Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Looking Ahead to April Shows

The Vera Project has a full roster of shows with 8 shows and more than 20 bands listed so far, with the Veracity show not up yet. I can also check out free shows at the Blue Moon on Sunday, so I should be able to see 20+ bands even if I miss a show or three at the Vera Project. Many interesting possibilities: Bright Futures, Karl Blau, Los Gentlemen, Titus Andonicus, Starfucker, Champagne Champagne, and Vivian Girls. Monica has been coming up with great Veracity lineups so I look forward to that and all of the bands I'll get see for the first time.

I'm looking at a more formal volunteer engagement for Veracity shows, we'll see if that progresses and has any usage.

I'm also starting to ramp up on some volunteer efforts for the Sasquatch Fest 10th Anniversary year book. Not only does it serve as my free ticket to Sasquatch Fest this year (and the bands are awesome) I also get some training on interviewing and an opportunity to interview some bands and fans. I missed the second meeting so I get to start with MusiCares (provides aid for musicians) and HeadCount (signs concert goers up to vote). Hopefully I'll get some bands that I like too.

Monday, March 28, 2011

50th and 21st Birthday Party

I was born in 1961 on March 13 and my daughter was born in 1990 10 days later on March 23, so we decided we should have a party on March 26 and celebrate.

We had a radio/CD out in the front room, they mostly played radio stuff on it. In the back room where the keg was set up an odd assortment of familiar (Ramones, novelty tunes) and unfamiliar (Russian punk, rock, heavy metal, turbopop all in Russian)that my son selected.

My son in-law brought his music player over and played a bit of his favorite stuff.

I drank a bit much, sang and played some guitar while Jan played piano and Carina, Jan, and several others sang lead. We sang some old Beatles songs and "She Drives Me Crazy" and had a good time. It was sloppy and fun, people sang along on the more familiar Beatles tunes and I enjoyed myself immensely.

We didn't rehearse or plan anything and don't have a concept of a band, so I can't quite add one to the count of bands I've seen this year. If we named ourselves and practiced at least once then did a house party I'd count it. This was just a little musical rambling, fun but very transient.

Friday, March 25, 2011

March Retrospective

March is winding down and spring is here, the days are getting longer and we've actually had some sun. Plenty of rain and wind too. While it's warmer than Winter, early Spring evenings are still best spent indoors, and watching live musical is one of the best ways to spend time indoors.

One of my New Years resolutions was to see lots of bands and blog about each and every one. Going to several shows a week and writing about each takes a level of creative discipline and consistency I haven't achieved before. I'm not even claiming to write good or interesting blogs, but I am getting the photos and videos uploaded, backups run, blogs written, edited and published and promoted, repeat as needed, so I can claim to be writing and publishing pretty frequently, even if it's only self publishing on a free blog that not many ever notice. The creative discipline and efforts of writing about the shows are good for me on many levels. I try to be more open to the musicians and the songs at the shows, looking and listening for interesting bits to comment on, seeing if I can find any themes or patterns between the bands at a show. Trying to be both in the moment living through the show and also in the collective space of ideas, metaphors, allegories, concepts and correlation to recent and past examples. I feel like it stretches my cognitive and writing mental muscles in a way that can only be good for me. I get a glow out of volunteering and creating on multiple conscious and unconscious levels that brightens my outlook and gives me many fond memories. I hope any readers out there get even a fraction out of this blog of what I get out writing it, and thanks for reading!

This March I managed to see 25 bands. Adding that to the first two months I have now seen 60 bands/sets/performances, 49 for the first time. Duplicates were PWRFL Power, My Parade, Kinski and the St. Marks choir performing a capella.

Highlights:
Playing with my new Nikon digital SLR at shows.
The Lonely Forest pumping out great song after great song sounding like they might be positioned to break out to national awareness.
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Marnie Stern shredding, singing and bantering, so many good performances like Marnie and Tera Melos and Kinski - all in one show.
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My Parade setup on the floor again, no hierarchy for them,
the haunting impact of Knowmad's the River Runs Deep.
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Several shows with packed houses and the occasional sellout like the Knowmads kept things lively. The grace and the spiritually centered and comforted feeling granted to me at Ash Wednesday mass and the sense of coming home it kindles in me.
Yet another great Veracity show, best attendance yet and a variety of talented bands with several (most, 3 of 4) using horns.
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Diamond Rings and PS I Love You on stage together with that surprisingly low voice from the lean and lanky young fashion icon adding some low end punch to the guitar riffing and wailing high end falsetto vocal coming from the big shambling hairy guitarist as the drummer smashes his way through the beat underpinning it all, I wish they did a full set as a supergroup!


The creative wacky Magmafest show with my first Skype-in and PWRFL Power on stage for the first time in years.
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Pogo-ing until my feet hurt, and then pogo-ing some more at the Ex show.
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Great volunteers dealing with messy customers professionally and well, noticing that my example gets some of the kids to get a little more focus and polish - mentoring and volunteering are very positive for my self esteem!

Conclusion:
Good music exalts us just a little, taking us out of our little internal rat races and exposing us to some corner of a larger collective creative universe in an immediate and sometimes powerful and urgent way. When the creativity somehow spans the audience and feeds back to the band with the positive energy flowing and the creation - to steal a beer company motto: life just doesn't get any better than that!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March Veracity

Headed over tot he Vera Project for the Veracity show on Wednesday. Free show with 3+ bands and $1 vegan tacos, best value in Seattle Music!

I got there at 7 and the doors weer open and a fair crowd was on hand already. We got the food prepared and server by 7:30 as the first bands started playing.

I had a couple of volunteers show up, that's fairly unusual for the Veracity shows, so I had them wash up, put on gloves, and serve tacos. That gave me enough time to get videos and photos of every band, which is nice. Don't get me wrong - that doesn't automatically mean I got good pictures, but at least my new Nikon SLR takes nice photos in spite of my abilities.
Take the band names with a grain of salt, I've never seen these guys before (that's true of most bands I see) so I have to assign names based on the band list at the show:
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So this first band is Cig Bros. They use a saxophone, I really like the soud of saxophones and I've always considered it one of the beter rock and roll instruments, they way it can express range of emotions from upbeat and brash to quiet, reserved and sad, and wailing when it's really called for, I just love the range and tone of this instrument when it's played well.
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I like that one better, except the drummer is obscured. In this one the drummer is clear, and the guitarist is facing the wrong way.
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You can probably see what I mean about how good the camera is vs. my ability to frame a picture just so. I liked these guys, good driving beat and a nice sound. The mix in this video is off, since we're back by the drums and behind the monitors and guitar speaker cabinets in the concession stands, so the drums are almost overpowering. Luckily they have a good drummer so it's till pretty good, it was better live out front, but I was busy setting up the cooking equipment so this is what I got. I liked these guys, good group cohesion, they were well rehearsed and tight, well worth checking out at a show. They had me bouncing as I plugged my electric frying pan in and chopped up the letuce and trained the volunteers.

I filmed a short bit out front where you can hear the house mix, which is much better even i the short bit of the groove I ccaught here - right before they go to a drum break, so drums are quite prominent in both of these videos:

Next up was If BEARS Were BEES who used some even more unusual horn arrangements like this bit with a french horn:

They also had a french horn and trumpet duet on one song.
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They said that their French horn player's last name is French which amuses me. I applaud the interesting approach and variety of sound they got. Their songs were interesting and the lead voalist had a good performance style, definitely flashed some charisma and put on a good show.
Now that I look at the pictures I notice that all the band members had white button front shirts with assorted colors of rectangles and the vocalist had a dark shirt, which helped bring the natural focus to the leads, which I responded to on an unconscious level at the show, nice little touch, using style contrasts for dramatic embellishment.

Next was Brain Cooks, an interesting sounding band with an atractive young woman doing lead voals.
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Brain Cooks occasionally had a hint of rock-a-billy to their sound, with a mild amount of distortion and that nice electric sustain sounding comfortably familiar and the bass and drums pumping out a nice four by four beat, but they mixed it up a bit frmo song to song, yielding a good mix of elements, nice build and release of tensions, lousy video (from the concessions stand again, dums are a bit high in the mix and the vocals can be hard to make out since we're beind the monitors again. I'll have to try harder to record out in front of the monitors).

Another interesting band, fun to watch, good hooks and dynamics in the songs. I wish my videos did them justice, definitely worth checking out.

The final act was Bread and Circuses and they shared several members with If BEARS Were BEES with a different lead.
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Bread and Circuses had a great full sound with the double guitar attack and two vocalists and interesting songs. They also mixed it up well, playing songs with different tempos and varying things quite well from song to song. They were well rehearsed - they did a sequence of four songs one after the other without pause, mixing up the pacing fast then slow then fast then slow, quite tasty. As is typical for me I liked the fast ones best like this one:

...and maybe even more so this one:

I love the colorful guitar the dude onthe right is playing, I'm not sure if that's an octopus or a kraken or maybe asquid but I love the color and nautical theme.

Another kick-ass Veracity show with an even bigger attendance than ever and four fine sets put on by excellent bands, all talented and appealing in their own ways. Add four more bands to the "worth seeing repeatedly" list, Monica has been doing a great job booking these events and the bands have really been coming through with fun and engaging performances.

The volunteers did most of the dishes and took the concessions stands trash out before they left which was very nice of them. I could get used to having some additional volunteers, I'm thinking about formalizing the "Volunteer at the Veracity Show" process a little more, probably involving the Veracity and Programming committees, probably not nearly as interesting a topic as the bands themselves so I'll try to keep that chatter down to a dull roar, maybe a paragraph or two per post at the most.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Ex and My Parade at the Vera Project 3-16-11

I signed up to do lead front door (sell tickets) at the Vera for the Ex show and I also had a Veracity committee meeting to attend, so I headed over at 6 for the meeting. Show volunteers need to be at the venue at 6:30 except for steering which needs to get there at 5:30, so I had plenty of time, I thought. On arriving I found that nobody had signed up to steer, so I volunteered to do that as well.

After meeting with the Veracity chair I headed downstairs to organize the volunteers. We actually had most of the same crew from the night before, so everybody already knew what they were doing and putting on the show was pretty simple - especially since others handled the sound and the bands, we just ran the venue.

The first band up was My Parade, a local act that Dustin (who works at the Vera) plays keyboards for. I saw them before at the All Ages Movement Project show in January opening for Kimya Dawson and enjoyed getting another chance to see them.

They set their equipment up on the floor of the venue, rather than the stage.
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I saw Monomen at the Exhibition Hall during Bumbershoot do the same thing a few years ago, and I think it was a good call in both cases. It brings the audience right up on top of the band, making the performance more immediate and engaging. Of course, the Monomen show is the only show I ever saw get shut down in the middle at Bumbershoot, apparently security felt it was getting too violent or risky or something, they always hate it when the crowds start moshing (which I think makes for a much better show) and always wondered if the vocalist mooning the crowd might have figured into their decision to stop the show, but that's a different story.

For My Parade it worked well, the crowd was still a little light as people trickled in and the energy level was much better with the lack of separation between the performers and the crowd. My Parade is very political, into inclusiveness and against prejudice and hierarchy, with the vocalist spending a fair amount of between songs patter on the topic and the songs also reflecting their concerns. I had to stay near the front door so I only got some mildly poor video (the band being on the floor makes it hard to see them through the crowd and my camera work sucks, as usual) but you can get a feel for their performance anyway:

The video stops right as the vocalist is singing "freedom and liberty" - good note to end on for the band, that's what they're all about as far as I can tell.

Next up was the Ex. The Ex have been around for more than 20 years and have many long term fans, so we got a much older crowd than is typical for the Vera Project - for once I didn't feel like I was selling tickets to my kids, this was more like a crowd of my peers. The younger crowds are more energetic but the older crowds are more calm and controlled - no puke to deal with at this show, that's for sure!
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The Ex perform with a drummer, 2 guitars and what I would've called a 5 string bass but another blog I looked at called it a baritone guitar, either way it was a deeper pitched instrument than a normal guitar, so it added a solid bottom end to the sound. The guy on the left playing left handed has the baritone guitar, and given the way he played it (plenty of chord strumming, more so than single note sequences) he was pretty much playing it as a baritone guitar.

They played fast and loud tunes, but they weren't your typical short completely simple punk tunes, they had more internal structure and dynamics, and songs usually lasted six to eight minutes. They often got into interesting grooves and added some solos and a bit of intricate rhythmic play on occasion.

They also mixed up the instrumentation a bit here and there, with one of the guitarists playing a keyboard for a song, mostly playing left hand single note runs on the bottom keys - basically a bass fill, making up for lack of a bass player on the song I suspect - and another song where the drummer came out front and sang a folk song (rocked out a bit, though) and played a cowbell during it.

The beat was fast and catchy, and the grooves and rhythms kept me bouncing around - probably the most pogo-ing I've done all year, and that's about as close to dancing as I ever get at a show. By the end of the show I was sweating and my feet were hurting, which is definitely a sign of a kick-ass live show.

The band was fun to watch, they definitely loved performing, and the crowd was very appreciative in it's quiet way, bouncing around very politely (no real mosh pit, but plenty of sweat and motion).

I'd never heard any of their music before and that didn't matter at all, it was all great fun even when they sang in a language or languages that I didn't understand - the beat and the joy in the moment of performance kept that buzz going for the whole 90 minute set and left us all sweaty and out of breath, wishing they could continue playing for another hour. Like all good things that must come to an end, we wish they could've squeezed out a few more songs - we're always greedy for more of what we love!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marnie Stern, Tera Melos, Kinski and Dog Shredder at the Vera Project 3-15-11

I steered the Marnie Stern, Tera Melos, Kinski and Dog Shredder show at the Vera Project and got to see an excellent lineup with a good crowd on a weekday night.

I was a little worried when only 2 volunteers had shown up on schedule at 6:30. We delayed the meeting until 6:50, and by then we were up to 3 with another couple showing up a few minutes later. A little thin, but presales were mild so it didn't look like the crowd would be all that big, which was unfortunate since we had a great lineup. Luckily the walk-up business was brisk and we ended up with a good crowd for a weekday show.

Dog Shredder (cool name!) led things off. I was stuck at lead front door (selling tickets, since we were thin on volunteers) so I was unable to get video of their performance, which was too bad. They had a tough distorted/feedback sound with two guitars, bass and drums, or occasionally 1 guitar and keyboards. Fun loud metallish sound, made me want to bounce around up close - but I had to stay out by the front desk in case any customers came in. Dang! I did take a couple of pictures from a distance, nothing too special but you can kinda see the band:
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I think the guy on the left is playing a bass but you can't tell from the photo. I was able to hear them, but not watch for the most part. Oh well, the price paid for volunteering and seeing it free is that you don't always actually get to see it. As Joe Walsh said, I can't complain (free music!) but sometimes I still do.

Next up was Kinski. I saw them a couple years ago at Bumbershoot in the Sky Church and enjoyed it, so I knew they'd be fun to listen to. I was able to get Chris to cover for me for a few minutes so I made it into the venue and got some pictures.
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I got some video of one song, typical shakey video - in this case the shaking is mostly in time to the beat, which means they had me rocking out a bit and it made me unable to hold the camera still - not the worst problem to have, I suppose. I should remember to bring my tripod, then it can hold things steady while I rock out!

I like the musical approach, a good double guitar attack with an interesting melodic sound, mildly distorted but not too heavy. Good reasonably fast beat, not a lot of tempo variations, easy to move to. Fun rock music, if I hadn't had to work I'd have been down in front working up a sweat bouncing up and down to the beat - one of my favorite places to be - but we were a little too shorthanded so I had to go back out and sell tickets.

People kept trickling in and the crowd kept swelling. Quite a few customers did a double take when they realized that Kinski was playing, apparently they knew Marnie Stern and Tera Malos (the national acts) were playing; a quality local act (not to mention Dog Shredder, a less well known yet still interesting local (I think) act) on the bill was a bonus. After Kinski finished we got a few "Man, we missed Kinski? Shit, I didn't know they were playing!" reactions too.

Next up was Tera Melos, the joint headliners. (Hmm, I mean they shared the headline role with Marni Stern, it's not a drug reference, sounds kind of funny).
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When my daughter saw the picture she laughed and said "plaid, hoodies, knit caps - what a typically Seattle crowd!" and she's right, although I'm so used to it I didn't even notice it at the time.

I only got a short window to record them, so I used my other hand to take some photos while I was at it, and as a result the video really sucks, sorry about that. The song I recorded had a fairly slow beat and took it's time getting started; by the time we get to the end of the 90 seconds allowed by flickr they were finally moving more into a groove, but still at a pretty slow beat. Different approach, not unusual - it was pretty well done but less likely to induce a crowd frenzy.

Tera Melos overall took a different approach, more odd sounds and a slower pace, less emphasis on the rhythm and more on the sound. Nice strange and spacey stuff going into the sound, definitely some interesting use of keyboards. My video for them is pretty crappy, sorry about that, but you can sort of hear what they are up to. Once again I was only able to see and record a little bit, I had to get back out and sell tickets. Their sound was consistently creative and imaginative, even if I could only listen to most of it. Cool stuff, I'll have to watch for another chance to catch them when I can actually focus on the band for the whole set.

Next up was Marni Stern, the other co-headlining act.
Marnie Stern
She has a reputation for doing some creative guitar work, including lots of right hand fretboard work that was made famous by Eddie Van Halen. She alternated the two hand work with more conventional runs, often doubled with the bass hitting the major notes at the same time, giving them a deep sound that was pretty cool.

In this video she's doing the traditional left hand fretting:

They had some challenges with one of the microphones (Rowdy the sound guy ended up catching quite a bit of heck, I don't think he deserved it since it all worked fine during the sound check; sometimes cables just fail). After using the bass player's mic for a song Rowdy got the second mic back up and running and the show continued with only a minor hitch. Marnie and the bass player used the pause to engage in some funny banter, but it was definitely the typical rock band Not Safe for Work stuff that I can't bring myself to repeat; sorry, you just had to be there for it!
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I noticed that in both of these photos Marnie is dong the two handed fretboard technique, that overstates things a bit. I think she probably played more songs using a traditional left handed fret board technique, but those photos were fun so I used them.

So I ended up getting to see more guitar rock variants than I had expected, each a bit different in it's own way, and each totally worth checking out. Having to work for most of the sets limited what I was able to see, but it sure whetted my appetite for more from any of these acts - I already knew I wanted to see more Kinski, now I can add Dog Shredder, Tera Melos and Marnie Stern to the list.

I also have to give props to the volunteers, they all stayed late and helped clean up, mostly staying util close to midnight making sure the venue was cleaned up and ready for the next night's show - The Ex! But that's a subject for another blog post.

Naomi (front door assistant) in particular went above and beyond, having to clean up broken glass and mop up spilled beer from some loser in the women's room who couldn't handle her beer. I wish people were a little more considerate, but at least it wasn't a violent incident, just obnoxious.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Knowmads, Real Rodgers, Language Arts and Kung Foo Grip at the Vera Project 3-12-11

I thought about going to the Saturday evening hip hop show at the Vera Project but I was leaning towards not going. Dana and I were planning on going to a friends house warming party, and it was the day before my birthday, and I'd already been to a show on Thursday (Diamond Rings, PS I Love You and Noddy). On the other hand my cousin's son was going and spoke very highly of the bands - but I was still leaning towards not going until I got an e-mail from Tristan asking if I could help with security. They were expecting a big crowd, the hip hop crowds tended to be a little more aggressive and drug and alcohol impaired, and the security volunteers so far were a smaller 16 year old kid and a couple of young women. Nothing wrong with them working security, but the obnoxious drunken frat boys at the show would tend to ignore them and when drunk they can be fairly difficult to handle. So I agreed to work security, and I'm glad I did. I suppose that sounds fairly ageist/sexist or even sizeist (is that a word?) and I apologize for that, but in fact drunken young adults usually do respond better to older and larger authority figures - not always, but usually.

Hip hop isn't my first choice for musical genres for various reasons. My tastes were formed in the sixties and early seventies before it existed, and it's emphasis on beats with frequently minimal melodies makes it somewhat less appealing to me. On the other hand there are some classic tracks like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five doing the Message or White Lines that I quite enjoyed. Grandmaster Flash in particular was associated with an interesting memory for me. One summer back in the early eighties I had been working in the middle of nowhere in Indiana on a robotics project, feeling far away from home, and I finally got to head back to Seattle after several months. I was still feeling alienated like I hadn't quite returned home when I hopped into the car to go somewhere and turned on the radio in my piece of crap car. I only had AM radio, so KJET (1610 "all the way to the right on your radio dial") was about the only useful musical option, so I turned it on. The DJ said "I just got a pissed off call from a listener saying "Quit playing that rap BS" so this one goes out to you!" and the opening strains of White Lines started and suddenly I felt at home and much more comfortable.

More recently I've volunteered at a few Vera shows and the Capitol Hill Block Party and seen some performers like Macklemore, Blues Scholars and Mad Rad that I quite enjoyed. The audiences were energetic and enthusiastic, much of the lyrics were explicitly political when they weren't party anthems, and the misogyny and gangster stuff which never appealed to me was at a minimum; the pervasive drug references didn't bother me too much, as I still sort of remember being a teenager in the seventies.

I got to the Vera a little late, around 6:45 (traffic was tough as usual, and the parking was horrible) and there was already a line out front, which surprised me some.

After a brief preparation we hung around and listened to the sound checks wrapping up, then opened the doors at 7:30, with an DJ scheduled to start at 8. The line by now stretched up the stairs and out of sight and we worked furiously to get everyone in before the show started. We had plenty of pre-sales, so it didn't take us long to sell the venue out, much to the disappointment of the 5 or 6 people who didn't quite make it in. After checking on the guest lists and will call I think we were able to get most everyone in after all and the venue ended up being full but not overly so.

I saw my cousin's son and said hello, he and the whole crowd were excited and positive, looking forward to the show. The positive energy was fun and added quite a bit to the experience.

The DJ was interesting, spinning some older tracks and quizzing the audience. He'd play 5 seconds and ask if the crowd knew who it was, and they mostly got it, except when he tricked them by playing an original that had been sampled in a more famous later release, everyone recognized the later track, not the original. He also played some Trinidad music, since that was where he was from; the contrast in sounds was interesting, with more complex beats in the Trinidad stuff he played.
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The crowd was into it, but it was also getting into more questionable activities - I confiscated some whiskey from some bonehead who was making a big show out of drinking it; the Vera is an all ages venue and that is not allowed. "But I'm 21, I've got ID" he kept repeating. "This is an all ages venue and it isn't allowed, if you want to drink you'll have to leave!" was my reply.

The hip hop performers were active, letting lots of people into the green room, especially the cute ladies (no surprise there!). They also took frequent trips out of the venue through the back stage exit, coming back with red eyes, but at least they kept it out of the venue.

Kung Fu Grip put on an active and fun set with plenty of crowd participation - lots of arms in the air waving and call and response interaction - "When I say Kung FU, y'all say Grip!" "Kung Fu" and the crowd roars back "Grip!" Being on the show floor with lots of arms in the air makes the performers harder to see in the videos, but it added a lot to the energy of the show.

Next up was Real Rodgers, who talked up a new mix tape he had coming out within a day or two; if I caught the details in one of my videos (a web site reference) I'll have to go check it out. I'd never heard of Real Rodgers or Language Arts before the show, so I'm not sure which one I got on video here:

Next the DJs and MCs asked "Who wants to spit? Raise your arms if you want to spit!" and they brought up 6 or so people from the crowd and had a freestyle battle - first time I've ever seen one. It was quite fun watching them thinking up insults on the fly and making them rhyme.

I also had to push through the crowd and confiscate people's pot. Fortunately nobody was too tanked, so they didn't argue too hard. We also had to clean up puke a few times which wasn't pleasant, I think I prefer the potheads over the drunks, and that's without even considering the aggressive drunken behavior.

Language Arts took the stage next. The "beats" - the recorded music he and other performers rapped over - are mostly bass, drums, and a little keyboards sprinkled over it, very heavy on the bass end of the spectrum. That works well with the rapping, since you can clearly hear the voices, except when they get the bass so dang loud that your ears distort and you can't tell what the heck is being said. I've never understood why people play the bass so loud in their cars that it makes my ears hurt in a different car, and there was some of that at this show. Even with my hearing protection in the bass was close to painfully loud, and almost nobody in the crowd or on stage had ear protection - most of these people are going to be hard of hearing by their forties, which is sad.

Finally Knowmads took the stage. I hand't listened to them ahead of time and was surprised to see that they had a violinist playing with them; if I had bothered to look I probably would have noticed that they have quite a few tracks available for free downloading. It seemed like an odd choice, but it actually worked very well with the low frequency "beats" - the violin punched right through and added interesting embellishments as they rapped.

I was quite impressed by the Knowmads songs. The crowd obviously knew the material, singing and rapping along with their favorite bits and participating enthusiastically - I've never seen so many arms raised and moving in time to the music for song after song, I suspect many in the audience had pretty sore arm muscles by the end of the show. The energy and pleasure the crowd got from the performance definitely enhanced the show - the band fed off of it and worked harder still to keep that positive vibe feeding back and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

I was also struck by the political approach, even some of the pro-pot tunes like "How We Live" had a distinct political edge, identifying with the underclass and the outcasts, making the case that you do what you have to in order to survive in a tough situation.

"The River Runs Deep" was a standout track, it's imagery of being out on the Seattle streets, walking because it's too late to catch a bus (been there!) and the challenges of trying to make it ahead while being tempted and distracted by drugs, and it's odd yet brilliant turnaround in the final verse, finding a drugged out person bleeding and dying in the street and realizing it was himself, suffering the consequences of making some decisions differently - I found that moving and powerful, a brilliant piece of writing that haunts me a bit. Having lost some close friends to the effects of drugs - both to deaths and to permanent mental impairment - I know that that lyric and the "there but for the grace of God go I" sentiment is frighteningly accurate. Surprisingly insightful for a modern hip hop outfit with writers/rappers who aren't old enough to drink legally. It took me a bit longer to realize just how dangerous some of the substances I toyed with were, and just how lucky I was to get out of my adolescence and early adulthood without much damage. Major props to Knowmads for getting that message out to the kids, these guys tend to have a lot of influence with their audience.

Update: This was easily the best hip hop show I've seen all year, and now Knowmads are doing another show at the Vera Project next Saturday, April 30 - a benefit for Japan with Real Rodgers and Rawlo, I'll make sure I don't miss it and you should be there too!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Diamond Rings, PS I Love You and Noddy at the Vera Project

I ended up taking over steering at the Diamond Rings show at the Vera Project for Sam, who had originally signed up for it. I was at the Vera for a meeting anyway, so once the meeting wound down I was able to take over and "steer" the kids and see an interesting show. One of the great things about being open to volunteering at the Vera when they need a hand is that I get to see all kinds of bands that I wouldn't normally have gone to see. That's not always a great blessing, but it has certainly broadened my horizons.

Diamond Rings was described as a "glam rock/pop" act when I read about it, and the video I checked out had the singer and 4 other kids wandering around the streets (somewhere in Ontario, I suspect) dancing to the music while the singer lip synched. The singer had a kind of rainbow eye makeup thing going on and a dyed blond mohawkish sort of haircut.

When I was a kid back in the 70s and 80s glam rock was a pretty huge influence; even fairly loud guitar oriented bands like Rat, Poison, Def Leopard, and Bon Jovi all spent a fair amount of time on their makeup, hair and appearance. While I enjoyed some of the songs, I was drifting towards a slightly more hardcore sound and I tended to sneer a little about the bands that spent so much time on their image. I preferred the energy and raw power of a good punk show, or the heavy metal sounds of less "glam" bands like Black Sabath and Led Zeppelin. When I look back now the distinction seems pretty silly, since the heavy metal bands put time and efrfort into their clothes and hair too, they just consciously went for a less pretty look, and the punk bands for all of their "non-conformist" claims mostly went for a small set of similar looks: military surplus, ripped jeans with safety pins and so on. It was an anti-uniform uniform, but it was still a uniform.

Since then I've gotten over the fixation on looks and I now spend more time listening to the music and the lyrics, that's what speaks to me (if anything does). Being a typical male I'm still a sucker for attractive women, some things never change, but the makeup and clothes don't figure as prominently to me.

Listening to the one song by Diamond Rings that I checked out on YouTube I was struck by the vocals: the singer had a low voice and an interesting approach, and the music was bouncy and fun too.

So here I was checking out the show. The attendance was fairly light, with a small crowd for the first band, Noddy. When I went into the show room, the 20 or so people who were watching and listening were mostly sitting down in the chairs at the outer edge of the venue, which is odd and mostly negative - the band gets zero energy from the crowd when that happens. It did let me get right up close to take pictures, though.
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Noddy was interesting, if a bit tech heavy for my tastes. Two of the three members were playing synthesizers and triggering sequencers and drum machines, so they tended to be rooted to their equipment and either almost hiding behind it or facing sudeways; both of which tend to create an emotional distance which makes the performance a little less urgent and engaging. The music sounded pretty good, though.

The lead vocalist was more energetic, and one of the keyboard players at least was moving around and putting on a bit of a show. I missed having a live drummer, the lack of a real performer tends to limit the options for dynamic interplay between the performers and freeze the beats to a metronomic exact timing - not always a bad thing, but it does limit artistic options to some degree.

Mildly lousy camera work, par for the course from me. I'm kind of amused by my criticism of their artistic efforts, when mine as demonstrated in the video suck much worse. They moved enough and put out enough energy to get the audience to stand up and move closer, so the performance was successful on most levels. Not bad for an opening act.

Next up was PS I Love You, kind of the anti-glam rock approach.
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The quitarist had long hair that at first fell down and almost merged with his reddish beard, giving his face a kind of wall of hair appearance which was amusing. He also could really kick out some interesting riffs, and I enjoyed the live drummer.

In the video above you can see him using his right leg on some equipment, on looking closer I realized he was using bass pedals - not quite sure what the correct term for that is, but it allowed him to get a more full sound by including a bass line underneath the music which I think was a smart artistic choice. Two piece bands often end up with a kind of top heavy sound, and the bass pedal avoided that.

PS I Love You brought Diamond Rings up for the last song or two of their set, including one song that they said they wrote together, so it's apparent these guys know each other (I believe they're both from Ontario, Canada). The visual contrast was somewhat interesting, the big hairy dude shredding on the guitar and the lean blond madeup dude singing along - nice final bit and a good choice to end the set.


It also set us up well for the transition to Diamond Rings.
DiamondRings 064
In this photo her's playing guitar, but he spent more time playing synthesizer. I just like the visual of the guitar better.

He used a drum machine and sequencers, playing keys or guitar some while he sang, sometimes just singing along to the sequenced tunes from his laptop. Once again not my favorite approach, I like the dynamics of a group, the interplay of the drums and bass in real time and so on, but he won me and the crowd over with his dancing and performance. He has aenough charisma to pull it off and keep us interested.

The way he opened up the show, facing away from us while the sequenced music played, pumping his fist to the beat and so on worked quite well.

When I was younger I would not have appreciated this much, but that says more about me and my biases than it does about Diamond Rings. In an interesting way it somehow closed the distance between us and him. It was like we were all listening to the same music, and he was grooving and moving to the beat - we wished we were that interesting to watch, and that confident. Facing away from us he ended up facing in the same direction we were facing, at least at first. Effortlessly throwing in one hand keyboard riffs, singing in that low voice, the engaging motions, he was definitely putting on quite a show.

He also played the guitar for a bit:

Working the hair, busting the moves, singing the songs he'd written, playing multiple instruments - the guy's got talent, and he had the audience getting into it too. He definitely won me over and I enjoyed the show. An excellent way to spend a rainy and windy Thursday night, and I'm glad I got a bit out of my comfort zone to check it out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Mass

I love music, both listening to it and performing it. Some years I sing in the church choir at St. Marks, although I haven't this year. Tonight we went to Ash Wednesday mass, the first night of Lent. Lent is a time of repentance and preparation, 40 days to get ready for Easter, the most holy mass of the Catholic year.

The music during Lent is all done a capella, which is Italian for "in the manner of the Church/chapel" and means sung without instruments, just voices. The choir sings mostly in 4 part harmonies, and mostly in Latin, which I enjoy.

The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) is always one of my favorites. There's a bit where the sopranos go up to this incredibly high note that always moves me. We also go forward and get a cross formed of ashes on our forheads while the priest or one of the assitants intones "remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." Very humbling stuff, combined with the centuries old vocal music and solemn process it helps get you into a repentant and contrite state of mind.

I also saw several of the kids that I taught in religious education classes - some of them are growing pretty tall! I like having connections to the kids, and I enjoyed hearing babies laughing, babbling and crying during mass. A healthy church should include lots of babies so that it can continue on into the future.

I miss singing in the choir, and more so at Lent than most of the year. Advent is also fun, and of course Christmas and Easter are the best: we do those masses with full accompanyment, strings for Christmas and brass for Easter, and I love the songs. It's hard to explain the appeal of songs that I don't even understand, but the harmonies are just so beautiful and the performance so passionate that the meaning gets through even without the language.

Tomorrow it's back to the "mundane" music, which I love in a different way, volunteering at the Vera Project. I find really good musical performances of secular music can reach a spiritual level for me, raising goosebumps and affecting me in a way and on a level that I can only describe using religious terms: spiritual, grace, communion and salvation all come to mind.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Magma Fest at the Vera Project

Haether and I volunteered at Magma Fest at the Vera Project on Friday. Magma Fest is put on by Hollow Earth Radio, an internet "radio station" - they don't actually broadcast a radio signal, they stream audio over the internet, but they feature a lineup of DJs and show more or less like a regular radio station, except without commercials. They have all kinds of interesting and odd programs and are worth checking out.

Magma Fest is held every March and they kicked this year's fest off with a show at the Vera Project. They frequently table at the Vera, so I've had the opportunity to meet a few of their volunteers and chat during shows.

PWRFL Power kicked off this years show and he was the main reason I wanted to go. I saw a bit about him on the Seattle Channel a couple years back and enjoyed his playing - he plays electric guitar and sings mostly his own songs. I got to see him at the EMP Sky Church during Bumbershoot and really enjoyed his songs and his patter between songs. He hasn't played around town much the last year or two that I've noticed; someone told me he was in Japan for a while, but I'm not sure if that's true. It was good to see him back on stage. I like the way this one starts simpler and then builds:
March 2011 004
Most of his songs back at Bumbershoot were introverted and fairly gentle, but he went a harder and more bluesy at the Magma Fest show this year.


Next up was Spurm with a completely different approach.
Magma Fest
I like the sax, I think it's a great rock and roll instrument, but you don't see very many bands using it.

I got a brief bit of video here, mildly lousy filming on my part but it gives you a taste of their approach. The lead vocalist was interesting to watch - tall and lanky, odd moves, no fear at all - nice combination. Notice the dude on the screen behind him, that's R. Stevie Moore, more on him later.


Next up was R. Stevie Moore doing a "Skype In" - he performed from somewhere else, I suspect it was from his home. He referred to it a couple of times as being from "South by South East" - a play on SXSW and I assume a reference to his performance from the SE US. He was using Skype to make a video call to a laptop at the Vera Project which was hooked up to the new large screen and projector that the Vera Project recently installed. The visual quality was so-so, when he moved quickly it tended to break up, but the audio was pretty good. I wouldn't want to watch whole shows over Skype all that often, but it was an interesting use of the technology. I filmed some here:


Next up was Kristin Allen Zito performing solo with an acoustic guitar. Her guitar playing was nice, and her voice was beautiful.
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I filmed her setting the audience up to do a sing-along, I'm not sure how well the sing along worked but I liked the song. Since I only got 90 seconds it may not show that much of the song, but you get the idea:

I like figuring out the theme, or at least "a" theme for shows I attend, but the Magma Fest acts were all over the place. I suppose that's a theme in a backwards way, and it fits Hollow Earth Radio: radically different types and styles of music, reflecting the variety fo programming on Hollow Earth Radio. The headlining act was Tender Forever, a women performing solo and playing keyboards. She mentioned France and had a bit of an accent, so I assume she's French. THe crowd definitely enjoyed her set, I suspect most of the crowd came out specifically to see her.
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At one point I distinctly heard backing vocals, but there was no backing vocalist - it took me a moment to realize she was playing samples of vocals (it sounded like her voice) on the keyboard. Interesting effect for a solo show, it gave her a more complex sound. In the picture above you can see a plastic device hanging from the keyboard by a wire, there was one of these on each side of the keyboard and eventually she picked them up and shook them - I guess they're electric maraccas, I'd never seen those before. She had a bit to say about some political and gender issues; eventually she took her coat off revealing her "Fuck Justin Beber" t-shirt. She mentioned some issues around Beber but didn't go into detail until the audience egged her on, then she talked about problems she had with Beber. I don't know much about Justin Beber and was unaware of the interview she mentioned, but if she reported it accurately then he at least said some unfortunate things without thinking them through, or perhaps he's just a complete prick. I'm not sure, and I didn't check on her quotes, but I have no reason to doubt what she said. She had an interesting style, using tech (sampled vocals, electric maraccas, drum machine and synth) to get a surprisingly full sound for a solo performance, and her singing style is kind of breathy and very intense. I like her approach and her unapologetic politics, cool stuff.

Interesting combination of performers, quite different in their approaches and music, and all worth seeing. If you can't make it to any of the Magma Fest shows this week then check out Hollow Earth Radio, they have an amaxing variety of shows and music all for free. Check it out!

Friday, March 4, 2011

More Blogs That I Commented On

I tend to be such a comment slut that I lose track of the blogs I commented on with links back to my blog, but of the ones I can recall I particularly appreciate Remington who writes modern-flow, 1HipHopBlog who posted about my blog on the KnowMads Concert which makes me happy (nothing like a little ego gratification) and Roy + Josh who blog at Keeping Music Classy, they all commented on my Knowmads post, which is appreciated.

I linked to the Diamond Rings blog on Winnie Cooper's "The Interview Show" blog.

I linked to the Magma Fest blog at Sea Live Music

I linked to my Lonely Forest blog all over, including the Stranger's blog, Consequences of Sound, Culture Mob, the SB Project, Seismic Sound, Seattle Scenester, Glorious Noise and Suzi Pratt

I'm sure I'll add more links shortly, I'm going to the Marnie Stern show tomorrow and The Ex the day after that, although it probably cools off a little after that, but I still have the Veracity Show in a week and I'll probably squeeze something else in somewhere by the end of the month.
Thanks to all of them for letting me comment with links back to my blog, they're all interesting blogs, well worth checking out.

Lonely Forest, The Oregon Donor and The Violins at the Vera Project 3-3-11 - Anacortes Invasion!

I had a great time at the Lonely Forest show at the Vera Project on Thursday. I volunteered, but since there were plenty of volunteers (9, a little unusual for a weekday show) I ended up signing up to take out the trash. Since you don't take out the trash until the show is pretty much over, you get to watch the show and maybe help out here and there, but mostly just watch the show. That worked out well, because it was a great show.

I think all 3 bands are from Anacortes, and at least the Lonely Forest is. Anacortes is a smallish town up North about 10 miles South of Bellingham, on the mainland at the North end of Whidbey Island. It's on the salt water and has beatiful views of Padilla Bay and the San Juan Islands. Consequences of Sound has a nice post that includes the Lonely Forest doing "Turn Off This Song and Go Outside" and Anacortes is featured prominently. They also note that the Lonely Forest won the Sound Off contest at the EMP in 2006, I hadn't realized that. I enjoy the Sound Off, although I haven't made it in the last few years.

Apparently the Lonely Forest was recording the show for a live video and they encouraged the audience to record it and share their videos with the band so that they can use those in their video - a crowd sourced live video, I love it! I'll have to participate, I got nearly 50 minutes of footage of Lonely Forest at the show. I'll also have to keep an eye out for the results.

First up was the Violins, who've renamed themselves from Caulfield and His Magic Violin. Certianly easier to remember and type the new name, anyway.
Lonely Frest
They pounded out some fun catchy rock, not sure what the violin has to do with anything though. They did some interesting things with changing tempos and dynamics, here's 90 seconds from one of their early songs that does a sudden half speed change towards the end:


The audience was large for a weekday, with around 300 attending. One of the volnteers who went to high school in Anacortes said that a large contingent of kids from AHS were attending the show, and I can believe it. The audience knew most of the material and really enjoyed the acts.

The next band up was The Oregon Donor - I enjoy the silly play on words in the band title. Once again I'm not sure what it has to do with anything, but it's certainly memorable.
Lonely Frest

The guy in black in the middle with the back strat did most of the singing, although they also included fairly long instrumental bits in songs like this:

The 90 second clip just barely gets to the beginning of the vocals. I liked the interplay of rhythm between the guitars and bass, solid and interesting grooves and beats on many songs. These guys put on a good show and had me swaeting a bit - I kept bouncing up and down. Good performances do that to me.

Next the headlining Lonely Forest took the stage.
Lonely Frest
As you can probably guess from the arrangment, the lead vocalist/guitarist in the middle also played some keyboards, and he also played the floor tom you can see behind him while the drummer pounded out a beat for an intro, giving them a bass/beat/rhthm heavy sound for the intro.

They had the crowd into it, dancing (well, quietly dancing, for some reason modern hipster crowds listening to indie acts rarely seem to really get dancing all that hard - pet peeve of mine) and even singing along a bit.

Their songs tended to be longer, 5-7 minutes, and mildly complex. Time changes, dynamics both up and done, sudden and slow, coordinated pauses, different movements, not just simple verse choruse verse approach of mainstream pop - not that they're far out of the mainstream or anything, they just craft slightly more complex songs. Unfortunately that means that my recordings are mostly too long to even post onto flickr, so I only have one available. I could go through and pick a 90 second section from one of the interesting longer songs, or even several consecutive 90 second sections, but I'm much too lazy to bother. So here's a 90 second bit from the only Lonely Forest song I managed to upload to Flickr:

They definitely know their audience and it's young - they thanked us for coming out to the show late on a school night, not a work night, and the crowd ate it up. The crowd knew them as well, occasionally cheering when favorite songs started. They also had one technique down that I've noticed on occasion: they start the next song and play an intro while one band member tunes their guitar quickly, then joins in as the song gets going. I like the way that avoids long boring pauses for tuning that break the momentum of the show and distract you. Nice technique!

I enjoyed the songs and the patter, I'll definitely keep my eye out for more opportunities to see these guys, they put on a fun show!

I had to sneak out in the middle of the show to make a business call to India (the middle of the night is the beginning of the day for India) and I also had to get up early the morning after, so I ended up pretty tired today, but it was well worth it. Hopefully the Magma Fest show tonight will be rocking out hard enough to keep me awake. We'll see...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Upcoming shows in March

I'm not sure how many shows I'll make it to this month since it's a big birthday month for my family (3 of 5 family members have birthdays in less than 20 days) which always keeps us a little busy.

I think I'll do pretty well, though. Already I plan on seeing The Lonely Forest, The Oregon Donor and The Violins tonight and then the Magma Fest show tomorrow night with Tender Forever, Spurm, PWRFL Power and several other bands, and Marnie Stearns with Tera Melos later in the month.

There's another Smoke Wreck Kings show I'd like to make it to, and I'm sure I'll pick up a few more shows by the end of the month. I probably won't get to all that many, though, as things will probably be too busy.

My scheme to get into Sasquatch Fest (all 4 days! Reggie Watts, Death Cab, and on and on) is coming together, but that won;t pay of for a couple of months, so the rate should really start picking up by May and through the Summer.