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SOUNDTRACK: RARE ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #637 (July 19, 2017).

I have learned of go-go music exclusively from Tiny Desk Concerts:

Dominated by drive and momentum, heavy on percussion and bass, go-go music is all about the beat. Live, “songs” can continue on for half an hour, as the percussion continues to simmer and punctuate between and across different pieces. “That’s why we call it go-go, because it goes on and goes on and goes on,” as guitarist Andre Johnson put it in a documentary film.

This visit by Rare Essence perfectly encapsulated the genre’s incomparable meld of soul, R&B and, most importantly, funk (with a dash of Afro-Cuban influence).

So that’s go-go.  What about this band?

Rare Essence emerged not long after go-go itself did, beginning as a group in 1976 in Washington D.C. Ever since the group has kept a steady schedule playing around town and around the world.

The band plays seven–SEVEN–songs in sixteen minutes.  Many of them are just riffs that go on for a minute or so like “Down for My Niggas.”  Whereas “Rock This Party” is a bit more of a call and response piece–with some good congas.  “Freaky Deak” is pretty much a riff or two before they start talking to the audience.

They thank Suraya for arranging the show and there’s a lot of shouts outs and hand waving.  And then they start with one of their favorites, “One on One.”

All of the songs more or less flow into each other as one long jam.  There are multiple lead singers and everyone participates in the responses.

After a spell of their name (R-A-R, Double E, S-S-E-N, C-E) the lead guitarist sings lead on “Bad Bad” (he’s the oldest looking guy but he still has the power in his voice).

As they segue into “Lock It,” We apologize we could play this song for ever but I know everyone got to go back to work.  We’re gonna play the short version  We could play this for at least an hour.  They keys plays a nice Cuban sounding melody–almost like xylophones.

“After three minutes, he says this ant even the first part of the song–we still got about fifty more minutes.” Then they segue into “Overnight Scenario” which everyone sings along t o.

Anthony Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson (guitar, vocals); James “Funk” Thomas (vocals); Charles “Shorty Corleone” Garris (vocals); Leroy “RB” Battle, Jr. (keyboards); Calvin “Killer Cal” Henry (vocals); Michael Baker (bass); Kenneth “Quick” Gross (drums); Samuel “Smoke” Dews (congas); Kym Clarke (trumpet); Derryle Valentine (sax, flute)

[READ: July 23, 2017] “Bonebreaker”

I find Nell Zink’s stories to be weird but compelling.  She writes about strange things in unusual ways.  The people are often peculiar but compelling.

But this story was especially odd to me because the two characters seem really stupid

Both Jed and Laurie are fleeing the States.  As the story begins they go to the airport with a lot of cash.  But they knew that the TSA would be suspicious of that.  So when they see the “money sniffing” dogs, they know the TSA is on to them.  They leave their stuff at the airport and return home–which puts them on the no-fly list.

After a few more aborted attempts, they decide to take a barge–a real refugee situation. Not only do they not get where they are going, they lose a lot of money and are mostly miserable.

Why are they fleeing? (more…)

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feschukSOUNDTRACK: THE ART OF TIME ENSEMBLE with MARTIN TIELLI–Korngold: Source & Inspiration (Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, ON, January 30, 2009).

aotimeAfter seeing The Art of Time Ensemble yesterday, it was quite serendipitous that I would have a show from them (featuring Martin Tielli) to post about on the following day.

This concert is the third in the Art of Time’s “Source & Inspiration” series. Two years earlier the first concert focused on composer Franz Schubert.  The previous year’s concert focused on Robert Schumann. This time the spotlight was on the 20th century Jewish composer Erich Korngold–a composer of European pedigree who became well known for his wonderful Hollywood film scores.

This concert featured Korngold’s Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano as the ‘source’ as well as new songs inspired by this work from Martin Tielli, Danny Michel and John Southworth.

This recording is only 8 minutes long because there’s only two Martin Tielli songs. “Lied Two” (the German word for song is lied (pronounced leed) so Martin called his “Lied Two.” And “Moglich” which translates into “possible.”  Both pieces are played with by the orchestra.  Martins sings.

The more dramatic of the two would be “Moglich” with his loud whispered “Relaxxxxx at the end.”  For more information about the show, you can click on this link.

Full Program & Repertoire:
Suite Op. 23 for 2 Violins, Cello and Piano Left-hand
Erich Korngold
i.Praeludium und Fuge
ii.Walzer
iii.Groteske
iv.Lied
v.Rondo-Finale

INTERMISSION
Athabasca
Adventures of Erich Korngold
—John Southworth
The Sailor Song
Island

—Danny Michel
Lied 2
Moglich
—Martin Tielli

Performers
Andrew Burashko, piano
Danny Michel, singer
Erika Raum, violin
Stephen Sitarski, violin
John Southworth, singer
Martin Tielli, singer
Winona Zelenka, cello

[READ: November 22, 2015] The Future and Why We Should Avoid It

The title of this book made me laugh so I set it aside to read it.  Little did I know that it would be so very funny that I put aside other things so I could finish it.

I hadn’t heard of Feschuk before.  He has written two previous books (How Not to Completely Suck as a New Parent sounds pretty good) and writes mostly for MacLean’s magazine.

As you might guess from the title, this book looks at the future, and Feschuk’s predictions are uncanny.  For instance, I brought the book home and decided to look at it in the bathroom.  And the introduction states quite clearly:

By now, life should be awesome and leisurely and you should be wearing a spacesuit and high-fiving your wisecracking robot sidekick.  Except instead your dishwasher is broken, your god-damn iTunes won’t sync up and right now you’re reading this book on a toilet in your bathroom instead of where you should be reading it–on a toilet in your hover car.

Too right, too right. (more…)

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abe[TRAVELED: November 1-November 8, 2014] Airlines & Chain food

Our Florida trip ended a week ago, so it seemed time to mention a few things  that were pretty great which were not related to theme parks at all.

The first was our flight from Lehigh Valley International Airport.

I used to love flying.  I remember flying on Eastern as a kid and getting free wing pins.  I even got invited to see the cockpit of the plane (but I thought I would have to fly up there without my parents so I turned them down–my parents were probably bummed that they didn’t get to check out the cockpit themselves).  I even have a few good memories of flying.  My best memory was flying on Dec 31, 1999 to Vancouver and, because it was the eve of Y2K, getting nearly an entire airplane to myself (chickens!) and being served champagne as a toast to the new year (in coach, mind you).

Since 9/11, flying has been an ordeal and I swore I’d never do it again.  We usually fly out of Newark, which I always assumed was a normal, busy airport, not the best but certainly not the worst.  But after flying out of ABE, I hope to never et foot in Newark again. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Lawn Boy (1990).

220px-Lawn_Boy_coverFor what I consider a guitar dominated band (Trey Anastasio is certainly the frontman), the early Phish albums have a lot of piano dominated tracks.  It’s not the guitar is absent but the piano is mixed quite loudly which gives these songs a slightly different emphasis than when they are played live.

Also was with many songs on Junta, “Reba” feels slower than the live versions.  It also has some funny backing vocals (a common occurrence with these early songs).  “My Sweet One” is a lot more honky tonk than the live versions, which often feel almost barbershoppy.  In “Split Open and Melt,” the vocals are done in a very funny mumbly way (with weird background vocals).  There’s also horns (crazy horns) and female vocals –giving it  vaguely R&B feel.

“The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” (for origins of the phrase, check out this) is a live favorite that’s a fun and funky guitar solo (with a retro feel) and in this version there is much laughing and carrying on in the background).  “Bathtub Gin” opens with the crazy seemingly out of tune piano that they do live (although not as much).  There’s more funny voices on the chorus and crazy sound effects throughout.  Earlier Phish were a lot sillier than later Phish.

“Run Like an Antelope” also has crazy sound effects and it’s funny how I forget that the song is almost entirely introductory guitar solo wailing.  It’s not until 8 minutes that we get to the “rye rye rocco” section and the actual “run run run” part.   In this studio version, the “set your gear ship for the heart of your soul” section is spoken so quietly.  And the song is not quite ten minutes long.  “Lawn Boy” sounds clean and jazzy in ways that it doesn’t live.  And “Bouncing Round the Room” sounds a lot like the live version.  It’s a little slower, with a few more details thrown in.

Overall, Lawn Boy is a great early Phish album, with every song being a success.

[READ: October 3, 2013] “Life as a Terrorist”

William Vollmann was a suspect in the Unabomber case.  All because a “concerned citizen” alerted the FBI about his fiction.

This sounds utterly crazy, but it is true.

Vollmann has written about all kinds of things, both fiction and non-fiction.  For his non-fiction, he has traveled extensively, to Afghanistan and other places where terrorists reside.  So when he was detained upon reentering the United States from Yemen, he didn’t think too much of it.  But when he was detained a second time, years later–for seven hours and treated like a criminal–well, that got him mad.  And he used the Freedom of Information Act to see what the FBI had on him.

This is a sobering look at how the justice system in its zealotry to protect us can actually do far more harm than good, at least to innocent individuals. Vollmann uses this as the basis of his essay which looks at the omnipresent Unamericans: those who would attack without provocation and intimidate the weak. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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I have been getting The Washington Spectator for years and years.  I was delighted with it in the beginning when the editor had the wonderful name of Ben Franklin.  I am delighted now that publisher’s name is Hamilton Fish.  But aside from these two fascinating details, I have always enjoyed the content.  It was thoroughly researched and detailed.  And the little 4 page leaflet always looked like a newspaper in design and style, and it gave it a kind of gravitas–no flashy colors or pictures.

Well, here it is, Vol 37, Issue No 21 and they have finally changed the format.  And not only that, they have created a website and have a Facebook presence!  Welcome to the 20th century!

I say that jokingly because despite these changes (which look great by the way), The Spectator has not abandoned its old school journalism practice.  21st century news is pretty much all flash and brash–style over substance–quick reporting with no concern for accuracy and very little attention brought to retractions (can anyone say “climategate” (I wish they wouldn’t call it that)).  But The Spectator is exactly the opposite, and I am delighted to say that although they are now a lot more accessible, they have not lost any of their tenacity or thoroughness.

The redesign is quite nice.  There’s an image on the front page and now there are pull quotes in red, which stand out nicely on the pale paper.  Although I always liked the pull quote box in the middle off the front page, this new format allows for a couple of different pull quotes as well as an opportunity to mix things up a bit.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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