Monday, November 28, 2005

word of the day

Asi-catic: \a-zhuh-kat-ik\ adj (2005): Asian and catty; i.e., perfectly normal

not Asi-catic
I don't think she means this one.

But bless you, Brianne, for the coinage.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

speculating: the sport of kings

Based on my fervent scanning of local club dates, it looks like we may already know some bands that may take part in Noise Pop 2006, no thanks to the rarely updated official site. Mark your calendars now:

Supergrass: February 23, Great American Music Hall
Robyn Hitchcock/Minus 5: February 27, Slim's

And of course, happy Thanksgiving to you all! Nigella Lawson's cappuccino concoction easily beat out the pumpkin cream cheese tart. Next time, I think I'll make individual versions in ramekins. It's supereasy--try it for yourself. (Note: The image below is from the New York Times and is not a representation of what came out of my oven.)

Nigella Lawson's cappuccino cheesecakeRecipe: Cappuccino Cheesecake
Published: May 18, 2005

Time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus several hours to overnight for chilling

For the base:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
3 tablespoons soft butter

For the cake:
1 pound (2 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Kahlúa or other coffee liqueur

For the topping:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cocoa

1. Prepare base: In a food processor, combine graham cracker crumbs, espresso powder, cocoa and butter. Press into bottom of a 7-inch springform pan. Place in refrigerator.

2. Prepare cake: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a kettle with water and bring to a boil. Wash bowl of food processor, and combine in it the cream cheese, brown sugar, white sugar, espresso, eggs, egg yolks and Kahlúa. Process to make a smooth mixture with no coffee powder visible.

3. Cover outside of springform pan with a protective layer of plastic wrap covered with a double layer of foil. Fill with cake batter, and place in a roasting pan. Pour boiling water into roasting pan to come about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until middle of cake is set but not firm (it should still wobble), 40 to 50 minutes.

4. Remove cheesecake from water bath and place on a rack. Remove outer layers from pan and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.

5. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before serving. To remove from pan, slide a knife around inside edge of pan, then release sides. Place cheesecake on a platter.

6. Prepare topping: Whisk cream into soft peaks, and spread on top of cake. Push cocoa through a fine-mesh sieve to dust cake.

Yield: One 7-inch cake (6 to 8 servings).

p.s. I still like Jon Brion. A lot.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

it's still beyond me

I always say that Jeff Tweedy solo is the other half of the Wilco equation. Now that I've seen Glenn Kotche (more on him later) and Nels Cline on their own, I'm not sure my mantra holds, but Jeff's solo outings certainly offer a glimpse into the major factor driving the band, especially as they seem to be moving toward a more complicated sound.

Jeff Tweedy, Messiah College, November 12, 2005: Three years ago, I pulled what was at the time a pretty goofy move by my standards: I dragged my friend Melissa to the Wilco show at Messiah College, an obscure school outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The show was fun for a number of reasons, but the venue was bizarre: the college gym. Regardless, when Jeff Tweedy's concert at the same college was announced, I didn't hesitate to pick up tickets.

Of the three shows, Messiah was probably the best, partly because it was general admission, partly because my buddies were there, and lastly because the energy level was great. You could hear the crowd singing along--an act I took for granted until the later shows on our trip. Jeff, as always, was warm and engaging, and in the end, the songs just sounded so good. Jeff tried to open up (jokingly?) a dialogue about religion, in reference to a Faith & Culture conference going on at the school at the same time, but a dark, cavernous gym is perhaps not the right place for the discussion.

Also, Jeff did the songs requested by Brianne and me, though we heard one of Brianne's selections only at soundcheck. I haven't been downloading recent Wilco stuff, so the new songs were surprises. Jeff has been playing the Loose Fur song at just about every show, but during soundcheck, we got another new title, presumably written from the perspective of a child welcoming a new sibling home.

Glenn Kotche, Calvin Theatre, November 13, 2005Of course, Glenn opened--the first time I've seen him outside of Wilco (not counting the Largo appearance that I will never shut up about). He was breathtaking, and I was beyond impressed. The first song, the title track "Mobile" from his forthcoming solo album, is incredibly melodic and varied. Then came the Balinese monkey chant, which was unlike anything I've ever heard before. He followed it with a vibes composition based on an African piece of music--I wish I could be more specific, but I'd be doing it a huge disservice to take a stab at its origins. After that was a enchanting João Gilberto cover, followed by Glenn's own "Projections of What Might." Glenn's influence on the current Wilco lineup is undeniable, but hearing and seeing him solo makes me realize how much I've missed. At each show, Jeff found new ways of making fun of Glenn (all in good fun, of course), but the respect and dedication between them comes through in their playing as much as their joking.

I hope Glenn somehow makes it to the West Coast. I'm lucky enough to see various Nels Cline projects, but I'd trade in a few of 'em for some Glenn Kotche shows.

Jeff Tweedy, Calvin Theatre, November 13, 2005: We drove through five states the next day, and I got to take in the fabled Eastern fall foliage. In Northampton, we met up with Dave and Selene for a preshow meal. I could easily hang out with Dave for a long time--he's such a good guy. The best part of the gig was probably when Jeff asked for requests and pointed straight (in the dark) at Dave, who was prepared with his plea for "Fatal Wound." Alas, no luck there, but I give major props to Dave for trying. The Calvin show was good, though as a sit-down venue, it's already at a disadvantage. Still, we got in our singalongs and handclaps, and the people around us were notably moved and involved. After the show, I got confirmation that I'm regarded as the Jon Brion freak by more than a few people--now if only it would help my Google count. Grrrrr.

Jeff Tweedy, The Egg, November 14, 2005: The Egg is like a venue out of a dated sci-fi movie, rising from the Albany landscape like the Vince Lombardi trophy. Inside, it was a very grown-up venue, a far cry from Messiah College just two days previously. Before the show, Sooz and Paul scurried about secretively, leaving Heidi and me to take in Stan's great between-set mix (the Zombies!). During the encore, their tricks became apparent, as Jeff played my remaining request for "Promising," a song that he was supposed to play at the basement show but didn't quite get to. He couldn't remember the first words, and I was too shocked to recall them, but he managed regardless. This was definitely my favorite part of the show, made all the more apparent in contrast to the abysmal crowd throughout the rest of the gig. The hecklers were ridiculous, and though Jeff visibly strained to hear us during an early song, we were bitchily urged to shush during our singalong to "Heavy Metal Drummer," a tune we don't even like! At that point, we sort of gave up and let the comatose crowd dig its own hole.

Mart Rivas and Craig Meyer, Slane, November 15, 2005: Mart forgave us for showing up late after we explained to him that we had just came from an incredible meal at Babbo, where we saw Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Michael Stipe, and Michael's boyfriend having dinner together--on the 30th anniversary of Born to Run, no less! But there was no way I was going to miss Mart's gig.

First off, I have to say that Mart obviously played to Heidi all night, doing just about every song that she requested! But I won't hold that against either of them, especially since Mart made everything sound so great, even a couple of Madonna classics and my favorite single ever released, "When Doves Cry." Bless Mart for putting up with our caterwauling, considering he can more than command a room with his soulful, sweet voice, no thanks to us.

See also:
» i won't be denied
» i'll be out on the town

Thursday, November 10, 2005

surrender. dislocate.

Or, not: i like jon brion. a lot. (part 4)

U2, Oakland Coliseum, November 9, 2005: My auntie's friend couldn't come to the show, so with little protest, I took her ticket. This is the third time I've seen U2, the first two times being the shows in 1997 with Oasis, and they turned out to be surprisingly powerful.

I'm sure someone else has a much better report, but some points jumped out at me. Eight years later, their show was a lot less frivolous. I enjoyed the glam and camp qualities of the early-'90s incarnation of the band, but let's face it--U2 is one of the few rock bands left in the world, and you want to see them belt 'em out. The setlist was cool, and I can't ever complain about hearing "Bad" live. I also liked the Patti Smith allusion at the end of the song. Stadium shows will never be my thing, but that sense of community you get at a truly good one is hard to come by these days.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 3)

The Google thing isn't helping, but I can't stop myself. And today, I offer an MP3 of "September Gurls," recorded at Largo on January 30, 1998. That's the late Elliott Smith on drums, by the way. May he rest in peace.
» Jon Brion and Elliott Smith, "September Gurls"

See also:
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 2)
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 2)

The next salvo in the Google campaign. Thanks for humoring me.

Jon Brion, Largo, November 4, 2005: In my old rules of rock tourism, I traveled to see a musician/band only if I could be guaranteed a multiple-night set in one location. *insert knowing laughter here* Though I don't follow that rule any more, it's not a bad one to go by if the opportunity presents itself.

Jon came out around 10:20 and opened with his usual keys work, this time taking the big Casio and the piano for an ominous-sounding passage. My friend's friend remarked the Casio was the first sampling keyboard ever manufactured, and it allowed you to make, like, 1-second samples--a revolution at the time! I'm sure the million other loopers and gizmos onstage took care of that need nowadays.

Jon greeted us with a facetious "Welcome to Perkyfest '05," and this pretty much held for the rest of the night. For whatever reason, our requests didn't really register with him, so the sing-along element didn't kick in. I know as well as anyone that there's more to a Jon Brion night at Largo than goofy covers, but you gotta admit they're sure crowd pleasers. I had to wonder if the previous night's show with Nels had left him with some sort of improv hangover.

Anyway, back to the set. For the next song, he sampled his own grunts and yells, then took to the piano and the celeste for a jazzy riff, while Scott in the sound booth added a funky beat. Jon later unapologetically admitted that it was a "Hey Ya" ripoff, a thought that had crossed my mind. More piano noodling followed and was greeted with a "yeah!" from the crowd. Jon stopped to ask what the guy thought he was hearing in Jon's "farting around." The guy said it sounded like Elliott Smith, but Jon vehemently denied it. In case you couldn't tell, we were off to a fairly disjointed start.

A spacey, reverb-heavy "Over Our Heads" was the first "real" song of the night, and it was lovely, with tons more layers than the studio version. Next up was "Trouble," also with reverb; the song has long been a favorite of mine, but on a couple of passages, Jon changed his phrasing ever so slightly but to devastatingly poignant effect. A couple of song builds ("So I Fell in Love With You" and "I'm Further Along") followed, then he went solo electric for a crunchy, bass-heavy rendition of "Strings That Tie to You," also very unlike the official release available on the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack. After this was a long instrumental guitar passage with elements I couldn't recognize.

He asked for requests, and he settled on the theme from the TV series The Greatest American Hero, which would return in different forms for this portion of the set. He tackled "Play That Funky Music" next, eliciting the only sing-along of the night. He satisfied the "Fame" request by repeating the word about four times--and nothing more--through the vocoder. Up next was a very long song build/medley that encompassed "Nobody Does It Better," "Believe It or Not" (The Greatest American Hero theme), the old Stephen Bishop song "On and On," at least two songs that I didn't recognize, and some other lyrics about Flanagan and beer. He sort of apologized for it by admitting that he felt as if he were "torturing" us. Ah well, it's all part of the show.

R. Kelly came up in the banter but not in the setlist; instead, Jon went with a twangified "Same Thing," which ended up with a big drum build. Moving back to piano, he did Duke Ellington's "Solitude," then finished off the main set with a request for "Knock Yourself Out" on piano and harmonica.

The start of the second set felt jauntier, with a song build of "Happy with You," marked by a different guitar solo as well as Jon's switching between three different guitars. He stuck with the one that promised to stay in tune for a solo electric version of "Love of My Life So Far." Via the piano, we got "Trial and Error"--again, deceptively simple but made all the more gorgeous with a softer line here and there. He stayed on the piano for an instrumental version of "Everything Happens to Me" but turned it back up with a song build for "Before You Broke My Heart," which I believe to be a Jon Brion original (claims to the contrary are welcome, however).

He asked for requests again, but nothing grabbed him. Fortunately, he has his own catalog to choose from, which is exactly what followed. More solo electric for "I'm on a Roll with You," while "Here We Go" got a short synth opening before settling into the main song. It's hard for me to express how much I love that song; it's so perfect, and when I get to hear it with different phrasings, it sounds new. Sure, it's not a trademark Jon Brion reinvention every time à la "Same Thing," but it can be just as effective. "I Believe She's Lying" started out on piano, but for the ending coda freakout, Jon brought in the vocoder, the harmonica, and a hammer--with which he pummeled the piano strings to lay down a rhythm.

Coming close to the end of the set, he put on an old spoken word LP called Influencing Human Behavior, adding synth and celeste accompaniment, as well as some distortion. He capped off the "downtrodden" set by inviting the magical Benmont Tench to the stage for a riveting Hank Snow number called "Tangled Mind" and the ever welcome "Waterloo Sunset," both beautifully rendered. It was the most cheerful Jon looked throughout the night and made for a lovely end to the show.

Set 1
--Casio and piano noodling
--sampled grunts + jazzy piano + celeste
--more jazzy piano
--Over Our Heads [spacey piano, lots of reverb]
--Trouble [piano]
--So I Fell in Love with You [song build]
--I'm Further Along [song build]
--Strings that Tie to You [electric guitar]
--electric guitar noodling
--Greatest American Hero theme [instrumental; piano]
--Play That Funky Music/Greatest American Hero [celeste, vocoder, synth]
--Fame [vocoder, synth]
--???/Nobody Does It Better/American Hero/??? [song build]
--Same Thing [electric guitar]
--Solitude [piano]
--Knock Yourself Out [piano, harmonica]

Set 2
--Happy with You [song build]
--Love of My Life So Far [electric guitar]
--Trial and Error [piano]
--Everything Happens to Me [instrumental, piano]
--Before You Broke My Heart [song build]
--On a Roll with You [electric guitar]
--Here We Go [synth, piano]
--I Believe She's Lying [piano, vocoder, hammer, harmonica]
--Influencing Human Behavior LP + knobs/distortion + synths + celeste
--Tangled Mind *
--Waterloo Sunset *

* = with Benmont Tench

See also:
» i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)
» top 5 Largo memories
» let your heart be light

Saturday, November 05, 2005

i like jon brion. a lot. (part 1)

Or, Who Do You Have to Fuck to Show Up in Google's Search Results? Please forgive the search engine pandering.

Nels Cline and Jon Brion, Largo, November 3, 2005: This was a dream pairing for me, especially after hearing reports of one of their other gatherings at Largo where they did "Cortez the Killer." Swoon! As the date drew closer, we had no idea what to expect. Nels's site promised an "instrumental/improvised set," but I wondered if he'd be the opener, perhaps followed by a set from Jon. Regardless, it would've taken an act of god and deep mortal wounds to keep me away.

You can drive entire convoys through the gaps in my music knowledge, and at times, I've had to rely on half-learned terms and downright misinformation to put in words what happens onstage. But my previous dispatches will look like the 9-11 Commission Report compared to the generalities I'll need to employ for this one. Keep in mind that I was as in the dark (almost literally) as the next person, and it was challenging to try to take in the changing action onstage, much less document any of it, considering the players themselves probably had very vague notions of what was going on at any given moment. The songs could shift in character a number of times as Jon and Nels manned different instruments and approaches. Please use your imagination; I guarantee you that the show was even weirder than anyone who's seen either Nels or Jon live can dream up.

First off, the inestimable Bobb Bruno came out in a bunny outfit and played a short opening set on, errrr, electronic drums of some sort. If nothing, it helped confirm that I hadn't hallucinated that other time I saw him don the bunny costume in public.

As a Type A personality, I can think of no better way to present my memories of the evening than in a chronological list.

Song 1: Jon took various piano-related items (piano, celeste, synths), while Nels grabbed the guitar. My notes tell me that this exercise was a long spooky, ambient number, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream; this may have been the most unabashedly experimental song of the set, and it clearly set the tone of the night--Nels hadn't been lying in the description/warning on his Web site. Through various passages, Jon closed his eyes and swayed to the waves of sound; he dominated this number. For me, perhaps the most interesting moment was Jon's manipulation of something called the Sonic Wave knob, while Nels brandished a spring/coil against his guitar strings.

Song 2: Frenetic and hard on kickoff, this song was a major contrast to the first number. Jon went to the drums and laid down a staccato beat. After he looped the desired passages, Jon joined Nels on guitar. Nels took on more of a leadership role, and he was visibly amped, even roaring--encouragement? approval?--at Jon's guitar work. Jon is of course known as a pop guy, but if you've seen his show, he can freak out as much as anyone, and this was a fine example of that element let loose. This song was experimental in a different respect; it was probably 10 different songs in one, and we saw both musicians moving outside their comfort zones. Jon layered some gauzy vocals over the wall of sound, but Nels just about blew my mind when he moved to the drum kit! Paul reports that he's seen Nels take the drums for a soundcheck before, but this was an entirely different matter. Obviously, Nels's drumwork isn't as elegant or varied as his guitar skills (whose are, though?), but he was a steady, forceful presence, and in the true collaborative spirit of the night, he watched Jon like a hawk for musical cues. Somewhere over this, Jon played his guitar with heavy distortion, vaguely reminding me of the MC5. He somehow came back to a psychedelic approach, and by the end, the guitar was more of a percussive instrument. Nels eventually rejoined him, this time on the 12-string (the "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" guitar, for those who've studied Nels's role in Wilco).

Song 3: This song was a complete and utter treat. Both Jon and Nels sat down for this, Jon taking what looked like a nylon-string acoustic and Nels on an electric, with Jon adding some humming later. The song was mellow and simply gorgeous, and the two of them were in lock step throughout the number. It reminded me of a bolero--just incredibly sexy. It was hard to believe they could've improvised that number right on the spot, but when we asked Nels about it later, he laughed out loud at the idea that they had rehearsed any of it.

(At this point, I should apologize for not noting Nels's guitars. It's not my milieu, though I realize that I can tell you that Nels took a guitar only so many times. I'll try harder next time.)

Song 4: Jon returned to the piano, while Nels went back to the electric guitar. This song reminded me of the piano noodling with which Jon often opens his solo shows. Overall, it was a melancholy, understated, abstract number that wouldn't be out of place on Jon's soundtracks. Again, Jon dominated, but one of Nels's strengths is that he knows when to pour it on and when to hold back. For this one, he did the latter--to astonishing effect.

If you've seen Jon live, you know that he often hums or sings to himself to track the song, often while he's moving between instruments during a song build. He did much of this throughout the show with Nels, and it made me wonder if it's his way of thinking aloud, though it's probably a mere hint of what else he has cooking in his brain.

Song 5: Jon started off with the drums, then put down some harmonica, establishing what sounded like a simpler version of the "Tusk" beat. Nels contributed spacey sounds on one of his lap steels. My notes say "slide but not slide sounding"--I wish I knew what I meant by that. Later on, Nels once again took the drums, and Jon went to the keyboards, playing with the knobs to produce heavy distortion.

Throughout the night, I had been surprised by how little Jon and Nels watched each other's playing. I've seen them peering studiously for musical cues from their compatriots on other occasions and would've guessed that there'd be more visual communication, but that wasn't the case here. Paul pointed out that it may have been due to the improvisational nature of the night; there are simply no set cues to hit, after all. I mention this because it was a stark contrast to what happened when Nels took the drums; he barely took his eyes off Jon, even as Jon was lost in his newly hatched melodies.

turkish banjoSong 6: For this one, Nels brandished a Turkish banjo and a screwdriver, which he seemed to use almost like a reverse capo, sliding the screwdriver under the strings instead of on top of them. In contrast, Jon manned a relatively ho-hum 12-string acoustic. I have no notes on this one--I may have been too busy trying to figure out what the hell Nels was doing to pick up the pen. I have a feeling it was a fairly folksy outing, though.

Song 7: They closed the main set with a big, freaking, anthemic rocker. Jon took care of the drums, then strapped on the guitar; Again, Nels took the black-and-white 12-string that I love so much--its sounds have made me smile many times over the last year and a half. From early on, I got a Byrds-like vibe from this one and heard strains of "Eight Miles High." Along with the big hugs and mutual admiration doled out between Nels and Jon, it was a great way to end the main set.

Encore: Nels seemed surprised to come out for an encore, believing that they had already played so much. Even the Nels Cline Singers, for example, rarely play more than 60 minutes per set, and he and Jon had already given us a good 80 minutes or so. But they still had something in them, and we wanted to hear it.

bouzoukiJon took a beautifully detailed bouzouki, an oval-shaped guitar-like instrument with 8 strings, while Nels had a small acoustic. They both used slides for the opening passage but changed up as the song progressed. Jon moved to playing percussion on anything within reach: the bouzouki, the keyboard, the mics. Nels took out the spring/coil again, then brought a pink hockey-puck-like device to his mouth to record some sounds. He later told us what it was for, but I can't remember now, other than he usually used it for the guitar--but not so tonight. Nels was full of surprises on this song. Later in the number, he played his acoustic almost like a harp, plucking and sliding as he pleased. And in case the drums hadn't revealed enough of his musical scope, he took to chanting as well. Jon joined in, though in a lovely touch, he decided to do a complementary harmony to Nels's vocals. Somewhere in between, Jon grinned and nodded (in admiration? respect?) at Nels. And thus ended the set.

The show was recorded, as will be their December 8 set, for possible future release. I for one welcome such a document and can't wait for the next gathering of these two musical giants.

See also:
» i'll be back again
» it's been a while
» Nels nights
» top 5 Largo memories