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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Ventura (2013).

Not content to have just one concert on a release, Ventura contains two complete concerts from July 30, 1997, and July 20, 1998, at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, California.

It’s an opportunity to compare the band at the same location one year later–these two shows exist in the vacuum between the release of Billy Breathes (1996) and The Story of the Ghost (1998), so there’s a few “new” songs in 1997, but it also doesn’t mean that they are playing the same sets–not by any means.  In fact, between the two shows they repeat only two songs: Water in the Sky (new) and Prince Caspian (from Billy)

1997 sees the band in good form.  After two solid openers with “NICO” and “Wolfman,” they play a wild “Chalk Dust” which has some crazy dissonant soloing in it.  “Water in the Sky” is a slow countryish version with piano and twangy guitar.  There’s a great “Stash” with appropriate audience clapping (I really want to see that live) and then a typically fun “Weigh.”  This is followed by lovely versions of “Piper” and “Cars Trucks Buses,” and the set ends with a slow funky version of “Character Zero.”

Set two opens with a groovy “Pinch You in the Eye” (9 minutes) and a great jamming version of “Free” (almost 12 minutes) with a funky solo.  “Free” is one of my favorite songs by them and I always think of it as “new” because it is rather poppy.  But it’s from way back in 1996 so it’s surely not new. After about four and a half minutes of trippy sounds and echoes. they start “David Bowie” (which includes The Simpsons riff and a Doh!).  The solo is long with a lengthy piano section and a mellow jazzy middle before it turns a little funky and then to a groovy jam to the end.  It runs for just over 21 minutes and the end of the song starts the chords for Talking Heads’ “Cities,” which the band segues into perfectly and then segues back into “Bowie” fop another 6 minutes.  There’s a scorching end of the song with a lot of noise before the end.  Those last scorching solos each have a break where the band sounds like they are collapsing before resuming perfectly.  It is a spectacular 32 minutes of music.  (Their live releases have me believing that they “Cities” a lot more than statistically they do).

They slow things down with a relatively mellow version of “Bouncing around the Room” (as mellow as that song can be anyhow) and then the bluegrass version of “Uncle Pen.”  The end of the second set comes with a mellow jam to start “Prince Caspian.”  Even the jam is mellow for about 9 minutes, but the set ends with a raucous version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Fire.”

The encore is a rollicking run through “My Soul” with a very fast “mymymymymymmysoul oh my soul.”  It’s a great show with lots of perfect peaks and valleys.

There’s a bonus track–a 9 minute soundcheck jam.  There’s some casual singing of some “dah dah dahs” and some high pitched “ooohs.”  A keyboard solo follows and it ends with a noisy section and a scream of delight.

In 1998, the band opened the show with a 21 minute “Bathtub Gin.”  It’s not that often that their opening song is a big ass jam.  (I’m sure someone has stats to back that up).   There’s a lot of piano riffage in the middle too.  After this, the band plays mostly short songs for a while: a mellow version of “Dirt.” Then a  fast and fun “Poor Heart” (in which Trey introduces Mike as the author–which he is).  Then a jazzy “Lawn Boy.”  There’s a romping “My Sweet One” which segues into a rocking “Birds of a Feather.”  By the time the get to “Theme from the Bottom,” which sounds great, they’re ready to stretch out.  It’s about 9 minutes long with a nice long solo.

They repeat “Water in the Sky” from last year.  It’s pretty although a minute shorter than 1997.  There’s a 4 minute jam before “The Moma Dance” starts proper (that will be on Ghost).  The set ends with a 14 minute “Split Open and Melt.”

Set 2 opens with a really long (14 minute) version of The Who’s “Drowned” and a dark moody jam although the reggae chords of “Makisupa Policeman” start long before “Drowned” ends.  And as the reggae jam starts, Trey sings “woke up this morning… SKUNKED” to much cheering.  The song ends with a trippy synth section that segues into “Maze.”  Page continues The Who theme with a solo version of “Sea and Sand.”  It’s interesting that in 1997 their second to last song was “Prince Caspian” (about 9 minutes). A year later their second to last song is also “Caspian,” this time 12 minutes with a rocking solo.  It segues into a stellar set-ending fifteen minute “Harry Hood.”

The encore is a crazy “Sexual Healing” sung by fish.  It’s goofy and it goes on way too long (nearly 8 minutes), but they follow it with a 12 minute jam of “Haley’s Comet.”  I love the harmonies.  The song ends with some rumbling noises as the guys leave the stage.

The bonus soundcheck is a reggae riff with them reciting the lyrics “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire.”  It’s a decent enough jam for a soundcheck although I’m most impressed with how Trey ends with a wrap-up riff instead of just stopping the song.

The bonus soundcheck songs aren’t that great to have–more like special feature on a DVD.  But the main sets are fantastic.  And you get 35 different songs between the two shows.

[READ: November 22, 2016] Tales Told in Oz

I read the 16 Madras Press Books some time ago and posted about half of them.  So here’s the other half coming up.  So what is Madras Press?

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.

For this particular book, “The author of the bestselling Wicked Years series returns to Oz with a compendium of folktales.  Proceeds to benefit Friends of West Hartford Library.”

I’m probably the only person who would read this book not knowing who Gregory Maguire was.   Well, I’ll amend that.  I knew who he was and I loved Wicked when I read it.  But I forgot who he was (his name  did sound familiar, though).

As I said, I loved Wicked but didn’t read anything else in the series.  I was only vaguely aware that there was a series–evidently there are 4 books and this book is considered 0.5.

All of this is introduction is to set up why I didn’t really enjoy this book that much.  Not realizing that it was part of Maguire re-imagining Oz, I thought it was weird and arbitrary that it was “set” in Oz.  Why not just make up your own world to tell these stories about.

Now realizing what was at stake, I appreciate it more, but since I’m not invested in his series (or really in Oz itself–I’ve never read more than the first book of that series either), these were just amusing tales. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: January 2017] A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

We listened to this book on our recent trip to Vermont. dragon

It was utterly unnerving to have the delightful Susan Denaker read this book because she was the author of the Penderwicks series which we love.  And her voice of Batty in that series is identical to the voice of the main girl, Winnie in this series.  But once we got past that (and it did take a while, we found this story to be fun and enjoyable.

But this story went in a direction I absolutely was not expecting–especially based on the title.

Each chapter has a heading like in an instruction manual for the care and feeding of Humans: If you value your happiness and sanity, take your time and choose your pet wisely.  To train your pet you will need three things patience, patience and above all patience.

And it seems to start out with that premise in mind.

For this book is narrated by a dragon, known as Miss Drake.   As the story opens, Miss Drake is in mourning because her pet, Fluffy, has died. Fluffy is the name she gave to Amelia, and older lady whom the dragon appeared to.  When Fluffy died Miss Drake planned on going to sleep for 20 or 30 years to get over it.  But just two days later, a little girl waltzed into her den–the girl had the key and everything! (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby

I was really excited to get this third volume of the Nightmares! series.

The previous book ended with the startling revelation that on the first day of the new school year, India Kessog (INK) is sitting in Charlie’s classroom.

INK and her sister ICK were responsible for creating the tonic that nearly destroyed Orville Falls–not to mention the Dream Realm, the Netherworld and the Waking World.

Charlie and his friends knew that INK was on this side of the portal and that her sister ICK was still in the nightmare realm, but they never expected that INK would come to them rather than then having to track her down.

INK is still dressed like she has always been–in old-fashioned clothes with a red bow–exactly the way that she (or ICK, they are twins) terrorized everyone’s dreams in Charlie’s town.  As INK walks through the school–observing everything very carefully–all of the kids keep their distance and stare and whisper.

When she sits down to eat, she is repulsed by the chicken nuggets–who wouldn’t be?  But she loves the tater tots.  That must make her okay right? (c’mon, EVERYONE loves the tater tots).  Charlie is just about to go approach her when his little brother Jack beats him to it.  And he starts talking to India (he calls her Indy) like she was his friend instead of a monster.  They seem to be having a good conversation until a new characters approaches. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 2016] Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic

2I though the first Nightmares! book was great.  I had listened to both of these books before, but what was fun about listening this time is that the end of book one gives a little hint at what book two would be about.

Towards the end of Book One, the story tells us that Charlotte’s business was doing well, although a new store had opened up in the next town and was also doing very well–possibly taking away her customers.

And that’s essentially what book two is about.  (No, not about small town commerce).

But let’s back up.  In book one, Charlie Laird and his three friends Paige, Alfie and Rocco prevented the evil president of the Netherworld from taking over the waking world.

Back up some more.  Nightmares aren’t bad.  They are there to frighten us, yes, but their goal is for us to face our fears and come out stronger.  They don’t want to hurt any of us. But the nightmares have an enemy–the goblins.  The goblins have been forced out of the nightmare realm never to return.  And they are constantly trying to get back into the Netherworld. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2016 & November 2016] Nightmares!

nightmresI loved Jason Segel on How I Met Your Mother.  I loved that Jason Segel was instrumental in bringing The Muppets back to the big screen.  And now I love that Jason Segel has written a series of really enjoyable–funny and frightening–children’s books.

This book is about–wait for it–nightmares.  But not in the way that you might expect.  Segel (and Miller–I have no idea how much she contributed to the book) have created a realm where Nightmares live.  It is a wonderfully realized and very well thought out world.  And I am really impressed with how well the whole story works.

It is the story of Charlie Laird.  Charlie is a pretty normal kid.  He does okay in school, he has friends, his family loves him.  But three years ago his mom died unexpectedly.  It was a harsh blow to him and his family.  Charlie has never really gotten over it.  And what has made it especially tough is that Charlie’s dad recently got remarried.  Apparently he got over it just fine.

If that weren’t bad enough, Charlie’s family moved from his old house–the house he grew up in and loved–into the mansion on the hill.  Not a far move–still in the city of Cypress Creek–but worlds apart from what he was used to.  Or what he wanted.

The mansion has always been there in town. It is huge and…it is purple.  It towers over the whole town–you can’t avoid looking at it–and it has always been rather creepy.  It was built a long time ago by Silas DeChant, and it has been in the DeChant family ever since.  So it makes sense that Charlie’s new stepmother, Charlotte, who is a DeChant, would want to live there.

But Charlie hates it  And he hates Charlotte, and he hates anything that tries to get him to see reason about his horrible stepmonster (I didn’t like the lazy use of this term, but it is rather appropriate). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DELICATE STEVE-Tiny Desk Concert #606 (March 24, 2017).

Delicate Steve is Steve Marion.  He plays instrumental music with great “vocal lines” that come from his guitar.

On record he plays everything himself, but for this concert he brought a backing band.  So the bass (Jessica Pavone) and acoustic guitar (Jon Wiley) play a fairly simple song structure while Steve plays gorgeous lead lines (often using a glass slide to create cool sounds and voices).  The drums area also particularly cool in these songs as drummer Max Jaffe really goes to down on the electronic drums he’s playing.

On the four songs, Steve has a Panasonic FM/AM Premium Stereo Cassette hi-fi, to plug his trusty custom guitar into.

“Afria Talks To You” is a great rocking song (the drums are particularly booming) and the backing music plays some big chords while Steve makes some great soloing throughout. I particularly love that his solos are just showing off, they are genuinely enjoyable melodies.

“Winners” has a delightfully upbeat almost cartoony sound for the first melody, before it switches into a really groovy sound (there’s also a middle section that sounds an awful lot like “Mrs Robinson” (think: “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,” even the bass is the same), but the rest of the song is quite unique and really fun.

“Tomorrow” is a slow groovy song with some fun bass to start with.  Then there’s a great guitar line on top.  I really love the way these songs all seem to have so many things going on in them.  The middles section turns into a different type of song entirely without sounding like it’s disconnected.  There’s also some kind of synth coming through–although maybe its just his guitar making extra sounds?

Introducing the final song “Night Life” Steve says “We took all the words out because Bob said there were no microphones”.  This is perhaps the simplest melody of all of the songs.  But it doesn’t take away from the quality of the song overall.  The end is very funny because you know it’s supposed to end on a chord but he halts it without playing it….it just hangs there feeling unfinished.

He jokes, “we’ll play that chord next time.”  You hear Bob say “we gotta wait five years?”

Instrumental music can be a challenging prospect, but Delicate Steve makes incredibly catchy songs that don’t suffer in any way from a lack of words.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain

Book 9 opens with Lunch Lady saving the day with some deadly honey mustard.

But this book is all about elections. And video games!

Turns out that Hector is distracted from running for student council president because he can’t find his X Station Mobile anywhere.  But he needs to focus on the campaign because bully Milmoe is running and has already spent a ton of money on banners and cookies and everything else that makes elections so much fun.

But beyond the elections, there’s a lot happening in the school.  A lot of electronics are missing although we see Gavin Computo has a new e-reader (and he’s rather smug about it).

News is also out that the new superintendent Eliza von Grindheimer (not Betsy DeVos) will soon be revolutionizing the schools.  She will be investigating their school soon. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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