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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Top Ten Concerts I Have Ever Seen

1. Fugazi at the Capitol Backstage
This was, hands down, the most inspiring show I've ever seen. This was Red Medicine era when the art quotient had well exceeded the punk quotient in their formula. I had never seen something so experimental and so accessible at the same time... and underlying it all was this totally manic life-affirming energy. As an Evergreen student first starting to comprehend post-modernism, but turned off by John Cage... I really needed a tangible example of what it could mean to think outside the rules. Cage wanted me to believe that a baby hammering on a xylophone was just as good as listening to Django Reinhardt. I wanted to hear music taken into new realms without completely abandoning structure and theory, to subvert the dominant paradigm without eschewing it completely. Fugazi did all that and more, and I never wanted to go home and play my guitar more than after that show.

2. Low at the Opera House
Part of a Bumbershoot fest... and the second of four times I've seen this band play live. At this particular show, I witnessed the single best stage moment I've ever seen. At that time the band consisted of Alan and Mimi (a married couple who play guitar and drums respectively; both also sing) and Zak the bass player. Alan and Mimi's infant daughter got away from her nanny backstage and rushed, from the wings, onto the stage toward her parents. The tiny girl looked out at the audience and froze. The band kept playing through the end of their song, which was wrapping up in Low's typical languid style. Zak Sally, the bass player, and clearly an intimate part of the family structure around this girl, got down on his knees and nodded for the girl to come over to him. The song had finished but for the final note to be plucked... a final return to tonic to bring it to a satisfying close. Zak held his forefinger on the proper fret and muted the rest of the strings with his other three fingers... he pointed with his free hand toward the fat E string and this 2 year old suddenly had her first performance... she reached out and struck the song's final note. At no point did anyone panic or stop the show. After the applause, the nanny came out and whisked the small child back stage again.

3. The Flaming Lips at the Moe
The Lips were touring in support of their first big WB record, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. It was the first of three times I've seen them. They were a whole Mardi Gras wrapped up in one little two-hour set. When they first came on, the stage exploded in color; thousands of Christmas lights that had been wound into spirals were all turned on at the same time. These guys have always had a flair for the dramatic and the experimental... but this set was easy to absorb, beautiful to watch and drunk with creative enthusiasm. I remember Julie Fortino, who was at that show with me, regained her faith... she thought maybe the Flaming Lips had sold out when they signed to Warner Brothers.

4. Sigur Ros at the Paramount
I was a complete fool for their Agaetis Byrjun record. By the time they released the ( ) album, they were really mining the Godspeed You Black Emperor! approach... the songs were all 8 to 12 minute build ups from quiet restless energy to booming orchestral crescendos. At this show they were featuring the big build-up tunes, but I was hypnotized by the bowed guitar distortions and ridiculous drama of every track.

5. Tito Puente at the Showbox
I've only had a chance to see a few legends... revolutionary performers well past their prime but still kicking. I saw Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Shankar and Paul Simon. All good shows, and I was most impressed with Tito. I went to this show with my sister, who said she could see me wherever I went on the dance floor... something about the fact that I was a foot taller than any other person out there. Out on the floor, I remember the feeling of floating in a sea of cleavage... looking down it was impossible to notice anything but the thousands of lowcut blouses moving all around me to the sound of the timpani. And I remember Tito sticking his tongue out a lot... and one time when he introduced a song with, "Este es solamente para los hispanablantes." I smiled thinking that so long as I understood that, I was part of the in-crowd.

6. Giant Sand at unknown Belltown venue
Howe Gelb is a crazed genius. I've seen Giant Sand a couple of times, but the set I remember the most featured Howe climbing all over the speakers, getting the crowd to shout out bizarre syncopated chorus parts, and including everyone in his own eccentric creative process. He had taken dusty country tunes and run them through every sort of distortion lens he could find. He turned the show into something most concerts never aspire to... like we caught a glimpse of what makes a mad genius tick right there in front of us.

7. Mark Lanegan at the Showbox
I ran into childhood buddy Ben Shepherd outside the Showbox before this concert. I had seen him perform before... at a surprisingly lame Hater concert. He saw my mom and me waiting in line and told us, "Good... you've come to the right show." Lanegan had compiled a supergroup backing for his latest tour. He was well into his post-Screaming Trees solo career at this point, but this was the first time I had heard these tracks LOUD. I thought Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and Scraps at Midnight were meant to heard softly, alone late at night, at a time when you've become a bit more inebriated than common sense normally allows. But even fully sober, and jammed into a crowded club, when I heard them launch into Hospital Roll Call, Lanegan's chilling baritone howling "Sixteeeeen", I got shivers. I felt proud that Ben was helping make such incredible music.

8. Fields of Mars in Pioneer Square
This was a random chance show. I saw my old friend Josh Dawson's band was going to be playing at one of those group cover clubs down in Pioneer Square, I forget which one. Ivy and I went to see him, and we lucked into an incredible treat. Another case, perhaps, of someone so young and so hungry to express themselves. An image from that show that I'll remember is Josh stepping away from the mic and launching into a frenetic guitar solo... he tossed his head back and was visibly screaming, his mouth wide open and his spit flying, but we could hear nothing... just the roaring of his distorted guitar. Last month, I saw Josh in Sound Magazine, modeling vintage clothing and getting publicity for his current band Slender Means. Dude looked like a rock star.

9. G Love and Special Sauce at Unknown Seattle Club
Back at Evergreen, one of my DJ friends from KAOS got Jim and I to come with him up to Seattle to see this show. G Love had just released his first record, and his charisma was dripping off the stage. He had lesbian couples in the front row inviting him to come make out with them. His career wound up plunging into mediocre crap, the nadir being when he served as the house band for a Ben Stein talk show. But for this night... he was the slickest thing I'd ever seen... like Beck if Beck wasn't really a nerd... Maybe like a young Elvis.

10. Brother Egg at the TESC Community Center
This was the first time I ever saw Adam Goldman's talent. Kevin was playing drums on rigged up suitcases. They had recently recorded their first full length album and were working on songs that would become the EP Lantern Flies (I think.) Given the poor acoustics, jury-rigged equipment and half-assed PA system... the fact that this concert was amazing is pure testament to how much the band gelled right at that time. They play out of Portland now, and have an entirely different make up and sound.

Honorable mentions to:

Reverend Horton Heat at Bumbershoot Mural Stage
Fastest my heart has raced at a concert... purely from listening... not moving or dancing.

Nick Cave and Neko Case at the Paramount
Neko Case, the opener that night, has an incredible voice. The two times I've seen her, she's been mesmerizing... WAY better than her recorded work. And hearing Nick Cave sing his track God is in the House live was hilarious.

Helmet at the Kitsap Fairgrounds - First Endfest
My first, and last experiment with moshing. Who knew getting kicked in the head could be so much fun?

Bright Eyes at defunct all-ages venue in the U-District
Conner Oberst... also incredibly young, and incredibly talented. Like a less stuck-up, emo version of Ryan Adams.

M Ward at The Tractor Tavern
Man puts on a good show.

Yo La Tengo at Town Hall
Went to this show with my friend Danny on Tuesday night. A more tender live show then Yo La Tengo generally puts on... 23 years of musicianship on display. They talked with the audience, inviting suggestions, questions, requests. They were unbearably charming, and effective in their role as improv stand-up comedians. I got such a sense of warmth from their set. They walked a perfect line between irony and sincerity. I was thankful to see them, and it made me dust off my Yo La Tengo CDs today and give them a closer listen.

This funky little video came up when I searched for Yo La Tengo on Youtube. It features one of their more popular songs as the soundtrack, but isn't affiliated with the band in any way.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

This is the Story of my Red Right Ankle

It's been too long. Welcome back disgusting right ankle. How I've missed your swollen contours and rich purple majesty. Let's never part again.

I really have to give up basketball someday soon.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bob Dylan Revisited

Every couple of weeks I bring a short stack of CDs from home into work, rip them into MP3 format and cull the best tracks from the haul. This is my method for bringing my CD collection into the 21st century. It would be excruciating to try to do it all at once and ridiculous to pay for these tracks all over again. Besides, this way I get to do some focused listening to a single artist. Right now, for example, I have five Luna albums on my desk awaiting the treatment.

Last week I listened to four classic Bob Dylan records:
Blonde on Blonde
Blood on the Tracks
Bringing it all Back Home
and Highway 61 Revisited

These were my observations:
I like A LOT of the tracks on these discs... I'm keeping more files than I expected. I don't think Dylan added much "filler" to his records.

I tend to like Bob's longer songs (6-8 minute ramblers) more than the short tunes (with the single exception of Jack of Hearts which I find irritating.)

Many people dislike Dylan's voice. People always talk about his grating nasal twang, but it really never bothers me.

I don't really like Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat all that much, but I can't bring myself to delete it... maybe because of fond memories of Matt Woodin putting that tune on a mix tape in Bombay.
Idiot Wind is a great tune... in fact the whole first half (the A side to you LP owners) of Blood on the Tracks is perfection.

When I was a child, I loved the tune Maggie's Farm. It's still a great song. In fact, Bringing It All Back Home probably scores the most nostalgia points with me. I find myself liking marginal tracks like Outlaw Blues or On the Road Again (not the Willy Nelson song) because the melody takes me back to when I was 7 years old. Subterranean Homesick Blues and It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) push this album into brilliance regardless of how I felt about it 27 years ago.

It's Alright Ma (I'm only Bleeding) conditioned me to appreciate lyrical dexterity... the kind later demonstrated by MCs like The Gift of Gab of Blackalicious.

Dylan had more fun with his poetry/lyrics than Paul Simon did.

Highway 61 is the least impressive of these discs, although Ballad of a Thin Man is still great. I guess this is a later release (after the pivotal motorcycle crash that many people feel ruined Dylan's career.) (Fact checking reveals that Highway 61 was released as part of the classic Dylan trilogy, including Blonde on Blonde and Bringing it All Back Home. These all came out between 64 and 66 before Dylan's accident in the late summer of 1966. I guess I assumed that it was after because it sounds so different to my ears. Also, Blood on the Tracks, called by many a "return to form", was released in 1974, after Dylan went through a post-accident spiritual phase when he alienated many fans.)

There are a few overplayed songs (e.g. Like a Rolling Stone, Hey Mister Tambourine Man) that are still worth listening to even if you've heard them thousands of times.

And lastly...
Adam Sandler is sure trying hard to look just like Bob Dylan in his recent film Reign Over Me.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cloud Nine at the Balagan Theater

O and I had a genu-wine date night last Friday. We went to see Cloud Nine at a new local theater, and followed up with a lovely cocktail and cheese plate at the 1200 Bistro next door. I had a Colorado toddy, something sweet and whiskey with star anise, orange peel and cardamom. Our platter included slices of manchego and a generous wedge of humbolt fog (a beautiful goat cheese) with figs, dried cherries, Mama Lil's marinated peppers, pickled fennel, grainy mustard, olives, and toasts. It was a wonderful capper to the evening. It was nice to treat ourselves and create the opportunity to simply enjoy each other's company: just the sort of thing that couples neglect doing far too much.

But... the play's the thing.

My co-worker Jake Groshong, who joined JFS a little over a year ago, is something of an impresario. He invited me to come see his new company's production of Transylvania Clockworks last October. Olaiya and I went, and found it to exceed our expectations in every way. The acting was remarkable, with a stand-out performance by Roy Stanton as Count Dracula. The sets and costumes were minimal, in a typically modern theater fashion, but the script was excellent. The teeth of the production found their mark. We sat spellbound and ruminated on the themes and meaning of the play for days afterward.

Now in their new space, the current Balagan offering, Cloud Nine, is both sparklingly funny and bitingly poignant. It deals with sexual repression (of the Victorian variety,) feminism, heterocentrism, and phallocentric imperialism. The first act, set in colonial Africa, sets up the plays themes and resounds with laughs and absurd situations. It also gives Chris Macdonald a chance to shine in the show's bravest and most compelling single character: Joshua, an assimilated African tribesman.

The second act takes place 100 years later in modern day England... however the characters have only aged 25 years... allowing the playwright the opportunity to see how we still inherit these strange values, and how we define ourselves as we rebel against them. There are fewer laughs, and more dramatic risks, in the second half but I never felt the play wallow in melodrama. The messages hit home with startling precision and force.

I warn potential audience members in advance that there are few sympathetic straight males in this production. If you are a straight male who requires a character to identify with, you may not be able to tolerate this particular play. Even so, I encourage you to check out Balagan's other offerings. They are new, they are hungry, they are doing a damn fine job.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Iron and Wine

Iron & Wine have made great indie-sensible navel-gazing folk music for years. They sprung from that Carissa's Wierd school of breathy minimal emo-folk. But starting with their collaborative EP In the Reins (recorded with dust-noir band Calexico) they significantly amped up the production values of their arrangements, separating themselves from the pack of whispy guitar strummers. I&W started putting more confident framing around Sam Beam's urgent whisper vocals. At times (mostly just their unfortunate piano-driven forays) this formula seems forced, undercutting the gravitas of Beam's voice. But, on the whole, their sound has evolved without losing sight of their original aesthetic. With the addition of layered rhythms, intricate melodies and picking patterns, they still manage to evoke the same sublime tone of those early tracks.

Check out their newest release, Shepherd's Dog. House by the Sea incorporates some funky didgeridoo into the rhythm track. Wolves ascends into a full-scale funk jam that sounds as much like Bitches Brew as it does Iron & Wine's first records. These are two standouts, but the whole album is tremendous. I haven't listened to the lyrics enough to know if there are tracks I'll love as much as Jesus the Mexican Boy... but right now I'm blown away by the new sonic soup they've created. It's like Califone quit smoking pot and took a hit of Window Pane instead.

(One fan shook her head in disappointment at these tracks, suggesting that Iron and Wine had become a "jam band". I understand her concern... Stave If Off hates Phish as much as anyone... but it doesn't feel like Iron and Wine has sold their soul yet. These are two of the more "jammy" tracks on this record... but there are some acoustic ballads for those who can't relate to a songwriter 'less he's got a guitar in his hands.)


Friday, October 12, 2007

Gone the Way of All Things

My first taste was about fifteen years ago. I was nineteen. It happened at Sawatdy on Bainbridge Island.

Leslie Colombo, a tough cookie from back East and a damn good cook, took me to Sawatdy to try Thai food. She seemed to think it was pretty interesting fare... Interesting enough to drive all the way out to a remote part of Bainbridge to have dinner. I liked Chinese food well enough, plus she told me that it was easy to get vegetarian options, so I was sold.

She was very specific about which dishes we would try. Most vividly I remember that first taste. The appetizer was tom kah tao hoo, a hot and sour soup with deep flavors I had never encountered before. Woody and spicy galanga root, lemon grass and magrood leaves. Lime juice sour and chili paste hot. My first spoonful of Thai food was mindblowing. I held the broad white spoon to my lips, letting the vapor waft up to my nose. I tasted the broth, and then bit into a delicate straw mushroom steeped in that magic blend. Never had I conceived of combining these flavors. It was, to trot out an overused adjective, orgasmic.

Courses followed. I don't remember all the details. I think I was introduced to the ideas of mixing fried cashews with noodles, and cooking eggplant in a coconut milk with green curry. All of it was amazing. It was a true "where have you been all my life?" experience.

And now... now something has changed. Perhaps the bloom is off the rose. Maybe all that has changed is that my palette no longer feels any delight or novelty in tamarind sauce or lime leaves. I barely feel satisfaction, let alone any excitement, when I look down at a plate of phad see iew.

But I suspect something different. I suspect that Thai food is becoming Americanized. The other day I had a combo lunch from Jamjuree with phad thai and swimming rama... and I thought... this is so freakin' typical: A sweet and tangy noodle dish with a sweet and savory peanut sauce dish. It was almost nauseatingly sugary. It seems like the American fascination with corn syrup has infected Thai cuisine. When I look back on that first dinner at Sawatdy, I don't remember thinking any of it was sweet. On the contrary, I was amazed that hot and sour could coexist without being tempered with sweetness. The sweetness seemed to come from accents of ground peanuts or the coconut milk... never from added sugar.

Much the way that ketchup now tastes like vinegar and corn syrup (rather than tomatoes,) Thai seems to be losing all its characteristic greatness and settling into a phad thai and peanut sauce coma. I blame the proliferation of low-priced Thai restaurants all over the Puget Sound. I think I can recapture some of the lost magic, but I have to stop going to crappy restaurants. So please, dear readers, where can I find that lovin' feeling? Give me your recommendations.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Baseball Post-Season Begins

Here is Stave It Off's list of playoff teams, in the order in which I would most like them to win the championship. For God to make me happy, he needs to eliminate the teams from the bottom up. For God to make me angry and vengeful, he should eliminate them from the top down. But be careful God, you won't like me when I'm angry. >:-(

1. The Chicago Cubs (No one should suffer this long. It's been almost 100 years since the Cubs could celebrate. Besides, I still like former Mariners manager, and current Cubbies manager Lou Piniella. Plus it would make Mark Grace happy.)

2. The Arizona Diamondbacks (Eric Byrnes is the coolest guy in baseball, and I think they finally celebrate MLK day there now. And a D'Backs win would also make Mark Grace happy.)

3. The Philadelphia Phillies (Stupid team name, but longtime Mariner star pitcher and class act Jaime Moyer is now a Phillie. He returned to his childhood city and is getting one last shot at a ring. He's 44 years old and barely tops that on the radar gun, but still manages to make guys half his age look foolish with the change up.)

4. The Cleveland Indians (Low payroll teams always rock, and this team tied for the best record in the league with a payroll about half of Boston's and a third of NY's.)

5. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Or Los Angelos de Los Angelos de Anaheim... This is clearly the stupidest name in all of sports, except maybe the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. But setting stupid marketing departments aside, Vladamir Guerrero is amazing to watch, plus good team speed and great managerial tactics make this team fun to watch.)

6. The Colorado Rockies (Their late season surge reminds everyone of the '95 Mariners, but Colorado sucks, so I'm tepid at best about this team.)

7. The Boston Redsox (Please just stay in your own city people. Boston is supposed to be a nice town. Please stop swarming Pioneer Square everytime the Sox come to town.)

8. The NY Wankees (The single most despised team in the history of sportsdom. More despised than the infamous Blacksox; more hated than the LA Kings, who also have a dumb name and who lured Gretsky away from the Edmonton Oilers. I will never enjoy watching any team lose as much as the Wankees. I have been filled with schadenfreudic glee each of the last 6 years as I watched the Yanks get bounced from the postseason. If God is good, he will surely allow me to continue in this sublime pleasure.)


Monday, October 01, 2007


Walaka turned 50, and made what I thought was an elegant and pithy speech at his surprise party this weekend. To paraphrase, he said "Thank you for being here to celebrate. At this stage in my life, I don't need things, but I can't get enough of events like this."

But we did give him things. He got all kinds of great books from thoughtful people. And then there was my present. I felt the need to fete Walaka with another annual round of "Win W.H.'s Tee Shirts". Up for grabs was a gynormous stack of 25 guaranteed-to-be-hip tee shirts from Value Village. The challenge was to best Walaka in Jeopardy-style trivia... complete with audio/visual aids thanks to O's laptop and Walaka's projector. The goal was to have a bit of fun, sometimes at Walaka's expense, and make sure lots of people got something to take home at the end of the party... and hopefully that's what we accomplished.

So now, after a year of cruising Value Village, slowly building my stack of acceptable tees, I'm back to zero and the fun begins again. I also learned some valuable lessons re: using the projector, lowering the tee shirt count, the difficulty with YouTube video clues, and gauging overall question difficulty. BTW, Eric aced just about every question in the "Name that Vegetable" and "Name that Flower" sections... nailing stoppers like ranunculus and kohlrabi without even breaking a sweat.

This was the only vegetable that stumped the crowd.


Recipe Exchange

Tired of cooking the same dishes over and over again? Please read the recipe below, forward it along to your closest friends and have them all send their own great recipes back to the orginal poster. Try to keep it simple, using basic ingredients and time-sensitive techniques. We don't want to overwhelm anyone. This way we can all enjoy great new ideas for everyday foods!

Today's Recipe:
Take all the awful bleak realities that stare you in the face every morning when you wake up. Stack them carefully between two slices of bitterness, or serve open faced. Serve with a pickle. Look upon this woeful concoction, grit your teeth, and bite in despite it's unappealing color and bouquet.

My boss Steve calls this "eating a shit sandwich".

(and hat tip to Molly for the great idea!)