Archive for the 'Music' Category

Shine a Light

I always go for the music movies on the plane.  Shine a Light, man. Shine a light. Um, not too brightly though, the crags have gotten pretty deep. But yeah, good movie. Must be good for me to actually write about it. Where by “write” I mean “scribble down a bunch of random thoughts with crayon, to fill the rest of the flight.”

So. Turns out Keith Richards is overrated as a guitarist. Bit of a shock, really. And he’s a good enough singer, but really, two songs of his own? Not exactly captivating. And I think he had a TelePrompTer; he kept looking down just before each couplet.

Okay, with that out of the way, I got words.

Energy. Mick Jagger at 65 million years or whatever old has more energy than most entire bands. If you buried him under a mountain he would eventually compress into enough oil to fuel the world for decades. Not that I doubt for a second that his energy (or all that thinness) is chemically enhanced, but still. Drug energy is just a loan really; when does he pay it back?  He’s no spring turkey any more, but ol’ Mick’s still got a hell of a line, and moves like a figure skater. All four of the original Stones still steam with stage presence and joy at playing. Of course the backing singers, bass, keys, and horn section look happy too; who wouldn’t?

Apology.  Dear Ronnie Wood: I apologize for taking until now to realize you’re ten times the guitarist that Keith is. Nice pedal steel work, man.

History.  So okay, Keith not so great on the axe, but… Does anyone understand the roots of the instrument better? Who else could (or would) get Jack White, Christina Aguilera, and Buddy Guy on stage with them in one concert? And giving Buddy your guitar at the end of his song was a nice touch.

Reality. Reality is good. Benefit concert in a huge fancy theater, introduced by Bill Clinton, filmed by Martin Scorcese? And you’re 117 years old? Pretty ballsy to make it real. Sure, it was rehearsed, but the arrangements were something other than note-for-note copies of the records, like what some aging bands do (I’m looking at you, The Eagles). No lip-syncing or pre-recorded licks here. Couple minor mistakes make that clear. (Unless they put those in on purpose, like cutting off a branch of a perfect Christmas tree to make it look more natural. If so, well played, Stones. Well played. Well, well played nevertheless.)

It takes a certain talent to reach the level of spectacle while staying raw and intimate. Big fan of raw and intimate here, and yes, these boys have it. Makes getting old a little less scary, to know they still got it.

Shine a Light (Martin Scorcese, 2008)

I Want my Fury!

Next up: Who's gay?

Next up: Who's gay?

Don’t you hate when life imitates art?

Standing in the checkout line, living normally in a world of steak, prepackaged couscous, and kitty litter.  A world, in short, of normalcy, of a universe I can believe, with consistent laws and ordinary people.  And then, this!  And all of the sudden I’m up Ben Edlund’s universe without a superpower.

It’s the perfect story
So they say
Hammer’s call to glory
Let’s all be our best
Next up – Who’s gay?

Although, does the Enquirer really count as life?  I mean, since they absorbed the Weekly World News those guys have had to have something to do I guess.

Still, if you’re gonna show me things like that in the checkout line, I really think I deserve to have Marty Noxon show up at my house.  Or NPH.  Or at least David Fury.

Life is so fucking unfair.

Truman Kind of Rhymes

Nothing Rhymes with Woman.  Best Carbon Leaf album ever! Nice cover too, all black and orange. Nothing rhymes with orange, either. Coincidence? I think not.

Until now, best Carbon Leaf song? was easy (War Was in Color). Now, not so much. CL lyrics in the past have had a spotty quality to them. Flickers of brilliance bruised by assonant compromises. For every In a window back home/A blue star is traded for gold there was an I will not leave this pulse alone/Though it may take the long way home. Huh?

And here we have an album with several songs at the same level as WWIC. Songwriting still improving after 17 years together? That alone is worthy of the sort of recognition you get from reviews on obscure personal blogs with easily a half-dozen readers. No problem, guys. You’re very welcome.

Continue reading ‘Truman Kind of Rhymes’

Portable Fans

Can I just say nobody understands audience interaction like Carbon Leaf? You might think if you’ve only heard them recorded that the songs repeat too much and the lyrics while generally very good do sometimes choose cleverness over feeling.

So what you gotta do is see them live. Find out where they are, go see them. Drive from Greenbelt to Richmond the night before an international plane trip, if necessary. I did, and it was so worth it. How long does it take to get to Richmond? I donno, two and a half hours maybe? It’s just past King’s Dominion, right? (The town fathers hate it when Richmond is referred to that way.) Why do you ask? Carbon Leaf is playing there tonight. Hometown show, should be good. Um, okay, any tix left? Yup, and it’s GA too. What, Georgia? General Admission, numb-nuts. Oh.

What the hell, I like staying up wicked late the night before flying; helps me sleep on the plane. Then a wicked latte to wake me up and I’m good. Plus, Jubal Early (our new ride) has actual cruise control! We should be home by 3, no probs. And the National (a new (refurbished?) venue) is like 20 feet off I-95, so we can hardly get lost. (Though we did the cheap tour of one-way streets on the way to finding parking.)

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Things I Hate, Part 5

Kids (yeah, kids.  With X marks on their hands and no-alcohol colored wristbands.  Now get the hell off my lawn) who don’t know the difference between a concert and a bar.  See, a bar is where you go to meet friends, talk, drink, and occasionally pay attention to the band.

Also, “Hang out with your wang out” is mildly amusing, if you are planning to drop trou.  Otherwise repeating it ad nauseum doesn’t even make sense.  C’mon kids, if you’re gonna rock out with your cock out, let’s see it.  Otherwise it’s just talk.

Anyway, what these tots need is a little lesson in paying attention and shutting the hell up.  But who would they listen to?

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln

For she so loved her trumpet that she sold it for a cup of Thai iced tea. And to give it a chance to be in show business. After years of being toted from school to school, teaching K-12ers about music, and years more of languishing in the gig bag in a closet, Jenna’s trumpet (with its valves still working, thank you very much) was rescued from obscurity and thrust into the hands of, well, Stephen Gregory Smith, on stage at Ford’s Theatre in Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War. Because there’s no horn player in the orchestra, and the synthesized trumpet calls they were using made the entire cast cringe and cover their ears. Stephen plays, but his trumpet was lost 5 years ago when his house burned, so he put out a call and J answered. It’s like karmic payback for the bass amp and cabinet I got for free so they would have a good home.

So Stephen has a trumpet again, in recompense of which we were invited to the dress. Sadly, I can’t recommend the show. Most sadly because such a grouping of vocal talent I have never seen on one stage. Everyone in the cast was spectacular, solo and chorally. When they broke into an a capella section with the entire cast spread across the whole stage, and remained in perfect harmonic and rhythmic sync, I knew this was a special group of singers. The orchestra was also excellent. Which makes it all the more frustrating that the sound was a disaster.

Everyone sounded like they were singing from the single array of speakers hung above center stage. Even the people closer to me sounded that way, which means it’s more than just incorrectly tuned delays. There was a presence hump like that on a camel, leaving us with no bass (more the pity since the bass player rocked) and no high end for the consonants. Every single belt song (and many there were), male or female, consisted of an undifferentiated series of unidentifiable vowels. Despite the very expensive-looking (and hideously obtrusive) rock-n-roll style head mics, which ought to at least have helped the sound. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure something somewhere in the system was overloading; the harshness was more than I can put down entirely to bad EQ. This ain’t community theatre, folks. There’s no excuse for 1970′s quality sound.

But how about the lighting, you ask? Well shit, with several hundred fixed instruments and at least a dozen intelligent lights, you’d think it might be really nice. But then you might see the show and ask yourself “what’s the point of beautiful moody backlighting for a sad song if you then blast the person in the face with a white follow spot?” And, if you’re like me, you won’t have an answer. WTF, is it an Equity requirement or something that the lead singer must always be lit by a soft-focus follow spot? And we all have to work together to pretend that it doesn’t spill onto anyone or anything else on the stage? Feh.

And, new rule. Nobody is allowed to use projectors in the theatre ever again, with the single exception of the people who did Sunday in the Park with George up at Studio 54 last year. They got it right. Everyone else, including this one (Aaron Rhyne, apparently), get the PowerPoint disease when given a projector. Guess what guys, we’re here to see the actors, not your projections. So stop it with the motion during quiet solos! And remember, there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.

The show itself is a musical revue, which is fine, but don’t expect it to “bear witness to the struggles of the past, and actively connect those struggles to our lives in the present day,” as the director says. The only parts that were emotionally engaging for me were when they turned on the lights in Lincoln’s box and the cast turned toward it while a narrator read lines from various of Lincoln’s speeches. That worked, but can hardly be considered a stroke of directorial genius. I mean, you’re in Ford’s Theatre speaking lines from Lincoln. What else are you gonna do? And other than that, the show was not emotionally engaging. It was just a group of incredibly talented musicians (most of whom are very talented actors too) singing their hearts out and asses off. If the sound did them justice, it would be a very enjoyable evening.

Best Weekend Evah!

Hey look, a new entry!  I’m not dead after all.

Good times last weekend, atsa fer sure. So much so that it calls for an ordered list!

  1. Special talkback performance of One Red Flower, with author Paris Barclay, Bernard Edelman (who edited the book the play was based on), Robert Santos (the guy who commissioned the book), Debbie Brudno (wife of character Alan Chisolm), and Stephen Gregory Smith, who played the lead in the Signature production a few years ago.  It went great!  Everyone thought it was very well done, and the veterans all approved.  The only thing we did wrong was the way they tied their pants to their boots, and having them wear ponchos in the field in one scene.  Great party afterwards, thanks to the prep help from Y.T. and the setup help from all the not-appearing-in-this-play KAT folk.
  2. Baby gorilla!  Mandara keeps poppin’ ‘em out down at the National Zoo, so we went with Y.T. to see the new girl.  Hey, a girl baby!  That’s a first.  Cute as kittens.  Man, I don’t see how anyone can watch any apes for more than 10 minutes without jumping to the assumption of common descent.
  3. Mandara still recognizes Jenna.  Long story, involving an ape teaching a person how to say hello, a long absence, the startling realization that apes do double-takes, an even longer absence, and a slow but certain recognition.  Jenna kinda melted.  And I reiterate what I said above about evolution.
  4. Another good performance of the show, and Mary Ann Redmond at the Harp & Fiddle in Bethesda, with Y.T. again.

I’m not expecting to top all that any time soon.

Oh, That Needle!

So I’m putting my vinyl copy of Live Rust (yeah, vinyl, what are you looking at?  Vinyl sounds better.  Not better than digital, better than nothing.  Which would be my other option.)

Um, where was I?

Oh yes, The Needle and the Damage Done.  I think that’s referring to what happens if Wee Thomas jumps onto the turntable before I get the cover down.

Back in high school I wanted to release an album called ‘Tis But a Scratch.  I had the artwork all figured out and everything.  Just didn’t have a band.  And now it’s too late for that joke.

If You Give a Director a Cookie

Or rather, if you give a director a huge budget…

Saw Ace the other night at Signature. It’s advertised as a story about planes and war and WWI flying aces and stuff. About 20 minutes into the show I was thinking, “Either we came to the wrong theatre or this sure is a huge frame they’ve put this story in.” It seemed to be set in the 50s, and didn’t have much to do with flying. Well, except the set, which was all metal and riveted, with two enormous metal contraptions on either side of the stage, all set about with doors and lights and flapdoodles.

Turns out it’s really a story of a boy learning about his past. And said past does have not one, but two flying aces in it. And sure, all that the setup is more or less necessary to build up empathy for the characters, but it musta coulda been done quicker. As the story went on, it got much better. The songs tended somewhat toward the insipid, but the book (with the exception of the part where Ace pulled up and flew up to heaven or something) was really very good. Oddly, the book was written by the lyricist and composer. Perhaps I’m just spoiled; not everyone can be Sondheim when it comes to words. Maybe you have to be Joss Whedon (or a close relation) to do that.

Continue reading ‘If You Give a Director a Cookie’

5-strings Got Some

Ooh, two posts in one day! So we saw Carbon Leaf last night at Power Plant Live up in Bawlmer. Free show, woo-hoo! And we didn’t even drink any of the über-expensive beer they expect you to. For the win!

Great show, lots of fun. Right at that edge of small enough to still be Real Music rather than Overblown Spectacle, but large enough to have some nice equipment. Stood there long enough to be basically second row, so great view. Hmm, Terry was playing One Prairie Outpost capo 3, when everything on the internets says its capo 2. Someone on the internet is wrong!

Here’s Jordan signing my shirt. Yeah, just him. Like I care about anyone other than the bass player. He’s got a pretty cool 5-string semi-acoustic upright, that I need. That plus some lessons. Thanks for the photo, Maggie!

Jordan Medas of Carbon Leaf