Calexico / Yo La Tengo–Live @ Buckhead Theatre

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This double bill was a no-brainer, with two bands I like appearing in a venue that I hadn’t visited before.  Formerly The Roxy, I had been curious to see this venue after what had been reported as a fine upgrade, significantly adding to Atlanta’s desirable concert spots. 

I’ll get to the music, but in working our way to the show, I learned that I haven’t lived as others have lived.  There are numerous bars in this area, just off the main thoroughfare, that I hadn’t seen before.  There’s a lot of history with these bars, regardless of name changes over the years.

The Pool Hall, Park Bench Pub, Churchill’s English Pub, Stout Irish Pub, Czar Ice Bar, Red Door Tavern, Five Paces Inn... the list goes on.  As do the stories of my concert buddy and his long time friend from “the younger days” through the newer ones.IMG_3324

And so it was that we blitzed Park Bench Pub (no visible draught beer, goodbye),  Churchill’s English Pub (Thanks for the omnipresent Sweetwater, but smoking really isn’t necessary anymore), and Stout Irish Bar (Sierra Nevada also gets around).  And so did my companions in years gone by.  Oh, they don’t get around much anymore, other than to wake early in the morning and shuttle their kids around the city.  Still... legendary tales, indeed.

Thus arriving at the Buckhead Theatre mere minutes after the 8:30 post, Calexico was already into their first song.  The BT has standing room on the auditorium floor and seating in the balcony, though they will place chairs on the floor for certain events.  Strangely, the floor in front the stage is relatively flat, leaving me wondering, not for the first time, why all those 5’5” girls bother going to concerts.  All they see are the backs of taller guys in front of them.  But, who am I to judge?  The walkway to one side and the rear are sloped, offering better sight lines in my opinion.  The view of the stage is very important for any venue.

I’m not particularly choosey regarding how plush a venue is, and this certainly shows very well.  I look for several other features however.

1) Acoustics.  Not perfect here, but pretty darn good.  The basic test is whether you can make out the lyrics to songs you know.  I, eh, didn’t know the lyrics to any songs, but I could still make out the majority of the words.  So acoustics get an A.  Well, A- actually, because I’ve heard better.  I’ve also heard far worse and would have no reservations about seeing another show here.

2) Stage lighting.  Well, they have it.  It’s not like they have to suspend a different rig for each show, but the house lights are a basic, mundane set.  They don’t detract from a show, but don’t add a visual texture or mood either.  Variety Playhouse still reigns over all comers in Atlanta in that regard.

3) Decent beverage selection and prices.  Middle of the road here, with a handful of craft beers ~$6 each.  Had a Fat Tire, I did.

Bonus features were restrooms which were constructed for people who appreciate hygiene, and this is the first concert I’ve been to where the housekeeping staff was waiting to pick up and vacuum following the show.  The owners have some pride in their work, they do.

Calexico:

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If you’re thinking it sounds like a combination of “California” and “Mexico” you would, of course, be right.  It’s actually the name of a border town. Take fairly breezy tunes, pleasingly soft vocals, and spice them up with Mariachi horns and about everything else under the sun (pedal steel, electric guitar, standup bass, keyboards) and you have an interesting mix.  Interject some outright south-of-the-border tunes sung in Spanish, throw in an accordion, and the band gives good measure to all of their influences. 
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The only song that I could identify was also, by far, my favorite, “Para.”  They played several songs from their latest CD, but as yet I’ve been unable to find a set list.

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The positives of Calexico are all very, very good.  It’s a different type of music that was displayed in the right type of venue where each of the instruments can be heard.  Add lead writer/singer’s Joey Burns engaging stage presence, and it makes for a great show.  The trumpets, though... they leap beyond the digital 1’s and 0’s of a CD and really bring the music to life.

The disappointments are what they are.  With a double bill, my assumption is that they had to run through their material to keep the show to a particular schedule.  They had very limited audience interaction until they neared the end of their set.  

And secondly, as pleasing as the music was, it’s all built rather delicately.  I’m pining for Los Super 7, who do something similar musically but with a foot (and at times, two) firmly planted in the blues, adding a welcome punch.

Yo La Tengo:

As ascribed to the band, their name is Spanish for “I got it!” – in reference to a New York Mets outfielder who learned to ward away others when calling for a catch. 

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I’ll leave it to others to accurately describe the band’s music.  I’ll likely inaccurately describe it.

At times, they write songs that might be heard on soft pop radio stations, only, they’re not popular.  And at other times, they’re off to instrumental “experimental places.”  As it would turn out, singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan would explain to the audience that their music is less about the lyrics and more about the mood.  This was in evidence throughout the evening, with a pleasing rhythm section and electric guitar wails that my buddies felt echoed Hendrix. 

By mannerisms, I agree.  My impression was that it was like sitting in an apartment with three musicians who gel and “just play.”  The guitar wasn’t particularly frenetic from a fleet fingered perspective, but Kaplan was often bent over, bending the neck and managing feedback tones as he desired.  This wasn’t grating in any regard, but was a controlled expression.  The best “moment” was the entirety of their set finale, “I Heard You Looking,” which was at least a 10 minute build featuring additional support from members of Calexico.

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The band has been around almost 30 years, and they seem a very unlikely lot to have made it this far.   There’s no “rock star” persona here or standout tracks that convert new listeners.  You either get it or you don’t.   They proved themselves talented musicians, swapping instruments throughout the first half of the show, an “everyone rotate counter-clockwise” type of arrangement. 

The only disappointment were the encores.  Despite an interesting discussion of opening for Johnny Cash in 1995 in this venue, the songs selected were lifeless, perhaps better intended than delivered.

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Through several of their songs (not the least of which was the return of Calexico’s trumpets), I was reminded why speakers matter.  Sure, ear pods are convenient and make for an excellent listening experience between the ears, but live music presents sound that is a whole body experience, from the splitting highs to the vibrating lows.  Which is why I’ll keep going back for more.

A slight buzz doesn’t hurt.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Yo La Tengo set list:

Ohm
Big Day Coming
Stupid Things
Beanbag Chair
Cornelia and Jane
The Point of It
I’ll Be Around
From a Motel 6
Paddle Forward
Autumn Sweater
Before We Run
Sugarcube
I Heard You Looking (with Calexico)

Encore:

Cast a Shadow
I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash song)
Take Care

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Being Circumspect About Zombies

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The last Presidential election began with a thermostat set to “warm,” then to “heat.”  Aside from the news broadcasts and radio talk, I had only to watch my Facebook feed shove aside all the interesting things people were doing and places they were going to make room, slightly exaggerated, for hate speech.

I’m conservative and not ashamed of it because it’s reasonable to me.  Weighing the issues, I find myself with positions that fall within that label, though not to be confused with the Republican party.  Everyone is certainly entitled to their own thoughts and conclusions and to share them.  I happen to think that Facebook is an inadequate forum for thoughtful discourse or persuasion.

I am greatly disappointed in friends and acquaintances who stridently demand “What I say is right, and you are wrong (and an stupid idiot, really) if you disagree.”  What a fine, relaxing tenor to adult conversation within a group of people who I elected to “friend.”  

Funny quotes, provocative pictures, misquotes from the Founding Fathers, anecdotal testimonies by people who have been on the losing end of any issue...  I’m glad the election is over.  I did my part.  I voted, and I’ll continue to test and either affirm or modify my thinking on a given issue.

The news has recently, and appropriately, been centered on gun control.  Or, gun rights.  You already know your side.  So, let me offer my thoughts, in a manner that makes clear my reasoning, neither fearing criticism nor seeking support.

I do not own an assault rifle.  My spousal unit does not approve, but... they’re quite fun to shoot.  I’d like to own one, but they cost more than I’ve been willing to pay, and the money I have generally goes to things used more often than an annual trip to a shooting range.  My ownership of lack of ownership does not change my opinion, however.

The debate these days about “assault weapons” tends to occupy the extremes of:

“The Founding Fathers intended weapons for the defense against all forms of tyranny, including from the U.S. Government”

and

“We have a Militia, thank you.  Civilians don’t need guns, period.  But, if they have to have them due to that thorny 2nd Amendment, it must surely be understood in this modern age that this can be interpreted for sportsmen only.  You know, hunters.  They only need a couple of shots.”

Somewhere in the middle there might be some who accept “We’re never going to be rid of handguns, so okay.  At least for now.”

So, I ask myself, why would I want an assault rifle?

  • Hunting?  Not me.
  • Too many Rambo movies in my more testosterone-laden years?  No.
  • To overthrow an un-Constitutional (or choose any negative adjective) Government in favor of anarchy? No.
  • A desire to join a rightful militia in the absence of our paid soldiers?  No.
  • An expectation that, a la Red Dawn, I should be armed in case the Ruskies parachute in?  Hardly.
  • An outworking of video games that has unseated my sanity and is leading me to violent tendencies?  Not so far.
  • Target shooting?  No. It makes for a pretty fantastic target shooting experience, but if I wanted one, I would have bought one. (Don’t tell my wife).  I’m quite happy to shoot loaners.

What’s left?

Call me circumspect.

In 1992, the L.A. “Watts” riots resulted from an unpopular ruling favoring the Police in a case of brutality against Rodney King.  There had been riots before, but in 1992, I was a young adult, employed, married, and had a newborn.   It wasn’t just me anymore.  I had a family.  Responsibilities.  I lived in Birmingham at the time, a city that has been no stranger to racial tensions.  What if?  Well, Seattle, 1999.  Cincinnati, 2001.  Riots happen.

September 11, 2001.  That day, and the months that followed, made me proud of my fellow Americans.  In a city that is the backdrop for a fourth* of every fictional violent crime depicted on TV, NYC came together.  A neighbor helping neighbor kind of thing.  But, what if it hadn’t?  (* I made up the statistic, but you can quote me).

Hurricane Katrina, 2005.  I won’t hold my breath relying on my local or Federal government to assist me in a catastrophic event.  Help will come, but will it be soon enough?

September, 2008.  Gas shortages in Atlanta and the southeast.  We’re no longer an agrarian society.  We do not have the skills or the land to feed ourselves, and bartering risk management skills isn’t likely to net a string bean.  We depend, therefore, on the food arriving at a grocery store near to us, in sufficient quality and quantity to supply the local demand.  If the food is unable to get there, or us to it, that can lead to trouble.

The past three years.  Were it not for continuing benefits for the long-term unemployed, a cycle that economists can label “recession” would look much more like depression without the debt funded salve.   We’ve seen the foreclosures, but add a visible populace desperate for food and other essentials and economic hardship suddenly becomes much more real and possibly threatening.   Jean Valjean in Les Misérables was justifiably a protagonist in stealing bread to feed his sister’s children.  The untold story, though, is the baker who purchased the ingredients and labored to bring his bread to market only to have it taken from him.  Consider the impact of the 15%+ of our adult “work-able” population (unemployed and underemployed) without a sufficient income stream, then consider the risks of leaving your home. 

The 99% vs the 1%.  The political rhetoric risks becoming a causative force that justifies the have-nots to take from the haves, who are presumed to have profited at the have-nots’ expense.  The last Batman movie played on this Bolshevik moral injustice quite well.  The potential for anarchy grows, even without super villains.

Benjamin Franklin:  "[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

I wonder if by “masters” he meant laws restricting the freedoms of the populace.  Or, was he also predicting that a natural evolution of society was to become corrupt and vicious?  I digress.  No, I don’t.

Riots, anarchy, economic distress, crippling diseases, terrorist attacks, zombies... none of it likely, per se.   But as I consider society’s reliance on the virtuous nature of its people to foster stability rather than devolve into anarchy, the daily news is disquieting. 

There are those that seek to harm, and there are those who feel entitled to harm when desperate.  Either of those groups can pose a potential threat to me and my family.  The 2nd Amendment affords me not only the right but the ability, in a measure beyond an arbitrary limit of rounds in a magazine or a number of “evil features,” to harm another with a firearm when threatened.   If I were to decide otherwise, I cede my fate to the vagaries of others’ ill will.

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Having (Birthday) Cake and Eating It Too

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My wife was recently treated to lunch by her parents, “for her birthday.” Their intention was to go to Steak ‘n Shake, a mid-level greasy spoon chain. But, she persuaded them to upgrade to something called the Frosty Frog.

This was a change for her. Her birthday follows closely to Christmas, and it’s not uncommon for her parents to be remember this, in the form of a present, a week or two later. Sadly, she was informed that she’s reached the age that she no longer will get birthday presents. It’s a good thing I did my part on time.photo

For (unspecified) decades, she really enjoyed receiving presents, or, in more recent years, the gift cards that let her go out and buy some piece of clothing on a whim. So, the responsibility for my wife’s birthday now falls squarely to me. And our kids.

I, on the other hand, haven’t gotten birthday presents from my parents in many years. At least hers were upfront about it. Mine never fessed up when I was getting cut off. After being in the habit so many years of opening my birthday card with eager anticipation of catching a couple twenties or a check, it another took 4-5 years of “just the card” before I was able to lower my expectations. I’m over that now. Really.

Accordingly, as there is nothing in it for us, it’s now time to reassess this whole Birthday gifting thing. In the spirit of “What’s in it for me?”, why are we giving presents to our kids for their birthdays? What did they do to deserve them? Kids didn’t earn their way into this earth. They had nothing to do with the origination. They’re a hindrance rather than a help in the birthing process. They eat away at your paycheck and occasionally beat you in pool. But for years ahead, they get freebies? How’s that fair?

It’s backward. The kids should thank both their parents on their birthday as a sign of appreciation. There should be cake, and birthday cards, and, yes, presents! But, for their parents! This would be a very appropriate time of appreciation for parents who invested their time, energy, and considerable expenses into raising the little souls into productive and well mannered members of society.

It’s not like we’d be getting “double” for Mother’s and Father’s Day. Moms would get a little more (cake, for one), but they deserve more in context of the Big Day. And Dads would finally get something. I mean, if we as a country were serious about Father’s Day, wouldn’t it be scheduled at a point other than the summer? What kid thinks of anything but themselves during the summer?

So, kids. Give your parents cake on your birthdays. We’ll eat it, too.

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