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For nearly fourteen years I was able to keep up this daily blog of books and music.

About a year ago I got a promotion and that changed everything.  I no longer had the time to post everything I wanted to.  Heck, I didn’t even seem to have the time to read all the short stories I wanted to.  Amusingly (or not), just before this new position, I had gotten a print subscription to the New Yorker.  This now means that I (like many others) have a two-foot stack of New Yorker magazines that I haven’t even looked at yet.

For a few weeks I was limiting myself to only the concerts that I went to because that was a little easier to write about.  Although back in the good old days, I used to include photo and links, and I pretty much have neither now. And I’m several shows behind as well.

So I’m still reading books and I think I may try to post some thoughts about them from time to time.  I’d also like to think I have time to write about my concerts, but even those are proving to be challenging.

So let’s consider the blog on hiatus more or less, with occasional posts about things I’ve read or listened to.

The good thing is that I like the new position and wouldn’t change it for the world. I guess I never realized how much down time my old position gave me!

[ATTENDED: September 29, 2022] Death Cab for Cutie

This was our third time seeing Death Cab for Cutie.  They put on a remarkably good show every time.  I was telling S. I feel al little bad for saying that I don’t feel like there’s anything extraordinary about them–nothing that blows me away.  However, I like just about everything they do.  They fall into a perfect, sweet spot for me.  I love Ben Gibbard’s voice.  They write excellent melodies.  And, as it turns out, their live shows are fantastic.

The whole evening was marked by weirdness though.  As we arrive, while waiting at the corner, we saw a car hit a guy on a bike.  They were both moving very slowly–the car was turning the corner and the bike was slowing to the parking area right after the corner, and I guess technically, the bike drove right into the car. The rider was uninjured, the car was unscratched.  It was clear that everyone just wanted to move on with their lives and so off they both went.  All before the light turned green for us.

Then, in the venue, we avoided the tall dudes (so many really tall dudes!) and wound up standing by this foursome.  After a minute it became very clear that the one guy was really, really drunk.  And I predicted he was going to down sooner rather than later.  The two women in their group wound up supporting this guy physically for the entire show.   Rubbing his back, patting his shoulders.  And sure enough within two songs he was on the ground.  Although he got up before security could get him and them out of there.  Instead, they wound up with the (in my opinion) worst show imaginable for these two women who were trying to support this idiot instead of sitting him down or just going home.

Ah well.  The good news was that he never caused enough crisis for the band to stop and they were blissfully unaware of that minor drama. Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: September 29, 2022] Thao

Initially the band Low was supposed to open for Death Cab for Cutie on this leg of the tour.  They had cancelled for health reasons (drummer, singer Mimi Parker is battling cancer).  I haven’t liked a lot of Low stuff (they’re a bit too slow for me), although their newer stuff is a bit noisier and more fun.  And obviously I hope Mimi is okay.

But I was pleased to see that Low was being replaced by Thao.

I have known about Thao Nguyen for years.  She was primarily known as the leader of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.  She dissolved the band earlier this year (no idea why) but has been playing shows with new band members.

She just goes by Thao now and she knows how to control an audience!

We missed the very beginning of her set (we were a little late getting there and then we forgot that the GA area has to go through the far door, so we had to go in and back out before we could really enjoy her set).

Thao was up front in a cool white suit and she sang with the intensity I knew she had.   She also played a wicked guitar, which I did not know she did.  During one of the songs (I don’t know titles), she played a spectacular, noisy guitar solo while the rest of the band jammed around her.

Her band includes Micayla Grace who played an amazing bass guitar (she was all over the fretboard creating wondrous sounds).  Lilah Larson played guitar and keys and seemed to be making sounds out of nowhere.  And her drummer Jon Sortland (who also plays with The Shins) was amazing.  He created rhythms and stacked them on top of rhythms and they all worked perfectly.  Considering he just got off of tour with the Shins a few days earlier, the fact that he could do such amazing stuff with Thao is really impressive.

And then there was Thao herself.  She dedicated a song for a woman’s right to choose.  She played a great song (called “Oh No” I believe) which not only had great audience participation (this side sings Oh No!; this side sings “But I loved you the most,” but which also seemed to have two parts–a really rocking section and then a slower part that built and built.

She also serenaded us with a song that she wrote for her wife, which I believe was “Marrow.”

She ended with a song I knew, “Temple,” a catchy song that looks back at the fall of Saigon.

She played a great set and I would think she’s be amazing as the headliner.

[ATTENDED: September 27, 2022] Teri Gender Bender

Teri Gender Bender is the lead singer for the band Le Butcherettes who I know from an amazing Tiny Desk Concert nearly a decade ago.

I was supposed to see Le Butcherettes a few times.  They were supposed to open for Chicano Batman, but had to change as each show was rescheduled.

So I was pretty excited to see Teri Gender Bender who has put out a lot of music in addition to Le Butcherettes.  I wondered exactly how she got involved with The Mars Volta for this tour, then I found out that she was in a band with Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez-López, called Bosnian Rainbows.   Indeed, he was also in Le Butcherettes.

As the set wore on and she introduced the band, it turned out that he was on stage with her during her set as well!  (In a pink suite with his hair in a wild pompadour).

Her band was set up in a kind of old school trio–bass and guitar behind little podiums with shiny fabric on them and a drummer behind her.  She introduced the other two musicians, but I didn’t catch their names.

The band came out and started jamming and after a minute or two Teri Gender Bender came out on stage.  She is a true performer, standing in fascinating poses, screaming intently her passionate lyrics and stalking around the stage.

The music was kind of dancey but with flairs of anarchy.  But it was all in support of Teri.  She was focused and intense as she got on the floor, contorting he body while she sang.

Between songs, she addressed the audience in Spanish (she was born in Denver, but her family moved to Mexico when her father died).

Her energy was unmatched and I wnjoyed the show.  Although I would have enjoyed it more if I knew the songs better.

  1. córtate el pelo
  2. KENDALL Ø
  3. action
  4. talking about you
  5. ya no soy
  6. MJ Ø
  7. THE GET UP

Ø olivia, she wanted me to leave her alone (2022)
∏ madre would not allow it though (2022)
∞ you were truly the one that made us laugh (2022)
⊗ leaving her to be was just not an option (2022)
¶ pestering became a virtue (2022)
⇑ The Get Up (2022)

[ATTENDED: July 13, 2022] Foxing

I saw Foxing three years ago without knowing much about them.  Their live show blew me away.  So when it was announced that they were playing Philly again, I had a choice. Go tothe Bikini Kill show that I’ve had tickets to for years or go to the Kevin Devine show which I had gotten tickets for just in case it sold out, or blow off them both and go to Foxing.

Well, Bikini Kill was postponed (again) and Kevin Devine was a solo show (which is good, but I’ve seen him solo twice already), so I decided to go to Foxing without having a ticket.  Traffic was light, I got free parking (well, technically it cost 68 cents) and bought a ticket in cash with no handling fees!

The two opening acts were really good and I settled in for Foxing.  They had just announced a new live album that you could get online or you could get (autographed) at the shows.  I bought the LP before the show (only 20 were sold each night) and was stuck holding it the whole time (next time bring a bag).

The lights went down and a recorded song played while fireworks were projected on the screen behind the stage.  Then the band came out.  For some reason I thought there were more of them, but there were only five.  And they were loud enough that they could have been ten.

Foxing released a new album last year and this was the tour for it, so there were lots of “new” songs.  But the fans knew them all (I mean the record has been out almost a year).

Singer Conor Murphy is a dynamic frontman.  He moves around, he jumps, he screams, he engages with the audience.  It’s like every note he sings is personally connected to him.  He has a delicate falsetto (not unlike TV on the Radio) but he can scream, like really roar, with the best of them.

And the way the band jumps from quiet to HUGE is really impressive. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: Hiatus.

[READ: July 4, 2022] Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra

This is the third book in the Charlie Thorne series.  And there will clearly be a fourth.

Sarah brought this home and was very excited about it.  I was pretty excited to read it as well.  Our excitement was justified, because Stuart Gibbs has created a great heroine, an intriguing mystery and a thoughtful historical quest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the historical information about Cleopatra.  We all know all about Cleopatra.  Except  that everything we know is incorrect!  The course of (male) history has been very unkind to Cleopatra–she was an amazing woman and ruler and has been historically described as little more than an exotic temptress.

In the acknowledgements, Gibbs, heaps praise on the book Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.  I have just checked out the book and the first chapter is fantastic.

The Prologue is set in Alexandria, Egypt in 30 BC.  Cleopatra was being held prisoner by Octavian–Julius Caesar’s nephew.  Cleopatra and her husband Mark Antony were united in a war against Octavian–but they had lost.

Octavian lied about how he would treat Cleopatra after Mark Antony’s death.  She discovered this and was preemptive about her own fate.  She did not kill herself with an asp–rather, she drank poison and burned down her mausoleum.  And her great treasure was destroyed wit her.

Staying in Egypt, the book shifts to the present day.  At the end of the last book Charlie has escaped from the CIA as well as the Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel.

Now she is sneaking into a party in Giza, Egypt, at the penthouse of Ahmet Shah, the oldest son of a wealthy shipping magnate.  Ahmet has a ton of security because he has a ton of expensive things in his house.  But one thing that Charlie wants is not expensive–it is information. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: June 23, 2022] Yuanyuan’s Bubbles

This is the fourth of sixteen graphic novels based on Cixin’s Liu’s stories.  This story, originally called 圆圆的肥皂泡, is the most straightforward one yet.

It is full of hope and shows that play is just as important as other scholarly pursuits.

When Yuanyuan was born, the one thing that made her happy was bubbles.  Her mother was a scientist and rather serious.  While her father often chided her mother for being too straight-faced.  But her mother had serious work to do.

Their city–Silk Road City was having severe drought.  If nothing could be done about it, the whole city would have to be abandoned.  Yuanyuan’s mother’s idea was to drop ice bombs with plants in them from a plane.  The project worked–the water helped to keep the seedlings alive.

However, in a rather dramatic early moment, the plane went down and Yuanyuan’s mother was killed.  Yuanyuan’s father was affected by the death of his wife and insisted that Yuanyuan grow up to be just like her mother–serious and thoughtful.  But Yuanyuan had other ideas.  She was still obsessed with bubbles.

Even her teachers noticed her attitude.  But her grades were excellent. Indeed, one of her teachers explained to Yuanyuan’s father that “in this new era, being a  little more relaxed and carefree isn’t a weakness.”

Her father still wants her to take things more seriously, but in the meantime, Yuanyuan has discovered a formula for creating the largest bubble in the world–it’s breaks the world record!

Yuanyuan becomes very successful–her formulas for creating elasticity in bubbles is greatly in demand.  Ultimately, her father asks her for a loan to help keep part of their old city alive.  But she says she cannot.  She is using her funds for her next project–a bubble that can envelope a city.

That’s actually not what she intended, but the bubble does settle onto the city, forcing everyone to figure out how to survive with their oxygen being cut off.  Everyone is furious at Yuanyuan, but she only sees the possibilities–what is she made bubbles that could carry water from he sea to their desiccated city?

No one thinks she can do it.  People make fun of her.  Even her father is disappointed in her.  But she won’t give up.

As with most of these graphic novels, I feel like the story suffers a but from being truncated (I assume it was truncated a lot).  And yet the general tone and tenets of the story come through clearly.  And it’s very cool.  It was translated by Nicholas Blackburn Smith and then written for this book by Valérie Mangin.

The story was illustrated by Steven Dupré and he does a great job creating the images of the bubbles.

SOUNDTRACK:

[READ: June 2022] Sea of Tranquility

S. brought this book home and said she thought I’d enjoy it.  She knows what she’s talking about, and I did enjoy it.

This is a time-travel/pandemic/end of the world novel.  And for all of the time jumps, it’s still pretty short (just over 250 pages).

The book opens in 1912.  We follow the story of Edwin St. John St. Andrew, and eighteen year old aristocrat who has been sent away from him home in England to the wilds of Canada.  I found his story to be quite interesting.  Being the youngest son, he stood to inherit nothing, so he had to make he way abroad anyhow.  But he also hated the way England had taken over India and colonialism in general.  But his parents were born in India raised by Indian nannies and had nothing but fond memories of the place.  So when he publicly stated his disgust with the system, he was told in no uncertain terms that it was time for him to go.

Edward eventually makes it to Victoria, BC.  He is miserable there, too and really doesn’t know what to do with himself.  He wanders into the forest.  He sees, inexplicably, a priest.  And then when he turns to a giant maple, he is struck by darkness, loud noises, music and chaos.  All for about one second.

The next section jumps to 2020 and follows Mirella and Vincent.

We open on Paul, a composer, who is showing off his latest work–a work that uses video footage that his sister filmed.  The footage looks a lot like what Edward saw in the forest.

Paul’s sister was named Vincent.  Mirella had been a friend of Vincent’s and hadn’t know she was dead.  In fact, she had come to Paul’s performance to try to get in touch with Vincent.  Their friendship ended when Vincent’s husband was involved in a Ponzi scheme that brought down a lot of people.

While she is trying to talk to Paul after the show, they are joined by another man, named Gaspery.  He winds up talking to her and she thinks she recognizes him.  But it’s impossible because she recognizes him as a man who was involved in a shooting in an alley when she was a little girl.

The next section is set in 2203 and is called The Last Book Tour in Earth.  Olive Llewellyn was born on the moon and has written a number of novels–novels that sold well on Earth as well.  She was happy to be on Earth because she could also visit her parents.  Her parents moved back to Earth after she had left for college.

This book, Marienbad, was being made into a film.  So even though it was a few years old, publicity was called for.  She enjoys the trip although she misses her family back on the moon.  Soon though, there is word of a pandemic stretching out across the Earth.  It had been a long time since the Earth had dealt with such a thing, and people didn’t know how to prepare for it anymore.  Emily had written a previous novel about a pandemic and knew, from her research, what she should be doing.  But no one else seemed to be paying any attention.

The last interview she has is with a man who prepares to ask her if she had experienced something strange at the Oklahoma City Airship Terminal.

The story jumps one more time to 2401.  A man named Gaspery.  Gaspery tells us about the first moon colony which was built in the Sea of Tranquility.  There was much interest in immigration and Soon they had moved on from Colony 1 to Colony 2.  The Colonies were meant to replicate Earth as much as possible–including artificial lights that mimicked the Earth cycle.  But when the lights failed and were deemed too expensive to repair, that set in motion the gradual abandonment of Colony 2.

Gaspery grew up living near the house where Olive Llewelyn lived.  It was now occupied by a family with a girl, Talia, who was about his age.  Talia seemed to always want to gaze out of the dome toward Colony 1.  Gaspery’s sister, Zoey, on the other hand, did not ever go near the dome (their mother didn’t like them going there).

When they grew up, Gaspery wound up getting a job at the Grand Luna Hotel in Colony One.  Coincidentally, that’s where Talia has moved and gotten a job (as head of HR).  Zoey, meanwhile had become a super smart scientist working at the Time Institute.  One night in a state of panic, she tells Gaspery that their work has uncovered something. It involves time travel.  It is dangerous.  Gaspery, hating his job and his life, volunteers.  Zoey won’t hear of it, but her coworker, Ephrem, agrees to let Gaspery try out for the job.

A few years later, Gaspery is ready and he is told about the video footage that Paul the composer showed in 2020.  Zoey fears that the glitch in the video, the glitch that Vincent film, the same glitch that Edward saw in 1912, the same glitch that Olive wrote about in Marienbad (which is why the reporter asked her about the airport).  If these glitches are connected…does that mean our world is a simulation (like the Matrix?).

Gaspery is to be dispatched to the above timelines to see what he can learn about this glitch.  The one caveat–the big thing that the Time Institute cares about, is that you don’t mess up the timeline.  Gaspery can’t imagine why anyone would do that.  Then he learns that Olive Llewelyn died on Earth on that book tour.  Because of the new pandemic she was not allowed to go back home to the Moon.  It wouldn’t hurt just to hint that she should end her tour early, would it?

The story unfurls quickly from there with Gaspery leaning a bit more with each time he jumps into.

I enjoyed this story a lot.

S. tells me that Emily St. John Mandel wrote a previous book about a pandemic (Station Eleven).  Interesting, no?

 

SOUNDTRACK:

[READ: March 24, 2021] This is Not the Real World

I really enjoyed the first book in this duology.

That book was about a girl who was forced to work on the set of the retro TV show Stuck in the ’90s (which reveled in 1990’s pop culture).

When I was reading it, I had no idea that Carey was planning to write a sequel.  The end of the book show sequel possibilities (and it sounds like there will be no part 3).

As the book opens, Jess and her fellow cast member Kipps have been free from their show for a few months.  But they are never really free.  Because the production company owns them until they turn 18, they have  to lay low.  Jess has turned 8 recently, but Kipps still has six months to go until he is an adult. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: March 2022] The Last Hero

The Last Hero is a Discworld illustrated short story or fable .  Really what that means is that there’s only one main plot line since most Discworld stories have multiple plots that interweave and then come together.  So it doesn’t really feel short because a full adventure happens–just without all of the ancillary characters.

And, perhaps most striking for any Discworld book is that this one is fully illustrated by Paul Kidby.  Only every other page is full text. The rest are half picture or full picture.  But the pictures are also very deatiled and will keep you busy for a while.  This particualr version has 16 all new pages of illustrations.

The Last Hero is Cohen the Barbarian.  We last saw him in Interesting Times when he became the Emperor of the Agatean Empire.  But, well, being in charge of things is kind of boring.  And, frankly, it’s no way for a hero to go out.  When one of the Silver Horde died by choking on a concubine–I think you mean cucumber– Cohen decides they need a plan.  So he gathers the rest of the Silver Horde for one last adventure.

The very first hero, “Fingers” Mazda, stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind (analogous to Prometheus), and was chained to a rock to be torn open daily by a giant eagle as punishment.  Cohen’s plan is to give the fire back–in the form of a giant explosive packed into a large sled filled with explosive Agatean Thunder Clay. They plan to blow up the gods at their mountain home, Cori Celesti. Continue Reading »