Monday, August 31, 2009

End Of Summer

Hello fine folks in the wide world of Cyberspace. Yep, for me anyway, summer's over. And, I have to say, I'm pretty excited about it.

That sounds awful, huh? But I'm a man of routine. I need to get back to doing my normal thing, which is working, going to shows, teaching the young children and smiling. These are the things I do.

When I'm on vacation for too long, or when I'm writing columns about a wonderful tennis tournament, I don't have time to do a lot of stuff. I know that sounds silly since, you know, I'm on vacation and should have tons of time, but it's not true. I had barely a minute to myself over my three-week vacation of sorts.

Whew. I'm happy to be teaching at the bum-crack of dawn tomorrow. What this means for you is plenty more blog entries. Yep. We'll be back to normal.

While I type this, I'm listening to "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy," a tribute record honoring former Miracle Legion frontman Mulcahy. Of course, Mark is a former New Havener, and Miracle Legion is one of the finest acts to ever come from these parts. When I moved here, it was the only band from the Elm City that I already owned records of ... or at least that's what I thought.

A little more than a year ago, Mark's wife died, leaving him to care for young children. This 21-song disc aims to raise funds for the family. Shout Factory is putting it out, and what a lineup. It's mind-blowing.

Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Dinosaur Jr., Mercury Rev, Elvis Perkins, Frank Black and The National are just some, um, national names. Plus, locals like The Butterflies of Love appear. It's a seriously great record. Look for a full story on it from me in the Arts section on Sunday Sept. 27.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tennis Time

Well, I just had my first Pilot Pen lobster roll, and I have to say I'm disappointed. I'll write more about this in an upcoming column, but sadness is overtaking me right now. I have no idea what to write, how to feel or how to move on with my life.

What's a boy supposed to do when his favorite thing in the whole wide world has been shrunk considerably, and changed in a meaningful way? I haven't been this traumatized since the fine folks at Sam Adams discontinued its Spring Ale. Pardon me while I cry some more.

Keep in mind, that starting tomorrow, I will be writing a column a day for the regular newspaper. I'm here at the Pilot Pen, covering everything that has nothing to do with real tennis. For tomorrow, be on the lookout for a piece on the largest tennis court ever constructed, or something like that.

I'll be updating this blog regularly from the tourney, so pay close attention. OK, now I've got to get a free razor or 30 to cheer myself up.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Reason To Hate The Yankees

Lord knows there are plenty of reasons to hate the New York Yankees. The big, huge financial advantage they have on every team, the ridiculous and inflated offensive stats some players are putting up because they play in a little league park, the dumb push for dumb-face Tex to win MVP when Joe Mauer is having a historic season ... There are too many to list.

But maybe none of these matter to you. Well, if you have any taste whatsoever, this will: Many Yanks, led by Johnny "I Have Crappy Road Stats And Am Babe Ruth At Home This Year" Damon, are in Hartford tonight to see Scott Stapp and Creed. Seriously.

Do I need to write anything else? The Yankees and Creed, now that's a match made in Corporate Crap Heaven.

Some Random Springsteen Thoughts

So if you weren't at Bruce Springsteen's show at the Comcast Theatre last night, you missed a hell of a concert. Besides it being too hot to live, it was the best I've seen The Boss: the best setlist, the best venue, the best sound, the best crowd ... the best everything. Here's my review of the night.

Because of deadline purposes, I had to file the review by 10:30, which meant there was another hour. The man played for just about three hours. In that kind of heat, at his age, it's honestly amazing. The set ended with plenty of classics including "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and "Thunder Road." At the bottom of this entry is the full setlist.

Anyway, any time I go to a concert, I write down little funny notes about things I see. Here are some random thoughts about last night. I'm just trying to be funny, and there was plenty to laugh at last night.
  • Springsteen ended with a cover of "Twist and Shout." Between cover bands, wedding acts and the tons of bands that have just played a version, I've seen this song live a gazillion times. The Boss' take was the best, and it included a bit of "La Bamba." Now here's my problem: The great LDP, Lou Diamond Phillips, isn't doing anything. And Ritchie Valens is up somewhere in that big plane in the sky. Nobody should ever sing that song except Valens or LDP. Why not hire LDP as part of the E Street Band just for this song? Seriously, there's like 4,321 members already. What's one more?

  • I heard a woman, sitting right beside me, ask, "Where is the lawn?" Really, lady? The lawn?

  • When I got there, my friend Eric was already sitting in his seat. There was a guy behind him that looked like a little older and odder version of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I guess when Eric sat down, the guy turned to the person next to him and said, "Oh, great, we're sitting behind a tall geek." Now, here's the thing: This guy was about 50 and was the person he was talking to? His mother! And he clenched his tickets throughout the entire show, like someone was going to steal them.

  • I know one of the things that appeals to people about Bruce is the everyman appeal, but Springsteen fans take it to a new level. One of the people behind me was just going on and on about how "amazing" the between song instrumental breaks were. Basically, when the band was tuning up, this guy was saying, "This is what the show's all about, not the songs. These moments." Of course, his lady friend just kept screaming "Thunder Road." Stop please. The songs are good. I don't know what was worse: saying just stupid things or screaming "Thunder Road" over and over again.

  • Springsteen fans are quite dedicated, but how come they've never been told you're not supposed to wear the T-shirt of the band that you're seeing to a show? I mean, seriously, it's a rule. You can't do it, yet about 40 percent of the crowd did it. Do they not know the rule? Should I have told them they looked dumb? And The Boss' shirts are pretty horrid, too. I love the music, but if you ever catch me wearing a T-shirt with Bruce's head on it, just shoot me.

  • Speaking of shirts, when did it become OK to wear Under Armour as regular fashion, outside of the gym? I must have missed that news bulletin.

  • You want to know how much the band members love each other? During the time between songs, at one point, Springsteen gave Max Weinberg a sponge bath of sorts. Yep.

  • I never noticed how much the beginning of "Rosalita" sounds like the "Radio Nowhere" intro. Was I the only sad he played "Rosie" and not "Radio"?

  • Lots of people were holding up signs. Unless I'm an idiot, I didn't understand one, yet it was also my favorite. It said, "Flew to Stockholm to see you. How's your ass?" Um ...
  • Oh, and yeah, my other favorite sign said "We're Jack & Diane." Um, wrong everyman songwriter?

  • When we were leaving, the fine people at Axe were giving out free samples. Of course, I didn't take one, but I wonder if those folks should just concentrate on men wearing Livestrong bracelets? Axe, really?

That's all I got. Have a good one guys. Here's the setlist:

1. Sherry Darling
2. Badlands
3. Out in the Street
4. Outlaw Pete
5. Spirit in the Night
6. Working on a Dream
7. Seeds
8. Johnny 99
9. Murder Incorporated
10. Something in the Night
11. Raise Your Hand
12. Mountain of Love
13. Sha La La
14. I'm on Fire
15. Be True
16. My Love Will Not Let You Down
17. Waitin' on a Sunny Day
18. The Promised Land
19. American Skin (41 Shots)
20. Lonesome Day
21. The Rising
22. Born to Run
23. Rosalita
24. Thunder Road
25. Hard Times Come Again No More
26. American Land
27. Dancing in the Dark
28. Twist and Shout/La Bamba

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back In The Wonderful New Haven

Woo hoo. That's all I can say about the big news. What's that news? I got back home a day or so ago. That makes me happy. I like home. And, yes, New Haven is home, even though that feels weird to write. Whatever. Oh, and yeah, Bruce Springsteen plays Hartford Wednesday.

I've got to say, I've seen Springsteen like five times in the last couple years, but, for some reason, I'm really excited about this gig. I think it's just the outdoors thing. It's going to make an already-sure-to-great show better.

Anyway, One of the first things I did when I got back here was, oddly, go to the gym. And while there, I heard the worst song ever made. Of course I'm exaggerating a wee bit, and I usually just blast my iPod, but while I was changing, I had to listen to whatever satellite system they use at good ol' LA Fitness.

I've got to admit, at some point I've heard basically every Red Jumpsuit Apparatus record. I've reviewed one, too. But nothing ever struck me as good or bad. To me, until today, they were always another in a long line of faceless, mediocre post-hardcore pop-punk bands. But then today happened. I don't know how I missed it before, and maybe it was because today I heard an acoustic version today, but, man, "Face Down" is horrid.

I know this sounds mean to say about a tune that's supposedly about the singer's abused mother, but the songwriter needs to take a writing course or something. Show don't tell. Show don't tell. This song is so over-the-top, so melodramatic that it pained me. I feel like I needed to point that out. Thanks for letting me vent. It's a track Nickelback would be proud to pen.

What else? Well, I'm still on vacation. Woo hoo. I do, however, hate the kind of heat we're experiencing right now. I went outside for a while today, but it made me cry. Or maybe that was sweat. Or maybe it was something someone dropped on me. I don't know.

Today is also a sad day for me personally. I finally caved. I hate myself, but today I ordered a Blackberry. This makes me sad. It makes me want to vomit. It makes me feel like an adult or someone who thinks they're more important than they are ... I don't know. But it will make reviewing concerts so much easier, and with Springsteen coming up Wednesday, I felt like I had to bite the bullet ... after years of not. I did it. Wish me luck. Self hatred can destroy a person, or so after-school specials lead me to believe.

One of the greatest rock producers of all time has died. Read the obit and you'll understand why it's easy to give Jim Dickinson that compliment.

I have no problems admitting that I like some Kiss records. It's good classic rock. I feel like you're lying to yourself if you don't dig some Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons tunes. With that said, the band hasn't released anything relevant in a very long time. Successfully reuniting and touring doesn't mean the new music was any good. And this is why I just can't help but laugh about this story. Good luck Wal-Mart. I know you sell crappy, crappy music to people everywhere every day, but this will take extra work.

I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard people I trust tell me wonderful things about "District 9," the No. 1 movie in America.

I leave you with this: If you're a fan of really good Appalachian folk, then Cain & Annabelle at Cafe 9 tomorrow is something that should really interest you. I've got to admit that I've been listening to the duo incessantly for the last few days. It makes me happy. Oh, and local singer/songwriter Lys Guillorn is opening. And she's always great; every time I see her I'm reminded of this fact.

I got a bit sidetracked last week, so I never got around to writing about Wye Oak at the Middle East. Let's just say it was a great show. They're just a powerful live act. The records are very good, especially "If Children," but live it's just something else, something so much more visceral. I don't think I'll ever miss an opportunity to catch them.

With that said, the opener that night was JP Hasson. I'd never heard of him. Apparently, he has a record on Comedy Central's label or something. I only caught the end of the set, but this video was just about the funniest thing I've seen in weeks. Here it is (just keep in mind there are a couple bad words in this, so, kiddies, don't press play):

Crap Factory

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dispatch From The Bay State

Well, hello, friends.

I'm typing this from the couch at my folks' house, watching the Red Sox look lifeless against Justin Verlander. Let's hope that changes. I mean, Clay Buchholz is pitching a hell of a game; they can't waste this. Although, literally while I was typing that sentence, someone just homered off him.

Anyway, so vacation hasn't exactly started out the way I would have planned, and that's why I haven't exactly updated this here blog. But that's OK. Since I'm here in Boston, I'm going to check out Wye Oak tonight at the Middle East. I love Wye Oak and I love the Middle East. Good times.

Wye Oak (that's the them above) has played New Haven three times over the last year or so. They're the only band I've seen get forced to do an encore at BAR. They opened for The Broken West at my favorite concert of 2008 (that was at Cafe Nine). And then they came back to Cafe Nine a couple months ago. I missed that show because of a previous engagement, so I'm really excited about tonight.

What else? If you rush over to Live Nation, tickets for Springsteen at the Comcast on Wednesday are available. It won't be for long, that's for sure.

My little brother sent me this link a little while ago, but I kept forgetting to put it up. If this isn't one of the funniest stories you've ever read, I don't know what to say. Well, I guess you could just think of it as ridiculous. I don't know. My favorite part is that she carries around bolts and it's implied that she gets off while on the ride. Too weird and funny.

As someone posted in a comment, if you head over to NPR, you can download every Newport Folk Festival artist's set from the concert. I went over to that there site last Monday for the Josh Ritter set, and it only gave me half the performance. That's been fixed, thankfully.

My friend Noah, who lives in Hipster Haven, was walking down the street earlier today and walked by Will Sheff. Why Noah didn't tackle and kidnap him, I have no idea. He's clearly dumb and regrets it now.

I'm not sure if this story about Daughtry is flattering or not. I have no idea. I do know the band's recent CD is bad. That's one thing in life I'm sure of. Yep.

If that new Jay Leno show still does those funny headlines segments, then this should definitely be on there. I mean, replace "20" with, um, "two" and it'd be accurate.

And with that, I'm about done. I'll post again very soon, like tomorrow with a review of Wye Oak. Don't you worry.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Battle Of The Sexes

I used to give women the benefit of the doubt. I've always been under the impression that women were just naturally smarter than us men. I'm starting to reconsider.

No doubt you're wondering what brought on this sudden change of heart. Well, no doubt I'm going to tell you.

For the last few years, let's just say 2002-2008, about 97 percent of the people I saw wearing Bluetooths were men. Now, we all know that anyone who wears a Bluetooth or a Live Strong bracelet is an, um, what's that word I'm looking for that ends in bag? You know what I mean. This is just common knowledge.

Bluetooths are dumb. They look stupid. They make you look like a moron. I immediately know you and me just wouldn't get along. I mean, OK, there's an exception for using one in a car, but barely.

Come on. Cellphones are small. You can't hold it in your hand? You seriously need that other hand? You seriously feel the need to talk without a phone and make people think you're batcrap nuts? Is this something you feel deep inside you?

And this brings me to my new point: I always thought women were better than this. But over the last few weeks, and especially this weekend, I saw more women wearing Bluetooths than ever. Is this a sign of the apocalypse? Is this proof that maybe women aren't smarter than men?

I don't know the answers to all these most important questions. What I do know is that anyone who uses a Bluetooth might want to reconsider. We're all laughing at you. Everyone in the room sees you and basically thinks you're an ass right away. It's the truth. Sorry to break it to you.

I once had to explain this to an uncle of mine, but I just thought it was because he was a guy. I wish I didn't give women such a benefit the doubt. I feel had. Maybe hair was just always covering up that stupid little thing on their ear?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Newport Folk Festival 6 - Arlo, Deer Tick, Etc.

Sometimes some of the best moments at festivals like these are when you're not even seeing music. After Neko Case, I had a couple hours before Deer Tick, and this meant some wandedring was going to happen. I was able to see some of Arlo Guthrie, some Del McCoury and some Tim Eriksen. All were pretty good, although I definitely liked Eriksen the least. Just walking around the harbor and looking at the boats and tents is pretty cool. It's somewhat relaxing. And, amazingly, we've gotten no rain here even though we're enjoying 98 percent humidity and complete overcast.

But when this festival is written up in the history books (who knows who writes them), there are going to be multiple paragraphs about the local acts. The Low Anthem put on a good set yesterday, and today, Providence's Deer Tick drew a more than capacity crowd to the Waterside Stage, clearing outdrawing Eriksen, who was playing to a half-empty space at the bigger Harbor Stage.

This was probably a good thing since this was, by far, the best I've seen Deer Tick. As many of you know, they've played the New Haven area about three times in the last year (and it should have been four, but the show a couple weeks ago was canceled). They just killed. This is a band that's slowly becoming a band. It all started as a solo act with just a name, but now it's a group, a strong quartet.

As you can imagine, the songs from 2007's "War Elephant" went over the best. Singer/songwriter John McCauley jokingly referred to set closers "Ashamed" and "Art Isn't Real (City of Sin)" as the band's "MySpace greatest hits," and it was clear the audience knew them the best, singing along loudly enough McCauley could just sit back and play guitar.

Before Deer Tick started, I was able to eat some Thai food. Mmm. Well, now I'm on to see some Joan Baez before Elvis Perkins in Dearland begins. We'll talk soon.

Newport Folk Festival 5 - Guy Clark/Joe Pugg/Neko Case

There's a delicate balance that must be struck to have a successful set. Oh, sure, you need good music, but little things can really upset. A few years back, I caught an Okkervil River show in Northampton with a friend. Singer Will Sheff was clearly drunk and playing his guitar way too delicately. This bothered my friend so much, she couldn't enjoy the set at all; she just couldn't get past it.

Well, I'm a huge Neko Case fan. "Middle Cyclone" may be my favorite record of 2009, so far. With that said, I found her performance incredibly annoying. The songs were killer, so why did it annoy the poop out of me?

Well, the backup singer just wouldn't stop talking, or making noises. There's a value to silence, to hearing people tune their instruments. Well, this woman just couldn't let a second go by without making a noise. And we're not talking about stage banter either; she just kept saying random phrases or laughing or making odd noises. It was so, so annoying. I couldn't deal with it.

It was so bad, I'm currently in the press tent, typing this entry and only hearing "This Tornado Loves You," one of my favorite tunes in recent memory. Oh, man. If, by chance, anyone knows this singer - who has a great voice by the way - tell her she needs to stop. She doesn't have to be an emcee that doesn't stop. Say interesting things. I don't know. Please, just stop.

But, again, the music was great. I've seen Case before, and it wasn't ever like this.

Anyway, on to other artists. Guy Clark really killed. I only saw three-fourths of his set because I wanted to at least see Joe Pugg since others have told me he's good. I wish I didn't take those people's advice. Pugg is folk music for teenage girls, the kind of performer you can see at any open mic. Oh, he writes good songs, but it's nothing that goes above the norm.

And that's all I've got for now. I'm going enjoy the rest of my Narragansett beer and then head over to see Deer Tick and Elvis Perkins in Deerland. We'll talk soon.

EDIT: I've just learned Case's backup singer is none other than Kelly Hogan, a singer who's made some very good alt-country records. Heck, I've interviewed her about a show I saw at Cafe Nine a handful of years ago. She wasn't like that when she played solo. I don't get it. Maybe the thousands and thousands of people make her nervous?

Newport Folk Festival 4 - Josh Ritter

After explaining that when he was young he sent a tape of his songs to Pete Seeger, Idaho-born singer/songwriter Josh Ritter then spoke about how his first nationwide tour was undertaken with Joan Baez.

He then launched into "Hello Starling (Snow is Gone)," the oldest tune he performed Sunday as the opening performer at the last day of the 50th Newport Folk Festival.

Ritter played "Starling" and "Girl in the War" mostly acoustic, but besides those two tracks, the bulk of his 11-song set was highlighted by an absolutely killer band. The energetic fivesome tore through popular tunes including "Wolves," "Right Moves" and, especially, the set closer "To The Dogs or Whoever."

But the highlight of the 50-minute set came from an extended take on the countrified folk of "Lillian, Egypt," a tune off of his critically lauded 2006 album "The Animal Years." The fiery version of the song included a portion of The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" that got the crowd aurally excited.

Numerous times Ritter spoke of what an honor it was to be playing the festival, noting that the only other time he performed at it was in the parking lot, trying to give away tapes. The 33-year-old musician never dropped the smile from his face, constantly jumped around and got the audience clapping along. It was a set full of emotion and power, a perfect 50 minutes to open the last day of the festival.

Now I'm on the Joe Pugg. We'll talk soon.

Setlist: Wildfires / Wolves / Rumors / Empty Hearts / Girl In The War / Right Moves / Real Long Distance / Another New World / Lillian, Egypt (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da played in middle) / Hello Starling (Snow is Gone) / To the Dogs or Whoever

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Newport Folk Festival 3 - Iron & Wine/Decemberists

Sam Beam, the man who goes by the moniker Iron & Wine when he plays music, took to the Harbor Stage at the festival and immediately played his best-known song: the acoustic cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights." Of course, the tune's known because it's in that car commercial.

Anyway, I couldn't help but think about how when Beam plays solo, without a band, he sounds a ton like Madison singer/songwriter Chuck E. Costa. So if you like Iron & Wine, I strongly suggest checking out Costa, who write some great songs.

I only caught half of Beam's set because I wanted to make sure I saw all of The Decemberists. Man, am I so glad that I did that. I've seen Colin Meloy and company about five times, but this was actually the best they've been. It was a varied setlist, one that touched upon all parts of the band's career.

Decemberists setlist: The Crane Wife Pt. 3 / We Both Go Down Together / Yankee Bayonet / Down By The Water (new song) / Copper Mine Song (new song) / Isn't It A Lovely Night? / The Hazzards of Love / The Wanting Comes In Waves / The Chimbley Sweep / Dracula's Daughter / O Valencia! / A Cautionary Song / Sons & Daughters

During "A Cautionary Song," the band performed an original theatrical work, one that reenacted Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. It was, um, something.

Newport Folk Festival 2 - Mavis/Fleet Foxes/Gillian

What's wrong with me? So many people of my ilk just love the Fleet Foxes to death. I just can't do it. Oh, sure, I can appreciate their sound and skill and, especially, the harmonies, but the songs have no real hooks. Call me common and unable to understand all you want, but unless you're super special, your songs need a hook, something to bring people in and keep their interest.

I hear Fleet Foxes and sort of get into it, but then by mid-song, I'm dreaming of Chicken McNuggets or what's next ... in this case Iron & Wine. So, yeah, that's my thing with Fleet Foxes.

Mavis Staples, playing on a smaller stage at the same time as the Foxes (odd) performed a good amount of what you'd expect for her. A highlight was a spirited take on The Band's "The Weight," which was really cool.

As for Gillian Welch, well, you know what that was like. It was exactly what you'd think: professional, interesting, engaging and, honestly, really cool. David Rawlings is such a good guitar player. He makes me happy.

So that's it for now. I'm about to head over for Iron & Wine and then it's Decemberists time. Seeing that band play in front of this many people should be pretty cool. I just ran into Colin Meloy backstage. He talks just like he sings. Without historical references though ....

Newport Folk Festival 1 - Nightwatchman

For a festival with plenty of legends and indie faves, it seems that each time Tom Morello, the former guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, plays here, he simply kills. The man can control a crowd as well as anyone I've ever seen. And this is coming from someone who never liked Rage even one bit. I guess I understood why people did dig them, but I think it was the singing style that turned me off.

But I was introduced to Morello's Nightwatchman project for the first time back in 2007, at this very festival. He was great then, but he was better today; his set ended about 10 minutes ago. No song embodies this fest more than Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and, of course, Morello knows this. He ended his set with the full version of the iconic tune, getting the crowd to sing along at a very loud clip. Simply put, it was a great set.

As for other things so far today, The Avett Brothers impressed me quite a bit. For some reason, I've never gotten into that band that much, but I'm going to revisit them when I get home. Folks I trust really like them, so I'm sure they deserve a second chance from me. They especially deserve another chance from me live. Yep. It's true.

What else? Not that much for now. I think I'm going to head out of this here press tent to see Gillian Welch and enjoy the weather. Talk to you soon. You can expect a couple more updates today, and then check out for a full review of the day tonight. OK, hope you're enjoying your Saturday.