Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Radio notes and concert review

July 20, 2010

Here’s another post in the “What I’m listening to” series:

The best thing about owning a car is the radio.  The car came with a CD player, but I’m the kind of person who will pick one station and stick with it, commercials and all, only occasionally checking the other stations on my pre-sets.  And if I do choose to listen to a CD, it will be one that I can’t get enough of, like the National in the previous post.

My station of choice in Cleveland is Radio 92.3, part of the CBS family that I came to know in New York (maybe one day I’ll do a flashback post about that great oldies station, WCBS-FM 101.1).  I just realized, as I type this, that I do not know the call letters of 92.3.  They are announced occasionally in the station’s required ID, but they are clearly not part of the station’s true identity.  This identity is almost purely alternative, primarily the 1990s through today, with a touch of the 1970s (e.g. Pink Floyd) and 1980s (e.g. The Cure).

The second station I’ll turn to when 92.3 has a bad song or never-ending commercial break is 106.5, “Cleveland’s Best Mix”.  Once again, the call letters are superfluous, and did you know that “mix means variety”?  I had to laugh when I saw that slogan attached to this station on a website about radio stations.  Anyway, 106.5 follows more of an Adult Contemporary playlist, evenly mixing hits from the last three decades, along with the best of today, as they might say.

Based on my increased radio listening these last few months, I decided to go see the Goo Goo Dolls perform in Cleveland at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City.  In another post I’ll go into other reasons why this show met my criteria for concerts, because I am not that big of a fan of this band.  But the Goo Goo Dolls are what I’d call a radio-friendly band, with multiple hits over the course of their 15 year+ career, and I figured it’d be fun to sing along to the songs I know.

I got there in time for the first of two opening acts, a band called The Spill Canvas (good name).  I initially thought their music was a little bland, but by the end of their set decided that if I was a teenager I’d probably love them.  They announced that they’d be at the merchandise booth after playing, and I wandered back to check it out.  I considered buying their EP for $5, a perfectly reasonable price to pay to support a band like this, but then I saw how much they were charging for their t-shirts, and walked away.  $30/shirt is simply too much for a relatively unknown band to charge, even if they are part of a large scale tour.  I imagine, though, that the long line of people waiting to get autographs proves otherwise.

Next up was the band Switchfoot, who I did not know anything about and went in with low expectations based entirely on their name, which I didn’t like.  In short, however, they stole the show and gave me one of the best surprises I ever had at a concert.  Later on the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls said that having Switchfoot as an opening act meant he was going to have to work harder.  I now know that Switchfoot’s history as a band goes back to 1996, and they had a hit in 2003 with the song “Meant to Live.”  This song was a big surprise, because I’d heard it recently on the radio and loved it, but forgot to find out who sang it.  I don’t think I’ve ever been at a concert where I knew the song but not the band (covers don’t count).  I immediately recognized it from the first note and this song was the deciding factor in my overall impression of the band.  I also need to mention that during one song the lead singer came down into the crowd to sing and hi-five audience members (much like Kenny Loggins did when I saw him last month), and this is the kind of gesture that can go a long way in building a fan base.  Their name still bothers me a little, but (and this is really for another post) the quality of the music is good enough that I can accept the name.

The Goo Goo Dolls played for about 90 minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed every song, including the new ones that are on their forthcoming album.  It started raining heavily about half-way into their set, but my seat was in the center of the covered section and all I felt was a nice mist.  It will be interesting to see how much airplay their new album receives; one of the new songs (I think it was called “Home,” or the one played during the encore) has clear potential to become a radio classic.  However, I’m not sure if I would see them again – it would depend on a lot of factors such as cost and location, but at least I know they are a great live band and I recommend that you see them if you like the hits.


What I’m listening to: album review

June 23, 2010

This is a new feature that will appear whenever I’m super excited about something that I’m listening to.  This week it’s all about the one album I haven’t been able to stop listening to and had to go buy it at Target after work on Friday because I couldn’t face the prospect of two whole days without it.

High Violet album cover

On Monday afternoon (6/14) we got a delivery of items from the museum to add to our growing collection.  Mixed in among the books and magazines was the new National CD, High Violet.  I think all the band members are originally from Ohio, but they officially formed the band in Brooklyn, NY.  I’ve been a casual fan since seeing them open for R.E.M. two years ago (see my brief review here), and eagerly grabbed the CD to put it on my office computer (which, alas, does not support iTunes).

An album like this doesn’t really reveal itself until the second listen, and by the end of it I was completely enamored.  I won’t get into a song-by-song analysis here, but the themes that immediately come to mind are about love and home, specifically New York (cast in an unfavorable light), which continues the setting of their last album, Boxer.  High Violet’s standout song, Bloodbuzz Ohio, includes the lyric “I never thought about love when I thought about home,” and I see connections from this line to other songs on the album.  But choose another line from this song, “I still owe money to the money I owe”, and Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield would have you believe that the song is the band’s “money” song.   He seems to think that Ohio is used only because it sounds similar to the words “I owe,” but considering the band’s connection to the state, I’d argue the opposite; the closest connection to money that I see is in a larger, state of union sense.  In any case, the alliteration is awesome, and it is one thing that sets the National apart from the average band.  Their songs may repeat the same few words or verses over and over, but the overall effect is hypnotic.

One of my other favorite moments on the album begins at the 3 minute mark in the song “Afraid of Everyone.”  The repeated lyric is not anything special on paper – “Yellow voices swallowing my soul, soul, soul” – but as it is sung, along with the production of the music, these few words take me to another time and place, reminiscent of the 1985 song “Life in a Northern Town” by The Dream Academy.  And indeed, a description of that band’s song on includes the phrase “memorable chant-like hook,” which could easily apply to the National as well.

sometimes you wanna go…

June 1, 2009

…where the band all knows your name.

The Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend featured gray skies and chilly temperatures here in Berkeley.  I’m not usually one to let the weather get me down, but for whatever reason it gave me the blues.  My friends were either camping or otherwise unavailable, so I was left with nothing in particular to do.  Saturday night I realized that my favorite band, The High Strung, were playing in Sacramento the next night, and since I had Monday off I could go!  Then came the matter of how to get there.  My first thought was to take the train and stay overnight after the show, but that proved to be too expensive (and indeed nearly made me not go).  But then, Sunday morning at about 11am I thought to check Zipcar to see what cars were available.  And wouldn’t you know, my favorite car was first on the list!

Nissan Versa

Now there was no reason not to go.  I left at 6pm, and once I was on the freeway leaving Berkeley, the sun came out.  It seems that Berkeley is often stuck in the fog or clouds while the towns surrounding it are sunny.  The drive to Sacto took an hour and a half and traffic was moderate (compared to a typical Sunday night, when the roads are packed with people heading home).  It was still light out when I got to downtown, and I found the pizza parlor and parking without any problems.  The venue is called Luigi’s Slice and Fungarden, and was a nicer place than I expected:

outside sign

no plants in this garden

no plants in this garden

As soon as I walked inside, the lead singer (Josh) spotted me and introduced me to his friend Brian.  We chatted and were soon joined by a children’s librarian from Marysville, a town nearby where they’d played (in the library) last summer.  I got a slice of the day, which was Hawaiian with turkey bacon instead of ham, and one more reason it was worth the trip (Luigi’s is supposedly Sacramento’s best pizza, and though the crust was a little thick for my tastes, Hawaiian is my favorite kind).

The other band members were happy to see me, especially since the last time was in December ’07, before I moved out here.  Derek, the drummer, took my picture for their blog, and gave me the title of “official archivist librarian” for the band.  Best moment(s) of the show were when several teenagers started swaying and dancing along to some of the new songs – that mostly made up for the fact there were less than 20 people in attendance.

The evening wrapped up before 11pm, which was the perfect time for me to leave and get the car back to its parking space by 12:30am (almost like Cinderella, as one girl mentioned).  An interesting note – most of the people I met and also the band had never heard of Zipcar, so I was able to enlighten them with how carsharing works.

On Monday the weather was somewhat better, and I was prepared to spend most of the day recovering from the late night, until my friend Sara called to invite me to an impromptu BBQ and we managed to stretch out the end of the holiday.

Then on Tuesday it was time to see the High Strung again, this time in San Francisco at the Hemlock Tavern.  Great venue, more people in attendance, but I had to leave early since it was a work night (and a friend was able to give me a ride home).

21st Century Breakdown

May 25, 2009

I am a Green Day fan, a fact that I have possibly denied since circa 1994 when a guy asked me what kind of music I liked, and I learned that GD was the wrong answer.  This incident predates my discovery of Dylan, the Beatles, the Clash, etc., but I remember it so well that I never gave the band my full attention after that.  I may have bought American Idiot, but more because I thought I should, and it was my sister who suggested it (usually it’s the other way around).  Soon after I moved to Berkeley, though, I learned about Green Day’s roots in the area, and considered giving them another chance.  In early April I heard about several surprise club shows they were playing in SF, and I got so excited, especially when I then got an email about a show at the Fox Theatre in Oakland.  After all, one of the best places to see a band is on their home turf.  I got a great seat, 2nd row balcony, and was impressed by the effort they put into this production – the show consisted of their new album, 21st Century Breakdown, played in its entirety, and there was a special program (free) that included all the lyrics.

The chance to hear the new album in this manner, a month before it was released, was one of those unique opportunities I look for from rock’n’roll.  My initial reaction was, “wow, this is pretty good,” and my review of the album now that I’ve heard it a few more times is five stars.  Some of the songs seem ageless, like I’ve known them my whole life.  But the thing that made me declare that I am a fan was hearing the band perform their older songs, the ones from Dookie, which took me right back to that teenage place that I never entirely let go of (e.g., I never forgot the video for the song Basket Case¹).

The concert was on a Tuesday night, which means work the next day, but the Fox Theatre is located  on Telegraph Ave, and close to a major transit center (19th st. BART and AC Transit), so I got home much faster than from a typical show in San Francisco.  At some point during the evening I heard someone say that the band was going to play the following night at a club called the Uptown, which happens to be across the street from the Fox.  Sure enough, on Wednesday I checked the website, and it said $20 cash at door for admission.  By the time I got there, the line stretched more than halfway around the block.  The capacity of this club is 575, including the separate bar space and mezzanine area.  This means that maybe 300 can comfortably fit in the space by the stage.  I was approximately #335 when I got to the door, and unless I wanted to force my way through the crowd, there was no way I could see the stage.  So I went up to the mezzanine, but couldn’t see well from there either.  In the room with the bar there was a large movie screen that showed the stage area, and I decided that would be good enough.

The band didn’t begin until 10:30, much later than the previous night, and by this point I was so tired I could barely stand up.  So I moved down from the mezzanine to a bit of wall space by the front door, and watched the show from there.  Unfortunately the only sound was that which carried through the wall separating the stage and bar, and it was muddy at best.  I realized that the thrill was simply getting in to the club, and after an hour I left.  Only then did I discover that the sound was better outside, because a bouncer had propped a loading door open for a few people hanging around.  I was too tired to stay, and catching the bus was more important than hearing the new songs again.

Below are a few pictures from the Fox, and one of the outside of the Uptown.  It took me six weeks to write about these shows in part because I suffered another sort of 21st century breakdown when my computer crashed a few days afterward.  I recovered many of my files, but only just got around to reinstalling the software for my camera.

curtain before show

Green Day during one of the first two songs

Fox marquee

night two

Lastly, for more about Green Day and their new album, here are a couple of good links:

The 5 most over and under-rated songs, courtesy of Magnet magazine, and

Rob Sheffield’s review of the album (note that it rates a 1/2 star better than the new Dylan album!)

1. Here’s a link to the video


January 25, 2009

Since I had such a good experience driving last week, and because I wanted to stay in my “go” mode, I booked the same car yesterday to drive up to Petaluma for a concert.  I’ve wanted to see Petaluma ever since I discovered that’s where American Graffiti was filmed (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, so I can’t say that I recognized anything in the downtown).

Here are a few photos:

back of concert venue

back of concert venue

"Delicious and Refreshing"

"Delicious and Refreshing"

"Ahead of the food chain"

"Ahead of the food chain"

Mystic Theatre (front of concert venue)

Mystic Theatre (front of concert venue)

stage shot

stage shot

I got into Petaluma around 5pm–it is about 40 miles from Berkeley and took an hour of mainly freeway driving.  At this time on a Saturday, most of the shops were closed or about to close, so I found a grocery store and did a little shopping (on Friday I looked at the Chamber of Commerce’s website to get an idea of what was located near the concert venue).

As you can see, the band I saw was the Knitters, the alt-country version of the punk band X. (They played in SF on Friday night, but I didn’t feel like going into the city on a rainy night.)  I bought my ticket from the bar at the restaurant next door where I also had dinner, and went inside shortly after the doors opened at 7.  I was the only one standing in front of the stage for much of the hour before the opening band (Dead Rock West, who are very good) went on.  I couldn’t have planned the spot where I stood, but it turned out to be directly in front of John Doe.  Other members of the band are Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, DJ Bonebreak (playing the snare drum pictured above), and an awesome double bass player named Johnny Ray Bartel (I saw the Knitters in May 2007, but Bartel was not with them).

The people standing all around me were very friendly and I had a great time talking to them.  The woman on my right and I bonded over the setlist – we both like to collect them, and she helped me get the one by the drum.

The show was over exactly when I predicted–11pm–and I got back to Berkeley at midnight with only two minor direction mistakes along the way.  I’m beginning to think of the Nissan as “my” car, and it may be the kind I buy when the time comes.

the next adventure

August 7, 2008

this one is still in the planning stages, but here’s the deal: going to Modesto on August 22nd to see Jakob Dylan at the Gallo Center for the Arts.  The ticket was pricey, but I’m in the pit, row BB, and apparently there’s a champagne reception afterwards.  Now there comes the matter of how to get there.  Driving would take 2 hours by the map, which probably assumes no traffic.  Being on a Friday, there will be traffic.  However, Amtrak to the rescue!  And it’s only $18 each way.  When I first found out about the show, I dismissed the train because the station is on the outskirts of town and I didn’t think past renting a car or taking a cab.  Tonight it’s all different, because of a little thing called public transportation.  Damn if I hadn’t gone to the city’s website and seen the link to MAX (that’s Modesto Area Express), I’d be paying more for this trip than I need to.  I will be paying for a hotel, but when I save in one area, the other costs don’t seem so bad (and that way I can have that glass of champagne and not worry about driving home).

when public transportation works

July 17, 2008

Last night I traveled out to Concord to see the Police and Elvis Costello (you may remember my earlier post detailing the effort just to get a decent seat through Ticketmaster). In the days and hours leading up to the show I found myself wishing that I didn’t have to go; several weeks ago I even explored the option of selling my ticket online, but found too many others available on Stub Hub and decided against it. At the heart of my reluctance was the fact that it was a mid-week event for a band that I’m not that big a fan of. Once I decided to take today off, though, my mood improved and the evening ended up being much better than I expected.

First, I took BART from Berkeley to the Concord station ($3.45), where I knew there was a shuttle bus to the venue ($1.75). Before leaving the station I noticed a “Bart to Bus” transfer machine, and punched out a ticket just in case it worked. The shuttle was easy to find and I joined the group of people waiting to get on. Before boarding I showed my transfer to a guy with a clipboard, and he said a round trip would cost $2.60 instead of $3.50. Excellent!

The ride to the venue took about 20 minutes, and delivered us nearly to the front gate – much better than the parking lot, and I felt superior to all the people we passed who were walking in from the sea of cars. Upon exiting the bus, a woman greeted us with coupons for a free small soda that said “thank you for taking public transportation.”* The trek from the gate to the seats was a strategic marketing maze of concession booths, and as I hadn’t left Berkeley early enough, I missed Elvis’s first two songs (and I think he started a couple minutes early).

I knew about half the songs he played, such as Watching the Detectives, and enjoyed the ones I didn’t, such as Flutter & Wow. A nice surprise was when Sting came out during Alison and sang a verse.

The Police started before 9pm, when it was still light enough out that the jumbotron screens were not effective; my binoculars, however, worked quite well. After a song or two, the best part of the show revealed itself. At the back of the stage was a large high-definition screen of such quality that it gave me a better-than-front row experience, and made the high ticket price worth it. Thanks to this screen I could see Stewart Copeland’s great percussionist abilities – especially during songs like Wrapped Around Your Finger and Can’t Stand Losing You (two of the night’s highlights).

I left my seat during the last song of the encore, Every Breath You Take, and hurried out to the shuttle buses so that I could get on the first one. The website said buses would leave approximately 20 minutes after the show ended, and after I got on I heard the driver say that he couldn’t leave until the band did (the stage or the venue I’m not sure). In any case, I got back to the BART station with 11 minutes before the next train, which got me into Berkeley around 11:30.

*I opted to save the coupon as a souvenir because 1, concession lines were long, and 2, I rarely drink soda. Now if it was for a beer, or any other drink, maybe I would have used it.

greek theatre review

June 1, 2008

Last night was my first show at the Greek Theatre – an outdoor arena on the Berkeley campus.  I saw R.E.M. and what a great show it was!  As promised, the band played a mix of old and new songs – I love their new album and all of those songs were performed exceptionally well.  A highlight of their set was the song Driver 8, one with words of personal significance, and I wasn’t expecting to hear it.  Other notes: Sold out crowd; the seating was a little tight for the first part of the show (concrete bleachers with spray-painted numbers), but then two people left and that made it more comfortable.  The stage had a high-tech video backdrop, which you can see in pictures here.  Overall, the venue had great sound and sight lines.

There were two opening acts, the National and Modest Mouse.  As a friend predicted to me last year, I really liked the National – enough to record their set tonight and probably buy an album.  The lead singer had great stage presence, and one of the band members plays a mean fiddle.  On the other hand, I was bored by Modest Mouse.  They didn’t do anything to make me interested in what they were playing – no song introductions and the lead singer seemed to yell the words more than sing them (although he had a pretty voice when he did sing).  The only thing I liked about this band was the two drummers, who at times looked like twins or perhaps a mirror image of each other (too bad they weren’t wearing the same shirt).

Going back again to tonight’s show, same bands, but I have a much better seat – a plastic chair instead of the hard concrete, and closer to the stage.  I’ll probably take my camera, since the bag check is cursory at best.

nearly stranded in the city

May 18, 2008

Last night I went to see the debut performance of Jakob Dylan’s “solo” act, with a backing band called the Gold Mountain Rebels. I got there at the not-so-early hour of 9, a 1/2 hour after doors opened, and to my pleasant surprise, the floor of the super small club was empty. Just a group of 4 people at the front of the stage, so I claimed a spot right behind them in the center. Given that the opening act started at 9:30, I expected Jakob and co to go on around 10:30. I was a little annoyed when I realized it was nearly 11pm and they hadn’t started, because I knew this could mess up my transportation options home. At some point though I stopped worrying about what time the last BART train left (indeed, I didn’t know), and just enjoyed the show. Lots of new songs, with a few old Wallflowers favorites mixed in. They finished at 12:30am, and I hot tailed it back to the train station. Alas, the last BART to the East Bay left at 12:24! Luckily I was close to the bus station, but when I got there I found the entrances to AC Transit closed and I was just slightly concerned about my options. I asked a police officer how I could get back to Berkeley, and he pointed me in the direction of the all-nighter line, where I found a group of people, mostly student-aged. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have my bus pass! A girl told me it cost $3.50 (exact change), and at first I was going to use a $5 and absorb the difference. But wouldn’t you know, the first woman I asked had change for a 5, and I was good to go (thank goodness AC Transit takes $1 bills). The bus didn’t come until 1:15, and made its way through downtown Oakland before getting to Berkeley, so I didn’t get home until almost 2:30! That was a lot later than planned, but the adventure is a prime example of how sometimes things work themselves out. I probably could have taken a taxi, but at what cost? I’d rather not find out.

I’m going to see the band again tonight, and though it’s billed to start an hour earlier, this time I will be prepared with a schedule, and perhaps even leave early if necessary.

1950s style club

April 26, 2008

On Wednesday night I saw the Raconteurs at Bimbo’s 365 Club, a nightclub located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.  The venue has a huge old-fashioned marquee that looks more suited to the 1950s, and may in fact date back that far, since the club moved to this location in 1951.  The inside felt like an explosion of red velvet and glamor, more appropriate for cabaret than rock’n’roll.  Indeed, the stage height was too low to provide decent views from the back of the floor, and many of the fans were taller than me (both men and women it seemed!).  But the band was excellent, and they’ve made it onto my “see whenever I can” list.  My friend Amy and I agreed that “modern classic rock” is a good way to describe their music – just think 20-30 years into the future, and they’ll still be on the radio, if radio exists.

Before the show we had dinner at a tiny Italian place recommended by one of our co-workers.  L’Osteria Del Forno – only twelve tables, but we got there before there was much of a wait.  Of note was the bottle of red wine we got – quite possibly the best I’ve ever had, so I wrote down the name and type of grape – ALCIONE AGLIANICO.  I found it listed online for sale in Berkeley at $13.99 (we paid $26, not too bad of a mark-up).