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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GRACE VANDERWAAL-Tiny Desk Concert #751 (June 6, 2018). 

I had been listening to the All Songs Considered podcast when Bob Boilen told the below story about how he found Grave VanderWaal.  Since I don’t watch any show with anyone with talent of any kind, I had never heard of her either.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my “accidental concert experience,” I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America’s Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn’t look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you’ve likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we’d recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America’s Got Talentand, now, a Columbia recording artist.

Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn’t take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as “Moonlight,” a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.

“She always has a smile
From morning to the night
The perfect poster child
That was once in my life
A doll made out of glass
All her friends think that she’s great
But I can see through it all
And she’s about to break”

Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It’s easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace’s show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you’re about to pass on watching this one, figuring you’re not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.

I was curious about this Grace after his story (and also wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when I saw that Grace Vonderkuhn was playing nearby in Philly ( I didn’t make that show).

So this Grace has a raspy voice, making her sound much older than 14.  But when you look at her she looks like a fragile child.  I’m not sure how poppy her recorded music is, but the ukulele-driven song “Moonlight” is fun and different, despite the very poppy overall feel.

She’s accompanied by “her beautiful beautiful guitarist” Melissa Dougherty.   Dougherty also sings great backing vocals.  Is she annoyed being the accompaniment for a 14 year old?

She says that “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” has become her favorite–she was always told the song was too much of a downer.  Her voice is surprisingly deep in the beginning.  Indeed, she has a nice command of her voice–low and high notes.  The guitar melody is quite lovely, too.

“Clearly” is kind of a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”  They thought that it was such a bright happy song and her producer thought it would be cool to add darker lyrics leading up to the happy chorus.  I don’t know the original verses I don’t think, but of course I know the song.  And listening to it now, it doesn’t need darker lyrics, but it’s fine that they’re added.

So this isn’t so much a cover as taking a really great idea and building a new song around it.

But don’t like the way the chorus has changed:

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.
I accept all of the things I cannot change.

What did they put the AA slogan  in the voice of a 14 year old?

Plus I hate that they have modernized the delivery of the “bright bright sunshiney day.”  Part.  It sounds like  contemporary vocal melody and it’s just wrong.

So I’m mixed.  Glad I heard her.  But even more glad that I didn’t make the same mistake that Bob did.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Polish Rider”

This was an interesting story about an artist and Uber.

Sonia is a Polish artist–she grew up in Poland.  She is about to have a show at a gallery curated by Elena.  But she wakes in the night realizing that she has made a terrible mistake. She has allowed two of her paintings to be hung on the wall with paint on the edges.  The rest are “blank” or painted white and look clean, but these two–she is full of regrets that she allowed them to be hung as they were.

Her paintings are all variations of the same thing: the famous kiss between Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic republic from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonid Brezhnev, the head of the U.S.S.R. from 1964 to 1982  The iconic Socialist fraternal kiss took place in Berlin and was photographed by Régis Bossu in 1979.  The photo was ubiquitous in Kraków.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel painted the image on the East side of the wall with the caption: “God help me survive this deadly love affair.”  In March 2009 the artist spruced up the paining, which Sonia thought cheapened the whole thing.

Sonia’s canvasses all showed this kiss, meticulously done and very clean, But each canvas was done in a different style: cubist, chiaroscuro, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Starlight Social Club, Waterloo, ON (April 24, 2016). 

After reuniting for the AGO shows back in 2015, Rheostatics decided to make a proper go of it again.  This included yet another show at Massey Hall (this time with Martin’s voice working).  In order to prep for that show, they first played this show

Warm Up show prior to April 29 2016 Massey Hall show. First club show since March 29 2007 at The Horseshoe Tavern. The Band consisted of Dave Bidini, Don Kerr, Martin Tielli, and Tim Vesely. With Hugh Marsh on Violin and Kevin Hearn on Keyboards/vocals. Trent Severn guested on Fan Letter To Michael Jackson and Making Progress. Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub was in attendance at this show.

This is a great show with everyone sounding in good form.  Although I love Hugh Marsh and think he is amazing, his violin does tend to take front and center for a lot of this material.  Same with Kevin Hearn’s piano.  They are both essential, but they sometimes feel like more than the other guys (especially he soaring solo of “Stolen Car”).

As the show starts, Dave Bidini begins the banter: Great to be in Kitchener, Waterloo… you’ve changed.  The first show we ever did as Rheostatics was in the hotel across the way.  We slept in the carpark and couldn’t escape Alexanian Carpet (which they talked about back in 2007).  Here’s a bunch of songs.  Hope you like them.

“King of the Past” seems subdued but lovely, with Hugh Marsh’s soaring violin.  It’s followed by “California Dreamline” which opens with soaring guitars from Martin.

It’s followed by “Claire” which sounds great.

Dave says it will take a while for our patter to come back.  Then there’s some new country played on the monitors and Dave suggests that a new direction for them.

“P.I.N.”  sounds bright and positive although I think Kevin’s keys are too much in the chorus.  Martin even sneaks in a “Dirty Boulevard” line.

Dave notes that they were a band before drinking out of a water bottle was cliched–to give you an idea of the age of the band.  We predated grunge.  Actually we invented grunge and then decided it was a bad idea but we left it lying around and someone found it.

The first of Dave’s songs comes in with “Mumbletypeg” it is of course poppy and fun.

Then Kevin recites some of the story of Dot and Bug before starting “Monkeybird.”  Martin makes some wonderful crazy sounds and by the end Kevin starts a chant: I say banana you saw worms.

“It’s Easy To Be With You” is also very keyboardy, with a solo from Hugh or Martin, I’m not sure.

“Song Of The Garden” almost feels entirely like Kevin and Hugh.  It’s lovely.

Kevin starts a sample from Mister Rogers which can only mean “Fan Letter To Michael Jackson.”  Dave says they’ll play this for Prince and for Michael.  Trent Severn (Lindsay Schindler, Dayna Manning and Emm Gryner, in the flesh) sing the “it feels good to be alive” part.  The entire ending (with Martin joining in) is spectacular.

There’s a pretty one-minute guitar segue into “Making Progress” with a very cool long solo by Marsh.

They play a great version of “Self Serve Gas Station” at the end of which Martin says, “and then that guys escaped out of the bathroom window, he’s climbing down the side of the building.”

“Queer” has a lengthy piano solo from Kevin but there’s no “find me another home” outro.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” has a big drum (and much percussion) solo by Don Kerr.  The song ends with some great howling while Martin’s guitar soars.  Martin even brings up the old jokes about someone misunderstanding Don Kerr’s name:  In heavy accent: “Why do you call yourself ‘dont care.'”

“Shaved Head” sounds great as they head into the first encore break.

When they come back out Dave says “I’m working on this solo bass project if you’ll bear with me…..no?  your loss.”

Kevin asks “how many of you are going to Massey Hall?  Don’t share the setlist online so it’s a surprise for everyone.”  It will be next Friday at Massey hall with Amelia Curran

After many requests, they play a slow and powerful “Palomar.”  It’s followed by a pretty version of “Stolen Car” with what I think is a drum machine.  When it’s done, Martin says, “Let’s all smoke cigarettes!”  Dave tells everyone, “Enjoy Game of Thrones.”

There’s a five-minute encore break.  After 4 minutes you can hear country music playing as if it over, but the boys come back out.  Dave: “Now I’m gonna miss Game of Thrones for sure!”

They return with Kevin’s “Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun” and then a great version of “Saskatchewan” (even if Martin forgets some of the words).

They end with “Legal Age Life At Variety Store.”  The special guest on guitar: “Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Telli’s son… they’ve never met before.  It’s beautiful.”  I don;t know who it is but he plays a solid rockabilly guitar solo followed by a ripping piano solo from Kevin.  It’s all over after 5 minutes.

With a total show time of just over 2 hours, it’s a nice welcome back.

[READ: January 11, 2018]  A Legacy of Canadian Art from Kelowna Collections

I find the subject of Canadian Art to be rather fascinating (possibly because it’s more digestible than the expansive European or American histories).  This stems from my appreciation of The Group of Seven.  They loom (probably unfairly) large in the Canadian Art world.  So it’s interesting to see how the fit in with the rest of the history of Canadian Art.

This book is the publication from an art exhibit that from July 1 to October 15 2017 at the Kelowna Art Gallery.  What I found especially interesting about this show was that the pieces came from eight probate collections in Kelowna (as well as the gallery’s permanent collection).  But basically eight art collectors in Kelowna allowed the public to see their private collections.   That’s fascinating to me and I have no idea how common that is.

The book opens with thanks and kind words from the director and the curator with a longer essay from Roger Boulet.  He talks about the history of art and artists in Canada as well as collectors and their beneficence to artists and the public at large.

The book is divided up into eras. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Tiny Desk Concert #696 (January 22, 2018).

The new St. Vincent album is not very guitar heavy.  There are guitars but they are often very processed soundings.  And there’s very little in the way of shredding.

On tour, she has been playing acoustic guitar versions of some of the songs for VIP guests.  I was curious what kind of Tiny Desk Concert St. Vincent would do.  And I am delighted that she chose to do the acoustic show here (even though a set of old and new stuff with just her and the acoustic guitar would be amazing).  As Bob says:

Whenever I imagined a St. Vincent Tiny Desk Concert, it was always going to be loud and electric.

I recently saw St. Vincent live, but getting to see her up this close, it’s really amazing just how long her fingers are.  This lets her play some really interesting chords.  So here she is with just her acoustic guitar, playing three songs from MASSEDUCTION.

Annie Clark stood at my desk, in front of a few hundred-plus NPR employees and close friends, and hit us hard with her un-amplified voice, unplugged guitar, her checkered wardrobe and most importantly, her songs.

“New York” is wonderful to hear on guitar as the album version is all piano.  I love the way the simple back and forth chords of the chorus are replaced by the really interesting and complex chords of the verses.

“Los Ageless” sounds so very different in this version.  Rather than the full on dance version, this opens with a plucked guitar chord structure and some cool fast guitar solo-ettes.  It is remarkably different from the slick production of the album.  The chorus which is powerful and wonderful on record is slowed down and almost quiet here–a very different take on this great song.  One that really shows off her voice, too.

After telling the NPR staff that she listened every day, she says she has one question “She heard that underneath her sensible button down Terry Gross has full sleeves of tattoos.”  Bob: “All true.”  “That’s what I figured.  Terry goes hard.”

“Slow Disco” ends the album and it too is very different here.  It really showcases her voice, especially at the end.  The acoustic versions don’t really show off her mad guitar skills, but they do show some interesting chords structures.  I wonder if after her next album, if she returns to a more guitar-based sound, if these songs will get a new treatment live.

It’s fascinating to see her swaying as she plays these songs because live she is stock still, unmoving and statuesque,  Bob also notes:

This stripped-down set is more about emotion, more about a one-on-one connection, and that’s the bravery. To come out from the lights and the effects, leaving the laptop sync behind, pulled me into these songs in ways both the album and her live show hadn’t.

You can hear similar acoustic versions (as well as an interview) from World Cafe.

[READ: January 9, 2017] “Texas”

This is the first story I’ve read by Gates.  It is about Garver, a sixty-three year old painter and how his life has changed since his wife left him to move to Italy.

His children wished he’d had a better attitude, but who were they to talk.  William, his oldest, had actually graduated, with a degree in marketing.  Emma had gotten pregnant in her sophomore year and was a stay at home mom in Texas.  Marianne had finally straightened out enough to hold down a job at an animal shelter near Burlington.

He still lived in the huge house that his children grew up in.  He still had payments on it.  And he was too young for social security.  But he needed money.  So he decided to rent out the big house and live full-time in his studio out building–which was four-season ready and even had a mini fridge that he installed when he and his wife stopped speaking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BIDINIBAND-The Carleton, Halifax, NS (February 13, 2015).

This is the most current solo show from anybody on the RheostaticsLive webpage.

Bidiniband’s third album came out in 2014 and this show chooses from it pretty heavily.

The show starts (Dave sounds either like he has a bit of a cold or he’s just worn out) with Dave saying “We’re going to start with a song about the cold, because it is.  Fucking snow, eh  Wow.”  “The Grey Wave” has great chord changes in the chorus.  It is a slow folkie song about cold and snow.  I like that he whispers “let’s go” before the buzzy but quiet solo.  The chorus comes out of that fairly rocking (a least for this set).

Dave continues, “I have some news.  Last night I was offered cocaine in the bathroom of the Alehouse.”  (Don, on drums, whispers, “in exchange for what?”).  Dave: “I think the guy just wanted to be my friend.  He was a bit of an asshole.  Cocaine is the one drug I think where when people offer it to you and when you say no, they apologize for having assumed you wanted any.”

Someone else notes: “I like that we’re the rock band from Toronto and we’re the ones shocked by all the drugs everyone is doing.  We were in BC and we were shocked at the big jug of MDMA being passed around.”

“Everyday Superstar” is a rocking, swinging song.  I love that the chorus is “I’m an animal out of control” but it’s kind of slow and mellow and at one point he says “its true.” And there’s this lyric: “When it’s hot, I’m gonna be Bon Scott you be Lita Ford.”  At the end of the song, someone asks, “Does everybody in the house know what bass face is?  You never know when Haddon is going to a picture of you with that face.”  Dave tells a story that Haddon Strong had a subscription to a magazine and it was addressed to Hardon Strong.

Introducing “My First Rock Concert” he says, “this is a song about music.  I bet you think it’s ‘Proud Mary’ but it’s not.  That was done last night.”  He sings it kind of whispering/spoken.   In the middle, Paul plays the riff to “Brown Eyed Girl” while Dave is singing “you’re either a mouse or Steven Page.”

“Take A Wild Ride” is s short song that segues at the same fast tempo into “The List” which is, again, almost spoken.  He throws in some other people who have made the list.  Jian Ghomeshi and Joel Plaskett (he was in Thrush Hermit) and at the end he says, “only kidding about Joel.”

“Big Men Go Fast On The Water” is a great-sounding song–in this version, the guitar riffs between verses sound like Boston.  They played this song last night at “Stolen from a Hockey Card” at the Spats Theater.  Dave was disappointed there were no spats there.  He says, “If I’ve over pattering, just tell me.”

We wrote this song “Bad Really Bad” about the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Three chords and the truth.

“In The Rock Hall” is about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland from a poem written by Paul Quarrington  Once again he almost whispers, “C’mon Halifax, let’s rock.”   About “Ladies of Montreal,” he says, “I didn’t think there were enough songs in indie rock well, elderly indie rock, independent seniors, about beautiful women… boobs, you know.  It came in a dream.  I had to write it.”  Dave says it is sexist although I don’t exactly know what he’s saying with the French words.

Getting ready to play “The Motherland Part 1,” he asks, “Jerry you brought your flute, did you?  Oh fuck’s sake.  It’s okay. I think I told you last night but we were both pretty hammered.”  “The Fatherland” is “a heavy metal political song…political metal… politometal.”  It totally rocks and at the end Dave says “I don’t understand, the dancing girl left and we’re playing our most uptempo tunes.”  Before they complete the trilogy with “The Motherland Part 2” someone in the band asks, have you got the cocaine?–its pure MDMA.  Don rehashes the story about him throwing up at a party in the closet because of hot knives.  The middle of Part 2 really rocks.

“Last Of The Dead Wrong Things” is quieter for sure but the chorus and backing vocals are great.  Where there’s usually a drum solo there’s a kind of quiet freak out.

He says, “we’re going to do one more” (boo) …well how many more do you deserve?  Seventeen, eh, you have a very inflated view of yourself.”

“We’ll do ‘Fat,’ (a song “by Rheostatics band”), it has similar chord shapes don’t hold that against us.  Did I tell you we were playing this one?”  “Would it matter?” Let’s have a round of applause for Kevin Lacroix on the bass and Don Kerr on the drums.  Paul Linklater on guitar.

“We played with Corb Lund yesterday, from Alberta.  He’s very handsome and very accomplished.  “Really really handsome.”  Kevin: “I made out with him.”  Dave: “I made out with a guy who I thought was Corb but who was really the cleaning guy for the hotel….  Last night on this very stage he intoned, he evoked the name of Washboard Hank Fisher….  You’re not going are you, it’s going to be a good song.”  They have Lots of fun with “The Midnight Ride Of Red Dog Ray”  with over the top backing vocals.  And in the solo, we get Paul Linklater, one more time pickin’ and grinnin.’

Before the next song Dave says, “What are you guys laughing at?  I can see you in the mirror, you know.  This is my favorite club coz I can watch my rock moves, they’re top ranked.”  Don:  “That’s actually Dave’s mirror, he brings it to every club and says that.  It’s embarrassing.”  Dave mentions a famous story (doesn’t know who it’s about) about a heavy metal singer who was hammered and he saw the guy in the mirror and thought he was mocking him.  So he challenged him to a fight.  That’s rock n roll.”

“You got a weak bladder Jerry?  I’ve got a weak bladder, too.  I’ve peed myself twice during this set.”

This is an album by Bidiniband called The Motherland.  It’s a delicious record and I’d like you to buy it.  All of you.  It’s only $10.  Produced in Toronto in a studio  … by professionals.  Trained professional sounds.  Nothing like what you’re hearing tonight.

There’s a great buzzy bass sound on “Desert Island Poem” which is “a funny song about cannibalism.”  Dave gets pretty crazy at the end.

It segues into a wonderful surprise of them playing”Queer.”  And then a terrific version of “I Wanna Go To Yemen” with a fun wild sliding solo.

He wishes everyone a good night and they leave for a few seconds.  “If we take a break we probably won’t play anymore.  But that was break…  We probably should have taken a longer break and milked it more… but we didn’t.”

“Do people who come to lean along the bar are they into the music?”  Kevin: “Those are some of the best people in Halifax…but the creme d la creme starts right here.”

Jerry didn’t find his flute did he?  Dave asks for a hand for the opening act, Communism Music, look them up

The first encore is the hilariously offensive song “Take A Bath Hippie.”   Sample verses:  “This ain’t the 1960s / These are brand new modern times / everyone is equal and everyone is doing fine,”  “Your revolution ended the day Trudeau retired.  A land of Stephen Harper… we got the country we desired.”   He asks, “You guys got hippies out here?  Probably not. You got Buddhists.  That’s just as bad.  They lie around in their robes  eating flowers.  Shaving each other’s heads.  Sacrificing a goat here and there.”

 We’re all getting G&Ts?  Thank you people of the night.  Kevin: “Treating us all equally?  Like my parents.  My parents would bring us all something she wouldn’t bring me a G&T without bringing one to my sister.”  Dave: They were saints.

FYI, tomorrow, there is Hockey Day in Canada–a ton of games on and footage from the concert last night with Theoren Fleury, Rich Aucoin, Buck 65, Miranda Mulholland, and the ever handsome Corb “The Boner” Lund and The Barra MacNeils.  Dave did a short movie about John Brophy, that’s gonna be on.  “Fuck, it’s Saturday… just sit at home and watch hockey.  It’s what we are supposed to do.  If you don’t, Stephen Harper will have your ass.  But I’ll save you because I’m the hockey guardian.  No I’m not, I’m just tired.”

We’ll try to do one last song.  Have we done “Take a Bath Hippie?”  We’ll save it for next time.  I’m trying to not do a typical show closer tune.

Last gig Kevin played with this band he was playing drums.   I guess it didn’t go well because he’s been demoted to bass. (ha ha).  Dave: “You’ve got the best bass player joke about what happened to Gordie Johnson.”  Kevin: “oh no that’s just nasty.”  Dave “You’re right, its for later in the washroom when were doing coke.”

They play a surprising “Stolen Car.”  It’s so weird to hear Dave sing this song (which he wrote)–he whisper sings it (and can’t really hit the notes).  It segues into a folkie
“Legal Age Life -> Do You Wanna Dance -> Legal Age Life” with them singing, “Oh yeah music is fun.  Friends are fun.  Rock n roll is fun.  Sloppy and fun.”  They end with a Johnny Cash line get rhythm when you get the blues.

Who would have guessed that just seven months later Rheostatics would reunite?

[READ: November, December 2017 & January 2018] West End Phoenix

West End Phoenix is a newly created newspaper.  It was inspired by Dave Bidini.

I have loved just about all of the music that Bidini has created (with Rheostatics and Bigdiniband) and I have loved just about all of the books he has written.  So why wouldn’t I love a newspaper created by him?  Well, possibly because it serves a community that I do not live in and have very likely never visited.  That’s right, this is a community newspaper for a community that isn’t even in my country.

And it is terrific.

But why on earth would I want to read it?  Can I really like Bidini that much? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIIL TRIONOV-Tiny Desk Concert #691 (January 12, 2018).

It has been quite a while since there had been a classical pianist on Tiny Desk.  And man, what a return.  Trionov is just stunning and he makes some of the more complex piano pieces in musical history seem easy.

NPR’s Tom Huizenga has written a splendid blurb which I’m putting here because he covers far more than I could:

When we invited Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov to play a Tiny Desk concert, we rolled out the big guns. In place of the trusty upright, we wedged a 7-foot grand piano behind Bob Boilen’s desk in preparation for the artist who The Times of London called “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.”

That’s a pretty lofty claim, but watch and judge for yourself. His performance here is extraordinary. Still in his 20s, Trifonov seems to have it all: jaw-dropping technique and interpretive skills beyond his age. He’s also a composer — the night before his NPR visit, he played his own knuckle-twisting piano concerto at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C.

But for his Tiny Desk show, Trifonov focused on Chopin, beginning with the mercurial “Fantaisie-Impromptu” in C-sharp minor, a work that mixes sweeping melody, turbulent passion and wistful repose. Hunching close over the keyboard with feline agility, Trifonov’s slender fingers glide effortlessly. He coaxes the instrument to sing tenderly in the slow central section.

Trifonov follows with a pair of short tributes to Chopin by his peers. Robert Schumann’s “Chopin” accentuates the lyrical side of Chopin, filtered through the German composer’s forward-looking harmonies, while Edvard Grieg’s “Hommage à Chopin” offers volatility, lovingly rendered.

The smartly programmed set is capped with more Chopin, but with a nod to Mozart: the finale from a set of variations based on an aria from Don Giovanni. It gives Trifonov a chance to display his lightness of touch, plus a few pianistic fireworks. Smiling, he treats the tricky filigreed runs and hand crossings as if it were a child’s game. Look closely and you can see the piano shake.

So Trifonov plays four pieces.  The middle two are quite short.

Chopin: “Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66”  This is one of my favorite pieces.  The fast part is jaw-dropping and the slow part is achingly beautiful.  His fingers flow over the keys like he was simply petting a cat.

Schumann: “Chopin. Agitato” (from Carnaval)  Trifonov says Schumann wrote a tribute to Chopin called “Chopin,” which was a portrait of the man.   This is a quiet, delicate piece and it is so much fun to watch his hands float seemingly weightless above the keys.

Grieg: “Hommage à Chopin, Op. 73, No. 5”  This tribute focuses on the more stormy and turbulent aspects of Chopin’s faster work.  It slowly builds in intensity with very fast finger work.

Chopin: “Variations on Là ci darem la mano‘ (from Mozart’s Don Giovanni) – Coda. Alla Polacca”  Chopin wrote a variation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  This is the finale. There are some amazingly intense runs up and down the keys in this piece as well. And again a lot more bouncing around with his left hand to high notes.

This was a tremendous Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: December 13, 2017] Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly Battle

I really enjoyed this third Crafty Cat book.  Anya continues to be an unreasonable character (and I want someone to stand up to her!), but her awfulness allows for some good humor and good setups in this book.

The book opens with Crafty Cat saving an ant after dusting it with glitter (the ant now feels pretty special).  But then it’s soon time for Birdie to get to school.  She tells us that they are picking roles for the class play about butterflies.  Everyone is supposed to pick a bug they want to be:  “Be creative in your choices, we don’t need ten ladybugs.”  Birdie confesses that she is going to be the butterfly she has even crafted a small model of the wings that she can make.

Then Evan shows up.  He rescues a glittery ant from the sidewalk (that was amusing)  and then reveals that he is going to be an ant for the play.  When Birdie says she’s going to be the butterfly, Evan has reservations.  When they enter the school we see 10 students all wanting to be the butterfly–especially Anya.  And image HER surprise when other kids want to be the butterfly–which is her role, after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKATING POLLY-Fuzz Steilacoom (2014).

“Ugly pop” is how Skating Polly describes their music.  And it’s a pretty good descriptor.  Their music is loud and brash and the two members can both sing pretty and scream loudly.

Both Kelli Mayo & Peyton Bighorse play drums and guitar and piano and they alternate for different songs.  Kelli’s instrument is more of a bassitar–a bass with just a couple of strings on it.

How on earth do they make such a big sound with such limited equipment?  And how do they write such great songs?

I guess at this point it’s worth mentioning that Kelli and Peyton are stepsisters and, when they made this album in 2014, Kelli was 14 and Peyton was all of 19.  How, then do they make music that sounds like a perfect continuation of the riot grrrl 90s?  Catchy, with lot of distortion and a whole lot of pogoing.

The other fascinating thing about these songs is that they are short.  You’d assume that fast punky songs–with only two instruments and no guitar solos!–would barely clock in at 3 minutes.  But these songs are almost all 3 and a half, some pushing four minutes.

“Alabama Movies” has a cool staggered riff with a high bass note that stands out in a really cool way. The song is smooth and rocking until the chorus where Kelli lets her shriek flag shine and the song totally rocks.  “Scummy Summer” has a very different sound–more tinny and guitar-based–including a moment mid-song when all of the fuzz drops out and it’s just a clean guitar and simple drums.  I’m assuming that this is a Peyton song.  They trade-off styles like this throughout the album–some heavier, some lighter, but pretty consistently with a lot of distortion.

“Ugly” really shows off what they can do.  Opening with some acoustic guitar and whispered vocals, the rest of the song follows a rumbling bass line and thumping drums:

I wear my face just like my skin
Dried up, paint-free, and authentic
I let my hair just soak up grease
I brush it with my fingers, see?

and then this more disturbing third section, in which they don’t hold back:

Suzy went to school this morning
Suzy went to class this morning
Suzy was loudly droning
Suzy told the class her story
You can look in the mirror
Might not like what you see
You can try to change it
But you’ll always be ugly
And you’ll always be nothing

They mix up some of their style even more with songs like “Break Your High” which is almost fast folk.   This one has a waltz beat and acoustic guitars.  The rest of the album plays with these dynamics in interesting ways.

They sisters are very impressive with their tightness-t-hey stop on a beat and change styles mid-song as easily.

I’m a little underwhelmed by the production of the record.  Specifically the drums, which sound like they are made of cardboard.  The guitars (especially Kelli’s bass heavy one) sound great though.

The final song, “A Little Late” throws everything out the window and shows a totally different side of the band.   It’s a five-minute piano song with the lyrics sung in a round–both Kelli and Peyton singing over and over each other.  It’s really interesting and quite catchy. the way the song slowly builds, adding new instruments.  There’s a lot of components to the song, but I especially like:

Chase away the thoughts that make you hate
‘Cause hate does not create
And hate at best will just keep you a little late, a little late

This was their third album.  I have yet to hear their earlier two, but their follow-up was pretty outstanding.

[READ: October 17, 2017] Brave

Tabitha chose to read this book because she really liked Awkward.  It takes place in the same universe, and I love that the characters from Awkward make a cameo.

Peppi (Penelope) is back in this story but she is a very minor character.  Indeed, the book says that there will be more books set in Berrybrook Middle School presumably with many different characters in the lead.

This story follows Jensen, an overweight, socially awkward, not-terribly-bright boy who has anxieties but generally doesn’t feel that he is being picked on (he is).

Peppi is part of the art club and that’s where Jensen finds some friends, too. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIEN BAKER-Tiny Desk Concert #690 (January 10, 2018).

Julien Baker joins a handful of artists who have now made a second appearance at a Tiny Desk Concert.  (If they start inviting artists back regularly, they’ll never get ANY work done at the NPR offices).

I was quite enamored with Baker when I watched her first Tiny Desk Concert.  And I was totally smitten with her when I saw her open for The Decemberists.

Julien plays three songs here.  I’m intrigued that in the blurb Bob says “I reached out to ask if she would be willing to do something different this time around.”

It makes it sound as if she’s going to do some kind of dance/electronica show.  But I guess the difference is that last time, she just played electric guitar and this time she mixes up instrumentation and adds a violinist.

The first two songs, “Hurt Less” and “Even,” were accompanied by Camille Faulkner, with Julien on piano for the opening tune and acoustic guitar on the second.

If Julien Baker sounds delicate with just her electric guitar, she’s twice as delicate on piano.  But her voice sounds exquisite–powerful, honest and a little raspy, adding a slight edge.

I love seeing her sticker-covered acoustic guitar as she sings on “Even”:

Putting my fist through the plaster in the bathroom of a Motel 6 / I must have pictured it all a thousand times / I swear to God I think I’m gonna die / I know you were right / I can’t be fixed, so help me

She tends to play her guitar a little louder than the piano, so this one is a bit more dynamic.  The violin adds some aching sounds over the top.

I love that she plays each song in a very different style:

For the final song, Julien put together an arrangement of “Appointments” that begins on electric guitar, which then was looped as a backdrop to her on piano and voice.

It’s always fun watching someone loop guitar melodies.  And I like that she continues to loop long after it seems like the looping is done.  This allows for some of her gorgeous ringing chords.  They continue to ring out as she plays the piano.  It’s even cooler that she can stop parts of the guitar looping while she is completing the song.

All along her voice, which seems so delicate when she starts proves to be really powerful, especially during “Appointments” when she builds to a powerful high.    When I saw her live, she held a really long note that was quite impressive.  Don’t be fooled by the quietness of her music, Julien Baker rocks.

[READ: October 27,2017] Threads of Blue

This is the sequel to Beautiful Blue World, a book I really enjoyed.

In the first book, Mathilde’s country of Sofarende was being attacked by Tyssia.  She was sent to a special location to work on the war effort–they needed precocious children and she was picked for her empathy.  As the book ended, Mathilde followed her empathy and, while their encampment was under siege, released a teenaged prisoner of war because she felt that he was a good person who was just caught up in the war.

This act caused her to leave her group (and her best friend Megs) and to miss the conveyance to safety.

As this book opens, Mathilde wakes up on a boat that is bringing her to the country of Eilean.  She has secret documents and an order to be secretive.

The book picks up right where the previous one left off (I could have used a slight refresher, honestly). (more…)

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