Tool - Live at State Farm Arena

First, it should be known that I hadn’t listened to Tool until the release of 2019’s Fear Innoculum, which arrived after 13 years since their previous release. There’s a whole new generation of music fans between those releases.   Take six Sinatra albums in 1962 and jump musically to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in 1975.  Music hasn’t changed that much, but still, that’s a gap. 

So I missed Tool when they were in their hey dey.  Maybe I listened to the wrong stations or didn’t have the right friends to recommend them or maybe I heard them and didn’t like them.  Regardless, I love (most of) their latest album.  It’s been the soundtrack of my life driving to work, on business trips (I can see the Rockies when I listen to them), a holiday trip through the Carolinas and most visits to the gym.  In other words, I haven’t listened to much else (I took a day for retro Christmas songs, I know).

The cell phones come out.
 Their genre description seems to be prog metal, which can be debated by others.  Alt metal?  Whatever.   The sound production values of Tool Innoculum are off-the-charts good, especially when played loud. Some might argue that the songs are too long, but… I just listen and enjoy – figuring out they rhythm counts, enjoying the ample aural space for each of the instruments, the transitions within each song… And, as it turns out, the lyrics are pretty good as well. And, again, it sounds good loud.  It doesn’t hurt the ears.

I was working on the deck on a project and playing Fear fairly loudly and my wife walks out, listens briefly and asks, “Are you angry?”  No, but compared to much of my music, I can see why she would think that.  Later, she would say “I kind of liked it.”  I would say, now that I’ve listened to most of their releases, that this release is less angry but more elegant and captivating… if you invest yourself in listening to it.  I didn’t take an immediate liking, but it drew me in over time, which is the hallmark of a great album that will endure well beyond its season.

I missed their concert in Denver by a day back in October, when I arrived for a business trip.  I doubt I could have or would have wanted to pay a scalper’s price had I been there a day earlier, but I was “that close” to seeing them.   At the time, their tour plans were incomplete, but, some weeks later, they announced for Atlanta.   I bought a ticket, barely.  The arena sold out within an hour.


Fast forward a bit.  Merch.  $45 for a T-shirt, all black.  I just don’t have that many places to wear a black T-shirt.  Money saved.  I see other people with posters.  As it turns out, Tool prints 750(?) posters for each stop, the poster unique to the venue/date.  Those sell for $60.  They sold out before I got there.  Why?  Listings on eBay showed them selling for $300 the following morning – and selling.  Next time (and there will be one) I’m getting there early, buying at least two, keeping one, and selling the other to pay for the ticket and the remaining poster.  Maybe buy more if there isn’t a limit…

I’ll go ahead and point out that at this point, there’s a certain vibe about the venue pre-show.  It’s not like seeing Eagles or a band that everyone has heard.  There’s a certain “you have to be a member in the club” to “get” Tool’s music.  And there were many who do, from all ages and walks of life.  There was a shared positivity which is difficult to express, but it was there.

If there was a negative to the evening, it was the opener, Author and Punisher.  The name fits.  He wrote the music sounds, and he punished the audience with it.  I’ll applaud that there is an audience for about everything, and I did see a guy with the artist’s T-shirt (it’s a guy with keyboards, not a band). 

Moving on.  Tool opened with the title track of Fear Innoculum, the opening notes now as familiar as opening the door to my house and as inviting as a “Welcome Home” sign.  Am I overstating this?  No. The music doesn’t suit the vast majority of people, I’m sure, but it hits me the right way.

The band was aggravatingly fuzzy to the eyes as they remained behind a shimmering curtain, which reflected additional lighting for color tones and moods.  But, seeing the band… not a help.  As it turns out, the curtain didn’t really matter.  The band, and especially the lead singer Maynard James Keenan, pretty well kept to the shadows.  And to emphasize the point, while the lighting was at times wondrous and the background videos interesting or ponderous, there were no video close-ups of the band members.  If you want to really “see” the band, buy the VIP seats.


Audience interaction?  Minimalist at best.  After the first song, Keenan, acknowledging that there was an audience, greeted the crowd with “Supposedly Atlanta.”  The applause was polite, but probably restrained in case there was more to follow.  And then, “Atlanta.  Work on it.”   Okay, then.

The band resumed with “Ænima,” one of two shout-along songs for the evening (the other being “Forty-Six by two.”   I can’t say I love the song as much as others musically, but the lyrics…

Some say the end is near
Some say we'll see Armageddon soon
I certainly hope we will
I sure could use a vacation from this
Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of
Freaks
(chorus)
Here in this hopeless f***king hole we call LA
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away
Any f**king time, any f**king day
Learn to swim, see you down in Arizona Bay
And on it goes, the hilarity almost lost in the heavy posturing of the music.  Upon further consideration, Keenan could have said worse things about Atlanta…

The band remained obscured through the next three songs (which I would have captured, but photos were prohibited until the final song of the encore), and then they finally unleashed “Pneuma,” one of my favorite songs from their new album.  Also, it’s fair to say the light show was unleashed as well, moving from shifting tones and crude animations to an animated fiery backdrop and the introduction of an ample number of 70’s era lasers.  “Pneuma” delivered a transitional punch into the sweet spot of the set list, literally everything until the main set was done. 



“Pneuma” isn’t a word that I’ve used outside of air powered tools, and I was surprised to find that there is a standalone definition:
Pneuma: (in Stoic thought) the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person.
Gotcha.  So, the metaphysical then.  Let’s check out a snippet of the lyrics:
We are spirit bound to this flesh
We go round one foot nailed down
But bound to reach out and beyond this flesh
Become Pneuma
We are will and wonder
Bound to recall, remember
We are born of one breath, one word
We are all one spark, sun becoming
It’s the kind of lyric that serves as a reminder to figure out what the lyrics are.


Meanwhile… “Descending.”  This is another song from their latest album, and one that they haven’t been playing at every stop.  It’s about 11 minutes long, and after the seven minute mark, it  demonstrated the power of the electric guitar in a cavernous space.  Clear, ringing, engulfing.  Speaking of the audio, for a stadium show, it was pretty good.  The music was heard cleanly, and at times, was excellent.  The vocals… not so much unless you knew all the words.  I don’t.

From a staging standpoint, the guitarist and bassist are out front on the wings, with the drummer on an elevated stage between and behind them.  Keenan switches between two elevated stages located on each side of the drummer, in the shadows.   When singing, you might catch sight of him against the backdrop, or, more casually when he sat on the edge of a platform, swinging his legs as he sang “Forty-six by Two.”  Otherwise, he’s in full Gollum mode, bent at the knees and lurking behind the action.


The Tool song, but a different rendition by some talented kids.

If there was a disappointment, it was the encore.  “Chocolate Chip Trip” began the set.  While visually entertaining watching drummer Danny Carey work a large gong, the “song” is mostly electronic gibberish with a bit of drumming included.  The “song” is also an unsightly appendage on Fear Innoculum, in no way supporting the tone of the album.  It’s not like Carey needs a solo spot anyway.  He demonstrates his prowess on every song, and he and his drum set are the only consistently spotlighted action on the stage, the rest in shadows and fairly stoic.  Still, if you’re going to do a drum solo, especially on the heels of RUSH drummer Neal Peart’s passing, make it a legitimate drum solo.  “Invincible” followed and was solid, “(-) Ions” was filler, and “Stinkfist” was an adequate closer at best.

As a last laugh, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” served as the exit music when the house lights were raised.  Which was funny, actually.  In any case, I look forward to seeing the band again, especially as I learn more of their back catalog.

Setlist:
  • Fear Innoculum – Fear Innoculum
  • Ænima – Ænima
  • Parabol / Parabola – Lateralus
  • Pneuma – Fear Innoculum
  • Schism – Lateralus
  • Jambi – 10,000 Days
  • Merkaba – shortened ( ) – Salival
  • Vicarious – 10,000 Days
  • Descending – Fear Innoculum
  • Forty Six & 2 – Ænima
Encore:
  • Chocolate Chip Trip – Fear Innoculum
  • Invincible – Fear Innoculum
  • (-) Ions – Ænima
  • Stinkfist – Ænima









Robben Ford Live at City Winery


Robben Ford... When my concert buddy asked me if I wanted to go see this show, I recognized the name, knew he was a guitarist and was otherwise without any recollection of where I had heard of him or any of his work.


A little research helps the decision making.  A blues and jazz guitarist, at times playing with Miles Davis, George Harrison, Dave Gruisin and others, the guy has not only persevered but gathered ample acclaim in his career, which has included approximately 40 solo albums plus others in various groups.


Still, other than a brief look at a YouTube video, I wasn't prepared for this show other than trusting my concert buddy's judgement.  No regrets.

Despite the expectation of a lot of blues guitar, the evening was decidedly jazzy in its selection of tunes.  The nice thing about a foursome with drums, bass, guitar and sax is that it can go both ways easily.  What you can hear and see in his music is, well, I'd want to say effortless, but we know that's not true.  But it does have a practiced efficiency - the notes, the pitch, the rightness of the chord and note changes... it's all very crisp and shines through regardless of the style he plays.  His style isn't so unique identifiable like Carlos Santana, for example, but you can hear that it comes from an internal place that is tried and true.


Whichever genre was played, Ford's band rose tot he occasion, with frequent solos by the saxophonist and bassist, particularly.  This was their first show of 2020 after a few months off.  You could tell they were still feeling some things out, and a look over his past shows that he never offers a "greatest hits" package when touring.  It's a mix, and he has a deep well from which to choose.

No full set list has been published, but some included "Star Time," "Lovin' Cup," "Cannonball Shuffle," "Baby Please Set a Date," the humorous "High Heels and Throwing Things" (referring to a person, not necessarily their actions in context), the excellent "Fool's Paradise," and "Black Night" which offered an extended solo, some of which is in the clip below.  The playing far exceeds the professionalism of the video...









Rollin' Golden Pub - 2019

For six years we've met monthly in a parking lot, enjoying a "tasting" of beers the members of the Rollin' Golden Pub (RGP) have found in our travels and chosen to share.  2019 has a dual tale of our regular tastings as well as one that I have already summed which was our first group road trip for the express purpose of drinking beer, or, beers.  At their sources.  Portland, ME, we salute you.

In addition to that recap, we also have data.  Including the appetizers we brought with us, the offerings of 13 breweries, one bar, one "greek inspired pork sausage" hot dog lunch spot, and an airport terminal farewell, we enjoyed 81 beers, of which all but five were from Maine.  There you go. 81.  Yep, it's true. Stretch that out over three days, and that's still a lot of beer. 

But, concerned public, we must remind you that 1) no driving was involved 2) all four of us are in the business of managing risk and 3) when we say "tasting" we trust that you understand that the implied quantity is significantly less than a full pour.  Why?  We're still here to tell the tale.  Click the logo below for the full list:




As beer rating sites (Beer Advocate, Rate Beer) are falling out of favor with the voting public due to slow entry into the mobile app wars and/or clumsy interfaces online, we're moving our metrics to the Untappd app.  All things considered, the ratings are somewhat questionable as the ease of rating invites people to rate beers which they know nothing about, whereas BeerAdvocate, for example, very much included a vino snobbery in the ratings and reviews.  Still, we work with what we have. 

Our 81 beers averaged a 3.95 out of 5.0, which equates to a 89 (B+) were it a test score.  That's actually low by RGP standards, but this wasn't a curated "tasting."  This was a "pour us what you've got" tasting, which, in other words, means Portland is a quality beer scene!  For reference, linear regressions, careful analysis and dart throwing resulted in the following scales when Beer Advocate switched their rating methodology a few years ago (and have since returned to their original number scoring).  In any case, for Untappd and RGP use, this still works:



Okay, Portland was the vacation.  Then there's our day job, the grueling life of insurance professionals desperate to escape conference calls to show up at the appointed hour for those monthly escapes in a parking lot.  We were actually down substantially on a percentage basis from past years, with only 14 tastings, our lowest since the year we began.  These included 61 beers with a 4.47 average Untappd rating, our highest ever.  So, call it a quality over quantity year, but, seriously, there hasn't been a disappointing year yet.  Still, a 4.47 vs. the 3.95 at the city with the highest breweries per capita... you can see the value of curated selections.   win-win.


2019's RGP menu can be seen below:



Notables:  The return of Westie XII, 19 beers (31%) from Tree House, and Top 25 Beer Advocate US beers by style:  #6 King Julius, #14 Pliny the Elder, #15 Juice Machine, #19 Double Sunshine and #22 Dinner (Portland trip).  Each of those also placed in the top 25 beers in the world, as well as the Westie XII. 

The only thing that might be improved was.... weather.  The RGP is a perfect tailgate event, and too many tastings were either cold or wet.   Or, hot, even.  In any case, our January 2020 tasting is already in the books and down the road we go! (not literally)



New York City 2019


If you have to travel to NYC and go there on Sunday, you may as well make a day of it.  My day was 10+ miles walking past Rockefeller Center to Central Park, the High Line park in Chelsea and a quick jaunt to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Regrettably, the sky was a dreary gray for a photo walk.

So, photo journal, of a sort:

My first stop was near my hotel at the Daily News Building.  Like most buildings in NYC, I lose the sense of scale, but it's 476' with 36 floors and regarded as an Art Deco masterwork.  The Daily News moved out in 1995, but they left behind a 4,000 lb, 12' globe that rotates once every ten minutes that was installed within three months of the building's completion in 1930.  The building and lobby were used in 1978's Superman movie as the setting for The Daily Planet, Clark Kent and Lois Lane's newspaper.


Surrounding the globe on the floor is a listing of cities and their distances from NYC.


At the base of the globe are various comparisons in size between the globe, the sun, the moon, Andromeda and similar.  Note the mirror underneath. For anyone curious, the lobby appears to be open any time, with access beyond the lobby restricted by access card and desk security.


Rockefeller Center was bustling, with some ice skaters.  The famous Christmas Tree was "under wraps" at the time.





Arriving at Central Park, I had forgotten about the ridiculously sized skyscrapers that now intrude on its southern skyline.  Below is "Billionaire's Row" is 111 West 57th Street, a 1,428' residential tower described as being on the 50-yard line of Central Park.  Forty-six full-floor and duplex condos are available now starting at $16M.





Below provides a sense of scale, only this includes Central Park Tower.  It will stand 1,550' tall and offer condos for as much as $63M for a 5-Bedroom (112th floor) or for a more limited view, $6.9M for a 33rd floor 2-BR.  Nordstrom will occupy the first seven floors of the $3B building, which will be the world's tallest predominantly residential building when it opens in 2020.



It's not as if the older buildings weren't suitable as an impressive backdrop...



Central Park's Chess and Checkers House

When you get gray skies... dabble in color.

A bronze inset into the NYC sidewalk.  Appears to hold up pretty well.
A "mixer" work event was at an area restaurant Monday evening, with the below as the elevator decoration.  It reminds me years ago of a table tent ad in a motel restaurant reading "Make the moment last.  Take the elevator home."  I guess NY says the same with a picture.  Or was there was a more privileged menu available?

Add caption
I was caught without an umbrella after the event, but the opportunity to catch the city's lights in reflections was worth getting soaked.  So, I detoured towards Times Square, where there are a lot more lights, right?  All of the below were taken with my iPhone.




I felt secure.





Helpfully, the NYC transit system has a great app for helping you get from point A to B, including where the subway entrances are, the bus locations, live tracking for their arrival times, and estimates to get where you're going.  I used this from Central Park to the High Line, from somewhere near there to the Brooklyn Bridge and the return to my hotel.  It was flawless.

It was only 5:30 or so when I arrived at City Hall, where the pedestrian entrance to bridge is located.  I had read "touristy" reviews about the bridge which indicated that the bridge was heavily used by pedestrians to and from Brooklyn.  That turned out to be true, along with the junk salesmen at the entrance and a conspicuous police presence.  So all good, except for tired feet.  It was getting colder, gusty and difficult to hold the camera still for a reasonably tight photo of the city lights.  A tripod and wide angle lens... maybe next time.


Yes, big brother is watching even here.  A good thing.

The pedestrian path is elevated and split between the one-way vehicle lanes.  Even though the path is marked for bicyclists, they rush through yelling at people without braking.  I imagine it's easier for them during commuting hours when the tourists aren't as intrusive.




The High Line, Chelsea, NYC


The High Line is a public park in NYC, built on the remains of an elevated train line that served the City's industrial sector.  The group that led its redevelopment has a quick timeline of interest as well as some historical photos.  

It's only a 1.5 mile walk, and even on a 42oF day, it was very popular.  I started on the north end, near the Hudson Yards, where the subway system gathers many of its cars.



Some sections, such as this, clearly point to its past usage.  The handrails are new and concrete has been added to level out the rail road tracks.  




The park runs from the rail area to the lower West Side of Manhattan, through Chelsea and the historical meatpacking district.  As far I can tell, it's all being converted tor residential properties at a frenetic pace.  The sign below, 507, shows that rent varies for a studio at $3,700 per month to a 2B unit for $6,200 to $8,400 per month. That said, somehow the area appears to be popular among 20-30 somethings.  A quick check for the per capita in Chelsea reveals $140,000 in income.  So, I guess that's doable, especially without car expenses and assuming no other debts.  Good luck, kids!  (The good news about living in NYC is that you can buy anything - you just have no place to put it.  Maybe that's why everyone eats out all the time.)



The below is 520 West 28th, a condo unit for those who would rather invest than pay rent.  Your 2BR can be had at $4.5M, but if you need some space, you can get up to a 5BR for $29.7M.  That said, you did get 6,800 sq.ft.  It's worth clicking the link above to see what it is you're getting.




Don't know what street this is (there's not a street sign on the walkway), but it's a nice safe way to take a picture down the middle of the road.


The London Terrace Gardens just struck me as a massive row house.  If you go the apartment rental site, you'll see a better street level photo and find that one 1BR is available for $4,300 per month.  I guess it's popular. 


 Andy Warhol has his eye on you.


The below are under construction and appear to be residential.  No, these are not pods for growing humans as seen in The Matrix.  These are pods for growing humans in Manhattan.  Heck, I don't know.  Good luck finding blinds or curtains, so people will be living in a bubble and watching people walk by.  Regardless, the window washers are going to charge triple.



The below just humored me.  At street level, you don't really think about what goes on on the roof.    The street level is vacant, but upstairs you have a all glass structure maybe for parties, a steel tank for water or grain or a chemical, a red metal building which says "cheap storage," and of course the open sided metal building to the rear with flying tarps, which says... mob business.  Look no further.  Keep walking.



Below is Selfie Central, where one can benefit from a naturally occurring breeze to sway one's hair or scarf, while getting a scenic backdrop of 10th Avenue.  It was very popular, with some bringing extra lighting for professional photography.  I'm sure the location is trending on Twitter now, get there while it's hot!


A friend pointed out that this bridge connects two Google offices, and it requires an executive pass to be able to use it.  So, there's that.  I was happy with this photo, obviously post-processed.


I guess this was a major junction.  Now it looks like an alien with long limbs... weird.


This is an interesting "framed" walkway.   There are a few other artist-y things along the path along with quite a number of benches.  Post-visit research reveals, pun intended, that this is The Standard, a hotel with glass floor to ceiling windows for that inner exhibitionist.  It's located directly across from an office building, so no telling what goes on there.  That said, there are curtains and the price is fairly cheap as NYC goes - ($160/nt presently). 



I believe the High Line has been extended, but I had other travels and called an end to this hike at the former National Biscuit Company and now Chelsea Market, described as a food hall, shopping mall, office building and television production facility.  I guess it had all that, and it's good to see old buildings being put to good use. I'd give it 5 Stars if only for the restroom cleanliness.










The Pineapple Thief - Live at Variety Playhouse


Sometimes you listen to an artist but you don't figure that you'll have the opportunity to hear them live.  The Pineapple Thief is one of those, an English progressive rock band that's been around since 1999 but now touring the U.S. as a headlining act.  This was their first stop.




The band is following up on their critically (and personally) acclaimed Dissolution album from 2018, which was their first to draw me in, despite occasional check-ins on their prior music.  There's a few reasons for that.  First would be that the lyrics hold and the tunes are memorable. And, the addition of drummer Gavin Harrison provides an instrumental element that keeps my attention, and probably most listener's. Eleven of the 16 songs were from their last two albums, when Harrison joined the band.  My thought, though is that songwriter, singer Bruce Soord happened to find his stride at the same time. 






From their entry, you could tell that the band wasn't rusty.  They played a couple times in March and otherwise had taken a break from touring since March, but their set list remains the same.  Soord confidently took the stage, and Variety Playhouse's sound system again delivered a well mixed sound, with clear vocals and instruments.


One benefit, of a sort, is the music is in the background when Soord sings, giving his voice plenty of room.  Arguably, as a "prog rock" band, one could argue that the band rarely has a chance to stretch itself musically.  In concert, you appreciate the musicianship more than on their recordings.  The chops are there, just shorter in duration than one might expect.


 It's pretty clear though, that while many bands labeled in the genre write music with fairly crappy lyrics, Soord writes lyrics, often personal and perhaps too often about relationship problems, and the music comes after. It's not that this is a better way to write a song, but it delivers a helpful context and meaning for the listener, as opposed to those who dispatch cliches based on prog's early 70's lyrical indulgences.


 Highlights for me were a strong choice for an opener in "Tear You Up," the followup "In Exile," "White Mist," a rocking "3000 Days," and really everything else from Dissolution.  Every band is going to throw in a slower song, but "That Shore" didn't carry its weight in the lineup. 



Overall, it was a great performance, particularly from Soord who carried the show.  Harrison's fluidity behind the set was often the eye candy, and bassist Jon Sykes brought the fire when the band was turned loose.  A great show!


Set list:


  • Tear You Up - Your Wilderness - 2016
  • In Exile - Your Wilderness - 2016
  • Alone at Sea - Magnolia - 2014
  • Threatening War - Dissolution - 2018
  • Far Below - Dissolution - 2018
  • No Man's Land - Your Wilderness - 2016
  • That Shore - Your Wilderness - 2016
  • Uncovering Your Tracks - Dissolution - 2018
  • Shed a Light - Dissolution - 2018
  • 3000 Days - Someone Here is Missing - 2010
  • Part Zero - 3000 Days - 2009
  • White Mist - Dissolution - 2018
  • Nothing at Best - Someone Here is Missing - 2010


Encore:


  • Not Naming Any Names - Dissolution - 2018
  • The Final Thing on My Mind - Your Wilderness - 2016
  • Snowdrops - Little Man - 2006