Monday, 25 April 2005

Could there be a more perfect place for Moby to play in the Twin Cities than First Avenue? No other venue could offer the right combination of atmosphere and occupancy to host a show by the venerable artist.

Hjalmer and I met up at our usual pre-concert stop: Copeland’s, then headed over to the show about 7:15. Doors opened at 7:00, so the initial crowd of club-kids had dissapated. Once inside, we discovered that there was no opening act (cool), and that Moby wasn’t scheduled to come on until 9:00 (not so cool). Realistically, that meant he wouldn’t start until almost 9:30, giving us a two-hour wait.

That was to be the only disappointment of the evening, although I did meet someone I’ll never forget.

Her name was Evelyn. She was fairly attractive, quite friendly, and talked my ear off before the show. At first I thought she was hitting on me, but then she mentioned her boyfriend with such emphasis that I realized 1) she was remarkably drunk, and 2) I’m not that hard up. She turned out to be fairly harmless. After a while, Evelyn’s friend, whom I’ll call Sheila (because I can’t remember her name, but it started with an S. Maybe.), asked Hjalmer for help finding Evelyn. Sheila had enlisted his help because he’s tall and would be able to see over the crowd. Almost immediately Sheila turns around and discovers that Evelyn is standing not 6 feet away, talking to me. Sheila had assumed we were a couple and walked right by. I won’t say she was quite as drunk as Evelyn, but Sheila had a good buzz on.

Mercifully, Moby took the stage and put on a great show. It was loud, but visually stunning and well worth it. Besides, I had my ear-plugs, so the noise level was no problem. The lighting was well done and he was an engaging performer.

What struck me most was that the show wasn’t as pre-programmed as I thought it would be. For some reason I expected it to be Moby, a DJ rig and some keyboards. Moby actually had a band (bass, drums, keyboard) and played guitar and did vocals.

I’d put a set list here, but I can never remember them after the show. Certainly not with any kind of accuracy. Sure, I could carry a notepad and keep a list during the show, but I’m not great at naming songs based on the music or lyrics. Some are easy, like when the song has a distinct chorus, but others don’t come so readily. Going from song title to lyrics or tune, no problem. The other way around—hopeless. Besides, trying to take notes would preclude any dancing I might want to do in the unlikely event that I want to completely rock-out.

I do remember that Moby played several of my favorites including “Natural Blues,” “Feeling So Real,” “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?,” “Bodyrock,” and “Find My Baby.” He also did a couple of his more popular songs like “Southside” and “We Are All Made of Stars.”

Of course, since this was a tour to promote the new album, I’m sure he did a few songs from there, but since I haven’t picked it up as yet, there’s absolutely no way to recall what they were.

Hjalmer was able to fill in a few more from the show. He added “Go,” “Move,” “Next Is the E,” and “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.”

At some point during the show, Evelyn wandered off. After that, Sheila gave me grief because I didn’t keep track of her. Excuse me! I just met the woman! You’d think the friend she came to the show with (Sheila) would be the responsible party here. I came to have a good time, not babysit strangers.

After the 90 minute set, we hung around the club for a little while. It was worth it, because Moby came out to talk with fans and sign autographs. It turned into kind of a madhouse with girls pushing their way through in an effort to give Moby a hug, profess their undying love, and call their friends over.

As I got to the front, another young woman started to shove in front of me saying “I’m going to have him sign my breast. Want to watch?”

I could only reply “Sounds tempting, but I just want to get his autograph and thank him for a great show. How about I go first then get out of your way?” I won.

Of course later I thought of other snappier, and more unseemly, comments. Comments which I shall decline to share at this time.

Sunday, 24 April 2005

It’s not often I go to a show on a whim, but when my friend Hjalmer mentioned in passing that M83 was playing at some obscure club Saturday night, I had to at least look…and ended up going.

The show was at a place called The Triple Rock Social Club. The “old bar” has been around for many years, but they also have a newer performance space. It was my first time there, and sadly, wasn’t really that with the venue itself. It’s essentially a converted storefront space with cement floors, minimal acoustic management, not enough space inside and terrible parking. Thankfully the beer was reasonably priced and the music was amazing.

Ulrich Schnauss opened the show with about a 60 minute set. It was basically just a guy with a computer (15″ or 17″ Powerbook), a MIDI box, and a keyboard. But with that humble array of equipment came some astounding music. Visually his performance wasn’t much to watch—after all, the computer was the backup band, so it was just a guy playing a keyboard. Aurally, it was something else—stunning. The musical equivalent of finding crème brulee in a dive bar. In a way it was unnervingly similar to M83’s style. After Schnauss’ set, I picked up a CD and got a couple seconds to talk with him. He’s a fairly quiet, unassuming guy that plays good music. He was kind enough to give me his autograph, and even wrote a quick note: “Michael, thanks for coming to the show! Cheers, Ulrich Schnauss.” So it’s not a personal note, other than my name. Most artists don’t do that much, so the extra effort is appreciated.

Any worries I had about the likeness of Schnauss’ sound to that of M83 were gone once they took the stage. A delicious fusion of keyboards, vocals, guitar, bass and drums creating a sonic wash that conjures the likes of Tangerine Dream, Sigur Ros, Jean-Michel Jarre, Air, and My Bloody Valentine. In what seemed be the theme for the eveing, with astounding music came minimal stage design. It was just four guys playing their instruments. No fancy lights, subdued stage presence, and little banter with the audience. That wasn’t really a problem, since their music did well to speak for them. Meeting them after the show, I realized why they didn’t talk much: heavy French accents and limited practice with English. I managed to get three (out of four) of their autographs. The bass player disappeared right after they left the stage and didn’t come back out.

In spite of the underwhelming qualities of the club and the visually business-like nature of the performances, it was a good evening and I’m glad I went. It may have been my only chance to see M83 play live, so there’s definitely no regrets. As for seeing another show at the Triple Rock; it doesn’t seem likely unless it was a really compelling show.

Thursday, 21 April 2005

I’ve been trying to teach myself guitar for a few months now and it’s not going so well. The excuses are plentiful: I don’t have a suitable practice space, I don’t have a decent chair that won’t get in the way, I don’t have time; you name it. Honestly, what it comes down to is embarassment and laziness. Embarassment because I can’t bear the thought of anyone hearing me play because it sounds so bad, I’m just learning after all. From there, it’s just another convenient excuse to avoid practice, even though I know I’d better better if I spent the time on it.

A friend of mine has been a mandolin player for years. He has one at work and he’ll play around with it after-hours once in a while. To my untrained ears, he’s not bad. He has several songs in his repetoir and it usually teaching himself something new.

He’s offered to teach me guitar, but for some reason I’ve never taken him up on it. Mostly out of embarassment. I know nothing about playing guitar. I’d be starting at absolute zero. I can tune the thing, but that’s it.

It’s times like these I wish I had stuck with the violin or viola when back in junior high orchestra. Musically speaking, I’d be better off then I am today, perhaps even continuing to compose my own stuff. Instead, I have a piano I never play and my keyboard gear is stored in the basement, gathering dust.

As it turns out, one of the guys at work just bought a mandolin and my friend is going to teach him to play. So what did I do? I bought myself an inexpensive mandolin and hope to join in on the lessons.

I’m not sure why I think it will end up any different than with the guitar (and the piano, the keyboards, the violin…), but I want to give it an honest try. My expectations are realistic; I don’t expect to become great. Heck, I’ll be happy if I can simply learn to pick out a couple tunes and have them be recognizable.

Sorry this is so scattershot. I hope to clean this up and turn it into a new story later this summer. We’ll see how the lessons go.

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

This Wired article has links to a slideshow with some stunning images. Satellites caught such chance events as a 747 landing in Tokyo, Black Rock City as it was being set up for Burning Man, a Russian icebreaker ship rescuing a submarine, and one of the waves crashing into shore from the tsunami. Well worth a look.