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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 26 days (yesterday's post)

I stopped by for a quick cup of tea on my way to the Southside for a concert because I was feeling like a little congestion/cold was creeping up on me. I got a green tea and sat in the corner table by the window to read a book. The barista wrapped the string of the tea bag around the handle of my travel mug so it wouldn't disappear into the depths, only to be retrievable by pinching my fingers into its boiling lava. Smart move, my friend.

I hadn't been sitting there all that long when I heard a little skittering sound coming from above and descending. I momentarily thought it was a tree branch scraping the window or something, but then realized there aren't any tree branches within reach of that window. A split second later, a piece of ice or two landed on the side of my table and bounced to the floor. I heard laughter and giggling coming from above. Luckily, there was no damage to my book or other effects, so I kinda chuckled to myself and leaned over to look up. There is a tiny gap along that window/wall wherein a customer sitting on the second floor can potentially (or actually) spill something and have it come sailing down to the first floor with only gravity on its side and a floor in its way. A young lady happened to be leaning over to look downward at that moment, and she giggled out, "Sorry about that!", and I said, "No problem!, and waved back. And that was that.

The strange thing is … that is the second time that has happened to me there! Same table. Same situation. Except the last time, I think someone spilled their entire iced coffee on the floor up there, and it dripped down slowly onto the side of the table for a short while and hit a book or two I had with me. I'm sure that person was more focused on cleaning up their own spillage on their own stuff, so I didn't really begrudge them not acknowledging the fact that I got hit, too. Oh well. This time, it seemed to be just ice water … well, actually, just ice. So, NBD.

Side note: they were playing a lot of Blink 182 while I was there. I only know this because I recognized "All The Small Things" and then the rest of the songs sounded exactly like that one. Now, I only recognized that song because my college roommate used to play it a lot and sing along in his humorous, fake emo voice. He was very good at imitating that whiny, nasal tone. A little too good. I think he secretly liked that song, but he also introduced me to Interpol and Radiohead and Modest Mouse, so it's all good.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 27 days

I crossed two items off my Kiva Han bucket list today! (See this post for what I mean.) A friend of mine gchatted me during the day and said "nice blogging" and met me here in the afternoon. When I got here, he said he was just talking with the barista and mentioned this here blog series, so I guess folks will know about it somehow. Cool.
I didn't quite feel like settling down and working, so I looked through the shelf of board games while waiting for my coffee. The stack was falling over after I plucked one out from the middle, and I had to do some careful rearranging to keep the whole pile from toppling onto the ground and making a big mess and din. I settled on the game Outfox. It looked like an easy-to-learn game, was playable by three people, and the time component said 10-30 minutes. Perfect. I went back to our table, unpacked the box. In the process, two balls of paper (one a ripped-up brown napkin and one a pink receipt) fell onto the floor and I said, "Oh well". I also discovered that there were two rules sheets, one entirely in French and one entirely in Spanish. Between me (French) and my other friend (Spanish), we pieced together the rules and started to play amongst the three of us. I realized that those balls of paper were in the box to replace some missing pieces, so we made do with some spare change I had in my pocket. (A penny makes for a great "brown circle".)

We didn't play long enough to develop fully intricate strategies, but enough to realize that the game is not easy, and amounts to being careful about setting up your opponent for an easy win. Perhaps the two player version is different/better/more strategically rich because, as it was, we could really only play with one future move in mind, and that was hard enough. Still, a fun game, and I'd recommend checking it out. So yeah, that was one check on my KH bucket list: play a board game. I'll likely do that again in the coming weeks. There were several other games I'd never played before, and Balderdash is a great multi-player game that I've played many times.

Later, I went upstairs to the bathroom and checked another one off my list.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 28 days

You know what I should do more? Eat brunch. In general, yes absolutely more brunch all the time yes, but at Kiva Han, in particular, since there are only so many Sundays left where they'll be serving brunch. Three more Sundays, in fact, and then the 19th, their final day of business, is a Sunday, too. That leaves scant few opportunities to enjoy their brunch options and atmosphere.

I stopped in around 1:30 today, just before brunch ended at 2:00. I actually forgot it was Sunday brunch time, really. I just happened to be starving and needing to be on campus later in the afternoon, so I walked down to Craig St. and went inside and saw the orange menu on the counter and remembered, "Aha, brunch!" I had a hangover cure (of course) with some fruit and toast on the side, and a cappuccino, with thick and frothy steamed milk. It was delicious. The hangover cure also had seasoned tofu. The barista was apologetic that they were out of bacon, and I said that tofu is even better. It was quite busy there, even in the 45 minutes I was there as brunch was ending, and I overheard the manager saying a few times that they "got slammed" that day and were out of a few other things. No worries, man, glad to see lots of business. In other news, I even noticed a couple sitting outside on this unseasonably warm January day and thought about sitting outside myself but decided I didn't want to risk a car taking a right onto Forbes and cutting the corner too closely and hitting that giant puddle of melted snow that has gathered there too quickly and making a huge splash. Yeah, it was a huge puddle.

At one point, one of the cooks brought out three plates of food and called three girls' names fairly loudly. A few minutes later, he reemerged with another order and re-called their names even louder. This might have iterated one more time, I don't remember exactly, but by the end, he was shouting, "KELLY! JASMINE! VERONICA!" (I just made those names up, by the way.) As the girls giggled and walked over to get their food, someone said that they'd been sitting there awhile, and it almost sounded like they were upset about this. Maybe I just misheard the tone, but the girls apologized and walked away with their food. It got me thinking about how many times I've done something similar—didn't hear my name, didn't realize how long it had been, flat out forget about a food order, etc.—and how many times I've done the oppoiste—keep checking the counter eagerly, getting up from a table in the other room and hanging my head in shame and hunger while walking back plate-less.

You might have noticed that I didn't write anything yesterday. I already broke my promise and skipped a day. In my defense, it was cold and blustery and such out yesterday during the day, I had other shit to do, was feeling lazy, and ended up staying in all day until late in the evening. So yeah, I missed one day. That's the last one. Less than one month left!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 30 days (yesterday's post)

I stopped by for breakfast yesterday (Friday) but never had time later on to write this post. (I went off to downtown for a Planned Parenthood rally, had a delicious veggie hot dog at Franktuary, hit the gym, and then went out for a friend's birthday all night.) That granola works (yogurt, fruit, granola) really hit the spot. I was in a bit of a rush so I didn't stay long, but was there long enough to enjoy my food, sip an uber hot americano and take the rest to go, and people-watch. It was relatively quiet for 11:00 on a Friday morning, and I could hear some employees laughing back in the kitchen. A few folks came in and out, including one older gentleman who I see there all the time. He joked with the cashier about Kiva Han opening a new location in Hawaii called "Huna Kahuna". Actually, that might have happened on Thursday, but I'm confusing it together because I'm writing this on Saturday. Oh well. It was funny. It was also really really really hot by the window. The sun was streaming in (as you can probably tell in the photo) and you could have melted cheese on the leather seat of my chair.

One thing I did realize while sitting there yesterday is that I have never been at Kiva Han around opening time. One or two times I have been at that corner very early in the morning to catch a 28X to the airport, but once it was before anything was open (like 4:30 am) and another time only the Starbucks was open (around 5:30) so I sucked it up and bought a coffee and bagel to make it through my travels. Other than that, I don't think I've been there before 10 am. (I've been there for closing time more often than I can count, though!) That's partly a consequence of my lifestyle (if I'm out and about that early, it's for class or something, and otherwise I'd rather just make coffee and food at home) but I also realized it should probably be something I experience. Then that got me thinking about other silly things I'll never be able to do there again. So here's a short list of things I've never done at Kiva Han that I'd like to hopefully accomplish in the next month:
  • Show up at opening time
  • Draw/write graffiti in the men's room. It's all over the place, why shouldn't I partake?
  • Play one of the board games on their shelf. My friends and I are board game enthusiasts, so I'm surprised this has never happened. It should.
  • Read one of the books on their shelf. Why the hell not?
  • Take a nap on one of the comfy seats upstairs. I've hardly ever sat upstairs, let alone do this.
I'm sure I'll think of other things. And do them. Does anyone reading this have any ideas? Is anybody reading this?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 31 days

I've been sitting here at that nice table in the front for well over an hour. People have come and gone. A friend of mine was sitting in the other room and saw me here, so he came over and we chatted for a long time about anything and everything: the new Apple iBooks app and the iTunes university iPad app (that's a lot of s), the fact that almost all carousels in the United States rotate counter-clockwise (a.k.a. widdershins) except for one at Great Adventure in New Jersey, the fact that my former high school is one of only three locations in the United States where one can play Fives, the fact that some names are awesome (Pablo Bravo, Gunther Grass) and some are weird (William Williams), the ding ding dong song, and the following story I'm about to tell which is what I was thinking about on my walk over here from campus.

One time last summer, I was sitting in Kiva Han after teaching class. My headphones were plugged into my laptop and I was munching on a delicious Hangover Cure, KH's concoction of eggs, salsa, cheese, and hash browns in a burrito, smothered in hot sauce. It is scrumptious, and I've even tried making some homemade versions in my kitchen, with varying degrees of success. (Try it yourself!) A family of mother/father/daughter walked in and sat down with some cups of coffee and an order of food of some kind, I forget what. They looked very much, to me, like a high-schooler looking at colleges with her parents. (BTW when I told this story, my friend heard "daughter looking ecologists" instead of "daughter looking at colleges" and expressed confusion. Weird.) They kept looking over at me, and I assumed it was because I struck a sight with my long hair and beard scarfing down a breakfast burrito, but it was frequent enough that I eventually slipped off my headphones when I caught the mother looking at me. She smiled and said, "Sorry to bother you, but we're wondering what it is you're eating." I said "Oh, it's called a 'hangover cure'" and kinda chuckled along with them, then stated matter-of-factly, "…and it works!" They gave me a polit smile and laugh at that, and I slipped my headphones back on and that was that. I'm not sure what they thought of me after that, and I had intended it to be funny at the time, but in retrospect, I realize it might have sounded rather gruff or dismissive. So, sorry, random parents and daughter looking ecologists. I was just trying to be funny. I hope you got that.

What this got me thinking about, though, is a more general idea of what Kiva Han represents about Pittsburgh. Imagine you're a visitor to this city, perhaps looking for a school to attend for four years. You drive into the student section of Oakland, heading down Forbes Ave. through the U. Pitt area. What do you see? The looming Cathedral of Learning, of course, but what do you see on the street? Students bustling back and forth. Buses driving by. And some shops and restaurants. Panera. Dunkin Donuts. Caribou Coffee. The O. Primanti's. A brand name shoe store. A gas station. And so on. How many of those are local shops, Pittsburgh institutions, long-standing family businesses? Not many. Then you keep driving, navigate the one-way intersection properly (I once saw a lady drive into the middle of it the wrong way and try to back up instead of just turning, strangely), and head down Craig St. There's Quiznos. Subway. Starbucks. It deeply saddens me to think that across Pitt and CMU's stretch, the coffee shop selection is entirely populated by "big name" shops. Starbucks, Dunkin, Caribou, maybe a Crazy Mocha. That is not a fair representation of this city. One of the things I've grown to love about Pittsburgh is that a Beehive or a Quiet Storm or a Voluto or a Jitters can exist and succeed and thrive amongst some heavy-hitters, so to speak, that it represents something about the people who live here, that people are proud of what they do and what others do and want to support them in their ventures, that we won't just succumb and have cookie-cutter shopping plazas everywhere and pepper the city grid with equally-spaced out clones of the same big name store/shop/restaurant so that someone can satisfy that Starbucks/Subway/KFC/McD's fix no matter where they find themselves during the day. That's one of the things I find myself hating about other cities; not to say that this phenomenon is widespread everywhere else, but when I see that kind of trend, I get upset. Where is it all headed? Hegemony of choices, force-feeding the public the same crap everywhere and all the time. I'm getting a little too ranty now, but I hope you see my point: Pittsburgh is different. Pittsburgh is special to me. I don't want to see that happen here, not even a little bit, because it will be too hard to stop once it starts. Do we really want visitors to this high-traffic university area to see only brand name coffee shops and think that this is a microcosm of the city, that they'd find this everywhere else? I don't. I hate to think that visitors leave thinking that this city is just like every other city because it's not. Kudos to CMU for employing only local coffee shops in their academic buildings (Tazza D'Oro in Gates, La Prima in Wean, maybe others) but that only goes so far. I really hope something special moves in here in Kiva Han's absence, that some other local business can thrive and keep going with the understandably high rent for this major area of foot and auto traffic. Come on Pittsburgh. We can do this.

Alright, time for more coffee.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 32 days

Just a quick visit today on my way from a seminar on campus to the Brillobox later for pub quiz. I grabbed a double americano and am sitting here for a little while on my laptop with some friends. One of them heard rumors that the Bagel Factory might be opening a location here … ? Another voiced a desire that Kiva Han just reopen in another space somewhere interesting, like on Penn in Garfield, or who knows. What do I think? I'm not sure yet. I should probably say something vaguely philosophical and hopeful for the future but, unfortunately, I'm feeling a little pessimistic now. I'm not sure that whatever moves in here can be my "go to place" near campus. This is just too right to be replaced. Maybe I'll be spending more time at Tazza D'Oro in the Gates Center, even though it can get quite crowded there during the day. I guess we'll see what happens … *cue closing credits and cheesy soundtrack*

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kiva Han Countdown: 33 days

I've been to this coffee shop a lot. A LOT. At least in the last few years. Strangely, my first two or so years in Pittsburgh, I didn't go out much at all, so I completely ignored that weird looking coffee shop located right across from Starbucks on the corner of Forbes Ave. & Craig St. (I didn't go to the Starbucks either, in case you're wondering.) But over the last few years, I've started to come here more and more often, and, this past summer, I was here almost every day after teaching a 9:00 am class. (For you fellow foursquare users, I'm the current mayor, and will likely be forever, as you'll learn if you read on …)

There's something more significant to their appeal, to me, than just the "Oh I don't want to go to the big chain over there" effect. The flyers on the wall telling me about tons of interesting concerts, art exhibits, and workshops … the funky plants (and now an avocado tree that will never be used here!) … the ever-changing art work and mural on the main wall … the baristas' smiles … the way they'll yell out whatever name you give them, and loudly, even if you're sitting right there at the bar … the perfectly-frothed cappuccino … the hilarious graffiti in the men's room (and women's room, actually, or so I've heard, I mean, what?) … the perfect location, right near CMU and the museums and Craig St. shops … the random assortment of music you'll hear over the speakers … setting up a foldup table outside and watching the traffic … the way that a hangover cure + cappucino combo hits the spot, any time of day … the scrumptious mac & cheese (with chili, too, a.k.a. "the mess") … I could go on and on.

I stopped in yesterday for a nosh and caffeine fix on my way home from campus and spotted a sign on the counter: Kiva Han will be closing its doors forever on February 19, 2012. A confluence of factors—the economy, an expensive lease and another leaser-in-waiting, the competition, etc.—have worked against this place for long enough, and they are, sadly, succumbing. I feel like a little kid whose friend is moving away and they don't really know why, or what they'll ever do in the future. I'm certainly not gonna go hang out at Starbucks every day. (Although I will continue to scam their free wireless signal from across the street, suckers.) Alright, it's not that life threatening, in the grand scheme of things, but it still sucks. I said that to a barista yesterday when I spotted the sign: "That really sucks." She said, "Yup." And that was that.

So why am I writing this now, and why is there a "countdown" in the title? Well, I don't really know what else to do, and I like to commit myself to quantified, manageable tasks, so I have vowed to patronize this here coffee shop (that I am sitting in right now, as I type this) every single day for the next month and a couple of days, while it's still here to be patronized. Even if it's just for a cup of coffee to go on my way to catch a bus, I will stop by here at least once a day for the next 33 days. I figure that will at least be a nice way to make some lasting memories of the place in my head, and if it helps show some support for the place on the whole, all the better. Maybe you'd like to join my quest? Go for it!

Today, I showed up around 2:30 and ordered a California wrap (eggs, avocado, sprouts, spicy tomato spread) and a drip coffee. I'm sitting at a table by the coffee bar, the one that's situated right by the door that opens out onto the corner of the street. I was pretty warm (unsurprisingly) from my walk when I got here, and even thought about ordering an iced coffee, but realized that would probably make me look insane in this weather, so I didn't. Instead, I contemplated opening the door in front of me a tiny crack, but then figured everyone else here wouldn't like that, so I just sat here sipping hot coffee and slowly cooling down. And then I started typing this. And now we're here. And now we're going off somewhere else.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Concert Review / MOIP + 123 @ Brillobox

It had been a long while since I'd seen a proper Meeting of Important People rawk band show. It felt like a year or more, but it was really only like 6 months. Still, that's WAY too long to go without a rip-roarin' set of garage pop tunes, guitar flailing, fast-paced drums, and good ol' fashioned fun times.

I grabbed dinner downstairs at the Brillobox before the show. You have to try the seitan gyro. I think it's pretty new on the menu (I hadn't seen it before) and it was absolutely delicious. Perfectly spiced, nice texture, generously saucy. Yummo. I went upstairs a short while after The Whiskey Holler started their set. I'd only caught these dudes once before, at the Thunderbird back in September, and I was really surprised by how great they were that first time. I wasn't expecting them to be bad, not at all, but it was one of those really pleasant surprises where you don't know the band, have no expectations, and then they rock your socks off and you find yourself grinning halfway through because you know you've stumbled on greatness. Yeah, it was like that. This time around, the crowd was kinda chatty and the band was playing as an acoustic duo (or trio, perhaps?) so it didn't come across nearly as well as I remembered/had hoped. I still enjoyed their twangy rock tunes, but I wish everyone else was paying better attention. I suppose I should have gone up and stood closer but I didn't feel like navigating the already dense crowd. They play around town a lot, so I'll be sure to catch 'em again soon, and I recommend you do the same. In the meantime, dig this live recording from a Howlers set. It is fantastic. Also, check out this story they posted on their blog last month. Love the story-telling style, fellas.

Meeting of Important People got up next and did what they do best: everything. Josh announced that they'd essentially taken the entire fall season off from concert-playing and put together an entire new full-length album of material that they're very eager to share. Huzzah! They've slipped a couple of new songs into their repertoire over the last year or so, and I've wondered how those were coming along and whether they had any album plans. Now we know. Check out the Kickstarter campaign that they launched last week for more info about it; they want to do all the recording themselves, sans labels and PR and all that monkey business. More power to ya, boys. And readers, throw 'em a few bucks. You won't regret it when you hear what comes out of it all. As I was watching them play, I realized that I've written so many review of their shows, it's pointless to reiterate the fun and tunefulness they exude, so I went and did something I remember doing way back when I was just a fanboy, listening to their record on my iPod, seeing them for the first or second time: I copied down their setlist on my phone while they played. Yup. This is direct copy/paste from the document so you can see my silly notes, unedited.

britney lane
hanky church
(verba nets vs. ver baah nets)
leaving here
its alright to let the old folks go (with bullshit indie rock ending)
one o clock
big muscles
we gotta get outta this place
I know every street
innocents abound (guest shaker)
dead man
good for your bones, punk rawk
training song
leap the dips
??? New song, for when you're higher than hell
nothings goin on
school (nirvana)

1,2,3 came up last and played a bunch of songs from New Heaven, and one new song from an upcoming thing they're working on. The crowd was really into it, although it seemed a little thinner than it had been earlier. I learned that the bassist used to be in Juliana Theory. There's a fun fact for ya. They played my favorite tune of theirs, "Riding Coach". That one always sounds good, and I'm really impressed with how well it comes across in person, too. It almost feels like a headphones song, but they nail it live, even Nic's falsetto. Great stuff. I noticed they had their own sound guy working the board, which I don't see too often from local bands, so they must be prepping him for a tour or something? Sounded pretty good, considering the usual Brillo crowd which, by the way, was waaaayyy worse during this set than usual. Nic actually called out a group of super chatty folks right in the front. "Hey, girl in the glasses, yeah, you, hey, you" … and she still didn't notice! Somebody standing behind her had to poke her drunk ass (not literally, she was just being a drunk ass) to get her attention and get her to shut up so they could play a quiet tune. Yowza. Meanwhile, some other really drunk girl kept "dancing" and stumbling around and falling onto the stage, and Josh's ride cymbal kept falling off the stand (the top notch was broken, I think) and a pink-haried lady in the front kept graciously going up to fix it when it tumbled (which happened at least four or five times). Overall, it was a kinda up-and-down set, logistics-wise, but the music sounded good to my ears, which is all that really matters, right?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jams of the day, harmonicas in rock, and indie music on TV: The War On Drugs / "Don't Fear The Ghost" + "Snake Tongues" + "Baby Missiles"

I'm glad we've reached a point in our friendship where I can say "I like The War On Drugs" and you know what I mean. That other war on drugs is "bullshit", but Adam Granduciel and gang are "the shit". That Future Weather EP from 2010 still gets plays on my iTunes, and Slave Ambient was a perfect followup/expansion, working together some Tom Petty-channelling, road-trippin' rockers with some more, well, ambient soundscape-style songs. It's weird to listen to some of their quieter numbers because whenever I think back to when I saw them live last summer, I don't recall any dull moments or lulls or even feeling like I was being swept downward by their tunes. And yet, that's exactly what some of their songs do, in particular a new B-side they just released, somewhat appropriately-entitled "Don't Fear The Ghost".
Stream it here:

Oh wait! That's the more rockin' tune. "Snake Tongues" is the languid, hazy, psychedelic track that's newish. That seems backwards to me. I expected "Snake Tongues" to be some upbeat rocker about evil serpents nipping at your heels as you sprint through the desert or something like that. Instead, it seems to be about a weird drug trip. Whatever, it's great. Head over to any of these 1, 2, 3, 4 places to download the mp3 since I can't host it here.

One of my personal favorite tracks from both Future Weather and Slave Ambient is "Baby Missiles". It's not so different on the LP, maybe a slightly different mix or something, but the parts that always get me going are the way Granduciel's voice modulates rapidly in both pitch and fervor ("He's up and down like A NEW JACK TONE") and that fucking harmonica solo! How awesome is that?! Too few modern indie rock bands use harmonica, in my opinion, and I'm not just recommending it for the "let's be different" kind of thing. This is a damn fine instrument and deserves to be used more often. The War On Drugs took to the stage on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last night and jammed out this tune, complete with that harmonica part we all love. Dig it:

Say what you will about Mr. Fallon, his show, and his ability to ruin every SNL sketch with shattering-the-fourth-wall laughter, but he and his staff have their ears to the grindstone vis-à-vis the indie rock scene. They've pulled plenty of great bands on for sessions and had a bunch make their TV debut there, TWOD included (as well as a recent, lovely appearance by Sharon Van Etten). I'm thankful for this trend: more exposure for good bands, a chance to see ?uestlove play backup percussion, all good stuff.

The War On Drugs on the web: Website / Bandcamp / Facebook / Twitter
Buy Slave Ambient: Secretly Canadian / Insound / Amazon / iTunes / eMusic

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jam of the day, road trip radio, and the semantics of "classic rock": Bad Company / "Feel Like Makin' Love"

I made a six-hour drive from New Jersey to Pittsburgh last weekend with some college buddies who I hadn't seen in a while. In my friend's rental car, he had a couple of CDs that we played a few times through: Can's Delay 1968, which is great driving music; Devendra Banhart's Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, only half of which we got through after playing the 8-minute, slow-burning jam "Seahorse" three times in a row; and the debut, Gros mammouth album, of Montreal's French-speaking indie pop-rock band Les Trois Accords (The Three Chords, which is an accurate description of their melodies). We chatted, we napped, we snacked, and we played a fizzling round of "more like a rock or a theory of justice", everyone's favorite, wacky binary search game.

Eventually, I suggested turning on the radio as we got closer to Pittsburgh, and we found a classic rock station. Within a few minutes, Bad Company's hit single "Feel Like Makin' Love" came on. We all groaned. We laughed. But I'll be god damned if the chorus didn't come around after a minute and find us all singing at the top of our lungs. Just try it:

This has to be the cheesiest fucking song known to man. (Watching it with the lyrics displayed makes it even more obvious. Who writes this stuff?!) After we caught ourselves singing along with gusto, we chuckled at the thought of some mustachioed dude in a leather jacket putting this song on the jukebox in some dive bar and strutting down the dance floor with his arm outstretched, pointing at some "hottie" at the other end of the room and singing along. What an image. Who else is this song for?

While we're on the topic of classic rock radio, I should mention an interesting debate I had on Twitter yesterday with some Pittsburgh folks. I tweeted a link to a Tumblr blog that compiles great 90s indie rock hits with the description "90s rule". The Post-Gazette's music critic Scott Mervis wrote back that the 90s were "Maybe the 4th best decade for rock". Yowza. I asked where the 50s were in his ranking? What followed was an interesting debate about what decades were best for "rock music", what "classic" actually means, and some good-natured ribbing. Here's my favorite exchange from the whole thing: Hugh says this, I say this. Check out the thread on Twitter and join the conversation, or leave your thoughts here. I'm listening.