Traveling Band

Stephen Simmons W/ Band

Dave rocks out on his twangy Telecaster while playing for Stephen Simmons, who was in Ashland, VA last Friday night. That’s Paul on drums and Willie on bass.

My younger brother Dave was in town Friday to play a show up at the Ashland Coffee & Tea house with Stephen Simmons. We had a good time at the show and I learned that the Richmond area has at least one decent place to go listen to music (I’ve so far been less than impressed, as you can tell).

That night, he and drummer Paul Griffith stayed at our house. Paul was in dire need of some wifi, so we hooked him up in order to try and make some publication deadlines he had. The next morning, Dave joined me and Angela at the training team for our Saturday long run. Afterwords, it was Smoothie King (our latest addiction) and some showers. We took the guys out to lunch at a local joint we’d been wanting to try ourselves and everyone seemed to agree it was well worth it.

We wish that Dave and the rest of the band could have stayed even longer, but it was off to North Carolina for another show that evening. We’ll look forward to having some more bands traveling through to listen to and hang out with.

My Pandora Thinks I’m… Okay, It Just Thinks

I just this evening discovered probably the only online streaming web site for music I’ve ever wanted to listen to. That’s because I actually get to dictate what gets played on this station. I really quit listening to radio a few years ago and buying an iPod really sealed that coffin. As much as I hate to admit, I really don’t even listen to public radio anymore, even though Richmond has a great public radio/TV station. We even have a decent indy station, but I just don’t listen.

You see, my problem is that while I really want to discover new music, I want to have some control on what direction that takes. Sounds like a conflict, doesn’t it? Well, not so much. I’m just particular about what I want and while other people who know me can make terrific recommendations, most DJ’s and the like have no idea what I’m going to like.

So, for the past few years, I’ve used Amazon.com, iTunes Music Store, and Metacritic to track down new music when no one I knew and who in turn, knew my tastes, was making recommendations for me. They’ve worked well, but I still felt like I was only just listening down the same path I’d been on for quite a while. Well, this evening I was listening to Inside The Net No. 6 interviewing Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora and The Music Genome Project. I won’t go into all the gory details of Pandora’s recommendation engine (which is The Music Genome Project), but suffice to say, it is the most advanced I’m aware of. Better yet, it is as simple as naming your favorite song or artist or just as complicated and in depth as you wish to make it. Even better still, it is completely free. Not only is there no charge, it is interconnected such that I can be at iTMS or Amazon.com with just a couple of clicks.

So while our TiVo may think1 that we’re raving lunatics for slasher films and Amazon.com thinks I wish to purchase every building code ever written, Pandora is really pointing in the right direction. Time will tell how useful it is, but so far I’m very impressed.

  1. This and my title are in reference to a well-known Wall Street Journal (subscription required) article titled "Oh No!, My TiVo Thinks I’m Gay"by Jeffrey Zaslow. The article really captured what so many people were noticing about recommendation engines and led to some refinement in TiVo’s system. However, our TiVo still has a long way to go. []

"Twin Cinema" — The New Pornographers

Twin Cinema

Angela bought me the latest album by the The New Pornographers last month, despite her mild discomfort with the band’s odd choice of name. After letting her hear a couple of songs, she decided they were okay afterall and even has a couple loaded onto her iPod for bopping around the house to.

She purchased the song off of iTunes Music Store, which is where a lot of our music comes from these days1. I had heard about the album back over the summer in an NPR piece about great summer music, even though the album wasn’t even out yet. They played a 45-60 second snip of one of the songs. I had also listened to each of the songs 30-second clips on iTMS and decided I like what I heard.

I was then completely blown away when I listend to the album in its entirety. Each song is like an multi-movement pop-symphony. The song you are listening to at the beginning isn’t like the middle or end, and the progression is both natural and amazing. Songs like "The Bleeding Heart Show" change and evolve in a way that would leave both proponents of Darwin’s Theory and I.D. stunned.

Also, the band has a very hard to pin down taxonomy. They strum guitars and bang on keyboards like a true rock band, but also show the emtion of the moodiest of emo and indie rock. However, I don’ t think I’d ever call them indie, since to the best of my knowledge, hey-la hey-la choruses are by definition, not allowed in indie rock (see also "The Bleeding Heart Show"). The lyrics are smart and this ablum’s addition of songwriter A.C. Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder on vocals (and piano) add even more layers of nice to a great album. If you like variety in your rock and want something new and solid, you should have this album in your collection.

  1. We love the convience of iTMS, but of course the DRM is a bit frustrating. I typically burn and re-rip the music bought there for two reasons: 1) a physical back-up in the event of hard-drive failure and 2)Re-ripping removes the DRM on the music. []

End of the Rode

I received an e-mail today with absolutely nothing new in it today. It was an e-mail that I knew was coming and I knew almost exactly what it would say. What I didn’t know is just how sad I’d be when I saw it.

My friends’ band, Green Rode Shotgun, are going their separate ways. They’ve thanked all their fans and acknowledged that it is the time for them to try something different in their lives.

I was probably the biggest Green Rode Shotgun fan in the world who never saw them live. I have several recordings of a live show the did in Nashville a couple of years ago. Also, I heard about 45 seconds of a recording of them performing a Tom Petty song as an encore once. That’s it. Otherwise, it was just studio recordings as how I knew my friends’ music as they all live and perform in a different state and never had the occasion to play in Virginia and I never was able to schedule trips to Nashville when they were playing there. Still, I really enjoyed them. It’s a rare thing when a band has enough energy to make a studio recording where you can almost see them jumping up and down. You’d swear you would hear things being knocked over in the excitement that they would put onto a disc. It was a rare and great thing, and I’ll miss it.

I understand why they’re not playing all together anymore. As much as I’ll miss them as a band, I know for my good friend, Jason, it is the right thing. We often find ourselves lamenting on the break-up of rock bands. It is all too easy to see them as one-dimensional. How could they not want to keep making music together, after all, it was so good? However, they are all people and have many dimensions to their lives. Not all decisions can be about the career you are in right now, and it is no different for musicians.

I’m looking forward to hearing Yenko Camaro sometime. I’m also looking forward to see what Jason can create in the next phase of an already impressive artistic career. When the people in the band are your friends, you have those sorts of things to look forward to and them breaking up doesn’t seem so bad, after all.

Influential Album Meme

Here’s a brief list of some of the most influential albums.

Well, Kottke did it first, and then Van Buren, so here’s my list of ten albums that have influenced my musical tastes over the years, in no particular order, and far from being exhaustive.

  • John Williams/Various – "Return of the Jedi Soundtrack" Proof that I was born under a geek sign might be that the very first album (okay, cassette tape) I ever owned was a Star Wars soundtrack. The next was a Billy Joel album, but I never claimed to be cool.
  • REM – "Green" While Document was the first REM album I had, my big brother Stephen took me with him to a REM concert in Knoxville, TN on the "Green" tour. Watching the band perform "Turn You Inside Out" made me a life-long environmentalist. The entire stage became the screen for lots of Greenpeace-like footage. Anyway, a terrific album that still means a lot to me.
  • Anthrax – "Persistence of Time" This might have been any number of thrash-metal or heavy metal albums, but none of them really started the fire in me like Anthrax did. They weren’t into theatrics and imagery, they just rocked really fast and loud. The lyrics were never Dylan or anything, but as a idealistic kid, I found them agreeable. They weren’t singing about murdering people (well, mostly not) or drugs. They were just ranting about society. Oh, and did I mentioned it was fast and loud?
  • Public Enemy – "Fear of a Black Planet" Although Apocalypse 91 and Nation of Millions were also huge albums, it was Fear of Black Planet that was the most defining album for this group. They had all the attitude of gansta rap, but without all the bullshit. I got the impression that they were rapping about trying to live in the inner city as a young black person, rather than just wasting away there. There was no shortage of wiggers and redneck raps fans (I can’t explain them, so I’m sorry if you just don’t know what that is) where I grew up, but Public Enemy made me want to be neither. I didn’t want to be like these guys nor did I despise them. I just wanted to hear their message and listen the best rap that has ever been.
  • Lenny Kravitz – "Are You Gonna Go My Way" For my brother, Dave, our friend Hitch, and I; this re-defined how cool rock could be. We were all listening to lots of classic rock and also looking for new bands. Mostly at the time, that was early grunge. Then Kravitz puts out this retro-rock sounding album (okay, his third, but whatever) that just blew us away. I remember listening to the album and Dave kept saying "If I made an album, it would sound just like this." Can a musician give a higher compliment?
  • Marty Stuart – "This One’s Gonna Hurt You" I should state that this one is on here because of my brother Dave, more than me. I came home from college one weekend to Dave going on and on about how cool Marty Stuart, the country(?!) guitar player was. I thought he was joking. Then he made me sit down and actually listen to what this guy was playing, and I was amazed. This started a career in country music for Dave, and new found appreciation and love for the music for me. I still despise commercial country, but that’s why Marty’s here. He’s just about everything that is good about Nashville, with none of the crap.
  • Various Artists – The "Matrix: Music From The Motion Picture" Okay, so this is possibly cheating, but we find music in odd ways. I didn’t really care for techno/electronic/industrial all that much until I saw the Wachowski brothers put it to such good use. When I got the association with Prodigy and Cyber-punk, it just clicked. We all walked away from this film thinking how cool the movie was. I was also thinking, I got to get me some electronica.
  • Jay Farrar – "Sebastopol " This could have been any number of Americana albums, but honestly it was always Jay Farrar’s voice, guitar, and lyrics that I liked about Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. I still am crazy about those bands, as well as Wilco. I even like musically related bands like The Jayhawks, but it was Farrar that really clicked with me.
  • Tie: Green Rode Shotgun "Bang" & The Coal Men – " Nowhere’s Too Far" This isn’t just shameless promotion of friends. We all have friends in bands or that are songwriters to some extent. However, when you get this polished CD from them and you listen to each track, you might find yourself wondering about everything you ever said or did around them. Did you realize just how talented these people are? Don’t you feel a little foolish for ever even discussing music around them? They were always artists, you just didn’t realize until now. How could an album like that not affect how you listen to all other music?

Borderless Shopping

In the age of digital delivery of goods, what do I care about national borders?

iTunes Music Store, you lost some business today.

At 99¢ per song, iTMS lost $13.86 to Amazon.ca. Why? Angela heard a Rufus Wainright song on an NPR program about 4 or 5 months ago. It is a bonus track found only on foreign releases of a collection of B-sides called "Want Two." The song is called "Quand Vous Mourez de Nos Amours" (in French, obviously). I went to Tower Records to buy it, and they don’t have an import section anymore. Further, even if they did have it, they’d want $35 for it. I know that Amazon.fr carried the album for a while, and we actually had thought we just buy a copy while in Paris. However, when in Paris for only a few days, you tend to not waste time looking for relatively obscure albums.

Today, Angela called me asking how to buy songs from the Canadian iTunes music store, because they had the song she was interested in. It isn’t carried on the American iTMS. Why? In whose mind does this make any sense? Where are the vast sums of money to be collected on having songs that cannot be found in this country? How can an industry complain about illegal downloads when this sort of thing drives people to do just that? I want to buy my music. I want Rufus Wainright to get compensated for recording weird little French songs. I want to be able to download it to my iPod and listen immediately. With infinite shelf space and nearly zero cost of delivery, why is this not possible?

iTunes Music store lost a little money today. Angela probably would have only bought the one song for 99¢ and that’s not going to make or break any business, musician, or consumer. However, if Chris Anderson is to be believed, when multiplied by the number of obscure songs that only a handful of people in this country want, the amount of money is staggering. At least Amazon.ca has no qualms with shipping to me. Fortunately, neither does Amazon.co.uk or any other Amazon store around the world I’ve bought music and movies from. I’ll continue to do it, and I’m not alone. Someday, maybe the executives and legal department will wake up and see the profits there. Sadly, they’re more likely to try and sue me and get me and those like to stop. That’s okay, there’s always bit-torrent.

Mowing

When I was kid, I hated to have mow lawns (but I liked the money). No one pays me to do it now, but I love yard work.

When I was kid, I hated to have mow lawns (but I liked the money). No one pays me to do it now, but I love yard work. This afternoon, I walked straight through the house after arriving home from work and to the shed to get the string trimmer. I bought a gas-powered string trimmer a few weeks ago and I’ve been trying to master edging with it. I didn’t even bother change clothes. I just started edging.

After getting the back yard done, I let the dogs back in (they were traumatized enough from 20 minutes of buzzing sounds). I actually changed into my mowing/painting clothes and came back out to finish the front yard. I then pulled out the mower and got down to business. I began to think about when I was a teenager and I mowed lawns around the block and at the church for money. I used to listen to thrash metal (Anthrax, Testament, Pantera and Death Angel, how could I forget DA!) really loudly on my old Sony Walkman. I still get flashes of headbanging when I’m out whipping my push mower around.

Now, I see mowing the lawn as a kind of relaxing. The repetitiveness and patterns appeal to my OCD nature. There’s the sense of accomplishment as I close in on the last little strip of tall grass. The feeling of taming something wild. It isn’t because I’m trying to impress the neighbors, because God knows, my lawn looks like shit (and I have the photos to prove it). I simply enjoy doing it for myself.

Also, Angela recently pointed out that during the warm months when I’m mowing the lawn regularly, she thinks I’m slightly less of a lazy husband than during the rest of the year. That’s cool, too.

This evening, when I was all finished, I just sat down on the deck bench and began to doze off to the smell of freshly cut grass and gently humming thrash metal tunes to myself…


Lord of the Race

This weekend consists of Symphonies and Road Races.

Last night (Saturday), Angela and I went to see the Richmond Symphony perform the Lord of the Rings Symphony. It’s not that I wasn’t amazed at Howard Shore’s score already, but I was completely floored last night. Angela and I both decided that this score ranks up as one of our favorites (individually, and collectively). Further, with all due respect to John Williams, who is another favorite, this was all completely original scoring. Williams often uses famous pieces for direct inspiration in movie scores, which isn’t all that uncommon in film score composition as I understand it. Case in point: Carmina Burana is an obvious influence on the Darth Maul theme in Star Wars: Episode I. Of course, Williams has plenty of original compositions to his credit (not the least of which, the main theme to Star Wars). However, I think that Shore has raised the bar in how complex, both musically and emotionally, a film score can be. He weaves in traditional music, pop music, and symphony handily. All this, and it was very nice getting to see the home town symphony play it at the Landmark.

This morning, I ran the Carytown 10k. My goal: to run the race averaging an 8 minute-mile. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, that would have been at sub-50 minute race. I had even been running during lunch breaks the last couple of weeks to make sure the heat wouldn’t bother me too much and that I could keep a good pace going. Unfortunately, I can’t keep a steady pace for long enough. After running a nice 7:50 pace for three miles, I dropped off sharply for most of the next mile-and-a-half. I ended up at 51:26, which is whole minute slower than my last 10k. What was the difference? I’d say it was the fact that last month, the larger race had wave starts, so I started with a whole group of people to pace with. This race was a pack start, so I was just with whatever group happened to fall in about the middle of the crowd. The lesson here is that I’m going to have to use the pace alarm on my Forerunner if I hope to be able to train for a certain pace. Then, I think I can break the 50 minute wall and reach my next running goal. After that, I hope to work more on distance than speed. After all, I’m not likely to ever win any of these (which is a stretch of the term "not likely"). However, I can at least have some bragging rights for running farther some day.

Music Inside The Beltway

Angela and I drove up to Alexandria to check out Dave playing with Jessi Alexander, who was opening for Vonda Shepard.

So Dave calls me Monday morning to tell me that he is in West Virginia and on his way up to Alexandria to play a gig with Jessi Alexander that evening. He wanted to know if Angela and I could make it up to the show. Well, of course we get cut off before he tells me where (there are a few hills in West Virginia and only one cell tower). I call Angela, and she’s all for it. Finally we get back in touch and he tells me it’s at the Birchmere and that Jessi is opening for Vonda Shepard. Even better.

Now, it’s a hundred miles one way from Richmond to Alexandria, but well worth the trip to see Dave, Jessi Alexander, and Vonda Shepard. We got there in time to see the second half of Jessi’s set, which was really great. It just made me wish we could have made it to see the whole thing. Jessi is a great songwriter and performer, and I can see why Dave enjoys getting to tour around with her. Further, after meeting her in person, she’s a real class-act. She was fun to talk to about music, travel, and whatever else the four of us all talked about. I have to admit that since I absolutely never listen to commercial radio or watch music videos, I’d never heard her music until Monday. I bought her album and I’m glad I did. I’d recommend it to anyone as what really good country music can be when someone writes songs and not "hits."

The Birchmere is more like dinner theater than your typical honky-tonk. I know Dave and Jessi noticed the crowd was a little subdued. I think Dave took it as lack of interest or even disapproval. I think these people are way too used to watching music on A&E, and don’t know to clap, whistle, and yell after guitar solos, piano rolls, and wailing vocals. There was no shortage of any of that between these two ladies, and the crowd had the pulse-rate of a narcoleptic golf caddy on the seniors tour. As far as Vonda Shepard goes, she’s probably not used to crowd’s not responding. She is a great entertainer, singer and songwriter. I hate people who do this, which is weird because I do it more than anyone, but here goes: she’s like a cross between Ben Folds and Carly Simon. I didn’t really expect to enjoy her set half as much as I did, and now I’m telling Angela to go download some songs from iTunes Music Store. Next thing, you know, I’ll be sitting in my PJ’s watching the DVD sets of Ally McBeal. Okay, that’s not very likely.

Towards the end of Vonda’s set, Dave, Angela and I went back to the dressing rooms to hang out. Dave showed off his high-end tambourine and his flashy new laptop. He let us listen to a couple of songs off of the forthcoming Coal Men EP. Damn, it sounds terrific. I was kicking myself for not bringing my USB flash drive to grab some copies. I was also just proud that Dave was letting his inner geek shine for a while. Rock on, man. \w/

Anyway, Angela and I really enjoyed the whole evening. Getting to hang out some with Dave alone would have been worth the trip, but two really great performers really made it a great trip. I hope Dave and Jessi enjoy their time up in Philly and Detroit, and I really look forward to seeing Jessi perform again.

In other music/geek news: Green Rode Shotgun‘s web site is back! Jason‘s been a busy man, and the site looks great. He’s indeed a man of many talent’s, including occasionally threatening to post comments on this site. Glad to see you back on the web, my friend.