Kid Rock

Two former local rockers, now parents, turn up the sweetness in Milkshake, a band for children

Family Matters

October 03, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff

As Lisa Mathews and Mikel Gehl take the stage at Sandy Point State Park, the sun is already baking the crowd, its rays M-y despite the September day M-y utterly unforgiving. The audience isnM-Ft much better.

The adults squint at Mathews, a 44-year-old woman in lace-up combat boots, a tank top, bike shorts and the worldM-Fs flounciest tutu. The kids are up front taking milk M-tshakersM-v out of a blue bucket. Their faces say: M-tThis better be good.M-v

It feels a long way from the days when Mathews and Gehl fronted the popular Baltimore band Love Riot.

Back then, Mathews sang in beaded tops and little black dresses, often in the cool of evening with lights to set the mood. Gehl ran onstage with his guitar, his long hair swinging as the crowd pumped him up.

This is different. This is Milkshake, music for children. This is performance in the harsh light of day, with moon bounces and pony rides threatening to steal the audience. This is what happens when two rockers -- sometimes joined by bandmates old and new -- grow up, have children and follow the epiphany of parenthood to a new sound.

And even today, despite the obstacles of heat and Milkshake's omission from the Maryland Seafood Festival program, somehow it works. The kids, at first puzzled, are drawn in by Mathews' enthusiasm. By the time she's finished singing the rockabilly tune "Milkshake Rock 'n' Roll," nearly a dozen little ones are bopping on stage.

As Mathews and Gehl launch into the song "Love Train" that usually closes a Milkshake set, the kids line up. They hold onto little brothers' waists, shoes and paper cups and follow Mathews around the chair and back again, whoo-whooing like little engines that could.

Shilo Peers, 6, a dedicated Milkshake groupie, shyly approaches the singer with a handmade plastic necklace of blue stars, and a note that says "you are vary good at singing."

Shilo's mother, Ariana Patterson, watches her daughter swoon over Mathews and shakes her head. A singer and guitarist for local bands Spitshine and now the Spontanes, Patterson knew Gehl and Mathews in their Love Riot days.

"Wouldn't it be ironic," Patterson says, "if they got famous as children's performers?"

A new CD

To hear Gehl and Mathews tell it, Patterson's forecast just might come true.

Their second independently produced Milkshake CD, Bottle of Sunshine, comes out Tuesday . They're already booking more shows for more money -- at libraries, museums, parties and festivals -- than Love Riot did. They've played live on XM Satellite Radio, filmed spots on a new children's show for Baltimore's local cable channel. They have dreams of hosting their own TV show someday (set, perhaps, in an old-fashioned ice cream parlor) and of being really big -- maybe even as big as the Wiggles.

This wasn't what Mathews -- born Lisa Kruk in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- aspired to two decades ago when she answered Gehl's ad in the Village Voice, looking for a singer for a Baltimore band called Another Language.

Mathews co-owned a rehearsal studio in Greenwich Village and loved the New York life. She had purple hair. But she noticed her mother's area code on the ad, and thought it might be fun to see her on weekends while playing with the band.

In the end, Gehl and the band -- which changed its name to Beyond Words -- impressed her with their staying power. Bands in New York seemed to flame out so fast. Mathews moved to Maryland.

Beyond Words turned into Love Riot, and for a while it looked like Love Riot was going somewhere. They styled themselves as a band for romantics, but their shows -- and even their name -- were more about love as a public act. They had fake snow at Christmas and rose petals with pink and red balloons for Valentine's Day. And then there was Mathews, who always appears to be smiling even when she is not. Families often came to shows together.

"Kids always loved us," Mathews says. "We just never recognized the opportunity."

A big break came when the band beat out thousands of others for top honors in the Yamaha Music Quest international competition in Japan in 1994. There were two independent CDs, a group appearance on the television show Homicide. Reviewers compared Mathews to Tori Amos. Meanwhile, Mathews fell in love with fan and guitarist Miles Anderson, and they married in 1993.

Babies and rock

For the longest time, they didn't need a baby, didn't talk about it. Then Mathews found herself staring down 40, and the couple decided to try for a child.

Motherhood seized Mathews hard, even before Jesse James Anderson was actually born. The day she heard her baby's heartbeat for the first time, she swept into a Hair Cuttery and announced she was so happy that nothing the stylist did with her long auburn locks could displease.

"It was the worst haircut I ever had in my life," she remembers -- "really short and conservative." A friend came over that night and said: " 'Wow. You look like a mom.' "

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