Sunday, March 29, 2015

Father John Misty – Live at Variety Playhouse


I tend to go to concerts where either people in my age group have heard of the artist or no one I know has… and I do occasionally go to shows that should be popular with people two or more decades older than me.  It’s all part of the search, if not for the “lost chord” suggested by the Moody Blues, then for something new that fills a musical gap that I didn’t know existed.

Father John Misty goes to show that I don’t talk to enough younger people to see what’s “hip.”  At Variety Playhouse, this show was sold out months in advance, and I’m just as comfortable being the one of the oldest at a show as I am in being one of the youngest.

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I’ve seen Father John Misty before, not by that name, but as Josh Tillman, drummer for an excellent band named Fleet Foxes, which is currently and possibly forever on hiatus.  That band was built on harmonies, and Tillman was a significant contributor to their sound in that regard.  At some point during their last tour, he called it quits and has since released a couple of solo CD’s under this assumed name.

So, what do you get when you free a drummer from his kit and put him at the front of the stage?

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This show that the answer is clearly not a wallflower.   The show started off visibly dramatic, as above, then continued on with a similar style and posing of Nick Cave, who isn’t a bad comparison. 

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While Cave’s style suggests a feeling of an ungodly claiming of souls, Father John Misty preaches, in a sense, a great affirmation of love, usually paired with inadequacies, mistakes, and other human perfections that suggest that the reality is (far) less than the ideal.  Whether those are his or projected from a creative place doesn’t really matter but likely aren’t dissimilar.  The good part is that he’s often very humorous and clever about it, rarely without the unexpected in the telling.

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Though he has eight releases under his given name, this concert was all Father John MIsty, featuring nine of the 12 songs from 2012’s Fear Fun and all ten from his 2015 release, I Love You, Honeybear.

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The concert was very appreciative, with many packing the floor area in front of the stage.  The band was sharp, as they should be as the setlist appears to be the same from night to night.  Variety’s sound wasn’t as good as it could be, but his vocals were clear  enough if one paid attention to it. 

What was entertaining was the concert “experience,” observing how Tillman chose to express his songs.  Aside from his very active stage presence, the best moments were whenever he sang variations of “Oh Oh Oh,” a phrase/sound which he returns to in most of his songs to great effect.

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Oh, and I’m certain the “No Photography” meant no flash photography, a notion shared by many with smart phones.  Past experience probably led to the “No” part being turned off during the encore, which was a classy thing.

4 of 5 STARS_thumb

 

 

Setlist:

I Love You, Honeybear
Strange Encounter
True Affection
Only Son of the Ladiesman
When You’re Smiling and Astride Me
The Night Josh Tillman Came to our Apartment
I’m Writing a Novel
Misty’s Nightmares 1 & 2
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
Nancy From Now On
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow
This is Sally Hatchet
The Ideal Husband
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Funtimes in Babylon
Now I’m Learning to Love the War
Holy Shit

Encore:

Bored in the USA
I’m Your Man (Leonard Cohen cover)
Everyman Needs A Companion

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.


Regardless of what you want, or even expect, Steven Wilson delivers “product.”   Maybe it’s a Porcupine Tree release.  Maybe it’s guesting on one of his many side projects.  Maybe it’s remastering a classic progressive rock album.  Or maybe it’s a solo album, which means… what exactly?

Perhaps it’s an experimental Porcupine Tree album but with different band mates, like Insurgentes.  It’s really the same thing, because he essentially was the band.   Or perhaps it’s a moody and, at times, indulgent exploration of loss like Grace for Drowning?  Or, perhaps it’s a progressive masterpiece like 2013’s The Raven that Refused to Sing?  Can he repeat?  Hand_Cannot_Erase

This work doesn’t speak to Poe as The Raven did, but it remains poetic and, as always with Wilson, moves the art forward.  Wilson became enamored with Dreams of a Life, a movie about a 38 year old London woman who left her job and possibly an abusive relationship, disconnected her ties with everyone, and passed away without anyone noticing.  Her remains were found in her apartment over two years later.  Sounds like the stuff of Poe, doesn’t it?  It was enough to shape this album.

Like Raven, the CD starts with an instrumental, shaping some of the tone of an album despite Wilson’s trademark (and inexplicable as they defy any context) insertions of staccato guitar/drum blasts away any subtleties.  After the intro, “3 Years Older” sets a stage lyrically, as well as introducing musical refrains that return later.  It’s a good enough song that fits the album, but one that doesn’t beg for replays outside of the whole.  Notably, the return of Porcupine Tree era dotty keyboards here and elsewhere perhaps speak to the technological world from which our victim removed herself. 

Far more successful is the title track, which could be played on a rock station and likely draw significant interest.  The guy can write a catchy song when he wants, and overall, he shows improvement throughout this CD as a lead vocalist. The song speaks to commitment, but like Lucinda Williams excellent “Side of the Road,” the need for solitude coexists even in a loving relationship. 

The song that follows, ironically entitled “Perfect Life,” is interesting, an electronic piece that I would tend to avoid stylistically, with a female narrating a story of losing touch with a friend.  Still, this song sticks with me, primarily for both the musical mood and arrangement that follows the story.

Following is one of the album’s highlights, “Routine.”   Some may point to the inclusion of a boys choir as overreaching, but they’re far less intrusive than your average Mellotron.  More significant is the contribution of another female singer, Ninet Tayab, who brings great range and diversity to the song, adding a female presence somewhere between “Great Gig in the Sky” and “Gimme Shelter,” less an octave .  The song speaks to the maintenance of a routine as a maddening factor in the service of family, void of external interests.

And how to be of use?
Make the tea and the soup
All of their favourites, throw them away
And all their school books and their running shoes
Washing them clean in the dirty steel sink.

And so on.  A humdrum lyrically, but with great music.  I’m hopeful he’ll find a way to weave female voices into his works as he goes forward.  It’s a welcome dimension to the sound here.

“Home Invasion” strikes a familiar theme in Wilson’s catalog, but it fits perfectly here speaking to personal isolation and the technology that allows it.

Download love and download war
Download the shit you didn’t want
Download the things that make you mad
Download the life you wish you had.

The instrumental “Regret #9” features Guthrie Govan’s guitar perfectly… he somehow keeps up with himself to pull things off.

“Transience” revisits familiar Wilson/Porcupine Tree territory, but comfortably so.  It takes a break to contrast isolation with childhood when the fullness of life was yet to be lived.

The final major piece is “Ancestral,” a pronouncement of sorts on the result of detachment:

When the world doesn’t want you
It will never tell you why
You can shut the door but you can’t ignore
The crawl of your decline

What follows is more great music, but the stanza above points out perfectly why I keep an interest in Wilson. His topics are not always comforting, and sometimes his intent isn’t even clear.  But music should challenge the listener, exploring other places than where one otherwise “lives.”  For people like me, there’s a difference between hearing music and listening to it.   I prefer the latter, absorbing and dissecting the richness of it.  Otherwise, I’m just pressing a button for the company that mindless music can keep.

The closer, “Happy Returns,” brings a hushed conclusion to the story, such as it is.  Rather than retell the grisly discovery, Wilson approaches it from the standpoint of a person who fell away and tries to reconnect in a letter, but leaving the ending unsettled.

But I’m feeling kind of drowsy now
So I’ll finish this tomorrow

Album essentially over.

Recommended: “Hand Cannot Erase” and “Routine”

4 of 5 STARS_thumb

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reformation Brewery


I first sampled Reformation’s beer over three years ago at the launch party of artists for the North Georgia Art Ramble.  A couple of guys, with some free beer, small plastic cups, and a dream.  They made a Belgian dubbel, which was quite good, and a Brown Ale which was okay.  The others?  Not so much.  But everyone begins somewhere.

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They opened a brewery on Reformation Day in 2013, which seems to have failed to take over the more common celebration of October 31st which was already refocused by the Church from its possibly pagan roots.

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For a brewery with a fairly inauspicious presence, Reformation got the trappings right, with a sizable “Keeping Room,” merchandise, and places to sit/things to do.

While technically tastings are required to be free, visitors may purchase a Belgian snifter for $12 or a Stange for $10.  I opted for the latter in consideration of available cabinet space…  It’s a nice looking glass with a German heritage but not commonly used with the beers that Reformation makes.

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Names and logos go a long way in defining themselves as well as, of course, to developing an affinity with its patrons.  I favor the conservative stylings here.

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Shoulda played air hockey.  Next time.

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Chris, later our tour guide, raised a toast to… I don’t remember exactly, but we’ll say things that should be appreciated, with a nod towards a brewery tradition of doing the same.

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The tour began with a little history and an overview of the brewery’s values.  I’d say it was the values of the owners, which is fine, but failed to connect on a mission/product level.

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So the story goes that one of the owners was a pilot and flew frequently to Belgium, from whence he returned with splendid Belgian beers.  His assignment was changed to Africa… which resulted in the two trying to create their own Belgian styled beers.  The friend is a Presbyterian minister, thus the nod to Martin Luther.

  
   Caution: Nondescript stainless steel brewing equipment depicted:

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The flooring section is being finished for equipment to arrive soon, possibly drain lines.

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The “tour,” which involved turning your head around once in the production area, was fairly limited beyond the usual necessary ingredients for beer, one of which is malts (German, which they mill, not crudely crushed).  It was noted that the Etowah watershed provides excellent quality for beer.

They have a seven barrel brewing system, which is a fairly standard entry into craft brewing as a business, but a conservative one should their market extend beyond the northwest suburbs of Atlanta (with a geographical hop over to Athens, GA soon).

Apparently in recognition of that, they will be adding a high efficiency brewing system, a term of which I had not heard before.  Apparently, these systems are rare in the U.S., but if quality can be maintained, there seems ample reasons for it.  Following this they will include both bottling and canning lines, a big statement regarding their distribution intent.

Which brings us to the beers.

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The anchor beers are their core product lines.  I started with Atlas, their “redeemed” IPA.  It’s hard to rate beers.  There are so many, and it comes down to whether whatever seems distinctive from the norm will either suit you or not.  This one does.  I’d happily order it in a restaurant.  Maybe it’s the rye malts.  Why I can’t hold my phone vertically before the first beer… I don’t know.  Adds character!

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Next up was Cadence, their Belgian Dubble (sic).  If I remembered how it tasted several years back, it probably tastes just as good.  This remains their leading product.

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Next up was Providence, a Tripel hopped Belgian.  Normally, I’m eager for these.  It just didn’t work for me as well as I had hoped.  I’d try it again, if only to put to words what threw me off.  I hope I have the picture right… this came out fairly bright.

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I also sampled the Hopped Brown Ale, which was tasty enough but a beer that I usually don’t favor without food.

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The brewery has some other things in the works, including a 12% ABV beer to be called Declaration, a black IPA due out this summer, and a barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.

If I had to do it all over again… I’d bring a pizza.  Georgia’s brewing laws don’t permit food to be served, I think, but that’s not even on the radar as brewers are still trying to be able to sell beer directly to the public rather than exclusively by distributors.

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Let’s Put Time on Hold.


This year’s Academy Awards was a bit of a bore, and I didn’t make it through to the end.  Why bother watching? It’s a tradition (87th), and it’s a rare specimen, of sorts, of the elegance that had its place in society before the ‘70’s said “blue jeans for everyone.”  I also enjoy the In Memoriam segment, not to be maudlin, but to appreciate what people accomplished but also in a generational sense.

I watched plenty of old movies when I was a kid, but I never really focused on the celebrities involved.  Through the years, the In Memorium segment was a reminder of an earlier generation.  Old People.  People my parents grew up watching. 

In this and recent years, that can’t be said any more.   Lauren Becall, Mickey Rooney, Louis Jourdan – old timers.  I liked their work, but without any emotional tie in.  James Garner – shared, thanks to “The Rockford Files.”  Robin Williams?  Definitely my generation, but with a sizable asterisk that leaves me shaking my head more than feeling a loss. 

But, Leonard Nimoy, dead at 83.  He’s certainly old enough for my parents generation, but his popularity was fully within mine.  This kind of thing is going to start hurting.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Al Di Meola – Live at Variety Playhouse 2015


I’d been looking forward to this show since it was first announced.  I had seen Di Meola in 2010 and 2011, but both of those were primarily acoustic guitar sets, reflecting a Latin/world music influence that he’s been working within for a couple of decades. 

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This tour, though, was primarily electric guitar and featuring songs from his early solo career when he delivered some of jazz fusion’s best albums, including Elegant Gypsy, Casino and Splendido Hotel.  It was this era of Di Meola that I favor, and this is probably the tour for which many of his fans have been hoping since the mid ‘80’s.

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From these three albums, he played 9-10 songs, including 5 off of Elegant Gypsy.  He also played a couple of acoustic songs and two new ones.  His band included longtime percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, keyboardist Phillipe Saisse (who recorded with him during that era), energetic bassist Armand Sabal-Lecco, and all but hidden drummer, Joel Taylor.  This is only the 6th stop of the tour, and the band sounded tight and appeared energetic.

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This is instrumental music, but Di Meola is extremely personable with chat between the songs.  I’d wager that most of those assembled had seen him before, and his winning banter played well for the sold out venue.  Also, being from New Jersey, a couple of his quips sure sounded like Frank Sinatra.

The first set included perhaps 7 songs, which were enjoyable on the one hand but, for someone who prefers rock music, they were also frustrating in that whenever a groove was established, the songs tended to halt or shift in a different direction.  Jazz composition… I get it.  They’re good songs, but for those unfamiliar, they keep you guessing what is coming next rather than a simple climb to a grand finale.  Di Meola also played a short acoustic set, at one point playfully trading licks with percussionist Ortiz. 

After a 20 minute break, the song selections had more flow and really enthused the crowd, particularly with “Midnight Tango,” “Babylon” (a new song from his forthcoming CD that also emphasizes electric guitar), and the closer, “Egyptian Danza.”

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It should be noted that prior to playing, the announcer indicated no audio recording, no video, and no cameras… Variety Playhouse essentially has no policy (I’m not encouraging a change) on recording except when the artist demands it, but I was still expecting the mention of cameras to include “no flash” photography.  This was disappointing, but my son and I were well positioned in the 4th row, and, all things considered, it is nice to sit for a show without trying to snap some pictures… despite the perfect venue lighting for it.

Prior to “Elegant Gypsy,” Di Meola said something similar to, “Okay, now we’re going to mix things up a bit like all those rock acts.  Stand up and come on down to the front.”  It didn’t take a lot of encouragement.

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Through the evening, he had been no stranger for expressively playing his guitar, with twisting movements, partial windmills, and other guitar “poses” usually following a trademark flurry of notes.   With a more responsive crowd, though, he was on.  Continuing into the encore of “Race with Devil on a Spanish Highway,” the crowd ate it up, waving arms and, often with iPhones, Nikons, and such.  That’s why you, gentle reader, get pictures.  He has no shortcomings with rock posturing for a crowd… hopefully he doesn’t lose his jazz union card for it.

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The above was taken on the last song, possibly “Chiquilin de Bachin,” where he’s soloing while reading music.  In the other two years, he played while reading music as well.  It just strikes me oddly not that so many notes require that he do so, but that he can keep up with it at the speed that he plays.  There’s no power chords, here.  All in all, a triumphant evening.

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As a footnote, the opener, Nashville resident Sabrina was very enjoyable, with her fluid guitar work, relational lyrics and soulful Tracy Chapman/Joan Armatrading force of voice.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

I.D. and Password Overload


So it came to pass that my computer hard drive failed.  That same hard drive had a tidy file of website login IDs and passwords stored in email archives that would have been of great assistance in restoring my computer. 

Fortunately, before this happened, I had already purchased a password manager for my iPhone.  Unfortunately, I had only input some basic financial and work information.

There are a lot of password managers out there – Dashlane, 1Password, and  LastPass are among the ones I looked at.  Some have upfront costs, others have “in app” upgrades which means they’re junk until you pay to upgrade.  A cursory look shows that many more Apps are currently offered today.   And when you’re paying for these things, you never know if you got the best, because you paid for the one, onePass in my case.  I think it was around $5 at the time.

To enter the app, you choose a password that is a combination of numbers, colors and symbols, the latter two randomly placed each time you enter the app, so a pattern won’t work unless you stick with the numbers only.   Now, to my great satisfaction, the graphic door when you opened the app, similar to the old icon above, slid open like a bank vault.  Kind of cool, really.  I’m aggravated they did away with it.

Anyway, on we go.

This is the current entry screen.  You can alternately use your fingerprint, but you still have to input a 4 digit code initially as you’ll be asked to repeat it whenever the phone restarts.  

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Consider all the things you might want to have for reference in a secure environment. 

  • Social security numbers
  • Drivers license numbers
  • License tags
  • Credit card numbers
  • Hotel/rental car/airline accounts
  • Email account passwords
  • Retailer web sites
  • Product keys for downloaded software
  • Banking and financial sites/acct numbers
  • Serial numbers for guns
  • Online magazines, membership organizations…

It’s a bunch. 

Here are some sample screens:

Retailers:

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Travel:

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Various web sites:

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The icons for each entry are not automatically recognized, but they’re easy to input via the Edit function, which searches Google images.  The entries with arrows will launch the web browser automatically.  Otherwise, all screens open p to input as much information as you want, including notes.  You can also protect pictures and other documents stored on your phone, and, if one is paranoid, double protect with an additional passcode.  Whatever.

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All my entries total 155 for business and personal information.  That said, I regularly remember something I haven’t yet added.  Overall, as passwords are required to be changed at many sites and their length/capitals/numbers become increasingly complex , it’s proven quite handy.  And, if you’re wondering if all the eggs are just in a different basket, the data can be uploaded to the cloud, encrypted. 

Whether it’s this program or another, don’t wait to realize that you should have prepared better.  Risk management.  Yeah.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

James McMurtry – Complicated Game


It’s weird “liking” some artists.  I’ve seen McMurtry three times in concert.  I love his lyrics, his edge, his Lennon-esqe working class hero persona, and some really fine guitar work.  But that said, he comes across as a guy who is short on friends, or at least wearing.

Why?  Maybe it’s the way his eyes bore holes through his audience.  Maybe it’s his almost suffocating cynicism, shared between his lyrics and his vocal delivery.  Maybe because when he rises from negativity he peaks at observational. 

“Honey don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun”

So begins Complicated Game, his first new CD since 2008.  Welcome back, sir.  It’s been too long. 

There are a couple of changes 61PAj6xYEqL._SY355_overall.  First and foremost, he’s less likely to distract the listener because his social themes are no longer in your face; they’re residing between the lines instead.  His narratives avoid straw men that he can deride or point fingers at others that he may have previously judged as culpable. 

Instead, the stories allow the characters or his reflections to have room to breathe – a soldier who returns home to a meager job prospect, a traveller whose girlfriend cheats on him while he’s away, fishermen tempted to cheat a little to get by, the unremembered people who inhabit a small town all their lives, learning the depth of a person in a relationship over time, and similar.  Good, mature work.  After six years of singing the same songs the same way, it was due.

That “way” has also changed.  This is not a fully acoustic album, but it’s toned down from where he’s been before.  And his producer did some work in bringing I some aces to lend a hand to the recording, such as Benmont Tench and Derek Trucks.   It’s one thing to say that the accompaniment is good.  But when a barbershop quartet actually suits a song well upon repeated listening (which in other places would be at risk of being a one-off joke), there’s been some thoughtful input to the process.  Hmm.  I need to revisit Peter Gabriel’s “Excuse Me.”  Also, kudos to McMurtry for stretching his singing style.  It wasn’t bad before, but it’s certainly a part of what sets this disc above his others.

As easily as the CD enters McMurtry mode, the exiting line is also works for reviewers who might be tempted to judge McMurtry for being judgmental.

“I don’t know what to say to you. I shouldn’t judge, but I often do”

4 of 5 STARS_thumb

 


(plus a half, even)

Recommended Tracks: “Copper Canteen,” “Carlisle’s Haul”