The Waterboys – Live at Variety Playhouse

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What do you do in a place like this?


This, of course.


And so it was that, from right to left, my concert buddy, my coulda-been- concert buddy-had-he-not-moved-to-Chattanooga, and I were off to see The Waterboys... along with my concert buddy’s buddy who just hit his one show per year limit... and arriving too late for this remembrance.  You snooze, you lose, buddy.

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My concert buddy introduced me to The Waterboys a long time ago.  They play a mix of rock and roll and Irish/British folk music.  I don’t like about half of their songs, but the ones I do favor I listen to a lot (especially including leader Mike Scott’s solo work).

Tracking their first tour in the U.S. is kind of like tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.  They’re up there, then they’re going over there, then... where the heck are they?  Miracles upon miracles, they booked a few shows down South before returning to Europe.  And, not only that, but at my favorite venue AND on a night when work couldn’t interfere.  Splendid.

Their last visit to Atlanta was 2001.  I had no idea what their fan base might look like today, but we put our money down early and then waited months for the show date to arrive.  Thus, the celebratory pre-show beers at Little Five Points’ Porter Beer Bar, a great place for a burger and as fine a selection of draught beers as can be found in Atlanta.


In our periodic speculation about this show, we knew we wanted to arrive early, early enough to grab the cheap plastic chairs that Variety Playhouse tends to put on the floor area for shows where the type of music and a respectful crowd are likely to take a seat, rather than standing for hours at stage front...

... except they didn’t.  We opted for a side table, back a ways, with a view unobstructed by those that would be standing down front.

The opening act, Freddie Stevenson, is a storytelling singer from Scotland.  He had a fairly captivating set.  The folk vibe made perfect sense for the headliner to come.


Then came the rock show.   With the venue filled to near capacity, The Waterboys came on and blew the house away.  And to think we were expecting the plastic chair treatment.


The band opened with two songs from their more traditional styled album, “Strange Boat” and the title track of Fisherman’s Blues.  But notwithstanding Steve Wickham’s excellent fiddle, this was a full rock presentation, and one that had the crowd remaining on their feet well into the show.

The set list (at the end of this review), included all phases of the band’s career, so everyone was certain to be pleased about something.  As Scott considers his solo career to essentially be part of the band’s history, that left me a bit wanting, but there’s no arguing the songs they selected.

Shortly into the show, Scott mentioned the passing of the legendary Lou Reed, mentioning that “he’s the one who gave us our name,” a reference to the lyrics in “The Kids” on his Berlin album.   For such a moment, Scott added “we’ll fill a moment of silence,” after which the band noisily filled the minute with whatever licks they happened to favor.  Afterwards, they played a solid version of “Waiting for the Man,” which must have been a hastily prepared rehearsal given that Reed had died just a few hours earlier. 

Highlights?  Well, the entirety was a highlight.  There were no bad moments.  The two newer songs stood with the others well, not to mention the unspoken promise of more Waterboys’ releases to come.

The trio of songs from their most recent release, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, were especially good, though.  “Whitebirds” all but took flight, and “Mist and Snow” brought a bit of theatre to accent the lyrics, plus a too-brief guitar and fiddle duel.


The acoustic “When Ye Go Away” was also a treat, but it punctuated what had already been heard, namely that Scott’s accent, inflections, and pronunciations were marvelously clear regardless of the type of music or the volume.  If he came to impress upon the crowd that The Waterboys, despite their 30 years, were alive and well, he did just that.


While The Waterboys necessarily include Mike Scott, a review shouldn’t fail to mention the other long time member, Steve Wickham.   When the fiddle is mixed with rock music, it can come across as forced, inappropriate, or plainly unwelcome in the sonic mix.  Wickham knows his craft, and both as a background instrument for adding color and for piercing leads, Wickham owned the evening instrumentally, a really fine, fine performance.


The remainder of the band were all hired for the U.S. tour and have probably been together a year or so.  Scott chose well, and this band delivered.

The show ended all too soon (not just an expression in this case), but the best news was that they’re already making touring plans to return to the U.S. next year.  And, he was specific to Atlanta.  We’ll hold him to it.



5 of 5 STARS




Strange Boat
Fisherman’s Blues
A Girl Named Johnny
Waiting for the Man (Lou Reed cover)
We Will Not Be Lovers
Still a Freak (new song)
The Girl in the Swing
Song of Wandering Aengus
When Ye Go Away
Glastonbury Song
White Birds
The Whole of the Moon
I Can See Elvis (new song)
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Mad as the Wind and Snow
Don’t Bang the Drum


You in the Sky
Be My Enemy


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My Hoppiest 5K

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Mud runs are one thing – you run, you jog, you swim, you climb, you jump, you vault, and... you stand around, even, waiting your turn to tackle an obstacle where there’s a crowd.  They may be 5k or longer, but they’re still not “running.”

I don’t like running.  Never have.  But I’ve found, of late, that running is actually pretty effective at burning off calories, and my primary motivation of any exercise is not to reach a desired weight or amount of strength, but to eat what I want to eat without getting fat. 

Running has been problematic.  One aspect is vision.  I sweat enough that wearing glasses is pointless, so I’m essentially running in a blur.  When I’m on a treadmill, that’s not a problem as there are no potholes, sticks, or curbs.

The other main issue is heart rate.  I watch all these other runners, and they just run and run, like wound up watches.  Tired muscles weren’t the issue; it was my heart rate that soared.  So, I measured it.  And then I went to the keeper of all medical knowledge, the internet.  And I find that... sheesh.  I better not run that much, because collective wisdom says my heart will explode.

So, then I went to the doctor, got a referral, and went to another doctor for a heart stress test.  Judgment: “No problem.  Go run.”

Prior to the Good News, I held back the duration on a treadmill.   It’s a great excuse to call it quits and go do something I’d rather do.  But there was still improvement.  Before my first mud run, I started running for 30 seconds and walking for 4 and a half minutes.  That gradually increased to the opposite of that and more.  But I never ran a full 5k on a treadmill (meaning, jogging... but without slowing to a walk) because of my concern for my heart rate. 

The next trip after the doc’s good graces:


5k is 3.1 miles.  At my “training” pace of 6 miles per hour, that’s a mile per 10 minutes, and somehow or another, I managed to do the above.

And that left open the possibility of actually running a real 5k, with no mud or crawls under barbed wire.  And that was a nice idea, which I put off... and put off... and then I finally decided I wanted to do it, but only if I could torture someone else in the process.  Welcome, Tom.

And so it was that we signed up for a nearby 5k, The World’s Hoppiest Road Race (and After Party).  The “hops” refer to beer, and the race was partially sponsored by an Irish pub.

Well, how different can running on a road be than a treadmill? 

I tried my neighborhood.  Aside from the visual fog, there were 2 main differences, pacing and hills.  Without the steady pacing of a machine, I really had no idea how fast I was running.  But I learned pretty quickly that I was running quickly... quickly out of breath up the hills in the neighborhood, which is about a 1.7 mile loop.  After walking at three points, I still made it back to the house in 17 minutes, meaning I timed at my 6.0 pace even after walking a fair bit.  Slow down, me.

That’s frustrating, enough so that I only did it a few times, and twice with my dog, who only pulled me faster rather than slowing me down.  Thanks, Maddie.

Whatever, the 5k race quickly arrived.

Registration:  No problem.  The official T-shirt was light blue.  Meh.  But even though it’s given at the start of the race, I earned it (and, of course, paid for it...).


Then, I waited.  We got there early, after all, and as it was a night race, the sun began to set.


There were a whole bunch of kids, too.   I didn’t expect that.  Then everyone lined up and waited for the start.  Tom and I hung to the back, not wanting to impede all the flow of the many gathered who were somewhat serious about it.


And, from that point, there’s no pictures of the race.  No mud, no barbed wire, etc.  What would be the point?  


1) I like running outside.  It was a nice cool evening, and a breeze in the face adds to my endurance substantially.

2) I pretty much like running at night.  I’m running in a fog, and it doesn’t make much of a difference, other than avoiding the heels of those in front.  There was one street without streetlights, split with traffic pylons.  I heard the expletives of others who stumbled across these, but they were somewhere else in the fog.

3) If you live in a neighborhood with a race going through it, why not hang out at the end of the driveway and encourage the runners?  Many did.  This actually was an encouragement, because when you’re breathing hard and want to back off... you don’t want to do it with people watching.

4) It’s much easier to pace yourself in a race than running solo, because you can just find someone who seems to be going at the right speed and follow them.

5) I later retraced the route.  I ran 1.7 miles before walking up a long incline.  I won’t apologize for it.  But I wonder if I’d have done better if people were at their driveways in that section.  Oh, well.

6) At the last major turn of the race, a Milton Police officer, guarding the streets as they do when roads are closed, said something along the lines of “Great job, you’re almost there!”  Officers on duty have a choice to just stand there, or participate in their environment to some degree.  I appreciated it, and managed to run the rest of the route, actually accelerating when I understood that the haze of the finish line was closer than I had thought.

And, so we finished.  I finished at 32:23 (actually less a minute as we were a minute or so delayed being at the back of the crowd).  Essentially, that’s about my 6.0 mph training pace.  Tom and I weren’t competing, necessarily... but I won.  Because I’m a competitive person.  But Tom won the “run the whole way without slowing to walk” notion to which I had aspired, though at a slower pace.  Damned hill.


Afterwards, we cashed in our race token for a free beer.  Many others did as well.  Thanks, New Belgium.



The “After Party” also included a band and twirlers with fire. 


And, that was enough of that!  But, I did it.

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Built to Spill – Live at Variety Playhouse

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With son in tow, I headed off to my favorite concert venue for an evening of rock guitar sonic assault.  Or, ear candy.

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But first, a plug for Fox Bros Bar-B-Q, located a half mile or so from the venue.   We each got the pork plate with 2 sides.  All of it was good, but noteworthy was the “Frito Pie,” which is a bag of Fritos with chili, cheese and onions poured inside.  The only negative was the lack of variety of BBQ sauces.  They have just one; season to taste.  Still, it was very good.


We arrived at Variety just before 8:00... and were seriously baffled by the lack of people.  There may have been 40 or so, mostly seated.  Keep in mind that the venue can hold about 1100.

First up were the Genders, from Portland, OR.  It’s hard to play to a near-empty house, but two guy, two gal band tried.  Not much there for my tastes.

After that was Slam Dunk, a Canadian band that lives on Ventures’ retro style guitar riffs, but with vocals.  They had an active stage presence and appear to enjoy what they do.  It was entertaining to watch the bassist’s amusement with her bandmates.  It’s the kind of band that gives a fun experience but that I’d never pay to see.



One point from Slam Dunk was that the vocals couldn’t be heard when you’re at the front of the stage.  Hmmm.

The stage change out was fairly quick, and Doug Martsch quietly played to himself while the rest of the band was getting their gear set.  This went on quite a while in fact, but he seemed patient... as well as recently tossed from band.  I guess that’s the benefit of being a “real” band – you don’t have to worry about posturing for the press.


The first song, “Stop the Show,” kicked off the evening with a heavy dose of the band’s three guitarists.  Two wove the notes in complementary style, while the third haunted the song with a great slide guitar.   Sonically, all three were separated – I was worried that the concert might be a Wall of Guitar... no worries here.  It promised good things to come...


... except for the vocals, which couldn’t be heard down low.  Someone in the crowd asked for more vocal volume, and Martsch pointed to a spot about 10 spaces back where they should be heard. 

This was the first concert I’d been to where there were no vocals coming from speakers on the stage, instead leaving these to the house speakers at the upper corners – in essence, my first sonic disappointment at this venue.  After a half dozen songs, I retreated to get the full effect, and enjoyed it.


I had hoped from more songs from You in Reverse, but “Liar” was the only selected.  After reviewing set lists from previous shows, the band does mix their lists a fair bit from show to show.

“Else” was another song that I recognized, but otherwise the band played a number of them that I either couldn’t make out or which were unfamiliar.  In general, the longer the songs, the better I liked them.  The guitars were really, really good, notably JIm Roth, at right stage, who essentially was the special effects guy. 


Unusually, in recent experience, was that the encore songs were my favorites.  All four songs were cover versions, including “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Train in Vain,” “Sludgefeast,” and “How Soon is Now,” the last being an absolute powerhouse and great closer.

As concerts go, I wish Martsch had more to say than “Thanks,” and he rarely emotes during the course of the show.  He didn’t hold anything back from the performance, but I suspect he only lets his guard down with people who are close.  In any case, I’d definitely see them again and hope that they would hit more of my favorites.

And to anyone who keeps yelling “Freebird!” at shows... seriously, give it a rest.

4 of 5 STARS



Set List:

Stop the Show
You Were Right
Planting Seeds
Get a Life
Heart (Things Never Shared)
The Plan
Carry the Zero


Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)
Train in Vain (The Clash)
Sludgefeast (Dinosaur, Jr.)
How Soon is Now (The Smiths)

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Heirloom Market BBQ

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Following up on my last post is one case in point for the best BBQ coming from inauspicious spaces.  Heirloom Market Bar B Que (sic) is located just inside the northern perimeter in Atlanta on Akers Mill Road.

First, notice the venue.  It’s half convenience store, half restaurant.  The signage is very plain, and, no doubt, many people drive right by without ever realizing that there’s a BBQ restaurant there... or one that they might want to sample.

Why?  Well, the convenience store is no spic’n’span QuikTrip.  This is an old style, advertising laden store that, when it’s dark, most people would probably consider shady.  There’s not even a gas pump.  It’s just a spot where people go for cheap 12 packs of tasteless beer, cigarettes, and prophylactics at the point of need.

In other words, it’s a unique setting for a BBQ restaurant. Perfect!


If you were to go during a meal rush, your first impression is actually the parking.  The above was taken after the rush, but upon arriving, the lot was full and people were parking “imaginatively.” 

It’s a popular place.  People were lined up outside, with an employee taking orders while in line.  Inside, the process was simple, except that you specify the type of sauce desired when ordering.  I went with their standard BBQ, while those with me chose a Korean flavor.  They had 2-3 others, at least one of which was spicy. As it turned out, I made the better choice of the two, anyway.  They do have some bottles for sampling their sauces which are worth sampling if you’re not rushed.

The drink selection is also a bit different, with a few canned and bottled varieties of soft drinks in a cooler, and otherwise tea and lemonade as iced options.  The kitchen, meanwhile is a bustle of activity.


Not surprisingly, the space is tight.  That said, there is no seating or dining area within.  Most everyone in line understood that, and took their items to go.  No doubt, that helps the parking situations if newcomers are patient.


You wait for a short time, they call your number, and... it’s why you came in the first place!  Excellent BBQ, surprisingly well fried and seasoned fries (the exact opposite of the grease laden mess you get at some places), and cole slaw so good you take it with you if you can’t finish it.  Why wouldn’t you be able to finish it?  Because there’s a generous portion of densely packed barbeque in that bun.  Moist, well flavored from the pit, and unsauced until you add it to your preference.  Good stuff!


There is a “dining area” outside.  The table under the tent was occupied when we arrived, and a number of people were using the handrails of the porch as a working surface, as we did.   My suggestion, if you want to eat there, is to bring  camping chairs.  There’s room on the deck or a small grassy area to the side... or tailgate by your car.  Hey, it’s what you make of it.


Heirloom Market BBQ was mentioned in AJC’s “The Atlanta 50: Where to Eat” issued last spring.  I’m glad I took note.


4 of 5 STARS



(One star removed due to the lack of places to sit and the lack of fountain soft drinks).

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Things I Learned from BBQ Pitmasters

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I occasionally watch TV shows that have all the nutrients of junk food.  More charitably, I might call it “TV for multi-tasking.”  The networks know about suckers like me, because I am legion.   Hard Core Pawn.  Top Shot.  Storage Wars.  American Restoration.  Flipping Boston.   You’re familiar with them, even if you don’t watch them.   They’re the lifeblood of several cable networks.

Add to the list BBQ Pitmasters.  The idea is simple.  Gather a few BBQ cooks, tell them what to cook, and judge the results.   Repeat week after week, and form a playoff system.  The sport isn’t much, just a bunch of guys (and occasionally girls) who love their barbeque and like to brag about it.

Well, it can’t all be a waste of time.  Right?

So, very briefly, here’s what I’ve learned from watching the most recent season of the show (disclaimer, that’s the only season I watched.  The prior seasons may have included other very notable lessons not included here)

1) Purported BBQ pitmasters are colorful people.  I like most of them, but there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance, just like in any other profession.

2) It doesn’t matter what type of grill you use, as long as you know its use and limitations.  That said, there are disadvantages to some in cold or rainy weather.

3) I don’t know that the type of wood matters in the pit.  Not a single judge commented through the season about a noted flavor associated with a particular type of wood.

4) Injections of various juices and secret ingredients do matter, both for moisture and for flavor.

4) Like any competition, know your judges.  Imitation is the sincerest form of... winning.

5) I don’t really care what part of the cow the meat comes from.  But I appreciate that others do and alter their preparations accordingly.


6) What kind of statement are you making when you present BBQ for judging in a Styrofoam container?  Styrofoam is certainly useful for carry-out food, but is it really suitable for formal presentation?  C’mon, at least get a sturdy Chinette platter.  I want my BBQ hot and on a plate.  And not on a bed of lettuce or a container I’d poke a (plastic) fork through.

7) The judges seem to know their stuff, and although they’re informative and provide some consistency from show to show, it’s the pitmasters we watch that entertain and educate... the more colorful accents, the better.  “Mmm, mmm, good!”

But here’s what I really learned.  We consumers at the average BBQ restaurant are getting inferior product.  But that’s not fair to average BBQ restaurants.  It’s true of all BBQ restaurants.  If “pitmasters” are pressed to find a few choice morsels from a prime cut of meat, what does that say about the quality of BBQ served to the hordes at their restaurants?  Clearly, it’s 98% second rate.  Or worse.

Serve it somewhat moist and with a decent flavor, and I’ll resort to applying extra sauce depending on what it needs.   In the meantime, I’ll stick with my theory that the more modest the venue, the better the chances for good BBQ.

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