Aaron Lee Tasjan – Live at the Cavern

Last I saw Aaron Lee Tasjan, the alt-country-rock-something-or-another artist was rocking Louisville’s Forecastle Festival.  The result was I became an immediate fan.  His previous two solo albums, though not as aggressive as the stage show or with the same musicians, likewise caught my ear and yielded a number of favorites. 

Fast forward a bit, and my concert buddy found that he was playing for PBS’ “Bluegrass Underground” at The Cavern, a walk-in cave about an hour west of Chattanooga.  This is a new venue for the series, having relocated from an underground cave in nearby Cumberland Caverns. 

Tasjan took the stage, rock star slim and essentially unrecognizable from nine months prior.  Or, maybe it’s just a jacket and a shave…

Now:

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Then:

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In any case, the assembled crowd was largely gathered to hear the Sam Bush Band, a renowned bluegrass artist for a renowned bluegrass show.  Tasjan plays a lot of styles, but not that.  Yet, anyway.  So he plays a few songs – the crowd warms to him over any initial misgivings, the applause increasing.  They’re good songs.  He’s in fine voice; the band is solid. And then he drops one of his best songs, “Dime.” 

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People are paying attention now. Great tune, great lyric, a rock punch to lift it up.  He sprinkles in some conversation, funny musings and recollections.  Is it for TV?  We’ll see – a little banter wins audiences.  “Ready to Die.”  The opening verse is solo acoustic, Tasjan’s voice the most expressive of the day, making a persuasive case that “pyre” is actually two syllables.   Punch up the band, throw in splendid lead guitar from Brian Wright, and the crowd is off their seats. 

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Tasjan mixed in some new songs (one possibly called “End of the Day” stood out), but from “Little Movies” to the closer “Dangerous Kind,” it’s clear that his touring band makes Tasjan’s music much more than it was on his recordings.  Even better, they’re playing on his new album, said by Tasjan to be released around August.  I think “this year” was implied.

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For an artist that’s been around a while in various bands, it’s clear Tasjan’s best is yet to come. His lyrics are often perfect, and even when somewhat less so, he has an abundant tunefulness to shift musical styles and shape the songs to be their best.   His lyric for “Dime” is perhaps telling:

                1.                            They tell me all the time
        1.                            I’m worth at least a million
        2.                            And I barely have a dime
        3.                            That’s alright

Hopefully, this is the band that will get him there.  He’s worth it.

About the venue:

Interesting.  This was roughly the third concert since the opened the same week.  Getting there is memorable as a respite fromHipstamaticPhoto-543765137.006613 traffic jams to venues in the city – crops, scattered houses, horses – a beautiful countryside en route to parking in a field helpfully sprinkled with fresh granite gravel… which turns out to be the overflow lot.  No worries, the guy directing cars to the lot while playing a mandolin also drives a bus to the welcome center, where online tickets are curiously exchanged for “real” tickets, and where one can browse the merch or take a short walk to the cave. 

Ah, cool.  Functional folk art!

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And from there, it’s off to the cave:

Entering the cave the first thing that strikes you is not claustrophobia, but sulfur.  The cave’s natural odors linger in the entry areas and the bathrooms (prompting incense in the men’s room which may have helped?  In the women’s… the odor was reportedly more impactfully upsetting), but the concert area was fine.  And at least there is plumbing in a cave.

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Temperature?  No need for blankets.  When people fill the room, it’s comfortably warm.  Food and beverages are reasonably priced as well.  All the people who usher and support the endeavor were very polite and helpful.

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So, let’s not forget this was a double bill show for the PBS recording. 

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The mechanics of the recording were not upsetting – cameramen up front stayed on the move, not blocking anyone for a lengthy period of time.  In fact, the floor has an incline well suited to viewing over the heads in front of you. The boom arm moved fairly constantly but not in a particularly distracting way.  Sound quality seemed to start off somewhat narrow in range, but shows usually improve sonically as the sound crew makes adjustments and/or when one’s ears adapt.

As the people working on the clock undoubtedly increase operating costs, the show started right on time… with audience reaction shots.  This was humorous, but they’re serious about it.  There was a tiered escalation from polite applause to rock show fist pumping, to be inserted after the recording as needed.  It also makes sense that they do it at the beginning because, sadly…

…everyone is in their seats at the start.  So it sucks to be the Sam Bush Band, playing at roughly the beginning of the third hour in the cave, with people going back and forth to the rest room or just… going.  The band was really good, their leader extremely personable.  But, a late Sunday equates to a work night, and many of those attending live on Eastern time, with miles to go when leaving the rural venue.  And besides, what you miss will probably be on TV?  A 2:00 CST show might suit everyone a bit better.

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Yo, Tasjan.  Atlanta and its northern suburbs want you.

The Next Best Thing

We’ll say that I’ve had “some number” of different beers. Among my friends who bother to record their tastings, I’ve tasted more. Among some acquaintances I’ve met along that journey, I’m a babe in the woods. One might observe that recording beers is, once psychological disorders are considered, similar to a collecting hobby, only this particular collection doesn’t require drawer spaces, display cases, or garages. 

I like beer, particularly stouts and Northeastern styled IPAs (more citrus, less bitter). That said, I could live without beer.  I didn’t start drinking beer with any regularity until my 40’s, and I could live quite easily without it.  But aside from the taste, I particularly enjoy the social occasion of drinking beer, whether it be with friends or with strangers who are feeling conversational at a craft brewery or bar located wherever my travels take me.

There are, of course, beers I like a lot - those I return to for a satisfying drink. But, frankly, I don’t drink just to drink, “to have a beer.” I’m primarily motivated by findingtinwhiskers-17-2 the next best beer (and perhaps watching my collection statistics increase). Given the seemingly exponential growth of breweries across the U.S., it’s almost difficult to go somewhere and not have a choice of beer that I haven’t tasted before.

Just a moment’s introspection tells me that I’ve been down this road before. Music. I have more music, in whatever form technology distributes it, than the vast majority of my friends. In my case, this particular pursuit continues to take up physical space as I haven’t bowed as yet to the digital revolution.  I’m old fashioned and enjoy cover art, lyrics, liner notes, etc.  Judge me, and Renaissanceyou judge all the millennials that are now buying so-easy-to-scratch vinyl.  I thought we were beyond that…

Despite the size of my CD collection and the enjoyment I take in it, my ear is listening to new music, primarily through Spotify’s suggested weekly playlist, but through friends, on-line reviews, and, well, not the radio, because radio is dead to new music. But it’s the same kind of pursuit. Yes, I have some guilty pleasures, iPhoneJan2015-355but I have an abundance of music that fits my tastes perfectly. Yet, I continue searching for the next best thing.

When my T-Rex (daughter) was in college locally, I had a brief fling with finding the best burger in Atlanta, a measure just as subjective as any, but one that left us both patting our tummies and sporting a smug grin. Finding the best burger is not as enduring as other pursuits, as restaurants come and go, but it’s not a poor preoccupation, either, and it certainly made for some good memories.

This isn’t an adult thing, either. Comic books. At roughly nine years old, I entered the world of super-heroes. Nova_Vol_1_1_BSpiderman, X-Men, The Flash - there’s no need to list them all because they’ve (almost) all found their way to movies, TV, and a kids’ aisle near you. Nova? Where are you? But back to the theme. Comics were the same for me. “I like this. But, what is that comic? I wonder if I’d like it as much or more?”

Related are measures of success.  Professional advancement, athletic achievements.  Meeting or exceeding goals.  Tiger Woods won four golf Majors in a row.  He didn’t stop playing.  He wanted more.

Not too far afield, and more than tangentially related, is the financial relevance - “How much is enough?”  Once you’re past Maslov’s physiological and safety basic needs, we all (hope to) have a disposable income. What is that spent on? It depends on your priorities.  Nicer stuff. Travel. Gadgets. Entertainment. 

All of these are essentially just things, of no lasting relevance, things that make you feel good, amusements in life, including certain types of charity.

Perhaps it’s human curiosity, perhaps it’s an addictive nature, perhaps... it’s a need, that pursuit of being fully satisfied, of finding the ultimate thirst quencher. When is “good” good enough?

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In human pursuits? I’d venture “Never.” Finding full satisfaction is a hope, and, in my view, one that cannot be filled without faith. And perhaps the search for the next best burger or beer can be met thusly, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Sounds good.

A Love Unnamed

I’ve begun flying on business fairly regularly in the last several years, and aside from the “perks” of being away from home and collecting points to spend more time away from home, it’s been interesting to drive other cars.  National Car Rental, if you join their club, let’s you choose from any car on the member aisle – or Executive aisle if you rent frequently enough.

Hyundai Sonata, with a mid-level trim, nice.  Kia Sorento, just feels cheap.  VW Passat – kind of sporty with a unique and not unpleasant odor.  Toyota Rav 4 – kind of stiff.  Jeep Patriot – a shell of a SUV.  Ford Fusion – acceptable, but the same as our company car fleet.  Ford Edge – surprisingly nice.   Nissan Rogue – an okay version of its larger brother, the Murano.  And so it goes.  Temporary rides for temporary needs.  So, I return to the airport parking lot, get within sight of my car, and think, far more often than not, “Hello, baby.”  It’s good to be home, or, if not quite that, to my home car. 

It’s a 2006 Nissan Murano.  It has fit me like a glove for over 11 years and 182,000 miles.  Eleven years is a long time in a corporate life.  There are numerous coworkers who know me by my car and no other.  Elegant in its simplicity, the SUV moniker was originally advertised as a Smooth Utility Vehicle.  And it was, with it’s then fairly novel continuously variable transmission.  Substantial in feel, nimble enough, a great ride, a worthy ride (zipping by a Land Rover spinning its wheels in one of Atlanta’s deadlocking ice storms, for example), and a surprisingly good sound system (as proven by comparison to the many rental cars).  Mediocre gas mileage, so there’s that.

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My mom once named her 1970 blue Dodge Dart Swinger, “Betsy.”  I hated Betsy.  It lacked air-conditioned (or A/C and gas shortages = no A/C), the blue faded quickly over time, and it became over time an artifact from a prior civilization, at least in kid years.  I’ve resisted naming any of my, let’s see, two vehicles that I’ve owned, due to my distaste for Betsy (and refused blue cars for the same reason).  There was my short-term college car, a 1980 Pontiac Sunbird, which was a (censored) excuse for a car,  and the Murano.  In between were at least 8 company cars that don’t count. 

So, “Hello, baby.”   That’s not really a name, but after driving rental cars, the stitched leather steering wheel provided a tactile enjoyment to driving that every company car or rental lacked.  Plastic steering wheels just don’t cut it.   My car was a home away from home, a personal space, a theater for probably a thousand CD hearings.  Or more.  I’m speaking in past tense.  It’s sad, I know.

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Despite an ambitious goal for two more years of faithful service, the car’s moans and groans, or more specifically, its leaks and transmission roar, summed to triple the remaining cash value of “Hello, baby’s” remaining cash value to repair, with no certain guarantee in life expectancy.  Suddenly, I’m the solo member of an health insurer death panel.  Live or let die.  Well, living doesn’t come cheap, so…

Where to do that, exactly?  Well, the place it entered my life, of course, the same place that pronounced its pending medical bill had I opted in.  So, if you’re the unfortunate soul who buys it next, long may she run.  But she won’t.  (But, in the meantime, don’t tell her I’m cheating on her, or about the new 11 speaker Bose sound system that makes parting, shall I say, so much easier?)

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Dixie Dregs–Live at Center Stage

They’re back.  And thank goodness.  It’s only been since March 6, 2000, so 18 years.  Or… 40 years since this lineup that made their first recording in 1977, Free Fall

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A high school buddy introduced me to the Dregs around 1981.  I hadn’t heard anything like them before or since.   Part country, jazz, fusion, rock, classical – they could play anything they wanted, and they did just that, mixing in the genres from album to album.  You can’t really say too much about Steve Morse, the band’s leader and guitarist.  Despite the bright lights with which he surrounds himself, he’s the calling for the fans.

As might be expected, those fans are young guys, or, well, young enough to have been deprived of living foolishly in the 60’s, though I’m sure there were some of those in the crowd, too.   Music has no age limit.

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It’s hard to pinpoint musical highlights for a show like this.  The songs were well-known, as people don’t just stumble into a Dixie Dregs concert.  It’s all instrumental, with ace musicians at every spot – drums, bass, keyboards, violin, and keyboard.  At times simple, at times complicated, the between song jest of “we can’t agree on what the time signature of this song is” speaks to 1) the sophistication of some of the pieces and 2) to hell with musical expectations.

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Speaking of being unconventional, the Dixie Dregs renamed themselves in the early 80’s as The Dregs as a (failed) gesture to find a mainstream audience, not withstanding a handful of Grammy nominations for Best Instrumental Performance.  That lasted a couple of albums before later regroupings reclaimed the fuller name.  So, it’s of interest, if not admiration, that they raised a middle finger to political correctness and kept the Dixie in their name, given the vitriol of the times.

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The question arises, after such a band layoff, how do the members keep their talents up to the level that we were witnessing?  Answer, they never quit.  For example, this article about Steve Davidowski.

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Or, bassist Andy West, at least a part-time VP for Analytics and Adaptive Learning at Pearson Education.  He kept playing too, with or without this band.

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And, if there was a disappointment, well, there would be two.  One would be that, despite covering everyone’s favorite Dregs songs, they didn’t do a cover version of somebody else’s, something always fun and surprising in past tours.  Second, the Setlist taped to the stage indicated “Gina Lola Breakdown” would be the second song of the encore. which would have been a fun send-off.  But, who’s counting?  Well, dang it.  I did.

Hey, look! Here they are now!



Keep scrolling for the many faces of Steve Morse, plus other photos.
Setlist:
  1. Divided We Stand
  2. Free Fall
  3. Holiday
  4. Assembly Line
  5. Twiggs Approved
  6. Take it Off the Top
  7. What If
  8. Rock ‘n’ Roll Park
  9. Moe Down
  10. Odyssey
Set 2:
  1. Allen’s Violin solo
  2. Northern Lights
  3. Go for Baroque
  4. Country House Shuffle
  5. Day 444
  6. Leprechaun Promenade
  7. Refried Funky Chicken
  8. Wages of Weirdness
  9. The Bash / Drum Solo
  10. Cruise Control
Encore:
Bloodsucking Leeches

Click on any photo for larger views.

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Marillion–Live at Variety Playhouse

So, how many would show up in Atlanta for an English progressive rock band?  Well, as it turns out, it seemed a sold out show.  Absent the presence of a radio station that would touch a band like this, you realize it’s not needed when those attending harkened to the days when radio, record shop discoveries and word of mouth were a thing.

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I was never a huge fan of their early work, as it sounded a bit too much like Peter Gabriel era Genesis.  That was my reaction after the band’s first album, and it’s one that I regret.  Revisiting their work, with then-singer Fish and current singer Steve Hogarth, I find that there’s much to explore.

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That said, I didn’t particularly care for 2016’s FEAR album – a too much narrative and/or too little instrumental passages.  Still, they’re one of the “greats,” and Marillion rarely comes around.  Hopefully other acts that participate in the Florida based progrock cruises will similarly follow the highway north after the tour is over.  So, with concert buddy in tow, off we go.

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As expected, FEAR dominated the set.  And by the reaction of tour T-shirt clad audience, that was just fine with them.  Sound and lighting were excellent, and front man Hogarth commanded the stage.  As the night grew on, the crowd appreciation was reflected in his expressions between sections, often smiling and making eye contact with many of the fans.

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Ace guitarist Steve Rothery handled his solos beautifully, a prime example that fleet fingers aren’t needed for a career in rock music.  Wry grins and frequent nods were shared with his corner of fans in front of the stage. 

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Highlights included “Season’s End,” “King” with an impactful visual of those passed away, and all of the encores, perhaps with an edge to “Sugar Mice” for its sing-along status.

Additional photos follow the set list:

Set list:

  • El Dorado I– Long-Shadowed Sun (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado ii – The Gold (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado iii – Demolished Lives (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado iv – FEAR (FEAR, 2016)
  • El Dorado v – The Grandchildren of Apes (FEAR, 2016)
  • You’re Gone (Marbles, 2004)
  • White Paper (FEAR, 2016)
  • Season’s End (Season’s End, 1989)
  • Kayleigh (Misplaced Childhood, 1985)
  • The Leavers I – Wake Up in Music (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers II – The Remainers (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers III – Vapour Trails in the Sky (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers IV – The Jungle of Days (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Leavers V – One Tonight (FEAR, 2016)
  • The Great Escape (Brave, 1994)
  • King (Afraid of Sunlight, 1995)
  • Encore:
  • The Invisible Man (Marbles, 2004)
  • Encore 2:
  • Sugar Mice (Clutching at Straws, 1987)
  • This Strange Engine (This Strange Engine, 1997)


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