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Archive for July, 2016

2008_04_07-400SOUNDTRACK: HOLLY WILLIAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #373 (July 14, 2014).

holyHolly Williams is a country singer.  Her lineage is hard to deny: the daughter of Hank Williams Jr., half-sister of Hank Williams III, and the granddaughter of country legend, Hank Williams Sr. (she never met him, as he died long before she was born).

She sings three songs.  “Drinkin'” which is very country.  “Railroads” rocks a bit more and has an interesting sounding chorus.  But it’s “Waitin’ on June,” a story song about her grandparents (not on the Williams side) that is beautiful and touching (although I really don’t like the way she sings the word “June,” but that’s just me).

[READ: February 18, 2016] “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry”

This story is about a young Chinese man, Wanren, who has set out for New York to try to benefit his family.  He is shocked to find that he is working in a sweatshop (he left China for this?) pressing clothes.

He has been living in the upstairs apartment of a house owned by Mrs Chen.  But his roommate has just left because he couldn’t handle the fact that the women who lived down the hall were prostitutes (who paid Mrs Chen).

When the roommate moves out Wanren is afraid Mrs Chen will raise the rent. But instead, she asks if he will drive the girls to their appointments at local hotels.  Mrs Chen assures him that he wont get in trouble with the police and he reluctantly agrees.

The rest of the story unfolds with the narrator becoming more friendly with the three girls.

Lili is the meanest of the three. She speaks the best English and answers the phone.  Nana is friendly, but it’s Huong who is the best cook and the prettiest of the three.  Wanren likes her the best.  Lili suggests that he should buy one of them for the night since he has no girlfriend, but he knows not get involved.  He doesn’t want to play favorites even though he has one.

The two of them wind up eating dinner together and sharing their living space a lot more.

He desperately wishes the girls could stop their life and do something legal, but all three of them have serious debts to pay.  Huong owes a Coyote $2000 a month for the expense of getting her to the US.

He learns about the johns and what type of people they are.  Some are married looking for something different.  Some are widows just looking for advice.  For the most part the girls aren’t ever treated that badly. Sometimes the johns go too far–one bit Huong very hard once, and another client turned out to be two men who were both so rough with her so that she couldn’t walk the next day.

One night when a client wouldn’t leave (some made house calls) Wanren stepped in to help.  And now the women like him even more.

This story is something a of a “hooker with a heart of gold” story, but the added details of their illegal status, their trying to raise money to go home and their having to pay off other men puts an interesting twist on it

Finally, the narrator finds them some honest work, but it will never pay enough.  They go to the coyote to see about changing the terms of her payment but he more or less says that if they try plaything he knows where they live.

The story is hopeless.  But somehow the ending adds a slight ray of hope, as unbelievable as it may be.

In writing about the story it seems less good than when I was reading it, but I really enjoyed the characters, especially Wanren, and seeing how his mind worked.  Even if some parts were rather cliched.

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2008_03_10-400SOUNDTRACK: JOHN GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #372 (July 13, 2014).

grantI know and like John Grant from his albums after this one.  These three songs perfectly encapsulate Grant’s pop sensibility with his acerbic wit.  His later albums are also a bit more dancey, so it’s interesting hearing these as straight up piano and guitar songs.

On “Where Dreams Go to Die,” he plays piano in a very dramatic fashion and sings in his slow sometimes whispered baritone voice.  The song is pretty and then the lyrics come in: “I’m willing to do anything to get attention from you dear.”  But it’s not until the chorus (with acoustic guitar added) that the melody gros even more catchy and the lyrics grow even more dark:  “Baby…. you’re where dreams go to die and I regret the day your lovely carcass caught my eye.”  There’s  great bass riff on the piano that he plays during the end of the song which ups the drama even further.  It’s quite a song.

In introducing “Sigourney Weaver,” he says that when he was 12 he moved from Michigan to Colorado and he hoped the move would erase his homosexual feelings.  He changed his mind about that “when he got the hang of it.”  The song doesn’t have anything to do with Weaver except as simile: “I feel just like Sigourney Weaver when she had to kill those aliens.”  Although I think the follow-up simile is even better: “I feel just like Winona Ryder in that move about vampires and she couldn’t get that accent right and neither could that other guy.”

“It Doesn’t Matter to Him” is about the inability to deal with the sudden absence of love.  It features the great lyrics: “I am no longer as awkward as I was when I was younger I guess I’m one of those guys who gets better looking as I age.”

Grant is a marvel and his songs, while caustic, are quite fun.

[READ: February 15, 2016] “Raj, Bohemian”

I really enjoyed this story a lot.

I enjoyed the way the story began with a bunch of wealthy city kids doing all kinds of debauched things with no repercussions.  None of them worked, but somehow they were trendsetters.  “We went dancing whenever we felt like it and watched illegal pre-releases of Hollywood blockbusters… By the time the world caught up we usually got bored and moved on.”

They are smug asses, but they aren’t obnoxious about it–“we despised trendies–fashion kids who tried to hard,”

And then we met the narrator’s friend Sunita who throws the best parties.   She had a gorgeous apartment and lived there rent free (for complex reasons).  For this latest party, which promised to be her best, she cryptically said “dress sincerely.” (more…)

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2008_03_03-400SOUNDTRACK: FOREIGN EXCHANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #370 (July 5, 2014).

FeIt’s amusing how “religious” lead singer Phonte Coleman comes across in this set given how profane his language is.  He begins the set by telling us what a “church clap” is: a church clap is when you clap for someone when they sing in church but they suck.  It’s a slow clap that says keep trying, baby.

Foreign Exchange is Phonte on vocals, guitarist Nicolay, keyboardist Zo! and percussionist Boogie.  Their music (in this setting anyhow) is a kind of mellow stripped down soul pop.

“On A Day Like Today” is a kind of acoustic r&b with acoustic guitar and gentle keyboards. Phonte is an engaging and fun performer enticing people to clap and singing that he’s gonna wipe the sweat off his face as he does so.

He says he’s “sweating like a preacher here.”  After the first song he hits the gong ans says “when you hear this sound, that means turn the motherfuckin’ page.”   he describes the second song, “Listen to the Rain” as when you need to wind down and things ain’t going right.  It is a delicate ballad full of nice percussion.

Before the final song he says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression so I hope this is a good motherfuckin impression.”  Then as he is ramping up the song, he tells everyone to turn to your neighbor and say “‘Neighbor, put home in your heart,’ goddamn right.” “Call It Home” is a pretty, smooth rocker.  Phonte has a good solid voice and these songs are all pretty enjoyable.

Phonte is a great front man having fun right up to the end as he jokes about how he “felt it” and was overcome during the final song.

[READ: January 29, 2016] “Leaving for Kenosha”

Richard Ford is a famous writer whom I have never read.  I think of him as writing very large books, so I’m surprised to see this short story here.

I have this image of what Ford writes, but I was rather surprised that this was set in New Orleans soon after the flood.  Interestingly, the main character is not the one leaving for Kenosha.

Walter Hobbes (which is the name of the dad in Elf, by the way) is a lawyer.  He is picking up his daughter from school before taking her to the dentist.  His daughter, Louise, is thirteen and trying to be independent.

I really enjoyed the way the Ford set up the family dysfunction–Louise needs a sleep guard to keep her from grinding her teeth–which she has only started doing since her parents got divorced.  There’s some back story about Walter’s wife leaving him and the fact that she still lives in town.  (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 27, 2016] Garbage

2016-07-27 21.26.35Back in the late 1990s, I loved Garbage.  Their debut and 2.0 were two  of my favorite albums of the era.  I had the chance to meet and greet when I was living in Boston, but when I got to the store, the line was huge and they cut it short about ten people in front of me.  But I did get to see them live.  And I saw them live later in the year when they played in New York.

They took a few years off and I didn’t love their next album.  Or the one after that.  I liked them, but I wasn’t as blown away (which I suppose is natural).  They released a new album last year and I liked it–it was a little less slick than those middle ones. And in the meantime, I’ve grown to appreciate those middle albums more–sure they are slicker, but there’s some good stuff on them.

So when I saw they were touring in the area, I thought it would be fun to see them again nearly twenty years later.

And man, was it ever.

(more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 27, 2016] Kristin Kontrol

2016-07-27 20.08.28 I didn’t know who Kristin Kontrol was before this show.  I had to look her up and I saw that she used to sing for the Dum Dum Girls (she was Dee Dee Dum Dum).  I never really cared for them (I don’t like old time “girl group” music, so I didn’t need to hear it updated).  For some reason I assumed she would be loud and brash (which I realize is not what the Dum Dum Girls sound like anyhow).  Rather, her new outfit Kristin Kontrol embraces her love of 80s synth pop.

When she came out I didn’t realize she had been performing for a few years already (they formed in 2008), so while I knew she wasn’t a new artist, I was delighted with how much stage presence she had.  She even had “moves” down (arm gestures that went along with the songs) and she was really poised.

She told us that her first concert was Garbage way back in 1995 and it was that show that made her want to be a musician.  So she was delighted to be opening for them.

The band consisted of a drummer (who used a soft mallets on his cymbals, which I liked, as well as a mixture of electronic and analog drums), a guitarist who seemed to be playing lot of weird electronic sounds with is instrument (he was on the far side so I couldn’t really see him) and a bassist/keyboardist who was right in front of me.  Despite the guitar/bass line up, the overall sound was very synthy (even when no one was playing a synth).  (more…)

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may16SOUNDTRACK: MARISA ANDERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #374 (July 19, 2014).

marisaMarisa Anderson may be the most unassuming guitar wizard I’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing flashy about her or her look, but man can she make those guitars sound great.  And she plays an old-timey bluegrass style of guitar with slides and lots of picking.

For this set she plays 5 songs (on four different guitars).  She doesn’t sing, she just lets the music do all the work.

“Hard Times Come Again No More” is done on a hollow-bodied electric guitar.  It’s noisy, and fuzzy.  She plays finger-picks the main melody in the high notes and then in the middle of the song she plays big open string chords–buzzy and noisy–while still playing the melody.  She says the song “gets stuck in my head if I’m driving through snow.”

“Sinks and Rises” is about a swimming hole in Kentucky.  She went there in a car, but she wasn’t driving and she’s never been there since but it was the best swimming day of her life.  For this song she plays a lap steel guitar that looks to be made of ivory.  It’s so much fun to watch her slowly moving that slide up and down the neck (sometimes only playing one note) while her picking hand goes like crazy.

For the third song she plays a different hollow body guitar.  “Hesitation Theme and Variation Blues” was inspired by her favorite guitar player Rev. Gary Davis.  She says this is a deconstruction of his “Hesitation Blues.”  She doesn’t sing so she took it apart and put it back together.  It begins with an almost classical theme before launching into a very cool blues.

Then she switches back to guitar #1.  She says she plays in settings didn’t allow cover songs, she didn’t want to do just originals so she played songs from public domain–like the national parks if we don’t use them we’ll lose them.  In 2013, she released an album that was all songs in the public domain.  “Canaan’s Land Medley” is a medley of three gospel songs.  She plays the melodies with her fingers and a slide on her pinky–which adds some cool textures to the song.

For the final song, “Galax,” she brings out guitar #4, a Fender Strat (or knock off). She says she went to a bluegrass festival and was overwhelmed by all of the good songs being played in the parking lot–she’s not even sure if she got to the show.  This song is about all those songs being played at once.  There’s some really fast guitar playing and slide at the same time.  It sounds great and is even more fun to watch.

Anderson is really a marvel–totally soft-spoken and seemingly shy, but main is she amazing to listen to.

[READ: July 13, 2016] “Call Me Crazy”

The May 16, 2016 issue of the New Yorker had a series called “Univent This” in which six authors imagine something that they could make go away. Since I knew many of them, I decided to write about them all.  I have to wonder how much these writers had to think about their answers, or if they’d imagined this all along.

Of the six articles, Brownstein’s was certainly the funniest.  It’s also the most contemporary and almost the most obvious thing to complain about.  But it suits her comic style very well.

She wants to uninvent the conference call.  She assumes that we all agree that the conference call is a bad idea, but in case we need convincing she offers this example. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 22-24, 2016] XPN Fest

2016-07-24 15.34.58Even though I go to a lot of shows, I don’t really love Festivals.  I actually enjoy concerts too much to enjoy Festivals.  Which sounds dumb, but I’d rather see a band I like on their own play for a full set than for 30 minutes with a bunch of people who don’t really want to see them.

I’ve been to a few festivals over the years, and I have thought about going to other ones, but since I typically don’t want to spend a few days in the sun (and a few hundred dollars), I don’t go.

But the past two years we have seen some great headlining acts at XPN Fest.  And we thought it would be fun to go for the day, bring the kids and just have a fun day outside with music and vendors.  We bought tickets before the lineup was even announced.

WXPN members get half-priced tickets (which is cheaper than some of the regular shows I’ve been to) and kids’ tickets are $15 for the three days.  Perfect.

In the past, I have loved most of the headliners, but this year I didn’t really like any of them. The three day pass includes lawn seats to the headliners, but we wound up not using them at all. (more…)

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