Steven Wilson–Live at Center Stage

 

This was my third time seeing Steven Wilson in concert, the first time with his group Porcupine Tree featuring fine musicians that he creatively controlled, and twice as a solo artist, with accomplished musicians that contribute musically.  A bit backwards, eh?  In any case, this is the Hands.Cannot.Erase tour, in support of his last album of that name, and a generous 3 hour show. 

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Generous, as the last stop in town supporting The Raven that Refused to Sing, included the entirety of that album, plus a handful of songs afterwards.  Also, both of the past shows had a very formal feel – Wilson set the tone that everyone be gathered for a presentation by the band, rather than a participatory environment.  This night, Wilson acknowledged that his “heart sank” when he saw the venue had seats – this was to be a rock show in a venue perfectly designed for his previous visits, with tiered rows even.  In any case, it was perfect for me. 

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The sound quality was a smidgen short of excellent, with Nick Begg’s bass sometimes rumbling through too much.  But otherwise, the instruments were well defined, and Wilson’s voice was clear.  Absent was female vocalist Ninet Tayeb, who accompanied the band for an earlier segment of the tour.  Her voice appeared courtesy of a Mac,  but I had hoped that she might have contributed to other songs, adding a warmth or, at times, an operatic quality that benefits Wilson’s music.

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Highlights included anything with Tayeb’s voice – “Routine,” “Ancestral,” and the reworking of Porcupine Tree’s “Don’t Hate Me” – as well as “My Book of Regrets,” and “Index,” a very creepy song that conjures Silence of the Lambs.  Also, Wilson was chattier than other shows, talking about Bowie, Prince, and the modern challenges of pop music… There was self-deprecating humor as well, given his generally depressing themes – something along the lines of music is his way of working them out, then putting them onto his audience…

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Instrumentally, I was most impressed with former Miles Davis sideman Adam Holzman on keyboards, adding retro prog sounds regularly, and watching Nick Beggs play a “Stick” bass is always interesting.  In any case, the band was excellent.  The presentation was as well, with frequent videos or animations featured with songs, and an ever changing light show.  A drop curtain at the front edge of the stage added a nice visual from a distance capturing projections interestingly – it had annoyed me during the last tour, distorting the view as I was closer to the stage. 

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The crowd was varied in all the right ways – various ages, many sporting their requisite black concert T-shirts of favored progressive rock bands.  A surprising number brought dates, and one gentleman brought his wife, daughter and son-in-law – the latter two apparently uninitiated to Wilson’s music.  Also, I’ll call out my concert buddy for failing to pay for sufficient parking time, thus having to exit early.  Really?

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The opener, John Wesley, who toured with Porcupine Tree when they were active, was disappointing.  While the guy can play great guitar leads, he focused on songs from his newest album, a significant step down from his previous release.   Any nuance in vocals and guitars was obliterated in a aural wall of pedal effects, sadly.   It’s just not necessary.

Set list:

First Regret
3 Years Older
Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Perfect Life
Routine
Home Invasion
Regret #9
Transience
Ancestral
Happy Returns
Ascendant Here On

Intermission:

Dark Matter
Index
My Book of Regrets
Lazarus
Harmony Korine
Don’t Hate Me
Vermillioncore
Sleep Together

Encore:

Sign of the Times (Prince)
The Sound of Muzak
The Raven That Refused to Sing

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club–Live at Masquerade

I guess email marketing works.  I’ve been reminded of this upcoming concert several times a week from the various events/tickets/entertainment emails I get.  Absent my concert buddy, my son leapt at the chance once he heard that Death From Above 1979 was playing with them.  I thought that they were opening for BRMC, but it’s more of a co-headlining deal as evidenced by a good sized crowd when we arrived and the amount of merch they bring with them.  This doesn’t usually happen for an evening with three bands on the slate.   We arrived in time to catch a few songs by Deap Valley (not misspelled), two female rockers and the true opener.  I quickly understood that the volume level would be high and that the lyrics would be unintelligible, even standing behind the mixing booth.

We moved closer to the speakers in time for DFA, which turns out to be two guys, one playing bass like it’s a guitar, and a drummer/singer.  Loud, hard, aggressive – self-described as a dance-punk duo – my son informs me that there may be a mosh pit.  There wasn’t, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t see or hear much of the dancing variety, but the band had the punk vibe down.  I was entertained to a degree, but those who enjoyed it most knew the words before they arrived.   Giving selected songs a listen in arears, I like their recorded work better, and I’d probably like some of their songs live in a better venue.  It was an 11 song set, of which two managed to resonate a little, “Black History Month” and “Trainwreck 1979.”  Why?  Because they had some semblance of a tune, as opposed to just a riff.

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So, with a warmup band and two headlines, the expectation is for a 4.5 hour bout of standing (no seats in this venue).  After moving to the middle and finding ourselves standing behind giants, my son was agreeable to a reasonable wall space where we could lean for the duration.  Ah, a wall to lean on – shifting feet, bending… good things.  BRMC finally came on and rocked the night away, especially compared with their 2013 show, with only 8 songs overlapping.  Regrettably, they didn’t choose to play “American X” this night, though they have a couple times on this tour.

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Of course, I came to see BRMC, so it’s no surprise that I could fathom some of the words, particularly the choruses due to the repetition.  It’s unfortunate that such a revered venue sucked this night on their overall sound.  They only have about three weeks left to get it right as they’re moving to Underground Atlanta due to real estate pressures on the current property.  In a way, this is unfortunate, because the Masquerade has a very unique atmosphere, with three different floors and an aged building that looks aged.

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The band played two new songs, “Bandung Hum” (“This is the fast one”) and “Haunt” which I favored by quite a bit.  I’ll have to wait for the next album to hear what they’re actually about… 

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Overall, it was a good outing – exposure to a different band that I otherwise would not have heard, and confirmation that BRMC belongs in my music collection when the mood strikes.  Maybe next time they’ll play at Variety Playhouse, or perhaps Masquerade will hire professionals for outfitting their new venue. Oh, and 10 points off for not playing an encore.

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Set lists:

Death from Above 1979 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Always On Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
Right On, Frankenstein Rival
Virgins Ain’t No Easy Way
Cheap Talk Shuffle Your Feet
Black History Month Hate the Taste
Trainwreck 1979 Berlin
Little Girl Bandung Hum
White is Red Haunt
Romantic Rights 666 Conducer
Government Trash Conscience Killer
The Physical World Awake
  Red Eyes and Tears
  Six Barrel Shotgun
  Spread Your Love
  Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll

2016 Presidential Prediction

This will be my third Presidential Prediction, but just when I thought of applying for a patent on The Methodology, it appears the effort would be wasted as its 100% reliability is likely to be disproved.  But, hey, speaking of 100% wasted, that’s pretty much the guarantee this particular November.  The despicable (no one is calling liberals that) and the deplorable (someone is calling Republicans that) face off on whether the Corrupt or the Crackpot will take the Oval Office . 

I’ve been incredibly non-partisan, I think, my last two times at bat, and even looking back at prior elections to test The Methodology.  As a quick reminder, here ‘tis:   Liberals vote Democratic, Conservatives vote Republican, and the soft gooey center of the populace (the undecided) votes for the candidate that they would invite to a backyard BBQ.   Please understand, gentle reader, that backyard BBQ’s do not include discussion of religion or politics.  That limits the subjects under discussion, happily.  Your friends are visiting, there’s a cooker bellowing smoke with your favored meat, a couple coolers full of beer sit adjacent to the recycling bin, plenty of lawn chairs are spread around the deck/porch/yard, and there’s maybe a few kids running through a lawn sprinkler because someone’s babysitter didn’t show.  Got it pictured?  Well, let’s get to it! 

First up, Hillary Clinton!

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Oops.  Wrong Secretary of State.  Drat!

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Ah, here we go.  Hillary Clinton. 

Well, I can’t find a single hobby, activity or generally fun thing about Mrs. Clinton that would suggest she’s good company.   Her defining presence in public USA has been “the first woman to be elected President of the United States,” a role for which she’s been preparing for over 20 years.  Her experience as a New York State Senator and as Secretary of State uniquely qualify her as a person who cares.  Well, caring worked for her husband, and it’s a smart tactic when you haven’t actually accomplished anything (positive) during your decades of public service.   In BBQ terms, we’re nowhere. 

What works against her, well, I’ll trim the list.   1) Often reputed by former White House staffers and Secret Service personnel to have a temperament that varies between striking the fear of God in lackeys (duck in doorways if you see her coming, folks) and 2) the condescension that comes from identifying and surviving every Right Wing Conspiracy since before her husband was even elected.   Her “Let them eat cake” moment is coming, and her adoring followers love it because someone else will pay for it.  Oh, wait.  Keeping this in BBQ terms.  Well, condescension… boredom… longsuffering… Benghazi.  Libya.  Whatever.  She’s no fun.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t consider the risk of inviting her into my home as well.  It could get awkward arguing that any furnishings she took a fancy to were not intended as gifts.

Which brings me to The Donald:

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Look at him, not even a politician yet, and  he’s already handing out treats.  The hat though… definitely a need.

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What would work at the BBQ for the Donald is… the company he keeps!

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And it’s not a big deal!  Twenty or thirty women, and, look at ‘em,  it’s not like it’s going to cost me more to feed them.  They don’t eat!  On the other hand, they’re overdressed, and the only photo I can find with the Donald in casual mode is:

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And you know what?  That’s okay.  Guys like to talk golf.  And, maybe he’d bring some of these friends also.  Joe Torre for baseball, Billy Krystal for jokes and, heck, Bill Clinton for how to pick up women and piss Hillary off at the same time!

Now, before anyone gets offended, let’s restate the scene.  This is a BBQ not chosen by me, but by the “undecideds.”  This term doesn’t include those reasonably intelligent people who loudly declare that they’re independent thinkers and not mindless lemmings falling for Party platitudes (and who always vote for the same Party).  No, no no!  This is a BBQ party by those people who vote only if the polling station doesn’t detour them their weekly lottery buy, if it doesn’t interfere with bowling league, and/or if they don’t need to rush home to Entertainment Tonight to see what a plastic surgeon says about a Kardashian’s latest look.  As such, they’re not going to be bothered by “He said he did what to women?” or otherwise question if Trump actually agreed with any of the words coming from his mouth.  Just keep those PBRs coming!

So, then. The Methodology speaks, loudly.  Your next President:

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Now, normally, I’d leave it right there, because I trust the Methodology (and it hasn’t actually failed yet, has it?).  But reality suggests it will, and this aggravates me severely, not because I prefer a Trump outcome, but because just when I figure my Methodology is ready to be patented, I get stuck with this abomination of an election as my base presumption is found in error.   I’ll explain, and maybe I can garner an asterisk for 2016 and look for a more compliant 2020.  Liberals are doing their part.  They’re voting Democrat.   Conservatives though… The Methodology says conservatives vote Republican.  I think they did… in the Primaries, where their votes were sliced and diced among any number of candidates who would otherwise now be leading the polls.  But that is not the case because just enough of those gooey “Deplorables” (Hillary’s word for a sizable group of American citizens) actually voted in the Primary, for a non-conservative, in high enough numbers!  They really have no place voting in Primaries.

So, where do conservatives turn?  If they decide that four years of Trump is a lesser evil than a decidedly liberal Supreme Court for the next 20 years… they hold their nose, mute their conscience, detour around any public admission, and select the (R) candidate… and cross their fingers for four years.  Gun rights advocates really have no choice but to vote Trump.  Otherwise, the only other conservative choice is Evan McMullin, a write-in candidate… a noble gesture and and concession that 12 years of liberalism is bound to bring better things next time (and in doing so place their trust in an inept Republican Congress while praying that the Supreme Court justices enjoy their good health and find retirement objectionable.)

In any case, the non-Methodology prognostication is that for at least the next four years, our Pravda TV networks and newspapers will remind us regularly that the nose continues to grow as we age.

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Stone Mountain Highland Games

My wife and I decided to go explore the 44th Annual Stone Mountain Highland Games and Festival.  These events are apparently held all over the nation now, but Stone Mountain’s has proven some endurance.  There was much that we didn’t see, for example competitions for Highland dance, harp, fiddling, piping and drumming, as well as various musical performances and sheep herding (done the next day).  But here’s the summary.

First, there’s the story teller, looking and dressed for the role.  He’s  reviewing breakfast foods and whatever else that might either interest people or, better, persuade them to visit Scotland.  With a face like that, there’s dozens of movies he should have been in.

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The opening ceremonies had various people who are the head of clans or otherwise hold some sort of official status in Scotland or here.  Aside from the kilt and requisite wardrobe, it seems a walking stick is a requirement.  Clan shepherds, I suppose.

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Once ensconced in their Officials booth, the music was queued with drums, fifes and, of course, bagpipes.  How do you tell one bagpipe tune from another?  By the titles.

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The drummers use tenor drum sticks, essentially small balls at the tips, but with a handle wrapped so that they can spin them in the air when they raise their arm.  It’s not done in unison, but, hey, it was something to watch.

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After they had marched in, there was speaking and… Hey, with everyone watching, it’s a good time to grab a bite to eat!

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We didn’t get our food from this vendor, but let it be known that I could have had haggis and was not man enough for it.  Instead, we went to a vendor who had this:  Fish and Chips, Meat Pie, and a Scottish Egg (located in the back of the photo).  The egg is boiled, somehow wrapped in sausage, coated in bread crumbs, and deep fried.  Eh, when in (almost) Scotland… why not?  I had the Scottish Egg.

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Not bad, but next time, it’ll be the fish and chips.

The main program interest for us was the athletic events.  Participants are divided into men and women, and on the men’s side, at least, further divided into Professional Masters, Professional, and Amateurs A and B.  Sunday would host the women’s division and a competition between clans.  But first, it wouldn’t be a legitimate event without Renaissance Fair-looking flags:

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Ok, must be legit.  First observations were some amateurs taking some reps with the Stone of Strength.  It’s 28 lbs. and made of granite.  I have no idea how far they threw it, but it wasn’t far.  The record is almost 40’ for the Stone Mountain competition.  Each competitor gets three turns, with the farthest toss counting for their score.

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Next up was The Weight – divided into two competitions using 56 and 28 lb. weights, attached to  a short chain.  There is a stick on the ground which is not a foot fault limitation but rather a hand fault – which should not pass the line before releasing the weight.  Professionals seemed to take full two revolutions as they approached it for release.

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The 56 lb. weight is also tossed for height in a separate competition.  The records for distance are 48’ 10” and 95’ 5” respectively.  Next up is the Sheaf Toss, where a 20 lb. sheaf of hay in a burlap bag is thrown using a pitchfork over a bar.  The competitor fits the fork, and most took a couple of back and forth swinging motions before releasing it over their shoulders and hoping for the best.  We saw a few clear the bar.

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I don’t think that particular toss made it.  And, lastly, there was the Caber Toss.  The goal is to toss it end over end with the small end falling directly away from the competitor’s feet as it is released.  A judge follows the competitor to essentially judge the fall somewhere between 10:00 and 2:00 on a watch face, with 12:00 being perfect.  Most observed “tosses” failed to make it past the vertical, and a side judge would at least judge the angle that it reached.  Helpers would place and hold the caber vertically while the contestant fitted it against his shoulder.  He then has to measure the balance and get his hands under it unassisted.  The judge can call for the contestant to drop it if it appears he’s losing control – as the referees, other contestants, and observers could be hurt.  Several tended to waver around a little after the initial lift.  How long they held it or with what speed they were walking when they made the toss didn’t seem to matter.  The timing of the toss appeared to be the critical element, with the heavy end of the Caber already in motion as gravity does it work.  Here’s a series of an almost perfect toss.  The Caber was over 19’ and weighed about 150 lbs.

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And, then there was people watching.  Here, a gentleman wears his Scottish baseball cap and some standard American apparel.

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I have no idea what authentic Scottish headwear is, but maybe this guy has it.  It also begs the question of shoes – laced dress shoes or hiking sneakers… Hmm.  I’d guess the latter when carrying the walking stick.

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Wearing a kilt doesn’t mean that you have to go full-Scot, though.

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This was the only sword I saw, but, hey, it’s a nice one, and otherwise it just sits on the den wall, right?

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And, some people just wear whatever.  But that’s okay.

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Clan reunions are like family reunions, so many wore their respective Clan shirts.

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My wife noted that there was no small number of red-headed children, so it seems as if some belong.  Otherwise, there was a sense that the various clans, staked out in tents, are happy to have anyone join who has a name reasonably similar to the Clan name, if willing to join their club for a fee.

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And, once you’re part of the family, you should go buy the clan plaid, right?   It was definitely for sale (and, I believe, anyone can officially apply for a registered pattern for their family name for a fee as well).

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There were other things for sale.  Gargoyles and other creepy things:

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T-shirts:

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Kilts. Here, a Georgia fan is probably looking to switch his allegiance to something more enduring.

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As we were leaving, we watched a few more Caber tosses.  The “pitch” had a slope to it that we hadn’t noticed earlier.

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Cool stuff, but at $20 per person admission plus a $15 park admission, this was a “one and done” event for us.  Still, it was a beautiful fall Saturday and a good outdoor experience.