Sunday, 25 September 2005

Another busy concert weekend, too busy. Several bands I really wanted to see came to the Twin Cities and I had to choose carefully.

Friday night was easy, that was Greazy Meal at the Fine Line. Tuesday would be Cirque du Soleil with Michelle. Saturday turned out to be a problem. Three of my favorite acts, Sigur Ros, Kaki King, and Lavay Smith, all had shows the same night. They were playing the State Theater, the Cedar Cultural Center, and Rossi’s Blue Star Room respectively.

As far as clubs go the Cedar is somewhat lacking, but The State Theater ain’t too shabby. Throw Rossi’s into the mix, and the small, intimate jazz club wins easily. I think it would be nearly impossible to have a bad show there.

I saw Lavay fairly recently, back in June when I was in San Francisco. Kaki had been here in March, but played a very short set. It’s been over a year since I saw Sigur Ros.

In my head I knew that I’d enjoy myself regardless of which show I ultimately chose, but that really didn’t make it any easier.

Lavay would be back in the area come November and Kaki was playing in Duluth a couple days later, so Sigur Ros seemed the way to go. Unfortunately, when it came time to buy tickets, I could only find nosebleed seats. Delighted, my attention turned back to the Lavay Smith show. I figured I’d see Greazy Meal on Friday, Lavay on Saturday, hit Duluth to catch Kaki King on Monday, then drive back Tuesday to see Cirque. If I didn’t collapse from exhaustion, I’d be back to work on Wednesday.

When it came down to concert night, there was no way to make the Duluth plan happen. But I still had Lavay, so everything would be OK.

When I had made my reservation I asked for something in the 2nd row of tables. They didn’t tell me of any problems at the time, so I figured it would be no big deal. Unfortunately, when I got to the club they gave me a table basically just inside the door. The sight lines were still pretty good, but it was a let down after sitting up front in San Francisco. A quick conversation (and perhaps some begging) with the hostess didn’t pay off. She wanted to help but there wasn’t much she could do until after the main dinner seating. She promised to keep me in mind and see what could be done.

20 minutes later, the hostess kept her promise and I was rewarded. My new seat was much better: Right. Up. Front.

As with the San Francisco show, the band did a two song warm-up. They started with Illinois Jacquet’s “Symphony In Sid” and “Tickle Toe” by Count Basie. After that, Lavay came out and did “Busy Woman’s Blues,” “Daddy,” “Kansas City Boogie,” “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Big Fine Daddy,” “‘Deed I Do,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” and “Walk Right, In Walk Right Out.”

Between sets I got a chance to talk with a few people in the band. First was Lavay herself. She didn’t know why, but my face was vaguely familiar. When I explained that I had flown 1500 miles to see her show back in June, she lit up. I added that she had been kind enough to sign both of my CDs, but I was star-struck. I completely forgot to ask for a picture with her. She said “that’s the sweetest thing!” and gladly helped me correct the error.

Next I ran into the piano player/band-leader. He recognized me right off, but just that it was from a previous show. Again with the 1500 mile story and I asked when the new album was due. “December, maybe January depending upon packaging. It’s mixed and ready to go, but there are a couple details to work out.” I don’t want to wait that long!

Finally I caught the trombone player, Danny Armstrong. In June I had made a point of introducing myself simply because we have the same last name. Hey, it was a good opening. He made my night when he took one look at me and said “Cuz?” something we had joked about in June.

After the break, it was another two song warm-up: “Dizzy Atmosphere” and I think one called “Doolittle.” I missed the title of Lavay’s first song, but it was a Billie Holiday number. Then came “Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, ” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do for You,” “Evil Gal Blues,” “Happy Birthday” for two people in the audience, “Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing,” “”On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Jumpin’ In the Mornin’,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Through the whole show I was grinning like a fool, clapping and singing along, totally into it. Along the way I realized something. Even though I listen to tons of music and enjoy a wide variety of stuff, most of it failed to excite me any more. But Lavay and the boys truly brought joy, no exuberance, into my life. They are the first band in a very long time that has done that for me.

Afterwards I talked to Danny again and caught Chris to thank them for a great show. Chatting a bit longer I asked, “What are the odds I could get a picture with the whole band?” To my surprise Chris said it shouldn’t be a problem if I can wait around for a while.

That’s how I found myself hanging out with the band after most everyone else had gone. I got to talk with most of the guys as regular people. I know they’re just like the rest of us, but when it’s a person or group you really admire, there’s still something exclusive about it. I don’t usually get a chance at this kind of thing, so it was oh so cool!

Eventually a couple of the guys decided to call it a night. I caught Chris again to say goodnight so he wouldn’t run around looking for me later. Before I could tell him not to worry about it he hollered “Hey! Michael, the guy in the hat here, wants to get a picture with the band.” 60 seconds later everyone had gathered and one of the two remaining patrons snapped the picture.

I didn’t sleep at all that night I was so charged up. Their November show is the same night that G. Love plays First Avenue. I didn’t know what to do before, but now I know exactly where I’ll be: at Rossi’s to see Lavay Smith again.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Greazy Meal’s heyday was in the late 90s and early 00s when they put out a couple CD’s and became the house band at The Cabooze. Since then, the band has dispersed a bit, drawn into careers and day-jobs. One does studio work in California while another lives in Germany. The rest are in the music business in one way or another, either production, studio work or touring with national acts. As you can imagine, getting 8 people together to do a show can be a bit tricky.

I know three of the guys, Jim Anton, Ken Chastain, and Tom Scott from a prior band, Beat the Clock. A friend of mine was their sound man, which is how I first found out about them. They toured the Midwest and the local bar scene in the early 90s. I managed to catch nearly every show they did in the Twin Cities. I came to know the guys decently enough and always loved their stuff, so you’d think I’d have caught their new band too. Such is not the case.

This weekend they did a rare, two-show run at The Fine Line and I was not going to miss it. Greazy Meal always packed the house and got great reviews back when they were playing The Cabooze, so it was bound to be a good show.

I was worried for a while. Saturday night already had too many things to choose from (Sigur Ros, Lavay Smith, Kaki King, my high-school reunion), but it all worked out. Greazy Meal’s first show was Friday night and I had it open.

The opening act was a group called either Wisley or the Willy Wisely Trio (although there were five people on stage,) I heard them referred to as both. He did a good job and I enjoyed his set. Unfortunately the crowd was still pretty thin at that point, so he really didn’t get the response he deserved.

After a quick turnover, Greazy Meal took the stage in front of an enthusiastic audience.

If you’re into the Twin Cities music scene you’ll appreciate their pedigree. Alphabetically there’s Dave Anania on drums, Jim Anton on bass, Tommy Barbarella on keyboard, Ken Chastain on percussion, Julius Collins on vocals, John Fields on guitar, Brian Galagher on sax and flute, and Tom Scott on other sounds and vocals.

Jim, Ken, and Tom were in Beat the Clock, the rest of the guys would join them on stage every so often. That experience pays off in how easily they can share the stage. It helps to create a great vibe that resonates with their 70s and 80s soul/funk/rock sound.

Early in the show I noticed there was a couch on stage. I didn’t understand at first, but it’s called the “Davenport of Love.” Situated immediately in front of the drum kit, audience members are welcome to come on stage and take a turn. Too self-conscious to get up there myself, I’m told you can feel each beat down to your bones.

Right away, and through their whole show, Greazy Meal’s energy fed into the crowd. It created a Friday-night, party atmosphere that felt like it could go all weekend. Alas, after a 2½ hour show, it had to end.

I met Willy Wisley after the show while he was talking to my friend John. I stopped on my way out to say good-night to John and he introduced himself. He came across as a very nice guy, down to earth and very accessible. It’s little things like that that can get someone to check out your band while they may not have before. I know it worked for me and I’m definitely going to check out his music. Based on what I saw on stage, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

Hopefully it won’t be an entire year until Greazy Meal’s next show. Regardless of when it is, you can bet I’ll be there! After all, I need to take my ride on the Davenport of Love.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

On my way home Wednesday night, the sky was getting dark. Fast. The clouds were rolling in, but it still looked like a pretty normal evening thunderstorm. Little did I know.

Without a second thought, I finished my errands and made my usual Wednesday visit to a local restaurant. I’m there most Wednesday nights for a couple reasons. It gives me time away from the distractions at home (TV, Internet connectivity, etc.) where I can work on my writing. Second, I can grab dinner while I’m there. That my brother works there is an added benefit.

About half-way through dinner the rain started coming down hard. I’ll admit it was a bit disconcerting when the dime-sized hail and the gale-force winds started. Still, it was no big deal; I’d just hang out a little longer and work some more.

Not long after that, the power went out. Not just at the restaurant, but the car dealers on either side. And the half-dozen businesses across the street. And everything else I could see from my window seat.

Then the weather got really nasty. The wind picked up even more and the rain was coming down in sheets. Cars were stopped on the road because they couldn’t see anything.

After 45 minutes or so of eating and working in the dark, the wind and rain had let up enough that I felt comfortable going home. Sure, the power was still out and the house would be dark, but the laptop was out of battery so I had nothing better to do. At the very least I’d be able to read by flashlight for a while and go to bed early.

A fallen tree limb was partially blocking the driveway as I pulled in. Considering the wind earlier, it wasn’t that surprising. Finding leaves all over the place and the storm draims completely overwhelmed wasn’t unexpected either.

It turns out I didn’t know the half of it.

Safely inside, the rain started up again, without the wind this time. This pass wasn’t as long as the first, nor as fierce. I kept reading just the same. I wanted the storm to truly be over before I went out to investigate.

I was distracted from my reading by strange lights playing across the window. Opening the shades, I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch black. I directed the flashlight out the window, but it still took several seconds to register what I saw. There was a tree blocking my view. A tree that didn’t belong there.

Normally the tree stood majestically, 30-40 feet from where it now lay. The canopy was usually just beyond my reach from the upstairs window where its leaves would turn glorious, firey colors each fall. It was the one thing that could convince me, if only for a couple months every year, there might still be some magic left in the world.

Now my long-time companion was effectively dead.

And that wasn’t the only one. Wandering the courtyard I saw at least 15 similar tragedies. Trees toppled as though someone just pushed them over as easily as one swats a fly.

That is (or was) one of my favorite things about this townhouse complex — the old trees in the common areas. Before the storm, we had 30-40 of them, each over 40 years old. Now we’re left with about half.

There were 20 or so trees, each over 40 years old, toppled over. It looked like someone just pushed them over, tearing the roots from the ground.

I can’t help but feel as though I’ve lost several old friends. It’s enough to make me cry.

Sunday, 11 September 2005

The show was billed as “Adrian Belew and Eric Johnson.” I had never heard of Eric Johnson before, and the Minnesota Zoo isn’t normally high on my concert venue list. On the flip side, Adrian Belew is one of my favorite guitar players. I love his solo work, as well as the stuff he’s done with King Crimson.

Bethany, Patrick’s girlfriend, works for a local ticket distributor, so when she mentioned the show, I just couldn’t pass it up. She offered to reserve me a seat and get me the ticket via Patrick.

About a week later, I saw Patrick and was completely floored! Row B, Seat 13. The Zoo doesn’t seat Row A for concerts. I had a front row ticket to see Adrian Belew! As it turns out, I was a mere 30 feet from Belew for his entire set.

I was a bit disapointed to find out that Belew was the opening act, rather than it being a true double-bill, but it was better than nothing. I’ll take Adrian Belew as an opener over no Belew any day.

This tour was in support of Side One and Side Two, released earlier this year, and Side Three, scheduled for this fall. Belew was accompanied by Mike Gallaher on bass and Mike Hodges on drums. Both accomplished musicians in their own right, they combined perfectly with Belew’s top-notch playing. I’ve always considered Belew to be an amazing guitarist, quite possibly the greatest alive today, and this show only reinforced my opinion.

Right from the outset, the 60 minute set was loud. I’m sure part of it was that I didn’t have earplugs and I was seated right up front. The new album falls more along the progressive-rock side of things than the some of his more accessible, pop-friendly tunes. During the show, he snuck in a couple older songs like “Big Electric Cat,” but, despite calls from the audience, “The Momur” (one of my favorites) didn’t make the list. It ended up being about 1/3 King Crimson and the rest from his solo work. I was able to pick out “Dinosaur,” “Frame by Frame,” “Three of a Perfect Pair,” and “Elephant Talk.”

At one point during Belew’s set, a security gorilla got in my face. I could only guess that he didn’t like something about my camera, although I couldn’t hear a word he actually said. There were other people shooting pictures and I had the flash turned off, so I’m not sure why he picked on me. Better to do what he wants rather than get thrown out.

The crew turned the stage pretty fast, but I had time to go talk to the gorilla. He thought it was a video camera, which is “never, ever allowed at shows.” I showed him the camera (Canon PowerShot S500) and explained that it does digital stills. Admittedly, it can do video, but at horribly low resolution only minutes at a time. He apologized for the confusion and told me to make sure the flash was turned off.

When Eric Johnson took the stage, I really didn’t know what to expect. From everything I could find, including his Web site, he’s described as a pop/blues/progressive/rock guitarist. Kind of an unusual combination really, and one that had me a bit wary. It’s not often an artist can bridge that many styles and do any of them well.

Johnson was accompanied by bassist Chris Maresh and drummer Tommy Taylor. They pretty much launched right into it with a blues influenced vocal number named “My Back Pages.” It really reminded me of “Red Barchetta” by Rush. The comparison may be a bit of a stretch, but that’s how my brain connects things.

I was continually surprised throughout the 2 hour show. He floated seamlessly between styles and managed to pull it off. I liked Johnson’s blues and progressive songs the best, the pop-oriented tunes the lest. That said, the set was well put together and nothing came off as a clinker.

As for a set list, I think it’s “My Back Pages,” “Trademark,” “Forty Mile Town,” “Summer Jam,” “Down on the Floor,” “Columbia,” “Solo by Chris (the bassist),” “Tribute to Jerry Reed,” “SRV,” “Desert Rose,” “Cliffs,” “Anthem for Today,” “Righteous,” and “Manic Depression.” It still looks incomplete, but I had to find the set-list on-line and that’s the best I could find.

All said and done, I would have preferred Eric Johnson opening for Adrian Belew, or a double-bill. Even so, I expect that the next time Johnson plays in town, regardless the opening act, I’ll probably go see the show.

My only real complaint for the whole evening was the volume. It was remarkably loud, almost painfully so. I forgot my earplugs and they didn’t have any at the venue. It felt like I had a hangover the next day; not from alcohol, but from sound pressure. My ears rang (more than usual) the better part of the following week.

The final tally: 397 pictures (83 during Belew’s set, 314 during Johnson’s), zero autographs, 180 minutes of music, and a new artist to add to my collection. Actually, the autograph count isn’t 100% true. I did pick up Eric Johnson’s latest at the merch table and they had them pre-autographed. In my book that doesn’t really count; I like to talk to the artist for even those fleeting seconds and ask for the autograph directly.

Tuesday, 06 September 2005

From an email exchange with a friend about an upcoming show:

In an interesting bit of syncronicity, I’ve been working on a CD sampler from my music collection. As yet unnamed, it will showcase artists and songs I always play for friends when we start talking music. Stuff I’m excited about and think they should check out.

Most of my friends, save for a handful, have fairly unvaried musical tastes. They like what they like and don’t have much cause to experiment. There’s nothing wrong with with that, but I’d find it boring. Another way to put it is that I’m always looking for something new and they have lives.

In the sampler series, I’ll undoubtedly toss in something familiar here or there. Perhaps a Tears for Fears or a Jack Johnson track (but none of the radio singles), but most of it won’t be so familiar. You could say I’m trying to do for them what Northern Lights (Twin Cities record store) did for me in the 80’s. A way to expand their musical horizons and experience something outside the little box they currently live in.

So far the first draft is nearly 23 hours of music; 317 tracks. However, there’s some bloat in there too. I started with artists I wanted to feature and added whole albums, sometimes whole catalogs, worth of stuff knowing I would remove most of it later.

I figure I’ll have about 3 CDs worth (3 hours or so) by the time I’m done. But that means I really have to start culling the list. Whittle it down to the tracks that will actually make the series. That means grouping the tracks, building sections of the playlist, and removing anything that just doesn’t work.

Even though it’s the hardest part for me, it starts with auditioning every nominee and cutting the obvious chaff. I came to a group of Adrian Belew tracks on the way to work this morning. One of my favorite artists, it just so happens he’s playing a show in town this weekend (the original subject of our email exchange and hence the syncronicity.)

Barrelling down the highway at 70mph, I was treated to “The Lone Rhinoceros,” “Burned By the Fire We Make,” “Old Fat Cadillac,” “Inner Revolution,” and “The Momer.” Singing along at the top of my lungs, I was actually having fun!

Then I arrived at work.

Thursday, 01 September 2005

While headed into the basement to do laundry, I found a dead bee. It was on a ledge next to the stairs, which I thought it was an odd place for one to die. Even so, no big deal.

Once at the bottom of the stairs, I discovered another half-dozen or so, dead, on the floor. OK…that’s kind of strange, but not enough to be alarming.

Then, in the 30 feet between the landing and the washing machine, I saw more. There were two groups at least 12 and a few pockets of three or four, all dead. All told, there must have been 40-50 dead bees in my basement.

I’m not sure what worries me more, that 50 bees have found a way into the house, or that something (what, I don’t know) is killing them.