Little Blue Crunchy Things (November 2007)

Date of Performance: September 16, 2007
Venue: Willy Street Fair, Williamson Street, Madison, WI, US

The Little Blue Crunchy Things Came, Saw, and Laid the Funk Down

Prelude to a Band

I saw this band eons ago at The Rave in Milwaukee. They happened to be the headliners that night. This was in an age when I was more or less opposed to music. So for the most part; the experience predates my fascination with Progressive Rock.

Somehow a friend talked me into attending their gig. Even with such an out-there name, I soon discovered that their style was not at all what I expected. Not only were they different than the tedious muck that spews from the radio, but they were genuinely likeable and memorable.

As for this fair, they proved they still have the stuff, and by this I don't mean that mind-controlling yogurt that once swept the silver screens commercials and in doing so, overtook the people.

Rather, they were the ideal backdrop to a crowd that ranged from rogue-weekend-warriors to impersonal-liberals. Mostly, their base of boosters was comprised of ordinary down-to-earth patrons.

Like Blue Moon ice cream embedded with granola or Willy Wonka's Nerds imbued in its whipped culture, they're a good idea even if it does not seem like a practical idea at the time. On this venture, they proved to be that necessary item in the knapsack to bring along to camp, or in this case the caravansary was a block party.

A Highly-Anticipated Return

Before the break, we were told that, "They don't play often so you better catch them." I hadn't intended on being anywhere but there; though, it probably saved a handful of nomadic drifters from missing out.

As for us, we got there ahead of time and secured a set of seats that were pretty close to the stage. They were centered and an ideal place to be situated for this special event. The only guffaw was the fact they played in the middle of the day. By all accounts and popular vote, these were the headliners ... even if it this wasn't reflected by their time-slot. For all intents and purposes, they were the main draw when you factored in popularity, anticipation, execution, and excitement.

On a Side Note

This festival had only the best intentions. They have been doing this shtick for 30 consecutive years as a means to raise funds for an indigenous cause.

The event was sponsored by Madison's Progressive station. To be truthful, they are not always rock - they're more along the lines of folk or singer-songwriter stuff like Simon & Garfunkel. Occasionally, they have bands like Kansas. In any event, they can hardly be called mainstream.

For the most part, the affair was free. All the fundraisers wanted in return for the show was for you to buy a raffle ticket or a Willy Street Poster. Both could be had for a trifling five dollars. Speaking of which, the artwork on the placard was amusingly psychedelic. Also, the acquisition of an entry slip put your name in a lottery for a state-of-the-art electric bicycle.

The proceeds supported commonwealth development by way of a foundation that was cursed with - let's be honest - a lame hyphenated name: the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center. While we're on the subject, we were soon to find out that this band was family-oriented, too.

Into All the Cookie-Jars

As for the band's broad-spectrum style, it was described as funk, jazz, and rock. We eventually discovered that this generic description wouldn't do this wildly-eclectic band justice.

While it's hard to describe or categorize Little Blue Crunchy Things, they would appeal to fans of Progressive Rock due to their clownish antics and high-brow intelligence.

Walk Tall & Carry a Big Sax

It turned out that the shortest guy in the group held the biggest sax. It just so happens that, like Steve Katsikas, he was the boss of it all, and I'm not talking about Svend or Ravn. While there were others in the band who demonstrated leadership qualities, this chap was closer to a four-star general.

Since nobody will get my inside of inside jokes in the prior paragraph, those Scandinavian names come from a clichéd movie directed by Lars von Trier. It was screened at the Milwaukee International Film Festival. I recently attended this feast of indie flicks, and I try to utilize what's fresh.

Whatever the case, it appears that size doesn't matter. This courageous musician and de facto actor named Noah Tabakin really took charge of the populace and the associated facilities.

Incidentally, if you were impatient for the punch-line, sometimes it comes late as it necessitates a drawn-out explanation as seen here.

On Your Ready & We're Off

Back to the matter at hand, their warm-up was a show in and of itself. Likewise, the sun started coming out full-blaze as they performed limbering stretches and a preparatory rain dance.

Before they were given the green light, the MC talked about an experience he had at the Mission Coffee House in Steven's Point. At a juvenile age, he snuck whiskey into the speakeasy and partied along with this band. Since then, he's been moving and shaking for years and years.

When the starter pistol went pow, a comparison instantly came to mind. Without a doubt in my mind, their music shares genetic material with Jamiroquai. Not that Tabakin was a copycat or even a spitting-image for that matter, but I could have sworn that his staccato matched Jason Kay's disjointed but engrossing jams. As for appearances, Tabakin was a stocky guy with a goatee, and he was totally void of one of Jay Kay's absurdly incomprehensible hats.

Early Impressions

Tabakin told us that it's been awhile since they've been peddled on the street. We were told that their heyday was between the early to mid-nineties. From what I could tell, they haven't lost a beat.

This band is small but you wouldn't know it from their expansive sound. They feature four multi-talented artists that share tasks between horns, guitar, bass, percussion, keys & singing. Their vocals are to die for and their horns are just plain killer. Frequently, two saxes are wielded at the same time.

Right off the bat, it's apparent that they sing and talk in nonsensical but fun verses. This might be another reason why they make me think of that foreign independent movie.

Their second cut was called "Numbers," and it was as lively, catchy, and incoherent as Big Boy's mumbling accountant. Nevertheless, I'd sooner welcome this one into the establishment than a sidekick to Dick Tracy's nemesis.

Little Blue Crunchy Things was exactly as they were billed: entertaining funk that un-miss-able. Already, I was starting to think their first impression in ages was super-duper.

Fans of All Stances & Walks of Life

A lot of weirdoes came out of the woodwork to see them perform. Ironically, one of them was wearing a "Weir-Doh" shirt. It was either a take on The Simpsons or Play-Doh with a nod to some company or institution native to the area. After seeing it, I wanted to get one to "weir" around.

From scholars and health-nuts to fast-food junkies and plebeians, their fan-base ran the gambit.

One guy went up to the stage and stood motionless with a drink in his hand. Aside from an occasional sip and quiver, you'd think he were statue. This was reminiscent of an incident at MARSfest.

Another lad was on the phone and couldn't have possibly heard anything on the other end of the line.

Likewise, this other hombre had his beer cup in his pocket. If that doesn't say Wisconsin or Willy Street Fair, what does?

Alternatively, plenty of people sprung from their seats. Some were so jumpy, you'd think they were in the bleachers at a ballgame or fitness instructors conducting a class on calisthenics.

Whatever the deal, you had people who were either into-the-music or totally-out-of-out. While some were athletic, many were winded. Suffice to say, many had stopped on their daily hikes while others were chain-smokers desperately looking for a comfy seat.

Add to the heap, several people who hula-hoop'ed to the music. They were dreadfully good, which was heartrendingly-sad as it reflected an abundance of recent practice.

Striking Atrributes

Early on, the harmonic rapping gained my attention. Apparently, Tabakin precedes Eminem. Yet, you'd think he gave that candy-coated kid lessons at an early age and showed him a crunchy blue thing or two.

Everyone one in the band was warm and affable. In addition, their polished guitars matched their vibrant smiles. Also in terms of posture and appearance, the second saxophonist was like Bowser from Sha Na Na.

They seemed different from the last time. Then again, they left an impression years ago as I still remembered them as being good. With this refresher, I won't need to re-take the introductory course. They are forever on my play-list.

There was a dichotomy between sax and guitars. When one subjugated the assemblage, the other waited for its cue. Depending on the lead instrument, they strolled in and out of genres.

As for the lyrics, they were culled from multifarious cream. In other words, their expressions were many-sided.

Try to Keep a Straight Face

It became apparent that Tabakin had a sense of humor. He starts the next song with an unusual countdown that went like this: "12345678910...11...12...Are you guys ready?" Immediately thereafter they all joined in on the same note. Retrospectively, the extra digits threw us off.

As if we didn't have enough dancers, a crazy chick flew in like Launchpad McQuack. It was a reminder - albeit an unwanted one - of a scene from Pretty In Pink, or so I'm told, as I don't admit to seeing that sappy supposedly-romantic movie.

As If They Never Left

You'd never guess they haven't been playing together for awhile. This batch of crunchy things was very cohesive and adhered to one another as if they were each thoroughly rolled in a vat of glue.

They reeled you in with syncopation and quick pauses. Plus, they utilized weird Looney Tune montages that went along with zany sound effects and an OSI-like bass.

Each song had a slightly different vibe, which was impressive when you considered the intricacy of each device. They are too darn good to be street entertainers even if that was what they were slated to be on this day.

This was quite a showcase of bands, but they blew the other highlights away. Whoever was responsible for the roster did a puissant job when it came to putting this together. They packed a lot of people into this very roomy space. Despite the congestion, the audience kept growing.

Things that make you go, "huh?"

At this instance, I noticed a man with a Jaguars Girls Swimming jacket who joined the crowded pack. Hopefully, this was a father or the coach.

Just when I thought they were quirky, Tabakin takes a funny but disturbing step closer to lunacy. Between songs, he says that they've, "had a ten year stint in the Midwest destroying planets throughout" I could hardly process this comment. Rather than comprehend its meaning, I incessantly laughed out loud. Several viewers showed a state of perplexity while others joined in on my mirth.

Tabakin didn't miss a beat. He'd utter nonsense then jump into the next song or continue to hurl hilarious comments. When attempting to sell their CDs, he mentioned that they could be gotten from a drunken Jerry Garcia who had them for sale in the back. Half the time, there was no telling if he was serious or had a screw loose. I'd leave this out of the critique if he weren't so vocal and content to make his psychosis known.

By the way, I looked back to confirm his imaginary friend and there was indeed a guy of Garcia's likeness with a box of merchandise.

A Grass Roots Campaign

Tabakin explained that he lived around the area when he was a baby and that his dad went to school here. He talked about being the kid with the painted face. Then he sarcastically joked about his irritation with the people for downplaying and chuckling at his personal moment.

Soon after Bryan Elliott - Bowser's double - replaced his sax with a flute. This particular song featured a dramatic and convincing false ending. With the introduction of the wispy instrument, it gave their music a hint of Jethro Tull. Yet, the Jamiroquai element was still written all over it.

The goofiness ensued. Tabakin reveled in the fact that Diamond Dave was going to be touring with Van Halen. He then stated they would play "Panama" to show their support. This piqued my interest as this was inordinately outside the scope of their style. To be candid, I was waiting on pins and needles to hear it. Unfortunately, it never happened. This low-blow was probably the lowest point of their routine. It also marked my greatest disappointment with the band. You didn't know if you should laugh or feel let down. It was another gag in a chain of odd moments. Incidentally, you could infer that Tabakin was influenced by Bobcat Goldwaithe due to the faltering falsetto in his standard pattern of speech.

If he hadn't already had us baffled, his subsequent comment took the cake. In regards to the next song, he said, "This is brand-new. We wrote this tomorrow." This made me chortle and hoot so hard I thought I had broken a rib.

The Good, The Bad, The Crazy, and The Contorted

The song started out sparse and didn't require the whole squad. The guitarist sat in the percussionist's spot while the bassist and drummer went on a temporary hiatus. Eventually, they all came back after its foundation had been built. By this time, the ditty was much denser with all the accomplices in their respective positions.

Tabakin sung, "She's turning me around. She's flipping me upside down." So far, these verses were the closest he came to singing.

The group was a bit like the Barenaked Ladies, especially in their helter-skelter style. On a similar note, this piece had the most in common with that Alternative Rock band from Ontario. Plus, these two crews drew much better dancers than what I saw at RoSfest.

At this point, Tabakin announced his current line-up. There was Jamie Ryan on congas and Bill Backes on drums. It seemed as if the bassist went by many names. This time, he was Ken the "The Killer" Fitzsimmons. Last but not least, there was Mike Wengler on guitar.

Afterwards, the bass slayer sang a song about Billy the Kid. This was a totally different vibe. For this eponymous ode to that outlaw boy, the lead singer was exclusively on sax while his understudy played the keyboards. The singing was okay but not quite to the level of the dynomite Tabakin. [Yes, I intended to spell it in the way that Jimmie "JJ" Walker used to say it.]

With this, my mind drifted. The only line I could make out was something to the effect of Billy being shot down by Pat Gar who was once his friend. At this time, I contemplated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and wondered how the well Brad Pitt would portray the gunslinger. My point is that this song wasn't successful in keeping my concentration.

I probably could have done without this song but still it contributed to the diversity which overall decreased the tedium.

The Inmates Run the Asylum @ Daddy Daycare

Like a Pixar movie, this was good clean fun for children and adults alike. They were a family band and fit that definition to a tee.

While the grown-ups played air guitar or drums, or danced, kids played plunger-like toys that were sold by local street vendors.

Technically, Tabakin and his troupe were better suited for kids than the rubbish that played on the child's stage. Earlier when I went past, some diva sang a song about a guy outside her window who was calling out to her. I don't think that's appropriate for the age group.

As for the Rock Stage, it was on the back-end of a parking lot and stood between two short buildings. The acoustics and the standing room made for a great location.

I could swear that Fitzsimmons looked familiar. As it turns out, he is with another band called The Kissers: A quality band - notwithstanding an uncharacteristic weak performance - that would not only play later in the day but be the tool used to close out the fair.

The gags continued. This time Tabakin stated that he wanted a certain fan's sweater. After perusing the crowd, I found an old man in Teddy Bear attire. I could swear the wool pullover was pajamas. I doubt he was talking about anyone else.

Then we got a bass solo, and for some reason this encouraged flower children to slowly rise up and blossom. Their germination was an unforeseen development.

Apart from Tabakin's witty candor, there was a handful of heartfelt moments. He genuinely explained in hip-hop fashion that, "This show is specifically for all you all."

The serious moment didn't last all that long. Soon after, Tabakin tried to stick the microphone in his mouth.

Hold It Now, Hit It

The next song was like DMX in a format of jazz and funk. It also incorporated a theme not too unlike the one from Get Smart. Again, we were tricked by a charlatan ending that continued to pilfer our attention in its efforts to move ahead.

The drums smacked with authority and caused many toddlers to boogie. The guardian ad litems danced while keeping a spare eye on their parental obligations. Later, Tabakin shared an observation in regards to the fact that the ones now dancing were the parents and vice versa.

Truthfully, the music only improved and got exponentially better with each passing song. Not that they were bad at any point; it's just that they went from relatively-all-right to downright-impressive.

At this juncture, the music was Donna Summers without the disco or the skating rank. Then again, there was actually a fan that rolled in on roller blades and then took them off to secure her spot on the concrete lot.

Elliott remained on the keys, which gave Wengler the chance to dominate. This occasionally caused the vibe and groove to hearken to Santana.

Honestly, it would be hard to decide on my favorite song. At least four struck a chord with me. As if I were at the ophthalmologist's office, I'd be forced to flip-flop if asked to settle on the one with the most clarity. Sherlock Holmes would deem a decision of this magnitude to exceed elementary algorithms. In hindsight, I don't have the faintest inkling.

Along with Tabakin's sharp tongue, he now gave us moon-walking robotics. It seemed as if he put himself under his own spell.

The fun kept on coming. The sax started up and then they all jumped with the lead note. This action was indicative of practice. Not only was the writing on the wall; the song reminded me of Stereo MC' "Connected".

Speaking of dancers, there was one lady who moved the same no matter the music. Her shoulders twisted while her pelvis stubbornly convulsed. This is a style most of us could remember from a homecoming or the prom. With such an outdated technique, she could have used an upgrade to her repertoire.

The band's kinetic energy increased even after they drained the battery dry. This was a true exhibition of their potential. While matter can neither be created nor destroyed, they somehow found a way to increase production.

The Sudden Conclusion

When we finally hit the last piece, the bass was extra-crispy. In a pack of cards filled with jokers, they ended on what had been their wildest number. In spite of that, they were coordinated - even though they were all over the board.

At this stage of the game, Tabakin says, "You know what we do. Get low to the floor. I know it's concrete but it's the children and the earth."

In a blink of an eye, the singer was flat on his stomach. While he was horizontal, he kept singing without neglecting a single note. When he gave the order, it was a sight to see everyone get up at once. Then we got the standard summation of riffs but with it came rapping. By now, their modus operandi was nothing new. Regardless, their raw energy and added oomph was overwhelming to seasoned fans, too.

With this, Tabakin said, "Thank you. We'll see you soon".

I wondered if this were a clue. Did "soon" equate to ten years or did it mean they had planned to return to their usual circuit? More pressing that that; should they be expected on stage before the minute-hand performed a trifle lap?

We soon got our answer. On this day, the policy had been no encores and to turn this miniature arena over at the designated time. Scratch that; they made an exception.

The MC said something to the effect of, "Do you think we should invite them back next year?"

After a breath, he continues with, "How about we invite them back now? Isn't that better?"

Then the crowd was asked to, "Make some noise!" You could say they made it.

The Hidden Ending Makes For a Real Finale

The only thing funkier than this bonus track was the dancing. I was worried somebody would get hurt with all those flailing limbs, which were more curvilinear than ever.

This was a fantastic encore and a very potent last impression. I can't wait to see them again. Not at any point in their act did they hold back one iota and in the final song, they did as Tabakin swore he'd do within the context of this song. What he promised was to "Bring my fist down!"

In the aftermath, there were droves of people who were reluctant to clear out. They were stuck in the moment long after it had expired.


As a result of the encore, they went seven minutes over - the coordinators and the fans didn't mind this unforgettable loss of time. The Little Blue Crunchy Things left us with such a memorable finale that an amnesiac would have been incapable of overlooking it.

Going forward, Little Blue Crunchy Things should be a yearly staple at this cavalcade of subversive hopefuls and substrative troubadours. While the crazy culinary and seditious slogans assist in the confluence of the intelligentsia, it's music from bands like this that truly revitalize Madison's sovereign East-Central.

Added: November 24th 2007
Reviewer: Joshua "Prawg Dawg" Turner
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Language: english

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