Record Store Day 2014 – Little 5 Points Style

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Somewhere in the planning process for the Wishbone Ash concert, I realized that Saturday was Record Store Day (RSD).  This “Day” is a very well intended effort to support independent music stores by artists who offer content that is released especially for RSD, usually music unavailable anywhere else and in very limited pressings. 

In the spirit of yesteryear, when record collecting was a passion, we detoured to a bar that harkens from another age.  Well, sure.  That’s a stretch.  There is no real reason other than we wanted to make a stop at Manuel’s Tavern, which we’ve passed by on many a trip to Variety Playhouse.  Since 1956!  That’s gotta be pretty neat, right?

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The Tavern has a political history, is a gathering spot for many walks of life, and, I’m sure, has many other virtues.  More importantly, it was untried and on the way.  So, if you sit at the bar, here’s the altar before you. 

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I give them points for the Atlanta Thrashers pennant, though how it got so smoky is a mystery.   They have a pretty good craft beer selection and as the picture indicates an obviously well stocked bar. 

The John F. Kennedy portrait stands out, doesn’t it?  If Manuel’s tends towards politics, it leans left.  I admired JFK when I was a kid, mostly because my dad liked him and I read the PT109 story.   He’s obviously revered here.

Still, I wonder how much Kennedy reflects the Democrat Party today.  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  I don’t think he was talking about tax increases and a massive welfare state.  If I had engaged with some regulars, maybe I’d find that he would.

I was just in for a beer and to appreciate the history.

I have to wonder how left leaning women feel about the few nudes around, such as the one just right of the Clydesdales.  I’d imagine that, though obviously Kennedy appreciated this sort of thing in his day, that the National Organization of Women and related constituents might take exception to that.  On the other hand, Clinton hardly suffered for his foibles, so we move on.  It’s history.

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Pabst...  This is a brand that should be history as well, yet it actually thrives.  You can drink a lot of it without getting drunk, and tallboy cans can usually be had in bars for $2 – $3.  It’s a working man’s bargain, so I guess it makes sense that they keep this on the walls.  They might change their slogan to “Quantity always comes through,” as we’ve arrived at The Age of Craft Beers and all.

Still, as we were quickly passing through, Manuel’s was filling, an obvious favorite of many, given its abundant size and parking.

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Right, Record Store Day.  So, we arrived at Criminal Records, which is increasingly true to its name.  Records.  As in, vinyl.  CD’s are on their way out in independent record stores as the current generation gives a nod to “it sounds better on vinyl.”   I’m sure there are Masters theses on the subject, but I disagree. 

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My vinyl days are over.  They’re a pain to clean, they play for 20 minutes and then you have to flip them, they’re prone to wear over time, they take up more space, and they don’t play in the car.  Also, my turntable broke years ago.  Bah humbug.

If you checked out the offerings on the link back up top, ahem, you would find that 99% of the bands released their RSD specials on vinyl.  I’d be happy to support RSD, but why exclude the larger percentage of potential music buyers?  CDs support record stores just as well as albums.  Just skip the downloading sites!

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Furthering my frustration is what was being offered under the “tent sale.”  A bunch of crappy CDs they’re trying to unload for a buck.  Not organized and not worth the time.  But, people were buying vinyl inside, and that’s a good thing.  So, RSD was a bust, then, right?

Wrong!

Another brief detour.

Little 5 Points is Atlanta’s bohemian village.  Tattoo parlors, recycled clothing, ample bars, shops with ample fragrance, colorful characters standing around... that kind of thing.   So, you take that and mix it with live music:

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... and interesting things can happen.

Criminal Records in the past has had in-store performances during RSD.  But not this day.  Perhaps because of all the vinyl, perhaps because of past overcrowding, perhaps realizing that a forecasted dreary misty day is the perfect day for outdoor music... well, no.  But that was the deal.  And at least some people were around despite the weather.

Got art?

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Got groovy biceps or a bouncy belly to accentuate your dance moves?

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Like to dance with a stick?

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Fun to watch.  Little 5 is like that.

Oh, and besides that, Spirits and the Melchizedek Children (or “The Spirits” as they called themselves this day) were actually really good.  Two other bands were known to me as well, and my concert buddy and I are thinking Little 5 on RSD in 2015 might be a pretty cool place to hang out.

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Contributing to the prospects of a 2015 event is the formidable Porter Beer Bar.

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And they let you drink just outside the door where you can hear the music.  That could be a good Record Store Day, indeed.

(that said, CDs, please)

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Wishbone Act – Live at Variety Playhouse

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A case of mistaken identity.  I had thought that WIshbone’s most notable album, Argus, was a Rolling Stone 5 Star record – a classic.  That book included pictures of highly rated albums, and I could have swoWishbone_Ash_-_Argusrn I’d seen the album cover in the book.

Apparently not. 

It got 3 stars, with a band description as follows: “Wishbone Ash never quite fit into any rock genre.  They were simply a British hard rock act, with overtones of art rock (like Yes) and boogie music (Like Ten Years After), without a central personality, but capable of slugging it out on one-night stands throughout the U.S. and U.K.”

In hindsight, I think I must have recalled the album when flipping through bins of vinyl all those years ago.  That said, I did get around to buying the CD about a year ago.

The band has been around 44 years, with one original member but a continuing history of releases and touring.  As it happens, they set a date for a Saturday night in my favorite venue, and my concert buddy was agreeable to cross another band off the “seen in concert” list.

So, all of this is to say that I arrived with some misperceptions.  I had thought of the band as more of a progressive rock band, despite listening to the album a good number of times.  Thus, a V-Guitar is a dead giveaway that this isn’t a progressive rock band (more like heavy metal for my few readers that aren’t into music by read my concert reviews anyway).

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The above is Andy Powell, the original member who wrote many of their songs and sings.  The band played Argus in its entirety to kick off the show.  Very soon into the first song, I realized that this a definitely a hard rock band.   The Rolling Stone review, which I read after the show, is definitely accurate.

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Either I didn’t listen closely to the album, or I didn’t play it loud enough.  In either case, I find after a listen today that the concert was fairly true to the record, but it also pretty well obliterated any subtlety in the recording. 

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Adding to the guitar theatrics was Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen, who alternated lead and rhythm guitar with Powell.  Manninen added some excellent slide guitar and definitely mastered the CryBaby “wah” pedal.

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After Argus, the band took a 25 minute intermission, then returned with a variety of songs, a couple from their latest album and oldies as well, including “Phoenix” and “Pilgrim.”  There’s ample jamming throughout.

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As usual, the lighting and sound at Variety was excellent.  The band’s amps were plenty loud, each doing a great job of separating guitar tones, and the overall mix between guitars, bass and drums was perfect.

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If you’re looking for a good hard rock show, with strong bass lines and loud blistering guitar, then throw out the reservations about an “old” band and give them a try.  They’re on tour now.

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3 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Set 1 (Argus):

Time Was
Sometime World
Blowin’ Free
The King Will Come
Leaf and Stream
Warrior
Throw Down the Sword

Set 2:

Strange Affair
Blue Horizon
Rock ‘n Roll Widow
Baby What You Want Me to Do
The Pilgrim
Lady Whiskey
Jailbait
Phoenix

Encore:

Persephone
Deep Blues

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JordanCon6

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Not so far from home was this convention for fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (WoT) series, 14 books long (plus a prequel) that spanned publication dates over 23 years.  The author passed away in 2007, and the series was completed in three (gigantic but relatively brisk) books by Brandon Sanderson, the last of which was in 2013.

For those who read this blog who are more familiar with DragonCon, below is a picture of the onerous registration line.  Yeah, tough times.

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I enjoyed the WoT series, to a point.  Unlike many series that are too short, this particular series lost its stride early and wore on far too long.  Still, it was a rich book for those willing to either embrace its minutiae or weather its tedium for the grander narrative obviously sustaining its fan base.   On its own, I don’t know that a JordonCon would have attracted me.  Though I liked the main characters, I lost track of the details over the duration (there are said to be 2,782 characters in the series).

But...  Brandon Sanderson is an author I greatly enjoy, and he returned as a participant/Guest of Honor.    I’m interested.  Sealing the deal was another Author Guest of Honor, Patrick Rothfuss, who authored my favorite fantasy series (which remains incomplete at present). 

A brief recap of the Con:

Friday, I was able to get Sanderson’s autograph on his latest book, the second in his own epic series called The Stormlight Archive.  It was after work, and I headed home.

Saturday morning, we attended an author panel including Rothfuss, author Eugie Foster, and editor Harriet McDougal, also Robert Jordan’s widow.  This was an interesting panel about writing “more than just prose,” which covered naming choices for cities and characters, cuss words in fiction, lyrical voice in prose vs. music vs. lyrics inserted as songs in fiction, the sound of words, the art of the tease, and... other tidbits which speak to the intent of experienced writers.  It’s not for everyone, but I got a kick out of it.  For Rothfuss, particularly, it was interesting to hear in very thoughtful terms his deliberate and exhaustively considered choice of words.  This tendency is likely to “blame” for the duration between his books, but the quality of his writing bears patience.

The next panel featured Brandon Sanderson explaining his views on the use of magic in fantasy, known as, surprise, Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, of which there are three.  No notes were used, just a two hour lecture delivered in an hour and fifteen minutes.

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His final point, the Zero Law, was “Err on the Side of Awesome.”  It was a greater point to consider what satisfies the author, and then change the story/magic/universe to get there.  Kind of.  An example was the Knights Radiant, who were the result of a geeky desire to include heroes with powered armored and swords and working backwards to figure out a way to make that happen.

Like Rothfuss, it was interesting.  Unlike Rothfuss, it was the equivalent of drinking from a fire hydrant.  The pace of their presentations mirrors the pace of their written output, and their styles obviously work for each of them. 

This certainly wasn’t a large convention, but I have to note that providing a hospitality suite was unexpected and remarkable.  Hot dogs, chips, salad, canned sodas and bottled water, cookies, and places to sit... Free.  I don’t know what resources JordanCon has at their disposal, but I can’t help but wonder how they managed this, not to mention the permission of the host hotel given a loss of related revenue.

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We  chatted with Artist Guest of Honor Larry Elmore in the artists’ area, where he explained a collector’s ambition, and rather fanatical focus, to create a museum for the genre fantasy art genre.   My wife then ventured off for a couple of panels featuring Elmore, including a sketching session followed by a “KaffeeKlatsch,” where 10 fans were able to chat about whatever around a table.

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Meanwhile, I was interesting in a demo of X-Wing, a table top game, in a room dedicated to gamers.  However, as one person was putting the contents of the game into a box minutes before the demo was to begin, I interpreted this as a non-event.

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What to do...  One, a trip upstairs for a free bottle of water and... maybe I could take pictures of people in costume in the meanwhile.  JordanCon certainly has people who “dress up,” but its scale is dwarfed in comparison to DragonCon, and most attendees were actually in the panels, which is a good thing.  So, there were few people wandering around for photo ops.   Still, here’s two, both of characters in the WoT universe.

Ashaman:

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Aeil Maiden of the Spear:

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The above is Paige Gardner, of costumeartist.com, who was well known to attendees and also works with the DragonCon costuming program track.

Again, one of the main reasons for attending was to meet Rothfuss, to whatever extent such events allow, and get some books autographed.  The queue line was well managed, and Rothfuss was as personable and gracious as one might hope.

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Signings... and then the fun breaks out:

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It’s a three day convention, and somewhat to the organizer’s surprise and delight, attendance increased to over 600, which was uncertain considering last year’s Con celebrated the finale of the series.

We’ll see how long JordanCon can hold the attention of its fans.  In any case, the intimate size of the event was refreshing, and there was plenty to entertain those who have invested themselves so heavily into the WoT universe.

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Wrecking Bar Pub

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Prior to a recent concert, I returned to Little Five Points’ Wrecking Bar Brewpub, for my third visit.  Looks like a pub, right?

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Actually, the main floor is an events facility. 

But, tucked away underneath, accessible from a side entrance...

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If someone were to think that brewpub is a redundant term, they brew their own beer and have the usual pub fare, including other drinks and food.  Out of customer view is the brewing area:

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And there’s your exterior tour.  But inside is where the magic is at.  Wrecking Bar makes the most out of its original stone pillars and wood, making a masculine feel without feeling oppressive.   Tables are placed close to the windows, while others surround the centrally located bar.

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Their menu changes.  Below are their beer offerings from August, 2013.

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The Jemmy Stout and Breakfast Stout are the only holdovers 8 months later.  But that’s okay because they’ve added more, of course.  Sampled on this visit was the excellent Victor IPA (described as “a complex IPA with mostly English and German base and caramelized malts and loads of American hops; providing flavors of tangerine, mango and a hint of lemon citrus.  ABV 6.7%”) and the HopfenRoggenLager (“a happy rye lager.  We created a recipe of all German malts and a new German Polaris, Smaragd, and Mandarina Bavarian hops”).  I’m sure that means more to people who are further in the know.  There are others, of course.  The point is that the beer is actually quite good, in a very engaging environment along with...

... yummy burgers.  This was from August, a fairly straightforward interpretation:

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And this one just a week ago:

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Their house Burger varies monthly.  This one with “local beef, pickled spring veggies, fresh jalapenos, cilantro & Chinese mustard sauce.”  In other words, a spicy offering that hit my palate just right.  Just delicious.

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The menu otherwise includes gyros, BBQ pork sandwich, pastrami, and more fully featured entrees such as trout.

All that said, particularly enjoyable was the “In Fashion” (“not your grandfather’s old fashioned, Fur Roses Bourbon, orange & cherry on the rocks with our twist”).  The Luxardo cherries were particularly good, adding distinction without tampering with the whiskey.

If you’re in Little Five, or near it, or want to stretch your legs from the suburb, Wrecking Bar is a worthwhile trip... better with company, of course.

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5 of 5 STARS

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Television – Live at Variety Playhouse

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My concert buddy mentioned Television as one of his favorites.  At face value, I, and most people, would agree.  But he was talking about a band named Television who played in the 70’s and had some influence on other bands, particularly in the use of rhythm guitar as a lead element, referred to as an “interlocking” style. 

The band has had an off and on history, and is apparently now “on” as a concert was scheduled at my favorite Atlanta venue.  Was I interested?

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Well... it’s a weeknight.  The price was agreeable, though.  But it’s a weeknight!  Oh, and another friend was coming?  Also, we’d be going to the Wrecking Bar Brewpub (subject of another blog shortly) prior?   Arm only mildly twisted, sure.

I listened to the band’s albums on Spotify.  There’s only three of them, from 1977, 1978, and 1992.  There was certainly enough to like – fairly straightforward rock presentation, none of the songs were bad, and some of them had pretty good hooks.

And... I’ll put you on hold for a minute.

Always check the fine print.

Shannon Wright, 4 out 4 concert goers agreed, was the worst opening act... ever.  Sure, she can play different instruments.  But her talent was as visible as her face, which was constantly hidden by locks that seemed a tribute to Jimmy Page, further obscuring her face as she crept around the stage bent at a 90o angle.  I get that she plays to a perceived deep, counterculture vibe.  I don’t have to like music to appreciate it.  But there was nothing to appreciate.

She finally slunk off the stage, and there were maybe a couple people of applauding, which is appropriate as she’s apparently now a hometown girl.

I don’t go out of my way to bash opening acts, folks.  I look forward to them.  Everyone starts somewhere, and she did something right to get this far.

So, shortly after, Television took the stage.

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I would recognize only a couple of their songs through the evening, but my ear caught on pretty quickly to guitarist Jimmy Rip.  As it turns out, he’s played with Jagger, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Debbie Harris, so he’s been around.  He’s also really, really good.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen someone play a Telecaster live, at least for more than a song.

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The concert ended seeming somewhat brief.  It was a work night, so I was okay with that.  Later investigation revealeded that the set was two songs shorter than their stop in Nashville a couple of nights earlier, namely “Glory” and “I’m Gonna Find You.”

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On the other hand, maybe they hadn’t turned into a jam band at the previous show.  They made lots of space for the guitar interplay between leader Tom Verlaine and Rif, and, from the vantage of someone who wasn’t yet even a casual fan, played an excellent show, far better than just playing their old songs over again.  It’s great to see and hear older bands play who still have a point to make.

It goes to show that everyone should have a concert buddy (or at least a music buddy) to expose you to new artists, or, in this case, a Television show you would have otherwise missed.

Setlist:

1880 or So
Venus
Elevation
Prove It
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
Torn Curtain
Persia
Marquee Moon

Encore:

That’s All I Know (Right Now)
Psychotic Reaction (Count Five cover)

3 of 5 STARS

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Steve Hackett – Live at Symphony Hall (Atlanta)

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My concert buddy and I were discussing within the past 6 months which artists remained on the list which we would like to see in concert.   Shortly after, Presto!   Steve Hackett announced not only a North American tour, but a stop in Atlanta.

Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis from 1971 to 1977, the era that I would hope all progressive rock fans would agree as thuntitled-56-4eir best years, before the band’s sound began to lean towards contemporary influences under Phil Collins’ leadership. 

As Hackett’s discography is much longer as a solo artist since he left the band, it was a further surprise that Hackett would play only Genesis songs.  Maybe that’s what it would take to fill seats in the U.S.; I’m not sure when the last time he toured here.

So, we booked early, 2nd row on a balcony.  Good stuff.  Sadly, I guess there’s not as many classic Genesis fans in the Atlanta area as I might have surmised, or the advertising for the show was particularly ineffective.  In any case, we were directed to better seats on the lower balcony, in the center, which was a fine deal for us.  I’d guess there were about 1,000 present in a venue that seats 1,762. 

This is where I would say that the seats were very comfortable, which they were, and that the sound was excellent, which it wasn’t quite, and overall that the venue was awesome (the staff were excellent).  However, on that last point, the ventilation system wasn’t quite adequate to overcome the wafting body odor of the fat bastard two seats to my side.   It wasn’t the untitled-56-2venue’s fault, I suppose. 

The concert began with rousing applause... and a false start due to the lack of a bass feed.  This was handled fairly graciously, at least in the apology for “swearing so close to Sunday.”  After that, it was off to the races.

The band’s stage set was basic, of the variety that can be affordably hauled around on a foreign continent.  The stage lighting, though was good and literally added color throughout the show.  This may seem trivial or expected, but, like his previous band, the performance of Genesis music tends to be a static thing.  There’s little stage movement.

Also, when people are paying to see and hear Steve Hackett, there’s an awkwardness about the required vocalist.  I can’t fault Hackett for being front and center.  As he would demonstrate throughout the evening, he’s one of the premier guitarists in shaping sounds and controlling tone (as opposed to being as fleet fingered as the prodigies abounding today).  What he does suits the music perfectly, which should be every musician’s intention.

That said, it falls to Nad Sylvan for the unenviable task of singing lead parts formerly performed by Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.  Unenviable in that many of the lyrics, though obviously firmly bound with cherished songs, are laughable, silly, precocious and/or simply dated. 

So, with the weight of that chore, singing from mid-stage rather than in the front limits his ability to engage the audience.  By the time the closer “Supper’s Ready” came around, he chose his “acting” moments well and finally had the audience drawn in.   Otherwise, his vocals were appreciated, but it’s awkward for the audience to look beyond the musicians to find the singer.  That said, Hackett avoids the potentially distracting parade of costumes that Gabriel wore back in the day, which is best left to the many Genesis cover bands

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Sylvan’s voice was more than suitable in mimicking both Gabriel and Collins in that he is apparently naturally a blend of them both.  In fact, he came to some recognition for just that in a Genesis inspired release called Unifaun in 2008.   That said, the vocals weren’t as clear as they could be, which was surprising considering the venue.  While it could have been better, with some consideration of the state of sound systems and venue design back in Genesis’ heyday, it’s likely that Hackett era Genesis probably never sounded so good.

Regardless of the lyrics, the “voice” fulfills an instrumental role, and it’s always been Genesis’ music that has drawn me in.  Hackett’s band had this in their pocket. 

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To give Hackett credit, he didn’t simply choose songs that highlight his playing, but rather traditional favorites that were played in concert.  That said, the songs I enjoyed the most were the ones where he has the space to be heard, namely “Squonk,” a biting “Fly on a Windshield,” and an absolutely gorgeous “Firth of Fifth.”  Also, “The Knife,” a rocker that the band recorded the year prior to his arrival, was a nice surprise.

Of note, the music wasn’t simply re-presented.  The tour is advertised as “Genesis Revisited,” and the jazzy treatment of “I Know What I Like” was exceptional.  In fact, Rob Townsend, who primarily played sax and flute, added a very fresh dimension to the music (notably replacing a number of keyboard leads with his sax) and is obviously a comfortable spar for Hackett on stage. 

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I used to wonder looking at Genesis’ live album “Seconds Out” why they had two drummers playing at once.  To a point this was because Phil Collins sang and at times played drums, but during the concert, I kind of “got it.”  A second drum set would have rounded out the bottom end among a lot of other instruments being heard, which is a separate thing than just adding “punch.”

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A remaining observation is that Hackett didn’t have a rack of guitars.  Other than his acoustic guitar, he played his Les Paul throughout the show.  To supplement this, he has a massive pedal array, and the view from the balcony was perfect to watch him manage his sound in each song.

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Lastly, a quote (as I remember it) on his experience touring with a Mellotron: “When she sings, she’s a beautiful thing.  But you tend to start in one key and end in another.”

In any case, this was a great concert for those who love Genesis and progressive rock, and seeing Steve Hackett is not an opportunity that often comes around.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Dance on a Volcano
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
Squonk
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974/The Lamia
...In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
The Musical Box
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Horizons (acoustic)
Firth of Fifth
Lilywhite Lilith
The Knife
The Fountain of Salmacis
Supper’s Ready

Encore:

Watcher of the Skies
Los Endos Medley (incl. solo song “Slogans”)

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