"Pabst: An Excavation of Art" by Paul Bialas
Pabst Blue Ribbon has risen in the beer ranks over the last few years, a return to former glory, thanks to the embrace of urban hipsters who no doubt took their cue from the film "Blue Velvet" and its unsavory characters' use of the brand as a mantra for a destructive night ahead.
The 168-year-old brewery originated in Milwaukee. Its Blue Ribbon beer debuted at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, though it's unclear that the beer actually won a blue ribbon. The ribbon on the can seems to be enough for its fans.
Pabst stands as one of those old-world American brews that has managed to stay alive despite the rise of micro-brews and a working class association, and its old headquarters in Milwaukee stands as both a gravestone to a world now gone and a crumbling tribute. This was the world of beloved brewing patriarchs and workers who could down a bucket of the stuff they helped make, now long gone and probably never to be recaptured.
Photographer Paul Bialas turned his attention to the old brewery and has self-published a book collecting many of the images that resulted, with some accompanying historical text, all with the blessing and encouragement of August Pabst, a former executive of the company.
For lovers of urban exploration and industrial decay, Bialas' book is a welcome discovery. There are plenty of higher-profile books from major publishing companies mining similar territory, but Bialas' work stands out for its intimacy and wonder, as well as its honesty. Bialas takes in whole rooms and small corners, captures and contrasts textures, colors and the minute debris created by time, offering a strong sense of living rooms now deceased.
Bialas takes you through the brew house, the malt house, the bottling building, as well as other Pabst sites, and he records not only the crumbling of the edifice, but the ghosts there too in the form of detritus left behind. Office equipment, tools, signs, stained glass and, of course, the occasional decrepit bottle or can of PBR, or even Pabst Extract, can be found laying around as the skeleton of a former community of workers continues to fade into history.
Bialas is a keen investigator and he takes you into nooks and crannies that you might not notice if you toured through it yourself, with a wonderful sense of the colors and textures -- and, therefore, artfulness -- of decay.
A good portion of what Bialas photographed no longer exists in the same form, now being refurbished into a hotel. Bialas is currently documenting that renovation project -- you can see some of that work on his website -- which makes this self-published release even more imperative to view, as the telling corpse from the past is being dressed up for tomorrow.
A print edition can be purchased at lakecountryphoto
.com/store.html. Ebook versions are available through Amazon's Kindle store and iBooks.
"5x5 Live" (EMI Import)
The Scottish band Simple Minds is largely remembered in the United States for one song and one song only: the theme to the ‘80s teen angst hit, "The Breakfast Club." But as their new double release "5x5 Live" reminds us, these one-hit wonders had existed for seven years and had six albums under their belt before they hit the charts here. To make matters worse, the band didn't even write "Don't You Forget About Me" and its success marked the band's implosion, from which it is only now creatively recovering.
The premise of "5x5 Live" is basic. Last year, the band took it upon themselves to revive material from the their first five albums in their live concerts as a way to not just revisit and update these songs, but also to take a look at what the band was now in contrast to its youthful heyday. Simple Minds never really left -- founding members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill stayed with it all along, with early drummer Mel Gaynor eventually returning to the fold -- and though the work varies, they've never been a group to play dead, and recently have experienced a return to form that almost demanded they look back and take stock.
The hallmark of the band's first five albums is the chameleon-like experimentation they embraced, from their debut as an energetic new wave band to flourishes into art dance, dark experimentalism, a electro prog-style minimalism and even dramatic bombast. This collection captures all those styles, mixing them up and filtering them through the wizened professionalism of the current line-up.
Downplayed are the new wave tendencies of the earlier work, but the melodies of the old days are so strong that, in some cases, the songs seem like they were tempered by the posturing of youth. In the hands of old guys, it's all entirely celebratory, and even brooding weirdness like "The King In White And In The Crowd" seems like a joyous rediscovery of something we didn't quite know about in the first place.
There are lots of high points -- the frenetic update of "I Travel" transforms the automated older version, while the incredibly dated new wave raver "Wasteland" rebounds as something fresh and just the right amount of raw. "The American" is catchier than ever in the guise of a bouncy anthem.
Some of their creepier, even despairing songs comprise the most exciting of the updates, like "Room," "Sons and Fascination" and "Fear of Gods," transforming them into bursts of unexpected energy and engagement, some even creepily funky. What might have seemed like gloomy posture back in the day is revealed as joyous eclecticism in 2013. The band has stripped away any pretension they might have been accused of previously and revealed so much of the music as melodic.
"5x5 Live" comes together in a great monument that should not just please old fans, but translate the appeal of those old records to people who might not have heard them the first time around. The reinterpretations strip them of the context that might have weighted the songs down as of their time, and brings them forth in the 21st century to reveal a band that was in many ways far ahead of their contemporaries who managed to maintain their position on the sales charts with more surety and remind you of their legacy.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.