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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BOB WEIR AND WOLF BROS.-Tiny Desk Concert #952 (March 2, 2020).

Bob Weir is, obviously, a founding member of Grateful Dead.

This set goes on much longer than a typical one (and they’re not rappers or R&B singers).  I got a kick out of this comment in the blurb:

When I produce a Tiny Desk Concert, one of my most important jobs is to make sure they run on time and that the performance sticks to our set time limit (roughly 15-minutes). So when Bob Weir and Wolf Bros achieved lift-off during a pre-show sound-check, it was my unthinkable responsibility to tell the guy who practically invented the jam band to… stop jamming.

It also fell to me to keep looking at my watch during the performance, even as I realized that my favorite “Dark Star” jams alone lasted well beyond our fifteen-minute performance window.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Dead (despite how much I enjoy jam bands).  Their music is a bit too slow for my tastes.  But in the right mood (like a rainy Sunday), they can be right on.

These songs are slow and expansive and allow for a lot of jamming.  There’s not a lot of opportunity for jamming here as this is just a trio, but Weir is very comfortable stretching things out.

The trio make an interesting look with drummer Jay Lane in a tie-dyed shirt and upright bassist Don Was in all black.  Weir stand between them in a gray T-shirt and his gray hair.

The first song

“Only a River,” from Weir’s 2016 solo album Blue Mountain, feels like a memorial to Jerry Garcia, with a reference to the Shenandoah River, a body of water Garcia famously made reference to on the song, “A Shenandoah Lullaby.” Weir turns the chorus into a mantra and seems to evoke the spirit of his fallen bandmate.

This song references the melody of “Shenandoah” pretty directly n the middle, but the “hey hey hey” let’s you know that this is a very different song.

Before the second song, he says they just got clearance to play it.  I didn’t realize that “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was a Bob Dylan song, but I guess maybe I should have.

And what would a Grateful Dead-related performance be without a Bob Dylan song? The intimacy of the Tiny Desk turns Weir into a sage Master Storyteller during a version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” with its reference to Botticelli and a lonely Roman hotel room.

The set really comes to life when special guest, Mikaela Davis comes out to play harp.

The harp is always a magical-sounding instrument and amid the quietness of this trio, it really shines.  Davis basically takes the lead on “Bird Song” including bending strings (I’ve never seen a harpist do that before).

Midway through the song, Weir waves his hand and allows Davis to take a solo while Weir puts down his acoustic guitar.

When Weir switches to electric guitar midway during “Bird Song,” I looked at my watch because I knew we were in for some time travel. And the band didn’t disappoint as the rhythmic interplay between Weir and Davis showed off his singular rhythm guitar style, honed from more than thirty years of playing alongside one the most idiosyncratic lead guitarists in modern music.

Davis does some more note bending in her solo, which is so interesting.  When Weir joins in, their music melds really beautifully.

They jam the song out for 8 minutes and as the music fades Bob says, I’m pretty sure we’re over our time limit.

He says they were slated for 20 minutes and they’re at forty now (sadly we only get to see 26 minutes).  Someone shouts “keep going” and they do one more.

They play “Ripple” Grateful Dead’s fifty-year-old sing-along from their album American Beauty.  It demonstrates

the song’s celebration of hope and optimism, found in the spirit of all of the band’s music. Bob Weir continues to evoke that spirit every time he picks up a guitar; and as we all sang along at the end, we evoked that spirit too: “Let there be songs, to fill the air.”

I suppose it’s never too late to start enjoying a band, right?

[READ: March 25, 2020] “In the Cards”

This is exactly the kind of story I don’t like.  It seemed to go nowhere and in an oblique fashion. Plus the narrator was really hard to relate to.

The point of the story seems to be the last line: “You’re crazy when you’re a good writer.”

It starts with a discussion of playing cards and moves on to tarot cards.  Her friend Michel gave her a deck and she felt ill at ease just reading the directions.  But what most disturbed her was the image of The Fool.

The narrator says she is unfamiliar with playing cards and yet later she says when she was a child they played Mistigri which is a card game.  So go figure.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: INDIGO SPARKE-Tiny Desk Concert #950 (February 26, 2020).

I was sure that I had heard of Indigo Sparke before–in some kind of NPR context.  But I can’t find any evidence of that.

The only thing I can figure is that I must have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert when it was first published, because I remembered her telling the story about driving a car (before the second song).

Indigo Sparke is an Australian singer-songwriter.  She sings quietly and plays an electric guitar almost without amplification (aside from occasionally loud drone sounds).  Bob says,

I asked everyone to gather a little closer than usual around my desk for this one.

“Colourblind” starts the set off as she quietly strums and sings.

Up next is “the day i drove the car around the block.”  She introduces the song by telling about

trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road while in Los Angeles, with a huge vehicle and a stick shift.

After that introduction, you might think the song was amusing.  But it is not

It is a tale of defeat and solace:

“Take off all my clothes, kiss me where the bruises are,” …
“Love is the drug, and you are in my blood now.”

Sparke sings a little too slowly for my liking–the kind of stretched out vocals that make it hard for me to follow the thread of the song (or maybe that you need a few listens to fully appreciate).

Before the final song, she invites her partner, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief up to play guitar with her.  She tells us that the song is so new it has no title–if you think of one while she’s playing it, let Bob know.  It has since been named “Burn.”

Lenker’s addition of chords (and lovely harmonics) add a nice extra layer to the song.

[READ: March 21, 2020] Paradox Girl: First Cycle

Who doesn’t love a story that begins: “Do you know what happens when you violate causality?”

Paradox Girl is a time-traveler who has changed her past so many times she doesn’t know what he truth is.  She also lives with about a hundred copies of herself.

Her partner in crime-fighting is Axiom Man.

This book had so much that I love in a superhero story–strong female characters, wild humor and all kinds of time-travel paradoxes.  It even had fantastic artwork from Yishan Li–I love the light purple lines that indicate some time travel magic.

But I guess I learned that this is something of a one-note premise.  Which means that most of the stories are variants on the one idea that she can appear anywhere at anytime and that her other selves will be there as well.

Often this works pretty well, but I guess reading six comics in a row gets a bit samey. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LESLIE ODOM, JR.-Tiny Desk Concert #908 (December 2, 2019).

I knew I had heard of Leslie Odom Jr. but I couldn’t remember from what.  Apparently I have heard of him from….everything.

A Tony- and Grammy-winning star, Odom has added a slew of achievements to his portfolio since 2016, when he left his role playing Aaron Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton. He’s continued his work in television and film, written a book and released jazz and Christmas albums. He co-wrote most of the songs on his latest project, Mr; out earlier this month, it’s his first album of original material.

Dang.

His singing voice is fantastic and these songs that he wrote are really wonderful.

“Cold” is a hopeful ballad with a beautiful melody and a hint of contemporary musical theater.  It opens with a lovely acoustic guitar from Jeremy Ting and piano from Tommy King.  Odom’s voice is powerful and strong and he hits some nice falsetto notes.  This is all accented by rim shots and cymbal taps from Garrison “G-Beats” Brown.

His backing vocalists, Christine Noel Smit, Nicolette Robinson (Odom’s wife) and Astyn Turr add some nice calla and response and then harmony voices. There’s a pretty acoustic guitar solo as well.

And all the while Odom’s voice and lyrics are fantastic.

When it’s finished he says, “you are the second group of people to hear that song.”

Then he

recalled advice he’d received from a friend: “You have to get used to it — you are part of a cultural phenomenon in New York City,” Odom said, before quipping, “I feel so blessed to be a part of … Law & Order: SVU for three magnificent seasons.”

Up next is “Foggy,” which he says is the most personal song on the album.  It’s much more spare, a love song filled with the regret of failed good intentions.  It’s almost entirely just he and the piano.  Although half way through some xylophone notes add a cool echoing sound.  As the song nears its end, Astyn Turr sings along with him.

Introducing the final song, “Hummingbird,” he says “This song is admittedly… I think it’s a bop, but it’s an odd little bop.  But it has been tested by my 2 year old and it is her favorite song on the album.  For this song Tommy King and Theron “Neff-U” Feemster switch places so “Neff-U” (who worked with him to make the record) is now playing piano.

The song features some wonderful violin from Andrew Joslyn.  It’s a fun boppy song and I love that everyone raucously sings the “you’re my hummingbird” line.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this set, but Odom has a fantastic voice and his songs are really very beautiful.

[READ: August 2019] Gods Without Men

I had read a review of this book by Douglas Coupland on two occasions and each time it made me want to read the book.  So I decided to read the book.  And what a book.

Coupland had warned, in a sense, that there were UFOs and aliens–but not to be put off by them.  And he’s right.  The book centers around aliens and such, but there are no “little green men.”

Rather, the book looks more at a location and the spiritual power it has had on people throughout history.

The book bounces back and forth between various eras and the present.  In most summaries of the book, the present takes prominence–and it is the most often visited timeline in the book.  But at times I found the story in the present to be less interesting than those in the past.

The book begin in 1947 with a man named Schmidt.  Schmidt drove out to the Pinnacles “three column of rock that shot up like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky.”  He used his diving rods and sensed the power here.  He paid $800 to a woman who owned the property and then settled in.  Schmidt built an underground structure to live in.  He bought an Airstream trailer and set it up as a diner.  Then he put in an airstrip and a fuel tank.  Soon enough pilots were stopping in for fuel as they sailed across the desert.  Schmidt is an interesting character (with a reprehensible past).  He also, every night, lit up the lights on top of his property that said WELCOME.

One night a ship descended from the sky. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RIO MARA-Tiny Desk Concert #905 (October 25, 2019).

Rio Mara sings (and speaks) entirely in Spanish for this Tiny Desk.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this if you don’t know Spanish.  The musical is wonderful–full of percussion and a wonderfully vibrant wooden marimba that feels utterly tropical.

Rio Mira takes its name from a river that separates Ecuador and Colombia and empties into the Pacific Ocean.

For just about fifteen minutes, the members of Rio Mira created a living and very melodic connection to Africa. Set behind a large marimba — and drums that are unique to their corner of the world — the members of the band performed music that is the legacy of enslaved people who were in both Ecuador and Colombia.

Rio Mira’s three songs in this performance are dominated by the marimba and accompanied by drums from both Europe and Africa. “La Pepa de Tangaré” references the culinary joys of life and, like the rest of their set, celebrates life along the river: soft breezes, loving friends, the embrace of Africa and, of course, lots of festejando (partying)!

Karla Kanora sings lead vocals, while Esteban Copete plays the amazing marimba.

Introducing the band (and the instruments) we meet Carlos Loboa on the cununos (a hand drum that looks like a conga).  Tito Ponguillo on the bombo hembra (a two headed drum that you wear on a strap), while Sergio Ramírez plays the bombo macho (the “male” version of the two headed drum). Fernando Hurtado plays the shaker and sings.

Benjamín Vanegas sings lead on “Román Román” with a fun and enjoyable style.  The chorus is really catchy. The middle has an extended spoken part.

If you’re a little rusty on your college Spanish classes, the extended narration in “Román Román” tells the tale of a village man who has healing powers and challenges death.

For the final song “Mi Buenaventura” Fernando Hurtado sings.  It is a fast song with the marimba going wild.  I really appreciate how very different each singer’s style is amid all of this fun percussive music.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Kid Positive”

I really enjoyed Adam Levin’s massive book The Instructions.

This story is the first thing I’ve read by him since that, and while I love his writing style I hated the content of this story.

Each section of the story shows a year in Adam’s childhood with a title to accompany it.  Like Shitty Little Tevye, Big Brother, 1980.

In this flashback, we see a young Adam enjoying it when his parents had friends over to dinner.  He would crawl through their legs to get to the bathroom and they would joke…  Is there a dog in here?  On one occasion, he came back from the bathroom singing what he thought was his father’s favorite song “If I Were a Rich Man.”  (It wasn’t his favorite song).  Adam sang it and the adults all thought it was cute except for his father, who said “Okay.”  But he didn’t mean it, it wasn’t okay.  Adam climbed back under the table and continued to sing and his father said “he’s acting like an idiot, a real fucking idiot.”

In Puppet, 1981 a puppet that Adam enjoyed watching on TV said “I think therefore I am.”  This existential phrase upset Adam and he worried that if the puppet thought he was real, how did he know if anyone was real.  Maybe his mother was a puppet too.

The Rabbits, 1982 section is a terrible part about baby bunnies dying.

In Turtle and Sensei, 1984, there;s a story about a dying (probably) turtle and how he wanted to name it Mergatroid.   The other part is a bit funnier–about his family going to see a sensei perform a demonstration. His father did not believe it–saying the board was perforated.

Adam told people about this event and then made up that at the end of the demonstration his father went to shake the sensei’s hand but then pulled him close and whispered in his ear.  When he let go, the sensei looked afraid.

In The Frost and the Frogs, 1985-86 he talks about throwing his cat.  What the hell is wrong with this story. They also kill a snake.

In Hum, 1988, all of the kids push Giles Crowley because when they do he would said “Hum.”  So they would shove him to see how many Hums he would say.  If they shoved him harder and he stumbled four steps, he would say “Hum um um um.”  It’s possible he enjoyed the attention.

Throughout, the narrator says things like

Had you asked me if I thought Giles Crowley had feelings, I would probably have told you that I had feelings because that would have addressed what I would have thought you were secretly trying to get at with your question and I’d have wanted you to know that I was smarter than you.

The story ends with Splash Pad, 2015.

Adam is grown up and married.  They are hanging out with friends who have kids at a Splash Pad–a giant fountain for kids to frolic in. The kids have a great time. The pleasure is contagious and Adam realizes that he is positive about kids–he is kid positive.

Adam was so pleased with the way the kids played so nicely that he told his friends that kids now played so much nicer than they did when they were kids.  He hoped these good childhood memories would foster

deep with them greater capacities for kindness and decency than the people of our generation possessed and that, down the line, these greater capacities for kindness and decency would grant these kids the strength they’d need to neutralize and overcome what would otherwise be our generation’s malforming influence and eventually turn the whole country, perhaps even the whole world, into a safer and friendlier place.

Are you making fun of our children, they asked.

Its nice to see that a seeming sociopath like that kid actually turned out okay.  But I’m still not a fan of this story.

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Radio Cure” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Sharon Van Etten continues down her more ambient and mellow style with this cover of “Radio Cure.”

She plays everything–keys and piano–hushed and echoed while her voice soars around the song.  About a third of the way in, the drums kick in, giving it a but of oomph.

I really like the original of this song and I don’t quite like the direction she went with this cover.

[READ: February 17, 2020] “With the Beatles”

I have realized that I really enjoy reading Murakami’s words.  I don’t always understand what’s happening.  I don’t often understand why one part of a story is put with another part. And often when I’m done I’m not entirely sure what happened.  But I really enjoy the journey.

This was one where some parts seemed mysteriously tucked into the story.  It kind of all works thematically, but it’s still a bit disjointed.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the whole thing.

The narrator starts by saying that he doesn’t mind getting older, it’s seeing other people who have gotten older that is so weird.  Really it forces him to admit that his youthful dreams are gone.

He will never forget a girl (a woman who used to be a girl) whom he didn’t actually know.  It was 1964 and this girl was hurrying down the hallway of their school, skirt aflutter, clutching the LP of With the Beatles–the original British version.  Their black and white faces were facing out as she ran.  He has turned this memory into a beautiful moment–he thinks he remembers the way she smelled even (if that is possible).  The moment was thrilling.

But he never saw her again in two more years at school.

He has met many women over the yeas and always tried to recreate that moment to no avail. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-“You and I” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Mountain Man is a trio of three women with beautiful voices.  They often sing a capella or with one guitar accompaniment.  There music is quiet, designed for you to lean in to hear better.

The original song is a gentle folk song (with some gently rocking moments).  Mountain Man make it even more gentle.  The original has a vocal harmony from Feist.  Having a two harmony voices makes this version even more special.

Alexandra Sauser-Moning plays guitar (and maybe sings lead?) while Amelia Meath and Molly Sarle sing gorgeous harmonies.

As with everything Mountain Man does, it’s delicate and lovely.

[READ: February 11, 2020] The Time Museum: Vol. 2

Volume 2 opens up with very little explanation about what happened before.  In fact, it jumps right in the middle of a chase.  A purple creature with four tentacles is running away from Delia in an amusement park.  The purple creature is a kid and he doesn’t know why he’s being chased.  Delia communicates through her wrist watch that the kid has the Icono de Prestigo.

The rest of the beginning of the book has Delia’s Epoch Team chasing this (very fast) kid as he flees with the Icono.  The kid finally settles in the middle of an exhibit for Monstro the Terrible.  They freak out and don’t want to see the kid hurt, but he says his dad works there and the exhibit has been empty for years.  Which proves to be false as immediately Monstro (who looks a lot like the monsters in Stranger Things) awakens and swallows the kid.

Through some brave and disgusting techniques the kid and the icono are rescued.

After all of that, the kid hands over the icono and says its probably all melted anyway.  What?  Then they see him walk by with another one–the icono is actually a container for an ice cream sundae.  The Team was hundreds of years too late to save the actual relic.  When they return they are given a reprimand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOOL-“Some Days It’s Dark” (2007).

I recently learned that Tool performed this cover of a song from The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy live.

In the movie Bruce McCullough’s character Grivo’s band Death Lurks plays this very heavy song (written by Craig Northey and performed by Odds).  Lyrically it’s amusingly Dark

Some days it’s dark
Some days I work
I work alone
I walk aloooooooone.

Tool is considered to be one of the most intense metal bands out there with fans taking them very Seriously.  So the fact that they covered this song (in Toronto) is fantastic.

The cover is great (of course).  They get the sound of the original right on, especially when the big heavy part kicks in.  The only problem I would say is Maynard’s delivery.  It’s a little too deadpan,  I’d like it to be a but more over the top.  But maybe that wouldn’t be Maynard’s way.

You can hear it (no video) here.

There’s no word on if they also played “Happiness Pie.”

[READ: January 27, 2020] Extra Credit

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.  Whereas Early Registration was a good collection of early material, this collection is a bit more haphazard.

It collects some Christmas specials and some early “comic strips” from Allison.  Given this seeming completest nature of this collection, I can’t imagine that there’s another volume planned.

The first story is called “What Would Have Happened if Esther, Daisy and Susan Hadn’t Become Friends (and it was Christmas).”  It’s the 2016 Holiday issue drawn by Lissa Treiman.

We zoom in on DAY-ZEE on “the edge of the boundless sweep of space” as she zooms in one the title question.  [It’s important to read Early Registration first as this story references that story].

Esther didn’t help Daisy move in on that first day.  Esther was immediately grabbed by the popular girls.  They are sitting under a tree playing music on their phones which wakes up Susan who curses them out. (more…)

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