The Infamous Stringdusters – Live in Atlanta

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The ticket said 8:00.  I was there shortly after 7:00.  I’ve been to many music venues in Atlanta, but never to the Masquerade.  Doors usually open an hour before the announced time... but hey, just because I was half-exhausted from the day’s Warrior Dash didn’t mean I lacked enough energy to explore around the place, even if I couldn’t go inside. 

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At first glance, or second, The Masquerade doesn’t look like a likely music venue.  It looks like a worn out industrial site.  Which is exactly what it is, with parts believed to date back to the 1890’s when it was an excelsior manufacturer.  If you’re curious, you’ll click.

There’s a few industrial oddities lying about that I suppose were either deemed ornamental or too expensive to remove.

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Adjacent is the abutment for a bridge.  They just don’t make them like this anymore.

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It’s an old area.  And what’s better in an old area than... Graffiti!

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What a nice thought.  And this brought to you by...

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Surely, 99% will agree that 1+1=2.

But not everything points towards decay.  The Masquerade is located in Atlanta’s Historic Fourth Ward, home to (drumroll...) the Historic Fourth Ward Park.  I know this because there were people beginning to gather in the park for an outdoor movie with “bring canned food” admission.  And I asked.  My attention was drawn that direction by a guy playing acoustic guitar, and I did go to hear music...

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Whatever this area may have looked like before, it’s cleaning up nicely.

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Wait, this is a concert review.  So, ears open after wandering through the park, I head back to the venue drawn by the sound of a not-so-melodious trumpet.

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The Masquerade has three indoor stages, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell.  I was (pre?)destined to Hell.  But that didn’t mean I couldn’t check out Purgatory... a pretty awesome place, with more old things just “et up with atmosphere” as the saying goes in these parts.

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And it has groovy old things in high places that speak of noise, sweat and lost fingers.

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Perfect for a concert, I say.  But there was no show that night.   I didn’t get to check out Heaven as St. Peter’s gate was closed.  But, no worries, admission to Hell was paid.  That’s $15 to hear a band that I hadn’t heard of before, with friends who threw an invitation to a venue that I’ve been wanting to check out.  Heck, I’ve got $15 value of exploration and photos, and I haven’t gotten to the concert.

First impression of Hell is that it’s not hot.  At all.  The room is more of a tomb, with various sizes of old stone making up the walls.  The bar?  A fine sight, brightly colored with hellish red and yellow.

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The stage?  Not so brightly covered, at least for opening acts, but certainly with suitable lighting for the small area.

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You might note that... there’s no one there.   Well, we were, on stools to the side in an elevated platform, and others were in seats directly to the sides of the stage – hardly good sightlines, but seats are seats.

The opening act was James Justin & Co.  Another band of whom I hadn’t heard, not that it’s surprising.  JJ & Co. are as their instruments might suggest... Americana, acoustic sounds that date well before George Beauchamp graced us with the first electric guitar.  The Good News:  acoustics in Hell are just fine.

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The band played a pretty lengthy set, the best of which, “Dark Country,” is said to have made the Americana Top 40, wherever and by whatever means such things are calculated.  But, it’s a fine song, with suitably dark tones and bass thumping low end.  Actually, all of their songs were pretty good, and I enjoyed them quite a bit.  They get extra credit for keeping their energy high while playing to a seemingly empty room, and for being from South Carolina.

The below was an intermission photograph (not staged), not an end of the evening commentary.

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With a capacity of possibly 400, I’d guess perhaps 200 would eventually show up for the headline act.  These would mostly be 20-somethings drawn by the low ticket prices, PBRs, and a desire to dance to what turned out to be an Americana jam band.

Cue the dry ice machine, and the band would shortly be underway.

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Infamous... let’s see.  Dictionary.com says “disreputable, ill-famed, notorious” or “disgraceful, scandalous, nefarious, odious, wicked, shocking, vile, base, heinous, villainous.”  Right, then.  They belong in Hell. 

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Only, the band isn’t infamous in that sense.   They were high energy, talented musicians who greatly enjoy performing on stage.  If the reader saw “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, they’re basically the Soggy Bottom Boys, with infectious stage presence but playing songs without the benefit of clear melodic hooks.   As each seemed within a breadth of the same beat, the songs all began to sound the same, despite three lead singers and ample soloing space for each musician.

But!  That seemed to be what the fans wanted, a chance to drink, cavort, and otherwise hang out.  They were perfect for that.  And the price was right.

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2 of 5 STARS

The acoustic version is far better.

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Warrior Dash Georgia - 2012

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After the USMC Mud Run, I was looking for something else “for fun,” but closer to home.  Already being aware of the Warrior Dash, it seemed obvious to me that my kids should do this too.  Water, mud, other obstacles, 3.2 miles...   They weren’t exactly enthusiastic, but as at the time it was months away, they both said “Yes.”

Fast forward a bit, life is busy – son is graduating HS next week, daughter is leaving for her summer job the day following, wife is busy producing art for her show the following weekend...  Not the most convenient time to drive to the NE corner of Georgia.  And then there’s the worry that traumatic injuries will result in my son not being able to walk across the stage for his diploma, or that might daughter might miss her summer research job due to head wounds or whatever.  But, we did it.

The instructions said to park at the Clayton City Hall.  I don’t know that I saw the CCH proper, and that’s because it was attached to or on the same site as an abandoned elementary school.  Paying $10 for parking, it felt more like a charitable occasion for the City to improve its facilities.  Oddly, the pedestrian route from the parking area to the buses took us through the building, which seems a favorite of rock throwing vandals. 

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As we were walking to the bus, we saw a guy walking back barefoot with a homemade splint on his ankle.  My wife asks, “Don’t they have a First Aid station?”  Great...

For those that venture this way again, there are parking spots directly across the Warrior Dash venue, but all in all, the bus ride each way was simple and efficient, though it probably took a little longer. 

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It’s a short walk to the Registration area, and the current wave of Warriors may pass you by.    Mountain City, GA is not too far from where the river scenes of Deliverance was filmed many years ago.  The below is likely a tired gag for the area... but I like it.

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Either in the parking lot, on the bus, or on the walk to the event area, you notice a lot of people bring some humor to the event.  Whether it’s good humor depends on your opinion.

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Some costumes, however, are just completely wrong.  You’ll be crawling, climbing, running, sliding...  and it’s worth a moment of reflection on how one presents themselves.

Here’s me and my kids.

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Not imaginative, but presentable.  My wife noted that next time, should there be one, we must wear conspicuous colors so she can spot us in the crowd.  Fair enough, but I’m not wearing pink.

Here’s someone who slept through his reflective moment.

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Ew, as if the sand friction on the knees and barbed wire above your head isn’t enough... eyes on the ground, lady.  It’s safer.     You’d think with Superheroes around, wrestler wannabes would be smacked from the ring.

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These young ladies are having a blast... at least while the cameras are looking.

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The observant reader might note that, “Gee, for a race, there’s a lot of people standing around in the background.”  Great point!  If you want to excel at the timing of this event, you need to be at the front of the queue line for your wave.  Otherwise, it bottlenecks at most of the challenges.  The sand/barbed wire is the second obstacle, after perhaps a 1/2 mile jog (not enough room to sprint in a pack) and a walk/swim through a large pond.  The pond is fairly deep, but hardly a challenge.  It does, however, ensure that you’ll enjoy the remainder of the course with sand in your shoes, and wets you nicely for the sand blasting, eh, sand crawling to come.

Obstacles that followed were a series of going under barbed wire and then over 3’ walls, climbing onto and walking on a floating but wobbly water bridge, climbing and descending a net wall, crossing a net bridge, passing through a bunch of tires lying on the ground, and over or through junked cars and more tires.  Somewhere in there is running on a mountain trail that appeared intentionally muddied.    All in all, those were easy.

The obstacles can provide a mental barrier.  How often do I climb up vertical walls using rope?  Never.  Can I?  Dunno.  But my kids just did it, so I’d better get moving.  You just do it.

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A bit later was another vertical wall which I thought was the hardest.  It had blocks protruding, at about the distance that the boards above are spaced, but they were staggered.  To reach the final block, it takes someone with either long legs or great flexibility to gain a hold.  My daughter offered to help, but I was determined to make it on my own, just as she was earlier when I had offered to help give her a lift over a barrier.   Competitive little brat. 

The best “obstacle” was the Petrifying Plunge.  This is basically a water slide without mats.  I charged head first, sliding quite a distance to the bottom landing in a pool of muck and straw.  Awesomeness.

Soon afterward comes the Warrior Roast, two rows of fires which you jump and which are pictured earlier in this post.  These are the signature event for the Dash, and I expect an email any time now offering to sell me my personal leap photo for whatever price.  And I’m looking forward to that. 

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After that is one final adventure under the barbed wire, provided to ensure everyone gets muddy before crossing the finish line.  I see some happy kid faces below.

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You might wonder about shoes that are abused in this type of event.  Mine have survived this, the Mud Run, and the Color Run... and I’ll use them again.

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Many, however, choose to donate them. 

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After a “bath” in the pond and a change of clothes in not-so-private-but-gender-segregated changing tents, we cleaned up enough to go from this: 

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To this:

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We had other things to do, so we didn’t hang around for the festivities (beer, music, food, beer), but if I did it again, I’d hang around for beer, more photographs of participants, and beer.

By the way, we all survived with only minor scratches, primarily from crawling through the sand.

Hmm, I wonder what adventure is next?

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Click to Make Music

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The Sound Matrix.  Press SPACE key to clear.   If you don’t hear anything, your sound is on, right?


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The Musical Box – Live at Variety Playhouse

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I don’t know that I particularly enjoy “cover bands.”  I recently saw Dark Star Orchestra recreate an entire concert set-list from the Grateful Dead.  It seemed well done, but the “cover” aspect didn’t affect me because I was never a Dead fan.  I didn’t know the songs and, thus, had no expectations with which to compare.  It was a fun show.

But there are ample others out there – covering The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Genesis – all of whom are bands whose music I followed quite closely.   The Musical Box is a Genesis cover band, and not of the saccharine Genesis that cashed in for the pop charts in the 1980’s, but the progressive rock version that lasted until the latter 1970’s.

That was (largely) the era with Peter Gabriel as the vocalist, and Phil Collins as a drummer.  Oh, and a great keyboardist and a great guitarist and a solid guitarist/bassist.   Their music was highly inventive, musically adventurous, somewhat pretentious, lyrically ridiculous, and, often, downright gorgeous.   It was, you might guess, also unfriendly to radio even in the days when radio had a breadth of rock content.

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The Musical Box is a French Canadian band that began in 1993, from the start built to cover Genesis’ 1973 album Selling England by the Pound for the 20th anniversary.   Over time, the band covered other albums, including what many perceive as their high point, a concept album titled The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.    This album features Genesis at a very musically mature point.  It’s also one of the wordiest “concept” albums around, and Peter Gabriel, who wrote most of the lyrics, left the band after their tour was complete.

Genesis and Peter Gabriel, no longer the same thing, have helped this band along.  They were furnished over 1200 slides from the original Lamb tour, and they’ve watched every bit of available footage regarding stage design and Gabriel’s theatric presentation.   In short, to see the show is not just to hear Genesis’ music, but it’s to approximate a live concert experience circa 1974, but hopefully without the technical glitches that seemed to trip the band from show to show.  Original Genesis members have even attended The Musical Box’s shows, with Phil Collins commenting “they played it better than we did.”

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$40, bought in advance, after reasonable fees.  That’s quite a bit for a cover band.  But, within the progressive rock genre, they have great appeal for me.  And it’s not like the band is touring (and if they did, they wouldn’t play the songs I’d want to hear).  And it was at Variety Playhouse, my favorite venue.  And, I like going to concerts.  So I went, with my concert buddy who was similarly susceptible.

I’m getting older at 47 years.  But, dang, I like it when I’m the youth movement at a show.  All the other fans were seated, no screaming, no shout outs, no standing even... just middle aged absorption of great music from decades ago.  And how about that concert volume?  From the balcony, it was like listening to a stereo, clear with only a hint of echo.  Pretty good.   It could have been a little louder, even.

The band members themselves are committed to their roles.  Hair styles of each of the original band members were distinctively familiar, even down to singer Denis’ Gagne’s shaved spot on the top of his head as Gabriel had at that time.

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I’ve seen Peter Gabriel three times in concert:   1982, 1992, and 2002.  He owns the stage, with carefully staged productions, occasional costumes, elaborate props on occasion, and exacting timing.  Watching Gagne’s performance gives hints as to where it all began, amongst a band as still as pillars that Gabriel could crawl, run, dance, and otherwise cavort amongst.   It was enjoyable, but... it was 1974, and performance was art.  Artists doing this today would suffer from critics, just as Genesis did back then - amusing, and a great throwback.

Helping that along were the fantastic three panel slides from the original shows, entertaining in that they often provided some visual interpretations of the songs, but also in that the show did not require lasers, plasma screens, and flash pots to supplement live music...  Even Variety’s phenomenal lighting was restrained from coloring the stage to vividly.

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The band sounded good – not perfect – but I don’t expect the original band would have either.  But, it was definitely good.  The album had a strong melodic and rock edge to the first disk, and the second disk lost a step with music that was forced to play into whatever the meaning of the lyrics might be.   The band worked through all that, but if it did anything, it made their closing songs “The Musical Box” and “Watcher of the Skies” all the more confident and enjoyable. 

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And as for the meaning of Lamb, despite the faux-Gabriel’s recitations of story segments, I still don’t get it.  And I don’t care.  It’s great music.

Note:  These fond memories are (not) sponsored by The Porter Bar, a fine nearby pub to taste a diverse selection of brews and a mighty fine cheeseburger before the show.  Top notch.

3 of 5 STARS

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