Archive for April, 2016

stroppy SOUNDTRACK: LISA HANNIGAN-Tiny Desk Concert #171 (October 29, 2011).

lisahI thought that Lisa Hannigan’s name sounded familiar, but given this Tiny Desk Concert, I’m going to assume I had never heard her before.

Hannigan has a really interesting voice–kind of deep and raspy but with splashes of falsetto.  It’s really pretty.

And she plays a variety of instruments.

For “Knots” it is just her and her large ukulele (and she gets a remarkably full sound out of that tiny 4 stringed instrument).

It’s between songs that you notice her accent as she welcomes John Smith to accompany her.  Lisa switches to guitar as well.  It’s interesting that she plays a similar picking style on the guitar which of course just sounds bigger.  The two guitars play very nicely off of each other.  This song is a bit quieter, with her singing most of it in a whisper that makes you want to lean in to hear more.

Before the third song, “Passenger” Bob asks if she’d like to stay the whole day.  She says yes with all of the lovely tea. Bob says there’s plenty and she jokes “Not for long once I get going.”

John needs to tune his guitar, “it was in tune when I bought it,” and Lisa switches to a mandolin.  The high notes of the mandolin work perfectly with her deeper voice.  She shows off a powerful side with some of the sections of this song and the guitar adds some nice bass notes to the music.  For the middle section, Smith sings low harmonies and they both sing louder than before.  It’s a great transition in this song.  And she hits some lovely high notes as well.

Hannigan came to people’s attention while working with Damien Rice.  Then she put out two solo albums.  But she hasn’t put out anything since (except one-off songs).  That’s a shame, I’d love to hear more.

[READ: July 30, 2015] Stroppy

I don’t know anything about Marc Bell, although his art looks very familiar.  The telltale sign is that every character has white eyes which look a bit like capsules.  This book is put out by Drawn & Quarterly and while I thought his art looked familiar, it could just be a D&Q aesthetic.

This story is pretty bonkers.  Stroppy works for Monsieur Mustache at the remote villager processing plant.  In this plant, small villagers who look a bit like Minons (yellow capsules) have their brains removed an a new brain inserted, turning them into security guards and other roles. But then there’s a visitor.  A large shirtless man comes through the tiny opening clogging up the works.

His name is Sean and he has come to put up posters for The All-Star Schnauzer band Song Contest (meanwhile, the villagers are piling up in Stroppy’s work area.

Monsieur Mustache arrives, fires Stroppy and then, upon hearing about the song contest, he Hires Sean, in hopes of buying him off.  Turns out Monsieur is a pretty evil dude (and his songs are just as bad). (more…)


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[ATTENDED: April 28, 2016] Pearl Jam

pjphilyWells Fargo Center is becoming one of my favorite venues.  Not because the acoustics are so good (although they are pretty good), but because now I’ve seen three of my favorite concerts there: Rush, Muse and now Pearl Jam.

I’ve been a fan of Pearl Jam for nearly their entire 25 years of existence.  I loved their first few albums, lost my way a bit in the late 1990s and then came back big time in 2001 when I enjoyed listening to their Live bootleg series.   Their live shows sounded amazing–super long, playing different songs every night–and making all of their songs sound more alive than on record.  They just sounded amazing.

And yet I had never seen them.  I should probably have gone on the 2003 tour but didn’t.  And then I met Sarah and Pearl Jam was one of her favorite bands, but she’d never seen them either.  Since we’ve been married they’ve toured near us 6 times.  We had some excuses of little babies for a couple of those tours, but we should have certainly gone in 2013.

Well, here it is, their 25th anniversary tour and Sarah and I finally got to see them.  And, although I do wish we’d gone before, was it ever worth the wait. (more…)

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nessSOUNDTRACK: BEN WILLIAMS & SOUND EFFECT-Tiny Desk Concert #170 (October 24, 2011).

ben williasmBen Williams is a jazz upright bass player (I didn’t realize bass players made band leaders, but clearly they do).  In 2009, he won the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition.  And is an up and coming star.

He plays two original songs from his album State of Art.

It’s not often that the blurb describes a song, but it does a better job than I could have so for the first song, “Home”

the guitar (Gilad Hekselman) and drums (John Davis) lay down an aggressive, snappy foundation. The bass and electric keyboard (Christian Sands) fill out the polyrhythms. That groove, with its snappy hip-hop flavor, feels at home cruising down Georgia Avenue, then turning right on U Street NW, the historic African-American commercial district of Washington [D.C. where Williams is from]. Then the saxophone (Marcus Strickland) enters, and it’s game on.

That saxophone really runs the show on this song.  There’s an interesting keyboard solo (I like the sound he chose, very Stevie Wonder-ish, but it’s a little quiet).

The sax switches to a smaller sax for the second song, “Dawn of a New Day.”  The song is much slower and is more than twice as long as “Home.”

There’s a pretty lengthy bass solo (which sounds very old-school to me).  It’s followed by an electric guitar solo that has an interesting effect on it which made me think at first that it was a horn.  The horn comes next with a lengthy sax solo.  The final solo comes from the keyboard (which now sounds like a piano).  And then the song returns to that interesting main riff.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Sarah brought this book home and told me the premise–imagine what the stories of the other kids in the Buffy Universe would be like–wondering about all of those weird kids fighting vampires or whatnot.

At first I thought she meant that the other kids didn’t know what was going on, which would have been funny.  But in this story, the kids know that there are vampires and other mystical things, they just aren’t any part of the action–they are not the Chosen Ones.

It’s a very funny premise for a book, and I looked forward to how Ness would create a story around people who aren’t “doing” anything.

But that’s not the only thing that the story is about.  Ness makes the lives of the other kids so compelling and so, human (even if one of them is a quarter god). (more…)

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galchen SOUNDTRACK: HILARY HAHN-Tiny Desk Concert #169 (October 21, 2011).

hilaryHilary Hahn is a violinist.  She looks to be about 12 (although she isn’t, but she did start playing when she was very young).

She plays two beautiful pieces by Bach (she made an album of Bach Partitas when she was only 16):

Gigue (from Partita No. 3) is fun and lively and Siciliana (from Sonata No. 1) is somber and sweet.  Her fingering is perfect.  She is playing an 1864 Vuillaume fiddle and her sound is beautiful.

Earlier in 2011, she had released an album of Charles Ives’ four violin sonatas.   The blurb says that Ives weaved bits of Americana into his sonatas–quotes from old hymns and folks songs.

For her final piece, she combines four of these pieces: “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” into her own melody.  She comments:

“I’ve actually never played this before, and it doesn’t really exist,” she admitted before launching into the tunes. “You may recognize them. Maybe after hearing these, if you hear the sonatas, you’ll be like, ‘I know that part!'”

She also says she will try to accompany herself.  I wasn’t sure what she meant–she doesn’t use a looping pedal or anything, but the blurb says she plays “just the right double stops (two strings at once)” and it sounds beautiful.

She also asks if anyone minds if she wears a hat.  Ives was often photographed with a hat  and there was Bob’s fedora.  It looks quite nice on her.

[READ: April 26, 2016] new movies, new drama

I was surprised to see that Rivka Galchen had been doing reviews in Harper’s (that image above is actually from The New York Times, apologies).  It seems like a step down from writing long pieces or short stories.  But who knows, maybe it’s a good gig (heck, wouldn’t I love to write about movies and television …hey wait).

Over the past year she has written five reviews of entertainments.

In March 2015, she reviewed Paddington and I really liked her insights into the movie (I posted about that already, here).

Then in June 2015, she wrote about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I had enjoyed the show by the time I read this piece (when it first came out), but I have just re-read it and it really makes me want to watch the new season (I watched the first episode but didn’t really love it as much as the previous season).  She raves about the opening credit sequence (which is fantastic) but spends a lot of the essay talking about how groundbreaking the show is because we are used to seeing adult men act like boys, but rarely do we see adult women act like girls (with glitter sneakers and a backpack).   The interesting thing is that “She invites admiration, yet it will be a rare viewer who would want to trade places with her…That’s what makes her a more radical invention than most earlier female comic leads.”

Galchen likes the “surprisingly glittering quality to dark moments… which appear unexpectedly and then dont quite vanish.”

She ties all this back to Lucy and Desi (Desilu produces the show). In real life, Desi Arnaz was discriminated against and relied on Lucille Ball to get him onto her show, thus the joke of Lucy trying to get into Ricky Ricardos’s show (I had no idea).

In September 2015, she writes about Louie (a show that she mentioned in the previous essay “Hallelujah”).  This time she is reviewing Season 5 of the show.  She talks of Louie as having a superpower: love.  “he transforms his sister’s aggressive gun-wielding ex-boyfriend into a gentle, giggling man who learns to knit.  Galchen focuses on the fourth episode, with his brother Bobby.  “Part of Louie’s superhero of love is his ability to occupy a position of humiliation and dejection, as if this might protect those around him from the same fate.”

She points out that no one on the show actually thinks Louie has any superpowers, but she enjoys reading it as such.  I have never been able to get into Louie, but she certainly make it sound very compelling–maybe I should start with Season 5..

In December of 2015, she wrote under the heading “new drama.” She writes about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. She says the movie is about two groups who are above the law fighting each other.  “We never learn what all these missions are intended to bring about. Its’ simply presented as a given that the goals of the I.M.F. are good and that those of the Syndicate are bad.”

I’m intrigued at this note from Galchen: the original theme song was 5/4; “at various points in Rogue Nation, it’s been altered to 4/4.  This is some say, because the 4/4 beat is easier to dance to.

I was delighted at the way she segued the review of this movie into a review of a performance of Antigone, in which  a woman breaks the law to give her dead brother a proper burial.

These are characters for whom what is past–Antigone’s necessitous origins, Creon’s tainted ascent to the throne–is prophetic; the future is there waiting for them all along, and the future is death.  That the dead are still alive and trying to destroy us is, of course, also the premise of Rogue Nation.

She ties in that 4/4 dance beat at the end by mentioning a friend who said after watching the play that he couldn’t stop thinking of John Boehner (who had just resigned).  Galchen say that although it’s tempting to believe that the Pope’s words of kindness were what compelled him to resign, him to retire, it was mostly likely inspired by pressure from the right, but we prefer the Pope version–it’s an easier beat to follow.

Finally in March 2016, Galchen wrote about the Wooster Group, an experimental theater company.  She talks about their lucid, fevered work.  She saw their Hamlet in 2007 and was delighted by their unexpected delivery.  And now (well, then) they are doing Harold Pinter’s The Room.

She speaks of Pinter–his use of violence and long dramatic pauses.  The Room is a one-act black comedy. One of the things the Wooster Group does is show, behind the actors, television screens, partially turned to the audience with what appears to be Chinese political debates.  The actors wear earpieces that pipes the audio from these screens into their ears which no doubt impacts their delivery.

Wooster Group revels in the absurdity of their shows.  I’d be curious to see one of their productions, although i won’t be rushing out to do so.


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HarpersWeb-Cover-2016-01-410SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Tiny Desk Concert #168 (October 17, 2011).

wilco2011Wilco is virtually the only band to have been asked back for a second Tiny Desk Concert.  I’ve listened to this concert a bunch of times but didn’t realize I hadn’t posted about it here.

There is a huge crowd for this show and as it starts, everyone shouts WILCO!

The band sounds great with all the members crowding in behind the Tiny Desk.  Tweedy plays his big acoustic guitar, Nels Cline plays all kinds of interesting sounds in the corner.  The drummer is on a small computer thing that seems to be made up of all manner of small percussive items.  There’s a bassist and keyboardist and a second guitarist all making a great sound.

“Dawned on Me” starts the set and sounds great in this setting—I love the walking bass throughout the song and of course Nels Cline plays a wonderfully insane noisy solo amid this simple and catchy folk song

Before the second song, “Whole Love” Glen’s got to get some things out of his toiletry bag.  This is another great song with Nels playing high notes to complement the rumbling bass.  No idea what the drummer is playing this time—a book?  Tweedy sings in falsetto for much of the song.

Tweedy says “this next song requires a certain amount of tuning—quiet please.”

He asks if anyone has any questions and when Bob says “I’m speechless,” someone on staff says “That’s a first,” which gets everyone laughing.  Bob asks if Jeff likes his bag of toys and Jeff says anyone who would make fun of his bag of toys is an idiot.  Sadly we never see the bag or the toys.

“Born Alone” has another great bass line that opens the song and the drummer is hitting lord only knows what.  This was the song by Wilco that made me really fall in love with the band.  Cline’s slide guitar is very cool.  But there’s something about the end of the song when the whole band plays a series of chords–the steps keep going lower and lower, and each time you think they’re going to stop, they just keep going. It’s very fun.

After that song Tweedy admits to breaking a sweat–Tiny Sweat!

The final song is “War on War.”  He says they played it about ten years ago in the city possibly for the first time.  They messed up the ending the other day, but they hope it doesn’t mess them up this time.  Cline goes berserk on his guitar.  The whole band rocks this song.  There’s some really cool harmonies on this track, too.  The keyboardist even has a little cow sound maker (that you can just barely hear, until the very end).  They get the ending right and Tweedy shouts “Nailed It!”

There is much applause as Bob asks, “Pretty good for a Saturday, huh?”  And as the applause dies down, someone yells, “Now lets trash this dump!”

It’s a great set.

[READ: March 25, 2016] “Hallelujah!”

I wanted to finish up all of the Harper’s pieces by Rivkla Galchen.  I had no idea what to expect from this piece.

It is one of those pieces in Harper’s that has images in the background–in this case musical notes and a portrait of Handel–to go with the  story.  And it is broken up into many little sections labelled 1. Sinfonia (Overture) 2. Accompagnato. 3. Air, etc up through 53 (!).

So this is obviously about Handel’s Messiah and the Hallelujah Chorus. (more…)

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nov2014SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS BATHGATE-Tiny Desk Concert #167 (October 14, 2011).

bathgateI’d never heard of Chris Bathgate before this Tiny Desk Concert.  Bathgate is a singer and guitarist.  For this show he has a band of five—another guitarist, bassist, violinist and drummer.

The first song, “Everything (Overture),” opens with a lovely slow echoing guitar sound.  And then Bathgate and the violinist sing a lovely, slow duet—their voices play off each other very nicely and the lovely repetitive guitar riff is perfect background.  The song picks up a bit for the chorus (which is mostly them singing do do dos) and the rousing chorus is a nice contrast to the quieter verses.  I really like at the end when the second guitarist switches to the floor tom and adds to the intensity of the song.

He says that “No Silver” is “about living in Michigan and being broke.”  The song is faster and a little heavier.  There more good harmonies and a nice play between the loud acoustic guitar and the fiddle (this song is much more bluegrassy sounding).  When the music drops off and its only drums and fiddle—the song booms.

He introduces “Salt Year” with “Think about the first person you ever had a crush on. so maybe not first crushes but…first lustses”

The slide guitarist messes up on the opening of the song and asks if they can do trainwrecks—his mother will never forgive him.  Bathgate says they should leave it in. So they begin again, with that mournful slide guitar and Bathgate’s delicate vocals.

He tells a lengthy story about the final song “Levee.”  He was in Maine (he had lobster ice cream for the first time–don’t try it, it’s terrible) and he was on an all night drive with a crying friend.  She was inconsolable until the turned a corner and saw a gigantic harvest moon the filled the windshield.  What’s odd about the story telling is that he seems to be telling the violinist rather than the audience.  But that doesn’t matter because this song is fantastic.  It begins with some more great harmony vocals (the violinist has a really great, slightly unusual voice.  I loved that after each line, the violinist and the second guitarist play the floor tom with a great pounding rhythm.  And the bass/guitar riff between verses is great too.

As the show ends, they reveal that they band brought pie for everyone!

[READ: February 5, 2016] “Climbers”

This story is about writers and the publishing world.  But it comes from a wholly unusual angle that I liked a lot

The story begins with Gil raving about the world of Peter Dijkstra.  Peter Dijkstra is a Dutch author who spent some time in an asylum.  He wrote five novels in Dutch and recently had a novella and some short stories translated into English.

Gil works in publishing and says he would do anything–anything–to get Dijkstra published in the States. (more…)

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may2016SOUNDTRACK: GROUPLOVE-Tiny Desk Concert #166 (October 11, 2011).

grouploveWith a name like Grouplove, I expected a certain sound–I imagined a dancey, funky, R-rated kinda of band.

  But when I listened to this set, I realized that I knew the first song, “Tongue-Tied” and I loved it–it’s incredibly catchy and poppy and with a title that belies the common refrain “take me to your best friend’s house….” I love the two vocalist and that lead singer Zucconi’s voice strains bit still sounds good.  There’s a middle section that reminds me a bit of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” with the two lead singers having a call and response section.  I only wish she was a little louder (he’s very loud).  But the rest of the song sounds nothing like that and is definitely is his own thing.  Special attention should be paid to the bassist who throws in some great lines.  I also like that the xylophone is used for percussion in this song.

speaking of the bassist, his cowboy hat bumps into something on the wall and the drummer mocks: “I’m from England I’m going to come back and get revenge.”  Bob asks for more about ths development, but the drummer continues, “He’s just bitter about the War of Independence.”  The bassist mutters, “It still hurts.”

When they released this song/album they’d only been together for a year and a half.  Hannah Hooper and songwriter, singer and guitarist Christian Zucconi met the other members of Grouplove — Sean Gadd, Ryan Rabin (son of Trevor Rabin) and Andrew Wessen on the island of Crete at an artists’ retreat.

Turns out I also knew “Itchin’ on a Photograph” (most notable for the way he sings (with a aching falsetto) “itchin on a photograaaaaph.”  Some more great bass lines here too.  Zucconi’s voice has got to hurt at the end of this song

Their final song is “Colours.”  Hooper’s harmony vocals are great on this song, and I really like the echoing electric guitar.

It’s hard for me to believe that “Tongue-Tied” is five years old, as  feel like I’ve been hearing it on the radio still.  The band has only put out once album since this one but they’ve been writing songs for all kinds of movies and TV shows.   I’d like to hear if they kept up their success of writing super catchy pop songs.

[READ: April 22, 2016] “A Shrinking World, An Opening Sky”

This story is a look a dementia (see, I said the two stories in this month’s issue were dark).  What I found most interesting about the way it was written was that it was from a close third person.  It got inside the demented man’s head but it wasn’t a first person account, so the confusion was presented objectively–a delicate balance, for sure.

It begins from the old man’s wife’s perspective.  She feels that her husband has lived long enough (she won’t say this to her family members, of course).  A while back he’d had some bad days.  There were some good days sprinkled in, but it has been steadily bad ever since.

This story is not set on his last day, but the narrator recounts his last few days which have been much the same. (more…)

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