Abbi, "Cry No More"

>> Thursday, March 31, 2011

Something gentle with a happy groove to get you through Thursday, from another artist featured in the House Of Songs showcase at SXSW. Abbi, "Cry No More":


Hanna Turi, "Black Pencil" and "Dearest Friend"

>> Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I believe Ms. Turi performed "Dearest Friend" during the The House Of Songs Showcase at SXSW; I'm afraid I can't recall whether or not she also performed "Black Pencil." It was a delightful mini-set, in any case, and I hope this at least offers some flavor of what she sounds like in person.


Quote of the day--spirit of 1776 edition

>> Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Here's John Adams on Thomas Paine's famous 1776 pamphlet "Common Sense": "What a poor, ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass." Then comes Paine on Adams: "John was not born for immortality."

Paine and Adams may have been alone among the founders for having literary styles adequate to their mutual disregard. "The spissitude [sic!] of the black liquor which is spread in such quantities by this writer," Adams wrote of Paine, "prevents its daubing." Paine: "Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of."

-William Hogeland,
"How John Adams and Thomas Paine
clashed over inequality,"

Salon, March 28th, 2011

The lesson for today might be that the problem with contemporary political rhetoric isn't so much its incivility as it is its violence and lack of style. If you'll forgive the geekitude of the metaphor, the invective of our Founders wasn't as clumsy or random as the blatherings of a Bachmann or Beck--their words were elegant weapons, from a more civilized age.

They had their faults, the Founders. They were men, not gods. But one thing they definitely had that hasn't endured as one would hope was that they were literate men; not in the flat sense of merely knowing their letters but in the cultural sense that they read and wrote prolifically, many of them in several languages. So when it came time to really, really sharpen the quill--well, they knew how to draw blood with the nib, didn't they?

As a housekeeping matter: no, I'm not done with SXSW posts, yet. I'll be inflicting more upon you over the next several days, though I don't know if the next review post will pop up tomorrow or later. Your indulgence is appreciated and I thank you.


The SXSW music recap, part two

>> Monday, March 28, 2011

So the first day of shows in Austin was exhausting and wonderful at once. Though I didn't get drunk off of free showcase beer, it seemed prudent to cut back anyway, and drink more water and take it easier. One of the consequences of this decision was that I ended up only seeing three acts after the day's panels and Bob Geldof's keynote address.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011:

The Strokes, Auditorium Shores Stage

Auditorium Shores Park is an open space on the south side of Lady Bird Lake, an artificial reservoir created by the Longhorn Dam. Wikipedia says Austin had pollution issues back in the day but they've been cleaned up, and what I saw of Lady Bird Lake while I was there was lovely--rowing teams (from UT, I presume) practicing in the mornings, fleets of black ducks chasing each other around, joggers and hikers on the trails.

For SXSW, a stage was set up in the park for some of the larger showcases; anybody could get into the free shows, but if you had a badge you got to go through the short line and hang out in the little cordoned-off area with the bar platform and TV monitors and a couple of rows of metal bleachers for those so inclined. If you weren't in a VIP area, the place was your typically-anarchic outdoor festival scene: a perimeter of tents selling beer and carnival food surrounding a dense-packed throng bouncing balloons overhead.

The Strokes have a new album that's out now, and the good news is the bad news: it sounds like a Strokes album. And what I mean is that The Strokes can be praised or damned as you see fit for being maybe the most consistent band on the planet right now; it's not that every song sounds the same (they don't), but every song does sound like The Strokes, and if I were to play you tracks from their first three albums interspersed with anything I've yet heard on the new one, you'd be hard pressed to even venture a guess as to where the individual songs might fall in the band's career. It's good news insofar as if you buy the new Strokes album, you know exactly what you're getting; on the other hand, if you already own a Strokes album, you already have the new one.

But if the band doesn't seem to be growing (or regressing or changing in any way), their live show delivers. It was a good arena/festival-style rock show, though here again I find myself inclined to damn with the praise despite the fact I like The Strokes a lot and think they're a damn good band.

There are acts that deliver transcendental arena shows, shows in which the spectacle is unlike anything you'll ever see anybody else deliver (Pink Floyd in '94 comes to mind for me, personally, though probably any Floyd show would qualify) or shows in which the artist has such command over the stage and audience that 20,000 people might as well be twenty in his living room (here, for me, Springsteen comes to mind, any of the times I've ever seen him). Some bands (U2 at their best, for instance) deliver something of both, a bit of spectacle and a bit of charisma.

The Strokes deliver a more-than-competent show. Which is a great thing and a helluva hard one to do, and a thing that a lot of bands fail at when they get to that level. But it stops there, too: you're going to get your money's worth, but the account will be settled to the cents. You won't be disappointed, but I also can't imagine that you'll be looking back on a Strokes show two or three decades later and remembering it as one of the epochal events of your life.

The problem isn't that The Strokes gave everybody and their mother a chance to take cheap shots like the one I'm about to take when they called their full-length debut Is This It; the problem (or maybe not, depending on how you look at it) is that the answer so far is "yes."

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison; Emmylou Harris, at Antone's

Before I went to Austin, my sister gave me a copy of Kinky Friedman's The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic: A "Walk" In Austin, which is sort of a guide to the city by way of Kinky Friedman's wonderfully odd mind. As things happened, I made it to very few of the places Friedman says are essential to Austin (nor did I see him at South-By, though I hear he was ambling about the city and showing up there and there and over there--but not here, or I might have seen him and even thanked him for the book if he'd drifted by closely enough). But one of those places was Antone's a legendary blues bar in downtown Austin, perhaps most famous for being more-or-less the launchpad for the late Stevie Ray Vaughn back in the day.

Thursday night, Antone's was hosting the alt-country showcase. If you're wondering what "alt-country" is, well, alt-country is what they call country music now that country music is what they call warmed-over pop derived from the California scene of the 1970s. If you're playing a Hank Williams, Sr. cover, you're alt-country; if you spent $500 on your hair and are crooning a song that sounds like something The Eagles didn't think was good enough for One Of These Nights, you're country. If you have a hole in your guitar and wrote songs for Patsy Cline, you're alt-country. If you're a singing vegetarian Revlon model who's married to the guy who used to produce Def Leppard and Bryan Adams, you're country. To confuse matters even further, country is now a favorite genre for people who used to listen to rock when rock was really contemporary pop, while alt-country appreciation has sadly been infiltrated by hipsters, who possibly mistake authenticity for irony. And if you're thinking this sounds like it might be a part of the music industry's woes, congratulations; the problem not being one of legitimacy so much as being a problem of genres becoming so debased towards a nadir of lowest-common-denominators that popular music is mostly all swill, really.

So, Thursday. I saw two alt-country acts, by which I mean I saw two country acts, one of them a legend.

Something I have to say before I give short shrift to Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, who don't deserve it: that Antone's was crowded to capacity--I'd swear it had to be beyond capacity, though what do I know and they might have been well within their limits. But the crowd was packed as tightly as neutrons in a spent star's dwarfed corpse and I was jammed in there with them. There was one guy near me who carried himself like some sort of VIP but dressed like a math teacher from a grainy late-sixties movie about faculty members at a small New England college who drink too much, have affairs, and struggle for relevancy in the context of the counterculture; he seemed mostly interested in beer and stepping on people's feet and he doesn't have anything to do with anything except as I stood and shifted in the motley throng he became a recognizable icon for my discomfort, a symbolic representation of how increasingly awful I was feeling in the press.

I have this crowds thing. It's intermittent, sort of, in the sense that it doesn't always appear or it doesn't always get bad; but when it does get bad, I find myself increasingly feeling the pressures of a panic attack. I was in Antone's and I was pushed further and further from the door and if terrible things happened, I would be in the tangled pile of bodies to be sorted through, or something, I don't know. At a certain point in the evening, during Willis and Robison's set, I didn't want to be there anymore--not because of Willis and Robison, who were talented and wonderful but whose songs I didn't carefully note or give the appreciation they deserved--but because this crowd was around me like a python and somehow there was less air than there was supposed to be despite the fans circulating it. And I was inclined to leave, probably should have left or at least bullied my way to the bar for a stronger drink, or two stronger drinks or at least enough alcohol to make the waves rocking the building beneath my feet a bigger worry than the infinite omnipresent fleshpile, but I was going to endure, overcome, I would clench my teeth and focus my hatred on this poor obnoxious man and withstand, yes.

A long way of trying to explain why I didn't enjoy the concert as much as I should have.

And I should have enjoyed Emmylou Harris' set immensely. I'm not sure how many times I've seen her before--quite a few--but she's always wonderful, and this night she had a special treat for the crowd at Antone's: she performed her upcoming, to-be-released album in its entirety, start to finish. No old material, no classics, just all these wonderful songs hardly anybody in the whole wide world had ever heard before, and just for us. If you don't know, Emmylou has been on a good run lately, has released a string of extremely good records, and this one will be another one, I think. And she's writing again--she went through a number of years where she was almost entirely doing covers, nothing wrong with that (and some of the covers bested the originals) other than she's a damn fine songwriter. The new record seems like it will mostly be originals.

She chatted between songs. This one was inspired by a painting a friend gave her, and then she realized it was about her parents, who she'd never really done any songs about, and how her mother must've felt when her dad, a Navy man, was called to duty. This one was a song about a dog she rescued. Here was a song she'd written for Kate McGarrigle, who passed away of cancer last year. This is the kind of thing that's your classic great show experience, the legendary singer-songwriter casually playing the new stuff for the faithful, peppered with the anecdotes and explanations.

I wish I'd enjoyed it more.

It wasn't the artists, it was me. Or the venue. Or the crowd. Or the mixture. It wasn't a bad crowd, not really. It was just too many people standing in what felt like too small a space (though Antone's is big, with a sizable floor in front of the stage), craning their necks while I went neurotic.

I staggered out into the cooler air of the misty night and pulled myself clear of the crowd gathered at Antone's front door, milling about, trying to get in or stepping out for a breath of fresh air or a breath of nicotine. And my head hurt and my body felt brittle and I was aware of my heart though I couldn't hear it.

The Old 97's were due to follow Emmylou Harris, and the Old 97's are awesome and I really wanted to see them. But I just couldn't go back inside. Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't. It was a form of cowardice, or weakness, or whatever you want to call it. I found my legs where I'd left them and began to stumble back to the hotel on the other side of the river--right next to Auditorium Shores Park, where I'd started the evening's shows, actually. And there were still performers I wanted to see--The Old 97's, obviously, or if it was just Antone's I couldn't take anymore, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead were slated for the Beauty Bar at one a.m., or--oh, hell, so much better yet--or Peter Murphy, the Peter Murphy was going to be moaning and growling and crooning at The Ale House.

But I was brittle and full of loose bones.

Marker 10, The Hyatt Regency bar was closing when I got there, but they had one more drink for me. Not a bourbon and not a whiskey, but a stiff glass of Herradura Silver on the rocks, clean as water but full of fire and I sat at the bar and managed to remember myself before I turned round and took the elevator up to the room where I had a rented bed.


Gallops, "Miami Spider"

>> Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gallops, "Miami Spider" performed live for the BBC (and being better treated by the venue's gear):


The Last Republic, "CCTV"

>> Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Last Republic, y'all. "CCTV":


The SXSW music recap, part one

>> Friday, March 25, 2011

I said yesterday I didn't know how to begin to talk about the music I saw in Austin last week. Goddamn. I still don't. There was a lot of it, most of it awesome; I don't think any of it was bad, certainly none of it was terrible.

I saw, I think, if I'm counting this up correctly, thirty-five separate artists in five days, one of whom I saw completely by mistake at a non-showcase event, and, unfortunately, she was very, very good, but I have no idea who she was. (She played guitar and sang--does that help?) I saw shows in so many different kinds of venues, which was part of the awesomeness (for those of you who haven't been): that is, I saw acts play in churches, in bars, in clubs, on rooftop patios, on a festival stage, and under tents outside, and that doesn't include the people who were performing on streetcorners throughout Austin (and no, I don't have their names, either, and no, they're not counted in the swelling total I gave you in the first sentence). The kinds of venues may seem like a trivial issue, but it isn't really--a performance has a different vibe and not just a different sound when it's being given in a church in front of a couple of hundred people, say, instead of an open park before a crowd of thousands, or in an overpacked blues dive before a crowd of more-than-the-fire-marshal-would-put-up-with.

If there's a fault in the diversity of acts I saw, it's that there are genres of shows I didn't attend at all. I never did get in to see anyone playing hip-hop or traditional jazz, for instance; Wu-Tang and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band were on my list and just didn't make the cut because there were acts I wanted to see more. I didn't make it to Duran Duran or OMD, either, whatever category of '80s nostalgia you'd like to fit them into. I never made it round to wherever it was that Moby was DJ'ing, and I didn't get in to see any trance or electronica as such, though I did see one artist who I guess could be categorized as club or dance. Nor did I manage to catch any metal. The one punk band I saw was a J-punk act and was wonderful, but like practically all Japanese bands was so eccentric that it almost defies categorization in their own category, if you know what I mean, which is why you sort of have to say "J-punk" instead of just "punk."

Whether or not I saw any jazz at all depends, actually, on how you categorize Plastic Ono Band. If you label them avant-garde or somesuch, then I guess I accidentally didn't catch any jazz at all.

Yet for all those deficiencies, I saw a lot of bands in a lot of genres.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011:

Wednesday was a stumbling first day for me, a gawky young colt staggering about Austin, a hick right off the truck tumbling into bars and looking confusedly at my high-tech map and scheduling handheld computer what with the GPS and Internet connection. I tried to pay for a free drink at the first venue I went into and never quite recovered equilibrium at what seemed like a cardinal faux pas. And then at the end of the day, I was tired, tuckered, worn down from perambulating about an alien city and consuming too many free beers before dinner, and the hours spent grazing the firmament the previous day, so I ended up stumbling home to bed at the early hour of midnight as my head turned back into a pumpkin and the mice scurried out in a panic.

Cerdd Cymru: Welsh showcase at Latitude 30

I was a good little pretend-journo, too, with my Galaxy Tab out and taking notes--or maybe not so good if anybody was counting the Facebook posts and tweets and the fourth Newcastle. "Free Bar" could be the two best words in the English language (more mellifluous than "cellar door," even), or the two worst words depending on how you feel about them later.

I wasn't sure what I would be hearing. The Welsh band I'm most familiar with would probably be Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, who sometimes sang in Welsh, something nobody did on Wednesday.

We Are Animal were a delightfully loud indie-rock four-piece, followed by a pop musician calling himself Bright Light Bright Light, who reminded me a bit of Howard Jones, musically, and didn't do anything for me (probably because he reminded me of Howard Jones, musically). I'd rather you didn't take that as a knock--yes, I hate Howard Jones (musically; I'm sure he's perfectly fine as a person), but if you like that sort of thing, you'd probably also like BLBL.

The Last Republic, on the other hand, was very much up my alley. A kinetic five-piece, they made the small stage set up at Latitude 30 seem even smaller than it was, pounding through a tight set that reminded me a lot of The Bends-era Radiohead.

I liked or wanted to like Gallops, who closed the showcase, but they had a rough time of it. The drummer seemed to be struggling with his monitors and after struggling through a short list and switching speakers and fidgeting with things a lot, the band finally just gave up. I couldn't tell you how impossible things were up there or whether they should have just tried to blast through the problems. Anyway, what they got through was tight; very angular, mathy instrumentals that reminded me of Discipline-era King Crimson (what was that, Crimson Mk. 2, Mk. 3? 2.75?) I think they're worth checking out if you like your really analytical prog, anyway, and I hope the rest of their performances at South-By went more smoothly than the one at Latitude 30.

The House Of Songs Showcase at The Ghost Room

I hadn't heard of The House Of Songs before seeing the showcase announced on the SXSW schedule. Basically an exchange program for foreign musicians who want to come to Austin and work on music for a few months, the whole thing is a nifty idea and the showcase seemed like the sort of unique thing you're only going to see in a city with a robust music scene.

As for helpful information, assuming any of the artists who perform ever end up in your area or you see a CD on a rack or a name on the Internet music store of your choice--well, there I'm afraid I can be of less help. The House Of Songs showcase featured a revolving set of musicians performing in a variety of styles, but essentially acoustic and in a stripped-down setting; I couldn't tell you if the gorgeous Hanna Turi, who sounded a bit like a Swedish Tori Amos, always performs by herself on piano or on piano accompanied by guitar, or if that's just what she's been doing while she stays in Austin, or if that was just what she was doing for the showcase. Gudrid Hansdottir (from the Faroe Islands) also stood out, and the Kenyan gentleman, Abbi, who closed the showcase.

Courtesy of The House Of Songs Facebook page, the showcase roster consisted of:

backed at various points by:

  • Matt the Electrician
  • Troy Campbell
  • Danny Malone
  • Nathan Felix
  • Maggie Walters
  • Jon Nelson

Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Wronglers at the Victorian Room, The Driskill Hotel

Somebody official said there was room in the balcony, so maybe twenty or thirty people tromped up the steps in the back, whereupon the lot of us discovered that there was room in the balcony because unless you were actually standing at the balcony rail like all the people who were already up there were standing, you couldn't see a damned thing except the backs of the people standing at the balcony rail. The roominess, yes, was undeniable. That quality, however, had been earned by the fact that nobody wanted to be up there, and so almost all of us trudged back downstairs and returned to our positions behind columns and peering over the heads of people with unobstructed or less-obstructed views. The rationale being, I think, that if you were going to be somewhere you couldn't see, you might as well be in a blindspot close to the stage. Besides which, if I peered around the corner and stood on tiptoes, I had an adequate view of fiddlers Heidi Clare and Krista Martin. Sometimes I even managed a glimpse of banjo player Warren Hellman or Gilmore's left arm and the neck of his guitar, which (as you may know) is the part of the guitar that is played (the rest of the apparatus makes the noises).

Lines of sight or none, it was a damn fine show. But of course it would be: Jimmie Dale Gilmore is a country and bluegrass legend and a damn fine guitarist, and if you don't know that already, well, I don't know how to help you; your condition may be curable, though I'd say the prognosis is grim and you might look at your affairs one more time.

Gilmore and The Wronglers were very obviously having a good time on the stage, bantering and playing a setlist of traditional songs, including the less-murder-ballad-ey version of "In The Pines," the one describing the longest train ever seen but omitting the decapitation and mournful violence. (Your mileage will vary as to which version you might prefer, but regular readers are familiar with the way I gravitate to the ghoulish and macabre.) Tuning problems with Hellman's banjo became a gently-running in-joke and flubbed lyrics in a song late in the set were met with smiles and some self-deprecating humor from Gilmore after the band had played through the number, the solid professionalism of veteran musicians at ease with themselves and their audience. All said, it was a privilege to see the band and I look forward to the band's upcoming album, Heirloom Music, when it comes out later this year.

Herman Dune; Low, both appearing at St. David's Historic Sanctuary

These are being lumped together because I don't have much to say about the capable Herman Dune and caught his set as a prelude to seeing Low, who were on my very-short-list of acts I really, really, really wanted to see in Austin.

I've featured Low around here before; the Minnesota band often credited with inventing slowcore--I understand the band hates the label, but sometimes one word is worth a thousand others.

At any rate, if you're familiar with their brooding, haunted songs, you won't be surprised to learn that a church is an ideal place to hear them play. The wind was picking up and the lights outside the sanctuary threw the trembling shadows of trees onto the old stained glass windows while the band rattled and moaned and mourned the sorrows of the world. Alan Sparhawk's guitar threw up tall, breaking waves of sound followed by glassy stillnesses over Mimi Parker's dirge-drums, though "Monkey" came with all its sharp angles and menace. Anyway, it was a fine show in the perfect setting for the band, and though I'm personally satisfied there isn't a god, I'll concede the band drove some spirit through the audience communing in those dimly-lit pews.


Dancing about architecture

>> Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

-Martin Mull (probably).

It was my intent when I went down to Austin that it would be blog fodder (as it has been), and particularly that I would try to review some of the bands I saw. And yet, with, what, almost two weeks of posts, I've hardly done that at all, despite the fact I even took notes at the Welsh music showcase at Latitude 30 (somehow I couldn't be bothered after that).

There's a few reason I haven't gotten around to it, but I have to tell you that one of the biggest is simply wondering how to approach it. I have, perhaps, been put a little off my game by better, more experienced, and more foolish talents than my own, which leaves me thinking that, yes, I will write about at least some of the bands I saw play down in Austin and probably will write about them the way I planned to or the way that comes naturally, but also second-guessing myself about that.

I should step back and explain; first, because you have no idea what I'm talking about and second, because it's (I think) sort of an interesting discussion about writing. Or maybe it's only interesting to myself and, self-indulgently, I'm afflicting you with it (or not--you just closed the tab). But what's a blog, but a self-indulgent place.

I went to panels and speeches at SXSW, of course, and being someone who fancies himself a writer, I went to panels that involved writing. You're surprised, no doubt. But aside from my fantasies, you know, I went to SXSW as a music fan and a writer or blogger: I mean, I could have gone to the SXSW continuing legal education panels, except I didn't want to attend as an attorney (what's the point of leaving yourself behind on vacation if you're going to take yourself with you after all?) or I could have attended panels on promotion, management, production, etc., except that those didn't quite seem like things I'd get anything out of, either, beyond a general interest in some of those things going back to when I still played guitar more often and had a bit of a home recording rig set up. But writing panels, or panels guested by writers--the applications seem more obvious and practical in whatever tangential way to my life pecking on lettered keys.

At panels like "Writing About Music In The Twenty Tens" and "I'm Not Old, Your Music Does Suck," or even at things like Bob Geldof's keynote, the state of music writing came up in various contexts (in Geldof's case, a pretty dismissive one, but whatever). It was at the "Your Music Does Suck" that several panelists, grizzled music journalism vets and critics, deplored what passes as music criticism these days, how so much of what "passes" as music criticism can be reduced down to "what other bands does this group sound like?" and how did the record or show make the critic feel and did he like it, perhaps accompanied by a lot of irrelevant personal memoir stuff like you see in Pitchfork reviews (and boy howdy, did all the panelists hate Pitchfork; I'm not saying I blame them or disagree, I'm just observing). And how this is easy and lazy writing, which is why it's foisted off as criticism unlike some deeper analysis of the sort, say, that permeated Rolling Stone back in the '60s and '70s when a review of a rock album might span thousands of words and a dozen supersized pages.

And these are fair complaints. I get that. If I didn't get that, I might be having less trouble getting around to talking about some of the actual music I saw during my mad week in Austin, Texas. It's easy to aspire to some deep historical and technical analysis of how an artist got to Point B from wherever-the-hell Point A was (perhaps well before the artist's time) and really hard to write such a thing in a cogent and articulate fashion. (Harder still, perhaps, when one has staggered from a bar to a club at midnight, full of booze that's been shaken, not stirred, by a jostling crowd and throbbing PA system.)


Except what else am I going to say about music, and by "I," I of course mean anybody who's trying to say anything about music. I really don't know how much I can tell you about how you'll feel listening to something; that's especially true if the "something" in question is along the lines, for instance, of Plastic Ono Band, who I enjoyed seeing live but readily admit involves a whole lot of weird improvisational noise that isn't going to appeal to people who aren't already receptive to that sort of thing. And how do you know if that might appeal to you? To say that parts of Yoko Ono's performance (sticking to our example) were reminiscent of some of Neil Young or Sonic Youth's guitar-noise experimentation in the 1980s and other parts reminded me of Pink Floyd's experimental post-Barrett years (1969-1971, basically; maybe you could include '68) isn't just easy and lazy (though it is)--it also actually imparts a huge payload of information in a small warhead: "Oh--I love Ummagumma, maybe I should try to see her if she comes to town!" or "I can't stand that pompous crazyrandom weird-to-be-weird arthouse shit, PASS!"

Way back in the day, I had a subscription to CMJ: New Music Monthly, a now-defunct music magazine whose most-talked-about feature was probably the inclusion of a sampler CD with every issue. That was the best thing about the magazine, and the second-best thing was that the bulk of each monthly issue consisted of short, two-or-three paragraph reviews of new albums; and the best part of those reviews was that the header for each one would include a section captioned "RIYL", as in, "Recommended If You Like". I almost hate to mention that this little one-line caption was more useful than most of the reviews that came beneath it, or even more useful than the most eloquent ten-thousand-word golden-age Rolling Stone missive on a new release, only slightly less useful than the NMM sampler CDs themselves. Because, again, it was a lot of valuable information in a couple of words: "This album is recommended if you like Talking Heads? Why, I love Talking Heads! Maybe I'd love this album." Maybe sometimes the assessment would turn out to be misplaced--"What the--this sounds nothing like Talking Heads! Shenanigans!"--but it was as good a starting place as any if you were trying to figure out how to allocate your limited music dollars and valuable listening time.

And I can't disagree if you want to say that this lacked depth and perhaps was a harbinger of the end of smart music criticism; all I can say is it led to smarter purchases than most music reviews do.

See, this is the thing: Martin Mull (or Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, or somebody else) was absolutely right: writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I can say tons and tons about a band without telling you anything you really need to know to help you make a decision about an artist. Perhaps if I do it well, the writing itself can be entertaining--but that requires neither sticking to the music (and here we come back to those autobiographical Pitchfork "reviews") or lengthy--why, some of the best reviews of all time were J.D. Considine's notorious one-line vivisections. (Classic Considine, reviewing Cher's Love Hurts: "Not this much." His entire review of GTR's self-titled debut was a mere three letters: "SHT.")

I'd like, for instance, to tell you how much I liked The Joy Formidable's set, and I sort of expect to. But however much I rant about how great a set it was and how wonderful they are, and however much eloquence I muster or sense of rock history or what I pull together from my limited experience as a musician, everything you really need to know about the band was in the clip I embedded in yesterday's post. Hell, you don't even need to watch the whole thing: you will probably get more out of dragging the slider midway down it's track and watching thirty seconds from the middle of the performance than you'll get out of whatever I have to say about it, whether I write a hundred words or a thousand; this isn't, I have to emphasize, self-effacement--it's because whatever I have to say will be an absurd exercise in translating something shimmering and loud into something textual and contextual, however skillfully (or abysmally) I perform the dance.

Which means, in the end, that I'm left with telling you how I felt and who they sounded like, and perhaps throwing in some personal experience stuff; not because it's easy or lazy (though, again, for the third or nineteenth time, I agree, it is easy and lazy), but because those are things I can bring to a piece of writing about music that you can't get from the thing itself. And if I can muster interesting stuff about technique or historical context, well, sure, I'll throw that in, too, along with whatever else fits, but even that's really the same deal, even that's me trying to create a piece of writing that's ostensibly about music but is really about the author or the writing itself. Because, really, when you get down to it, dancing about architecture is pretty fucking stupid, that's the whole obvious point of the quip, right? It's why Geldof, at his keynote, said bloggers "don't have rock-and-roll"--he could have been talking about any writer covering music in any writing medium, really.

So let's agree I don't have three chords and the truth. You might have to settle for one-hundred-and-four keys and whatever it is I can pound out of them. And it might not be music and it may or may not even be about music, because I'm not sure how often writing is really about what it appears to be about. Might be that whatever I have to say about The Last Republic or Sharon Van Etten is really all about me, after all, but if I'm lucky and pull a really bitchin' rabbit out of this hat, here, whatever I write about myself will be something you read about yourself, because that's the funny way this little thing we're doing, this interaction between writer and reader works, when it works, if it works. We'll see where we stand, and I'll try not to waste our time.


The Joy Formidable: "Whirring"

>> Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I didn't see the Joy Formidable at Mellow Johnny's, where this video was shot; I saw them at the Chop Shop/Atlantic Records party across the street from the Austin Convention Center on Saturday. But they were at least this good, if not better, playing with the same mad exuberance and living up to their name. And they played this song, "Whirring," their first American single, which I'd heard on the satellite radio and was the reason they were on my list of bands to see.


SXSW: assorted miscellany or a post-mortem

>> Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm back from SXSW, home recuperating before I go back into the office tomorrow. I'm also trying to get my thoughts in order, because I'd definitely like to review some of the shows I saw while I was there, and there were a lot of shows I saw while I was there, surprise, surprise, surprise.

There are maybe one or two things putting me off a little, though. Some of that itself is also the subject of a possible blog post that I thought about writing while I was in Austin, then I sort of started to write it today, and now I've decided, no, I'd hold off on that, too.

But I will share a few thoughts from my first South-By, for whatever they're worth.

•Is the badge worth it?

A lot of people go to SXSW unregistered. There's stuff going on everywhere, almost all the time, and you can see a helluva lot of music without paying the several hundred dollars to go as someone special. And a lot of the official events will let in the general public for a cover or ticket charge or if you RSVP, and RSVPing can apparently be as simple as going online or calling someone for a lot of events.

But the badge is fucking awesome.

Okay, first of all, just because a lot of the venues will (sort of) let anybody in, it doesn't mean they actually will. E.g. Jimmie Dale Gilmore's show was open to the public for fifteen bucks, but only after anyone with a badge or a wristband had been allowed in, if there was room; so when I got to the front of the line there was some guy arguing with the nice lady who was scanning badges (a lot of official venues had staff with handheld readers standing out front to scan badges to verify authenticity) because he had fifteen bucks and she was replying, as she scanned my badge and gestured me in, that she had to make sure anyone who had a badge or wristband could see the show. I even got waved into one venue that turned out not to be an official venue (it was in the same building, different door, as the one hosting the show I was actually trying to get to).

Second of all, are you a music geek? I didn't just want to hear bands, though that was a huge thing, obviously. I also wanted to go to a bunch of the seminars, panels and lectures, and I did. There was one about writing about music, one about music history (specifically about trying to track down the biography of Blind Willie Johnson), one about intellectual property issues applicable to Internet streaming of music, and a number of others. This isn't for everybody, but if you're a hardcore music geek--bring it on. There's stuff for musicians, for businesspeople in the music industry, for people who write about music, for tech people working with musicians or music, etc., etc., etc. And if you're interested on that level, it's fucking incredible.

•What did I think of Austin?

I loved Austin. Or I loved the Austin that I saw. You have to wonder, when you're at something like SXSW (if there's anything else quite like it) if you're really seeing a place or just what the place becomes. I was in a nice hotel downtown, I was eating at restaurants or from street vendors at every meal, I was spending every night at a show. I wasn't driving to work every morning five days a week or living in a nice, modestly affordable home wherever people who actually live in Austin live.

I heard that I35 was like what I saw on my one shuttle-ride down it every evening and not just during SXSW: what I saw was something along the lines of the freeway chase scene from The Matrix Reloaded if that scene had been directed by Andy Warhol and featured interminable gridlock (upon reconsideration, maybe it was more like that Doctor Who episode where they're stuck in traffic). And drivers on the unblocked-off streets of Austin were pretty terrifying, making the notoriously-terrible drivers of my own podunk hometown look like a bunch of grannies on their way to church. I didn't have to deal with any of that so much, except as a pedestrian, and only for six days.

So did I love Austin or did I love Fantasy-South-By-Southwest-Austin? That's a question I obviously can't answer, but if it was the latter, Austin is an awesome, awesome place to visit but I don't know if I'd want to live there.

Austin during SXSW also, sadly, pointed up how podunk my hometown, Charlotte, NC, is. I was walking around one evening, thinking that what Charlotte really needs is something like a SXSW--only to realize that recent attempts to revise Charlotte's noise ordinance (temporarily scrapped and sent back to the drawing board) show how ill-prepared Charlotte is to become even a second=tier city, much less the "world class city" that city leaders aspire to. Charlotte just couldn't handle giving itself over to the week of chaos that comes with a big downtown festival--Charlotte residents are too parochial and too many of Charlotte's leaders too buttoned-down--and without a willingness to be big and loud, Charlotte will never be more than a C-list city (at best).

•Austin wasn't as hard to navigate as I thought.

Well, I was downtown and everything I was doing was downtown. I'd heard that Austin was hard to get around on foot and even paid for a shuttle pass that I ended up not using after one trip--the trip I took to pick up the shuttle pass I'd paid for. Don't get me wrong: I was glad to have the pass and would've used it if it had rained or something.

Also, again, I was downtown and everything I was doing was downtown. There was at least one restaurant I didn't get to, recommended as having really good steaks by Kinky Friedman in a book he wrote about Austin, because it took a cab ride to get there and the cab companies' phone lines were all tied up when I wanted to go, and then later in the week I wasn't going to be bothered with taking a cab somewhere; anyway, I had a really good steak somewhere else and there was other stuff I wanted to eat.

But as for walking around downtown when you're staying downtown--that turns out to be a cinch, at least.

•Who did I see?

That would be a long list, and some of the bands are people I hadn't heard of (and you probably haven't either), but it would include Low, Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Plastic Ono Band and The Strokes, among others.

The thing, though, is I've felt obligated to mention acts people might have heard of, when that's not really the cool thing for a music geek seeing bands at South-By; the cool thing is a sort of counting coup by seeing acts nobody has ever heard of so that if they do make a splash, next year you can say, "Oh yeah, We Are Animal, yeah I saw them at the Welsh showcase at South-By-Southwest last year." Sure, it'll be an annoying thing to do and I'll be a total asshole if I get to do it. Know what? I don't care. It'll still be awesome.

•What was the best show you saw?

The Dears were part of a showcase set up in a tent behind Lance Armstrong's bicycle shop and they tore the top off the fucking tent. Not literally, but pretty close. I found myself considering that any show in which the lead singer stage dives is a pretty good show, and any show in which the lead singer feels compelled to rip his clothes off is a pretty good show; Dears lead singer Murray Lightburn did both, for whatever that tells you. Plus the band just kicked ass that night.

Their set was pulled short, like a lot of bands' sets were throughout the festival--schedules tend to run behind more than they run on time (though there were instances of the latter)--and The Dears were told they were finished after only, if I remember rightly, four songs. The audience wasn't too happy about that, and somebody was appreciating the show enough (I don't know if it was someone from the next band or who) to give The Dears one more song. If it was someone from the next act who made the decision, it may have been a mistake--the band plugged back in super quick and fucking shredded their last song with a truly epic performance; I don't know how anybody followed it, and I didn't find out because there was another band playing elsewhere a few minutes later and I needed to perambulate. (Though I would have happily stayed for The Dears if they'd been given another song.)

•No pictures

I carted the Nikon all the way down there and didn't take it anywhere. I found out a bit late that taking a camera into events required a press pass and I hadn't bothered to get one. A friend of my sister's advised me that lots of people snuck in their cameras anyway and he didn't see too many people get hassled; I observed this, too, but didn't want the risk or the attendant anxiety. So I only took a few pictures with the cellphone or the Galaxy Tab, most of which went straight to Facebook and/or Twitter.

There was only one show where I saw someone get what I would consider hassled--I'll explain what I mean by that ungainly phrasing in a moment. Anyway, it was at Emmylou Harris' set at Antone's, and this guy near me starts pulling out a big DSLR when someone comes up from behind through the horribly-thick stew of a crowd and flashes a badge, yelling, "Is that a South-By-Southwest camera?" And when the guy with the camera said it wasn't, the official dude says put it away and that he's really supposed to confiscate it. Which is the kind of thing I didn't need, which is why I didn't bother. If I'm able to go back, I'll sign up for a press pass next time--hey, I did go as a blogger, remember.

Now, there were people approached about cell phones and cameras at the Plastic Ono gig, but here's the thing about that: there was a big announcement before the set telling the crowd, no cameras, no photos, no cellphones. And I'd wondered if there would be an announcement along those lines and wasn't surprised when it came, because I think it's pretty common knowledge that Yoko Ono is (whether you agree with her or hate her for it) pretty controlling of her image and has a thing about having her picture taken by strangers. Personally, I can't blame her--after what happened to her husband just a few feet from her, it's a wonder she appears in public at all, but besides that, she's somebody who has had the press and public turn on her pretty viciously at times. But, again, whether you think Ono was being overly uptight or you don't care, I don't think it can be called "hassling people with cameras" when those people were told, loudly, clearly, up-front to keep the cameras put away.

A sort of sad footnote to that is: after the Plastic Ono Band set, which was the headline (last) set of the evening (and the band didn't go onstage until one a.m., so this is close to two in the morning, though I didn't check my phone to see exactly what time it was), much of the crowd disappeared but a lot of people lingered, whether to let the exit clear (which was the main reason I stayed) or to see if something else would happen. And something else did happen: Ono and two of her bandmates, one of them her son, Sean Lennon, came back out and did a couple more songs for the remaining crowd. And during one of these songs, wouldn't you know that some jackasses would whip out their phones to take pictures--after the earlier announcements and after big burly guys came through the crowd during the Plastic Ono set to deal with photographers. And what was sort of sad was the look on Ono's face when she saw the cameras while she was singing, sort of a stricken look, as if to say, "This was supposed to be something special, and you had to go and do that."

Anyway, I didn't really take any pictures.

•The best purchases I made before the trip

One, the tablet, which I already raved about. I'll spare you the rehash, but I could not have had nearly as much fun without it.

Two, the manpurse of all fucking things. Second day, I just left my wallet in the hotel room. I feel like a little girl--no disrespect intended to powerful earth-mother sisters, etc., etc., etc., but, no, seriously, like a little girl. But man, that thing was fucking convenient.

Oh, three (speaking of my wussification): the earplugs. They were great. Comfy, didn't muffle the sound too much, and I could stand next to the amps, say during Kitten's set for instance, and not be any deafer than I already, sadly, am.

•I thought there was something else I wanted to include in this post...

...but if there was, I don't remember what it might have been. I plan on posting some music reviews and a comment about music reviews, I think, and eventually we'll get back to the usual routine of me posting music videos between cranky rants about that stupid conservative politician who's a total hypocrite, you know, that one who said something dumb and offensive the other day? And stuff. There'll definitely be posts about stuff.

Meanwhile, if you have a question about SXSW that can be answered by an idiot who's only been once, or about Austin that can be answered by a fool who spent six days there during a wild ride and only saw a few dozen blocks of it, or about my vacation from the moron who went on it--feel free, please. And thanks for your time and patience.


Hit them running

>> Monday, March 21, 2011

So, I'm in transit today.

In one sense, sitting here at JFK, I'm halfway home. In another sense, obviously, I'm nowhere near home. It depends on how you look at things. Well, everything does, when you get right down to it.

Flying from Austin to New York, I found myself thinking of where I was in terms of mountain heights; JetBlue offers every passenger an LCD TV on the back of the seat in front of him, and one of the channels you can watch is a map channel showing you roughly where your plane is and how high you are and how fast you're going. I was occasionally looking at the screen, when I wasn't drowsing or looking out the window or reading an e-book; I was thinking, "And now we're one Everest high; a man needs an oxygen bottle to survive very long, though he might manage a few minutes without one. And now we're ten thousand feet over Everest; no hope there. Now we've dropped to the altitude of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you'd be alright...." Which is a bit absurd, of course; if you find yourself hurtling through the sky at six hundred miles an hour suddenly sans airplane, where your air comes from isn't really your biggest concern, y'know?

It's not a fear thing, you have to understand, it's a perilous fascination. Remember that Ray Bradbury story about the astronauts scattered about in space after their ship breaks up, and they've been flung this way and that, and one guy is sunbound and another is falling into infinity, and then there's the guy who is falling to Earth? That always stuck with me because I have this terror-fascination of falling, of the idea of being in free fall and conscious of your increasing weight, or the significance of your weight, maybe.

Clouds look like snowbanks. Like arctic plains. You could jump down and land on them. But not really.

The other thing it reminds me of is something Stephen King once wrote about how every time he flies, he imagines a flight attendant opening an overhead bin and rats pouring out. It's not a sensible thing, but it's a vivid image. There's no way for all those rats to get inside an overhead bin, but plenty of reason for them to be in there anyway: after all, if you were a million rats and wanted to drop down on somebody's head, clawing and biting and squeaking, that would really surprise someone wouldn't it? What a great way to get someone. They'd never expect it, which makes it pretty perfect. (Toilets have been done, anyway; rats coming up through the sewer pipe and ending up in the bowl. It's almost disappointing when there isn't one on there, rat-paddling around in angry circles.)

Thinking about it, I'll bet if you had to open a door to get away from the rats, you'd be okay if the plane was an Everest our lower, you'd just have to hold your breath. And I'll bet you could land on those clouds, too--the trick would be to hit them running.


SXSW: So, a quick one before bed...

>> Sunday, March 20, 2011

It's almost three a.m. and I just got in. Yoko Ono and the newest incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band took the stage around one and played, I dunno, forty or fifty minutes (a standard SXSW showcase set, plus a nonstandard encore); I hung out a bit afterwards to wait for the door to clear, which turned out to be an awesome decision: Ono and two of her bandmates returned to the stage for an impromptu song. One of those two bandmates, by the way, was a young gentleman named Sean Lennon, so that was especially special. But anyway: this was the end, more-or-less, of SXSW; there are a few final sets tomorrow evening  but it doesn't look like there's anything I want to see, and that's great because I have to be at the airport around five a.m. Monday morning. So I'm just checking in, here. And sorry for any breathlessly dubious formatting: I'm using an app that doesn't like paragraph breaks. Hope you've had a great weekend. Cheers.



>> Saturday, March 19, 2011

I have some things to write (I think), but I don't know if I'll have the wherewithal to write them today. So I think we'll call this Blogcation Day at Giant Midgets: no post, open comment thread if you want, hope your week was at least a tenth as good as mine because I've been having almost too good a time to stand, and that shouldn't be construed as a complaint, merely a statement of fact.


SXSW: Yoko Ono interview

>> Friday, March 18, 2011

If you can spend an hour listening to Yoko Ono and not come away impressed with the woman, there's something fucking wrong with you.

Okay, I come into this with a slight bias: I've always thought Yoko has gotten a raw deal from the general public. Somehow it was a cardinal sin to marry a Beatle. Linda McCartney had to put up with a lot of unearned shit in her life, too. And there was always this perception that maybe a musician shouldn't be putting his wife on an album, though I think the appropriate artist response is "fuck you"; I mean, Paul McCartney can pretty much do whatever the fuck he wants and he didn't have to ask you first, did he?

But the difference, to be not just fair but also accurate, was that Linda McCartey was a photographer (and a pretty good one), not a vocalist, while Yoko Ono was, actually, a musician and singer who was trained as a small child, who had done various musical things with John Cage and Ornette Coleman prior to even meeting this pop musician named John Lennon, and a lot of what Ono gets faulted for involves conscious artistic choices she was making. And maybe you can't fucking stand those choices--that's absolutely your prerogative--but at least have the brains to recognize that the woman knows what she's trying to do.

Hell, let me also say this, before we move along: I think a lot of Ono's work is a little silly and doesn't work or doesn't quite hold up. But then I feel that way about a lot of conceptual artists and artists from the 1960s. But I get what she's trying to do; more importantly, I appreciate that she's sticking her ass out on the line to try to say something. Maybe it doesn't always work, but she's brave as hell for taking a shot at it.

So the SXSW interview with Ono was something I very much wanted to attend. Her and Jody Denburg from KUT Austin, Denburg asking some good questions and (better yet) stepping back to just let Ono muse and talk.

At 78, Ono has just scored her sixth consecutive number one single on the Billboard dance charts; when Denburg starts pointing out some of the folks who don't have the number one single our such a streak (e.g. Lady Gaga--and honestly, I don't get Gaga's success, but whatever), Ono is charmingly self-effacing--those performers Denburg is mentioning are friends of hers. This its a recurring thing in the interview: Ono is generous, humble. It's not false humility: she acknowledges credit where she's due, but she's also quick to point out when she was inspired and by who, or when someone else preceded her.

The thing with credit, though, its that it's a sticky point in the context of Ono's career; it's not just that she's so widely misperceived as riding John Lennon's coattails, there's also the fact that she came up in an era and culture in which a woman's domain was limited. She recounts, for instance, how, early in her career, she was approached by an animator who wanted her to compose a vocal composition for a film; she did, and when the film came out, it was "voice by Yoko Ono" where any man would have received a composer credit. And later, when questions of credit came up, she says she considered not worrying about it, until she realized she had a duty to other women to stick up for her rights (this line earns warranted applause).

She talks about her childhood in wartime Japan, wondering if the roots of her early conceptual pieces like Grapefruit can be found in composing imaginary menus with her little brother (children were sent into the country, away from the cities, and good was scarce), and Denburg asks if her childhood influenced her antiwar attitudes (it's likely).

There are moments when Ono is, unsurprisingly, a bit mystic for my tastes--she suggests, for instance, that many of the world's problems may be the Earth striking back at us because there's not enough love. Then again, she also suggests many of the world's problems come from not using the strengths of half the population (women) and expresses a surprising technological utopianism with her faith that scientists who aren't motivated by greed will rally to make the world better.

Going in, I sort of felt that a lot of what gets Ono harsh treatment from the general public is that her art is antagonistic; but that's the exactly wrong word. Confrontational, maybe. Challenging in the sense of demanding engagement, not in the sense of attacking. A theme in the interview was how much Ono's work has been about building community, and that's really the objective in Ono setting up installations that require the audience to physically do something or making films that are odd or singing in a way that is consciously primal and in opposition to her childhood classical training (she describes her singing voice as "infamous" with a coy smile)--she wants the audience to respond, to force a response, to deny the option of passivity. It doesn't always work from an aesthetic perspective. But bless Yoko Ono for refusing to stand down, for insisting that we can and should be a part of something bigger than ourselves. She's a hell of a woman.

Thank you, Yoko.


SXSW: noise with intent, Bob Geldof's 2011 keynote

>> Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm not sure if there's any point in blogging a speech in which the speaker talks about bloggers being a pain in the ass, but what the hell. Bob Geldof gave an excellent, if rambling speech for his keynote address at SXSW. But here we are.

Geldof came onstage at noon and spoke for an hour; he spoke of his childhood and the power of music, and how tired America seems to be (and how the world needs us not to be), and he issued a challenge to the music folks in the audience to be relevant and vital.

He began by telling the crowd that he was originally planning on talking about the death of passion; then he said that this was something he realized music people had been talking round and around about forever already. But I have to say this was a little funny, too: he talked about trying his spiel out on friends and colleagues last night and then driving to his hotel and hearing all these people playing on street corners and in the bars and pubs and cafés; one might have expected Geldof to concede that passion must not be dead, then, but that isn't where he went with it.

Which I suppose was good: first, because a keynote speech crowd at SXSW is self-selecting for people who are passionate about music, and good luck telling them they're not; second--well, maybe this it's still the first point, too--because it's hard to look around this place and say that passion has been sucked out of music completely. Whether our not you like what someone is doing here, there's little room to doubt that it's being done with love.

But relevance: if Geldof had a theme, it may have been the transformative power of rock and roll. Which it's hardly an original sentiment, but when you're hearing it from a guy who spent his childhood in crippling Irish poverty, became a somewhat well-known rock singer and then a very-well-known activist (with a brief detour into acting by way of a well-known rock-and-roll movie), all in the context of rock-and-roll--well, it's undeniably a personal sentiment, and he's entitled to it and it's an honor to heart him relate it. And Geldof still has a way with words: "Rock and roll was the racket of democracy," he said at one point, and if that's not one of the most quotable things you'll hear this week, fuck off.

It's a line that has the virtue of being true, of course. Whether you're talking about rock as the battle cry of poor American kids in the 1950s or the protest music of American kids in the 1960s or the sound of revolt from young British punks in the 1970s or Soviet kids smuggling Beatles cassettes all through these eras, rock was the sound for disenfranchised people trying to be heard. There are idiots who will talk about how music shouldn't be political--usually they say this when music they want to like disagrees with them--but art is necessarily a political act. And while there's nothing inherently wrong in merely being entertaining (the muses know I hope there isn't, because truthfully I'm more interested in writing an entertaining story than oo, arting, myself), entertainment isn't art, however artfully it might be made.

This was the good part of Geldof's keynote. A challenge to people to not just make noise, but to make meaningful noise is well-taken; I might even go back to what I just said a paragraph ago and say that even an entertainment ought to be meaningful, ought to be affecting. While Geldof, I think, is understandably focused on the political, part of his keynote focused on the way "the boys and girls with guitars" were about opening up alternative universes, suggesting possibility where it hadn't been before.

All well and good. I'll try to be more significant, myself. Even if I am just one of those pain-in-the-ass bloggers.

Here is where Geldof's keynote hit a mixture of good and bad, with, perhaps, some inconsistency mucked in. A recurring phrase--he used it at least twice, and I don't blame him, I like it too--was, "The politics of more don't work." He first used it in the context of Reaganism/Thatcherism (and a related shot at some bands he didn't think had much point beyond making it big and getting stuff), and subsequently in the context of poking at the media glut technology has created. "Everybody has got the means to say anything they want, but no one's got anything to say," he said, which has the fault of being somewhat true, unfortunately. Anyone can download the tools to make a catchy, professional sounding tune; or, as he expounded upon and expanded the point, express their opinions online.

Okay, so he isn't wrong. But here's the problem: at this point, Geldof tended to bemoan the lack of filters. Setting aside the whole "get off my yard" quality of this line, the fact is that filters, for better or worse, are antidemocratic. Okay, so let's clarify something else: sometimes democracy is a bad thing (sidenote: that's why America's founders were opposed to it, and created a democratic republic). But if you're going to rave about the democratic and empowering nature of music (or whatever), at least pause to observe the contradiction in then bemoaning the loss of power of antidemocratic institutions or accept that a consequence of democratization its that there will inevitably be an increase of noise-to-signal.

Indeed, one can't help observing that a big part of the punk/DIY ethic that spawned The Boomtown Rats was the idea that anybody could play guitar, anybody could be in a band. The only barrier to entry was acquiring an instrument, and many acts weren't terribly scrupulous about how they went about that (The Sex Pistols, for instance, swiped their first set of gear from the back of a David Bowie show). Geldof himself spoke today about going to a pub as a kid, seeing two friends playing a piano and a
guitar who asked him if he wanted to be in a band, and so he's was in a band; well, he could have been any village idiot babbling in the corner of the pub (as Geldof described people on the Internet today)--lucky he was Bob Geldof, I guess.

I suppose the point I'm getting at its that the fact that every idiot gets his say is the price of democracy, and if you can't get over that or insist on having a major problem with it, you don't really like democracy all that much. Gods know, it doesn't mean you can't turn the idiots off: nobody is forcing you to read this blog (I hope).

Someone sort of challenged Geldof at the end of his keynote, when he took questions; I'm not sure what she said exactly, possibly something defensive; she didn't have a microphone. But Geldof responded with, "I really can't answer to bloggers, they're a fucking pain," and then went on a bit with how it was all noise unless it had intent and bloggers aren't rock-and-roll and railed a little about every idiot having a voice. He's entitled to his opinion and maybe he's even right. On the other hand, I don't feel too obligated to stop whatever it is I'm doing here because a sixty-year-old punk rocker has a beef with it; fuck him, y'know?

But it was a pleasure and an honor to hear him go on a bit, anyway.


SXSW: afternoon update

>> Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ye gods! The overwhelming information overload while I try to process everything.

It's an awesome experience, naturally. Still, it's really hard for me to believe I've technically only done two things so far: attended a showcase for four welsh bands (which I'll do a review of when I get my thoughts a little more together) and one presentation on whether or not there's a future for music in the digital age (interesting stuff, actually, but not sure I have much to say about it). And yet I could almost call it a day.

Not a chance. Tonight I heave to do the difficult thing, choosing who I'm not going to see out of all of the acts I'd like to see who are playing at the same time or do close to each other they might as well be. (For those wondering after a Facebook exchange: Duran Duran is probably off the agenda, for better or worse.) In the meantime, I think I have a time-hole for dinner, but do I have much room after being plied with complimentary food here and there; I strongly suspect now that a clever SXSW registrant might be able to attend without buying a single meal if he or she really wanted.

Well, actually: I am starting to feel a little peckish, now that I've sat a spell. Time to perambulate again, I think.

EDIT: It occurs to me that what I just wrote is misleading, somewhat: I also walked around Austin, had an awesome breakfast burrito, wandered through the Flatstock artists' trade show and the industry trade show, both of which were awesome. So I guests it is more than two things, even technically.


A quick one before I mosey

I have seen the future, and I am holding it in my left hand while I scroll through words with my right.

I don't want to beat dead horses racing about gadgets, or the Tab in particular our tablets in general. But I have to day this: a day into this trip, and I've already become reliant on this doohickey. There's the SXSW Go app, which actually becomes less useful the more I use it (there are some weird bugs and a tendency to crash: it's an amazingly good concept but, sorry, just not ready for prime time). But there's also the memo pad, and the maps app; there's news while I'm eating and books on the plane.

Having the maps app in your hand while you explore: ye gods. I'm looking at a restaurant, is it any good? I need to get to a club, where is it. A lot of you are already plugged in and this is commonplace enough; I've done much of this with PDAs and smartphones, myself, but a handheld tablet has such a lovely form factor and bigger screen.

It's like having a damn tricorder: you start feeling like Mr. Spock all the damn time.

So I just finished a really good breakfast burrito at the Taco Shack on Brazos and I'm about to mosey over to Latitude 30 to see if I can learn something about promising new Welsh bands. Just wanted to check in, and also say: wow, I am living in the future... and sometimes I kinda like it.


Odd ruminations while flying over Arkansas

>> Tuesday, March 15, 2011

• Fred Thompson ran for president the same way he delivered performances on LAW AND ORDER: with a Southern accent and not trying very hard.

• Meaning no offense to any family members, but if I'm going to be in Arkansas, I netted another Jack and Coke. Even if I'm thirty thousand feet over the state. Sorry.

• JetBlue is very nice, but air travel has to be one of the most tedious ways off getting anywhere known to man, at least on an overcast day. After the initial thrill of leaving the ground and before the bump of landing one sits in a chair for hours starting at white-on-white-on-blue.

• That said, it's nifty to see the curve of the horizon and see for oneself what the ancients had to deduce from shadows.

• Geek that I am, it's hard to fly without recalling the Dr. Floyd bits from 2001. This is obviously much less cool than flying to the MOON. (Also: if anyone starts floating around the cabin, that would be REALLY, REALLY BAD.)

• The clouds have cleared. Over forlorn Arkansas, as luck would have it. Well. Good thing I have booze.

•I shouldn't knock Arkansas: I almost downloaded TRUE GRIT for the Kindle for this flight and might do so before I head back. IT'S JUST SO EASY.


En route

It's been a hell of a long time since I last flew. 1999, I think. That's ridiculous, yes, but I didn't have anywhere to go.

It was, anyway, a different era. I'm sitting here at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, waiting for my flight to New York, where I catch a connecting flight to Austin.

This is funny: a girl during nearby just asked me if I fly often. I had to tell her: no, this is the first time I've flown since '99. She tells me it's the first time she's flown; I tell her it might as well be mine. She's visibly nervous, she asks me if I know if it's a big plane or a small one. I don't know, but I reassure her that JetBlue is one of the best-rated companies in the country.

Digital me, I actually have a BlackBerry app with my flight information that tells me what kind of plane I'm supposed to be on; but the information is sort of meaningless to me, and probably didn't answer the girl's question if I were to check--what does she consider a big plane, anyway? And they all look kind of big to me, frankly.//

The last time I was here, people could just kind of wander around the airport. Now it's travelers only, and you have to take off your shoes. I ended up going through a regular metal detector instead of the backscatter machine because the guy in front of me was holding up the line so the TSA guy sent me to the next empty line, which was the one that doesn't take naked pictures of me. I have to admit, though: I don't actually care too much if the TSA people see me naked. Not because of legal or constitutional issues or whatever, but because I know what I look like naked and I'm an H.P. Lovecraft fan; i.e. I don't really consider MYSELF to be the one who's suffering the indignity of the experience.

The place is modern and bright. The airport looks more like a shopping mall than an airport as far as I'm concerned, being someone who still visualizes airports in terms of grainy, gritty movies made in the '60s and '70s; think the beginning of THE GRADUATE, f'r'instance, or the end of DOG DAY AFTERNOON, or the AIRPORT or AIRPLANE movies. None of those movies featured bagel places or theme bars, not that I recall, anyways.


This week in blog--a business announcement

>> Monday, March 14, 2011

This week is going to be fucking awesome for me--I fly out to Austin tomorrow for SXSW. I hope and plan to cover it while I'm there--hey, that kind of thing is fun for me, because I'm a geek--but posting may be erratic, I just don't know yet. As in, I might have no posts until I get back home, I might have several posts a day, I might have nineteen posts one day and zip the next; I just don't know.

In the meanwhile, feel free to treat this as an open thread or whatever, and if I don't get a chance to pop in after all to tell you about some awesome band I heard, gear I saw or presentation I attended, well, have a most excellent week!


You know it's not really a song about a car, right?

>> Sunday, March 13, 2011

Okay, so here's something that's bugging me: sometimes a cover version of a song is better than the original, right? And I'd say that's the case here, with Jerry Lee Lewis performing Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac." Except, of course, that's Bruce kicking the song off and it's technically a duet. So is it still a cover, technically?

Shit, why does it even matter?

Jerry Lee Lewis and Bruce Springsteen bringing the double entendre:


An open letter to Mr. Robert S. Mueller III and/or Miss Donna Story

>> Saturday, March 12, 2011

Payment Notification From Federal Bureau of Investigation.‏

Robert S. Mueller III

From: Robert S. Mueller III (
Sent: Tue 3/08/11 9:01 PM

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Counter-terrorism Division and Cyber Crime Division
J. Edgar. Hoover Building Washington DC

Attention Beneficiary,

Records show that you are among one of the individuals and organizations who are yet to receive their overdue payment from overseas which includes those of Lottery/Gambling, Contract and Inheritance. Through our Fraud Monitory Unit we have also noticed that over the past you have been transacting with some impostors and fraudsters who have been impersonating the likes of Prof. Soludo of the Central Bank Of Nigeria, Mr. Patrick Aziza, Frank, Anderson, none officials of Oceanic Bank, Zenith Banks, Kelvin Young of HSBC, Ben of FedEx, Ibrahim Sule, Dr. Usman Shamsuddeen and some impostors claiming to be The Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Cyber Crime Division of the FBI gathered information from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC) formerly known as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) of how some people have lost outrageous sums of money to these impostors. As a result of this we hereby advise you to stop communication with any one not referred to you by us

We have negotiated with the Federal Ministry of Finance that your payment totaling $850,000.00 be released to you via a custom pin based ATM card with a maximum withdrawal limit of $3,000 a day which is powered by Visa Card and can be used anywhere in the world were you see a Visa Card Logo on the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM). We have advised that this should be the only way at which you are to receive your payment because it’s more guaranteed, since over $5 billion was lost on fake check year 2008.

We guarantee 100% receipt of your payment, because we have perfected everything in regards to the release of your $850,000.00 United States Dollars to be 100% risk free and free from any hitches as it’s our duty to protect you. (This is as a result of the mandate from US Government to make sure all debts owed to people which includes Inheritance, Contract, Gambling/Lottery etc are been cleared for the betterment of the current economic status of the nation and its citizens as he bas always believed “Our Time for Change has come” because “Change can happen

To redeem your fund you are hereby advised to contact the ATM Card Center via email for their requirement to proceed and procure your Approval of Payment Warrant and Endorsement of your ATM Release Order on your behalf which will cost you $135 only nothing more and no hidden fees as everything else has been taken cared of by the Federal Government including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $135 only.

Contact Information
Name: Andrew Lamar
Phone: +234 808 254 8308

Do contact Mr. Andrew Lamar of the ATM Card Center via his contact details above and furnish him with your details as listed below,calling him on his hot line will be faster than to email him:

Your full Name:
Your Address:
Home/Cell Phone:

On contacting him with your details your files would be updated and he will be sending you the payment information in which you will use in making payment of $135.00 via Western Union Money Transfer for the procurement of your Approval of Payment Warrant and Endorsement of your ATM Release Order. After which the delivery of your ATM card will be effected to your designated home address without any further delay, extra fee or any authority raising eyebrow.

Upon receipt of payment the delivery officer will ensure that your package is sent within 24 working hours. Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive your ATM CARD Shippment Confirmation within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping.

Once again we are so sure of you receiving your payment at no any other cost as we have taking it upon our duty to monitor everything in other to cub cyber crime that is perpetrated by those impostors.

Thanks and hope to read from you soon.


TELEPHONE: (202) 324-3000
FAX: (202) 666-5283

Note: Disregard any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM card, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with Mr. Andrew Lamar of the ATM card center who is the rightful person to deal with in regards to your payment and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office via the above fax number so we could act upon it immediately. Help stop cyber crime.



Sent: Wed 3/09/11 7:09 AM

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Anti-Terrorist And Monitory Crime Division.
Federal Bureau Of Investigation.
J.Edgar.Hoover Building Washington Dc
Customers Service Hours / Monday To Saturday
Office Hours Monday to Saturday:
Dear Beneficiary,

Series of meetings have been held over the past 7 months with the secretary general of the United Nations Organization. This ended 3 days ago. It is obvious that you have not received your fund which is to the tune of $850,000.00 due to past corrupt Governmental Officials who almost held the fund to themselves for their selfish reason and some individuals who have taken advantage of your fund all in an attempt to swindle your fund which has led to so many losses from your end and unnecessary delay in the receipt of your fund.

The National Central Bureau of Interpol enhanced by the United Nations and Federal Bureau of Investigation have successfully passed a mandate to the current president of Nigeria his Excellency President Good luck Jonathan to boost the exercise of clearing all foreign debts owed to you and other individuals and organizations who have been found not to have receive their
Contract Sum, Lottery/Gambling, Inheritance and the likes. Now how would you like to receive your payment? Because we have two method of payment which is by Check or by ATM card?

ATM Card: We will be issuing you a custom pin based ATM card which you will use to withdraw up to $3,000 per day from any ATM machine that has the Master Card Logo on it and the card have to be renewed in 4 years time which is 2015. Also with the ATM card you will be able to transfer your funds to your local bank account. The ATM card comes with a handbook or manual to enlighten you about how to use it. Even if you do not have a bank account.

Check: To be deposited in your bank for it to be cleared within three working days. Your payment would be sent to you via any of your preferred option and would be mailed to you via UPS. Because we have signed a contract with UPS which should expire by March 20 2011 you will only need to pay $150 instead of $420 saving you $270 So if you pay before March 13, 2011 you save $150 Take note that anyone asking you for some kind of money above the usual fee is definitely a fraudsters and you will have to stop communication with every other person if you have been in contact with any. Also remember that all you will ever have to spend is $150.00 nothing more! Nothing less! And we guarantee the receipt of your fund to be successfully delivered to you within the next 24hrs after the receipt of payment has been confirmed.

Below are few list of tracking numbers you can track from UPS website to confirm people like you who have received their payment successfully.

Name: Donna L. Vargas: USPS Tracking Number: EO 989 255 511 US (
Name: Rovenda Elaine Clayton: FEDEX Tracking Number: 873944886796 (

Note: Everything has been taken care of by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Thace United Nation and also the FBI and including taxes, custom paper and clearance duty so all you will ever need to pay is $150.

DO NOT SEND MONEY TO ANYONE UNTIL YOU READ THIS: The actual fees for shipping your ATM card is $480 but because UPS have temporarily discontinued the C.O.D which gives you the chance to pay when package is delivered for international shipping We had to sign contract with them for bulk shipping which makes the fees reduce from the actual fee of $420 to $150 nothing more and no hidden fees of any sort!

To effect the release of your fund valued at $850,000.00 you are advised to contact our correspondent in Africa the delivery officer James Richard with the information below,

You are advised to contact him with the informations as stated below:

Your full Name..
Your Address:..............
Home/Cell Phone:..............
Preferred Payment Method (ATM / Cashier Check)

Upon receipt of payment the delivery officer will ensure that your package is sent within 24 working hours. Because we are so sure of everything we are giving you a 100% money back guarantee if you do not receive payment/package within the next 24hrs after you have made the payment for shipping.

Yours sincerely,
Miss Donna Story

Note: Do disregard any email you get from any impostors or offices claiming to be in possession of your ATM CARD, you are hereby advice only to be in contact with James Richard of the ATM CARD CENTRE who is the rightful person to deal with in regards to your ATM CARD PAYMENT and forward any emails you get from impostors to this office so we could act upon and commence investigation.

Dear Mr. Mueller and/or Miss Story,

Oh, see, that's just great. Needless to say, I'm confused. And this is why so many people hate the government so much. One day it's "don't talk to anyone except Andrew Lamar and pay $135.00," and then the next day it's, "don't talk to anyone except James Richard and now the cost is $150.00." There's a fifteen dollar increase for no obvious reason, and now you're saying the case has been transferred to Mr. Richard from Mr. Lamar.

It is exactly this kind of waste and inefficiency and redundant, duplicative effort that has resulted in a bloated Federal government and outrageous deficit. It is obvious to me now that this is why the economy is in a slump: if all of us were getting our $850,000.00 ATM cards on time and from one contact person in the FBI, we would all be spending money left and right, walking around with top hats and monocles and pockets full of cash and cigars and calling everybody, "my good man" and "madam." Instead, I'm sure my taxes are paying the salaries of a half dozen people, all of whom are arguing between themselves over who gets to give me my ATM card with my lottery winnings and/or inheritance.

Well I've had enough. I hereby am announcing my intention to reactivate the ostensibly-defunct-since-1976 All-Night Party and to seek their nomination for the Presidency Of The United States in 2012.

As President Of The United States, I will pursue the following items on my agenda:

  1. Robert S. Mueller and Miss Donna Story will be required to get their shit together; hell, we may just fire both of them along with Andrew Lamar and James Richard.

  2. Every man, woman in child in America will be issued an ATM card for $850,000.00, minus a handling fee of $849,999.99. This will be deemed a satisfactory settlement of all lottery and inheritance claims with regards to the FBI.

  3. We will no longer answer phone calls from Nigeria. As far as they're concerned, we aren't at home.

  4. In honor of our party's first Presidential candidate, pants will become completely optional and no person shall be arrested or detained for failing to wear them. Also, for the same reason, we're granting full citizenship and suffrage to ducks, on the off-chance one of them is an extra-dimensional alien who can save us from the nefarious Doctor Bong.

I hope you will vote for me in 2012. You can't do any worse.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


An open letter to Diplomat Paul Williams

>> Friday, March 11, 2011

Get your atm visa card parcel today‏

From: diplomat paul williams (
Sent: Tue 3/08/11 4:49 PM


Please your urgent attention is highly needed in your package. I’m diplomat Paul Williams, I have tried to reach you on phone about 1hr ago to let you know that I have arrival John F. Kennedy International airport with your parcel contain atm visa card, but I was unable to locate your city address for final delivery because i misplaced the address with map on the paper.

During my arrival screening before boarding inn a local flight to your city, I was delayed by JFK airport authority demanded for all the legal back up papers to prove to them that the fund is no way related with drug nor fraud money, I have presented the papers I have to them and they are very much pleased with the papers and at the same time asked me for entry yellow Tag which is not placed on the parcel and to purchase it from here in JFK airport New york will cost $1050 and is too expensive, so one of the airport authority here advised me to call my company director that we get the yellow tag cheaper from my local airport as the origin country where your parcel was dispatched from so that I can exit the airport immediately and make my delivery successful.

I reason with him and quickly called our company director to check the cost of purchasing entry yellow tag from our country and he checked and confirmed that it will cost $650 Dollars only to get the tag placed on the atm card parcel as that tag will enable me get to your house success. Please try and reach me with my international roaming number +2347032112449 as I can not afford to spend more time here due to other delivery I have to take Care of in Bangkok.

So please quickly rush down to any Western Union or Money Gram office close to you now and send the tag fee of $650 to our Head Office as they will get it here for you and they are entitled to receive or make any payment to foreign countries authority.

AMOUNT: $650


Here are the papers backing the funds together with my ID CARD as I can accompany you to your bank were you will make first withdraw from your Visa Card with these papers. I have more vital paper with me but I can only present to you the hard copy when I reach to your house as that it’s the diplomatic rules, such as authorization to deliver.

Also provide the following information once you send the Tag Fee today


Thank you for your urgent attention in this matter as I wait here to receive your urgent reply immediately

Yours in service
Diplomat Paul Williams

Dear Diplomat Paul Williams,

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am a huge admirer of "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song". I realize it's kind of schmaltzy, but, y'know, I'm of that generation that grew up on The Muppet Show, and you appearing with a pair of Muppet avatars and a whole gaggle of instrument-playing Muppets while rain cascades on a window is embedded in my psyche, I mean, seriously embedded, as in if I ever have a traumatic head injury, I still might remember this:

In a similar vein, I understand you co-wrote "Rainbow Connection," and I cannot begin to tell you just how earthquaking it was to see the first Muppet Movie in the theatre when I was seven, and this:

You may not understand this, Mr. Williams--or perhaps, having appeared on television with a gaggle of Muppets, you understand better than anyone--prior to this sequence in a feature film, Muppets did not have legs. I mean, yes, it was certainly implied that they had legs, and there may have been a few odd scenes here and there where a Muppet leg appeared on television, but, for the most part if not entirely, prior to 1979 Muppets only appeared onscreen from the waist up, as if there was somebody standing underneath them with a hand shoved up their thorax controlling them and making them appear to be real creatures.

So you were part of a seminal moment in many folks' childhood, Mr. Williams, just thought you should know. And even before that, as I mentioned, there were millions of kids glued to the antiseptic whiteblue light of the television when you appeared on the screen to sing that song you wrote for Three Dog Night, surrounded by bobbing felt as you mimed playing a ukelele, and that was a seminal moment for so many of us, too.

And so you can't imagine my distress and horror when I discovered that you, a seventy-year-old pop icon from my (and so many others') childhood was stranded at JFK airport, having mislaid the piece of paper on which you'd carefully written my address and drawn a map. First, there was the basic distress that you'd somehow been reduced, after so many years of bringing joy to so many, to being an errand-boy for some unnamed nation. And then there was the idea of you being stranded at JFK when you should be retired and enjoying the fruits of your labors--indeed, not just the fruits of your labors, but "Rainbow Connection" fruits of your labors, which must be or should be considerable--I would have thought that song did very well for you and would continue to bring you a steady income, unless there were some nefarious shenanigans on the part of those damn Muppets (it was Sam The Eagle, wasn't it? I never really trusted that ersatz, G. Gordon Liddy-ish pigfucker). And then there was the human connection: I can be very forgetful, myself, and I try to write things down or put them into my smartphone or whatever electronic device I have handy, and I can very easily imagine printing out a map and carefully writing down an address, only to find myself somewhere without it and feeling the frigid, crippling terror that results; indeed, I think it's happened. And seeing as how I have travel plans next week, I empathize with the whole scenario of losing the yellow tag on one's luggage; it's been years since I've flown, but believe-you-me, I want my yellow tag attached to the parcel it belongs to and quiver at the very notion that it might be placed astray, fall off or otherwise end up where it ought'n't be--I really hope my luggage makes it after me after I check it in.

All that said, I don't think I can help you.

Look, it's not like I don't want to. I love your songs. I don't own any, but I remember them fondly. I carry them in my heart, as I think an old e.e. cummings poem has it it: i carry you with me, i carry you in my heart (I (i) think that might be a paraphrase, hence no quotes, but close enough). But, y'know, I'm going to be taking a vacation soon, and I don't know that I can spare the $650.00. Surely you can get an advance from Brian Henson or something, he always seems like a really nice and cool guy in interviews and stuff. (Have you seen Farscape? You're kind of--no offense meant or anything--a sort of weird-looking dude; maybe you should have seen if you could have gotten a role as an alien trader or bounty hunter or something before SciFi or Skiffy or whatever canceled it.) And what is it you have to deliver in Bangkok, he asked with a certain amount of trepidation and concern. And this package you mention: I wasn't really expecting anything from wherever, so it does cause me a certain amount of anxiety--not because I haven't received it, but because it exists; maybe I'm better off not knowing about it, that way I can't be disappointed by it.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea: it was a pleasure getting your letter, Mr. Williams. I hope you're well and that you conclude all of your business satisfactorily. And that you get a break soon: you've earned it.

R. Eric VanNewkirk
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


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