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[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 9, 2019] Aurora

I enjoyed the Aurora show in New York so much that I knew I’d want to see her again.  I also knew that I could bring my wife and daughter to the show and they would be equally enthralled even if they didn’t know her music very well.

This was my daughter’s first club show and I thought she’d be pretty excited at the prospect.  But we do go to a lot of different live entertainment, so she wasn’t any more excited than usual.  Although I think she enjoyed the fact that we weren’t in seats, because she liked walking from where we were to up close by the stage.

Aurora’s stage design was minimal but cool–five or six large jellyfish hung from the ceiling.  The lights were a dark blue–feeling very underwater as she sang the beautiful and haunting “Churchyard.”  Her voice is powerful and amazing (even if she was a little under the weather–she told us an amazing story about the color of her snot).  And it’s very funny when she speaks between songs because she is quiet and soft-spoken.  She tells adorable, weird stories (which has garnered her an overly dedicated, slightly annoying, eye-rolling fan base).  The kind of fan base who shouts, “no thank YOU!” every time Aurora says thanks.  On the plus side, this fan base is absolutely respectful while she sings which is wonderful because you can hear everything.

The setlist was very similar to the show in NYC, although I actually didn’t realize it until i looked at them right now.  In NYC, the new songs hadn’t been released yet so they were new and ephemeral.  By now they were well established.

She continued to sound amazing through the uptempo “Warrior” and “Gentle Earthquakes.

I tend to not like dance music or aggressively pop music and Aurora certainly falls within the confines of that style, especially a song like “All is Soft Inside.”  But she has this wonderful off-kilter presentation.  It certainly has something to do with her being from Norway and living what appears to a be a fairly isolated existence.  She just sings differently.  It’s not weird or radically different, it’s just not the same as what everyone else does.  And her sense of melody is also slightly different.  It’s really wonderful.

She slowed things down with the disturbing ballad “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” followed by the other sad song (she apologized for these songs being so sad), “Runaway,” a soaring beautifully sad song.

The stage production was mostly understated.  Some lights, changing occasionally and appropriately.  Mostly it was an opportunity of Aurora to dance and dance–an infectious dance.  But “The Seed” was just utterly intense with the flashing strobe lights in the more intense moments.  And when the strobe ended and the stage when briefly black it was an incredibly moment.

Things really quieted down for “It Happened Quiet” where it was just her and her amazing keyboardist/backing vocalist Silja Sol.  Then she came back with the new single “Animal” which brought everyone back up with some great dance.

The rest of her band is really stellar.  Most of them are from Bergen Norway.  Magnus Åserud Skylstad plays drums and while I’m sure there are a lot of electronics in the kit, the sound was powerful and amazing.  Odd Martin Skålnes is the bassist in her band.  His backing vocals–largely singing low but occasionally going high–are fantastic.  Although nobody’s backing vocals were as amazing as Silja Sol.  She may actually get higher than Aurora.  Throughout the show her voice was just wonderful–perfectly complementing Aurora in whatever was sounded best.  Aurora’s voice is great, but with Silja Sol, she is unbelievable.

I love the new song “Forgotten Love” which she followed with the older song “I Went Too Far.”

The show was nearing its end and my daughter grabbed my hand because she wanted me to come up really close to the stage.  To the left of the stage is an artist’s entrance.  And not many people were there.  So this afforded us an amazing view of her from very close up.  I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there for the whole show as you miss everything else going on stage (the sound was also a little different there but still sounded great).  But it was really cool being a few yards away from Aurora with my daughter while she sang the stunning “Running with the Wolves” one of my favorite of her songs.

Aurora left for an encore break and when she came back it was just her and keyboardist Sean McVerry (the only American playing that night, he also had a solo set earlier in the evening).  They played the lovely “Infections of a Different Kind.”  When the show started people were passing out small paper hearts with instructions to shine out phone light behind them during this song.  Many people did and it looked very cool–she even commented on how lovely it was.

During the encore break, people brought her all manner of creative things including a rather large painting which was, frankly, creepy as all hell.  Aurora was so kind and said she would put it over her bed, but damn, it would give me nightmares.

She ended the show was the wonderful “Queendom.”  It was catchy and dancy and the whole room vibrated with fun.  I especially liked that she said there would be no presidents in her queendom.  She also brought out a rainbow flag to wave around.  And then the spell was over and we were back out in the cold night.

I don’t know if it was the life-enhancing moment that I wanted it to be for my daughter, but my wife has certainly become a fan.  Maybe when my daughter goes to her first concert on her own she’ll remember being that close to someone who is inexplicably not huge.

 

 

Union Transfer 2019 Bowery Ballroom 2018
Chrurchyard Nature Boy
Warrior Warrior
Gentle Earthquakes Gentle Earthquakes
All Is Soft Inside Under Stars *
Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) Forgotten Love
Runaway Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)
The Seed Runaway
It Happened Quiet Soft Universe ⊗
Animal Queendom
Forgotten Love All is Soft Inside
I Went Too Far Animal
Running with the Wolves I Went Too Far
encore The Seed
Infections of a Different Kind Running with the Wolves
Queendom encore
Through the Eyes of a Child ∀

* early single
∀ All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend
⊗ Infections of a Different Kind Step 1
ℵ new unreleased

 

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[LISTENED TO: August 2018] The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell

I didn’t know this story, nor did I know anything about the Thorne rooms before our trip to Chicago last summer.

So the Thorne Rooms are, well, I’ll let the Art Institute of Chicago’s website describe them:

The 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms enable one to glimpse elements of European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Painstakingly constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, these fascinating models were conceived by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932 and 1940 by master craftsmen according to her specifications.

Read more about them and see pictures here.  That description doesn’t really do justice to the rooms themselves.

They are really magical in the way that they fully represent a room from a specific time and place.  The floor, ceilings, walls and furniture all meet exacting standard of detail.  And what makes them somehow even more special is that each room shows rooms out of the side and back doors.  These are lit (and show a painted facade) that indicates what is just beyond the walls of the room you are looking at.  It really adds a lot of depth and character to a scene.

Seeing them in person was really wonderful.

T. and I had started listening to this book before we left for Chicago, but we decided to wait until our trip to save it for the whole family.  Then we wound up not listening to it until the home, after we had seen the rooms.  And I feel like that made it all the more special. Because I could see exactly what the kids were doing in this fun and bizarre adventure. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

I might be one of the few people in America to have never read anything by James Patterson.  Well, C. really enjoyed this series (and his other books for young readers) so we decided to listen to this on a car ride. (Both kids had seen the film already, although I hadn’t).

I have to say that right off the bat I was turned off by the introduction of this book because there was this hard rocking guitar that they played through about 3 minutes of opening text.  And it was too loud!  It was really hard to hear the narrator.  I kind of tuned out because I feared that the whole book would feature this (it doesn’t).  And while I won’t say I was confused by what I missed, I did wonder if I’d missed some things that were revealed later (also, some of the main character’s motivation).

Rafe Khatchadorian is starting Hills Village Middle School.  It’s a new school (sixth grade).  Rafe seems to have a hard to succeeding in school in general.  There’s also a lot going on at home.  His mom has been dating a jerk named Bear.  Bear is unemployed, and living with them while Rafe’s mom is working two jobs and is hardly ever home.

The only person who seems to help Rafe cope with things is his friend Leo the Silent.  Leo doesn’t talk much, but he is an awesome artist.  And he also encourages Rafe to do things that maybe he shouldn’t.

When Rafe arrives at school, he is given a rule book with over 100 rules that he must follow.  Given the possibility of hanging out, being good and following the rules or having fun and enjoying school, he and Leo make a choice.  And they come up with “Operation R.A.F.E.” (which stands for Rules Aren’t For Everyone).  The operation is set up like a video game.  Rafe is going to try to break every rule in the handbook. Leo will award him points.  But he will also only have three “lives,” which he will lose if he gets caught or otherwise fails in his quest. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VAGABON-Tiny Desk Concert #710 (February 23, 2018).

It’s always my favorite artists who play the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts.  August Greene was okay and it went 36 minutes but Vagabon didn’t even manage ten.  Neverthless, there’s something magical about Vagabon.  Her voice is unique, she brings a new perspective to indie rock and she seems pretty nice too.

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas. Though all the songs here are about love, Vagabon also speaks proudly to black women on her 2017 album, Infinite Worlds. There aren’t a lot of black women in this bedroom studio community of independents, a community that, especially in New York, has welcomed her and where she mostly found stimulus and guidance.

Her pride shines bright in her smile and as well it should. For someone self-taught and who’s been playing for only the past four years, her arrangements are adept and thoughtful in an independent rock music scene that can often be lyrically lazy and texturally tepid.

Her album is quite big with loud guitars and crashing drums.  But in this Tiny Desk, it’s just her and her equipment (and a stellar bassist on the second and third songs).

For the first song “Fear & Force,” she plays electric guitar.  There’s some lovely picking and great chords before she sings in her unique voice–whispered and deep (so much deeper than her speaking voice).  I love that she is still picking as she uses her left hand to start the electronic drum machine that makes the song sound so big.  The album version gets really big in the middle but she keeps things quiet here.  The chorus is wonderfully powerful and elliptical.

“Freddy come back, I know you love where you are, but I think I changed my mind.”

I love the abrupt ending too.

We were also treated to a new song during this Tiny Desk performance called “Full Moon In Gemini,” which, coincidentally, was performed on the day of a total lunar eclipse in Leo – she warned us all to “watch yourselves.

It’s amazing to hear her sing so powerfully after her delicate speaking voice.  She introduces Evan Lawrence on bass and his live bass is a tremendous addition.  He plays great lines that really flesh out her playing.  I love the way the song ends.  She sings “I lay in my bed with you it fees so …  so … good,” and the drums and bass continue for ten seconds before she shuts it all down (having already grabbed her mug and taken a sip).

Before the final song she explains that she taught herself how to play these instruments about four years ago.  Since then she’s been “hauling ass.”

Vagabon’s poetry speaks to love. You can hear it in “Cold Apartment.” While she closes the Tiny Desk set with it, it was the first song she ever wrote and one that came to her during a difficult time in her life.

“And we sat on my cold apartment floor
Where we thought we would stay in love
Stay in love”

She says she finds it very gratifying to share it in this powerful way.  The song has a terrific guitar melody with an outstanding accompany bass.  This is all especially true during the bridge/chorus when the bass gets really low and works perfectly with what she’s playing.  I find it actually works even better than on record where the drums are terrific but kind of drown out the bass.

I really hope she comes back around for a tour soon.

[READ: December 30, 2017] Beyond the Western Deep 

Tabby brought this book home and thought I’d enjoy it.  Which I did.

It’s a story of war with rather cute animals drawn by Bennett

It opens with some story telling about the history of this land.  It looks almost like cave drawings chaos and endless nights of war.  Eventually a treaty was signed and the land was divided into four places.

The Ermehn were driven from ancestral lands and made to live in the Northern Wastes (they’re not happy about it).
The Canid established the Kingdom of Aisling and has the strongest army in the land.  They are ruthless and humorless.
The Felis built the crowing achievement city of Gair.
The Vulpin live in the desert kingdon of Navran.
Sungrove is ruled jointly by the Lutren and Tamian races

The seafaring Polcan are poised to invade Sunsgrove.

Confused? Me too. It’s a heck of a lot of backstory for what is a fairly short and simple first part. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE SMITH-Tiny Desk Concert #700 (January 31, 2018).

I had never heard of Alice Smith before, which I guess isn’t totally unsurprising given the blurb:

For those not familiar, Smith made a big splash among true-school heads in 2006 with the release of her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me. That record, whose title is a play on “The Rainbow Connection,” brimmed with an arcane magic, and it created a legion of lifelong fans.

Smith’s live performances usually highlight songs from For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me, her 2013 album, She, and her repertoire of cover songs. But for her Tiny Desk performance, Smith gifted us with three stunning song premieres that left the room entirely in her thrall.

Smith’s voice is great (although I found the voice of her backing singer, Kristin Brooks, to be even prettier.  I don’t think you could hear the other backing singer, Chauncey Matthews, at all).

Since the blurb talks about each song, I’m just adding my comments at the end

The first song, “Mystery,” feels like walking into the home of that friend of yours who is clearly more worldly than you, where there’s always a cool breeze, no matter the season.  [I really liked the low-key nature of this song].

The second song, which is so new that it doesn’t have a title, exudes the liminal uneasiness of being out of tune with yourself. The wisdom of the song draws from the notion that the top of Maslow’s pyramid is found within. [Alice’s voice is really nice in this catchy, rather conventional R&B song].

The closing “Something” is an undulating soul search that attacks and recedes like a cloudy beach morning. Smith was unabashedly in her pocket here, alternating between falsetto, tremolo and touches of jazz. This dash of Broadway at an office cubicle is what makes the Tiny Desk series so special.  [This sounds very Broadway in the beginning. I didn’t care for all of the keening and whooping near the end though].

So I am clearly not a true-school head (nor do I know what that means).  But I did think her voice was quite nice.  She introduced the band at the end, first name only.  The blurb has their last names, but didn’t include guitarist Frank at all: Dennis Hamm keys, Greg Clark drums.

[READ: November 5, 2017] All’s Faire in Middle School

I really enjoyed Jamieson’s Roller Girl.  It was a great story and it featured roller derby!

I was excited to read this story, but I was a little concerned that Jamieson was going to try to shoehorn in a conceit that Middle School is like the Middle Ages or something.  Well, I needn’t have been.  Jamieson does something that might be even cooler than Roller derby–she sets her story at a Ren Faire!

Imogen and her family work at the local Ren Faire and have done so for years.  Her father is a part- time actor (and pool salesman) but his passion is being the bad guy at the Ren Faire.  We meet a whole cast of characters who work the Ren Faire.  Some stay put and only work there, but others travel and work the circuit.

But Middle School is also in the title.  It’s not just that Imogen is going to middle school.  Up until this point she has been home-schooled.  So she is starting middle school and school at the same time! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OPEN MIKE EAGLE-Tiny Desk Concert #687 (January 3, 2018).

I had seen Iron Mike Eagle’s album on a lot of Year End Best of lists, but I hadn’t heard of him before.  Well, I absolutely loved his Tiny Desk Concert and I’m ready to get his album as well.

I love that the “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home” starts with a live trumpet and the rest of the band is there playing live, too–two synths, a live bass and Mike on some kind of techie gadget.  But the great thing about this Concert is Mike’s delivery.

He sings/raps and he’s got an uplifting style of rapping combined with the spare but cool/weird music that fit with the lyrics.

And it’s really the lyrics that won me over.

Everybody’s secrets inspire all of my scenes
I write in all of my fantasies and I die in all of my dreams
My superpowers I maintain
I take control of my scene

and the hook:

I done told
Some goofy shit that sounded like a poem
I spun around in circles on the globe
So who the hell could ever feel at home

I could tell that  the lyrics were pretty interesting, but I was surprised to read:

Open Mike Eagle may have released one of the most political albums of 2017, but Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is also among the most personal. It comes across best in his live performances. For only the second time during his recent tour cycle, the LA-based artist played a set aided by the live instrumentation of musicians Jordan Katz (trumpet, keys, sampler), Josh Lopez (keys, sampler) and Brandon Owens (bass) for his Tiny Desk debut.

He performed two songs from the stellar Brick.  The title comes from:

It’s been a decade since the last brick fell from the Robert Taylor Homes, the old Chicago Housing Authority project personified on the record. Yet, when it comes to excavating the politics of place, and all the racial implications inherent in cultural erasure, there is no project released in recent years that comes close.

“Daydreaming in the Projects” is, like the other songs, political but warm:

(This goes out to)
Ghetto children, making codewords
In the projects around the world
Ghetto children, fighting dragons
In the projects around the world

and then this seemingly nonsensical rhyme that speaks volumes

Everything is better when you don’t know nothing
I’m grown so I’m always disgusted
All these discussions online is mayonnaise versus mustard
Mayonnaise people think French can’t be trusted
Mustard people think eggs is all busted
But fuck it
We in it for the pattern interruptions

I love that it is accompanied by a simple but pretty trumpet melody while Jordan is also playing keys.

The set ender “Very Much Money,” from his 2014 album Dark Comedy, is tremendous.

What a great verse:

My friends are superheros
None of us have very much money though
They can fly, run fast, read Portuguese
None of us have very much money though
They know judo and yoga, photography, politics
Some of them leap over buildings
Writers, magicians, comedians, astronauts
None of it mattered when niggas was hungry

All to a catchy, cool beat that is in the spirit of bands like De La Soul, but far more modern and powerful.  Great stuff.  And if “Very Much Money” is representative, I need to check out his old stuff too.  And maybe even the other three (!) bands he’s with: he is a member of the hip hop collective Project Blowed. He is also a member of Thirsty Fish and Swim Team.

 

[READ: October 20, 2017] If Found

Tabitha had this book and I thought it looked really cute so I grabbed it not really knowing what it was.

Basically, it is the blank notebook of Montreal artist Elise Gravel.  She says:

At night, when my daughters are asleep, I draw in my blank notebook.  I draw complete nonsense   Whatever comes to my mind.  When I draw in my black notebook, it feels good–it’s as if I let out all the ideas that are bouncing around in my head.  I never critique the drawings in my black notebook. I give myself the right to fail.  To mess up, to create ugly drawings.  I’m kind to myself. (more…)

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