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Archive for February, 2014

[ATTENDED: February 28, 2014] The Peking Acrobats

peking7This was our third time seeing the Peking Acrobats.  Actually I stand corrected, last year we saw the “Golden Dragon Acrobats” who I believe are not the same as the Peking Acrobats.  Typically we see them at RVCC but this year we mixed it up and went to Princeton’s McCarter Theater instead. The location didn’t make much of a difference, although the stage may have been a little bigger.

There weren’t a ton of differences between this show and previous Chinese Acrobat shows.  But it’s always amazing to watch them.  Side note: our Cub Scout Troop went to the Big Apple Circus again this year but we opted not to go.  Clark was bummed that we weren’t going but when I said we were going to see the Peking Acrobats instead, he perked right up.  Turns out he wanted to hang out with his friends more than see the Circus.  I do enjoy the Big Apple Circus, but it seemed a lot more expensive this year (and our seats last year were really lousy anyhow).

This year’s show opened with drums, something that I had never really seen with the Acrobats. There were four women playing on large drums–they played a cool rhythm and did some interesting arms movements.  It was a good start to the show.  However, drums seems to be the theme this year and I felt like there were a few too many drumming interludes (four in total I believe).  Drums are neat, but honestly you can only listen to a drum solo for so long.

I’m quoting from my review from 2012 because it was pretty much exactly the same:

As the show opened, there were ropes hanging from the ceiling (not secured to the ground).  And then several men came out and climbed the ropes. Which would be no big deal, except that they climbed them like monkeys do–or more literally as if they were walking up the rope while holding on to the rope like a grappling hook line.  From there they proceeded to leap back and forth between the ropes.

These ropes were actually attached to the ground, I think–they seemed stiffer, which allowed for slightly different activities–it’s always fun to watch them hang upside down and somehow scoot their way yup the rope. The biggest surprise to us was that at least two of them men appeared to be no more than 10 or 11 years old.  No idea if that is true, but, wow, they looked young.  There were certainly some older acrobats too, but wow, their youth was shocking.

(more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 2013] Warbound

warboundI loved Book I and Book II of The Grimnoir Chronicles immensely. The first was an amazing introduction to this new world and the second upped the scale and intensity to an amazing level (nearly destroying Washington D.C.).

And since the beginning of Book II picked up shortly after the events of Book II, it seemed pretty safe to assume that we would be heading into the giant conflict that was predicted at the end of Book II–fighting the creature that was coming to kill The Power.  For real context, read the other two reviews first (I mean, really), but for simple context, a sizable minority of the population has the gift of Magic.  This gift comes from The Power and it allows people to do all kinds of things–bend gravity, transport from one place to another, talk through animals, fade into walls, etc.

It has only been recently, through the work of our heroes, that people understood just how people got the power.  It came from The Power, a creature that gave humans magic and then fed off of them when they died.  It was a symbiotic relationship.  But of course people who did not have Power hated those with Power.  Even though the people with Power often use their power for good, there were of course people who didn’t.  Consequently all people with The Power were scapegoated.  This is all laid on a backdrop of alternate reality 1930s America, where the Nipponese are ascending and offer a very credible threat–especially since their Magicals are organized and brutal. (more…)

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wildstabSOUNDTRACK:RHEOSTATICS-The Nightlines Sessions (1998).

nightlinesI have mentioned this disc before,but having listened to some live shows from around this time, it made me want to check out this disc again.  I’ve always thought it was kind of a silly goof of a record without a lot to fully enjoy.  And while the goofy tracks stand out, there’s also a lot of really good music on it.

“The Pooby Song” opens the song and while it is a slight and silly song, it is a fun folky introduction.  What its title means is a mystery to me.  The second song is the first version of “The Junction Foil Ball,” a great track that would later get re-recorded for The Night of the Shooting Stars.  “Frank” is another interesting song with some cool scratchy guitars and a good riff. It doesn’t get played much live, but it could easily fit into their set.

“Majorca” is a pretty song from Tim, although it is very strange (to me) that these Canadians are singing about Majorca (a song they would play live in a few bootlegs).  Another vaguely silly song is the sitar (?) based “Ugly Manhattan,” which makes fun of Wall Street.  Perhaps the most unexpected song is “Trans Jam” a rap which features Farm Fresh and The Subliminal Kid.  It’s quite good, too.

And yes, there is a lot of really silly stuff.   “Henry’s Musical Beard” is a weird 27 second toss off. “Alien Boy” is a goof commercial about mysteries of the unknown.  “Baby, I love You” is introduced as being by MC Vanilli  and the Sedaka Prince.  It’s an absurdly goofy “pop” song which reflects some pop song stylings rather well.  “This is Nightlines” is a profane rambling by Dave about the radio show that’s going off the air.

And yet just as you think the end of the disc is going to be nothing but silly, they play a fantastic version of “Stolen Car” (click track notwithstanding).

It really makes me want to hear the some Nightlines shows.  And, ta da, I recently found Network Effects, a site where a kind soul has been digitizing his taped copied of Nightlines sessions.  That’s pretty cool–more radio stations should take chances like this.

[READ: February 24, 2014] A Wild Stab for It

I found a bunch of Dave Bidini’s smaller books online.  And after reading his book about Keon, it seemed complementary to read this book about Game Eight.

Now, if you’re not Canadian or Russian, Game Eight might be meaningless to you.  You might even somehow think that a game of Canada vs the USSR is an Olympic event.  But it wasn’t.  It was the Summit Series.  Bidini assumes you know what the Summit Series is–this book is pretty explicitly for Canadian hockey fans (meaning pretty much every Canadian) who were alive in the 1970s.  They would all know what Game Eight was and why it was so important.  So, here’s some context from Wikipedia, because again, they summarize it better than I could:

The series was played at the height of the Cold War, and intense feelings of nationalism were aroused in both Canada and the Soviet Union, as well as on the ice.  Known at the time simply as the Canada–USSR Series, it was an eight-game series of ice hockey between the Soviet Union and Canada, held in September 1972.  It was the first competition between the Soviet national team and a Canadian team represented by professional players of the National Hockey League (NHL), known as Team Canada. It was the first international ice hockey competition for Canada after Canada had withdrawn from international ice hockey competitions in a dispute with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The series was organized with the intention to create a true best-on-best competition in the sport of ice hockey. (more…)

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HALF A MILLION

500000Quietly and with little fanfare (until now of course), this blog reached 500,000 views.

Thanks to everyone who came here on purpose and even those who came here to send me spam–you pushed me over half way to a million.  It has taken just under 7 years with no real publicity to reach this number.  Maybe it’s time I start accepting ads.

And my top 5 posts are

Pierdomenico Baccalario–Ulysses Moore series, books 1-4 13,157
Awkward Pauses [Ass Möde] 8,527
Pseudonymous Bosch–The Name of This Book is Secret (2007) 6,842
Terry Moore–Echo #23 & #24 (2010) 5,529
The Simpsons Futurama Crossover Crisis (2010) 5,518

But soft, let’s see just what that looks like around the world: (more…)

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keonSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Alt House, University of Western Ontario, London, ON (January 23 1997).

 westernThis show takes place at the University of Western Ontario, an unusual location for the band, but they had an appreciative crowd.  There’s a long introduction in which Don Kerr is late to get to the drums.  They say that he’s sick and, in fact, they’re all sick, but they don’t sound sick when they play.

 The college atmosphere seems to relax them.  Indeed, Martin tells a very lengthy story about a painter near his home town in Italy (as an introduction to “Motorino”).  He rarely talks much on stage so this banter is a rarity.  Dave asks if the fans like the banter.  He takes a poll.  Songs and banter?  Much cheering.  No banter.  Apparently one vote.  Upon hearing that one vote, Dave says, that guy, security!  Some fans shout “only banter no music,” but the band doesn’t acknowledge that.

They once again mention martin’s new Chickadee banner and they even throw in some jokes about chickadees in “Four Little Songs.”

This show they explain that they get a little bored playing older songs so they like to mix them up a little.  “Record Body Count” sounds rather different and it has a very pretty guitar outro by martin that leads into the intro of “Michael Jackson.”

The opening band was People From Earth, the band that Martin’s brothers were in.  I can’t find out much about them and I can’t find any music from them, but I’m very curious to know what they sound like.

This is a really enjoyable show.  The recording level is a little too quiet at times, but the sound is quite good.

[READ: February 24, 2014] Keon and Me

This rush of Rheostatics music has had me investigating what the band has been up to since they split up.  They have all released some solo records, and Dave Bidini seems to have devoted a lot of his time to writing as well.  In addition to his column at the National Post, he has written a dozen or so books.  I’ve already read his two earliest books (which were about touring and hockey respectively) and thought I’d read some of his other books too (about baseball, hockey, touring, hockey, hockey, music etc).  I thought about reading his third book, but then–amazingly coincidentally–his newest book, Keon and Me was staring at me from a pile of new books at work.

How exciting!  Sure it was out of sequence, but that was fine.

The only problem (and the reason I wasn’t too too excited to read it in the first place) was that I had no idea who Keon was.  I had gleaned that he was Dave Keon, a hockey player.  But I’d never heard of him.  It turns out he was the captain of the Toronto maple Leafs in the 70s, during the Leafs’ heyday.  Aside from his achievements, which were quite impressive, what was most impressive about Keon was that he only got into one fight in his entire career–and that was in his last game with the Leafs–which garnered him a 2 minute penalty.  That’s pretty impressive given that it was the era of goons and thugs when fighting was often more important than hockey.

But this book isn’t really a biography of Keon.  Rather, it is a memoir of Bidini growing up and loving Keon.  And of his fanaticism to the Leafs (who have sucked ever since Keon left).  It is also the story of young Dave Bidini, grade schooler, who was bullied by the classroom thug (and biggest Flyers fan). (more…)

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chomuSOUNDTRACK: THE FAINT-“Help in the Head” (2014)

doom“Help in the Head” opens with an incredible amount of feedback and squalling noise–some of it natural and other parts sounding quite processed.  After ten seconds the song begins properly with a pounding drum and buzzing guitars.  The song is quite simple–a catchy melody that blossoms once the bridge kicks in (with some “oh ohs”).  The chorus is also simple and catchy, “I just meant you needed help in the head” with all kinds of fuzzy screaming swirling around.  A few minutes later, the song ends with more noise, just as it began.

The Faint has been around a long time and are on Saddle Creek records, home to Conor Oberst and his many bands (he was in an original incarnation of The Faint). The song has much in common with Oberst’s style of pop–simple melodies and very catchy structures, but it is so overlaid with noise and distortion that it takes it out of the realm of simple pop music into a pop music that is actually abrasive..

[READ: February 21, 2014] The Galaxy Club

Brendan Connell is back with his most daring book yet.  Daring, because it is so very different from what he usually writes.

I have really enjoyed Connell’s audacity in his previous books–whether it was the extensive research done into both cooking and history in Lives of Notorious Cooks (2012) or the brutality that religion can inspire in The Architect (2012) or his exploration into extremely transgressive behavior in Metrophilias (2010).  He has never been afraid to push the edge of the envelope into unexpected areas.  But what makes this book so daring is that it is, for the most part, pretty “normal.”  Book covers don’t typically indicate anything really, but this book cover, in sober black and white, really conveys the feeling of the book–gritty, small town, hardscrabble Southwest.

And yet despite the somewhat conventional nature of the story, there are also fantastical elements.  Each chapter is narrated by a different (sometimes recurring) character.  Some are narrated by “Those Underground,” and “Demon Taming Stick” and even “Prawn Dragon Colonel.”  But they are also narrated by normal folks.  Connell’s past work in creating manifold characters in his short stories really pays off for the number and divergent characters he has here.

The main characters are a man named Cleopatra–who claims to be the Queen of the Nile herself.  The Montoya family: Ibbie, Theodore and their son Blue Boy.  The Roybal family: Elmer and his aunt Ramona.  And a police officer named Alfonso Torcuato Southerland-Hevia y Miranda who claims to be switched at birth with Elmer–but he claims he bears no grudge. (more…)

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little horseSOUNDTRACK: “Chopsticks.”

chopTabby has started taking piano lessons.  She learned a few notes in the first class.  Her second class is next week.  I’m very curious to see if she likes it.  She enjoyed the first lesson (I was especially happy about this because Clark shows no interest in playing an instrument).

However, I know from guitar lessons (which I took in 8th grade) that the first few months of lessons are kind of lame because you don’t really learn how to play anything except scales.  So we’ll see how tolerant a 6-year-old is of doing this.

I look forward to hearing her play “Chopsticks.”

[READ: February 23, 2014] Little Horse & Little Horse on His Own

Sarah brought home Little Horse the other day and read it to Tabby.  She said it was so surprising (she hadn’t read the blurb) that she wanted Clark and I to read it.  We were equally surprised by the strange and literal way the reveal was written.  And overall, there was something so charming and old-fashioned about the story that I was really surprised that it had been written in 2002 and not 1970.

So this is the story of Little Horse.  He wanders away from his family and gets swept into a current where he is dragged away.  He encounters many dangers and a surprising truth is revealed–and revealed so simply and in such a deadpan fashion in the book, that it made the whole story all the more intriguing.

With this revelation at hand, the end of the book becomes charming and bittersweet.  It certainly set up a sequel.

And so in 2004, the sequel was delivered.

little horse2It’s not clear to me how much time has elapsed since the first book.  It’s not exactly relevant, but it is certainly an interest, and it would make a difference if he was gone for a week or a year.

At any rate, the surprise is no longer a part of this book, which may be why I found it a little less satisfying.  In this one, Little Horse gets away from his “captors” and makes his way back to his family.  He goes through a  lot of trouble, including a large and dangerous fall, but he is spared any serious injury.

I hate to spoil the book, but as it is the second of presumably only two books, it is not hard to imagine how it ends, and this book is all about the journey anyway.

I guess because there was less magic and mystery in this book it wasn’t quite as engaging.  But it was a satisfying conclusion.

The illustrations by David McPhail also have a very old-fashioned feel.  As with many books, the placement of the illustrations can act as a bit of a spoiler, which is kind of stinky, but overall they do wonders to convey the mystery and the struggle.

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