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[ATTENDED: September 24, 2018] Wesley Stace

Wesley Stace once recorded  under the pseudonym John Wesley Harding and released some 20 albums.

He has somewhat recently reverted to his real name for performance and wrote about the pseudonym in the New York Times

I’m the last person who should have bothered with a fake name in the first place. I didn’t need a Bowiesque persona, nor did I have a drab real name, but I did need a disguise, assuming that my “career” would tank in about two weeks, proving an embarrassing obstacle to a more attainable-seeming future in academia.

So “John Wesley Harding” it was, founded purely on the coincidence of my Christian name and a Bob Dylan album title. Both I and the cowboy John Wesley Hardin were named for the founder of the Methodist religion (though of the two of us, I’ve probably followed his teachings slightly more closely, having killed fewer people.) For some reason, Dylan misspelled Hardin “Harding”; no one knows why and to my knowledge no one’s ever bothered to ask. (My own favorite theory is that Dylan omitted so many “g”s from titles like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” that he decided on a little restitution.)

And after a coincidentally precise 25 years, I have decided, for my new record, to ditch the tried and tested “John Wesley Harding” brand in favor of my real name. Why? I am hardly a household name, but whether you’re a Cougar, a Prince or a Harding (and unless you’re a Will Oldham who changes his name from Bonnie-Prince-this to Palace-Songs-that at the drop of a hat), it’s the sort of decision that doesn’t come lightly.

The reason is simple: I wrote a couple of autobiographical songs, and then I kept writing them. It was the first time that I’d ever bothered to write that kind of confessional song. All songs are autobiographical, but these were also true: things that happened to me. It wasn’t an aesthetic decision; it was something that just presented itself, because I was feeling low and stuck in hotel rooms on a dull book tour. I wrote to comfort myself; you could go so far to say, as a form of therapy.

This move has been facilitated by the fact that I’ve been writing novels for the last 10 years under my real name: that decision was a no-brainer. The first novel, “Misfortune”, was a Dickensian kind of thing, and having the misspelled name of an outlaw on the spine would have been silly. That extracurricular use of my real name means that Wesley Stace has continued to exist on some level over there on the bookshelf. But it gets tiring having two names. Introductions to readings are too long anyway without that added complication: time to get it all under one roof.

That’s a long introduction for a short set (about 30 minutes). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DJANGO FESTIVAL ALL-STARS-“Them There Eyes” (Field Recordings, October 23, 2014).

This Field Recording was done under what looks like an old bridge outside of the Newport Jazz Festival.

Every year for the last decade and a half, select groups of hot swing musicians have come from Europe to tour the U.S. The exact lineups change, but they all feature masters of the “gypsy jazz” — or jazz manouche — style pioneered by guitarist Django Reinhardt. In fact, they’re billed under the banner of New York’s Django Reinhardt Festival.

After the last set of the Festival, done by the All-Stars, they asked the band, who had little time to spare, to play one last song.  Soon fingers were flying [The Fastest Fingers At The Festival, For Django Reinhardt]  The video there doesn’t work, but you can watch it on YouTube.

They chose the standard “Them There Eyes,” and to paraphrase its lyrics: They sparkled, they bubbled, and they got up to a whole lot of trouble.

Samson Schmitt, plays an amazing lead guitar–his soloing is blinding. The rhythm guitar from DouDou Cuillerier keeps up a great shuffle and Brian Torff on bass keeps the pace as everyone else gets a chance to solo wildly.

First up is Ludovic Beier, accordion and as a bystander observed: “He has the fastest fingers I’ve ever seen.”  And he does, it’s amazing.  His solo is followed by Pierre Blanchard, violin.  And Peter hits notes that seem like they might not actually exist on the violin.

There’s no vocals in the version which is just as well. No one would be able to keep up.

[READ: January 28, 2018] “Little Deaths”

Félix Fénéon was born in 1861.  In 1906 he wrote 1,220 brief items under the rubric “News in Three Lives” for the Paris newspaper Le Matin.  They were collected in a book and translated by Luc Sante

Seeing that these were written over time makes a lot more sense than having them all printed in a book–I mean, 1,220 deaths would be a lot to do all at once.  It’s still hard to believe that these would be printed in a newspaper at all.

Some examples in their entirety: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL & JOEL PLASKETT-Live at Massey Hall (April 8, 2017).

I thought I had heard of the name Joel Plaskett before this, but I know I’d never heard of Bill Plaskett.

Sharing the spotlight with his earliest musical influence- his father, the JUNO Award-winning Canadian songwriter, Joel Plaskett performs a powerful collection of songs from both his own catalogue and from Solidarity, the musical collaboration between father and son, live at Massey Hall.

They talk about the prestige and history of Massey Hall as well as how it is a large venue but it still has intimacy.  There’s a big stage, but it projects–you feel like you can touch the audience.

“Dragonfly” opens with just him Joel on acoustic guitar.  After a few verses, the lights come on and the full band kicks in loudly and powerully–Benj Rowland (banjo, bass, accordion, guitar); Shannon Quinn (fiddle) and Josh Fewings (drums).

“Blank Cheque” starts lower and sounds a bit darker.  I love the lyrics: “oh honey, you can’t eat money–it’s gonna take more than luck just to save your neck.”

“Jim Jones” is sung by Bill.  It’s an olde ballad about prisoners and pirates and the goal in Australia.  Bill says it’s a British folk song from the time when convicts were transported to Australia for minor offenses like stealing rabbits from the Lord’s domain.  It’s a song of revenge.  Jim Jones was fictional but Jack Donoguhe had escaped from Botany Bay penal colony.

“Nowhere With You” is a song about all of Joel’s travels with big sing-alongs

“Heartless Heartless Heartless” is darker and quieter–there’s a wonderful moody feeling to the song.  Unlike “Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin'” which is stompin and stompin.  People get up and start dancing and clapping.  Wow, there’s a lot of cowboy hats in the audience.  There’s a pretty fiddle that runs through this catchy sing-along song.

They talk about the magic in the collective energy of playing shows.  How the audience sends it back to you and you can feel it build over the course of a show.  It’s an awesome feeling.  Bill says it’s wonderful to play with his son in front of so many young people.

“Wishful Thinking” ends the show in a big rock n roll way.  “You can get on your feet again it feels good when you are.”  After some stomping around he starts improvising:

Don’t sing that song in A, sing it in B.
They shift to B and start singing and when they get to “it’s a long, long way to Winnipeg” the singers their notes forever–his dad longer than everyone else.  Joel: “That’s some circular breathing right there.”

The end is funny:

You’re hauling a lot of stuff, you’re taxing the vehicle.  Get rid of some guitars.
What are you talking about?  We need them for the show.
Well, figure something out.
So…

CDs for sale in the back of the hall
Buy one buy em all
Couple bucks cheaper than they are at the mall
Thanks very much we’ll be back in the fall.

It seems like he tries to end the song a few times, but they keep going and the guys from Elliott BROOD come out to sing a few ahhs at the end.

one more thing dude/
thank you Elliott Brood

[READ: February 6, 2018] “Darkness at Seven”

This is the opening scene from Eno’s play Tragedy: A Tragedy.

I really enjoyed this piece although I can’t imagine how it could be made any longer or in exactly what kind of direction it could go next.

Essentially this opening scene makes fun of all tragedy reporting and the generic platitudes that such coverage creates.   There’s Frank in the Studio, John in the Field, Constance at the Home, Michael the Legal Adviser and The Witness.

Frank sets the scene-a location in America, the once familiar sun has set.

John tells us that it’s the worst world in the world tonight.  People are looking, feeling, hoping and believing that they might learn something.

Frank wants to know if the sense of tragedy is palpable.  It is. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: May 29, 2018] Pond

Pond was supposed to play here back in January. But because of our corrupt leader’s immigration policies, they couldn’t get visas in time.  They had to postpone the tour.  Luckily they made it back in May and the opener, Fascinator, remained the same.

I didn’t really know Pond all that well, but I knew they were connected to Tame Impala and that was a good thing. So I listened to a few songs, decided they were pretty good and decided to see them live.

Well, apparently they have a massive fan base because the crowd behind me (I was pretty close to the stage) was berserk for the band, especially singer Nick Allbrook who was a bundle of energy.

When they came out the crowd freaked out and there was much shrieking and yelling behind me.  Nonplussed by the yells, the band started with “30,000 Megatons” the outstanding first track off of their new album The Weather. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: May 29, 2018] Fascinator

Fascinator is Australia’s Johnny Mackay he was the frontman of Children Collide, an alt-rock outfit, but he was always experimenting with electronic music so he created Fascinator as a side project. Then he moved to New York and Fascinator became his main project.

I have to admit that when I first looked up Fascaintor, and read stories like this: he’s turned Fascinator live shows into something wild, whimsical, and theatrical, employing masks, costumes and a rotating cast of backing performers (from The Sydney Morning Herald), I had high hopes for a wild show.

I mean, here’s a quote from the man himself:

“There’s this character I’ve created, this cosmic shaman from space, Lord Fascinator, who comes down and visits Earth and shows people the magical melodies he’s created,” Mackay says. “I often perform behind a mask, and sometimes I’ll have 13 people on stage, all wearing matching masks and kaftans.”

Well, Fascinator wasn’t all that wild.  Lord Fascinator came out with long blond hair and sunglasses wearing a white kaftan, cloth pants (a very different all-white from Andrew W.k.) and interesting shoes.

He has also said

“For a while I had an ‘air instruments only’ policy. I’d be making all the music, but I’d have an air guitarist, air drummer, air whatever. We played this show at the Bowery Ballroom, supporting Pond. And there was this guy in the audience cracking the shits about it. He was yelling out ‘You’re not even playing real instruments!’ It was like ‘um, yeah, we know’.

For our show Lord Fascinator had one accompanist, Lord Decorator.  Lord Decorator did not play air instruments, he played oud and hand drums and violin.  He dd not wear a mask although he did wear a kaftan.

Fascinator came out with his white guitar and a little electronic contraption.  He started a beat, manipulated the pitch, created some kind of sounds (I don’t know if everything eh made was live or not), played some cool trippy guitar and sang.

Essentially that’s what he did for 45 minutes.  There were many tempo changes and presumably many different songs.  Lord Decorator changed instruments constantly and it was clear that one song was ending and a new one was starting–Lord Fascinator often changed the drum beat to a new tempo, but he never stopped the flow of th emusic while changing things up.

What was quite fun was when he brought out his old Casio DG-20 which he played for almost all of the rest of the set.  I had never seen one in the wild before so that was really fun. The sounds weren’t quite as crazy as I assumed they’d be, but I i did see him change the programming  bunch of chimes (lift the guitar into the light to see what the buttons are, push something, move on).

Basically the set was about 45 minute of psychedelically, vaguely Middle Eastern music.  It was largely dancey–the guys behind me were a pool of sweat from dancing so much–but with some really cool sounds and effects and accompaniment.

So it wasn’t the wild mask-covered air guitar show that I imagined, but it was certainly an enjoyable set.  He has a new album out, i wonder if as a headliner he tends to go all out with the costumery.

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2016 Tour Box (2016).

This was the third Tour Box containing material that is similar in spirit, but different in fact to the previous two.

As always, it starts with the Wind extract, the sound of Fripp’s mellotron warming up and a voice saying “I prefer the early ones.”  It segues into a beautiful instrumental of “Moonchild.”  Once again, the lyrics are interesting in the song, but it sounds great without them.

The music stays in somewhat chronological order of release, but often with contemporary versions.  Like the 2015 recording of 1970’s “Peace” (which is okay) and “Pictures Of A City” (which is great).

“Prince Rupert’s Lament” is a two and half-minute guitar solo which has the Toronto crowd from the previous track overlaid, making this recording sound like a live one, when it is in fact an except from the recording session of Lizard.  There’s a rehearsal of the full 10 minute “Islands” from 1971 or so.

Then a “new” song, the two and a half-minute 2014 “Threshold Soundscape” which segues into the 2014 live version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I” which is quite bass heavy.  Up next is a recording session of “Easy Money” without all the bells and whistles.

Then comes two live recordings from 1974.  “Improv I” which is full of gongs and guitars and chaos and segues into “Doctor Diamond.”  This is a song I had never heard before.  It never had an official release and this version seems like they’re just trying it out, like they weren’t really sure about the words, especially.  It’s heavy and  more than a little odd.

After a 30 second clip “From the Drummer’s Stool” which is the a drummer playing the intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” drums, the full song is played from 1974, sounding quite old in the mix.

The second disc continues with all manner of things in no particular order.

There’s more extracts from Lizard, this time a very pretty solo piano version of “Prince Rupert Awakes.”

And them it’s on to a non-Crimson album.  “The Other Man” is an alternate early version of the song from the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles which I don’t know at all.

Next comes “Making Of Discipline,” it’s clips from bulk of the album spliced together into one song.  It’s very nifty.  There’s a demo instrumental of “Walking on Air” and then a three-minute live track called “Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind).”

There’s a demo of “Meltdown” (with guide vocals) and then a 40 second clip “From the Drummers’ Stools I” and a 20 second clip “From The Guitarist’s Stool I” which is part of the 21CSM solo.

Then comes some heavy stuff.  “The ConstruKction Of Light” live from 2014 with no vocal tag at the end followed by the bizarre Beatles mashup “Tomorrow Never Knew/Thela” live from 2000.

There another sample “From the Drummers’ Stools II” this one from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I” which is followed by “Nuages” (which I read as Nu-ages.  It’s trippy with bouncy bass

There’s a 2014 recording of the slow, jazzy “The Light Of Day” also originally from Scarcity of Miracles. It’s followed by a Lizard excerpt “From The Guitarist’s Stool II” and then a fast complicated 40 second 2014 soundcheck for “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I.”

Moving away from that classic business, we jump to a new mix of “Dinosaur” from THRAK.  It’s followed by a final 45 second “From The Drummers’ Stools III” and then concluding with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This version is from 2000 and I find it kind of weak, especially compared to the powerhouse versions they would unleash later.

Overall there’s some cool stuff on this box, but I feel like there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not quite my Crimson taste.

[READ: January 12, 2018] The Nix

The Nix received some pretty positive reviews and I was quite interested to read it–even though I had no idea what it was really about.  It’s not until nearly page 100 that we find out what the title even means.

The Nix (in the story, not the novel itself) is a ghost story from Norway.  The protagonists’s mother heard about The Nix from her Norwegian father.  The Nix was a horse.  It encouraged you to ride it.  When you did, it never stopped running until it ran off a cliff with you on it.  In modern terms, The Nix is a person–usually someone you think you love. Someone who will leave you.

Summarizing the book is either really easy or something of a challenge depending on how many aspects you want to include.

The book more or less follows one man–starting with his failing writing career and then flashing back to how he got where he is.  That sounds pretty dull, but the book is set on the backdrop of contemporary America–from the rebellions of hippie parents to the rebellions of the 99%ers.

There’s also these wonderful subplots that prop up the main story. (more…)

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