AFF Tank Museum

I’ve traveled past the billboards many times, but Danville, VA’s Tank Museum closes at 4:00 PM, and I just figured it would remain one of those things that I would never find to be a convenient stop.  However, the timing for this trip was modified slightly to accommodate the hours of Averett University’s library for genealogical research, which closed at 12:30 PM.  Having completely forgotten about the museum, I found myself driving right past it.  After a spirited conversation with myself regarding my arrival in Lynchburg, I turned the car around, and I’m glad I did. 

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The above photo was taken upon entering the lobby of the museum.  It was either “just” an idea to greet customers or a unique reminder that war, at least until then, was a people story at least as much as it was about technology.   Though flawed, “Tank,” starring Brad Pitt, gave some insight into what life might be like inside one of a tank.  No, thank you.  If you’re in a tank,  you’re as much a target as a weapon.

I’m not a tank geek, and I didn’t serve in the armed forces.  I’m just an adult who, as a kid, played “army” with plastic tanks and figures, watched tons of old war movies on TBS and otherwise read DC Comics’ GI Combat , a weird “comic” about an American tank “haunted” by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, an ancestor of tank Sgt. Jeb Stuart. When you’re a kid, you don’t think too hard about it – you just take it for what it is.

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In keeping with the Stuart name, the crew operated a series of Light M3 Stuart Tanks, before eventually gathering pieces from others to form a jigsaw tank.  I guess that’s what makes it a “new” haunted tank, as captioned above. 

So, immediately after the soldier with the wall cut-thru, adult kids find toys for sale.  It becomes obvious that a $12 admission isn’t keeping the lights on.

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We’re talking over 300,000 square feet of museum space, housing north of 120 tanks and artillery pieces.  Note:  If you’re traveling in the summer, one way of making this affordable is not to provide air-conditioning in much of the space.  There are pedestal fans, but, in any case, it’s worth the sweat if you’re even bothering reading my summary thus far.

Following are briefer thoughts and observations.  First off… Everyone should be humored by an opportunity to use a latrine.  It’s not like you can find a communal bathroom just anywhere.  Oh.  Well, never mind.

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The below is a German Panzer IV, somehow fitting a crew of five.  In some ways, the pedigree of the exhibits are as interesting as the tanks themselves.  Apparently badly damaged in WWII, rebuilt in Czechoslovakia in the late 1940’s, given to the Syrian Army, serving as a static bunker gun sniping at Israeli outposts, this and similar Panzers generally destroyed in the 1967 War, and eventually given to the museum as a gift from Israel.   At most exhibits, there is similar information posted, and for many, there is also an audio option playable from a smart-phone app lasting a couple minutes each.

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Below is a M60 Patton, powered by a Chrysler engine. It was made from 1959 into the 1980’s, and it outperforms Russian contemporaries.

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Speaking of which, below is a Russian T34, built in 1941 to 1950 and still found in active service in other countries, which, despite the claims of the Patton, may be one of the more universally accepted "best of” tanks.

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Below is a M103 A2 Heavy Tank, and it looks that way.  By the time it was perfected, the Army and Marines no longer had a need for it.  1952-1973.

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US M47 Patton.  8 gallons of gas per mile, weighing 50 tons, and can still do 30 mph.  It cost $208k to build in 1953.

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The below is a US M37 105mm Self-Propelled Howitzer.  It looks unsightly, required a crew of seven.  They cost $40k in 1945, and few were made or remain.  Many old tanks were later used as practice targets for training exercises, and a good number of the tanks on display were donated by the military, sparing their eventual destruction.

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A Soviet T54A Iraqi Tank is shown below, made from 1947-1960.   This particular tank is believed to have been in use b the Iraqi Army and captured by the U.S.

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The tank below, a M1917 “Six Ton Special” Light Tank, was considered top secret in 1918, and the term “tank” was even considered a secret. It required a crew of two, could muster 5.5 mph.  This was the first US tank manufactured but was not developed in time for WWI. It was in service until 1931, after which they were scrapped for metal.  Only about a dozen still exist, and this one may have been used in a Laurel and Hardy movie.

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Sadly, I didn’t see a M3 Stuart Light Tank, so this M5 has to do.  The difference was twin Cadillac engines in the upgraded version.  In fact, most of the US tanks shown here included either Cadillac or Chrysler engines.  Only about a dozen of these remain.

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For anyone who thinks the Swiss are and always have been neutral… we have the STRV 74 Medium Tank.  Reputed to be the best gun designers in the world, the Swiss generally made light tanks, but had to upgrade to medium when Germany developed heavy tanks such as the Tiger 1.  This one was poorly designed and “obsolete” even by 1942, though it remained in service until the 1980’s.

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Where “staging” is provided, the museum does it pretty well.  This is a US M18 Hellcat, a “tank destroyer.”  They cost (only) $57,500, and they sacrificed armor for speed (55 mph), but had an open top turret which was disliked.

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Not pictured are many other additional tanks, artillery guns, personnel carriers and similar.   I took photos, but… enough is enough?  There are a lot of great exhibits that deserve a visit.  That said, there are other types of exhibits about the place.

Through much of the display area, walls are covered with a variety of tank photographs (with and without crews), “art,” postcards, emblems and patches, posters, pop culture exhibits, etc.  I suspect that the grandchildren of many tankers have found the museum to be the ideal repository for the hand-me-down “war stuff.”  Good idea.

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Similarly, there is a Westworld military apparel exhibit.  It didn’t do much for me, but it’s there.

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Similarly, there are rooms of rifles and similar, but they’re viewable at such a distance that they lose interest.

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The below as not explained other than an accompanying movie poster.  Is it a model from the movie? I’d guess so.  But it was a strange insertion, though it’s appropriate that it found a home somewhere.

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That said, it’s far more understandable than this sad vehicle.  $500?  Really?

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Why spend that money when below is a more historical fixer upper?  And heavily discounted, too.  No mention if shipping and handling is included…

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Whether those proceeds benefit the museum is unknown, but it was apparent that there are other sources of income.  If you’ll remember the radio controlled tank at the entrance, you’ll note that they make events for such.

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Note:  The above had running water.  I’d be curious to watch one of these events. 

Another invitation for toys you don’t own would be to observe “Flamethrower Day!” (Sept. 1).  No, you don’t get to play with them, but a video was playing showing the death of Flammable Fred and other displays, not to mention an observable gap between participants and the audience.

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If you’re curious, THIS is an article about the museum and financial struggles.  That said, there were no issues that I could see – the museum was in good condition and numerous staff or volunteers were present, either working on “things” or available to answer questions.

Should you visit, plan on several hours if you have an interest in experiencing the place at a comfortable leisure.

Lord Huron–Vide Noir

In the search for current music that, at best, I like, or, at least, intrigues me, I’m  somewhere in between with Lord Huron.  This four piece band hits a lot the mLordHuron_Vide_Noir_Reviewarks.  Their last, Strange Trails, hit a number of things I liked – strange and eerily charming stories, decent tunes, and an overall concept – including the cover at – that was on the mark.

Three years later, they release Vide Noir, or “Black Void.”  All things considered, the album “art” is right on the mark.  In two different songs, “a pure, black void” is referenced.  On their last outing, the imagery was very much nature based, not transcendental, but a lush setting for the strange things happening in the lyrics.  This time, the CD can be summed up as “The girl got away, and I’m lost.”  In space. 

There are twelve tracks on the album, and without too much difficulty, extracting a line from each song pretty well sets the narrative of the album:
I lie awake and say your name into the night
You’re a conjured lie; a figment of my mind
I’m alive for now but good as dead
And I won’t believe in death ‘til I die 
Someday I’ll be dead and gone
Wanna leave the Earth and my things behind
Don’t know what to believe, but I know I’m alive
Can I cross beyond that line?
Now the trail has gone cold
I was drifting through time and space
Heading into a pure, black void
To take you away and out of this place
Maybe you get the gist.  The good news is that you don’t have to be bothered by the lyrics.  First, the band chose not to include them in the CD booklet, instead inserting a bunch of completely uninteresting pictures.  Second, much like their last album, the production focus on reverbs makes the lyrics pretty much intelligible on the faster paced songs.  If you know the lyrics, you can follow along, but otherwise…

Well, there’s the music.  While band leader/lyricist/singer Ben Schneider narrowed his focus significantly, the band has stepped up to make the best music of their career.   Drums – interesting and appropriate, bass – finding a groove and frequently defining a song; keyboards and guitars – frequently trippy; and so on.  In short, you can really like the music without bothering yourself with the lyrics. And, in spite of all that, it may end up being my favorite album of the year.

Next time, I’m hoping the band keeps to the current pace of development, and our fearless leader sinks a little more effort into the wild and weird things that sets this band apart from all the other retro/reverb bands.

4 of 5 STARS_thumb

Favorites include:  “Ancient Names Part 1,” “Secret of Life","The Balancer’s Eye,” “Vide Noir”



Belle & Sebastian–Live at The Tabernacle

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Time flies.  Belle and Sebastian last visited Atlanta in 2014, but my concert buddy and I saw them on what I think was their first visit to Atlanta on May 13, 2002.  A lot has changed since then.  Technically a seven piece band, they’ve only lost one member since then (trumpet), since replaced.  For touring they seem to have added two additional players.

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The concert began with the autobiographical song of band leader, Stuart Murdoch who has made no secrets in interviews that “… this is a pop band that sprang out of infirmity.”  “Nobody’s Empire” is a straightforward recounting and honest reflection of his affliction with chronic fatigue syndrome that preceded the forming of the band in 1996 and reappeared in the 2000’s.   A part of the lyric regards a co-sufferer:

Lying on my side you were half awake

And  your face was tired and crumpled

If I had a camera I’d snap you now

Cause there’s beauty in every stumble

Attitude is everything, as evidenced not only by the band’s body of work but the transition from the fairly timid performance of 16 years ago compared to the master of celebration that took the stage Sunday night.

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The remainder of the songs weren’t quite so frightening by subject or directness.  In fact, it’s the witty sketches of others, informed by Murdoch’s musings of others living their lives while ill, that launched the band.  That, and a knack for finding musicians willing to follow a vision and disregard essentially everything happening in the music world at the time.  

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And the band employs instruments aplenty.  Multiple keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, violin, cello, recorder, drums… and others… there’s generally something for everyone to contribute even as they routinely rotate instruments through the show.  Last time, I recall one to two members sitting at the edge of a stage between songs when they didn’t have anything to play.  No longer.

The concert included a variety of fan favorites, though certainly filled with holes by fan preferences.  That said, the band gets credit – they change the setlist each night, and the only seeming obligatory song was the inclusion of a female’s vocals on a video feed on “Play for Today,” an odd choice among so many better songs in any case.  

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Otherwise, backgrounds appeared much like the characters – faces, places and such that form the spine of Murdoch’s songs.  Having just arrived from Washington DC, Murdoch was careful to make it sound like he had been in town a while, mentioning the humidity and showing photos of some favorite graffiti in the area.  Maybe these were new, or maybe when the band recorded an album in Atlanta some years ago.  Happily, almost every song had a brief monologue, whether chatty or humorous, even including a promo for the band’s own cruise planned for next year.

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And then, the keyboard bass line of “Boy with the Arab Strap,” and the party begins afresh.  Inviting quite a number of fans on the stage to dance, the crowd was into it, with Murdoch inserting different lyrics at the end of the song, warning the dancers of the danger of falling off the edge of the stage and noting it would be a sad end to the band to be victim to a lawsuit.

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Party time.

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And, why not enter the crowd at balcony level?

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Throughout the show, Murdoch spent tons of energy.  With the other bandmembers grounded to their instruments, Murdoch danced the night away, fully confident in himself, the music and their audience, itself an interesting mix of ages and styles.

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Murdoch took requests for the encore, choosing two songs that have been frequently played in recent nights, choosing, appropriately, to close with one of the their more poignant early songs, “Judy and the Dream of Horses.”   Favorites for me were “The Fox in the Snow,” “Sukie in the Graveyard” and “The Boy with the Arab Strap” – if only they could have played all of the album.

Setlist:

Nobody’s Empire
I’m a Cuckoo
We Were Beautiful
The State I Am In
Seeing Other People
The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
The Fox in the Snow
Sweet Dew Lee
I Want the World to Stop
The Wrong Girl
Sukie in the Graveyard
The Same Star
Play for Today
Another Sunny Day
The Boy with the Arab Strap
The Party Line

Encore:

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Judy and the Dream of Horses

U2–Live at Arena at Gwinnett

U2 has been on my list of acts to see, but the price has always been high.  So, enter a U2 tour stop at Gwinnett, metro Atlanta’s rural option for a “big arena” show, and, well, they’re getting older  - I’m getting older – and it’s time to fork over the cash… literally a half year in advance.  Such begets front row tickets! (in the upper deck).

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Staging should be less a mystery to me than this concert was.  A giant screen runs the length, obviously connecting two stages – the main stage at the end of the arena, and a circular stage nearest my seat.  Obviously, the band members would travel “the bridge,” and the reflective screen in the middle kind of makes sense for people on the sides to view projections.  However, it’s a beast that divides the stage for those in the opposite end.  Solution:  It rises.  Duh.  That explains the many people who sere lined up at the sides expecting to see something more than the video show… obviously.

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So, we begin with images of Bono but no band in sight.  Then all the band, but no actual people. 

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The grand reveal:

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Further revealed.  My concert companion asked how much floor tickets were.  I don’t recall, but I’m no stranger to standing, and if I had known the design, the floor is definitely the place to be.

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The screen comes down, the drum set goes up, and we find the band at the end of the arena where generally expected.

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The screen also held sway in interludes of sorts, generally providing a visual for Bono’s concert motif, moving from innocence, to experience and back to innocence again, playing off the titles of their last two CDs.  The video board was imaginatively used and added a lot to the show, no less the effect for its unusual placement.

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In an intermission of sorts, we followed a comic version of our intrepid super-band, presented in classic Marvel style. It led finally to hand-off of the below:

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The band appeared on the circular “e” stage following this, for a better audience “experience.”  Or, it could be looked at more pragmatically, for a series of songs where Edge didn’t need his guitar pedals.  What followed was Bono singing to a special camera, where a graphical overlay of the devil was placed – it worked pretty well even in limited motion.

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So, the “e” stage.  Note how close the crowd was able to get – better than festivals and many smaller indoor venues.

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The concert was generally better, I thought, when the band played in proximity to each other – perhaps there was more energy, perhaps it was less scanning to figure out who was where.  Now, if, in addition the cleverly projected graphics projected from underneath the stage surface, if they might have designed a rotating stage as well… C’mon guys.  John Denver did it in the 70’s.

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What the heck, let’s add a disco ball.

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That’s the spectacle. On to the music.  Most notably, and surprising to me, was Bono’s voice, which sounded early 90’s – none of the occasional raspiness which appears in later recordings.

For song selection, I have to give the show a C+.  Giving a nod for turning the show into the equivalent of a concept album, I’d say it was all the wrong songs for all the right reasons.  Sure, they just did a tour last year celebrating The Joshua Tree, but there are those of us who don’t make it to every tour, or any of them.  To not have included any songs from the band’s centerpiece is subtracts a letter grade in and of itself, no matter how tired the songs may be to the band or some members of the audience.

The band played a generous setlist of 24 songs, but only nine of which I would have hoped to have heard if I could have drawn up my own list.  Some of the others were only vaguely familiar in that U2ish way.   Still, I was pleased for some of their very early work, particularly “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the accompanying graphics show.

So, here’s where the songs came from:

Boy - 2
October - 1
War - 1
The Unforgettable Fire - 1
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Rattle and Hum - 1
Achtung Baby – 3
Zooropa - 0
Pop - 1
All That You Can’t Leave Behind - 2
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - 2
No Line on the Horizon - 0
Songs of Innocence – 2
Songs of Experience – 8

I have to add that, while researching the above, I happily discovered that U2 did an album in 1995(!) under the pseudonym “The Passengers.”  It’s experimental, certainly, but there was more of it that appealed to me than No Line on the Horizon, for example.  (Try “Miss Sarajevo”)

As much as Bono has inserted himself on the world stage as a political mover and shaker, one can’t help but expect a dose of “We can do better.”  The political nod of this show mostly focused on women’s equality, which, having a daughter, I can’t argue.  That said, there were two statements that made me cringe:  1) Poverty is sexist and 2) No one is equal until all people are equal.   For either to be true, there are a number of assumptions that would have to be made, never mind contextual assertions that would require agreement to arrive at those conclusions.  If they’re posted to make people think, then, well done.

Elsewhere, Bono did a nice job of playing to the locals, with nods to Martin Luther King and a hint of REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” tacked onto “Vertigo.”  

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The encore was “interesting.”  The first song was “One,” certainly a very good song, setting up what I thought might be a Joshua Tree tune or “Mysterious Ways” or such for a grand finale.  Instead, the band closed with two songs off of their latest release, both of which fit the “concept” but which do not qualify as musically invigorating.  The show was artfully concluded, certainly, with Bono having lifted a light for all the world to see, as it goes.  And, with the house lights slow to turn back on – suggesting there might be a little extra coming… Sorry folks! The show is over.  

All things said, I greatly enjoyed the show, and if anything, I’m interested in reexploring a number of their older CDs which I had set aside in U2 overexposure back in the day. 

Setlist:

  • Love is All We Have Left
  • The Blackout
  • Lights of Home
  • I Will Follow
  • Gloria
  • Beautiful Day
  • The Ocean
  • Iris (Hold Me Close)
  • Cedarwood Road
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Until the End of the World
    Elevation
    Vertigo
  • Desire
  • Acrobat
  • You’re the Best Thing About Me
  • Staring at the Sun
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Get Out of Your Own Way
  • American Soul
  • City of Blinding Lights

Encore:

  • One
  • Love is Bigger than Anything in its Way
  • 13 (There is a Light)