On The Road With Duckling
By Anna Rodriguez
Milwaukee rock trio, Duckling, gained incredible momentum in the MKE music scene quickly after their inception. However, due to a calling from the East, Jordan Moreno travelled to Kalamazoo, MI to pursue a college degree and potential career in the beer brewing industry. Quinn Cory and Derek Marinello were left in the Cream City, turning their “flying V” into a flying twosome. Still, the occasional visit by Moreno occurs, and this past weekend, a small rag tag bunch traveled to see what Kalamazoo had to offer. Myself included, as well as Derek and Jordan’s old friend Ozmi, piled into a grocery getter and drove six hours to the “Foundation of Excellence” itself.
On any given road trip that takes a Milwaukeean down to Chitown and beyond, the four of us stopped at Mars Cheese Castle to acquire provisions not commonly available in Michigan, such as a New Glarus Variety Pack and cheese curds. Ozmi sauntered around the sterile, plastic castle, heavily criticizing products while filming on Snapchat. We marvelled at the patrons there on a early Friday afternoon, enjoying craft beers and puffed Bavarian pretzels with nacho cheese. Cory and Marinello attempted to keep the group on task and on schedule to arrive in Kalamazoo for a quick pre-show practice, but Ozmi and myself were too sun soaked and far too excited for a weekend out of town to be professional. We eventually purchased our goods, opted out of a photo opt with the castle, and turned on Freddie Gibbs en route to Chicago. For a moment, it seemed as though summer was just a few degrees away.
I hear a sputtering from Ozmi in the back seat. He clinged to a bright red soda in a vintage bottle.
“Ugh, this tastes like Robitussin.”
The sign that is posted above the highway when you enter Michigan is “Pure Michigan,” which is their official slogan. Although, when we arrive, the first thing Moreno warns us about is not to drink the tap water.
The house venue in Kalamazoo is called Candy Cane Lane. We pulled up to a fairly inconspicuous college town home, complete with a few frisbee players in the backyard. Remnants of winter shows poked through melted snow and mud, those buried artifacts being bottles of Keystone and Pabst. Cory and Marinello embraced their missing duckling, Moreno. The trio wasted no time and practiced only two hours before the show was to begin.
Little did their limited audience expect, the band only needed a quick run-through. When asked about this afterwards, Cory responded, “We’re very familiar with every song.”
“Ozmi,” Moreno spoke, “Want do ‘Jurassic Park’?”
“What? What does that mean? Do Jurassic Park??”
“Yeah we have a song called ‘Jurassic Park’ and you basically just read the script of the first scene in Jurassic Park over the song.”
Ozmi was reluctant, but unwilling to back down from a challenge. He pulled a familiar Penzey’s Spice bottle from his coat and popped something in his mouth.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Candied ginger, want some?”
“Oh yeah,” I popped the crystals into my mouth. “But you do know this stuff is just a gateway drug into eating fresh ginger, right?” He laughs.
Candy Cane Lane filled quickly, even long before the show start time, which was set at a generous 8PM. Unlike many house venues in Milwaukee, Candy Cane Lane’s founders circled their audience in a predatorial and most animalistic fashion, demanded fair payment for traveling bands, namely Gash (Eau Claire) and Duckling. KZOO locals Langely and Erin Emery opened and closed the evening, and us out-of-towners were ever impressed by their moxy and originality. Eric Simmons of Gash adorned an iconic Milwaukee band Large Print t-shirt.
“We’re Gash from Eau Claire, “ Logan Nyberg, guitarist and vocalist, begins, “Or Eau Bon Iver as we like to call it.”
When Duckling is called to play, it seems that the basement is becoming quite difficult to comfortably navigate. Anxious locals take their places closer to the stage instead of risking their spot by grabbing a smoke or another beer. Marinello turns his back to the crowd, as if any unwanted stares from the KZOOs will turn him into a pillar of salt. Cory, who has emulated the calmness of an eye of a storm thus far in our travels, changes her demeanor as she begins to drum. The storm swirls again as their first track, Aminalz, surreptitiously begins.
The song slowly builds anticipation with a repetitive climbing in action, which comes to a head when Marinello begins to shred. You can feel an unseen, solid acceptance from the audience at this point. My personal favorite song, Breezy, captivates with a playfully, unsettling, and hand-hitting tonal fusion. Clean-cut, coffee shop singer/songwriter girl is swaying, but so is Hunter Willard, frontman of Langely, who is fully dressed in knee-high shorts, pin-up girl stockings and firetruck red lipstick.
The exit song for each Duckling set is ‘Jurassic Park,’ a blaring instrumental homage to dinosaurs and script writing. Moreno and Marinello both enthusiastically explained to me back in December that they found the script writing to be beautiful in its own right, and that they wanted to showcase its eloquence since the public, even fans of the 90s thriller, likely wouldn’t recognize it. This song has become an artistic expression, based on looking at a pop culture hit through another lens. Ozmi, despite his indigestion, comes forth to recite the lyrics of the scene titled, ‘Incident at Isle Nublar.’
“An eyeball, big, yellowish, distinctly inhuman, stares raptly between wooden slats, part of a large crate. The eye darts from side to side, alert as hell,” Ozmi reads, his voice crescendoing as the music does. The audience must ascertain that by being told the song’s name, the words are directly taken from the description in the script. It is wild and shrouded in mystery, but enjoyable all the same.
Once the set is finished, we all feel much more relaxed. The mission is complete, time to enjoy our vacation. There is talk of visible northern lights in Kalamazoo, although no evidence to back up such a claim. Enter Toliy Rashragovich, a friend of Duckling who has come from MKE, misses the entire set by minutes.
“Did you guys already play?” Rashragovich asked Moreno.
“Yeah dude,” He chuckled. Swing and a miss. He doesn’t appear to mind.
On Saturday, Moreno is fully charged to show us the sights of Kalamazoo. We spend a good portion of our morning waiting for a six-top at the town’s premier brunch spot, a restaurant called the Crow’s Nest. A Soul Low sticker haunts us Milwaukeeans from a distance. We wait next door at a record shop for a decent hour until we’re ominously called up to the second floor nest. Even there, we are forced to wait longer for the promised table where four people are chatting with their styrofoam encased leftovers. Ozmi asks us if he should harass the people, and the hostess overhears his threat. We half-heartedly ag him on, and he approaches the oblivious patrons. We see him say something to the group, and quickly mosie back to us. The hostess is displeased, although Ozmi says nothing of consequence to the group other than feigning interest in whether or not he knew them from somewhere.
When we are seated and the lofty haze of our hangovers agonizes us, we nurse aches and pains from sleeping on the floor of Moreno’s apartment, and Cory contemplates an emergency visit to a chiropractor. Ozmi holds a piece of toast two inches from his face, deftly spreading jam as though he cannot complete the task without total concentration. Rashragovich takes pulls from a 5 O’clock handle of vodka. How very Eastern European of him.
The food revitalizes us some, but what really perks us is a 2pm beer at the Bell’s Brew Pub. We discuss Kavanaugh, R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, and a lascivious character from Milwaukee, although not entirely tied in with the aforementioned sex abusers. He will remain nameless. From there we travel to Bell’s actual brewery, where Moreno works, and he gives us a guided tour. The mile-long complex is devoid of workers, save for one man who is cleaning tanks while listening to Killswitch Engage. Ozmi practically live streams the event on Snapchat, again.
Next, we travel 40 minutes to Grand Rapids to visit a kombucha bar called Sacred Springs. It is well-lit, crystals hanging from the ceiling, with expensive wicker chairs carefully placed in a feng shui style. Each beverage is sound infused by a singing bowl. We wonder if the Bells beer is sound infused by Nu Metal. Each flavor, cayenne lemon, beet root, pineapple cardamom, is better than the next. As we exit, we witness a man stealing bottles of shampoo from Dollar General. It is visceral and visual tale of gentrification.
Our goal of the night is to see La Luz, an all-women band from Seattle, at a club called The Pyramid Scheme. Moreno informs us that a sordid business called Amway hails from Grand Rapids, and that the bar is loosely satirical of the conglomerate. Illuminati images plaster the space, pinball machines glow and stand rife with players, and a backroom with art deco light fixtures holds a couple hundred people for an event called LadyFest. There’s a fake tyrannosaurus rex skull that hangs from the ceiling, and again, I am reminded of Jurassic Park. Our group spreads out in the earthly delights, and Moreno attempts to herd his Ducklings throughout the chaos. We witness Kissin Kate’s first show, and we are ever impressed by their sound, Clockwork Orange-like outfits and go-go dancing video that is projected behind them. La Luz draws everyone in the club for their show, and the Ducklings reassemble at front left stage. Dick Dale has just died, but we can hear his powerful influence on these women during their set.
On our way home, Ozmi offers to drive. While trying to find a gas station that will accomodate the late hour, he pulls over to ask a passerby where 15th and Burleigh may be. The man is confused. Ozmi peels off while shouting a Courage the Cowardly Dog cry at him. This has been a common theme for the weekend.
Back in Kalamazoo, Duckling and Ozmi acquire an array of donuts from a 24-hour shop, some powdered and some sprinkled. We spend the remainder of the weekend getaway on Moreno’s porch, laughing and enjoying our spoils of war, and wishing that the night would never end. Mere hours after we crawl into our sleeping bags, Cory energetically emerges from her room and blasts All-Star through her phone to wake us. She laughs with a quiet, maniacal tone, and seems to have benefitted from an early bedtime. The rest of us suffer Smashmouth.