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Archive for the ‘M. Ward’ Category

[ATTENDED: December 4, 2019] A Very She & Him Christmas Party

S. and I have a large Christmas album collection.  It’s fun to add a CD a year or so, especially when they are new and interesting.

We’ve enjoyed the two Christmas CDs from She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward).  So when it was announced that they’d be coming to Philadelphia (actually starting their mini-tour here), I got tickets right away.

We went in with expectations of a sweet Christmas experience.  And that’s what we got.

They played about 30 songs and the biggest surprise for both of us was just how long the show was.  I assumed 75 minute, but it wound up being almost and hour and 45 minutes.  That’s the holiday spirit! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 4, 2019] Pete Lee

Exactly one year ago S. and I attended the Brian Wilson Christmas Special.  This year we were in Philly for the She and Him Christmas Party.  Clearly December 4 is the day for Christmas specials!

A few days before the show (we were the first stop on the tour) it was announced that comedian Pete Lee would be opening the East Coast dates while Patton Oswalt would be opening the West Coast dates.  (It’s not often that I wish I was on the West Coast, but this is one of those times).

I had never heard of Pete Lee. When I looked him up I saw this on his bio:

Pete Lee was the first stand-up comedian to get a standing ovation on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and it resulted in him appearing on the show three times in the last year.

Interesting.

That’s all I read before the show.  But looking at the bio after the show I see that it really does sum him up pretty well:

Pete’s joyful humor comes from his Midwestern roots. Raised in Janesville, WI by divorced parents and a 19-inch television, he was destined to pursue a career in entertainment.

(more…)

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[CANCELLED: June 12, 2018] M. Ward/The Decemberists

S. and I love The Decemberists.  They are probably one of our favorite bands.  Despite this, we haven’t seen them live all that much.  In part because they went on a huge long hiatus after releasing one of my favorite albums (why didn’t I see them on that tour?).

We have seen them twice (only!) and each show was great in its own way.

But when they announced a new tour with a date in Philly AND New Jersey, I was sure to get tickets for both shows.

They were scheduled to play at the Mann Center on June 7.  The Mann is an amazing venue but it is a super duper pain in the butt to get to.  So, we decided that since we had tickets to the show in Red Bank, we would blow off the Mann show.  Astonishingly I couldn’t sell the tickets, so I just ate the price.  Dang.

Turns out Colin’s voice was giving him trouble and that show wasn’t his best.  Although they did wind up playing a great set list.

Nevertheless we were very excited for our show and hoped his voice would be perfect five days later.

Then today at 3:30 this afternoon we received this email.

The Decemberists event scheduled for Tuesday, June 12 at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ has been cancelled due to Colin Meloy’s ongoing voice issues.

We effectively missed two shows of one of our favorite bands in a week. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHE & HIM-Christmas Party (2016).

The first She & Him Christmas album was a little flat, a little dull.  So I wasn’t that excited to get a new one.  But this one is so much more fun than the first.

Zooey Deschanel feels much looser and freer and the music is more lush and not so restrained.  It’s still not anything like the craziness that Zooey Deschanel is capable of. In fact, there’s a lot of restraint.  But some fun is certainly have, mostly as little asides.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” starts the album and you can hear the big change.  There’s a choir singing behind her which sounds huge (in comparison) and Zooey puts a nice vibrato on her voice.  There’s drums and a bouncy beat.  This album feels very much alive compared to the first one.

“Let It Snow” slows things down.  But it’s and jazzy very appropriate to the song.

“Must Be Santa” is a silly fun track.  This one has accordion and a bouncy backing chorus.  Like in the Dylan version, they list the presidents along with the reindeer.  But it hurts a lot that after the first batch of presidents, they tack on Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, which hurts a lot.

“Happy Holiday” has a pretty, echoey guitar and Zooey really shows off her voice nicely.

“Mele Kalikimaka” is a favorite Christmas song.  This version is a little delicate compared to the more rocking version, but it does capture a Hawaiian spirit.

“Christmas Memories” is a bit too slow for my liking but it is a pretty song.

“Run Run Rudolph” M sings lead.  This song is kinda dumb when you actually hear the words.  I’m surprised they didn’t upend gender stereotypes on this one like they did on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

“Winter Wonderland” a duet with Jenny Lewis.  It’s fun to hear another voice with hers.  There’s a goofy moment where Jenny sings, “we can pretend he is Jerry Brown.”

“The Coldest Night of the Year” is a nice sweet duet.  When the chorus comes in with Ward in the backing vocals it sounds really great.

“A Marshmallow World” is perfect for her.  Fun and bouncey and surprisingly restrained for what it could have been.

“The Man with the Bag” is pretty and old-fashioned-sounding.  Zooey does this style very well.

“Christmas Don’t Be Late” This normally hyperactive song is almost like a dirge.  I don’t know why the excitement has been removed from it.  It’s a bummer way to end the record.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Eva”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This story is really wonderful.  It’s sad and strange and powerful.

It opens with a man visiting “the hairy child” in Quetzalenango.  The girl is Eva.  Her mother hopes this man is a doctor.  But he is not.  He is a representative of Doña Teresa de Miraflor, a Cuban heiress who was setting up the Society of Scientific Knowledge in Havana. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHE AND HIM-A Very She & Him Christmas (2011).

I don’t really know all that much about She & Him.  I know it’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  I don’t really know M. Ward at all and I know Deschanel from New Girl (which we love) and because she is in Elf.

I loved how quirky and weird she was on New Girl and how she sang a lot (in the beginning).  She has a wonderful voice (as evidenced in Elf).  I assumed this would be a kind of quirky, retro-feeling Christmas album.

But it isn’t.  It’s not quirky at all.  The instrumentation is incredibly sparse, sometimes shockingly quiet.  Deschanel displays her voice well.  But the whole thing feels kind of stiff and tightly compressed.  It’s pretty but not really inviting.  Occasionally the album gets bigger with M. singing a few backing vocals and even a lead.

Most surprising is that I didn’t  even know the first two songs on the record.  I didn’t expect non-standards.

“Christmas Waltz” is her singing to quiet jazzy guitar.  It’s possible that since I don’t know the song, I feel like it didn’t set up the album well.
“Christmas Day” has her voice heavily echoed with even gentler guitar.  Although near the end of the song, the full backing vocal (all Zooey, I think) helps her out.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is finally a song I know and I feel like she does a great job of it with a smokey delivery.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” also works very well, even if it’s kind of weird to have the jazzy acoustic guitar playing on this relatively emotional song.
“Christmas Wish” is a duet it feels incredibly loud compared to the earlier songs.  There’s even drums.  It’s just kind of surprising to hear M.’s voice five songs in.  I wish he had been introduced earlier.
“Sleigh Ride” also works pretty well.  The music is kind of countryish, but the two of them together make it work well.
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” has piano and electric guitar and backing vocals.  It doesn’t really rock, but at least the guitar is electric.
“Silver Bells” is her on a ukulele and she accompanies herself perfectly.  It’s a bit spare, but the song is quite lovely.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is wonderful for the way it twists the gender roles.  But I feel like the song might be too fast–Zooey in particular seems kind of rushed singing it.
“Blue Christmas” is a song I don’t really like, but her version of just her and the acoustic guitar is very pretty.
“Little Saint Nick” brigs back the ukulele with lots of echo on her voice.  It’s bright and happy.
“The Christmas Song” is too slow and stiff and kind of a sad way to end the record.

This album is fine for a safe Christmas record.  It’s just not that inspired.

[READ: December 13, 2017] “Secondary Memory”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

Some of the stories in this collection have been pretty dark, so I enjoyed the relative lightness of this one.  “Relative” because although it starts as kind of a funny anthropomorphized laptop story, there’s some interesting things going on underneath the frame.

It takes about a paragraph to reveal that the narrator s a laptop.  Its owner, Vicki is “experiencing a runtime error…in your language she is little uptight.”  They are out and about.  It assumes they are going to the cafe (where the laptop sees its usual and preferred table).  But they walk past the cafe–are they going to the greasy spoon (the laptop would have shown its displeasure by not connecting to the Wi-Fi).  But no.  It’s even worse. (more…)

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ladySOUNDTRACK: NEKO CASE-The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013).

nekoSarah got this disc for me for Christmas last year.  Amusingly, she wrapped it and then we couldn’t find it  So I got to listen to the auto download on amazon and to wonder who threw it out.  When we took down the tree several weeks later, we found it on one of the branches.  Belated Christmas gift!

I have enjoyed most of Case’s output since I first heard he several years ago withe New Pornographers.  And this album is no exception.  There are 12 songs and most of them are quite short (no guitar solos for Case–well, okay a couple). And I love how great her voice sounds.  Although, perhaps surprisingly I do not like her voice in the few a capella moments she does.

“Wild Creatures” showcases her great songwriting.  “Night Still Comes” has some amazing harmonies in the chorus (I didn’t realize this but vocals are by Jim James).  I love the way the song builds and retracts as she criticizes “you” for not holding a falling star “at the right angle.”

“Man” is one of my favorite songs ever.  It’s so punchy and rocking.  And lyrically it is both subversive and really funny.  In addition to the whole premise “I’m a man, that’s what you raised me to be/ I’m not your identity crisis” it features the great verse: “and if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume, then I am the man on the fucking moon, coz you didn’t know what a man was until I showed you.”  There’s also a great simple guitar riff from M. Ward.  And at 3 and a half minutes I could listen to it over and over.

But Case plays with all differs style soft music on this record, so “I’m from Nowhere” is just her and an acoustic guitar (and her voice is gorgeous in this stripped down setting).  “Bracing for Sunday” is just over 2 minutes, but it’s not a fast punk song it’s just a speedy shuffling rocker (with horns!).

Then comes “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.”  I don’t think I have hated a song as much as I hate this one.  It is more emotionally fraught that “Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” (which I like) with none of the subtlety.  I’ve only listened to it once or twice and don’t even want to listen to it again to say what else I hate about it.  Maybe if it was spoken instead of sung it would be more palatable, but ugh it is awful, and really seems to ruin the mood of the record for a couple of songs (even if I skip it).

“Calling Cards” is a countryish song, mellow and pretty, but after the bad taste of “Honolulu” I feel lit just kind of falls flat.  “City Swans” brings back the thumping drums and rocking guitars.  “Afraid” is a more successful a capella ish song (with vibes and autoharp accents).

Of course, I prefer when the album perks up again.  “Local Girl” has a simple but cool bassline and great backing vocals.  After a slow weird intro, “Where did I Leave that Fire” turns into a cool jazzy number.”  Although I don’t have a clue what she’s singing about at the end.  The final song, “Ragtime” has a kind of dreamy “Blue Moon” quality until the big horns kick in at the and it really swings and makes me want to listen to the album again

Despite how much I like Case’s voice I just don’t like the slow a capella moments on the album.  There’s so much I do, but I feel like those moments really mar the disc for me.  And yet after the final song, I’m always game to listen again (especially when “Man” comes on).

[READ: November 16, 2014] Lady Cycling

I saw this book at work and thought that with that title and that cover that it would be a very funny tome about how women shouldn’t really ride bikes (I mean “what to wear” comes first, right?). But to my surprise and delight, this book is actually very pro women riding (Miss Erskine herself is a rider) and while she does warn women not to overdo it (no more than 40 miles a day!), it is actually quite a practical and, dare I say still, useful book for female and male riders.

The funny, out-of-date parts are mostly about dress—she encourages all women to wear wool all the time because cotton chafes and wool keeps you warm when you get wet (and you will sweat a lot).  Now I’m not going to overstate the practicality of it in modern society, really, but there are some things in it which are terribly useful and which many contemporary riders do not observe.

But from the get go, Erskine is adamant that women do and should ride bikes.  She says it is much cheaper than owning a pony (true) and is more than just recreation it can also be a means to an end.  She addresses the then controversy by saying that if women “ride fifty miles when ten ought to be their limit—in short, if in cycling they cast reason and common-sense to the four winds of heaven—then, beyond all doubt, cycling is harmful.” (2). The one really out of date aspect here is that she says women ought not to race (it is bound to end in disaster), although I’m unclear if she disapproves of women racing or of racing in general.

In chapter three she answers the question about what kind of bike women should buy. And while she doesn’t exactly name brands she does sensibly say that a cheap bike will wear out and be less well constructed, so it is worth spending more up front.  More practically, she also talks about the location and adjustment of the seat and handlebars. She even talks about the proper way to pedal (using rat-trap pedals—which are apparently the ones we still use today with the metal grippers). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHE & HIM-Volume One (2008).

If you’ve seen Elf, and I’m sure you have, then you know that Zooey Deschanel has a beautiful voice. This record is a collection of her songs, sung by her with instrumentation by M. Ward, whose music I don’t know. The thing I learned about her voice is that it comes across as a very naked sound. It’s a little bit disconcerting in this day of vibrato and AutoTune, to hear someone singing so purely and with no affectation. That was evident in Elf, but it is really brought to the front here, where she sings an a capella track as well as some songs with limited instrumentation.

The bulk of the record is done in a style like 50s & 60s girl groups–The Ronettes, The Shirelles, and the Phil Spector wall of sound style. Her voice is suited perfectly to this kind of material. Even the recording style is very clean–one or two tracks sound like they could be from that era, just recently rediscovered. The rest of the songs have a country feel, a stripped down heartbreaky feel. And once again, her voice sounds great.

The whole collection just seems so sweet and unaffected, it’s almost impossible to believe that it was all written and recorded in 2008.

The only problem for me is that I don’t really like 60s girl groups, and I don’t really like country that much. So, really, I don’t like the CD all that much. I’ve given it a couple of spins, and it definitely overcomes the things that I don’t like about those styles. I even found myself singing two of the songs to myself this morning. It definitely deserves the great press, I just wish it was more my thing.

[READ: July 1, 2008] “Free Radicals”

The second Munro story in two days for me. And many of the elements are in place: idyllic, Canadian life, female protagonist, and a fairly unspeakable horror. (more…)

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