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.

Thursday, 30 June 2005

I finally posted the first installment of notes from my trip to San Francisco. It made more sense to back-date the entries so they would match when I originally wrote the notes. I did most of the real writing at the time and have been working on the editing ever since.

I have some photos that I’ll put on line just as soon as I can finish sifting through them and doing touch-ups.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Lavay Smith looks like a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. And when she sings…it’s as if Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Bessie Smith are all rolled up into one. Pure heaven! She is one of my favorite artists these days, if not the favorite.

Is it any wonder that, when I flew to San Francisco to visit my good friend Jules, there was only one thing on my “can’t miss” list? Hell, I picked the specific weekend entirely to see Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers play live.

The show was at a place called Biscuits & Blues. It was just a couple blocks from my hotel, although I’ll admit it wasn’t entirely by accident. I had stayed at The Savoy Hotel about 10 years prior and loved it. That it was so close to the club was an added bonus.

Biscuits & Blues offers a full dinner menu upstairs and nightly shows in the club downstairs with a limited menu selection. Wanting to make a night of it, our dinner reservations were at 2030 and I reserved tickets for the 2230 show. The plan was to have a leisurely dinner (review forthcoming) and be able to enjoy the show without distractions.

Holding little more than 100 people, the club is located in the basement. Lit primarily by candles, the low ceiling, exposed pipes and proximity of the tables and the stage give the space an intimate feel and just the slightest 1920’s speakeasy vibe. It turned out to be the perfect setting for the show that was to come.

Dinner had taken a little longer than expected, but we got lucky and were seated very near the front just as the band took the stage. The sight lines were fantastic with only one table and a small dance floor between us and the stage. As small as this place was, I don’t think there could have been a bad seat in the house.

There wasn’t an opening act so much as a two-song warm-up by The Red Hot Skillet Lickers; a sextet featuring piano, string bass, alto and tenor saxophone, trumpet and trombone. They were tight and played off each other rather well, starting with a Ray Charles tune and another up-beat number. Both songs showcased the band’s talents and got the joint jumpin’.

Then Lavay Smith took the stage and I could barely contain myself. Right then I knew it would live up to my expectations. As it happens, we were standing right next to her as we entered the club and I hadn’t even realized it.

For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the couple in front of us left after Smith’s first song. The waitress asked if we’d like to move up front. Umm…HELL YEAH! I had flown over 1000 miles with only two things in mind: visit Jules and see this show. There was no way I would pass up a front-row seat.

My biggest worry was that Jules wouldn’t like the show. I know she likes Blues music, but what I’ve heard her talk about the most is Johnny Lang, while Lavay Smith is a bit different. As excited as I was to finally see Smith play live, I would have been totally bummed if Jules hated it. Luckily, my fears were unfounded and she had a good time.

Through the 90 minute set she did a couple songs from her forthcoming CD that “should be out in time for Christmas,” plus several songs from each of her first two releases.

I wish I could remember the whole set-list, but there’s just no chance. I do recall that she did most of my favorites, including “Blue Skies” and “Walk Right In” (from One Hour Mama) plus the torchy “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” sassy “I Want A Little Boy” and the title track from Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing!

Afterwards, Ms. Smith came out and signed autographs. There’s no doubt I came across as a gushing fan-boy, but we got a chance to talk for a couple minutes. She was gracious and signed both of my CDs. Lavay mentioned that they’d be coming to the Twin Cities in September and November. While I already knew about November shows in Rochester and Fairmont, Minneapolis wasn’t on the list as of when I left.

Ironically, after having made special effort to bring my camera, I was so enamored that I completely spaced it. How cool would it have been to score a couple pictures with Lavay, let alone pictures during the show? Boy, did I blow that one.

Still, I had started the evening with a huge grin and afterward…you practically had to scrape me off the ceiling. You can bet I’ll see her again when she comes to town. If the Minneapolis gigs are true, I’ll be there! If they don’t happen and it means a road trip to Rochester, I’ll happily do that.

I won’t forget pictures either.

Monday, 13 June 2005

I just returned from an extended weekend in San Francisco. I flew out Thursday, met up with my friend Jules, and we spent a relaxed weekend doing touristy type stuff. The return flight departed SFO at 0600 and arrived in Minneapolis at 1315, with a quick (30 minute) plane change in Denver.

The flight was uneventul, but the trip was not. I’ve got photos, a concert review, two restaurant reviews, and a sort of travelog that I hope to have ready in the next couple days.

Friday, 10 June 2005

When I first got to the airport, I was redirected from the eTicket line into the regular one, which was HUGE. It seems they were rebooking several flights due to weather delays. I was glad I got there the recommended two hours before my flight.

After an hour, I had only moved half-way through the line. Not good. As if traveling in itself wasn’t traumatizing enough, my flight was scheduled for 0918 and I still had to check my bag and get through security. When they announced the plane to Denver would be delayed an hour, it was a tiny bit better, but now I was worried about making the connection in Denver.

Thank goodness for that delay. I didn’t reach the front of the line until 0900, where another person sent me to the magic kiosk I could have used in the first place. As long as I got to San Francisco before the show, I’d live.

By the time I made it to my departure gate, it was 10 minutes before boarding. Not enough time to recharge the iPod, but not so long that I’d be bouncing off the walls. It could have been worse.

It would have been nice to get a couple pictures of the Twin Cities as we took off, but I didn’t want to risk a chat with an Air Marshal by playing fast and loose with the electronics ban during takeoff. Perhaps I’ll be more daring on the flight home.

After walking what seemed like a half-mile between gates in Denver, there was just enough time to grab a quick lunch find someplace to surreptitiously recharge batteries. I managed to get just enough juice into the iPod so it would last through the rest of the flight.

When Jules found me in baggage claim, I was still a little freaked out, but it was finally starting to sink in. I was 2000 miles from home, I was in San Francisco, and I had the whole weekend ahead of me. It was my first real vacation in who knows how long and I was actually there.

Jules had her car, since she lives in the area, so we drove to the hotel and got checked in. After a few minutes to get settled, we decided to head for dinner. Not wanting to think about it too much, we wandered to a place around the corner called “Thai Stick.” It was a small, family-run place, rather than one of the trendy tourist places. They were reasonably priced, the food was good and the service was very attentive.

After dinner we went for a walk and headed through Castro and the Tenderloin. Not the greatest areas of town, but it was still light out and there were two of us. The people watching was good, with only a few panhandlers bothering with us. Strangely, we got hassled more on the block in front of the hotel than we did through the entire rest of our walk.

The camera is still so new to me that, in spite of carrying it almost everywhere, I often don’t think to take pictures. There’s something about urban blight that piques my artistic eye.

Finally it was back to the hotel where we talked for a while and crashed at about midnight.

Today’s soundtrack was Roger Clyne: Americano, Carbon Leaf: Indian Summer, Cafe Tacuba: Avelancha de Exitos, Manu Chao: Proxima Estacion, Tears for Fears: Elemental, Lavay Smith: Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Miss Thing, Madeline Peyroux: Careless Love, The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Operatica: Shine, and three songs from Reverend Horton Heat: Lucky 7.

Sunday, 05 June 2005

It took some doing, but I’ve converted the FAQ page so it’s handled by Movable Type as well. In doing so, the layout has changed so it looks more like the rest of the site.

It will also allow for easier updates—and believe me, the FAQ needs it.

Friday, 03 June 2005

Generally mysteries and science fiction. Specific authors would be Caleb Carr, Robert Frost, Tony Hillerman, Ngaio Marsh, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling and John Case.

Other than Stephenson and Sterling, I don’t care for most science fiction authors. So many of them get caught up in trying to write the next Neuromancer or the next Snow Crash that they forget to include a story. Tom Clancy bores me for the same reason.

When it comes to movies, my favorites are 12 Angry Men, Mediteraneo, The Professional, La Femme Nikita (not the TV show) and Fail Safe (1964) to name a few.

Overall, my taste in movies is somewhat eclectic, but it favors the classics, independent and foreign films over current Hollywood fare. In spite of that, I’m a sucker for Jackie Chan action movies, John Wayne Westerns and the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns. Also, I can never pass up the 80’s teen-angst stuff like Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles.