Saturday, June 30, 2012

Jam of the day and a lengthy review of POP!, a musical about Andy Warhol: Lou Reed & John Cale / "I Believe"

Artist: Lou Reed & John Cale
Album: Songs For Drella
Song: "I Believe"
Released: April 11, 1990
Label: Sire Records (Warner Music Group)

NOTE: I pretty much crapped out this lengthy diatribe a day or two after my viewing of POP! on May 10, 2012 (which I mention again later). I had a lot of thoughts about the play, and this Reed/Cale album that I relistened to a few times that day, sifting through the madness that is my brain (hah! I said my blog title!), and during the wee 2am-ish hours, I sat down and typed furiously without much self-censorship. I got up the next day and second-guessed myself about posting it. Then, I promptly forgot about the whole thing … until recently, when I decided to just say "Fuck it" and post the damn thing mostly unedited (save for some grammar cleanup and formatting). Keep that in mind as you read through. Ultimately, I decided that the thoughts I had were interesting enough and sharable, even if the verbose and, frankly, bombastic way in which I present them leaves much to be desired, and might even keep you from reading too much of it. In any event, that seems to be the opposite of the spirit of the blogger, so … in the immortal words of Kel, "Awww, here it goes!"

Songs For Drella is an album that I actually really enjoy but hardly ever want to listen to. (It's pretty much too intense, and I hope that the verbosity and indulgence of the ensuing paragraphs will convey this feeilng sufficiently well.) Think about that claim; I bet there are very few albums that can be described that way, for you and me. I bought a CD copy of this album years ago—I don't even remember where or exactly when, sometime late in college or shortly thereafter—when I was heavy into The Velvet Underground (not like that has changed, but back when it was still fresh), seeing that it was the first collaborative material from Lou Reed and John Cale since White Light/White Heat way back in 1968. For the uninitiated or those in need of refreshing, here's the super quick version: Reed & Cale were original members of The VU whose first album, 1967's The VU & Nico, was essentially produced and/or funded/curated somehow by Andy Warhol (at the very least, he paid for some recording and included them on his Exploding Plastic Inevitable extravaganza tour, with live music and dancing and light shows and movies and craziness); Cale quit the band in 1968 after two albums to pursue a solo career and produce/engineer albums, and eventually Reed did the same in 1970; the two were known to basically have mutual disgust for each other and didn't speak until Andy Warhol's funeral service in 1987; someone suggested they create some kind of memorial for Andy, and, a couple years later, Songs For Drella came out over the course of some small shows and an eventual recording and CD release.

The album itself is a rather artsy, lyrics-oriented concept album about Andy Warhol, in general, and Reed and Cale's relationships with and perceptions of Warhol, more specifically. They knew Warhol at the height of his New York City Factory days, acted in some of his movies, and were apparently rather friendly with him, in addition to their musical business relations. The songs on this album manage to explore Warhol's identity, his philosophies on art and life, and how he interacted with the many, many people who clung to his burgeoning, high-art-doesn't-mean-what-it-used-to-mean, societal lifestyle. The tunes are roughly chronological, too. Opener "Smalltown" describes Warhol's not-so-ideal childhood in the Steel City, his outcast role ("Bad skin, bad eyes, gay and fatty, people look at you funny"), and his real desire to "make it big" ("There's only one good thing about a small town, you know that you wanna get out"). The Reed-penned and -sung "Work" is apparently based on conversations Reed had with Warhol about producing his art and his view of it as … well, "work"; this might be due to him coming from Pittsburgh, how he supported his mother for most of his life, or just a serious work ethic, but it's interesting to think about these lyrics and his life's output and his mass-production style.
Andy said a lot of things, I stored them all away in my head
Sometimes when I can't decide what I should do I think, 'What would Andy have said?'
He'd probably say, 'You think too much, that's 'cause there's work that you don't want to do!'
'It's work, the most important thing is work!'

The next track, Cale's tune "Trouble With Classicists", is another take on Warhol's view of art. Verse by verse, it goes through and describes how Warhol would deconstruct another artist's particular style, as seen through the lens of looking at a tree. For instance, the "trouble with a classicist" is that "he looks at a tree and that's all he sees", and "he paints a tree". Building from just Cale's soothing voice into a rollicking piano line and Reed's snarly guitar riffs, this song is one of the highlights of the album. (For more thoughts on this album from a contemporary, i.e. 1990, standpoint, see this surprisingly stellar, nuanced, and empassioned Rolling Stone review, or this characteristically terse and unhelpful yet decidedly opinionated Robert Christgau review.)

At this point, though, I'll stop quasi-reviewing the album and outright quoting its lyrics. If you're someone who's remotely interested in The Velvet Underground and/or Lou Reed and/or John Cale, from a musical standpoint, or Warhol's art and the entire pop art scene as it developed over time, and the 1960s NYC scene associated with it, then I highly recommend you give this album a solid three or four listens. It's not going to really hit you hard on the first listen, I bet; if it does, awesome! If not, give it a little bit of time to sink in; read along with the lyrics; try to put yourself in Cale and Reed's shoes, making this material to honor their dead friend and benefactor despite hating each others' guts; and imagine how Warhol himself would view this album. Imagine him grinning quietly and nodding along, saying quite matter-of-factly, "Well, I thought it was wonderful when they said my name." (Somehow, that's what I imagine he would say.) If you like these musicians and/or this artist, you'll find a home in this album. Other standout tracks, in my mind, are "Images" (with Reed's insistent vocals about how Warhol comes up with art, I think, and a specific reference to Mao Tse Tung in a strangely compelling vocal inflection), "I Believe" (see below for more), "A Dream" (hazy guitar soundscapes from Reed and spoken word from Cale that's remarkably compelling), and "Hello It's Me", a final direct, honest message from Reed to Warhol and, if you're listening carefully, a real tear-jerker.

The particular tune I want to share from this album, though, is found towards the end of the album's track listing and corresponding chronology, and it is about a particularly troublesome event in Warhol's life and, I would imagine, the lives of everyone who knew him and cared about him. Despite this, I feel like it has escaped the modern art historical ethos and remains somewhat of a mystery to anyone who isn't particularly interested in Warhol's history, personally, or 20th century American art history, in general. Seriously, though; ask a bunch of your friends what they know about the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. Odds are, close to (or a complete) majority will say, "What? Huh? That happened?!", while several more might say, "Oh yeah, he was shot or something, right?", while maybe a select few will say, "That Valerie Solanas sure was a bitch!". Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it. Somewhat luckily, though, there is a newish musical out on the theatre circuit that explores this exact event. POP!: Who Shot Andy Warhol? played at Pittsburgh's City Theatre on the South Side for a string of dates back in May, starring Broadway's Anthony Rapp (from Rent and Road Trip and other stuff) as Warhol. More info about that in a moment. Now, let's play that song I mentioned. It's all about Reed's apparent reaction to Solanas' shooting (I will make no association of Reed's vitriolic lyrics to Cale's mild-mannered persona) and the rough-around-the-edges guitar (especially that frantic solo from 2:05-2:18) combine rather well with the simple, staccato piano to convey that message.
Valerie Solanas took the elevator, got off at the 4th floor
She pointed the gun at Andy saying, 'You cannot control me anymore'

And I believe there's got to be some retribution
I believe an eye for an eye is elemental

Lou Reed & John Cale / "I Believe" / Songs For Drella [Sire, 1990]

Let's talk about that play now. I admittedly grew up being exposed to musical theatre fairly often, having a mother and sister who were huge fans, huge enough to "force" their tastes on me and subject me to live experiences, soundtrack CD listenings, cinema viewings, and so on and so forth. Mind you, I don't regret any of it, nor do I begrudge them; I'm just saying that, at the time, they probably weren't my favorite activities, but they were real, so now I associate them into my personality as they fit. Moving on. My sister acted and sang in a local (but decidedly professional and well-done, I might add) production of The Sound Of Music when I was in middle school (among other plays, musical or otherwise, throughout our lives), I saw Rent on Boston's "Broadway" in high school, I've seen numerous musical films (Grease, Bye Bye, Birdie, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Hairspray, Chicago, etc.), and so on. My point: I'm not a typical male musical rube. So take my opinions with a grain of salt—according to my general thoughts about the genre and its temporaneous extinction—as well as a pinch of sugar—according to my life-long experience with and reluctant appreciation for the genre.

POP! is a big hit and a big miss, simultaneously. For me, as a now-and-again theatre-goer and general arts patron, I thoroughly enjoyed the "fresh" take on musicals, exploring the "underbelly" of the 1960s that hasn't really been touched by mainstream theatre since, say, Hair, I'd imagine. Also, though, as a serious fan of Warhol and The VU and the whole Factory scene as a conglomerate of interesting individuals with a lot to say about art and history and culture, I am somewhat disappointed. Anthony Rapp is a perfect fit for Warhol, and I take nothing away from his performance but reverence for the man; however, the mix of sarcastic, one-liner dialogue and indulgent, introspective, downright bombastic lyricism makes for a dischordant treatment of Warhol as a person and—from what I understand from every other treatment of him (e.g. his self-written books, his films and TV clips that I've seen at the Andy Warhol Museum over the years, Crispin Glover in his [albeit short] role as Warhol in The Doors movie—a not entirely accurate one.

Oddly, though, Andy Warhol doesn't seem to be the main focus of this production. The elaborate and overwrought—yet underveloped—treatment of the so-called "suspects" of the murder "mystery" comprise the majority of the plot. Edie Sedgwick. Viva. Valeria Solanas. That's it. The songs explore their personalities in one-dimensional ways—the blonde superstar who's a rich daddy's girl on the urban prowl, the intelligent black girl who's too smart to play games, the irreverent anti-male feminist who has a lot to say and a lot of energy with which to say it—that hardly ever touch on the subtleties that truly belong to them. Look, I even saw Factory Girl a couple years ago and thought it wasn't that great—or bad, mind you; it's really worth seeing if you've even read this far!—but it gives a decidedly more interesting, honest, and worthwhile treatment of Sedgwick's character in any 20 minute segment than POP! does throughout its run. But maybe that's not the point? Maybe this play isn't meant to explore all of the nuances of the Factory's multitude of colorful characters. Maybe POP! is about sensationalizing Warhol's life and, particularly, his violent shooting, and contorting that into a marketable production that might appeal to a wider public than would normally find fascinating a decades-dead artist who is (sadly) best known for copying soup can labels and scouring pad boxes.

I guess that is the point, and one that I had to come to terms with during my viewing of the show. (For reference's sake, I saw the 9:00 performance on Thursday, May 10; one day before official "opening night" at City Theatre here in Pittsburgh.) My eternal fandom for Warhol and the Factory scene makes me inherently question any inaccuracies and misrepresentations. On this note, I think the production completely obscures the original artistry and intrigue of the scene as it homogenizes it for a mainstream, modern audience; however, I am thankful for the play's existence and what it can possibly achieve for recognition and understanding of this particular branch of cultural and artistic history. Somewhat strangely, the most offensive character to me was not Warhol, but Gerard Malanga; luckily, he was not a particularly (ultimately) important persona (in the production, anyway!) so I retain hope for a na¨i;ve audience's take-away from the show.

I associate Gerard Malanga with the seedy side of The Velvet Underground, the fervent and ecstatic and outrageous live shows, the dancing, the whipping, the sexuality, the early punk attitude filtered through their urban hipsterism that preceded any kind of negative connotations of the term "hipster". I see him, in my mind's eye, as he appears in photographs in Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story, and as he has always appeared in my thoughts before owning that book. (The two imageries are notably similar, mind you.) In POP!, though, Malanga is a fucking cartoon, and there's no nice way to say this. Luckily, he is not an entirely crucial character in the overall story (he is important, but I can't imagine that a total "novice" to the narrative would find him irreplaceable) but he is decidedly influential, and it is bizarre to me to see him not in the typical tight leather denim pants and jacket, with a riding crop, but rather in a depressingly stereotypical paisley vest and bell bottoms, with a retro-fit and unoffensive haircut. It's weird and off-putting, really, but only to anyone who really cares. To the majority of the skewing-towards-elderly audience I saw at the performance I attended, nothing was out of the ordinary, and we could all sufficiently laugh at the delightful "speed freak homos" Malanga and Ondine as they tried to sort through the comical "pop bang mystery" as Andy Warhol "slept". Yeah. It's silly when you think about it, but that's exactly how the play works.

And yet ₀ here I am, compelled to return to my musical theatre "roots". And I can't help but avoid this conclusion: this is a remarkably watchable production. I would honestly recommend this to my friends and family to see. I bet you're surprised by that, if you've even fucking read this far, because—let's be honest—you've given up by now. (If you haven't, leave me a comment on this post with your favorite Velvet Underground song and I will buy you a beer sometime.) But that's how I feel. I had a great time at the show, barring my self-imposed discomfort with the treatment of Malanga, Warhol, and the overall scene, but I get the feeling that this is something I have to deal with on my own. And, ultimately, Brian Charles Rooney is SO FUCKING GOOD as Candy Darling. Literally, this is the best musical theatre role performance I've ever seen. She/he sings high and low, does drama and comedy, dances and walks around in heels, engages with the audience, and is an overall great representation of who I think the original character might be without trivializing the components of said character for the sake of the production. Kudos, Mr. Rooney. You are my new favorite actor. What's more, my date wasn't totally convinced of your male/female-ness (either way) until I mentioned it after the show and I showed her the program. So, double kudos!

The Velvet Underground / "Candy Says" / The Velvet Underground [MGM, 1969]

Meanwhile, I have no perception yet for how anyone else experienced this show, except for (a) my date, Lisa, who didn't know anything about the story going into this and was not a musical theatre conoisseur and yet enjoyed it enough to say she liked it and was glad we went; (b) this New York Times reviewer who laments Warhol's solo song, saying "Gee, Andy, I liked you so much better when you were making like an empty shell"; (c) this Post-Gazette reviewer who said, "How do you create a whodunit when the facts of the case are a Bing away?" (WTF?! BING?!); and (d) Lou Reed and John Cale, who have said all the things I've mentioned above (and more, of course) but only about Andy and his story and not this production.

Ultimately, I hope you do get out and see this show, in some capacity. I hope you listen to a song or two online, or go out and see it live. I hope you read a review online and share it with your friends. I hope you read Warhol's writings. I hope you listen to every Velvet Underground album (especially The VU & Nico) and Songs For Drella. I hope you form opinions about all of those artistic objects. I hope you package your ideas somehow. I hope you share them however you see fit: Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, the Post-Gazette comments section, YouTube, a musical response, a self-printed manifesto, a telephone chain campaign, a stint at Speakers' Corner, or just yelling in the mirror while you brush your teeth. Whatever it is, I hope you have an opinion and that it gets shared with the universe. Andy Warhol would be proud. He'd fucking love you. But he probably wouldn't say so. He'd likely smile at you, though. And maybe he'd put you in a movie.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jam of the day, vinyl you just have to buy, music inspired by history and literature, and a silly quote: The Byrds / "I Come And Stand At Every Door"

Artist: The Byrds
Album: Fifth Dimension
Song: "I Come And Stand At Every Door"
Released: July 18, 1966
Label: Columbia

I was really happy to score a near mint copy of this album at Jerry's Records this morning. The Byrds are one of my all-time favorite bands—if not the favorite—and this is one of their albums that I've never spotted at a store on vinyl. Sure, I could find a reissue online or whatever, but there's a certain thrill in having a few albums in the back of your mind all the time and knowing that you will, with absolute certainty, buy one whenever you see a copy for sale. Check this one off my list. I have a few others on mind. What albums are on YOUR list?

I also stopped in to Galaxie Electronics, which on the same floor as Jerry's on the right when you walk in, to buy a new belt for my turntable. I've had it about four years now and this is the first time I've had to fix anything, so I'm grateful for that. I've been putting that off for a couple of weeks, out of laziness and business, and between random shopping and Record Store Day last weekend, I've built up quite the backlog of albums I've been meaning to listen to. But screw all that, I had to but Fifth Dimension on as soon as I got home. I was planning on writing something about "Eight Miles High" (one of the most famous Byrds tunes and their first exploration into jazzy psych rock) or maybe the title track or maybe the silly little ditty "Mr. Spaceman", but then … I heard "I Come And Stand At Every Door".

I almost forgot this song was on this album. I almost forgot it even existed. It's kind of a throwaway, not really standing out as a stellar single or anything and, with its somber guitar line and rhythm and the deliberate vocal cadence, it's very much the least poppy track on an otherwise very upbeat and exciting record. Its the lyrical content, though, that really delivers the message. The words are an English translation of a poem by Turkish poet Nâzim Haket about the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings of WWII. It's written from the perspective of a seven year-old child (the poem says "girl" but the song's lyrics are slightly different and don't mention gender) who died in the bombings, and describes the child's death and how his/her spirit remains in this world and asks for nothing but peace. It's rather touching when you listen carefully and/or read along. Apparently Pete Seeger recorded a version of the poem in song form originally, in 1962, and The Byrds 1966 version added some somber electric guitars to the tune and really did it justice.

"I come and stand at every door
But no one hears my silent prayer
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead"

Anyway, this song also got me thinking about other songs and albums that have been inspired (or are direct references to/usages of) historical events and/or literary pieces. We all know that Jeff Mangum says a fair amount of the content of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was inspired by his recent reading of The Diary of Anne Frank. The only other really interesting example I can think of off the top of my head is If… which was apparently inspired by the Italo Calvino novel If on a winter's night a traveler. I haven't listened to that album, but I remember loving that novel when I read it in college. I still have a copy laying around here; I should pick it up again… Can you think of any other examples like this? I'll keep racking my brain and scouring the web. I'm sure there are some interesting ones!

One last thing: the remastered CD reissue of this album that came out on the album's 30th anniversary had a few bonus tracks: an alternate version of "Eight Miles High", two version of that single's B-side called "Why", a great David Crosby-penned tune called "Psychodrama City", and some others. The second version of "Why" is 17 minutes long, though, because after the tune ends and a radio promo interview with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby starts playing. It's kinda funny because you can only hear what those guys say, not the radio interviewer and not the songs they apparently play during the interview. But they say some pretty funny stuff as they talk about the album and the songs. It's worth tracking down and listening to if you're a big fan like me. I remember laughing so hard when they got to talking about the album name and the title track. Roger McGuinn says something silly like, "Well, the fifth dimension is a very philosophical place." Well said, dude.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jam of the day, psychedelia compilations, and vinyl conventions: D.R. Hooker / "Forge Your Own Chains"

Artist: D.R. Hooker
Album: The Truth
Song: "Forge Your Own Chains"
Released: 1972
Label: On Records [original] / Subliminal Sounds [reissue]

A friend of mine had a vinyl copy of Forge Your Own Chains: Psychedelic Ballads and Dirges 1968-1974 and played it on at least one occasion while we were hanging out at his place and in the right frame of mind for this album. Oh man, is it heavenly. A double LP compilation, with songs from Korean psychedelic guitarist Shin Joong Hyun, Nigerian rock band Ofege, a Temptations cover by a group of American soldiers who won a "Battle of the Bands" contest while stationed in Germany, and this here tune and namesake for the album by an underground Connecticut folk-rocker named D.R. Hooker. I've since gone on and bought a vinyl copy myself and highly recommend you do the same.

D.R. Hooker has a solid J.C. look about him, as you can see on the cover art for The Truth, his 1972 debut LP. He released another LP 7 years later, and another one in the late 1980s, but I've yet to track those down. I stumbled upon a reissue of this album on vinyl (via the Subliminal Sounds label) at the 7th (semi-)annual Pittsburgh Record Fest at Belvedere's a month ago. The event was pretty big, filling the huge back room of Belvedere's with tables and sellers and people milling about. I got there with some friends on the later end of the evening, and probably missed out on some great scores because of that, but it felt like I didn't see a whole lot of stuff that "grabbed" me. This record was the only one I picked up that made me say, "I have to have this." I made some other finds, but this was my favorite by far.

Here's the jam that got this whole story started. It's a catchy little ditty in the middle of the LP, piecing together a tambourine beat and stuttery drums with D.R. Hooker's smooth voice and a cool bass line, plus some awesome jazzy punches of brass. It's really, really … cool. Suave.

D.R. Hooker / "Forge Your Own Chains"

"One more cigarette to clear your head
Today you're living, tomorrow you're dead"

Some other links about D.R. Hooker I found: Buried Treasure / 99 Krap Rec / The Truth

I'm always on the lookout for other sweet compilation albums, after experiencing the greatness of this one. This also led me to buy an album of Shin Joon Hyung tunes called Beautiful Rivers & Mountains and it is similarly outstanding and highly recommended. Do you know of any other compilations like this that you'd recommend? LET ME KNOW!

Shin Jung Hyun (ft. Jang Hyun) / "Twilight"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jams of the day, band name stories, and the many projects of J Mascis: Heavy Blanket / "Dr Marten's Blues" & Electronic Anthology Project / "Tarpit"

I've heard about two musical projects in the last couple of months and just about the only thing they have in common is one man: J Mascis. This guitar wizard has played in so many great bands and released so much awesome music into the world, and there's clearly no end in sight. Dinosaur Jr. is amazing, of course, and I was really wowed by last year's solo LP, Several Shades of Why. Great songwriting, and that growly voice of his still holds up in an acoustic setting like that.

I saw on Pitchfork last week that J and some pals will release an LP of instrumental psychedelic rock tunes in May. They've shared one track, "Dr Marten's Blues", and it is an absolute scorcher. Well, it's actually just a catchy bass rumble and a pounding beat that almost serves as an excuse for J to shread a massive guitar solo over the whole thing for four minutes. Yeah. I mean, it's an awesome solo. I literally can't stop listening to it. I'm pretty sure the whole LP will be like this, which … actually intrigues me.

Another part of this story, besides the surprising and weird nature of it all, is that the band apparently has a crazy, wild, pretty much unbelievable story. I'm sure it's rooted in some truth, but … it's hard to say. You can read the whole thing on their record label's website and see for yourself, but here's a choice selection:
He remembered a couple kids from his early high school days – stoner kids he’d always admired for their “who gives a shit” attitude. Those kids, Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar, had been kicked out of marching band for smoking weed out of a tuba. Way better musicians than the marching band deserved, they’d formed a duo that was all rhythm section – no vocals, no guitar, a sick, punchy brew of Band of Gypsies and Japanese hard psych (Johnny’s uncle was a US Marine stationed on Okinawa in 1973. From his frequent visits to Tokyo, he brought home a killer psych record collection. And a mean dose of the clap). These were the guys he needed. He rounded them up and it soon became obvious that the heavy rhythms they created were the perfect backdrop to young Mascis’ insane, fluid ability on the guitar. The trio came up with six blistering tracks, named themselves Heavy Blanket, and set a date to record.

I imagine that the Heavy Blanket moniker has something to do with the thick, sumptuous slab of sound these guys produce, or something about what this type of music does to your brain … you get the idea. But it makes me think about how bands get together, decide on a name, name some tracks and an album. There's a lot of naming. My favorite band name story is far-and-away Yo La Tengo, though; here's a great video of Ira Kaplan (and special guest!) describing the story.

The other musical venture I heard about recently is one by Built To Spill's bassist, Brett Nelson. His Electronic Anthology Project … er, project … covers entire albums of rock music in a more electronic/synthified way. His description sums it up nicely:
I truly love bands like Talk Talk, Men Without Hats, and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, but I also love bands like Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements, and The Pixies. So what if I merged my two loves together?
An upcoming LP—set for release on Record Store Day—will have nine Dinosar Jr. tracks, with J Mascis singing on each one. (He might have re-recorded these vocals for this release? Not totally sure.) Have a listen to the old and the new versions here and see what you think. I'm intrigued but probably not enough to actually buy anything …

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jam of the day, Mission Hill, the first album you ever bought, and Zach Galifianakis: Cake / "Italian Leather Sofa"

Artist: Cake
Album: Fashion Nugget
Song: "Italian Leather Sofa"
Released: September 17, 1996
Label: Capricorn Records

I've been watching a lot of Mission Hill lately. I had never heard of/seen the show until a year or two ago when I watched it at my friend's place. It was hilarious, and still is. I bought the 2 DVD set of the entire show's run (one season on WB before getting axed) back in the fall and have watched it off and on, particularly with other folks who have never seen it before. Pay it forward and all that, you know? If you don't know it, definitely go check it out. It's a somewhat straightforward animated sitcom with some oddball characters and a twisted sense of humor, kinda like Seinfeld meets Family Guy for Generation X hipsters. Something like that. Plus, it has Brian Posehn! Just watch it, would ya? Here's a compendium of funny clips I found:

The theme song for Mission Hill is a sped-up instrumental cut from Cake's tune "Italian Leather Sofa". I didn't realize it was at a faster tempo until I went and listened to the song just now (right after watching an episode of the show). Say what you want about Cake, but they have a special place in my musical history. I remember listening to this CD, Fashion Nugget, in my cousin's room whenever we visited. This was sometime in middle school, and the "Parental Advisory" sticker on the front intrigued me (although I realize now it's only because they say "Fuck" a few times on the record: the chorus in the title track is "Shut the fuck up!" and their cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" has the line "I should have changed the fucking lock …"), and I went out and bought the CD at a Newbury Comics at some point. I don't know exactly, but that might have been the first album I actually went out to specifically purchase with my own money. Weird, right?

"When she get what she wants
She puts the rest on a tray
In a zip-loc bag
In the freezer"

One last thing: did you know Zach Galifianakis had a late-night talk show on VH1 for a short while? Did you know The Shins made their TV debut on that show? And did you know Cake played on the show and Zach kinda made fun of people who like Cake? I seem to remember a snarky comment he made in one clip, but now I can't seem to find it onthe web … maybe I made it up? But anyway, that irreverence about the whole Hollywood/getting famous scene and obvious lack of caring about what anybody thinks of him is what drew me to his comedy in the first place (and what makes this video of him in the audience at the Ellen DeGeneres show so hilarious) but I'm not sure that applies anymore after all of this Hangover business. I could barely sit through the first movie and have no desire to see the second, thankyouverymuch. I'll take Live at the Purple Onion over that shit any day. Anyhow, here's that viedo clip from Late World with Zach:

Jam of the day, an awesome but sad music video, and WYEP: Fanfarlo / "Shiny Things"

Artist: Fanfarlo
Album: Rooms Filled With Light
Song: "Shiny Things"
Released: February 28, 2012
Label: Canvasback Records

I missed the Fanfarlo show at Mr. Small's on Sunday night but was lucky enough to sneak into a last-minute admission to their live session at WYEP's studio on Monday afternoon. Lisa and I showed up right at 1:00 and were ushered into the studio as the live session was just about to kick off. Cindy Howes was up near the stage and the forty or so seats were mostly taken so we stood near the back. I smiled at the couple with their two small children also standing in the back and at the sweet old man who ducked underneath the reach of my phone while walking by me even though I was just checking my email and not taking a photograph at the time.

Fanfarlo sounded absolutely amazing. Their songs, on record, have been hit-or-miss with me, feeling like a little too over-produced twee, hyper-arranged, orchestral pop tunes to really hit me hard … but I rescind those complaints formally now. I'm a Fanfarlo fan. Part of that transformation was the band's demeanor during the interview. They were humorous, personable, off-beat, and decidely exactly the opposite of the kind of high-minded, erudite, scholarly popsters I had in mind based on their songs. Maybe I was way too pre-judgmental about their music and their image, but hey, I take it all back. Their songs now sound perfectly catchy and engaging to me, and knowing there are affable and genuinely interesting individuals behind it all … that just adds to the appeal.

The standout track of the half-hour live session was the last number, "Shiny Things". Cindy introduced the song by talking to the band about the music video, which quite literally (and quasi-violently and decidedly-creepily) portrays the song's discussion of greed and ambition and retribution and … well, now I'm kinda spoiling the imagery and surprises therein. Watch for yourself and prepare to be fucking amazed and enthralled. I can't look away from this video, even on my third straight viewing now, never mind the fact that this song is amazing. As Cindy mentioned in the interview, too, this video is incredibly sad while being absolutely awesome.

Fanfarlo / "Shiny Things" / Rooms Filled With Light / dir. Tim Nackashi

Here's a photo from the studio session. I really like their studio and I'll make it a point to go back there more often. Would you believe that this was my first time visiting WYEP's interior? Seriously! I've been in that neighborhood dozens of times for Club Café shows or hanging out at the Beehive, but I'd never actually been inside WYEP's building. It was super nice.

Fanfarlo on the web: / Website / Facebook / Twitter / Wikipedia
Buy Rooms Filled With Light: Band site / Insound / Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cover jam of the day and live concert radio shows: Tool / "No Quarter" [Led Zeppelin]

I was driving down to the South Side this afternoon and tuned into WRCT during the ride. Whatever DJ was on played two straight songs of live Led Zeppelin—"Misty Mountain Hop" and one other— and I was digging it. It got me wondering whether there are radio shows out there that devote themselves to replaying "classic" concerts from the past. I mean, there are Grateful Dead and Phish and DMB junkies—and others focused on bands with extensive live discographies—who collect bootleg recordings of live shows and debate which were best and discuss them with others, but I'm thinking about a show that has a different band every week. I can think of a number of live albums I enjoy listening to, and I'm sure there are lots of bands who sound great live but maybe not so much on record. Anyone know of such a show out there somewhere in internet/radio-land? Maybe a live recording blog of classic shows? Point me towards it!

The next song the DJ played was … well, I thought I correctly heard him say "Tool playing 'No Quarter' " and I wasn't sure until a minute or so in, and then … yeah, that's what it was. One of my absolute favorite Led Zep tunes played by a band that I don't really know and haven't bothered to listen to ever, but this version actually sounds really good. Faithful enough to the gloomy cock-rock guitar of the original, creepy-as-hell vocals, absolutely pounding drums. Yeah, this is a great cover. Wikipedia lists several other covers of this song, which I will be investigating, for sure.

"Lock the door, kill the light No one's coming home tonight"

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jam of the day, late-night TV, music discovery, SXSW, and left-handed guitarists: Gary Clark, Jr. / "Bright Lights"

This song is a straight jam, no ifs ands or buts or becauses or what-have-yous about it. I don't know much about Gary Clark, Jr., though. I stumbled on this tune via a message board a number of months ago, and I remember really digging it when I heard it (and it was this specific video, too, not a studio recording). I didn't investigate the guy further, though, for whatever reason, thinking him too "mainstream" or something silly like that, then totally forgot about it until earlier tonight.

I was watching late night TV because the featured bands actually piqued my interest: Sharon Van Etten (*swoon*) was on Conan playing "Leonard", and then The Shins were on Letterman playing "Simple Song". I flipped over to Fallon to catch Jon Hamm (I find him hilarious whenever he's on 30 Rock and SNL) and left the TV on in the background as I came back to my laptop to do some more writing work. Eventually, Carson Daly's show came on and he said that this episode would be devoted to artists they saw and loved at SXSW.

This brought to mind a couple of things. First, it made me think about how people discover music these days, who we view as "go-to sources" for music discovery, who we trust as musical litmus tests. It's strange to think of times when, I dunno, Rolling Stone might be your one and only print publication by which to judge new releases. Or shit, the radio, even! What was music discovery like before the internet?! Personally, I didn't discover any music outside of classic rock radio that my dad played in the car up through high school, so I can only imagine what kind of dark ages the 80s and 70s and … well, fuck, there was some great music coming out back then, right? And people were finding out about it, I presume. Is the internet actually a good thing? My vast digital music collection says, "Hell yeah motherfucker!", but my exploding inbox of "Listen to my music pleeez!" says, "Hell no, motherfucker!". Only time will tell, I suppose.

Second, this reminded me of a Tweet from some friends who were down in Austin at SXSW last week. Apparently, Carson Daly was onstage playing drums with Thee Oh Sees?!?!?!? I love that band and their garage rock awesomeness, and it's hard to imagine Mr. TRL drumming along to such tune-age at all, let alone live with these dudes. Still, it makes me wish I had been there to see it, because I'm sure it was a spectacle, an experience, something interesting to witness. I've never been to any kind of music festival, so that's something on my agenda for the future.

What else was I talking about? Oh, you'll notice that the second guitarist in this video (the first guy you see in the first frame) is a left-handed guitarist. As a staunch ambidexterian (if you ask, I can list all of the things I do lefty and all of the things I do righty; there are plenty of each), I find it particularly interesting to see people doing something lefty that is vastly more commonly done righty. Guitar-playing, golfing, hand-writing, masturbating … just kidding. No really, I'm kidding, don't show me. Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney stand out as striking left-handed guitarist examples. Do you have any others? Famous or otherwise?

Where were we … back to this Gary Clark, Jr. tune, right! This was recorded at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, and it has some great footage of Clark singing and guitaring, plus his backing band of guitarist, bassist, drummer, and brass. His voice is outstanding. I think that's what really gets me, that he's belting out these lines while strumming some sweet licks and solos. Not to mention how cool those shades are …

"You're gonna know my name by the end of the night"

Gary Clark Jr. on the web: Website Facebook Twitter YouTube

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jams of the day: Pavement / Live At Maxwell's (08.12.1990)

This is apparently Pavement's 2ND SHOW EVER. Holy fuck. And it is finally surfacing now, thanks to a Soundcloud upload of a cassette tape recording by Maria T (current WPRB DJ), who was at the show. A Crush mag review of the show has also surfaced here. The recording itself is lo-fi and fuzzy, and the vocals are hard to make out, but I like to think that this is just part of the early Pavement aesthetic. I only saw them a couple years ago on their reunion tour, and it felt more like a "play these special songs" show, which was absolutely great the time (my fave show of 2010, actually), but this show feels much more like a live "experience", and makes me yearn to see them in the early days. Enthusiasm was high and predictability was low, and that's potent. Listen in here:

The false-start with Malkmus cursing at the 15:00 mark is fucking priceless.

Get more info from P4k, if you so desire.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cover jam of the day, local record stores, and vinyl to mp3: The Karl Hendricks Trio / "Out On The Weekend" [Neil Young]

Hey Pittsburghers, in case you were blissfully/woefully unaware: Paul's CDs in Bloomfield is closing its doors forever in a few weeks, and it will be replaced by Sound Cat Records, operated by current employee and living indie rock legend Karl Hendricks. Kinda sad, but kinda interesting and hopeful news, I must say. As Paul's clears out their inventory to make room for Karl and his wares, they are having ever-increasing sales. Last I heard, everything is 50% off! The vinyl is kinda picked over, but there's still plenty left, so go check it out!

I went there last week to see what I could find, and walked out with a big stack of LPs and 7"s. Oh yeah, don't forget to peruse the 7" singles at the front counter. Factor that into your shopping time, and don't just give a percursory looksee as you wait at the register. There are some good finds in there. Case in point: I snagged 3 original Karl Hendricks Trio singles for $10, and by that I mean $5! And yes, that is the very same KH whose name I mentioned above, and he was there at the register as I paid and he thanked me for buying them. I mean, I don't think any money of the purchase was going to directly to him (or indirectly, even) and yet he still looked grateful that I was buying his music. Cool dude, that Karl. I said, "No problem, I enjoy it", and gave him a smile. It's the best I could think of at the time.

One of those singles I bought was "The Worst Coffee I've Ever Had, Part Two". I was literally buying all of the vinyls of his there, so I didn't look too carefully past the awesomely cartoonish artwork. A few days later, when I got down to playing all of them, I noticed that the B-side to this is "Out On The Weekend", a Neil Young tune from Harvest! I quickly pulled out my vinyl copy of that album, played track one, then skipped over to this tune for comparison. In a way, it is a "faithful" cover—same lyrics and attitude, no big reinvention of the song's melody—but it's decidedly Karl's own—decidedly more uptempo, fuzzy guitars, sweet rock solo in place of the harmonica. It's a truly great indie rock cover of a truly great and historic folk rock tune.

Here's the Karl Hendricks Trio version, as recorded from that vinyl single I bought straight to mp3 on my laptop via some fancy-shmancy software that came with my turntable. It's not actually that fancy, but it's kinda handy. I'll try to take advantage of it more because I've basically never used it and this version turned out rather nicely. I'll try to share some vinyl singles I have that don't exist elsewhere on the web, so stay tuned for that! So yeah, here's that tune:

And now, here is Neil Young's original version:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jam of the day, guitar atmospherics, and an upcoming show you gotta see: Eureka Birds / "Goodbye Space And Time"

I'm gearing myself up for an awesome show this weekend. We at Draw Us Lines are going to "curate" (that sounds hoity-toity) a series of shows at venues around Pittsburgh. This allows us to shine the spotlight on some great bands and people, and bring folks out to see artists they might not otherwise know about or want to see. By rotating around at different venues, we should be able to focus on different genres, too—loud rock, acoustic folk, dancey pop, etc.—and we're looking forward to working with lots of great Pittsburgh (and national) indie bands in the future.

Our first show is happening this Saturday night, February 25th, at the Brillobox in Lawrenceville. Bluebird Midwest, Horse or Cycle, and Eureka Birds are playing, and they are all excellent. You should read my full preview over at Draw Us Lines to get the full scoop on the show, but suffice it to say: you really gotta go.

In preparation, I've been jamming a lot of tunes by these bands, of course. A lot of Eureka Birds songs have been stuck in my head ("That Mountain Is A Volcano", "Oh! My Dear", "Cactus Man", …) but there's one I'm particularly looking forward to seeing live, after finding a YouTube vid of it: "Goodbye Space And Time"

Eureka Birds / "Good Bye Space And Time" / Eureka Birds [2008] / Live @ North Star Bar, Philly

Isn't that killer? The lyrics are kinda mellow and down-trodden, but engaging and you can read some uplifting qualities into it all, if you try. The thing that gets me, though, is the slow-burn, rise and rise and rise and rise aspect of it, culminating in an absolute shred of a guitar solo over the last minute or so. I was trying to explain this appeal to my friend as we watched the video together: yes, the solo is not a crazy riff or melody and might not take too much technical prowess, really, but there's something about how it fits into the song and carries my mind and emotions along that has me hanging on the edge of my seat and leaning in closer and closer until it's over. Part of that has to do with the fact that I can see the video timer and realize, "Wow, there's only 20 seconds left, where the hell could this be going? He's still wailing on that axe like a madman!" Maybe that's it. I'll tell you this, though: I'll be watching googly-eyed from the side of the stage when they rock out like this on Saturday night, and you owe it to yourself to be there with me. Rock on.

Eureka Birds on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jam of the day, coffee shop albums, and fresh experiences: Neutral Milk Hotel / "Ghost"

I walked into the Tazza d'Oro satellite location in the Gates-Hilman Center today to grab some coffee and cure those post-late lunch fatigue blues. Yeah, man. I ended up sitting in a nice comforable chair, sipping delicious black coffee with a splash of whole milk (most places just have skim or half & half, so that was nice) while reading the 33 1/3 series book on Nick Drake's Pink Moon (written by Amanda Petrusich, one of those Pitchfork writers who I will read whenever I see the byline, no matter the album). More importantly, for this post, I caught the last half of the Neutral Milk Hotel tune "Oh, Comely" on the house speakers while I walked in. At the time, I thought, "Wow, that's an intense song to be wafting over the ears of these dutifully working nerds." (I can say that cuz I'm one of them.)

After I ordered my coffee and sat down and the song rolled around to its perfect finish, I expected some random playlist to kick in and throw something at us, but instead it transitioned exactly into "Ghost", as In The Aeroplane Over The Sea does. I realized they were playing this album straight through. Awesome. I'm all for exposing great music to potentially unknowledgeable ears. Unfortunately, I'm sure a lot of folks were just ignoring it or tuning into their own earbuds, but it's nice to think about someone who has never ever heard this album and will be drawn to it and maybe ask the barista what they're playing and go back to their dorm and look it up and be welcomed into an entirely new world of music. That makes me crack a smile. I love this album so much I almost wish I could forget everything I know about it and experience it completely anew. Since I can't do that, I just hope there are people out there doing exactly that every day.

Bonus! Here's a video of NMH (and friends, judging by the multitude onstage) jamming this tune live at the Electric Lounge in Austin, TX on April 4th, 1998. We live in an incredible age. We can watch this video of something that happened 14 years ago, something that will never happen again. Yeah, the playing's a little off and the video is grainy and the audio is kinda warbly. Who the fuck cares? This is great.

Are there any other great, classic albums that somehow just work when played at a coffee shop, straight through? We usually think of coffee shop culture as iTunes playlists, or radio, or whatever randomness the barista(s) feel(s) like playing. This album fits the bill, I think. Any favorites you want to share?

Oh yeah, they played through this album, then on to some Olivia Tremor Control tracks, then started of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and then I had to leave. Kudos to whoever's Elephant 6 playlist was chosen for that day.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Song Remains the Same-ish: The Black Keys vs. Metric

[This is a "series" that lets me point out when two songs sound really similar or something about one song reminds me strongly of another one, or something like that. Its frequency obviously depends on me finding these similarities, so who knows when it will happen again.]

Artist: The Black Keys / Metric
Song: "Nova Baby" / "Gimme Sympathy"
Album: El Camino / Fantasies
Label: Nonesuch / Last Gang
Released: 12.06.2011 / 04.07.2009

This connection between melodies really jumped out at me on first listen, which made it all the more compelling. Sometimes these relationships worm their way into my ears over time, but this one was immediate. On subsequent listens, I can see how I am mistaken because, of course, these aren't the same song, nor do I think that The Black Keys are scamming Metric riffs for their own benefit. However, I stand by the fact that the choruses have very similar melodies. Metric's line "Gimme sympathy" strongly matches The Black Keys' line "All your enemies" at the beginning of their respective choruses. Then, while Metric's tune goes down/up/down/up in melodic pitch, The Black Keys just go up and up, but somehow match pitch again around the 5th lyrical line. It's interesting to play those two choruses back to back and compare. In any event, enjoy the two songs! Fantasies has seen recurrent plays on my iPod since it's been releases, and El Camino is fun, although not my fave Black Keys record. (The Big Come Up EP, anyone?)

Metric / "Gimme Sympathy" / Fantasies / [Last Gang, 2009] / dir. Frank Borin

The Black Keys / "Nova Baby" / El Camino / [Nonesuch, 2011]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Concert Review: Allison Weiss + Mitten + Donora @ Thunderbird Café / 01.14.2012

Catching up on weeks-old shows. Mitten put out a catchy and lovely EP last year called See You Bye. I really liked it and was kinda surprised by how much I did, and wrote that in this review here for DUL. I've managed to see Allison Weiss four or five times here in town over the last couple of years, and I saw that they were touring together this winter and stopping here at the Thunderbird, hooray! And they're playing with Donora, even better!

I emailed the ladies of Mitten to set up an interview a couple of days before the show, and had plans to meet up with them and AW for some pizza before the gig, but unfortunately they got delayed on the road. We ended up just meeting at the venue after soundcheck and right before they played. (That's their soundcheck in the photo on the left, with AW internetting and Hugh snapping photos.) I had a quick conversation with Joanna and Maia about their current tour and their plans for future recording. What struck me was how much god damn fun they were having. In the most pleasant way possible, I could hardly get a word in! They cracked jokes left and right, smiled constantly, jabbed at each other and told tour anecdotes, and were genuinely outgoing and bubbly the whole time. The best kind of interview, really, but darn hard to transcribe (especially with the background noise by the pool table there) so I'm working on that and it'll hopefully be done next week.

My friends and I sat at the table at the front of the balcony, which is an optimal viewpoint at the Thunderbird, I gotta say, but it kinda sucks for sound if there are lots of people at the bar up there. If people are respectful and pay attention, it is outstanding for sound, right up in the middle of the sonic spaces, but if everyone is really chatty, like this night … well, it can be really frustrating. I had trouble hearing banter, and some of the quieter moments of Mitten's music—which are some of the best parts of their music, really!—got a little blurred and almost drowned out. Fuckin' ay. Overall, they played great and seemed to have a good time, regardless, and there were a couple of folks up front dancing and singing along, so I'm glad for that. It's just too bad that our location wasn't the best and there was a big group of us so moving up to the front of the stage wasn't gonna work.

This trend kinda continued into Allison Weiss' set. She blasted through a bunch of new songs, and the usual old faves—"I Was An Island", "Fingers Crossed", "You + Me + Alcohol"—and her downtempo cover of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend", which is gorgeous. Having just seen her play in December at Point Park, there wasn't much new to talk about. She played well, was her usually friendly self on stage, and the crowd down at the stage level was really into it. Mitten came back onstage to play a song or two at the end, too; that was fun.

Donora came in and rocked the house, as usually. It became clear as the night went on that most people were there to see Donora and were kinda waiting through the first two sets to see them. That irked me a little. As much as I love local bands and am glad to see when they become increasingly popular, I don't like seeing this dynamic at shows where it's like you can completely forget about the fact that people are standing on stage playing songs for your entertainment and you're just talking to your friends like they don't exist. It's fine to not like bands and not want to pay attention, but just do it somewhere else. Go downstairs to the bar. Go outside. Play a game of tic tac toe. Whatever it is. It's just really annoying to everyone else trying to watch and listen when they have to fight through your idle chit-chat.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 11, 10, 9, 8 days!

We're fast approaching the last week of Kiva Han! :-(

I've been stopping by mostly early evenings lately, grabbing a cappuccino and maybe a pastry and sitting and reading library books for an hour or two, enjoying the house music they decide to play here (a few days ago it was Blink 182 followed immediately by Daydream Nation, that was interesting) and people watching.

A few days ago, I walked in and found a friend of mine already sitting at a table with a half-eaten bowl of mac & cheese. It turns out she had never (!?) had mac & cheese before in her life, and got it here on my recommendation, only to discover she does not, in fact, like mac & cheese. For shame! Oh well, her loss.

I also finally crossed off another item from my KH bucket list this morning. I showed up right around 8:05 and was the 2nd customer of the day. I would have like to have been here right when the doors were unlocked and been the first coffee consumer of the day, but I'll take what I can get. I already had to do this on a weekend day so that it was 8:00 instead of 6:30 am, so, whatever. I've been parked here for several hours now, running on multiple cappuccinos and a yummy pumpkin muffin, banging out random writing projects, and people-watching, as usual. It's a different crowd in the morning. Folks pop in and out for a cup for the road. A family with two teenage children and a baby in one of those hand-held baskets (with scant protection from this extremely wintry cold, I might add!) came in and all got drinks to go. Other couples have come in to sit for a bit and then take off. For a while, there were no more then four or five people in the whole place, but now, close to noon, everything feels pretty bustly, a constant flow of people in and out, most tables occupied in some fashion. It's interesting to watch the dynamic play out over the course of the day. I wonder if the employees get caught up in it, feeling bored when the business is slow and getting excited when there's a crowd. Or maybe it's the other way around, and the line of customers just makes them tired. Who knows. I just know that I would wayyyyy over-caffeinate myself if I ever worked at a coffee place. I'd just be sipping espresso constantly.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 13, 12 days

I've been stopping by for Hangover Cures the last couple of days. They just hit the fucking spot like no other food item can. They're kinda preventing me from branching out on the menu, but who cares. I did notice one thing today that, surprisingly, never jumped out to my eyes before. The menu says that the Hangover Cure is an "egg, hash browns, slas & chesse" burrito. That's right, CHESSE. I usually notice typos. Obsessively. But this one has escaped me until now. Maybe I noticed once and forgot. Maybe they just changed the sign to mess with me. Maybe "chesse" is some new type of cheese. Who knows?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 15, 14 days

Over the past few weeks, I've overheard several conversations about what's happening to Kiva Han's location and what their plans are. None of this comes from direct questioning of a primary source, so don't get all up in arms at me if some of this turns out to be false, but I've heard the same details often enough that I "know" it isn't hearsay or rumormongering.

Kiva Han will be replaced by a Bagel Factory location. The interior will be gutted and made to look more like a diner. The owner will be starting a food truck specializing in soup and will call it "Get Ladled".

That is all for today. That, and their mac & cheese is fucking delicious and you owe it to yourself to eat it before they close and I will not be your friend unless you do this (or you're lactose-intolerant or something).

Friday, February 3, 2012

Concert Review: The Lemonheads + Meredith Sheldon @ Stage AE / 01.20.2012

Not being a hardcore Lemonheads fan and seemingly not having been exactly the right age in the early 90s, I have some mixed feelings about this show. Did I have a good time there? Yeah, pretty much; for hanging out by myself at the Stage AE club stage on a Monday night in January, it was swell. Was I wowed by the music or the performance? Not really, but I didn't quite expect it to be, so it's fine. If I'd had some expectations or heavy knowledge of Evan Dando and his personality and the band's songs, I might have had some more nuanced thoughts about the show, but overall, I'm feeling like the big proclamation is: "It was a concert. It was ok."

I caught a bus downtown then walked across the river in a slight drizzle, and missed the first opening act, who was apparently just the Lemonheads' bassist. The second opener, Meredith Sheldon, was actually really good, and I'm glad I made it there just before her set started. Her look was kind of that "focused slacker" style—kinda baggy gray t-shirt, hair a little stringy and framing her face, tight jeans, huge heels, eyes closed or staring at the floor the whole time—and it suited her songs well. Her voice was gorgeous, her guitar playing was solid and expressive, and alternately with/without a backing band of bass and drums, she could move around from slow and somber songs to more upbeat rockers. Her last song was a stellar cover of a Big Star song. I was impressed and was glad I was up close to hear them well, because it didn't seem like anyone except for the first few rows of standing people were even paying attention. It's a shame about Meredith.

There was a long wait between sets, despite no instrument setup of any kind. Evan Dando came out around 9:50 and played a few songs solo. Midway through the first one, he stopped to ask to lower the guitar in his monitor. The crowd was "woo"-ing passionately, like fanboys, and Evan kept his head down. Feeling shy? Not noticing? Who knows? After three or four acoustic numbers, he plugged in and the bassist and drummer came out to play. There was this older married couple standing next to me and they were just shredding guitars in the air and totally loving it. That was kinda cool. Everyone in the front row was singing along. That is not as cool. They started in on playing It's A Shame About Ray in order, and the crowd really loved that. I caught Evan staring up at the ceiling during the title track, like he has to gaze upward to hit the highest notes ("it's a SHAME about Ray…"), and then when he looked back down he had a little grin on his face, like it's his little secret trick no one knows about or sees. My phone notes remind me that his "blonde hair hangs straight, eyes downcast, looks coyly happy".

Every once in a while, he slipped up some lyrics or missed a vocal cue, and I caught him checking for the bassist to cue him in sometimes. I found that kind of endearing, actually, like it's amateurish but he knows it and doesn't care about doing what he has to do to keep the set moving. He never looked angry or disappoined in himself, and even chuckled a little bit. Finally, he started some banter like 40 minutes into their set. It was at this point that I was actually enjoying myself, taking in these unfamiliar tunes and enjoying the show, in the sense of the performance. However, reading this review in the Post-Gazette makes me think that being a nonfan colored my experience differently. Scott Mervis laments about Dando's initial performance and relates it to his troubled history with drugs (meanwhile completely mislabeling the opener; The Shining Twins did not play this show, and he didn't realize that even though he was apparently there for her set?). He noted this turning point where Dando started talking with the crowd, even though it was kinda mumbly. I wouldn't call it a "transformation" in his performance, but it was a noticeable moment.

The band left the stage and Dando played solo for a little while, starting and stopping a song he forgot he had already played, asking the audience outright for suggestions of "rare songs" of theirs to play (like he couldn't remember them or something), talking awkwardly about pills, and eventually stopping and walking off to genuine but half-hearted applause. The audience pretty much assumed an encore, it felt like, and they did get one. The band came back out to play and I just took off. I had been feeling bored for a while. It was just too long of a night for a band I don't know. At least in the beginning I was enjoying their songs for the performance aspect, the interesting character study of Mr. Dando—in that sense, I enjoyed the show—but eventually, it was just all too much of the same sounds—in that sense, it was a lackluster concert. Perhaps, if I was a true fan, like Mr. Mervis, my feelings would have been a mirror image of that, but as it was, I was happy to be walking out at 11:15 and strolling along the river by PNC Park, soaking in the brisk night air, leaving the amps behind and letting my ears enjoy the sounds of flowing water and distant cars, and heading in the direction of home.

The Lemonheads on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Meredith Sheldon on the web: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Concert Review: Jeffrey Foucault + Big Snow Big Thaw @ Club Cafe / 01.13.2012

Just catching up on some shows I've seen this year. I used to do these things for every concert I went to, and it served as a nice list of shows/bands I saw, at the very least, in addition to a record of my thoughts about them. I'm gonna try to keep up with that this year without falling behind too much (and some better reviews appear on Draw Us Lines when I have more thoughts to share and care more about my writing style).

I try to catch Big Snow Big Thaw at every chance, not just because they're my friends, but because they're great. I remembering being initially surprised at how much I dug these kinds of folksy/bluegrassy sounds, but then I realized that's just me being picky and closed-minded about musical tastes. Call it what you want—newgrass, folk rock, midwest rock 'n roll, somethin' else made up—it doesn't matter. It rocks. And every time they play, they've got new songs to share. They've been hard at work at J Bird Studios and their first album should be out real soon. (In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out their Winter/Spring EP combo on Bandcamp.) That very same J, he of J Bird, played bass on a bunch of their songs, too, since he has been adding some bass parts during the recording. It rounded out the sound a little bit, and was a nice addition. Here's hoping they explore that route in the future. I caught their set at the Carnegie Library's Sunday afternoon acoustic series (photo above) a few days before this show, too, and that was great to see lots of strangers walking through and sit down and enjoy their tunes.

Jeffrey Foucault was an oustanding performer! Jim and David kinda warned me and the rest of the audience, saying that his soundcheck performance was amazing (he just walked up, no prep, and that voice belted out like he was born singing) and he strikes quite a presence with that magnificently thick beard. He was swigging something from a steel cup, and had been on the road all day, this being the first stop on his tour a long way from his previous night's activity of watching The Muppets with his daughter (why I remember that anecdote, I couldn't tell ya). I hadn't heard any of his songs before and yet I found myself mesmerized. The crowd skewed a little older, I think, and there were some seriously chatty drunkies in the back by the bar, but other than that, everyone was pretty much rapt as JF strummed and sang in front of those Club Café starlights. He did a great Neil Young cover (forget which song) but this number really stood out and was stuck in my head:

Apparently, you can join this Facebook group if you think Jeffrey Foucault isn't famous enough.

Jeffrey Foucault on the web: Website

Big Snow Big Thaw on the web: Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp

Kiva Han Countdown: 16 days (yesterday's post)

Something unfortunate dawned on me yesterday while I was sitting at KH and gulping down a cappuccino. I realized I'm not actually going to be in town for the last few days of KH's existence! This brings my "go there every day for a month" crashing down, of course. You see, I'm going to Chicago to visit a friend that weekend, and it will be hard to eat a hangover cure from Illinois. I will most likely be back on that Sunday, the last day of KH, so … there's that, but still. I completely didn't realize this when I set out on this adventure. Who cares, right? It's been fun, and it will continue to be fun. I'll just do something crazy on that last day to make up for the prior two or three days I'll miss.

Something weird also happened to me yesterday there. I walked upstairs to pee, bouncing off the walls from my triple shot beverage, and not more than 5 seconds after getting into the bathroom, someone was knocking on the door. Now, this person must have seen me close the door and known I had just got there, but they continued to knock, ever more insistently and frustratingly, eventually making audible (through the door, mind you) deep sighs, "Sheeesh", as if I was somehow taking forever, all despite my calls of, "Just a minute!" and "Hold on!". Who does this? I wasn't being slow, and I even rushed through the hand-drying process just to get the hell out of there, but this person still gave me a head-shake and glare when I walked out, as if to say "Jeez buddy, thanks for ruining my day with your slow-ass peepee time." I thought of many rude things to say on my way by and back downstairs, but opted for the silent route at the time. Why bother?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 21, 20, 19, 18, 17 days (catching up)

I've let my writing routine slack lately. Bah. But here's the scoop. There's barely more than two weeks left in KH's existence. Here's what I've been up to the last few days.

On Sunday, I came in after improv practice on campus for a late lunch/early dinner. I stopped at the public library on my way over, and then bumped into my friend on the way in here. It was so crowded there weren't even any tables to sit at! I totally forgot it was Sunday and missed brunch earlier that day, despite my vow last week to go to brunch more often, and it was absolutely packed around 5:30ish. I ended up sitting in one of the comfy, red-cushioned chairs upstairs by the fan. It was the only truly open seat around. My friend got a coffee to go. I sat there and had a cappuccino and muffin, and was forced to overhear a conversation between two older gentlemen who I presume were professors or teachers of some kind. One of them was lamenting to the other about an algebra student of his who "just couldn't get it". Adding 5x to 2 doesn't give you "7 something", as he pointed out. He said it was like "water pouring through a bucket with a hole in it". Ugh. I can't stand hearing stories like this. If someone "doesn't get it", that just means they're not seeing it the way you are explaining it, and you need another approach. Demonstrate it visually. I've got 5 baskets of apples, and 2 leftover. How many total apples? Well, it depends on how many are in each basket. There is always a way to teach someone, if you're patient and inventive enough. To give up and say that you're just pouring water through a hole … that's a shitty attitude, man.

I was frantically working on slides for an upcoming presentation on Monday, so I came by for dinner and sat there for a couple hours working, head down in my laptop. I suppose I'm usually like that here, but this time I was actually focused on something so intently that I hardly looked up from it. It's nice to know that one can do that here. It's easy to get distracted—people watching, the music playing, etc.—but if you have to, you can tune everything out and work.

I was here a long time on Tuesday, still working on that presentation. I got here in the late afternoon, ate some food, and worked worked worked. Some friends showed up later, and then I went off to campus for an IM squash match. I got my ass handed to me (I'm blaming it on my timing and strategy, which are still tuned to racquetball and haven't adjusted) and came back to find my friends still here. I got an iced coffee and stuck around right until closing time.

Yesterday, I was only inside KH briefly on my way to campus. I stayed at home all day alternately working/sleeping, and got an iced coffee on my way to give that presentation I'd been working on. It has been unseasonably warm the last few days, amiright? Spring seems to be coming a little early, which I'm generally fine with, but it doesn't seem like we got a true winter this year. It was never quite in full effect, occasionally throwing a t-shirt day in amongst some snow.

After that presentation yesterday, I went down to the Pitt campus and did a segment on WPTS radio for Draw Us Lines. It was pretty fun, although it'll take some getting used to the on-air logistics, remembering things you can't say (apparently "free" is the "other F word"), and getting comfortable hearing my own voice in headphones. On the way back from there, I was walking on Forbes and had to pass right by/through a march by "Occupy Oakland". They were walking right by KH corner as I was, and when the walk signal at the intersection came on, I diagonalized and was nearly run over by them. Not really, but I wasn't about to stand there and let 100 people walk by and miss my chance to cross the street, ya know? I honestly couldn't tell what they were chanting, or what their message was, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun. Rather than being angry at the source of their protest, they were just kinda smiling and enjoying being out in the middle of the road, yelling and walking. Kinda odd, right? And yeah, they just kept marching down the road, into traffic on Forbes, as I ducked into PHI bar and a couple of cops looked on from both sides of the street. Weird.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 22 days

I've been pretty much a big bum today, loafing around and doing nothing of consequence, so I got my ass out here for some food and coffee and to do some work. Hangover cure + cappuccino = delicious motivation.

How long do travel coffee mugs "last", so to speak? I mean, if I use mine every day for a couple of years, is that pushing its limit? I usually just rinse it out with hot water every day, and scrub it with soap every few days, and then run it through the dishwasher every couple of weeks if it looks particularly dirty. I've had this particular one since senior year of college. It has the logo of the college's environmental action group. They were handing them out one day and I took one and decided to use it all the time and avoid carrying paper cups whenever possible, and that's what I've done since then. If I think I might be getting coffee while I'm out, I'll carry it with me.

I wish more people would do the same. Seeing all of the paper cups that get carried out, that end up in the trash, that get strewn on the street … it's not a really huge problem, but it's something that's so easy to fix. Just carry a mug.

Hah. I just got up after typing that sentence to bus my plate and could barely even throw a napking, what with all the cups protruding from the trash can. C'mon people. If you're going to be sitting here long enough to finish your coffee and throw it away, at least get it in a ceramic mug.

Kiva Han Countdown: 23 days (yesterday's post)

I wonder where Kiva Han gets their baked goods. That chocolate chip muffin I had yesterday was delicious. Spongy, chocolatey, but well-formed enough to rip off chunks and dunk them in the frothy milk of my cappuccino. Yum. A perfect complement to sitting and staring out the window and thinking about math, too.

I met up with a friend there and then we caught a 54 down to the South Side for dinner, and then a concert out in Mt. Oliver. It got me thinking about how there used to be shows here, randomly, from time to time. I have a distinct memory of walking by one a few years ago when I was still newish to town. It couldn't have been an all-out rock show, with noise blaring into the street. But then again, maybe it could. Would businesses on the street be able to complain if there's a rock 'n roll band blasting tunes out of a coffee shop at 8:00 pm on a Saturday, say? I wouldn't really think so, as long as it's not too loud.

This is kind of untapped territory around here, I think. I've heard of shows going on at various coffee shops around town—I even went to one last year at Commonplace in Squirrel Hill and learned that they have (had?) a weekly acoustic set on Tuesday nights—and have heard "you should have been there" stories of years past, like TV on the Radio playing at Quiet Storm or stuff like that. But for all of that chatter, there aren't often coffee shop shows that are well publicized or promoted or attended. There's a thread about KH on a local message board where a Pgh music promoter recalled setting up many shows here in the past, and a musician friend of mine remembers playing here once or twice years ago.

Hmm … maybe there should be some kind of "last day blowout show" here, to celebrate Kiva Han's place in the community. I think that would be fun!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 24 days (yesterday's post)

Just a quick stopoff for a cappuccino last night on my way from campus to my apartment. It had been alternately pouring/drizzling all day, and I thought I could wait out the rain before walking home, but … no dice. Luckily, I had an umbrella with me.

Funny story about that umbrella. I used to own a small, black, popup umbrella. It was even in my possession as of a week or so ago. Then, I carried it with me to Kiva Han some afternoon while it rained, sat there for a couple hours, and completely forgot to take it with me when I left because it was no longer raining. It's as if my brain said, "Don't need this anymore!" I'm not really accustomed to carrying an umbrella around anyway; I'm surprised I thought of bringing one at all, since I usually just forget I own one and say, "Well, guess I'm gonna get wet today."

I went back a couple days later to see if someone had found it there because, well, I kept forgetting about it because it hadn't rained in a few days. I asked the barista (I really should learn names, right? I just feel weird asking …) if they had a lost and found and if they had a small black umbrella. She looked around and said, "Nope, but you can take one of these spares," and showed me a pile of three unclaimed umbrellas. So, unbeknownst to me, Kiva Han apparently operates some kind of umbrella exchange operation. It's like "leave a penny, take a penny", but with rain protection instead of tiny pieces of legal tender.

I found myself walking into KH last night with that medium-sized, white umbrella in hand. When asked how it was working out, I replied honestly: "It's a lot better than no umbrella." So, do you need an umbrella? I can leave one there for you …

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 25 days (yesterday's post)

I keep managing to not write these short blurbs until the day after. Oh well. This post corresponds to the unique day where the number of days left in Kiva Han's existence is also the day of the month. My mathematical mind felt that was important to note.

I stopped by yesterday evening around 8 pm for a cup of tea. This time, I went with the liquorice peppermint herbal. It was surprisingly delicious, considering I usually don't like liquorice. I played a couple of games of Outfox with my friend and then did some work. Not much to say, but it was fun and productive, a good combination.

At one point I heard strains of Bob Dylan's voice wafting over my ears, and I strained them to finaly identify the song as "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Then I heard faint music coming from the speakers out in the other room. At that point, I realized the guy at the table behind me had his earbuds playing music so loudly I could hear them and identify the song. Turn it down, dude. You're ruining your ears.

The sign was gone from the counter! I had momentary hope that maybe Kiva Han isn't closing after all. That was dashed, of course, later on when I overheard this exchange:

Customer: Are you guys closing?
Barista: Yeah, on February 19th.
Customer: Oh. I meant, like, tonight.
Barista: Oh right. At 10.

By the by, isn't liquorice a weird looking weird? LIQUOR ICE. Weird.