Archive for January, 2016

[ATTENDED: January 30, 2016] Indigo Girls

2016-01-30 22.57.42When I was a radio DJ in college, I received a promo disc by a band called the Indigo Girls, which I listened to because Michael Stipe sang on one of the songs.  I really enjoyed the sampler.  The Girls’ harmonies were outstanding and the lyrics were clever and funny and very very smart.

And I’ve enjoyed them intermittently for twenty some years.  I even saw them at Newport Folk Festival back in 1998 when they put on a fantastic show.

Sarah has been a fan of the band for a long time as well.  She saw them at an even more unusual venue–at the American Library Association Convention in 2002.

Neither one of us had seen them in a “proper” venue and thought it would be cool to see them in this small theater in Montclair.

And man, did they sound fantastic.  Their first album came on in 1989 and their voices sound exactly the same.  Emily can hit the high notes and Amy still has that great gravelly sound (despite claiming to be ill and on steroids to get her voice to actually work–I never would have guessed).  And their harmonies are still perfect together. (more…)


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[ATTENDED: January 30, 2016] Jill Hennessy

2016-01-30 20.26.55Jill Hennessy is an actress who was on Law & Order  from 1993-1996 and then starred on Crossing Jordan.  She is one of the reasons I watched L&O for the couple seasons that I did.  I pretty much stopped once she left, although I never watched Jordan).

I genuinely didn’t think that this was the same Jill Hennessy.  It’s been twenty years and all, but she looks so different (ans still so young) and the name didn’t seem that uncommon.  But nope.  It’s her.  She started playing music a long time ago.  She was busking in the subway in New York before getting a big Broadway gig.  And in fact, she appeared with the Indigo Girls in a Mountain Stage concert back in 2009 (it’s on NPR here).  Hennessy’s voice suits the Indigo Girls very well, she even sounds a bit like Amy Ray if you don’t think too hard about it.

clairehennesyyBefore the concert, I looked her up online and saw her bio–she’s from Edmonton, Alberta–and has been acting for ages.  She was even a candidate to be Scully on The X-Files.

Then I found a few songs and really liked what I heard–she’s sorta country but more in line with the style of the Indigo Girls.  So I was looking forward to hearing her.

We may have missed a song or two, I can’t find setlists online anywhere, but she played a fairly long and solid set.  (more…)

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moomin3  SOUNDTRACK: THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA-Tiny Desk Concert #139 (July 5, 2011).

bboaI have of course heard of The Blind Boys of Alabama, but they only came on my radar maybe a decade or two ago.  And I never knew these things about them:

  • They formed under a different name in 1939.
  • The band has understandably experienced many lineup changes in the 72 years since.
  • Singer Jimmy Carter is the only participant in this lineup billed as a founding member, and even that term is up for debate.
  • They have released 60-plus albums and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
  • And that wherein these Blind Boys are young and old, blind and sighted.

There are six players for this Tiny Desk–a guitarist, a bassist and a barely visible drummer as well as three singers.

It makes me laugh that the guy on the far left sings much less than the others and seems to be less happy about being there.

They play four songs and, no surprise, they sound fantastic.  Their harmonies are outstanding and the music is quiet and subtle–a mellow accompaniment for this soulful music.

But their rendition of “Amazing Grace” is indeed amazing–they do it to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” and it must be heard to be believed.  I happen to really like the original of “Amazing Grace” and I hate when it is done poorly.  But I love this interpretation–it’s original and still moving.

  • “Take The High Road”
  • “I Know A Place”
  • “Jesus Built A Bridge To Heaven”
  • “Amazing Grace”

[READ: January 23, 2015] Moomin Volume 4

Moomin Book 4 changes things pretty dramatically.  Because starting with this book, the stories were written by Tove’s brother Lars!

The colophon explains “[Chapters 14-17 were written by Lars [Jansson] and drawn by Tove.  Chapter 18 was to be run before Chapter 14 and be Tove’s farewell strip but she stayed on to draw 7 more chapters].”

So that means that the first four chapters in this book were written by Tove’s brother but she drew the art.  How fascinating.

This book contains the stories: “Moomin Goes Wild West,” “Snorkmaiden Goes Rococo,” “The Conscientious Moomins,” “Moomin and the Comet,” and “Moomin and the Golden Tail.”  As with the others these stories originally ran in the Evening News, London 1953-1959. (more…)

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june2015SOUNDTRACK: THE ARCS-Tiny Desk Concert #504 (January 25, 2016).

arcsOkay so the Tiny Desk folks make a pretty big deal out of this being their 500th show and I am stating that it is their 503rd show.  I have to guess that they post some shows out of order because I have counted twice and gotten the same number.  So we will choose to disagree with our numbering system, but I will also agree that this was their 500th episode because, why would they lie?

The Arcs are a band that I wished I liked more.  Everyone seems to enjoy them, but I really don’t.  Of course, I don’t like The Black Keys either, so this is no surprise, really.  Nevertheless, Dan Auerbach, who is in both bands, has a great voice and writes some interestign songs, I just don’t care for his arrangements–the very soulfulness that attracts fans, I guess.

They are accompanied by three members of  the Mariachi band Flor de Toloache, who did a Tiny Desk Concert a few weeks earlier (although I’m guessing it was the same day, hint hint).  They play a great accompaniment–sometimes all of them play, sometimes just one, and they add interesting elements to the songs.  They also sing backing vocals.

The band plays three songs from their album.  “Pistol made of Bones” which I like in this version (I don’t know the original, I don’t think).  I especially like the way the horn and violin play along with the melody and give it a very Mexican feel.  It removes some of the soul that I don’t really like about the songs.

The other two songs are the two singles from the album and I find that I like them less (I guess I’m a deep cuts kinda guy).

“Stay in My Corner” is a fine song.  I like the guitar lines and the way he sings it.  It’s just not my thing.  I really enjoy the backing vocals by drummer Homer Steinweiss, who has this hilarious style of tapping out these beats while leaning (practically asleep) on the drum machine–totally low key.

I really enjoy Auerbach’s singing delivery in “Outta My Mind.”  I just wish the song would do more.  I want it to be…something else.

So the 500th (ish) episode was probably a lot more fun in the Offices than it was for me.  Although I enjoyed the confetti cannons.

But congratulations anyway!  Here’s to 500 more–but take a break for a few weeks so i can play catch up, okay?

[READ: January 4, 2016] “Interesting Facts”

I hadn’t been reading all that many short stories at the time that I read this because I had been focusing on graphic novels and books.  So jumping back into the short stories at Harper’s has been a real treat.  And I really enjoyed this one.

Although I’m always leery of stories that center around a main character with cancer, I thought the way this was done was clever and interesting and it absolutely drew me in to the story.  Plus it was funny (at least at the beginning).

I loved the way it started: “Interesting fact: Toucan cereal bedspread to my plunge and deliver.”  It doesn’t even fully make sense by the end of the story but an essential part does and I enjoyed the way it was presented like this.

The story is told from the point of view of * a woman who developed breast cancer a few years back.  She says that “I’m going to discuss the breasts of every woman who crosses my path.”  And indeed she does. (more…)

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june2015 SOUNDTRACK: WOLF ALICE-Tiny Desk Concert #503 (January 22, 2016).

wolfaliceI have been really enjoying Wolf Alice’s album My Love is Cool. It has many familiar elements of shoegaze and grunge but it’s played in different and unexpected combinations.  The album is moody and at times abrasive. But there are some lovely melodies underneath these songs.  (They were originally a folkie band before going electric).

So this Tiny Desk Concert plays to their origins (all of five years ago).  And they really change their songs for this set.

“Fluffy” on the original has noisy guitars and some great stop starts and big screams.  They really, really slow it down for the set.  They remove the abrasiveness, sing delicately (with the drummer providing backing vocals), and for the chorus of “sixteen, so sweet” they actually whisper it.

On record, “Turn to Dust” is pretty and soaring and very moody.  This version is quite folky.  I prefer the original but I really like this version especially the way you can really hear the interesting lyrics. Also, Ellie’s voice is quite lovely with no effects on it.  They even hit Bob’s gong at the end.

The recorded version of “Bros” is upbeat and somewhat poppy.  This acoustic version takes on a similarly upbeat feel but in a very different style.  It feels like a real folk song and works surprisingly well in this context.  I love the ending that they take onto it which make it even prettier.

I enjoyed this set a lot, even if it took me two listens to recognize two of the songs.  But I didn’t really enjoy the band members all that much.  I’m going to assume they were nervous rather than disaffected.

After the first song the bassist casually asks, “How’s everyone doin?  Good?” and when everyone chuckles, he says, “That’s the end of that banter,” which is pretty funny (and makes Bob laugh out loud), but it proves to be true.  And it takes Bob to break the silence (while the guitarist tunes).  Bob tried to barter with the drummer for his shirt, which gets them to admire the strange things around the office.  Also singer Ellie Roswell seems really strangely uncomfortable looking at he ceiling quite often, which seems very unlike the cocky persona she puts on in her videos.  But the music is great, so that’s okay.

[READ: January 10, 2016] “Lip Service”

“Lip Service” is an excerpt from Hilbig’s book I which was translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole.

This was a strange story which is all about perception.

It starts “Most of W’s perceptions were acquired by looking from outside into the interior of lighted dwellings.”

He would watch people talking but he could barely hear them.  And so he learned how to perceive what was going on and how unimportant the actual words that people said could be.

And he really enjoyed the non-gratification this afforded–the idea of being a voyeur who never completes his quest. (more…)

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sept2015SOUNDTRACK: RIVER WHYLESS-Tiny Desk Concert #502 (January 19, 2016).

whylessRiver Whyless is an interesting band, at least during this Tiny Desk Concert.  They have several singers, different instruments and a whole bunch of interesting percussion on hand–including a typewriter!

The band has one EP out, from which the first song “Life Crisis” comes.  The female singer (none of the players’ names are given) says that this was their tiny desk submission.

On this song the male singer (actually everyone sings) plays typewriter and presents his typed document at the end of the show–although the audience never gets to see it–I imagine it’s gibberish, but it would be amazing if it wasn’t).  The female singer plays a violin solo in the middle of the song (which was unexpected since she doesn’t have it as the song opens).

Under the typewriter is a pump for a harmonium which has an accidental vibrato on it.  Shes says that one day it started doing that and they love it and hope it never fixes itself.

The other two songs are new–not on their EP from last year.  “Sailing Away” starts with violin and harmonium.  There’s also a guitarist who sings leads and a percussionist (who has all manner of gadgets and drums and mallets around him).  The harmonium player/typist also plays a melody on the toy piano.  All of these items may seem like novelties or goofs, but their songs are quite lovely and these little accents just add to the overall feel.

“Baby Brother” opens with a buzzy acoustic guitar and a whole landscape of percussion.  And this time the harmonium player switches to guitar while he sings lead (everyone sings lovely harmonies by the way).

I love everything about this band…except their songs.  All three songs are quite nice, and while I’m listening to them I certainly enjoy them, but they are really not that memorable.  There’s no hooks in them.  Despite the fact that all of their accouterments are not really gimmicks, those are the things I will remember most about River Whyless.

[READ: January 18, 2016] “Learning to Fly Part 4”

This is the final part of the 4 part essay.  A series like this is bound to be anticlimactic because presumably if his solo didn’t go well, he’d be dead.  And if he didn’t do the solo, there likely wouldn’t be a part 4 (unless he talked about chickening out instead).

But Ferris takes an interesting tact for this end section.

He opens the essay by explaining that he was commissioned by Popular Mechanics to write this essay.  This makes sense but is something  hadn’t thought about–they asked him to do it.

He says that he was full of anxiety the entire time–which we knew he would be.  He was terrified to fly–a wobbly commercial airplane takeoff would totally freak him out.  Plus, being a writer, he had an overactive imagination. (more…)

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may2015SOUNDTRACKTHE CLAYPOOL LENNON DELIRIUM-“Cricket and the Genie” (2016).

claypoollennonLes Claypool and Sean Lennon (who has recently come back on my radar as being much more fun than I realized) have joined forces to create this unlikely (but perfectly suited) band.  Lennon’s band Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger opened for Primus and Dinosaur Jr this summer (and I am still bummed that I missed that tour).

What surprised me most about this collaboration is that it (well this song anyway, which is the only one I’ve heard) doesn’t sound like so many other collaborations with Claypool–meaning it’s not all Les.  Les plays bass and provides some backing vocals and that’s about it.  All the rest–the whole psychedelic craziness–is all Lennon.

The song has a totally retro psychedelic vibe (one that Lennon has been working with very well over the last few year) and Les’ bass is thumping and heavy without doing a lot of his Claypoolisms.  Not to say that the bass is shabby–it’s not–it’s just not as Aggressively Claypool as it might be (for the better of the song).

Having said that, the opening notes are pretty distinctly Claypool, but once the music (fuzzy guitars and hummable vocals) come in, the bass sounds more like a big 70s Jon Entwistle bass than a funky Claypool bass.

The song has many many parts and changes.  There’s a brief psychedelic interlude, there’s interesting organs sounds, there’s some heavy dissonant chords sprinkled throughout and there’s some great harmony vocal.  There’s even a pretty lenghty sea-shanty feeling instrumental section (the song is 8 minutes long after all).

But lest you think there is no Claypool, he gets plenty of places to show off his stuff, too.

I really dig this song a lot and I can’t wait to hear the whole album.

[READ: January 8, 2015] “For Something to Do”

As part of my 2016 plan, I intend to catch up on all of the magazines that I blew off during the latter half of 2015.   Basically, that means Harper’s, The Walrus and the New Yorker.  And I’ll write about the stories that I ignored.  Interestingly I was also planning on reading several large books in 2016.  Wonder how that will play out.

So here begins a slew of Harper’s pieces

This is the kind of story that, were it a novel, I would probably give up after a chapter.  But, because it was a short story, I read it all the way through, and I was glad I did.

The reason I’d have given up is because the story is dark and unpleasant, about men getting drunk and beating up other men to try to impress a woman.  I don’t know a lot about Leonard’s writing, so i don’t know how his stories tend to resolve, but I was worried about just how dark this would go before any resolution was present. (more…)

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