The Aristocrats – Live at Masquerade

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My son told me about this band soon after our trip to the Steven Wilson concert.  The Aristocrats includes two musicians from Wilson’s current band, the guitarist (Guthrie Govan) and drummer (Marco Minnermann), and a bass player (Bryan Beller) with a similar “musician’s musician” pedigree.  And, soon after that, we found that they were coming to Atlanta on the heels of their second CD release, Culture Clash.  $20.  Done deal.

I may as well review their CD in the same space, because the band is instrumental.  It’s well recorded and, to my ears, harkens back to Steve Morse’s days in the Dixie Dregs.  Subtract any intentions for pleasing melodies, throw in several more muscular, thrash style guitar licks,  try to marry their very jazzy inclinations with rock ambitions, and there you are.  It’s very enjoyable for those who enjoy rock/jazz fusion with a priority of playing as many notes as possible as often as the music allows.  I like the CD, but I’d like to hear one CD of them concentrating on the fusion and another with an all-out frontal assault.  That said, it’s growing on me.

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

The Masquerade is a fun place to watch a show and an absolutely unique and beloved Atlanta venue.  “Purgatory,” the smallest of three rooms in the facility, is not.  One might expect that It should be middle ground between “Heaven” and “Hell,” both of which are exemplary rooms, but it’s clearly an afterthought for an available space vertically located between the other two.  Funny.  I get it.  Book parties there, not bands. 

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It’s got a nice bar, and the stone/wood structure certainly has atmosphere.  But put a band on a barely elevated stage, and it’s an unfortunate venue that begs that all the tall people rush to the front so that everyone else suffers... not to mention structural support poles that obstruct the main sight lines.  Bad.  It also has hideous static LED lights that help keep the temperature down but otherwise color all the testosterone in the room pink.  That said, the sound is decent.  It must be the warm tones from the wood in the structure, because I won’t credit any actual thoughtfulness to customer experience.

The Yeti Trio opened, a fairly bizarre band that includes a fantastic drummer, a talented keyboardist, and a jazzy guitarist, playing a variety of jazz fusion jam band/spaced out sounds.  Overall, a good opening act, but a better one with seats and after a few starter beers to soak it in. 

Standing 7 deep from the stage, no view.  Lifting a camera above my head, I get these:

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Not terrible, but not what I saw.  So, I scooted to the right wall, where my son had found a spot at the edge of the stage.  The good: a better view and a wall to lean against.  The bad:  5’ from a speaker.  I prefer my tinnitus on steroids, please.

The Yeti’s drums were whisked away, and in very short order the Aristocrats were plugged in and playing, which they would do for almost two hours.  “Playing” has two connotations.  One is the playing of music, which per the set list below, was plentiful.  Another is playing around.  Absent vocals in their music, they amply and ably express themselves when introducing the inspiration to songs... walking into a door frame while concentrating on a tune (Gaping Head Wound), a dropped amplifier on stair (Ohhhh Noooo), endless travel (Living the Dream), mid-western nothingness (Flatlands), screwing around with blues standards until they’re all but unrecognizable (Bluesfuckers), etc.

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They also feed off of each other during the show.  It’s impossible to know how much is planned versus what is improvised, but the songs were definitely extended versions of what had been recorded, and non-verbal communication was frequently observed through each song.

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Overall, this is a band that probably is most highly regarded by musicians who could follow along on technical merits of odd scales and time signatures.  For me, watching fleet fingers is amazing, but the band sounded its best when bass and drums actually worked together rather than dazzling in musical theory.  Guthrie Govan, particularly, can play any style he wants, but despite some variance, he rarely approaches a melodic guitar line with this group.  Enjoyable, just not enough ear candy as I would prefer.  Watching technical masters?  Splendid.

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Marco Minnerman, above, inhabits the drums, a joy to watch and hear.  All three fairly frequently brought out squeaky pigs and a chicken for ensemble sounds, which were quite entertaining.  I’d guess it was Minnerman’s idea – he seemed most amused.  It’s obvious, too, that Marco has seen Roger Waters’ The Wall with his “Pigs on the Wing” play.

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The best thing about the show was the camaraderie between the members.  These guys seem to really enjoy each other’s company, and that can only lead to good things.  So many artists keep the audience at a distance by not engaging or, conversely, not revealing anything.  This group enjoys the stories and each other.  I’ll certainly keep listening.

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3 of 5 STARS

 

 

(- 1 star for Purgatory...)

Set List

  • Furtive Jack
  • Sweaty Knockers
  • Ohhhh Noooo
  • Louisville stomp
  • Get It Like That
  • Culture Clash
  • Blues Fuckers
  • Flatlands
  • Gaping Head Wound
  • Dance of the Aristocrats
  • Living the Dream

Encore

  • Erotic Cakes (from Guthrie’s exceptional solo CD by the same name)

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Star Trek Continues

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Light entertainment for an overcast day.

Star Trek Continues E01 "Pilgrim of Eternity" from Star Trek Continues on Vimeo.

It’s pretty amazing to go to YouTube for the variety of fan made Star Trek episodes.  The sets, costumes, special effects and editing are pretty amazing... in other words, they’re as crude a the original series, but it works.

This particular episode is entertaining enough (especially the beginning), corny in parts, and faithful enough to the spirit of the old characters.

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Jason Isbell – Southeastern

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Jason Isbell’s fourth CD, Southeastern, is about growth.  I’ve heard him in concert three times not including with his former band, including electric, band acoustic, and solo acoustic.  Of those, the last was the most compelling... the man, on a stool, playing a guitar and singing in a crystal clear aural venue to an audience intent on listening rather than participating.

Southeastern sounds like a work that was built on that tour – travelling alone and on the road for however long “too long” is.  The backing treatments are a step above Spartan but wisely remain well below the rock show traits of which he’s capable.  His acoustic guitar work is typically nimble, and the slide guitar gently breathes emotion.  The restrained production puts Isbell front and center of the music, where he shines most brightly.

Additionally, this is probably the strongest group of songs lyrically that he’s written.  The lyric book helps, but the words are quite discernible through each song.  Love, regret, loneliness, change, loss... the range of human emotions are here, usually on the darker side, but compellingly written in narratives or personal reflection, coupled with his trademark wry word-smithing.  It’s not a feel-good album, but it’s not a feel bad album, either.

I sometimes wonder how many singer songwriters are out there, waiting to be heard but known only in their hometowns.  Isbell is from North Alabama, and he’s fortunate to have a following well beyond the southeast.  The point being that I don’t have a need for a lot of musicians of his ilk in my collection, but I’m glad he’s the one who has gained notice for my region.  Perhaps he and James McMurtry are enough, one (finally) probing the truths borne of suffering and the other relishing cynicism as a means of coping, bookends of sort.

So, at album # 4, it is apparent that Isbell has found his way, stepping aside from the stylistic expectations of fans or those he presumed for himself.  This is a quiet album that lets him speak, and I can only wonder how much he doodled over the words.  Those words reflect personal growth, some allegorical, some closer to home, but if finding “himself” has been a challenging road, he’s certainly poignant here in observing the before and after.

My favorite song is “Elephant,” about a girl friend who is dying of cancer.  I won’t listen to it often, but it’s extremely well done.  My least favorite is “Super 8,” an obligatory country rocker with a worn out tune that should have been left to Delbert McClinton.  By the title, I’d expect a funny song.  It isn’t, and the music isn’t suited to it.

Some snippets of lyrics:

Jesus loves a sinner but the highway loves a sin
My daddy told me, I believe he told me true that:
“The right things’ always the hardest thing to do.”

There’s a man who walks beside me he is who I used to be,
and I wonder if she sees him and confuses him with me
And I wonder who she’s pining for on nights I’m not around
Could it be the man who did the things I’m living down.

In a room by myself
Looks like I’m here with the guy that I judge worse than anyone else
So I pace, and I pray and I repeat the mantras that might keep me clean for the day

4 of 5 STARS

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Jay Fishman for President

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I have a very difficult time with politics.  I’m generally conservative and believe that government has to meet certain needs, but those needs have been clearly established in the Constitution.  For example, “promote the social welfare” is not the same as providing it.  The government is out of control in spending, size, and intrusion into absolutely everything.  Certainly, needs arise that were not anticipated by the Founding Fathers, but at every point, government takes responsibilities far beyond what is needed, and both Parties are and have been irresponsible in this fiasco for decades... just as a fawning press has chosen sides and vacated their essential role in educating the public by which the electorate is informed enough to choose their representatives and hold them accountable. 

There. Done with that rant.

But it’s obvious that other countries are faltering with economic conditions not unlike our own.  Maybe we’re “too big to fail” like the corporations we bailed out not long ago.  But we’ll need bailing out eventually, and by whom?

At times, the public has admired the appearances of candidates “outside of politics,” such as Ross Perot or Steven Forbes, or, more truly, candidates who haven’t sold their souls for Party supremacy and reelections for life.  But neither of those gentlemen had the personal charisma to persuade mass voters that they would actually make a good leader.

I think Jay Fishman has that.

He has a story, an American success story of very recent vintage.  He’s wealthy, so a portion of the electorate will hate him from the get go.  But he also cares and has the business acumen to consider and probe an issue, plan for it, and take action with a good measure of nimbleness. 

As an introduction, I’ve included a clip below that takes a while to listen to, dated sometime in 2010. 

What you won’t hear are platitudes, jokes to win an audience, name calling, or “advocacy” as he puts it.  What you will hear is someone speaking from the heart, without a speechwriter, without teleprompters, and without doubts, pauses, or filler words as he seeks to not offend or gain more ground.  It’s a straightforward narrative, albeit a lengthy one.   It’s the same earnestness that he uses with investors in his company, Travelers.

It’s interesting that based on the 2010 data that he uses, that our 2020 national debt is estimated to be $16 Billion and change based on CBO estimates.  It’s 16.7B as of today.  Click the link for whatever date you happen to read this.  The most recent estimate by CBO is that national debt will be $26 Billion in 2023, with very similar rosy assumptions that Fishman points out.

From 2010 to now is three years that Fishman has been an advocate for an economic reality check, coupled with a call for leadership.  Three years that in the political scheme of things that has had no influence over the President and Congress’ willingness to spend more.

Fishman passes my Presidential Prediction methodology.  Confidence, charisma, and smarts will do that.  But it’s time for him, or someone like him, to step up.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club–Specter at the Feast

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When I heard BRMC was coming out with a new CD, I was hopeful because they have had a few songs which I like very much, such as “American X,” “Spread Your Love,” and “Window.”  There’s an aggressiveness to their music, sometimes restrained, sometimes set free.  But I’ve still found their albums inconsistent.

Specter at the Feast does not deliver as I had hoped.  To learn that the lead singer/writer’s father had died necessarily casts a pall over the affair, but one never knows how anyone, much less an artist, might interpret the experience in their work.  On the positive side, this CD is not a maudlin affair, despite the anger, sadness, and questions within the lyrics.  As it turns out, those are the elements that bring out the best in this CD.

First, I’m thankful for the included booklet with lyrics.  As it is with many artists, I can listen to the music with the vocals as a just a musical instrument rather than actually listening to what they’re saying.  This is especially true when simple rhyming couplets are not used.  It’s also true where the lyrics are sometimes difficult to distinguish among the music.  It takes some guesswork.

And they help here, even if the pounding low end bass and wails of electric guitar are not too difficult.  A narrative approach to lyrics is used by this band, and here, they are sometimes focused, sometimes frustratingly obtuse.  But it brings to the fore the continued importance, in my view, of purchasing a physical product that includes lyrics.  I don’t know how digital downloaders make much sense of it.  The included art is a bonus, but it counts for presentation.

Musically, the band gets the most out of a rock trio.  The CD begins with “Fire Walker,” a very pleasing slow building rocker.  This is followed up by a more straight ahead rocker, “Let the Day Begin” before slowing to a more introspective song that is somewhat derivative of U2/Coldplay.  “Lullaby” is a good song, where the search for answers is paired with a fitting piano melody rising above a sustained slide guitar.  As the title would suggest, it’s not a rock song, but it’s not a tedious affair either.

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This is followed by “Hate the Taste,” a straightforward rocker that sounds great until a very irritating lyrical and musical refrain of “I want to ride with you” that ruins what is otherwise a very fine song.  That little bit, with a little more inspiration, might have made this one of my favorites.  Otherwise, from the pounding bass to the guitar work, it sizzles. 

Similarly, “Rival” might have been a pleasing rocker, except the whole context of needing a rival is a dead-end in context of the song, and it suffers from a poor musical hook.   It’s as if the more delicate songs wore the band out, and they didn’t try real hard after finding a musical groove. 

“Teenage Disease” is classic rock album filler, a solid song that is unremarkable on its own but enjoyed in context of the whole.  On the other hand, it’s probably favored by those who just want to bang heads and break things...

... which is followed by the quirkiest song on the CD, and possibly my favorite.  “Some Kind of Ghost” has the requisite backing organ, but just as “Teenage Disease” is lyrically and musically paired for aggression, this song is a pondering, subtle search for meaning and destiny, placed in a haunting, mildly bluesy setting.

“Sometimes the Light,” then, is a surprise because it’s the furthest from the rock expectations.  Its sequence is a bit out of place, as it might have been a more suitable coda to the disc.  It’s a slow song with a gentle keyboard background, with soft vocals treated with a prayerful, choral effect.  It’s beautiful, but unexpected.

“Funny Games” is another filler song, enjoyable enough.  “Sell It” reverts to the bands tendencies to go with what has been there musical strengths, a super low, driving bass and aggressive guitar lines.  Similar to “Hate the Taste,” they establish quite a groove before ruining it with an unimaginative and detracting refrain.

The finale, “Lose Yourself,” is a beautiful song, if echoing U2 a little bit too closely, but the lyrics are conflicted.  They don’t follow a path of clarity, towards loss, hope, or any particular meaning.  “Why don’t you lose yourself, at all?” Huh?

I guess that confusion can be what follows loss, and after many listens, I’ve found that had they approached all of the songs on this release with the intelligence given towards a good half of them, it may have succeeded more.  In other words, had they not either felt the obligation to throw in fairly mindless rockers to meet the expectations of people like me, they might have created something special.  Rock and roll posturing is fine, but it’s best when the lyrics carry some import.

Recommended Songs: “Fire Walker,” “Lullaby,” “Some Kind of Ghost”

3 of 5 STARS

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