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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Robert Cavallo’s Rock ’n’ Roll Photography

Light Ideas Gallery presents ‘Backstage Pass’ to the stars

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From the perspective of now, it looks like a golden time. In the '70s, rock 'n' roll was only a couple of generations old and had just recently, by the end of the '60s, reached a creative summit. Rock 'n' roll was also a business, but as in the early days of Hollywood, the businessmen often seemed to kind of enjoy the goods and services they sold.

In Milwaukee in those years, concerts by touring stars weren't an every night occurrence. Each one felt special in an agebefore cable, home video and the Internetwhen there was less to do at home and every reason to get out of the house. Local promoters booked the shows, often into halls that have long since disappeared or morphed into something elsethe Uptown, the Auditorium, the Arena, the Oriental before it went triplex.

Getting up close or backstage was the goal, and no one had easier access than local rock photographers. Cameras slung across their shoulders, they shot concerts for the alternative weekly Bugle-American or for promoters or for their own pleasure. It wasn't the strict regimen of nowadaysthree shots and you're out. Photographers could usually hang around all night.

One of the great Milwaukee camera bugs of that time, Robert Cavallo, had been in The Messengers, the first white band signed by Motown; he knew all the promoters and knew his way around the venues. Cavallo displays his '70s concert photography in "Backstage Pass," an exhibition at Light Ideas Gallery (207 E. Buffalo St., lower level). The exhibit opens on Gallery Night, July 24, and runs through Aug. 25.

Cavallo's most memorable night in concert photography was probably Bruce Springsteen's 1975 show at the Uptown. The Boss' new album, Born to Run, had just received unprecedented coverage from the mainstream media, catapulting him from his East Coast fan base to national acclaim. Some called it hype, and perhaps one of those naysayers phoned in the bomb threat that stopped the show for hours as police searched the Uptown. Without losing a beat, Springsteen roared back in a whirlwind of amp-leaping energy when given the go-ahead, and played into the small hours of the morning. Cavallo captured him in all his youth, vitality and hope, a mop of saintly curls exploding from under his trademark cloth cap.

And the Boss is only one of the artists represented in Cavallo's show. Also on exhibit are pictures of Peter Wolf, a cool dude from the dark side in his aviator shades and black hat; Freddie Mercury ringed by globules of colored stage light; a furious Patti Smith, arm raised as if hailing the audience; The Who in their original lineup, arms linked in comradeship; Stevie Nicks in flowing tresses and gossamer gown; and many more shots in which Cavallo captured the essence of each star's image.

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