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Archive for October, 2016

ogresSOUNDTRACK: NEKO CASE-Tiny Desk Concert #316 (October 31, 2013).

nekoI was pretty excited when this show happened, because NPR streamed it live.  But I gather they have since edited it down and there’s no finding that full version.

But that’s all fine because I don’t know that all that much has been cut out.  And we still have evidence of Neko Case singing in a gorilla suit and Kelly Hogan (of the gorgeous pipes) sings with her eyeball in a bird’s mouth.

Her band plays three songs from her then new album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.

It’s funny that the tone when she arrives is spooky (with a heart beat and whispered comments), but when they begin “Night Still Comes,” it sounds as beautiful as ever.  The music is spare–just keys and drums, but between Neko and Kelly’s vocals, the sound is amazing.

For “Calling Cards” the keyboardist switches to guitar and, delightfully, Kelly Hogan uses the blades from a Garden Weasel as beautiful chimes.  We have the same tiller and they really do sound clear and pretty like that.  It’s also delightful to hear Kelly’s voice coming out of a creepy skeleton creature.

The final song is “the spookiest number”… “it could get stabby.”  Neko says she tried to get a sexy gorilla costume, but they were out.  “Local Girl” features one of the best Kelly Hogan vocal lines: “you know you do all of you shame on you all of you lie.”  I can’t help but think that Neko brings the best out in Kelly.  And of course, Neko’s voice sounds great all the way through the set.

The show is just way too short for how good it is!

Happy Halloween!neko2

[READ: September 8, 2016] Ogres Awake!

I’ve really enjoyed the books in The Adventures in Cartooning series, and that includes the Adventures in Cartooning Jr. Books, like this one.

These books are all short (which makes it hard to write about them without spoiling everything), but they’re a lot of fun and they work hard at helping young kids learn to draw.

The Knight is playing fetch with Edward, his horse.  They hear a rumble and plan to go inside before it rains, but then the Knight notices that Ogres are all around the castle, sleeping.  He knows how much trouble the ogres can cause so he runs to tel the king. (more…)

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mustcahe SOUNDTRACK: SUN RA ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #402 (October 31, 2014).

sunraSun Ra was a big band innovator who claimed to be from Saturn.  He died 20 years ago, but he would have turned 100 in 2014. And the Arkestra that bears his name keeps his spaced out spirit alive.

The band plays jazz, but most often that jazz is noisy and abrasive and seems to make no sense at all.  Sometimes it seems like it would just hurt to listen to it.  But when they gel, the music is trippy and cool.

The first song, “Along Came Ra”/”Zoom” opens with the group singing “When the world was in darkness and darkness was ignorance, along came Ra.”  And after a few times through this the chaos begins (that would be “Zoom.”  All of the horn players just start wailing on whatever.  The violin plays something, the keyboard is all over the place.  It is noise and chaos and probably hurt people’s ears there.

And then it stops and a proper jazzy song “Queer Notion” begins.   It has a catchy piano melody.  When the horns come back in, they feel slightly off somehow, as if deliberately not quite playing what you’d expect–but very close.  There’s even an electronic keyboard solo (set to a nice spacey sound).  The band leader (Marshall Allen, who is 91 and has been with the Arkestra since the early 1950s) play a “melodica” that has some kind of spacey processor on it.  And yet for all the craziness there is some real fundamental jazz beneath it.

“Angels and Demons at Play” has a trippy underlying riff with horns over the top.  The biggest surprise comes after a few minutes when the violinist sings the title slowly and dramatically.  The song builds and repeats over and over and then ends with chaos and drama.

The set ends and there is much applause and the band wishes everyone a Happy Halloween–the band came dressed complete with costumes inspired by Egyptian symbolism and science fiction.  And just when it seems like it’s over (and this surprises Bob) they start another song.

“Interplanetary Music” is a big fun sing along  with lots of clapping and it seems like the kind of thing they might end every show with.  So even though some of the music is crazy, there’s good fun at the heart of it all.

[READ: June 1, 2016] The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny

This Glorkian Warrior story was probably my least favorite of the three.  It felt really long, possibly because many of the jokes were repeated a lot.  I did get a kick out of how the mustache appears in the very first pages and then almost never makes a return appearance.

The best part of the story is that the Glorkian Warrior continues to be incredibly stupid.  When he says good morning to his coffee, super backpack says “good morning” and warrior thinks it is the coffee that talks back.  So he thinks, “I just invented talking coffee.”  He and the backpack argue for a few pages (my favorite parts are their fights because the backpack is smart and the Warrior…isn’t).

And then in cones a bunch of little kids (crazy Kochalkan characters, of course).  There’s Crazy Face, Doonky and Bronk (who only says Bronk).  The kids want to go on a mission with him but he says no. (more…)

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dino SOUNDTRACK: NATHAN SALSBURG-Tiny Desk Concert #213 (May 3, 2012).

nathanI had never heard of Nathan Salsburg until the Joan Shelley Tiny Desk Concert (posted about yesterday).  Salsburg in a fingerpicking guitarist and his accents and trills sounded wonderful in Shelley’s folk songs.  Well, this show from three years earlier has Salsburg playing two gorgeous instrumentals (which maybe explains why he didn’t sing backup with Shelley).  The blurb notes that “he’s been playing guitar for 22 years, yet he’s only played out publicly for a few months.”

Were it not for the blurb, I never would have guessed that the first song, “Affirmed” celebrates the Triple Crown-winning horse Affirmed. It has a slow easy pace (not racehorse-like at all) but it is full of lovely riffs and lines and sweet melodies.

The blurb continues, “when Salsburg picks up the guitar, what comes out is a mix of blues and ragtime, but these are 21st-century rags from an old soul with new energy.”  And that’s quite apt.

The second, song “Eight Belles Dreamt the Devil Was Dead,” tells the tragic story of Eight Belles, who in 2008’s Kentucky Derby tripped across the finish line, coming in second place, and tragically broke both her front ankles. The horse had to be euthanized on the field.”  Despite this horribly sad tale, this song is not sad, it is also pretty, measured and upbeat–a celebration rather than a dirge.

I feel like there aren’t many people making music like this anymore–delicate acoustic guitar instrumentals with complex phrasings and lengthy passages.  It’s quite beautiful, all of it.

[READ: June 1, 2016] Science Comics: Dinosaurs

The first Second non-fiction comics are some of my favorite books that they have put out.  And this new series called Science Comics proves to be just as outstanding as I could have hoped.

I started with this dinosaurs book first.  It opens with a testimonial from Leonard Finkelman a professor of philosophy at Linfield College.  He talks about how he used to draw dinosaurs as a kid and he thought he was being so outrageous because he gave them stripes!  No one knew any better back then, but now we think that many dinosaurs had all kinds of marking and some even had feathers!

Okay so my son is 11 and when he was 5 or so he went through a dinosaur phase. I thought I knew everything there was to know about them back then.  I learned the ones he liked but never really went any further in my knowledge (despite all of the books in the house).  Well, this book showed me just how dumb and ignorant I was about dinosaurs (in a really fun way). (more…)

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1985SOUNDTRACK: JOAN SHELLEY-Tiny Desk Concert #473 (September 25, 2015).

joan When I first started listening to this Tiny Desk Concert, I thought Shelley was going to be singing more of a country music style.  But more careful listening revealed an early British Folk songwriting style.  Because I’d heard Richard Thompson talking about Sandy Denny recently, I  thought of her.  So I was pleased to see that the blurb (and Shelley herself) references Sandy Denny as well.

The Concert is Joan on acoustic guitar and Nathan Salsburg (she describes him: “my band, we are Joan Shelley”) on the second guitar.  They play beautifully together.

The songs, like “Easy Now,” are really pretty with a delicate finger-picking style from Shelley and fairly complex finger-picking soloing/accents from Salsburg.  But the best thing is her voice.  Clear and powerful–no warbling or hesitation, just clear beautiful singing.

I didn’t think I knew Joan Shelley, but “Stay on These Shores” sounds incredibly familiar to me.  She says that she is from Louisville Kentucky so it doesn’t make sense to her that she would write songs about the ocean.  She attributes it to the Sandy Denny lineage.  The way she sings the first line of this song is just hauntingly beautiful.  I really love this song a lot.

In “Not Over By Half” it is almost uncanny how much she sounds like a 1960s British folksinger.  Her delivery and phrasings are just amazing.  This is another beautiful song, all three of which came from her album Over and Even.

Shelley is an amazing force in folk music.

[READ: August 31, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986

Schulz had been writing Peanuts for about 35 years when these strips came out.  Wow. It’s interesting to see how many themes have stuck around and how many have gone away or come back and been updated. I also love seeing the few pop culture references that he deigns to throw into his strips–things that he assumed would be eternal, I guess, or maybe things so ubiquitous he had to mention them?

Snoopy’s brother Spike is on the cover of this book.  I am somewhat surprised at how much attention he gets (especially since I don’t remember him at all).  The problem is that almost all of his jokes are about cactus.  I feel like Schulz was going for a loneliness angle, but it all seems to involved cactus “arms” or thorns.

The year starts off great for Patty because she won an essay contest on what she did during her Christmas vacation (she got a D- on the paper in school, however).  She even gets to read it out loud (where things don’t go so well).  Of course, she continues to get D miuses and in July 1986 she even get a tutor. He is quite snarky with her and she calls him Joe Sarcasm.  (There have been dozens of Joe ____ characters, although almost all of them have been aliases of Snoopy, this is one of the few for someone else).  Then she calls him Captain Tutor.  He shouts that his name is Maynard.  So Patty calls up Marcie to say she should meet him–he’s just her type…weird.  It turns out that Maynard is Marcie’s cousin (ha). Eventually Patty just throws him out.

For Valentine’s Day in 1985, Charlie has Snoopy pretend to be the little red-haired girl and Snoopy puts on a curly wig–is that the first insight into the girl’s appearance?  That week people are all hit by lost love.  It seems like an unusual and very specific emotion for Schulz to deal with–something he never really talked about before.  He’s certainly talked about lost loves, but never so directly.

Marcie continues to be one of my favorite characters.  Especially the way she picks on Patty.  Patty is still falling asleep in school all the time.  In Feb 1985, Marcie puts a binder on the back of her head, walks her up in front of the class and then shows off a “full-scale model of the human head” to the class.  Genius.  Patty doesn’t even wake up.

Linus decides that building a rock wall is good therapy.  It is suggested that he can do this instead of needing his blanket.  But let’s not go crazy.  Later, Linus tries to do his own laundry and Lucy catches him trying to stuff his shirt into the laundry detergent bottom

Every once in a while there’s a really wordy strip that I find very funny.  In March of 1985, Charlie is telling Sally a story from his grandpa about WII: “all the enlisted men were issued two pairs of shoes, but a lot of them men wore only one pairs so they could keep the other pair shined and looking nice under their bunks.  Battalion headquarters decided that the men should alternate shoes each day and to make to sure they did, the men had to lace their shoes on a certain way.  One day they had to wear the shoes which had the laces crossed and the next day they to wear the shoes which had the laces going straight across.”  Sally sensibly asks,. “How did they ever win the war?”

Sally is always asking her big brother for homework help, which he tends to refuse.  In March she says if he helps, he’ll get her everlasting gratitude.  When he doubts she knows what that mean she says “’til I ask you again.”

Sally has also been doing a lot of handwriting practice over the last few years.  Mostly it’s different pieces of punctuation (with funny comments about them).  In May 1985 she works on commas and possessives and quotation marks.  After telling Charlie all about it she says “stay tuned for the inside story of what goes on in the glamorous world of punctuation.”

And in some wonderful Sally mistakes that make me laugh: “behind the barn the farmer had a pastor” or “the walls were covered with naughty pine.”  For this one, she looks at Charlie and says “You looked like you were going to say something” and he wisely says, “not for anything in the world.”

In the realm of deliberate puns, Snoopy tells Woodstock to get a  job in a tree “you could be a branch manager.”  Sigh.

Pop culture: in May 1985 it is revealed that Woodstock has a satellite dish.  In August 1985 Patty reveals that she and Marcie are “mallies” :  They go to the mall to hang out.  But Patty is distraught that Marcie actually buys something there.  They even meet “a punker” which is snoopy with a kind of mohawk.  In October 1985, Sally does a presentation on Halley’s Comet saying that the next time it comes by will be in 2062–we’ll all be 80 years old when that happens.  [It passed by us in Feb 1986].  In May of 1986, Lucy starts a “swimsuit issue” campaign for the school paper.  She gets all the boys to wear swimsuits.  And in June 1986 Charlie’s desk comes equipped with an airbag.

In August of 1986, Linus asks Snoopy (the attorney) is he thinks cameras should be allowed in the courtroom.

August 1986 has Sally saying “I’ve decided to embark on a program of serious discipline. I’m going to eat properly, sleep properly and exercise properly.”  Charlie asks, “Then what?”  She replies, “You’re right, forget it.”

April 1985 sees an Easter Beagle strip (not as many of these as you might think).

There’s always baseball, and in April 1985 Charles mentions the new commissioner of baseball Peter Uberrroth (he took over in 1984).

There’s a lot fewer hockey references these days although Rerun is riding on his mother’s bike with a helmet and says people confuse him with Wayne Gretzky.  A few months later in March 1986 he has a Baby on Bike sticker on his helmet (That was a huge fad in 1985).

There’s not that much about football this year, although Sally wants to know why the guy is always holding up John 3:16 and then says she assumed it had something to do with John Madden.

There’s some tennis but not as much.  In March 1986 Molly Volley returns for a brief run with Snoopy.

Schulz must have been displeased about technological advances: Charlie tells Sally “if we watch TV all the time, we won’t have to learn to read.  if we use word processors and calculators we wont have to learn to write or do math.  Pretty soon we wont have to know anything.”  Sally replies “That’s when I’ll fit in.”

On the environmental front, in November Sally does a paper that she ends with “This report was written on recycled paper… no trees were destroyed to make this report.”

Summer camp in June of 1985 is all rain all the time. The only thing worse than all the rain is the prospect of a sing-along.  Ha  In 1986, the kids go to a survival camp which is pretty funny: “there are people out there who want to destroy our way of life.”

In August of 1985 Charlie and Sally are told that they are going to start taking the bus to school.  I love the way the joke plays out that they decide to walk instead, but the computer says they are on the bus, so they get in trouble.

Last book, Patty an Marcie went to a lot of Tiny Tots concert (Patty hates being called that). They always see Peter and the Wolf.  I wish that my kids went to Tiny Tots concerts.  But anyhow, in June 1985, Patty saves her ticket stub in hopes they will have raffle at the end–maybe she’ll win a violin.  Later in August 1986, Patty shows off her musical knowledge by asking why it is called Mostly Mozart, why not “Regularly Rachmaninoff, Principally Prokofiev, Frequently Franck, Largely Lehar, Chiefly Tchaikovsky [my favorite joke],  Mainly Mussorgsky, Essentially Elgar, Supremely Schubert or Generally Gershwin”.

Every once in a while Charlie gets a small victory.  Like when Linus tells him that he knows Charlie would like to cry but that he’s too macho.   Charlie gets excited “I am?!”

There’s few jokes of Woodstock getting attacked by a can of worms.  And even though i like Woodstock as a character a lot, for some reason, it’s always funny seeing him getting beaten up.

The World War I flying Ace continues to appear.  In a new twist he often speaks to Marcie in French.  Although in 1985, instead of the ace, he pretends to be Charles Lindbergh, the “Lone Beagle.”

Lucy continues to be a voice for women’s rights.  When Snoopy is flying over No Mans Land she asks what about No Woman’s Land.  So he changes it to “No Person’s Land.”

In February of 1986 Sally believes that the LL on the elevator button in the library stands for Louis L’Amour “that’s pretty neat having your initials on an elevator button.”

Schulz also taught me something new.  A ganglion cyst is also called a bible bump.  It is a cyst that forms on your wrists and they say you should hit it with a bible.  I’d never heard of this, but apparently it is a thing and quite common.  Of course Schulz uses it as an excuse to make a joke about the different translations of the Bible.

In another funny sequence, Snoopy and his scouts get a cannon.  And they fire it!  But it destroys not only his dog house but also Lucy’s doctor booth and even Schroeder’s piano (over the course of several strips).

In May of 1986 they elect a May Queen.  In Charlie’s school, Lucy is elected (which makes Patty say that the school has low standards).  In Patty’s school… Patty is elected!

Sally gets a great joke in.  A speed limit sign says 25 When Children are Present.  She says, “I never realized we had so much influence.”

And the best one liner of all: Sally has to go to the dentist “I have to go have my teeth criticized.”

Two new characters arrive in 1986.  One is a girl who is unnamed.  The joke with her is that Linus is two months older than her but she keeps referring to him as if he is an old man.

And in September 1986 we meet Tapioca Pudding.  Her dad is in licensing and she always talks about how her face is going to be everywhere.  Every time she talks to someone she introduces herself by her full name and everyone says “I know.”  Linus asks her out on a date (which makes Sally really jealous), but all she can talk about it herself and her licensing.  She asks Linus if she is boring him “No I always like to rest my face in a marshmallow sundae.”  Finally Snoopy the agent gets her a gig appearing at the Opening Ceremonies in the Olympic Game in L.A. (which were two years earlier).

In October 1986, Sally develops a new philosophy “Who Cares.”  From now on nothing bothers me.

When Patty wants to organize a football team, Marcie says the costumes aren’t feminine enough.  Then she wraps the football in a bow.  Patty gets mad and says she won’t kick a ball that’s wrapped in a bow, but Marcie says “The Icebox would”  Patty: “Refrigerator” Marcie: “Whatever.”

Lucy didn’t pull the ball away in 1985 (there was no mention of it).  But she does in 1986 with the excuse that it is a special moment to look forward to every year.  Then she pulls it away and sighs “it’s over before you know it.”  There’ also a Great Pumpkin joke in 1986.  Patty says she believes him about the Great Pumpkin.  And then jokes that “On Secretary’s Day the Great Secretary rises from her desk and rides through the city in a taxicab with notepads for all the secretaries everywhere.  And on Grandparents Day the Great Grandmother rises out of her condominium with cookies for all the grandchildren in the world.”

As 1986 draws to a close, Charlie gets up the nerve to wink at the red-haired girl. There is no reaction because she wasn’t in school that day.

And the musical jokes continue in December 19896 with Patty saying the enjoyed the concert because Marcie spent the whole time “Flauting with the flirtist.”

Patton Oswalt wrote the introduction.

He mentions how he bought the third Calvin and Hobbes treasury in 1988 and Schulz wrote the introduction to that.  Schulz’ introduction was full of praise for Watterson’s technical skill and all the wonderful details he put s into his strips.

Oswalt talks about how over the 35 years the strip went from kids writing with desktop inkwells and now he’s talking about answering machines.   Oswalt is dismayed that Schulz had to include an attorney as an imaginary Snoopy character–a sad reflection on our world

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[ATTENDED: October 26, 20162016-10-26-19-47-23] The Monkees

Like most people of my age I used to watch The Monkees on TV.  I was never a huge fan, but I liked the show a bunch and used to sing the theme (and pretend to be The Monkees when at the beach).  But I never really gave them much thought as a musical act (especially when I got older and learned that *gasp* they didn’t even play on the songs!).

Then I learned that there are some people who really really like The Monkees.  My college roommate was a huge fan, and a fellow I’ve met through another friend is an even bigger one–Craig, good luck on that book, man!  I also found out that Sarah and her fried Joanna used to watch the show all the time and were mega Monkees fans (without the album buying).

So when the band announced their 50th (FIFTIETH!) Anniversary tour, I thought it would be fun to go and thought Sarah would really enjoy it.  Sarah saw them on a previous anniversary tour (25, maybe?), where Peter, Micky and Davy were presence (Mike doesn’t typically do this sort of thing).  Of course, with Davy passed on, we wondered just how much of a Monkees show this would be.

Well, I never realized that Mickey sang most of the songs.  It makes sense now that I think of it, he is the voice of the Monkees after all, but I’d assumed it was a bit more democratic.  So as long as Mickey’s there it is still a Monkees gig.  Having Peter there lends it some credibility (Mike did perform a couple of shows when the tour went through California). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 26, 2016] Shellac

2016-10-25-22-32-01My friend Andrew asked me if I wanted to go to see Shellac.  They were a band I liked in the 1990s and had kind of forgotten about, although I did get and enjoy their album from last year, Dude Incredible.  And I thought that they would be a fun band to see live.

Shellac is known as Steve Albini’s band.  Albini is a famous record producer and famously cantankerous dude.  But people love the clarity and crispness of the sounds he gets.  On the Shellac albums, the guitars are so sharp and piercing that they feel textural.  But he also doesn’t mix things super loud, so nothing is overloaded.  Things are sharp and crisp.  And that is the same for the drums.  Drummer Todd Trainer’s snare drum really pops and the rest of his kit is just as sharp sounding.

On the other end is bassist Bob Weston.  Weston has one of the best bass sounds I’ve ever heard.  Deep and resonant, clean but not pretty.  While the guitar may be the most notable thing about Shellac, it’s the bass that sounds so impressive on those records.  And the three together make loud aggressive sorta punk, with Albini’s spoken/screamed lyrics.  This was definitely a show to bring earplugs to.

The sound of Shellac is quite minimal and, appropriate, so was the stage show.  Before the show Andrew and I joked that the blue gels covering the lights would be too much embellishment for the band.  And indeed, when they came on stage, there were eight white spotlights that lit them from the back.  And that was it.  It was all about the sound. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 26, 2016] Shannon Wright

2016-10-25-20-43-31My friend Andrew got us tickets to see Shellac. When I looked to see who was opening, the site listed “Shannon Wright.”  I had never heard of her.  I had t laugh that the blurb on Shellac was literally two sentences.  While Wright’s was 8 large paragraphs.

It made me excited to see her, but I had no idea what to expect.  And then she came out with just her guitar (and flashbacks to Kishi Bashi’s opener Twain came hurtling at me).

But Wright was no Twain.  She started with a looped guitar melody–rather pretty.  And then she turned it off–that appears to be her “tuning music” because once she started playing–it sounded nothing like that loop.

Wrights play a very aggressive guitar–she doesn’t strum of pick so much as pluck those string so that they slap back against the guitar.  Her low notes are percussive and her high notes are painful.  She uses no pick, so it really emphasizes this abrasive style.  Her songs have a very steady rhythm on the low notes–very easy to bob your head (or in some cases seriously headbang) along to, while the melody gets hammered out on the high strings. (more…)

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