Thursday, 21 July 2005

I’m not sure how, but a friend of mine discovered that Nickel Creek was having a special pre-release show for their new CD, Why Should the Fire Die? The show was being sponsored by a local radio station and was less than a week away.

Per must have called everyone; the radio station, the band’s management, and possibly the band’s parents, trying to get tickets. Around mid-week a friend of his, someone who works for Clear Channel, came through—big time.

The show was Monday evening and Per’s wife had someone visiting from out of town and couldn’t go. That left me in the fortunate position as his +1 on the guest list. Even though my mom and step-father were arriving from Kansas City that afternoon, but there was no way I was going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ll admit, I felt a little guilty, but luckily my mom was understanding and didn’t make a big deal out of it.

It was my first time at Rossi’s Blue Star Room, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s billed as a Jazz club and turned out to be pretty small, seating maybe 200. That said, it really worked for an accoustic act like Nickel Creek and helped to add to the insider/exclusive vibe I was feeling.

We managed to get a table dead center, no more than 30 feet from the front. The sight-lines were perfect, short of sitting on the stage. When the band started at 1800, I could barely contain myself.

For the main part of the show they played the new album, in order, live. Like most CDs these days, some songs were better than others, but on the whole it was great. The show was enchanting, delightful, intimate, and super cool. My favorites were “When In Rome,” “Anthony,” and “Scotch and Chocolate.” The latter being a rock-out jam by way of acoustic folk. “Anthony” is great, with it’s lilting ukulele melody and Sara singing about a guy that ran away—the fool!

The new album has a couple tracks that sound almost like straight rock, but they show progression and still work in the context of their music. I love Sara’s voice, so I’m delighted that she sings on a few more tracks this time. “First and Last Waltz” is quite nice, and “Stumptown” kicks it bluegrass style.

Once they finished playing the new album, they went right into “Smootie Song” (my personal favorite from This Side), then took a quick break followed by a 5 or 6 song encore from from earlier releases.

The final set-list works out to “When in Rome,” “Somebody More Like You,” “Jealous of the Moon,” “Scotch & Chocolate,” “Can’t Complain,” “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” “Eveline,” “Stumptown,” “Anthony,” “Best of Luck,” “Doubting Thomas,” “First and Last Waltz,” “Helena,” “Why Should the Fire Die?,” “Smoothie Song.” After that, my memory gets a little hazy. I know they did “Up On Cripple Creek” (by The Band), and I think “House of Tom Bombadil,” “Reasons Why,” “The Fox,” “Green & Gray.” I’m not certain on those last few, and I know there are a couple missing, but at least it’s close.

After the show, Per and I hung around for a while hoping they’d come out and visit. About 15 minutes later, after most of the audience had left, we were rewarded. First Sara, then Chris, and finally Sean appeared and were kind enough to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

It was a bit weird leaving the club so early, just after eight. Returning to sunlit streets was a bit of a shock after spending the last few hours inside a dark club. That said, it was a damn fine evening and I can’t thank Per enough for the opportunity to experience it.

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Previously , the only prior exposure I had to Junior Brown came by way of a Gap jeans TV spot several years ago. No, really! Even though the commercial gave just the tiniest taste, I was drawn in by his rock n’ roll with a twang as well as his combo standard/steel guitar, “Big Red.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been big on country music, but this didn’t fit what I normally considered part of the genre. There was something about Junior Brown that I really liked. According to his Web site, he hears that more than anything else. Still, it hadn’t been enough to buy any of his CDs.

So with no real information to go on, I kind of bought the ticket on impulse. I figured that, if nothing else, it would get me out of the house for a few hours. And, who knows? I might even discover something good. On my way home, I bought two CDs, Greatest Hits and Down Home Chrome. The former because it could give me a glimpse into several albums worth of his work, the latter because I liked the title and the cover.

No amount of research, certainly not as limited as a single TV commercial two CDs could prepare me for what I was about to see—one really good show. I got there about 5 minutes before the show and was a bit worried, there weren’t very many people there at all. It was just going to be Brown the whole night, no opening act. And surprisingly, the stage was even more sparsely populated than the audience; just a simple drum kit, plus a few microphones and amplifiers.

Junior took the stage with a drummer and bass player and just laid into it. Seeing “Big Red,” his custom-built guit-steel, in pictures or on TV was one thing. To see it in person, or more importantly to see Junior Brown play it, was another thing entirely. His undeniable talent on the guitar, coupled with his baritone voice, and capable songwriting made for a great time.

The only song I recognized with any certainty was “Highway Patrol.” Based on audience reaction, he did several other hits through the evening, but there’s no way I could list them.

I never figured out why Brown had a cargo blanket over his stage amplifiers. Every so often he’d reach underneath and tweak a knob or two. If I had the chance, I’d ask him about it, but it didn’t really matter. The music was more than enough to keep my attention. I found myself really getting into it, constantly surprised by Brown’s guitar work and musicianship.

After the show I stuck around hoping to get an autograph. Eventually, one of the bouncers said Junior was out in the tour bus and probably wouldn’t come back into the club. Reluctantly, I went outside and found a few other fans waiting. Junior never did come back out. In that heat I don’t blame him. Luckily, one of his roadies was nice enough to take stuff onto the bus and get it autographed for us.

The final tally was 3 musicians, 90 minutes of kick-ass music, 290 pictures, and 1 autograph.

Happily, from humble beginnings came one hell of a night. I guess it’s best described by using a quote from Brown’s Web site: his music “combines the soul of country, but the spirit of rock-and-roll.” No doubt.

You can bet I’ll go see him again if I’m get the chance.

Saturday, 16 July 2005

So I’m at Cub the other day and in the 30 minutes I was in the store, someone had papered all the cars with one of those half-sheet flyers. This time it an individual trying to sell their car.

Normally people toss them on the ground or take them home and toss them in the trash. However, on my way out of the lot I saw a car for sale that hapened to fit the advertisment description perfectly. Irritated that they had basically littered on a car-by-car basis, I stuck the thing under their wiper. Eye for an eye, if you will.

Later that day I happened through the same lot and the car was still there. But with one change—others had followed my lead. There had to be 200 of the things jammed under the offender’s windsheild wipers.

Poetic justice at its finest.

I first ran across Esthero when she appeared on a Blue Man Group album, of all things. She did a cool version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” on their release The Complex.

Then, completely by happenstance, I saw her on one of the late-night talk shows. She did the title song from her latest CD, Wikked Lil’ Grrrls. It’s a sassy little number and I liked it immediately, so when I learned she was coming to town, I didn’t think twice about picking up a ticket.

Later I discovered that Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing was going to play the Aquatennial Block Party. At that point I knew it was going to be a busy night. I’d try to see the Doughty show, then hit the Fine Line. The schedule would be tight, but it would all work out.

And work out it did. I saw Doughty and made it to the Fine Line near the end of the first opening act.

The first guy, I didn’t catch his name, but he wasn’t right for the show. He was a singer/songwriter/guitar act that struck me as whiney and a real downer.

The second opening act was a woman named Toya Alexis. I was worried when she took the stage. It was just Alexis and a guy playing acoustic guitar. To my surprise, she turned out to be something else. What an incredible voice!

On one song, I think it was “Baby”, she did about half of it as herself, then briefly as each of several well-known singers like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Ertha Kitt. There were one or two others, but I don’t remember for sure. It was both hilarious and stunning at the same time.

Then Esthero herself took the stage…with two backup singers and an 8-piece band comprised of a drums, percussion, a flute/saxophone player, trumpet, trombone, bass, guitar (who played with Toya during the opening act), and keyboards.

Based on what I could find on-line, the set list was “Wikked Lil’ Girls,” “Breath from Another,” “OG Bitch,” “Country Livin’,” “Swallow Me,” “Everyday is a Holiday with You,” “If Tha Mood,” “Superheros,” “Bad Boy Clyde,” “Half A World Away,” “Gone,” “My Torture,” “Fastlane,” “We Are In Need of a Musical Revolution,” “Joey,” “Amelia,” and “Wish You Away.” There were a couple other songs too, but I’m not even sure the list above is entirely accurate.

At one point, between songs, Esthero called out a guy because he was just way too loud. “If I can hear you better than I can hear myself, you’re too f’in loud!” Then she strongly suggested he buy her a shot from the bar. Sheepishly, he complied, but Mr. Loudmouth didn’t quiet down much afterward.

After a short break, Esthero and her brother, J, came out to do “Joey” and a new song she hadn’t practiced with the band. Then everyone came back out to do the last couple songs.

After the show, both the dummer and the trombone player took time out to talk for a few minutes. Both were very cool, but couldn’t stay long as they had to pack their own stuff and head to Chicago for a show the next night. When the trombonist saw my camera he asked if I had gotten a couple flash pictures. (I had.) The bell on his horn was painted with an orange, red, and white flame-ish pattern. The rest of the instrument was mostly white rather than a normal yellow-brass color. It took on an unearthly glow when the flash hit it.

Esthero didn’t come out after the show, but her manager or assistant took stuff backstage to get it signed. Some of the other folks waiting got brought back to see Esthero, but I got skipped. I think I’m too introverted and therefor not pushy enough to have gotten a behind-the-scenes meet-and-greet. Clearly it’s something I need to work on.

The tally: 90+ minutes of music, 1 musical discovery (Toya Alexis), 308 pictures, and 1 autograph. All on top of the earlier show. A damn fine night indeed.

As if my weekend weren’t busy enough, earlier this week I learned that that Mike Doughty, the lead singer for Soul Coughing, was doing a short set at The Aquatennial Block Party.

I had another concert the same night but, as it turned out, the schedule worked fine. Doughty was scheduled to take the stage at 2015 and finish at 2100. All of the Block Party shows where scheduled the same way; each artist had a 45 minute set with only 15 minutes between. The other show was at the Fine Line with doors at 2000, which meant the music wouldn’t start until at least 2100. This would be perfect.

Mike came on and did a handful of songs from his new album, Haughty Melodic, and a couple from previous albums. I wish I was more familiar with his more recent stuff, but at least he did a number (“True Dreams of Wichita”) from the first Soul Coughing album. Not my favorite, but great to hear the one of the old songs performed live.

After the show, he came out and signed stuff. “Anything you want,” he said in the announcement before the last song.

In the crush of people trying to get to the autograph table, I met a guy named Jason and his Grandma. Both very nice people, but Grandma was really into it all. She said she wanted to have Doughty sign her breasts. No. Kidding. Now, how cool a Grandma is that?

Jason said he was really in it to moon Mike Doughty. He changed that to getting Mike to sign his buttocks. I said that if he did, I’d try to get a picture and we’d make arrangements to get him a copy. Jason got more excited as we got closer to the front of the line. “Mike Doughty, sign my ass!” Mike looked at him and asked, “Are you sure?” then sign it (them) he did. I even have the picture to prove it.

Nothing quite as crazy for me. I got Mike to sign my Ruby Vroom CD and asked to get a picture with him. Done deal. Once I have the editing done, I’ll put the picture on-line.

It was a pretty good show and I’m glad I went. I really wish it had been a longer show with Doughty doing the whole thing. I would have blown off the other show for that, but you can’t have everything.

Final score: 45 minutes of music, 1 autograph, 45 minutes to get the autograph, 262 pictures. I should be able to scare up a dozen or so that are good enough to post.

Yeah, I’d do it again.

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Came across a cool little Flash game called Chaos Theory. 50 balls are tossed up in the air and slowly float down. The goal is to set off an explosion to start a chain reaction and blow up as many balls as possible. The score from each of the three rounds are added together for your total.

Simple as it is, it’s everything a good action game should be. You get enticed by that elusive perfect score, but frustrated with never being able to reach it. A cross between luck, skill, and luck as you randomly get a decent score, start to recognize patterns in the game, then try to manipulate them (hah!) to get better.

My high was 138 (luck) on my 3rd game. My average is around 110. Lots of 120’s, offset by a couple games under 50 as I tried a couple things.

Monday, 11 July 2005

From the site: “For centuries South Africa’s Zulu people have been famous for the sturdy and beautiful baskets they weave from grasses and palm leaf. The weaving was so tight that the best ukhamba baskets were actually used to store beer! Today these baskets are still woven in the countryside, but the Zulus living in urban area have invented a new kind of basket, the imbenge basket woven entirely of recycled telephone wire.” Take a look!

Thursday, 07 July 2005

Last night it was surf guitar at its finest when Los Straitjackets brought their Summer Twist Party to First Avenue. The Pontani Sisters were there, of course, with their burlesque/go-go revue; as was Kaiser George to pull double duty as announcer and part-time singer.

I was a bit surprised to see them back so soon. They had been here less than a year ago for their Christmas Pageant, which was the first time I saw them live. Previously I had only caught them a couple times on Conan O’Brien, but even then I was hooked.

The Twin Cities was the first stop on their summer tour. I was told they didn’t have much time to practice, but you wouldn’t have known. They were tight and put on a great show. And they have a new drummer too! Jason from The Hi-Risers recently joined the group after Jimmy Lester left the band.

The 90+ minute set included several old favorites, but unfortunately they didn’t do “Batman” or “The Munsters Theme.” On the flip side, they more than made up for it with several new songs along the way.

The opening act was a group called Chrome Johnson. The guy working the merch table described them as being similar to Reverend Horton Heat which, once I heard them, wasn’t quite accurate. What they are is still pretty cool. They’re a San Francisco four-piece that does a rockabilly, gypsy swing, twang sort of thang.

From just the opening song I could tell I was in for a treat. They did several songs off their one and only CD, including a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” I liked it well enough to buy their disc at the show and listened on the way home.

So far Los Straitjackets are 2 for 2. They’ve put on two great shows and introduced me to two bands I never would have found otherwise. You can bet I’ll see them every time they come into town.

Final score for the evening: 3+ hours of live music, 12 autographs (including Chrome Johnson), and 328 pictures. Most of the pictures are crap, but there are 10-12 decent ones with a couple real winners.