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Alone at the Show

Girlpool – Alone at the Show

Last night I was alone at the show, as I frequently am. I went to see Waxahatchee with Girlpool opening up. I had heard some buzz about Girlpool but other than the fact that the band is two teenagers, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.

The venue was some sort of former movie theater/small town playhouse. It was extremely quiet, with everyone sitting in their seats and the stage, a wide expanse of black, was nearly empty. They joked, “Welcome to the talent show!” and seemed completely at ease. Just two young women with a guitar and a bass and eyes firmly shut while they belted it out into the darkness.

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The songs have a simplicity that’s not surprising given their ages and stripped down sound. As I sat listening to their lyrics and between song banter, with the audience and each other, they began to remind me of something. Ernie Pook’s Comeek.

That’s not another band but the Lynda Barry comic strip that used to run in the City Paper in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. They have a similar combination of innocence and insight beyond their years. Humor and sadness. Awkward yet confident. They felt like the kind of band Marlys would love. Girlpool, girl power. Like the lyrics from one of their songs, “If you are a Jane put your fist up too.” Right on! Even Super Right On!

If you’re not familiar with Ernie Pook and Lynda Barry, man, you are missing out. And if you get the chance to see Girlpool, you should do it.

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Opportunity

The Charlatans (UK) – Opportunity

I forget what took us to one of those dollar store places a week or so ago but while the kids were looking around for whatever it was, I found myself looking at the cheap phone chargers and other iPod accessories. I decided to pick up a different fm transmitter adapter thingy, not Bluetooth, just plugs into your headphone jack. My daughter warned me that it would break, and soon, the way cheap plastic crap always does. It’s true, I don’t expect it to last long, on the other hand, if I can use my iPod in the car for a couple of months, the $5 will probably be worth it.

It works with my iPod decently. I hung the cord around the hands-free holder where I put my phone, both the iPod and the transmitter dangling down near the radio for the best results. Then it dawned on me that this might work with my old Walkman. I needed to find some working AA batteries first and hanging it off the phone holder wasn’t an option but I set in the passenger seat and fired it up.

And that’s how we have a new installment of Tape Deck Tuesday. Today’s tape was The Charlatans Some Friendly. I’m still not confident about putting my better tapes through the ringer here so I took one I wasn’t especially worried about losing if something went wrong. I kind of think I have this on CD too, though maybe that’s their second album I’m thinking of. I know I have the tape and CD for one of their early releases because I found the tape super cheap at the Goodwill or someplace like that.

This album makes me think of commuting on the Metro in DC back in the early 90s. When I first arrived there I was staying with my uncle in Georgetown and I would get off at Dupont Circle and go into Olsson’s or Kramerbooks to check out the latest NME and Melody Maker before making my way over to his house. Later I had a sublet up in Adams Morgan so I had every excuse to saunter slowly up Connecticut Avenue stopping into stores to get a blast of air conditioning. When I found a place up in Mt. Pleasant, if I was taking the Metro home from work by myself, I still kept my habit of walking up from Dupont Circle, through Adams Morgan and up to the house I shared with three other people. I always wished I lived in those cooler (and more expensive) neighborhoods but walking through them at least kept me from feeling like I was totally out of it.

There were lots of things I loved about living in DC but in the end there were slightly more things I hated about living there or I wouldn’t have left. I mostly think about the good parts and skim over the bad, now that 21 years have passed since I moved away. It’s all the cool shops, museums, and great bands at clubs I loved, that have stuck with me. I’m sure it’s best that way.

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Bottled in Cork

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists – Bottled in Cork

Just like Ted Leo going to see his sister, we’ve been visiting my husband’s family in Sweden. We just got back late on Tuesday and I’m still pretty tired from jet lag and just traveling. I am not going to catch up on all the online finery that we missed without access to the internet, there’s just too much. I managed to grab a little free wifi here and there to add some pictures to Instagram but didn’t have time for much else. That’s mostly a good thing but I do feel like I’m playing catch up.

Hopefully I’ll be back on track with a weekend under my belt. Until then, please enjoy this great send up of Green Day and American Idiot.

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Under a Rock

Waxahatchee – Under a Rock

For the next couple of months, Tuesdays are still the day of new music releases. Today the new album Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee is out and I was listening to it online when a little notification popped up that there’s a tour stop not too far from me coming up in May.

I just finished reading the article in the New Yorker yesterday and figured I’d better hop on this show before I get shut out. It’s at a venue I had never heard of before and I always love checking out new (to me) places and doing what I can to support these smaller halls and clubs. I much prefer going to see bands in small places especially if they aren’t in the expected cities. Not all of us live in New York and while I’m always willing to travel, I can’t do that for every show I’d like to see.

I put my husband on notice that there are actually a lot of shows coming up that I’d like to see. There’s one day in May that has three shows, in three different cities (none of which are near me), and I just can’t decide which one I should try to go to. The venue is probably going to be the deciding factor on that one. These things matter! Take heart, small venues in small cities, I love you!

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Sexuality

Billy Bragg – Sexuality

The headlines have been giving me headaches and making me angry, depressed, and scared. Sometimes I feel fired up and come out swinging, other times I am just overwhelmed by it all.

Today seemed like a good day to spin this 24-year-old (yet still eerily topical!) Billy Bragg song and watch Kirsty MacColl throw a pie in a stodgy old lawmaker’s face.

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Fake Plastic Trees

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees

The Bends was released 20 years ago today, so the music press tells me. I was pretty busy at work today and didn’t really pay any attention to the mentions about it that I saw go by, but as I was flipping through Twitter I saw an article where 33 musicians listed their favorite Radiohead songs. The part of the article that made the biggest impression on me was how all of these people talked about remembering this or that song from high school. Ooph. That made me feel old.

I feel the need to point out that the Radiohead band members are basically about my age, and they weren’t even called Radiohead until 1991, by which time I was living in DC and working at the Smithsonian. Not in high school. By the time their first album was out and “Creep” was big, I was not interested. For one thing, just as a matter of principle, I was wary of bands that got a lot of attention. I had just been through what one might characterize as a messy break up with a band because of my inability to handle just that. I was not going to let it happen so soon again. If Radiohead were that great, I was not going to fall for them. In fact, I was going to avoid them at all costs and I would maintain a willful ignorance about them for nearly 15 years. And for another thing, I was trying to carefully step away from the musical edge that I often found myself staring down; dark, introspective, angry, hurting or hurtful songs were dangerous for me. Where I’d been drawn to them for years, lived through them, took refuge in knowing I wasn’t alone because of them, I suddenly couldn’t handle it anymore. I didn’t listen to those kind of songs and feel comforted anymore, I felt like my bones were exposed. Everything hurt. What I did know about Radiohead was enough to tell me that I should not go near there.

Fast forward to 2007. I had just turned 40, I had two little kids and a job that was getting worse by the day. I was in a very static place and I’d packed away so much of what I had previously felt made me, me. I hadn’t even allowed myself to think about things like that because it seemed too risky to open all of that up. But then In Rainbows was released and I heard a song or two in my travels. Something clicked. “Bodysnatchers” felt like it was written for me. I downloaded it and would practically blow out my car’s speakers I played it so loud. I needed to feel it physically. And “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” made me dizzy with its perfection.  I adore everything about that song. I love that you can hear their fingers sliding across the guitar strings, I love that you can hear Thom Yorke’s frantic intake of breath, I love the quiet beginning and the roaring end. And the lyrics, whatever may have been the intention, made me think of an earlier me. The heady, swirling, sweaty, anonymity of a dark, packed club, yet the lights picking up something here, something there, possibilities and impossibilities colliding, getting lost between the notes, dancing. Those two songs convinced me to buy the whole album and from there I was hooked.

Over the next couple of years I acquired the rest of their back catalog and confirmed for myself that I was probably right to have kept them at arm’s length earlier because they had a powerful pull. By the time I got to Radiohead I had learned how to step back if I felt like I might get pulled under. I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I owe them a lot for showing me it could be ok, better than just ok, to open the door to those murky waters again.

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Daffodils

Mark Ronson – Daffodils (featuring Kevin Parker of Tame Impala)

Happy Daylight Saving Time! Do you realize that it was still light out at 7 p.m. this evening?! There may still be feet of snow all around but I will now be able to arrive home after work in daylight which is huge. Such a difference!

But about those feet of snow, even if we had sun and warm temperatures for the rest of March, it will still be quite some time before it will look anything like spring. Before the blizzard back at the end of January, I had spied snowdrops (those little white flowers) in my neighbors yard. Now you have to look up for the faintest hint of life.

I have to credit my mother with pointing out that in these northern latitudes, when snow is covering the ground sometimes well into April, your best bet is to look for the “fat buds” on the trees. It’s easier to notice if you’re on the highway and can see a large expanse of tree tops. Starting about now, you can begin to notice a faint pink haze around the bare branches. You don’t really see it so much one tree at a time. When she first mentioned this to me I couldn’t see it and just complained that a faint pink haze didn’t hold a candle to the soft green fuzz of baby leaves that I was used to in the mid-Atlantic states. Now I can see it. Also, I don’t think my mom realized that most people are talking about something else when they talk about fat buds but I’m not going to spoil it for her.

I’d still rather have the bare ground and little flower shoots poking up through the ground, but I am thrilled with the extra hour of sunlight and I just bought some daffodils at the grocery store to tide me over for a little while.

I heard this song for the first time last week and thought the timing was great. The video quality isn’t great and the aspect ratio is off but I’m using this one anyway because, Soul Train.

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Natural Thing

Poi Dog Pondering – Natural Thing

This past weekend I was down in New York for a pair of Poi Dog Pondering shows at the City Winery. I’d never been there before but I knew that the floor plan is pretty tightly packed tables and chairs. This sounds great for quiet, intimate performers, less of an ideal fit for a band that can swell up to a dozen musicians and usually has everyone dancing.

It had been so long since they’d had a concert near us that I was a little worried the first night. What if it wasn’t as great as it used to be? If this was my last chance, would it be the kind of show I’d be happy to have as my last memory of them live? I mean, we’re all getting older, you know? The last time they were on the east coast (six years ago) they did an acoustic five-piece show and played in some unlikely places so I figured that was probably more the model we would get. I am happy to report that they were seven people strong, just about all of my favorite band members were there, and they brought along all the necessary instruments to rock the house.

We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of the setlist since they’re working on a new album but it’s not out yet. They started out with some of their oldest songs which are more conducive to that seated environment. We were right up front, as is our preference whenever possible (when you’re short, this is pretty important), and you really couldn’t move your chair at all. The pace picked up with each song and I was dying to get up and dance . But when the band got to this song, and the line, “everybody stand up!” I felt like they were issuing a call to action. I couldn’t sit still any longer. I freed my chair from the next person’s chair leg and joined the growing crowd of people dancing in the aisle. Ah, much better.

The second night we were packed in tight again but this time I had my dance spot staked out ahead of time. I found out later that after Friday’s show, the wait staff were told on Saturday to make sure not to get in the way of people who were dancing. Pretty cool stance for the venue to take, considering we were dancing in the only area where they could move around carrying bottles and glasses of wine.

On Saturday I brought my sister along with me. The woman sitting to my sister’s left introduced herself and said she came from an extended family of Poi fans and they’d all flown in from across the country for this show. She proceeded to tell us that her brother had passed away about two years ago and they had hired Frank (Orrall, leader of the band) to come and play on their deck as a kind of memorial service. She introduced us to her husband, then her brother who’d come from Los Angeles, a sister up from Georgia, another sister from I don’t remember where, her parents were a few tables over and her brother’s widow was with them. She’d come down from upstate New York. Aside from Frank playing on their deck, this was her first real Poi show.

I have to say, I got choked up about this whole scene before the show even began. There are several songs that Frank has written that address death and dying, but always in a positive light somehow. It didn’t surprise me that they had asked Frank to come and play for them; my funeral playlist starts with a Poi song too. But it’s more than that. He has this magnetic quality, this positive energy that creates the kind of devotion that brings people in from all over for a Poi show. That keeps us coming back two or three nights in a row, even after six or seven year absences. It’s not readily captured in video or audio because it’s missing the interaction with the other band members and the audience. In real life however, on several occasions, I’ve watched people at their first Poi show just fall under the spell that’s been cast in the room. It isn’t like you’re blown away, it’s more like you’re lifted up. You feel lighter.

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L-R, Ron Hall, Frank Orrall, John Nelson, Susan Voelz.

One of the woman’s party said Frank knew they were all there. Shortly after that the band came on stage and Frank said, “This is for our brother, Jamie,” the woman’s brother, and they played that same song that leads off my funeral playlist. It’s a lovely, quiet instrumental song and, this family, I really couldn’t look at them or I was going to lose it.

The setlist varied, though they started off in a similar older to newer, slower to faster song progression. This time I didn’t wait as long to move to my dance spot. More people were already up dancing than the previous night. The woman we’d been talking to came over and joined me. Then my sister and her sisters. At one point my sister asked to borrow my phone to take a picture, not of the band but of the audience up dancing. She said she’d been to the City Winery a dozen times before and had never seen that many people up dancing. By the end of the night the whole place was up dancing. It was a first for the City Winery.

I couldn’t have been happier. I was happy for them that the shows were such a success. I was happy for the woman and her family who so clearly enjoyed the show and I know just the kind of cathartic release this was for them. I was happy that I’d been able to see one of my favorite live bands and dance and bask in that glow after so many years.

Last week I remembered that the Amazon music app on my phone has any CD I ever purchased through the site available to stream for free. I’d bought their album “7” when it came out in 2008 through Amazon so I fired up my phone-Bluetooth-radio set up in the car and hit play. As I drove home it started to snow, and I didn’t even care. Nothing was going to wipe that smile off my face.

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Chapel Hill

Sonic Youth – Chapel Hill

My recent posts lamenting the weather prompted one friend to say she felt so sorry for me and wished I could live someplace warmer. That was my sole goal when I applied to colleges. My family was well-versed in small New England liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools, but once you passed the Mason-Dixon line, it was the land of the unknown. After only two Maine winters, I was hell-bent on going someplace warm and I didn’t much care what programs the schools offered, I just wanted to be where it was warm.

My mother refused to pay the application fee for any California schools so I decided to just apply to all the big state schools in Virginia and North and South Carolina. Not Georgia, that seemed too far south (I know, I know, but I didn’t then). Off went my applications to UVA, William & Mary, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UofSC-Columbia. My mom thought this was a really bad plan and insisted that I apply to two schools in familiar territory that her youngest brother had attended; one in CT, the other in a Philadelphia suburb. My dream school was Chapel Hill, with William & Mary a close second.

What we didn’t know was that these schools were much harder to get into if you were an out-of-state resident. I had bombed my junior year of high school because I was pissed off about leaving New York and moving to Maine. With less than stellar grades and only decent SAT scores, I didn’t make a convincing case. Chapel Hill only accepted 15% of its students from out-of-state residents. The Virginia schools allowed as much as 30% but the competition was strong. Needless to say, I didn’t make it.

In the end I had to choose between South Carolina and the Philly ‘burbs. I really wasn’t excited about either one. I’d had my heart so set on Chapel Hill that everything else seemed like a disappointment. My mother reasoned that if I intended to transfer anyway, good grades from the school she knew would look better than good grades from a giant state school that no one knew much about. While that made sense, the deciding factor for me was something I’d read in a brochure than came in the fat envelope from South Carolina.

It was a little piece filled with testimonials from students and there was this one girl who said her favorite thing about UofSC was sharing the bathroom with 20 other girls. I’d hardly ever known a day when I’d had the bathroom to myself and I was quite certain that my 17 years of sharing the family bathroom with my five siblings and parents had made me immune to any possible charms of a group bathroom experience with 20 girls I didn’t know. Plus, if that was considered printable by the school, it stood to reason that other people also shared that girl’s view and I was going to be a real fish out of water. South Carolina was out, and the deposit was sent to my uncle’s alma mater.

I did try to transfer, but I was slightly better informed the second time around and of my original group of schools, I only tried for William & Mary, where I still didn’t get in. I continued to carry a torch for North Carolina, Chapel Hill especially, but I recognized that my chances were even worse as a transfer student and maybe caring about the programs and majors was a better reason for choosing a school than just its happening music scene and lack of a harsh winter.

Years later when I was living in DC, a good friend from high school was going to Duke for her master’s. I rented a car and drove down to spend a few days so I could finally see if it was the perfect place for me. I hung out in Durham, made my pilgrimage over to Chapel Hill, and wound up my visit by meeting with someone in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I was working in one of the Smithsonian museums at the time and we’d been in contact with them regarding some piece in an exhibit so I figured it was my foot in the door. The person I spoke to was very nice but said it was pretty rough to work in a publicly funded art museum in a state where Jesse Helms was your senator. Oh. Yeah. I remembered happily signing a friend’s absentee ballot when he was voting for Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms only a couple of years earlier. Hmmm, that was something I hadn’t spent much time thinking about.

I briefly flirted with the idea of graduate school down south, falling hard for Savannah College of Art & Design’s master’s program in historic preservation, but I didn’t end up going that route. I’ll never say never but at this point I think it’s unrealistic to uproot the family and though I hate the winter here, I am usually pretty happy about the political climate at least.

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Today is the Day

Yo La Tengo – Today is the Day

It was snowing as I drove to work this morning. Of course it was. I was driving in the snow, making do with my phone-streaming-Bluetooth combo which was playing some ok music but not exactly what I want, and suddenly I thought, that’s it. I give up. You win, winter, you win.

My eyes stung. A heaviness came over me. It’s like I can feel the weight of all the snow, dragging me down. It’s cumulative, you know? If it could just melt a little in between storms, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If it could be even close to an above freezing temperature on the rare occasions when the sun does make an appearance. I’m not asking for a lot. Sure, I want the snow to be completely gone, but I’d settle for a day that’s 35°F and sunny.

I can’t go away. I can’t quit winter. I just have to live with it. Today is the day it got the better of me. You defeated me, winter. You made me cry. Are you happy? Is that what you wanted?