Band of Friends–Live at The Vista Room

“Are you with us?”  “Are you WITH US!?”  Bassist Gerry McAvoy raises his arms, beckoning the audience response, his voice increasingly forceful. “ARE YOU WITH US!!!!?”

In the context of a rock band and its audience, that could say it all, but for fans of this music, it’s so much more. 



There was a guitarist named Rory Gallagher.  Maybe you've heard of him.  Musicians can remark on his ability to shift between scales, his use of the pick, and general mastery of the fretboard, but for me, the translation of emotion to guitar sounds is unequaled.  He's connected in a way that most musicians can only dream about.  It's the ability to improvise regularly at a professional level, making the same familiar songs distinctive from night to night.  Pity the backing band that has to figure out where he's going and when he's going to stop.  It's the opposite of today's down pat live music that has to play to expectations or repeat the same song exactly to coordinate with visual or sound effects. 

Rory Gallagher


Anyway, the point is that there are many, many fans with deep knowledge of the “classic rock” era of blues based guitar gods – Clapton, Page, Beck, Trower, Hendrix – who have never heard a note from the guy.  Those guitar players who do know of him revere him. He was distrusting of record labels, managed his own career, wrote capable songs even if they had little commercial chance, and along the way managed to release 14 studio and live albums until he died in 1995.  For those who found him, his music can be enjoyed on those records and many others released posthumously, never mind a plethora of bootleg recordings.  My experience is that I loved his guitar solos first, then came to like the lyrics, which largely sets his mood for the next solo, and lastly his vocals, which if anything were true to his overall sound.



Band of Friends, then, falls close to being a tribute band, except that it has McAvoy, Rory’s bassist, who played on every one of his albums and was a key presence in the Rory “sound.”  No one plays like Rory, and that isn't necessarily the point.  The mission per the band is to keep his music and memory alive.

Gerry McAvoy

Back in his heyday, Gallagher would wind the song down to a hushed guitar tone, playing with the audience, then ask, “Are you with me?”  And again. And again, drawing the audience's emotion until he finally unleashed a rocking solo.  So it's apt that, McAvoy, who was usually found to the side and behind Gallagher, remains just as animated as he ever was but now owns the stage – but chooses to share the stage with his guitarist, Davy Knowles, in a sense respecting that it's the guitar that draws a crowd, but also sharing the stage in a way that it was never shared with him.  It’s now about “us” rather than “me.”  And what a blast it was to hear the music and see McAvoy enjoying himself so much.

Davy Knowles


Foremost, though, it’s just awesome to hear songs that only Rory played, live.  Nearby.  At an intimate venue.  By a band who cares deeply about the music.   And it’s even more rewarding, in having read McAvoy’s biography, to see the guy carrying on with the same spirit three or more decades later, calling his settled audience out of its seats.  Or hushing the din of conversation for Knowle's quieter licks.  Or demanding silence when he tells a story.  There's a presence in the room, really.  Part of that is McAvoy.  And the other is Rory's music.  Live, it isn't to be "listened to;" it's participatory.  The band obviously lives and loves their work, and that makes it fun for everyone.




Ask for Irish whiskey, you get Irish whiskey


Set list (or something close to it):
  • Messing with the Kid
  • Shin Kicker
  • Do You Read Me
  • Moonchild
  • Off the Handle
  • Bought and Sold
  • Double Vision
  • Homeland
  • Riverbed
  • A Million Miles Away
  • Tattoo’d Lady
  • Bad Penny
  • Shadow Play
Encore:
  • Bullfrog Blues




Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets – Live at the Tabernacle

As much as I enjoy Pink Floyd, hearing that their drummer, Nick Mason, was touring and playing their early era music was a no-brainer.  He was never the focal point of the band, but a rock legend is a rock legend, and there are only so many chances.



His assembled band, named after Pink Floyd’s second album, featured vocals by Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, who also played rhythm and lead guitar, and bassist Guy Pratt, who toured with the band in the post-Roger Waters era.  Both had similar voices and at times traded verses like they were written for them.  Keyboardist Dom Beken and guitarist Lee Harris rounded out the band. 



Given the nature of the band’s first few albums and the very retro light show, it was hard not to be drawn into the psychedelic presentation of their Syd Barrett era music.  For most fans of Pink Floyd, they wouldn’t recognize that that this is the same band, given the very dated sounds and rare covers of these songs in their later years.  Kudos to Nick Mason for finding a space in the band’s repertoire that doesn’t compete with the expectations of Floyd’s two acrimonious leaders and apparently having a blast doing it.  



Gary Kemp


The segue into Floyd’s “progressive” sounds were found in songs from Meddle and Obscured by Clouds, which have smoother, groovier sound than the more clearly “psychedelic” sounds of their early albums, which might be characterized by hyperactive or spacier keyboards, odd rhythms, noodling guitar leads and vocal harmonies.

  
And for that reason, my post-concert thoughts kept returning to the show as an artifact, certainly an enjoyable one, but still a bit of a time capsule.  The show was extremely well presented, the sound and lights were excellent, and… there’s just no way that it resembled an “authentic experience,” back in an era when the music was both new and exciting, never mind that that the audience and the band would likely have been under a pharmaceutical influence sufficient to overcome lapses in the sonics and visual sophistication of the era.  Today, it’s pretty easy to identify their better constructed and and more enduring songs, and there just aren’t that many.  That said, heard and seen live, there is also a punk vibe to some of the songs, like “The Nile Song,” which aren’t too far removed from what the Clash and others brought to music ten years later.


As for Nick Mason, he played effortlessly, and filled in gaps between the songs with entertaining comments about the years past, which, based on concert reviews, were just as practiced as the music.  “We’re not the Australian Roger Waters” hits the funny bone especially well for those that understand the reference, and if you only see them once.

Set list:
  • Interstellar Overdrive – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Astronomy Domine – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Lucifer Sam – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Fearless – Meddle
  • Obscured by Clouds
  • When You’re In – Obscured by Clouds
  • Remember a Day – Saucerful of Secrets
  • Arnold Layne – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Vegetable Man – unreleased
  • If – Atom Heart Mother
  • Atom Heart Mother
  • The Nile Song – More (soundtrack)
  • Green is the Colour – More (soundtrack)
  • Let There be More Light – Saucerful of Secrets
  • Childhood’s End – Obscured by Clouds
  • Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – Saucerful of Secrets
  • See Emily Play – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • Bike – Piper at the Gates of Dawn
  • One of These Days – Meddle
Encore:
  • A Saucerful of Secrets
  • Point Me at the Sky – single

Sledding

Having braved the frozen tundra of NW Wisconsin to try ice fishing last year, I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to revisit… and maybe try something different.  Last year, as I sat on my bucket on the ice, holding a short fishing pole and a beer, I couldn’t help but notice the number of people zooming past on snowmobiles.  When there is snow everywhere, and the lake freezes to over 12” thick…  sure, why not?  Never mind that I’ve never driven a motorcycle and only done a jet-ski once.   But…  “Hey, Bob.  What would you  think of snowmobiling this year?”

Fast forward.  The alarm goes off and it’s –22oF.  Yeah, not including the wind chill advisory.  But, it’s kind of like “There’s no crying in baseball.”  Well, my northern bred host might be looking for signs of weakness, and I signed up for this – literally with a pre-paid rental fee.

I researched WI weather, snowmobile operation and safety rules, and, significantly, product reviews on clothing to keep me warm.  Temperate Georgia did me a favor by putting insulated boots, rated to –25oF, on sale.  I have wool socks, bought years ago as a manufacturer irregular and worn maybe twice.  I listened to a sales person explain the differences in the warming qualities of different materials for thermal underwear, sorry, “layered under-garments.” The marketing language probably costs me double, but in retrospect, I have no regrets buying Merino wool. I also bought a balaclava – a robber’s mask but intended for good (I should have bought a more expensive one…) And, Bob has the rest, insulated and windproof bibs, gloves and ski jacket.  Bob loaned boots to me last year, but… we agreed I didn’t need to ride a snowmobile with Frankenstein sized boots.

So, –22oF in Wisconsin.  It’s like the desert.  It’s a dry cold.  It’s not like the bone numbing, penetrating cold that we get in the south, where the humidity gathers in wait for the summer.  And I’m well wrapped.  Confident.

The rental has been paid for over a month, and it’s not cheap.  But it’s for 24 hours.  That means we’re up early and arriving at Hayward Power Sports before they open at 9:00 a.m., to find that they’re already open.  Operating a snowmobile is pretty dang simple.  Start, accelerate, brake, and the gas goes here.  The check-in instruction was as succinct with obligatory pointing, including to sign the waiver that I have been trained (and am liable for anything that precludes the return of an
undamaged snowmobile).

Even less helpful was the rental helmet process.  There are different sizes, and I got one that fit.  Now, it’s time to put up or shut up.  I start the “sled,” accelerate and whee!…. 100 yards later, my visor is fogged and the moisture is forming ice crystals on the inside.  I’m wearing the balaclava, and it’s supposed to help redirect my breath down the neck and away from the visor.  Supposed to.

That would be the main story of the day, driving while peering through a sliver of non-iced visor, or with it open fully.  I had also chosen a balaclava that would allow wearing my glasses.  They iced also, so instead, I was left with an exposed face.  The 600 miles of trails are undeveloped, meaning there are pine trees and evergreens covered with a fresh 4”–6” of snow everywhere.  Sledding, though, is not a scenery sport.  Never mind the lack of eyeglasses.  Sure, the visor is frozen, or my eyes are tearing and freezing as I zip along, but it’s more than a little important to focus on the trail.  That’s a good thing.  Who would want to sled down an interstate? 



So… sledding.  A jet-ski on snow, right?  Pretty much.  And just like a jet ski, you take breaks.  It seems the area businesses are primarily open during the winter (for those who ice fish and/or sled) or the summer (fishing/boating or ATV riding, but not both seasons.  Maybe all the employees shuffle between employers?  In the winter, those businesses located at the various end points of the trails are open, offering bar food, beverages and heat to thaw your frozen visor.  Each stop was interesting in its way, with most bars/taverns decorating not just the walls but the ceilings with deer and moose racks and other bric-a-brac. 






At our second or third stop, as both Bob and I were frustrated with our visors, I asked a guy who had zipped past us – and slightly above as he jumped a driveway - I.e. “PRO” - about the helmet fogging issue.  “There’s vents.”   Oh.  “Let’s see, the top one is open, and, here, now the bottom is open, and I’d recommend you keep the visor open about a fingernail width.”  So I did that, and it worked for a good number of hours until it didn’t.  There’s a systematic “thing” going on there with the fit of the helmet, the balaclava, the tucking of collars, perhaps, and the pernicious nature of chance.   Or, maybe this method worked when the sun brought the ambient to 8oF, before humbling my optimism when the temps dipped again below zero.

We trekked roughly from 9:15 to 8:00 p.m.  And, thanks to Bob and his trusty paper map, we pretty much had an idea where we were, as cell phones were dead in the area.  I downloaded an app for tracking where we traveled, as cell phones include a GPS enabled chip that does not rely on cell towers.  The only problem is that the app drains the battery.  I was able to capture most of Saturday afternoon’s travel as well as returning the sled the following morning.




About the sled itself, kudos to the designers.  The Ski-Doos had super soft seats, extremely forgiving shock absorbers, and heated handlebar grips (This really makes a difference.  Try periodically accidentally turning them off and you have the proof).   So, it was surprising the following day to find my hands, forearms and back muscles were tired.  Sledding is not strenuous, at least as we did it, but it does require a constant exertion.


At times the trails were wide and flat, but there were (happily) many areas that were narrow, twisting, and hilly, particularly approaching Clam Lake.  The pacing was slow and fast depending on the trail and lasted just shy of 120 miles.  It doesn’t seem like much, but in snowmobile miles, I think it’s decent.  On the trails, it’s not hard to average 20, so that gives an idea of how frequently we stopped for breaks (which included three bargain priced meals.)… or stopped to consult the map.


The sleds are fitted with skis for groomed trails.  I didn’t know that there were options, but I figured something was up when I intentionally put one ski in the powdery snow that had been plowed to the side and had to fight to pull it back on the trail.  Once learned, I didn’t do that again… until I accidentally did it coming over a curved hill, and in one of those “time slows down” moments, applied the hitherto almost unused brakes.  That left me and the sled about 6’ off the trail, sitting in about a foot of snow.  Meanwhile, Bob, who had been leading the way, continued to lead the way without me, unaware of my little side trip.   Two guys following not too far behind me came along and helped free the sled, which isn’t a small chore, it turned out.  It wasn’t a big deal, per se, but it would be if I was alone, enough so that it provided an appreciation for staying off the moors.



At night, with my visor fogged again (and Bob’s as it turned out), and having decided to go “that way” at an unmarked intersection, we went into a peninsula with some sort of campground that was closed.  Uh oh.  Dead end.  Only, there goes Bob, right over the edge and… duh.. onto the lake.  Seemingly obvious, right?  But, it wasn’t until that point that we rode across a lake.   It turns out we were still in the right county (which doesn’t say much), but as the first bar we came to wasn’t the one we were expecting (and apparently understaffed and not serving food), I trusted Bob the Navigator as we ventured one way and the other, hopeful for a warm meal and short ride home. Note:  Bob boats this lake frequently and knows it well to find all of his favorite fishing holes.  Put ice on it and turn out the lights and not so much.  

So, about those sledders zipping by the prior year.  At night, there are reflectors on the ice about every 75 yards to guide you across the ice to stay on the “trail,” specifically where it picks up again at the next land mass.  Very helpful.  It had snowed just a couple days prior to my arrival, and the winds had shifted the snow to form moguls.  So, it’s dark, getting colder, the visor is unhelpfully frozen, we’re tired and hungry, lacking certainty on our exact location, and bouncing around on the lake at 42 mph…  It’s kind of fun.  Sure, I’m wondering if my exposed skin will freeze and blister, but my mind was focused on how to turn the grip warmers back on, because the sled doesn’t have “cab lights” to see the controls, or at least that I was told.  Brrr.

We arrived without incident at the (backup) place Bob intended to go, and it was a fitting end to a fun day.  Good food, a couple of beers, and a short distance to his house.   The next morning’s return trip was fine, but not enjoyable as the trails had been more heavily used and were thin on snow.

The next highlight was the drive back to civilization, where Bob stopped in Roberts, WI at Bobtown Brewhouse and Grill.  Small, warm, good food, good beer, and good friend.







Clemson Football 2018 Championship

I feel an obligation to post something to recognize my alma mater’s second football championship in the last three years.  It’s funny how I care about an achievement that I had nothing to do with, other than throwing a few insignificant dollars to the athleticuntitled-9 department. 

I like to see sports played well, regardless whether it’s an individual or a team.  I’m not a particular fan of professional teams, maybe because Atlanta teams tend to suck, but also because geographical proximity lacks any meaning.   Talented athletes get paid to play near where I live.  Good for them, but I mostly lament their perennial lack of success. 

It’s not really for me to fathom how or why people attach to a favorite team, and it’s not wrong however they come by it.  For me, I’m Clemson alumni.  Done deal.  Like pro teams, the players come and go, but the difference is that they chose Clemson.  That may be because the athletic program offers a perceived opportunity to earn income afterwards, but that’s what college is.   The difference for me is that it’s Clemson and the memories from those important years.  Maybe I ascribe to later students and players that they’re finding something as meaningful in the people and culture that they experience. 

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Of those people, only one other couple was willing to brave the cool weather and early start, and I’m thankful for them.  It’s fun to support the team – I’d probably go by myself because of the fondness I have for football and the accomplishment that a national championship is, but that would still be hollow in a sense.  It’s the relationships that matter.

This year’s parade included two of my favorite players, both captains.  I don’t know how other schools handle media access, but Clemson is generous in allowing players to speak to beat reporters after the game.  You get a sense of who they are, and Hunter “Mighty Warrior” Renfrow and Christian Wilkins are among those who reflect the character that I hope to find in my university’s representatives, in this case one unassuming, the other a larger than life character.  Both represent in different ways the caliber and kindness of the people I met in my days, and that is the thing I most admire about coach Dabo Swinney.  I don’t know that a university could ask for a better public face.

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While the parade stopped, someone slipped Wilkins a box of donuts.  At this point, he began telegraphing donut tosses to the crowd. 

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Whoops? I suspect he hit someone accidentally…

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Below, QB Trevor Lawrence checks his watch to see how long until the next championship parade.  Ridiculously talented and poised, the future looks bright, with a record setting 30 TD passes by a true freshman, with an asterisk for playing part time through the first four games.  He even did a hair flip on request.

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Swinney put his stadium speech together more cohesively at the White House reception.  I can’t help but wonder if the Proverb about “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” was intended for POTUS, who seemed taken with the team’s visit, so maybe he listened.

e pluribus unum

I learned today that “gender is a non-binary construct that is distinct from, although related to, sexual orientation.”   Thanks, American Psychology Association.  I think what they’re saying is that, even though biologically we are a binary construct (xx or xepluribusunumy chromosomes), some credentialed people wish boys weren’t boys, or men weren’t men.  The APA just released a new report that has it’s first warning against “toxic masculinity.”

Let me think… when I was a child, I rode bikes recklessly, I used a sled while passing under a barbed wire fence, I built rafts of uncertain quality to go in a pond, I walked on a train trestle without railings, I took gunpowder from firecrackers and stuffed it into pill boxes to make a bigger boom, I shot BB guns at all sorts of things for general destructive enjoyment, I built a tree house that collapsed when I was sleeping in it, I… well, the rest may risk parental disbelief.  Let it be said that I was a boy who played with other boys without supervision, and that I wouldn’t trade those friends and experiences for anything.  We had girls in the neighborhood, but we didn’t play with them.  Not because we were violent, aggressive or didn’t have a softer side, but because a natural tendency, both experienced and observed, was that boys gravitated towards playing with boys, and girls with girls.  Go to a social occasion as an adult, and it’s still very much the same – genders tend to separate for comfort level and interests,  at least at a conscious level it seems.

The APA does not care what I think.  Their job, I would think, is to help people who struggle to cope with the stresses of life and counsel them to live more happily in whatever circumstances (in context, gender), they find them.  To that end:

“Psychologists, the APA recommends, should seek to not only understand the intricacies of masculinity and its context, but also encourage community figures (teachers, religious leaders, sports figures, parents) to become educated as well. This may require psychologists to examine “their own assumptions of, and countertransference reactions toward, boys, men, and masculinity.”

So, teachers, religious leaders, sports figures and parents aren’t meeting expectations.  There’s either too many males seeing psychologists, too many females who suffer from the males in their lives, or it’s a social engineering endeavor by people who believe they have the cure for modern ills.  Based on the quote,  I gather that everyday events do not put impressionable boys as frequently in touch with psychologists as would be needed to help guide them to a less demonstrably masculine, more satisfying life.  Therefore, adults in general need to be made to understand that they’re not helping males reach the APAs goals of gender modification.

Of the10 guidelines included in the report, I’ll poke at a few:
1. Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.
  • So, boys would be as sedate and civil as girls if they were not exposed to other boys, or TV shows or other media that exhibit masculine behavior?  Let’s try one boy per girl’s school and see how it plays out.  And let’s be careful about this, also, because an ample part of the women’s movement is to step outside these same social, cultural and contextual norms, or, at least what is left of them. 

3.  Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege, and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.

  • Understand, eh?  I gather that the APA posits that being born a male inherently and necessarily includes guilt for any ills directed at them by those who claim a context to feel victimized.  Well done!  More billable hours consulting on both sides of that fence.  When it gets to the many societal divisions that are shredding e pluribus unum, the APA seems quite comfortable pointing towards masculinity as the cause?  If a case is to be made, it should be that toxic masculinity, however that is intended, is more likely the consequence of a societal tinkering by elites… and entropy.   

6. Psychologists strive to support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men.

  • … for their own good, of course.  Don’t pay any attention to the changes in school curriculums that result from this guideline, folks.  Indoctrination is a given; it’s just the authors that change over time.  Nothing to worry about there.

7. Psychologists strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services.

  • Actually, every snowflake is special, or, less popularly articulated, there is sanctity in every human life.  We’re not struggling to accept individualism.  We’re just carrying the baggage for the generations who didn’t.

10. Psychologists understand and strive to change institutional, cultural, and systemic problems that affect boys and men through advocacy, prevention and education.

  • A female law professor I know was thrilled that the Boy Scouts are now the Scouts and opined that any institution that is all-male is unhealthy for males.  It’s hard for me to fathom the level of hurt and/or condescension that would come to that conclusion.


I’ll leave that alone.  I read recently that 40% of children in the US are born out of wedlock.  It used to be said that children from two-parent households had an inherent advantage in life, but that is an unpopular position these days.  Why?  No one should be advantaged in this day and age, but instead of lifting those who are disadvantaged up, we seem intent on social engineering our way down to the lowest common denominator.  

Regardless, ineffective parenting exists (and always has), and I have no doubt psychologists play a role in helping those that can afford or are provided their services.   I get that violence is primarily a male issue, and it used to be acceptable to point to objective evidence that males are born/made/wired differently than females.  But if blame is to be found, it’s not with those who carry a y chromosome.  The pace of societal change and upheaval has been unparalleled in the past 50 years, begging the question which came first, the chicken or the egg?  People changed.  The institutions and cultural norms changed.  In many, many ways, we’re better for it.  But it’s a strange time where individualism is considered, if not a right, then the ultimate expression of personhood.  When individuals disagree and one person’s expressions is rejected, one individual is supported and the other is shamed, demonized or even terminated by not subscribing to “the right values.”  The nerves of every possible social issue have been rubbed raw to the point that social media and political rhetoric have the nation set to implode.  Masculinity, toxic or not, has nothing to do with that. 

Back in 1992, I guess I was too self-absorbed to realize how society was shifting.  Otherwise, I would have heard Rodney King for the prophet he was.

Rollin' Golden Pub - 2018

As I sum another year of tastings, I’m faced with the question of why I bother at all.  There’s an app for that, Untappd.  I can sort by the date, the ranking I gave it, the style of beer, and even the packaging (draft, bottle, can, crowler).  And, I can sort by our imbibing location, namely the Rolling (sic) Golden Pub, which I have not bothered to do so until now. 

Of the pub’s 247 beer check-ins, all but 8 of them are mine.  I’m somewhat possessive of the RGP location, and I’m a little thrown off by this.  All of the check-ins should be mine.  I’m going to imagine that the five gentlemen involved were staying in a nearby motel and chose the location of the RGP as a funny option to checking in at the hotel and/or as a lark when drinking themselves to sleep with a heavy dose of reality show du jour.  I’m amused by that.  But I’m not amused that Nathan V. checked in a Rolling Rock Extra Pale or that Cliff Y. checked in a Best Damn Root Beer (with comment “yum yum yum”).  Sacrilege.  The RGP prides itself on quality beer, and they’re disrespecting the pub!  It’s not that I’m a beer snob.  We’re all beer snobs, all four members of the RGP!  It’s ours.



And that’s partially why I bother.  Braggart. Archivist. Obsessive-compulsive. Bored.  Eh, I do what needs to be done.  But it’s also an opportunity to reflect.  Working in whatever your occupation may be, imagine that, facing a deadline, email overload or (insert stressor here), you know that soon you’ll be getting together immediately after work with some coworkers and enjoying cool, quality beer.  Just the patient anticipation takes the edge off the daily toils.  And we’re killin’ it! (click the logo image above to see the list).

2018 metrics: 25% increase in Pub visits!  12.5% increase in beers consumed! And our highest ever Beer Advocate ratings average of 4.42 which hovers between Outstanding and World Class.  RateBeer ratings – yeah, we did well, but it never differentiated its ratings well and it’s further marginalized by a partial InBev stake.  Still, we had 81 beers that beer snobs anywhere would love to have, and many required travels and trades to be featured at the Pub.


Several years ago, the RGP Bylaws were established.  Wisely.  While the 72 oz. “serving” cap was implemented, it has proven effective for both safe driving afterwards and an unhurried pacing for our hour long share.  And, if we do not strictly hold to the limit of the law, it’s fair to say that it’s much like speeding in a vehicle, only, you’re the law. 

That’s important, because we increased from an average of 8.53% ABV in 2017 to 9.1% in 2018.  Why?  Stouts.  They don’t mess around, and they keep showing up.

It’s also fair to reflect on the growth of the craft brewing industry and the constant introduction of new beers.  At the close of 2017, we had enjoyed 18 beers ranked #1 in their State by Beer Advocate.  At the close of 2018, we’re now at… 22!   They include: Prairie Artisan Ales Bourbon Paradise (OK), Founders CBS (no longer a rarity from MI), and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout (IL).  Interestingly, our fourth #1 comes from a 2015 tasting, as Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout conquered its foes to rise from #4 in Montana to #1.

As the methodology for keeping count of #1 beers is not included in the Bylaws, it seems appropriate to allow that the heretofore consideration of "at the time of consumption” be modified to include “unless it grew to a #1 position.”   This is advantageous on two fronts:  1) Beer ratings are not like Billboard Magazine; there is no static reference point to document to ratings at a given time and 2) If we did limit it to current rankings, then our collective total for #1 beers in 2018 would be… nine (9).
That’s the state we’re in, where:  1) Beer Advocate has largely displaced by Untappd due ease/convenience of a smart phone app, resulting in many current #1 beers having only a relative handful of beers, 2) Where some tend to overrate product from their favorite and/or local brewery, 3) the sheer number of beers that get introduced to the market each week, and 4) some beers are retired and removed from the rankings. 

What is left unstated here are the memories and good times of each tasting, and those are reserved exclusively for the members of the RGP.

Oh, and thank you, Knotty Pretzels, for being there!

Steven Wilson–Live at Variety Playhouse

I looked at Steven Wilson’s tour schedule last year, following the release of his fairly awesome To the Bone CD, and was disappointed that he followed that with an extensive tour to Europe and elsewhere.  I get that fans deserve the opportunity to see him wherever they might be, but I harbor some resentment when his touring plans don’t include me.  Patience.  A benefit of living in Atlanta is that he reliably gets here, having played following his last two releases.  Even better, this show was at Variety Playhouse, my favorite local venue, where sound, lights, sight lines, and local pre-concert options all add up to a great evening.

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The show began with a short video which perhaps sums living in the age of #fakenews, #imavictimof(insertoppressorhere) and #hearmeroaronsocialmedia.  It began with an innocent enough piano track as various photos were presented with what most would agree are apt words to describe them: truth, family, science, fact, news, compassion, love, information, sincere, security, happiness, father, life, lie, enemy, religion, fiction, fake, indifference, hate, disinformation, ego, threat, grief, oppression, death.  This would be an interesting group discussion, figuring out how individual perspectives agree or disagree with the associations of word to pictures.

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But there was more, again leading with “truth.”  Same images, same words, but rearranged to form new associations to test how we associate the words to the images.  The associations that may have represented freedom, move towards to totalitarianism.  A photo of a surveillance camera moves from “security” to “oppression.”  The video begins with a sort of schmaltzy piano tune, but as the video moves along, it fades and is replaced by bass tones provide a suitable undercurrent to the third rearrangement, where the point may be that there are different truths.  We feel that in the political world through our particular opinions and filters.  That said, as you get into the third round, there is a sense of brainwashing, but maybe you get the point.

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The band enters, and it’s a relief to give up the initial challenge.  Wilson has a talented band, and they play the type of music I like - progressive rock, often with a harder edge, including instrumentals that reveal the artistry of the musicians without yielding to conceit.  Just as with the video, Wilson’s music is consistently thoughtful, though rarely optimistic.

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Wilson played seven of 11 songs from his last CD, and while these were all good or better, I was disappointed that he did not include “People Who Eat Darkness.”  Sure, it’s strangely titled, but I don’t know of anyone else who writes about the everyday life of a terrorist, going about the rituals of living before ending lives.

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Each of Wilson’s solo albums has a general feel about it, but the set list really pulled all of his work together as a seamless whole, including a generous helping of songs from his Porcupine Tree days.  Wilson announced this to be a three hour show, less a 20 minute intermission, and it was close to that.  The set featured 20 songs, only one of which might be considered “short,” that being his only nod to pop songs thus far, “Permanating.”  So, let’s just say an average of 7 minutes each. 

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On his “The Incident” tour, Wilson was fairly controlling - no cameras, more of a listening room experience.  Beginning with Hand. Cannot. Erase., he’s desired venues without seating for the energy.  My observation is that his shows are longer, and while standing for over three hours is taxing as I age, it’s still incredibly worth it.

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An early highlight included “Pariah,” accompanied virtually by Ninet Tayeb, whose voice complements Wilson wherever she shows up, to the point that it would be interesting to hear him rework many of his past songs to give her a regular voice... and justify bringing her along on tour.

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There were no weak points, and much of the set list I bring to the gym for both the energy and artistry.   “Refuge,” “Detonation,” “Lazarus,” “The Sound of Muzak,” a thundering “Ancestral” - they come and go and leave you waiting for the next song.  There’s abundant artistry on the stage, and it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking Wilson’s music - if they ventured beyond a classic rock diet to see what else might be out there.

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I watched from a couple different positions, and I have to say bassist Nick Beggs is a wonder to watch, whether on a traditional bass or the Stick.  While the more recently acquired guitarist Alex Hutchings aced his role, I think Beggs has made more of his role, generally out-hustling the guitar theatrics from song to song.   Wilson calls the shots, but obviously he’s let Beggs do it his way. 

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Drummer Craig Blundell also impressed, and though his kit was expansive, everything was obviously in its right place.  He easily intermixed a forceful or deft touch as each song required.  To that end, Wilson recalled playing in Japan several weeks ago where the audience clapped heartily but absent any sense of timing.  This became a game of sorts, with Wilson’s encouragement, to unsettle the drummer by clapping off-beat without any synchronization. 

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For his part, Wilson was front and center with a practiced confidence from touring for decades.  To his credit, he took the time to chat with the audience, which aside from being entertaining, moves a concert from “being in audience” to something more personal, regardless whether spontaneous or not. 

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To close with “The Raven Who Refused to Sing” is probably his best option for a closer, slowing things a bit and featuring a dynamite graphical interpretation of the song.  Still, this was the third consecutive show in Atlanta closed that way... maybe it’s time for “Trains.”

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Setlist:

  • Nowhere Now – To the Bone
  • Pariah – To the Bone
  • Home Invasion – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
  • Regret #9 – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
  • The Creator has a Mastertape – In Absentia
  • Refuge – To the Bone
  • The Same Asylum as Before – To the Bone
  • Ancestral – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Second set:

  • Arriving Somewhere but Not Here - Deadwing
  • Permanating – To the Bone
  • Song of I – To the Bone
  • Lazarus - Deadwing
  • Detonation – To the Bone
  • Heartattack in a Layby – In Absentia
  • Vermillioncore – 4 ½
  • Sleep Together – Fear of a Blank Planet

Encore:

  • Blackfield – Blackfield
  • Sign of the Times – Prince cover
  • The Sound of Muzak – In Absentia
  • The Raven that Refused to Sing – The Raven that Refused to Sing