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Archive for the ‘The National’ Category

[POSTPONED: July 30, 2021] Built to Spill [rescheduled from July 31, 2020; moved to May 13, 2022]

indexI’m not entirely sure if this show was even scheduled.  It seemed to show up on their website and then was taken down.

Whatever the case, they are officially on the calendar for 2022, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this new line up.

~~~~

I’ve seen Built to Spill a bunch of times. The last time I promised myself I wouldn’t get too close to the stage, but I did.  The problem with being so close is the way Doug Martsch has his guitar set up.  His amp is right next to him and it is so loud.  From where I was you could barely hear anything else.  Of course I’m there to watch Doug play, so it’s not too bad.  But I promised myself I would stand back to fully appreciate his band.

On this newly announced tour, his whole band was going to be different.  In fact, I have seen at least three different lineups for the band over the years.  This tour was going to feature drummer Teresa Esguerra of Prism Bitch (who opened for Built To Spill last time) and bassist Melanie Radford of Marshall Poole.  I knew it would be a very different show.

Unfortunately, I had tickets to Kraftwerk on July 30 and tickets for The national on July 31 (not to mention we were supposed to leave for the Newport Folk Festival on the night of the 31st as well).  So I sure hope he keeps this line up when he;s ready to play again.  And I will stand back and take it all in.

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[CANCELLED: July 31, 2020] The National

indexI like The National quite a lot.  Although sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes their songs can be more than a little dour.  But they also have a tremendous sense of humor–they have done three songs for Bob’s Burgers after all.

I never really considered seeing live them until my friend Armando told me how great they were in concert–one of his favorite live bands.  Since he and I both love seeing Phish and Pearl Jam, I figured I should put them on my list.

When I saw they were playing SteelStacks, I immediately grabbed a ticket.  Nevermind that S. and I were going to be leaving for the Newport Folk Festival that evening (probably). I didn’t think that one through, but I remained optimistic that I could pull it off.

We saw Julia Jacklin open for First Aid Kit tow years ago.  About her set I said

Jacklin is not a partier, but nor is she a downer either.  She is thoughtful and inquisitive.  Her music, even live, is fairly spare–except when it’s not–and she sings pretty quietly–except when she doesn’t.  She was charming and funny–delightful in an opening act.

When the Newport Folk Festival was cancelled on April 29, I was very bummed.  My silver lining was that I might get to see The National.  However, on June 10, The National announced that they would be cancelling their tour.

Well, now I certainly hope they come back next year.

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[CANCELLED: July 31-August 2, 2020] Newport Folk Festival

Last year we took the whole family to two days of the Newport Folk Festival.  It was a fun experience for the most part.  Both kids were exhausted and my son decided he’d rather stay in the hotel than go on the second day.  However, this year he said he;d like to go again, so since the 2020 Festival was cancelled, maybe next year all four of us will go again.

I was not surprised that the Festival was cancelled. But it was still a shock when it happened on April 29th.

Here’s the formal message

Dear Folk-

This is the letter I was praying I wouldn’t have to write, feeling we need the healing powers of live music more now than ever. It is with the heaviest of hearts we announce the cancellation of the 2020 Newport Folk Festival. As devastating as it is to write those words, it’s balanced with a renewed sense of, well, HOPE. It’s Rhode Island’s motto for good reason and it’s also the feeling you, our festival family, constantly exudes when we come together in good times and perhaps more importantly, in difficult times as well. This community is truly unlike any other in music, and I believe we can emerge from this hardship stronger and more connected than ever before.

However, while your safety was at the core of the present decision, your support will be at the core of our future viability. Our ability to produce this festival in 2021 – and continue making a lasting difference in the lives of artists, students and music lovers like yourselves – is in your hands. Quite simply, we need your help.

Due to the financial and institutional uncertainties we find ourselves in, we believe the most trusting and direct course of action is to let the ticket holders decide where their ticket dollars should go. We have sent all ticket holders an email mapping out three options: 1) donate all or a portion of your ticket that will go directly towards ensuring our festival for 2021 while continuing our support for artists and educators; 2) apply your refund towards a 2021 Revival Membership – a new and one-time offer we’ve created specifically to ensure our future and provide these members with 3-day tickets to the 2021 festival (remaining memberships will be offered to the general public directly after the request period); and 3) receive a 100% full refund if desired.

For those of you who didn’t have tickets for this year, PLEASE consider making a tax-deductible donation. Help us continue these festivals, support year-round music education initiatives, and provide grants to artists in need.

I want to personally thank our founder George Wein, our staff, our Board of Directors, the City of Newport, and the DEM for their continued efforts. And, offer a personal note of gratitude to Rhode Island Governor, Gina Raimondo, for her leadership and counsel in prioritizing our well being in making the decision to cancel the festival.

Although we won’t be able to gather at the Fort this summer, rest assured we have invited ALL the announced artists to join us next year. In the meantime, we promise we will all commune one way or another on our festival weekend. As always, we have some secret surprises in store as well, so stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks. Until then, stay strong and folk on.

(more…)

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[POSTPONED: July 30/July 31, 2020] Built to Spill [White Eagle Hall show moved to July 30, 2021]

indexI’ve seen Built to Spill a bunch of times. The last time I promised myself I wouldn’t get too close to the stage, but I did.  The problem with being so close is the way Doug Martsch has his guitar set up.  His amp is right next to him and it is so loud.  From where I was you could barely hear anything else.  Of course I’m there to watch Doug play, so it’s not too bad.  But I promised myself I would stand back to fully appreciate his band.

On this newly announced tour, his whole band was going to be different.  In fact, I have seen at least three different lineups for the band over the years.  This tour was going to feature drummer Teresa Esguerra of Prism Bitch (who opened for Built To Spill last time) and bassist Melanie Radford of Marshall Poole.  I knew it would be a very different show.

Unfortunately, I had tickets to Kraftwerk on July 30 and tickets for The national on July 31 (not to mention we were supposed to leave for the Newport Folk Festival on the night of the 31st as well).  So I sure hope he keeps this line up when he;s ready to play again.  And I will stand back and take it all in.

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS WORLD TOUR (May 26-June 4, 2010).

Phoebe Bridgers is a fascinating person.  She sings the most delicate songs.  Her voice is soft and almost inaudible. Her music is simple but pretty.  And her lyrics are (often) devastatingly powerful.

And yet she is really quite funny.  Both in interviews and in her visual representation of herself.

Her logo when I saw her was a fascinating faux death metal style of her name.  And now with this world tour, you can see in the poster all of the metal bands referenced in the logos. (There’s Slayer in the kitchen for instance).

And then there’s the basic joke of this world tour.  No one can go anywhere, so she is travelling her world: kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom (second concert by popular demand??)

The first show last night raised money for Downtown Women’s Center.

After some introductory talking and even a magic show (!) from Ethan, her producer, she played five songs.  Midway through she agrees that the set was a bit of a downer, especially opening with these two sad songs.

“Scott Street”
“Funeral”

Then it was time for two new songs (and an electric guitar).

“Moon Song”
“I See You”

Before coming to the end, she delayed, because she was having so much fun (and raising so much money).  So she showed us around her kitchen and pitched the kind of guitar she was playing, the kind of capo (quite expensive!), and her Target-purchased kitchen ware.  

She ended the set with a boygenius song, “Me and My Dog ” dedicated to her dog Max who died at the age of 17 last year.

The first night of her tour was a success. Tonight is night two, from the bathroom.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry.  You can watch it here.

[READ: May 27, 2020] “California Ghosts”

I don’t usually read profiles of artists I like.  But every once in a while, one strikes me as interesting.

Phoebe Bridgers is a pretty fascinating character (see the above part for some details).  So I though this might be an interesting profile.  And it was.

Bridgers was brought up in Laurel Canyon and came of age listening to emo.  I love that the writer has to define emo for the New Yorker crowd, “a sub-genre of punk focused on disclosure and catharsis.”  That’s probably the most concise definition of emo I have read.

She writes that Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes) is one of emo’s most beloved practitioners.  Phoebe grew up listening to him and then met him in 2016.  He says when he first heard her he felt like he was reuniting with an old friend.  In 2018 they made Better Oblivion Community Center together.

At Carnegie Hall (where she wore a tea-length black dress and high to Doc Martens), she sang a song with Matt Berninger of The National. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-NonCOMM Free at Noon (May 16, 2019).

The National are an interesting band.  They tend to write songs that feel ponderous–sometimes slow and, with Matt Berninger’s deep voice, very intense.  And yet their lyrics can sometimes be inscrutable [“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”] and they have done cover songs for Bob’s Burgers on more than one occasion (“Bad Things Happen in the Bathroom”).

So this concert is a bit of a revelation because of how poppy and almost dancey some of these songs are.  Berninger’s voice is nowhere near as deep as I imagined (his speaking voice is deeper than his singing voice) and the songs have a lot of variety to them.

Perhaps it’s the new album, I am Easy to Find.

Expanded to a ten-piece band, The National showcased ten of the album’s sixteen tracks, demonstrating the beauty and strength of the project. Vocalist Matt Berninger led the group’s vast array of instruments and vocalists, and kept everything from sounding overwhelming. The resulting set was a glorious display of emotion and expansive sound.

They opened with “You Had Your Soul With You”,  The track shows their musical horizons starting to expand. Vocalists Kate Stables (This Is The Kit) and Pauline de Lassus (Mina Tindle), joined Berninger on stage, adding a new dimension to the band’s sound. They sung throughout the show, representing the inclusion of female voices and perspectives across the record.

Like many of their songs, it is pretty and invites you to lean in to listen to the lyrics.

Berninger introduced the next song “Oblivions” by emphasizing the “s” “There’s a bunch of them. They keep coming.  Together.”  This song sounded very different, with a synthy, almost dancey vibe.

Stables and de Lassus opened “The Pull of You” before Berninger joined them.  This song has some interesting drum work as many of them do. Midway through, Berninger has a spoken word section that makes it sound like Tindersticks.

He tells us that his wife wrote “Hey Rosy.” He deadpans, “I thought it was about me.”  There’s a quiet piano intro and I love the very-The National delivery of the chorus “Hey Ro / zee I  / think I know just what the / feeling is.”

“Quiet Light” is a gentle, shuffling song.  The warm horn solos that closed the track were a wonderful touch.

Aaron Dessner spoke before they played the tender “I Am Easy To Find” and dedicated it to his friend, Adia Victoria, who played the same stage yesterday and was watching the set from the balcony.

The song is a duet of female and male vocals.  I love the fast delivery of this chorus as well.  Once again, very The National: “there’s a million little battles that I’m never gonna win / anyway.”

The band contrasted the solemness of these tracks with the brightness of “Where Is Her Head.”

Berninger says, “Mike Mills wrote the lyrics to this one… well, most of them… so he gets all of the publishing.  So now you know whey were doing it.”

Sung mostly by Stables and de Lassus, the track replaced the grey aura that filled the room with glittering oranges and pinks.

The song features a quiet looping of the lyrics as Berninger sings solo vocal runs over their chorus.

“Rylan” continued the upbeat-streak. The song, which declared that “everyone loves a quiet child,” showed The National playing with their volume. Towards the end they repeatedly built up their sound, only to swiftly quiet it.

Easy To Find‘s closing track, “Light Years,” was the simplest and most moving they played. With its heartbreaking lyrics and one of the saddest basslines ever played, the track left the crowd awestruck.

It opens with a gentle piano and Berninger’s deeper, quieter vocals. When the women sang back up with him, it was really lovely.

They could have stopped there, with tears quietly building in everyone’s eyes, but they continued with “Not In Kansas.”

Berninger says. We have one more song. This one’s 25 minutes long.  It was.  Then Mike Mills made it like  6 minutes long.  Whatever.  He was in charge.  Everything that’s bad about the record we always blame on Mike and we take credit for all the good stuff.” He paused “there’s some good stuff.”

It has a lovely quiet guitar intro.

While its lyrics focused on the craziness plaguing the world, the track felt small and insular. In closing with it, The National went out with a polite wave, rather than with a bang.

My friend Armando told me that The National puts on some of the best shows he’s ever been to.  I hope to see them some day.

[READ: June 1, 2019] “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

I did not like the narrator of this story at all.  She is hiding behind so much. In fairness, she has a lot to get over, but she closes herself off so much that she’s hard for people to get to know (and also hard for a reader to like).

Dina is at Yale orientation.  She does not have to do the trust fall because she “shouldn’t have to fit into any white, patriarchal systems.”

In the next game she had to say what inanimate object she wanted to be.  She said “revolver,” which got her put on psychiatric watch for the entire year and a solo room.

She also saw a therapist whom she wasn’t interested in talking to but who seemed to see right through her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PLACEBO-Running Up That Hill (2003).

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” is a masterpiece of a song–weird and wonderful and surprisingly moving.

This Placebo cover is much darker, with the sleazy/sultry/hopeless/hopeful edge that Placebo is based around.  The video is a collection of fan-submitted headshots of people singing the song, which makes it all the more moving.

I will always love the original more, but this version is pretty great as well.

[READ: December 30, 2018] Barefoot BF [Posts 1-8]

I don’t normally write about blogs. Heck I don’t normally read many blogs (I’m a print guy).  I would also never be drawn to a blog about running.  But this blog is different. It is about running but it is about a lot more: music, redemption, friendship, relationships and running as a way of coping with the shit you’ve done in the past.  And the writing is great–suspenseful, passionate and honest.

This blog about running will have you riveted as he talks about how a run was a metaphor for dealing with the crazy family nonsense that he was coping with–and it is pretty crazy.  He writes about the races that he’s run, but he writes in such a way as to make the outcome ever in doubt–running with plantar fasciitis?  Running when your foot is swollen and the only conceivable relief is removing the shoe (hence the barefoot title)?  Running on Cape Cod in a Nor’easter while your girlfriend is miles behind you?

It’s some pretty intense stuff. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-First Listen Live: The National, ‘Sleep Well Beast’ (September 5, 2017).

On August 17, Union Transfer sent out a message that World Café and NPR Music present a First Listen Live with The National on September 5 at that very club.  I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant–was the audience going to sit there and listen to the record together?  Was the band going to be there?  I assumed they would play it live, but who knew.  I also didn’t really love The National enough to find out.  I like them sure, but I don’t know that I would have gone to see them anyhow.

I have since grown to really love “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” and while I probably couldn’t have gone to the show anyway (busy night) and it sold out pretty quickly anyhow, I was pretty glad that NPR has the show available for stream (right here).  The album sounds great and I was really delighted with how lighthearted singer Matt Berninger was and how good the band sounds.

I was also surprised by how piano-based these songs are.  Not that the band doesn’t have pianos in their songs, but I think of them as more guitar driven, while nearly every one of these songs is led by piano.  Since I don’t know all that much about the band, I also didn’t realize that in addition to Berninger, the rest of the band is two sets of brothers: guitar dueling by twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner and brothers Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums.

Since I wasn’t there, I’ll reply on Bob Boilen’s description of the show:

The concert began with a sharply dressed Matt Berninger comically mixing up his own lyrics as he sang, “You said we’re not so tied together, what did you mean? Meet me in the bathroom in a second, for a glass of gin,” instead of “meet me in the stairwell.”  It foreshadowed Matt’s frenetic performance throughout the night as he cast off that sport coat, rolled up his sleeves and led the band in a fun and inspired performance of these new songs. The show ended with Matt pitching his plastic cup full of clear liquid into the crowd in a frenzy of strobe light mania.

The group was joined throughout the night by Arone Dyer of Buke and Gase (who also sings on the new record), along with Ben Lanz on trombone and keyboard (and everything else), Kyle Resnick on trumpet, keys and backing vocals (and everything else).

Unlike recent record release parties that didn’t really feel like record release parties, this show was what I expected the other ones to be like–a band playing their new album front to back (in fairness the other three shows of this ilk were more indie in nature (and weren’t on the radio) so they could do what they wanted).  So indeed, the band played the album front to back (and went on around 8PM, sop they were done by 9:30, I’d guess).

As the show began, Berninger came out and in his deep voice said, “Hows it going,  hello.”  Someone shouted, “Play ‘Karen.'”  Berninger laughed and said, “it’s pronounced Kuh-RIN, come on.  How many time do I have to…”  (“Karen” is a song on their earlier album Alligator and “Carin at the Liquor Store” is a new song).

The album feels quite spare with minimal instrumentation, but the spaces are full of interesting music.  There’s a lot of piano on “Nobody Else Will Be There.”  At the end, as it says above he says, “I screwed up the first verse.  The first verse was wrong.  [mock angry] Do it again. [Laughs and says in a mock pissy voice] “We’re going to do everything again until it’s right.”

“Day I Die” has squeaky guitars and a funky bass.  Berninger after the song: Oops can I get a towel [pronounced towl].  Thanks a lot.  Next is ‘Walk It Back.’  Is there a towel anywhere?  I kind of walked it back into my drink.  Thanks, Ev.  Evan Middlesworth!  [cheers]  That’s all he does.  [singsong] Evan, you missed a spot.  [chuckles].  The song is spare with piano and a rather complex drum pattern.  The l vocals are almost recited.

Arone Dyer from Buke and Gass helped a lot on this record.  This is the person you hear at the beginning of this song. This is “The System Only Dreams [cheers] Wait!  I’m not done with the title yet [laughs].  This may be one of my favorite songs this year.  It sounds a bit different here–not bad, just live.  But by the end it totally rocks out.

“Born to Beg” is a slow ballad with some lovely backing vocals from Dyer.  After the song Berninger announces “Johnny Brenda’s tonight at 11: Buke and Gass.”  Now that;s a show I would have really liked to see.  Had I gotten tickets to The National, I would have hung around town and gone to Buke and Gass for sure.  Berninger mentions their symbiotic partnership: “punch the glove, touch the glove, you know what that means? hand in glove? Nevermind.”

“Turtleneck” roars out with 2 scorching guitars.  Berninger is practically screaming (as are the backing singers).  he is normally such a sedate singer that this comes across really powerfully.

“Empire Line” returns to that more moody style.  The song kind of smooths along on a rumbling guitar line.”

Berninger introduces the next song: “This is called ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ … Did somebody boo?  The record’s not even out yet.  Someone went ‘oooo.'”  The song has a cool, complex drum rhythm with some nifty quiet parts and buzzy keys.  But the end gets bigger and louder with really powerful drums.

I love the glitchy opening sounds of “Guilty Party.”  The rest of the song is gentle piano and e-bow but the end builds with different instruments playing different spare sections around each other.  There’s also a cool guitar solo at the end.

One of the other guys in the band says “Thanks to NPR for doing this and thank you guys for coming out.  This is a good way for us to learn these songs… live on the radio.”  Berninger dedicates “Carin at the Liquor Store”:  “This is for Yoko.”  I wonder of that has to do with the chorus: “blame it on me. I really don’t care.  It’s a foregone conclusion.”

After the song he says: “Sorry, Scott, I fucked up your mic.  Hold on I gotta fix Scott’s microphone.  This is called ‘Dark Side of the Gym.’  A gymnasium in America is a multipurpose room where proms take place. In Europe they keep thinking it’s the dark side of the fitness club.  Some corner of the locker room Dark side of Equinox or something.”  This is a slower song with more piano.  “Arone Dyer is back.  Buke and Gass tonight, 11, Johnny Brenda’s.”  He sings the line “Hand in Glove” then says “Uh, never mind I almost told a story.”

The final song is “Sleep Well Beast” with more interesting electronic percussion and wavery synths.

The whole album sounds really good.  Mostly spare, but a few really rocking songs.  I’m now curious to hear if the album sounds like it.

It sounds like there’s an encore break.

When they come back: “Were going to play a few songs that are ten years old.  This is from Boxer.”  Introducing “Green Gloves” whoever is talking says “this is kind of a creepy song.”  Berninger agrees: “Don’t do any of the stuff in this song.”  There’s much more guitar.  It’s quite moody and sounds great.

“Apartment Story” is a bit more upbeat with fuzzy guitars that build and build over staccato drums.

Presumably that same guy from the beginning shouts, “Play Karen, please.”  But no, they play “Fake Empire” instead (I don’t think they heard him).  This is a piano-based song, but it builds and build and builds to a rocking climax.

The final song comes from High Violet.  “Terrible Love” totally rocks with big noisy guitars and drums crashing to an ending.  They practically scream “It takes an ocean not to… BREAK!” and the show ends with a crazy and wonderfully chaotic conclusion.

There audio just ends–no goodbyes or anything.  I assume the band didn’t hang around afterwards–there wer 1200 people there, after all .

On WXPN after the show, they played an interview: World Cafe host Talia Schlanger and I recently talked with Matt Berninger about how he and the band created their new album. Listen to that full interview here.

 

[READ: June 25, 2017] “Beneficence”

I am quite saddened to read that this is the final Lucky Peach issue that will see the light of day.  The magazine is going to retain an online presence, but there will be no more oversized, thick-papered profanely delicious quarterlies.  [Technically not true, there was one more final issue after this].

I am equally disappointed that the final story printed in this final issue is so irritating.

This story seems like it is a take on John Cheever’s “The Swimmer.”  That’s the overall vibe I get from the story.  If you don’t know that terrific story, a man drinks alcohol and swims through neighborhood backyard pools–and learns something along the way.

This had that same backyard neighborhood drinking feel to it.  But it was so overwhelmed by the phrase “A white person” that I was totally lost and distracted from any actually story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NATIONAL-Tiny Desk Concert #279 (June 10, 2013).

I rather like The National and yet I haven’t spent much time really listening to them.  This Tiny Desk Concert really shows them off well.  It is extremely winning and enjoyable.

I enjoyed this part of the introduction:

we’d gotten word that the group would strip its sound way down for the occasion, sticking to two acoustic guitars and a bit of hand percussion. What we got instead was a fully fleshed-out septet, complete with horns and piano; the band showed up at 9:30 to rehearse and sound-check.

Though singer Matt Berninger had barely rested his voice from a show in the area the night before, The National dutifully performed gorgeous acoustic renditions of four tracks from its fine new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

I like the way the first song “This is the Last Time” starts quietly with just some acoustic guitars (playing quite interesting chords too) but builds, adding more and more instruments.  It grows and grows until it hits a new section where there’s a trumpet solo that fits perfectly in the song.  This new section introduces the second half of the song which never returns to the first part.  The backing vocals–between the guys singing the lines and the other guys singing the high “ahhh” that almost sounds like a horn–also work great together.  It’s a wonderfully full song.

“I Need My Girl” has a cool part with the two guitars.  They play a simple picked melody, but after the second verse, the second guitars plays it one step after the first, making it sound like an echo. And again that lone trumpet sounds terrific here.  This song is a bit more mellow.  In fact, this whole acoustic vibe sounds different from what I expect from the band.

The third song “Pink Rabbits” begins as primarily piano with lots of backing vocals.  But again the song builds slowly (with trumpet and trombone).  And again, after the horns go down there’s a backing voice that sounds a bit like muted trumpet.

Through the whole concert, I love Berninger’s casual demeanor while singing–hands in pockets, gently swaying.

Bob tells them that they are performing Tiny Desk’s first encore.  The blurb notes that the band:

even treated the hundreds of worshipful gawkers to Building 2.0’s first-ever Tiny Desk encore, in response to a roar of applause that could be heard in the far reaches of the newsroom downstairs.

Berninger says this is usually when they run back stage to piss but we’ll just go behind your desk.  Bob jokes that it’s no different from the trombone spit that he sees back there.

Berninger introduces “Sea of Love” by saying this is the only song we’ve ever written with a harmonica in it…and its the last one.

The full band sings and it sounds terrific.  I especially like the pause in the line “they say love is a virtue don’t….they” is pretty dramatic.  And I am tickled by the final lines of the song (while the backing singers do some great work: “I see you rushing down / tell me how to reach you / I see you rushing down / what did Harvard teach you.”

The National are usually more dramatic, I believe–almost theatrical, but this quieter version is really quite enjoyable.

[READ: April 2, 2016] Feathers

Jorge Corona introduces this book by explaining that he had an idea for a Beauty and the Beast kind of story that features a boy with feathers.  And it slowly expanded into the story we have here.

The story opens with a bright white city in the distance.  In the foreground, there’s some dark Victorian-looking houses.  And as we zoom in, we learn that the dark city is known as the Maze.  And in this Maze live the poor.  Little kids, called “mice” are street urchins who run all over the Maze.  And then there’s a man with a beard.  The man finds a baby in an alley.  The baby is born with feathers and he decides to take the boy in and raise him.

The scene jumps to eleven years later.  The boy, known as Poe has grown up and has stayed hidden.  He still has feathers and he goes out at night, but no one knows about him.  People just speak of the ghost–Poe–who swoops down unseen and does things (mostly to help the poorest) and then flees. (more…)

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 socks kronosSOUNDTRACK: KRONOS QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #322 (November 25, 2013).

2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet.  I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.”  And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.

I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).

Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).

They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky.  In other words, typical Kronos.

For more info:

The musicians —  David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.

Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.

“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”

I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members.  There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest.  The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads.  But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques.  In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.

Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes.  The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and  half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.

“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola.  “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.”  It is slow and moody and beautiful.

Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.

“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”

There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound.  While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together.  In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.

I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.

[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks

I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books.  And this just adds another layer of confusion.  This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007.  The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well.   But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.

The book also leaves some of the strips out.  It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip.  Weird.

So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).

I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.

And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)

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