and a good-sized crowd (for AKL, anyway). They're also getting really good at incorporating crowd participation into their songs. Here's a new(-ish) song, with a couple more familiar ones to follow: Lunch Money - "Spicy Kids" (Live) Lunch Money - "Are You a Rabbit?" (Live) Lunch Money - "Roller Coaster" (Live) OK, there's more to talk about, but it's time to head back to Zilker Park before the skies open up.

Peter Himmelman and Milkshake Team Up, Sort Of.

GreatDay.jpgYou know, I had this cover for Great Day, the upcoming album from Baltimore-based band Milkshake, but didn't yet have the tracklisting. On the other hand, I've had My Trampoline, the next album from Peter Himmelman, for awhile now (for a few more details from six months ago, go here). Neither item by itself was probably sufficient for a post. (I do have standards, you know, hard as that may be to believe sometimes.) But I've found the link, folks. Both albums are coming out on August 25. See? That justifies this, right? Oh, anyway, the tracklisting for My Trampoline and some other intriguing Himmelman-related news after the jump.

New Milkshake Album Will Arrive. Once They Start Working On It.

It's been awhile since the 2007 release of Play! the last full-length from Baltimore band Milkshake. Which isn't to say they haven't been keeping busy doing various things (I, for one, was amused by the Milkshake comic book they put out), but, y'know, living on the other side of the country as I do, I tend to be less interested in the live shows. But in their latest newsletter the band says they've been "hard at work writing and rehearsing as we prepare to record our fourth CD next month." They say that the CD will focus on and by "inspired by all kinds of things 6 - 9 year-old kids might find themselves thinking about." Most intriguingly is the news that the CD will be produced by music veteran Tor Hyams. The selection of Hyams, who we recently noted was working on producing the Paul Green School of Rock album promises to give the release a little bit of an edge. Although the band has many charms, few would accuse them of being particularly far along the "edgy" spectrum. For those of you interested in one of their songs for the under-6 crowd, here's what might be my favorite video off their Screen Play DVD: